30 Thoughts: Panthers chart bold new direction

Florida Panthers executive chair Peter Luukko discusses the major moves announced in their front office, promoting Tom Rowe to GM and Dale Tallon to President of hockey operations.

Most of the discussion about the Florida Panthers involves job switches at the top of the organization.

Dale Tallon moved from General Manager to President of Hockey Operations, although that’s not necessarily a promotion. In four months, Tom Rowe climbed from AHL head coach to NHL assistant GM to GM. Eric Joyce and Steve Werier are now the assistant GMs, but it would be a mistake to underestimate their influence.

The biggest potential change, however, is below the surface, something that’s harder to see. Florida is coming off one of its most successful seasons in franchise history — 103 points and a regular-season Atlantic Division title — on the strength of its scouting. The Panthers made many good decisions in drafting and development. The Barkovs, the Bjugstads, the Ekblads, the Huberdeaus and the Trochecks form the youthful backbone of this team.

In December, the Panthers hired Cam Lawrence and Josh Weissbock on a part-time basis. Lawrence, who once used the Twitter handle @MoneyPuck_, is Chief Financial Officer of a private company. Weissbock works for Canada’s Department of Defence. Smart people and hockey fans, they worked to create a drafting model called “Prospect Cohort Success” (PCS).

Basic explanation of PCS: Determine a prospect’s size, point production, age and what league he plays in. Then, cross-reference it with all available data to determine historical comparables. The idea is to say, “Okay, we’re looking at an 18-year-old, 6-foot-5 kid with 68 points in 65 games in the OHL. What can we reasonably expect him to do?” The model goes through history to find any/all similar player(s), and how they fared as a professional. It is a fascinating in-depth project, an attempt to decipher how pre-NHL production explains NHL production. I’ve read about it and am intrigued.

The Panthers plan to implement it in their drafting process.

According to some scouts on other clubs (none of Florida’s would discuss it), Lawrence recently met with the Panthers’ guys. When I heard this, I assumed this summit would be a disaster, but was pleasantly surprised to learn things were respectful and professional — from both sides.

What no one seems to be able to answer, though, is: who makes the final call? Their recent drafts were run by director of player personnel Scott Luce. Will the decision remain his? Or, do they go off the PCS list?

“The question is,” according to an executive from another club, “Is this analytics with scouting? Or, is it scouting with analytics? Big difference.”

From what I understand, Lawrence/Weissbock do recognize the limitations with their data. Heights and weights can be unreliable, especially from overseas. (Basketball suffers the same problem.) Some leagues don’t have a ton of history. One example is Russia’s junior circuit, the MHL, in existence since 2009-10. There is a prospect from that league who might be available in the first round when Florida is picking: German Rubtsov. It’d be a mistake to make a yes/no decision on him without personal visits.

Despite that, word is Florida’s current scouts are wary of where this is going. They are skeptical and feel they will be either let go or encouraged to pursue alternate employment. There will be demand for their services.

It’s a funny time around the NHL. More and more owners use analytics in their “regular” businesses, so they are open to it in hockey. But, even those who consider themselves analytics aficionados fight a battle over whose metrics really work.

In researching Florida, there is one inescapable conclusion. There are smart people here who see things from different perspectives. The Panthers benefit if they find a path to co-existence.

30 Thoughts

1. Tallon’s future remains a hot topic. He just returned from Russia, where there were rumours he would be leaving the Panthers to go elsewhere. Most of the speculation involves Vancouver, but the Canucks denied that. It’s unlikely these rumours will go away, though.

Whatever the case, on last Monday’s radio edition of Hockey Central at Noon, Florida Executive Chairman Peter Luukko said Tallon retains final say on trades.

2. The NHL and NHLPA released its summer calendar and guidelines to teams and agents. Some of it you are familiar with. Teams can start interviewing unrestricted free agents at 12:01 am (all times ET) on June 25. Restricted free agents can be contacted at 12:01 am on June 28. Actual signings are legal as of noon on July 1.

The NHL average salary for 2015-16 was $2,881,758. That’s an increase of 2.81 per cent from 2014-15. There is something called club “cut” arbitration (section 12.3 of the CBA), where a team can ask for a player to receive up to a 15 per cent pay drop — as Vancouver did with Mason Raymond in 2012. An NHLer must be earning at least $1,953,297 to be eligible. And, if a team wants to walk away from a salary arbitration ruling, the player involved must be awarded at least $3,906,595.

3. Offer sheets are the unicorns of the NHL. We love them but rarely see them.

This year’s compensation chart:

Average annual value Compensation
Less than $1,239,226 Nothing
Over $1,239,226 to $1,877,615 Third-round pick
Over $1,877,615 to $3,755,233 Second-round pick
Over $3,755,233 to $5,632,847 First and third-round picks
Over $5,632,847 to $7,510,464 First, second and third-round picks
Over $7,510,464 to $9,388,080 Two firsts, a second and third-round picks
Over $9,388,080 Four first-round picks

4. As Jonathan Drouin plays a massive role in Tampa’s ride to the Eastern Conference final, the obvious question becomes: is the relationship with the Lightning truly repaired? (Drouin wisely stays away from discussing it.)

Judging from the embrace several reporters saw GM Steve Yzerman share with agent Allan Walsh after Tampa Bay eliminated the Islanders, I think it’s safe to say we’re well on the road to peace. Drouin enters Wednesday’s Game 3 with six first assists, one behind Logan Couture for the postseason lead.

5. Much of the trade speculation around the upcoming draft surrounds Edmonton at number four, but is it possible things really begin with Columbus one pick higher?

The conventional wisdom is the Blue Jackets will go with Jesse Puljujarvi there, as Toronto and Winnipeg are expected to take Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine one-two.

Columbus needs centres as much as anything. If the Jackets believe Puljujarvi can play there long-term, it’s a no-brainer. If not, could they trade down a couple spots, add an asset and still get, say, Logan Brown? Might be something to consider.

6. As for the Oilers, it sounds like they’ve fielded a few calls but nothing that reads as scorching hot. Since they are looking for defenders, they might be willing to drop a little further than Columbus would in my hypothetical situation. But not by much.

7. Let’s do some coaching search updates: If Bob Murray and Brad Treliving have one thing in common, it’s that both are prepared to be patient.

Minnesota moved quickly, as did Ottawa. These two are more willing to wait, especially Treliving, since he’s working for Canada at the worlds. The Ducks are expected to meet with Travis Green, Luke Richardson and Mike Yeo. They have three former NHL head coaches in the organization. One — Paul MacLean — was interviewed last week.

I’m not sure about Dallas Eakins and Trent Yawney. I’m also uncertain if Randy Carlyle, behind the bench when the Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007, will get an interview, which would be quite the story. There’s conflