Last weekend, while trying to decipher what exactly happened with John Scott, the Arizona Coyotes, the Montreal Canadiens and the NHL, a friend with two teenage sons told me I didn’t understand something about the hulking winger.
“How old is your son,” he asked.
“Four,” I answered.
My boy is too young for me to know, he replied. Among his children and their peers, Scott is a kind of “cult hero,” the last of a dying breed. He believed that contributed to the All-Star balloting, as the NHL announced Tuesday, that yes, John Scott will captain the Pacific Division later this month in Nashville.
No one will ever be able to convince me most of the voters were as altruistic. They weren’t laughing with him, they were laughing at him. It bothered me a lot, as anyone who lasts 300 games in the NHL should be respected, no matter their role.
But, John Scott deserves the right to embrace this the way he sees fit, and, if he sees it as something he and his family want to do, I respect that. After all, my 2015 Masterton Trophy vote went to Brian Elliott, who pre-empted a family vacation to play in last year’s event when the league needed goalies.
Yeah, some guys (especially those who are used to it) take the game for granted. But, if you’re not someone who always gets to go, Elliott and Scott proved it matters.
But, what really happened behind the scenes?
Arizona GM Don Maloney admitted he considered waiting three more weeks to make the Jarred Tinordi deal, and, after two more days of research, my belief is that’s what the NHL wished he would have done. But they couldn’t force him not to act.
Despite trying to talk Scott out of playing, it sure sounds like both the Coyotes and the league had each given up and resigned themselves to it.
What made the situation even more difficult was Arizona’s stunning surge to second in the Pacific Division. After last year’s zombie march to the bottom, there was little expectation of the post-season. This is a feel-good season, with Max Domi and Anthony Duclair breathing new life into the market. A surprise playoff race is a fantastic bonus.
Scott hasn’t played an NHL game since New Year’s Eve, but several other clubs believe the organization wanted to avoid the controversy of sending him down. The Coyotes demoted Craig Cunningham and Laurent Dauphin (who scored his first career goal two days beforehand), but ran into a wall when they claimed Kevin Connauton on waivers. To make room, they sent Scott to the AHL, with a promise to quickly recall him.
According to several sources, a major internal problem was brewing. There was no one else to drop. He was the most logical candidate and the Coyotes were at the point where they couldn’t justify any other move. There was pushback against anyone else being taken off the roster.
Then came Tinordi.
I’ve heard from multiple places Scott came to this deal late, which means you can think either a) it’s a conspiracy, Scott was banished and Montreal did everyone a favour, or b) the Coyotes, knowing Steve Downie’s $1.75M was going to the minors days later, didn’t want Scott’s $575,000 there too, and Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin, although annoyed beyond belief, did it to end the Tinordi saga.
I’m going with the latter option, and one of the reasons I think the NHL was so quiet from Friday until Tuesday’s announcement is that it was upset Arizona didn't wait. A couple of other GMs backed the Coyotes on this one, saying you can’t hold off if you’ve committed to deal. But, you can bet the league saw a huge storm coming.
I also believe the NHL was concerned about a grievance from the NHLPA. A couple of sources indicated it was a possibility, although one added things reached a point where it wouldn’t be necessary because it became clear the league was going to re-instate Scott.
Someday, this will make a great book.
1. During the Scott saga, it was reported some Coyotes were upset more deserving teammates weren’t going to Nashville. I received conflicting information about that, with a few people (including Maloney) denying it — although I do think the team would like to see Shane Doan go in what could be his final season. Doan downplayed it, so no one made it a big issue.
But, the news the NHL will not add a new Arizona representative reveals true wounds. It shows how upset the league actually was with the club, and it also shows how upset the team is with the situation. They wanted someone there, whether it was Doan, Norris candidate Oliver Ekman-Larsson, or a fresher face like Mikkel Boedker or Max Domi. Coach Dave Tippett told Arizona Sports reporter Craig Morgan, “That’s disappointing not to be represented. That’s all I’m going to say about that.” Pretty pointed. Of course, injury replacements are a possibility. I do think some teams in the Pacific are worried about the players being exposed to extra wear-and-tear if Scott has trouble with the three-on-three. Adding another Coyote forward could have solved that, but it’s not happening.
2. Back on Jan. 4, Steven Stamkos made an interesting comment to The Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith, saying that “calling negotiations a stalemate would not be accurate.” Last week on Hockey Night in Canada, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman referenced the captain’s public desire to stay in West Florida, adding, “That’s what we want as well and we’ll continue to work towards that."
The media blackout by Yzerman, Stamkos and agent Don Meehan makes it very difficult to determine what all that really means, but it is believed the Lightning made a contract offer in recent weeks. My guess — and it is a guess — is the number started with an eight. Obviously, it was not accepted, but it would be wrong to use the word “rejected.” My sense is it’s a negotiation point, an attempt to see where everyone stands.
3. Did get a chance to ask Maloney about negotiations with Mikkel Boedker, who entered Monday’s game tied for the team lead in scoring. He didn’t want to say much, except for, “We are trying to find something that works for both of us.” Boedker is unrestricted in July.
4. Shea Theodore is in the NHL and getting power-play time. Simon Despres is in the AHL, getting some game action. Cam Fowler should be back in a couple of weeks. That is going to be one crowded blue-line in Anaheim. The Ducks are looking for young forwards, and once all those defencemen are active, the phone will be ringing. Maybe GM Bob Murray’s biggest question is, who will be easier to sign? Hampus Lindholm or Sami Vatanen?
5. Another team getting calls on a defender is Calgary, with Kris Russell. But the Flames are telling people they will still try and sign him.
6. Murray had a surprising take on Jonathan Drouin, telling reporters, “We know he’s there but there’s a few others out there, too, that haven’t requested trades. Requesting trades on entry level (contract), that’s something new for you and I.”
I thought the Ducks were in hard on him (as did others); not so much after reading that quote. Minnesota is lurking among the other widely-reported targets, although a couple of non-Wild sources indicate what they believe Tampa is asking for would make GM Chuck Fletcher’s team “smaller, which is something they don’t want to be.”
7. There’s a lot of hysteria in Montreal, but is Drouin really a good idea at this time? The Canadiens are in a free-fall and the pressure would be insane. He’s going to be a terrific player, but expecting him to be the answer now is not realistic. No doubt Drouin is burning to go somewhere, but several of his pursuers think this AHL stint will help him a ton.
8. Canadiens’ coach Michel Therrien, asked if he is worried Carey Price’s injury will be a season-long issue: “The one thing for sure, when Carey is going to be back, he is going to be at 100 per cent…Things are looking good right now. He is following the process and we all know he was the most important player in the league last year. We have certainly missed him but when he is going to be back I guarantee this is something that is going to be 100 per cent.”
9. Weird week when it came to the Pittsburgh sale. First, there was a report the team was off the market. Then came a conflicting story — nope, still for sale. Here’s why both could be right. The NHL is going through an expansion process, where the price of entry will be $500-$550M. There is no way it is going to allow any franchise to be sold for less than that. So, if the Penguins are getting offers below those numbers (possible), nothing is going to happen. But, if the hoped-for $600-$700M pops up, no worries. Just make sure it’s not a double-endorsed, out-of-state paycheque.
10. Speaking of expansion, the “quiet” Executive Committee meeting is later this week. As previously reported, there will be no vote at All-Star weekend. But the Board of Governors might get some clarity about the expansion draft.
11. You might have heard Mike Babcock got a massive contract in the summer, which benefitted Joel Quenneville. Chicago’s coach landed a big extension last week, in the $6M range per season, according to Nick Kypreos. Who is next? Likely Darryl Sutter, the only bench boss besides Quenneville to win a Stanley Cup the past five seasons. His deal expires after this season.
“No doubt I’ll get something done here,” he said Monday. “We’ve talked a little, but they’ve been focussed on (Anze) Kopitar.”
No chance of retiring?
“Oh no, I’ll be coaching here next year.”
12. When Los Angeles traded for Marian Gaborik, Sutter used the 2014 Olympic break to watch video of the winger to judge the fit. He did something similar with Vincent Lecavalier, studying the last three games the newest King played with the Flyers.
But what really stood out were the morning skates the two times LA and Philadelphia met this season. Lecavalier did not play in either, but “he was working his ass off to stay in the league,” Sutter said. “It reminds me of bringing Denis Savard back to Chicago (in 1995). He was a depth guy, but he was great around the team and embraced it. The only thing I told (Lecavalier) when he got here was, ‘Enjoy it, you have a chance to play until the middle of June in the last year of your career.’”
13. Sutter on his club, running away with the Pacific Division: “From a team standpoint, we’ve accomplished everything we’ve needed to. But, for individual numbers, we need more from some people.”
He was talking about the forwards, crediting Kopitar, Milan Lucic, Tyler Toffoli and Jeff Carter — although “he was banged up and is now getting going” — for carrying the load. He’s very happy to see Dwight King healthy, because it should stabilize the bottom two lines.
“But, from the rest of them, we could use 15 more goals. The benchmark is still the team defending the Stanley Cup.”
14. Finally, Sutter said Lucic, who the Kings will now try to re-sign, does not get enough credit for being “a student of the game.” Lucic’s made an impact on and off the ice. “He’s only been with us four or five months, and he’s got a strong identity in the room. We lost three or four guys, character guys. Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll, no matter what happened with them outside, they were strong guys. Robyn Regehr. Justin Williams. They took care of things. Milan has that.”
15. Check out Chicago’s 23-skater salary structure. Two players above $10M. Six above $5M. Twelve — more than half the team — underneath $1M. (Barring a miscount, that’s the most active guys below seven figures in the league right now.) Is that where we’re going, especially as the NHL gets younger?
“Very possible,” one GM said. Marko Dano and Ville Pokka, both close to ready, are under $1M for next season, too. In addition to drafting and developing well, what’s really helped the Blackhawks is how they’ve won or kept the rights to highly-recruited college (Kyle Baun, Michael Paliotta) and European (Artemi Panarin) free agents, despite their success. Other teams try to “negative recruit,” telling these players they won’t get into the lineup. The Blackhawks convince them it will be no problem. Weeks after deciding not to test free agency and signing with Chicago, Paliotta went to Columbus in the trade that brought Patrick Kane and Panarin’s centreman, Artem Anisimov.
16. One thing you don’t appreciate about the Blackhawks until you see them in person: how their sticks always seem to be in the right place.
17. Henrik Sedin was MVP in 2010. Daniel Sedin was runner-up to Corey Perry in 2011. Cornerstones of a two-time President’s Trophy winner and a Stanley Cup Finalist. But, this has got to be the best hockey they’ve ever played, absolutely carrying a young Vancouver team despite their own injuries. They’ve got to be proud of what they’re doing.
“You’re right, we are proud,” Daniel said Monday, not long after coach Willie Desjardins announced Henrik’s injury would keep him out until after All-Star. “We leave it up to other people to rate the way we've played. But through turnover, changes, and the arrival of young guys, we’re expected to lead. (The franchise) puts a lot of trust on us, and we are proud to do it. We still have a long ways to go. The young guys need to take more steps and we have to help that.”
18. Do the Sedins ever look around at this group and wonder, “Who is that guy?” Daniel laughed at the question.
“For a long time, everyone was in their prime, there was not a lot of change. Now, everything is happening.”
A couple of weeks ago, Bo Horvat admitted he read what people said about him on social media — never a good idea. That’s one thing the twins try to help young players deal with.
“It’s not going to get any worse than what people said about us for the first two or three years of our career,” Daniel said, chuckling again. “Deal with it. Go out and answer the questions, deal with opinions good and bad. Show your face. Get your story our there. If people are going to make up stuff, they’re going to make up stuff. Stand up and answer, hold your head high.”
19. The Sedins are 35, with two years remaining on their contracts. Have they considered playing until, say, 40?
“Age is a number…The way our bodies feel, for sure, I think we could do it. The only thing that’s different is the travel and back-to-backs wear on you more. When you wake up, you’re more sore. We’ll see what happens, but travel is the one thing that could keep us from playing that long.”
20. Toronto GM Lou Lamoriello on Nazem Kadri: “I love the way he competes. I’ve seen him get hit, at different times, and he just comes right back. He’s not afraid to give it, but what you respect the most about him is that he can take it. He’s not a retaliatory type of player, but he’ll get you at the right time, and the right place…He’s one that I wouldn’t mind going into a foxhole with.”
As Chris Johnston pointed out, Kadri’s late birthday means he does not become an unrestricted free agent until July 2018. He’s on a one-year deal, and I tried to ask Lamoriello if he saw the centre as a long-term piece for the Maple Leafs. After two replies of, “Why would you even ask?” a contract question, Lamoriello said this: “Let me put it this way: I’m a fan of the way he plays and there’s no question that you want a Naz Kadri in your lineup.”
21. Final two minutes of regulation in a 1-1 game last Saturday, and who’s out there for Edmonton on a defensive-zone faceoff? Zack Kassian. That’s some big responsibility. What was the most striking moment of Peter Chiarelli’s face-to-face meeting with him?
“I told him the last two teams he’s played for were run by people I’m close to and trust, and it was catastrophic in both places,” the Oilers’ GM said. “This is your last chance. What do you have to say to that? He replied, ‘Look, there’s nothing I can tell you, other than I have to show you.’”
22. There were some questions about how Kassian would fit if he reached the Alberta capital, considering the five-game suspension for breaking former Oiler Sam Gagner’s jaw. The story is there was some very harsh trash talking that night. Doesn’t excuse what happened, but, as for those who remain from that 2013 incident, there are lots of guys who became teammates after saying stuff on the ice.
23. Same game, 35 seconds remaining in regulation. Taylor Hall’s been on the ice for 0:39. He’s carrying the puck over the Calgary line. Instead of elongating his shift when there’s no obvious scoring chance, he dumps the puck and goes to the bench. Safe. Oilers win in a shootout. That’s a positive change for Hall. No way he does that in years past.
24. I’ve mentioned before how I covered Seth Jones’ father, Popeye, an original Toronto Raptor in 1995-96. Great guy who once gave an outstanding verbal clinic on positioning yourself for rebounds. Popeye played for six NBA teams in 10 years, and I wondered if he helped his son come to grips with his first trade.
“He texted me a couple of times,” Seth said last week. “Just said, ‘Keep your head up, I know it's tough when you’re young,’ and ‘Maybe one day you'll catch me (on number of teams played for).’ I texted him back saying, ‘I sure hope not.’ I thought that was pretty funny.”
25. Jones, on his new coach, John Tortorella: ”I think people may have mistaken his intensity for....He just wants to win, that's pretty much the bottom line. He wants you to work hard, sometimes it doesn't matter about the scoreboard, he just wants to see 100 per cent effort when you’re out there and you’re doing what you can for the team to win.”
If there’s one Blue Jacket Tortorella may have changed his approach with, it’s Jones’s defence partner, Ryan Murray. Murray prefers to be low-maintenance and previous coaches indicated he doesn’t like “in-your-face” attention. The new boss admitted he’s seen that, and would like to respect it.
26. You could see it brewing between Tortorella and Scott Hartnell. The winger took a weird unsportsmanlike conduct penalty early this month against Washington for shooting the puck into the net after an offside. He took two minors last week in Toronto, got an earful, then set up Alexander Wennberg’s game-winner. Saturday, he got into a verbal joust with the Avalanche rather than changing, leading to a too-many-men call. He was benched, and apologized in front of the team at Monday’s practice. Tortorella praised that move, and we’ll see if the worst is over.
27. It hasn’t received a ton of attention, but Donald Fehr finds himself in a very difficult spot. The NHLPA’s Executive Director is in the middle of a bitter lawsuit between former partners Ritch Winter and Claude Lemieux. Last October, Winter sued Lemieux, accusing him of fraud, stealing employees and interfering with contract negotiations.
A few days ago, Lemieux fired back in court filings, stating Winter lost “a substantial sum” of money after entering into a 2016 World Cup of Hockey marketing partnership with the NHLPA. I have zero interest in wading into this dispute. But, there are some questions Fehr needs to answer. Chief among them: Isn’t it a conflict of interest to do business with one particular agent? (Fehr declined to answer, since he could be a witness in the proceedings.)
Fehr is responsible for overseeing agents, the ultimate arbiter on who is certified and who isn’t. He can also try to mediate arguments over client representation. That’s a huge factor in this particular case, because a chunk of the Lemieux/Winter skirmish evolved over which of them could better negotiate new contracts for Anaheim’s Frederik Andersen and Hampus Lindholm. Suffice it to say other agents weren’t thrilled when they learned about it.
28. Other questions involve the process for deciding to enter into the agreement. The original lawsuit indicated Winter obtained a $500,000 “line of credit.” The partnership lost money and was terminated in July 2014, with Fehr reportedly personally agreeing to reimburse the losses. Adding to the intrigue: Lemieux is being represented by Paul Kelly, who was fired as the NHLPA’s Executive Director in August 2009. Sixteen months later, Fehr took the same job.
It’s long been believed Fehr, who was leaving a similar position in Major League Baseball’s Players’ Association, played a part in Kelly’s removal. It’s personal. This threatens to topple years of relative tranquility inside the NHLPA. Since Bob Goodenow stepped away as leader in 2005, internal strife brought down replacements Ted Saskin, Kelly and Ian Penny in a four-year period. Things stabilized — at least publicly — under Fehr. How much trouble is he in? It depends on how much noise the agents want to make. Players will be distracted by postseason races (and, to be honest, don’t like to get too involved anyway), so it will be up to their representatives to decide.
29. Three years ago, the NCAA Division III Geneseo Knights dispatched assistant coach Kris Heeres, who is from Abbotsford, B.C., to a junior showcase in his home province.
“Kris saw Matthew Hutchinson there,” head coach Chris Schultz said by phone on Monday night. “We saw him as a defenceman who could fit our role, a stay at home ‘D.’ We convinced him to take a chance on us.” Geneseo, part of the State University of New York system, is about an 80-minute drive east of Buffalo. Schultz was confident Hutchinson could handle the cross-continent move.
“The reason we knew it would work is he was so independent. A lot of the recruiting you do is with the parents, everything goes through them. Matthew took care of things on his own. His visa, student tuition…We were getting a grown-up, an accountable man at a young age.” Hutchinson scored one goal and added eight assists in 54 career games, but his impact went beyond the numbers. The Knights went to the Frozen Four in 2014, losing 6-2 to eventual champion St. Norbert in the semifinal.
“That ride,” Schultz said. “We had a tremendous season. He was our best defensive defenceman, we were so proud of him, the run he had that year. He always recognized where we were at emotionally. If we were low, he recognized it and got guys going. If we were high, he was even-keeled, not getting too excited. A huge piece of our leadership. We’d say he was a 28-year-old in a 23-year-old body.”
30. Hutchinson and Kelsey Annese, who played for the women’s basketball team, were both victims of a double murder-suicide last weekend near the campus.
“He had a plan for his life,” Schultz said. “He knew what he’d be doing when left here.” On track to graduate in May with a major in geography and a minor in business studies, he was going to be a firefighter. He volunteered with the local department since his university arrival and worked for the British Columbia Wildfire Service last summer.
“That was a passion of his at the start.” As his teammates grieve and search for answers, Hutchinson’s stall remains untouched, sweater hanging at the front. Few of us knew Matthew Hutchinson, but we all know someone like him. Just wanted to give a little more depth to his story. All the best to his family and friends.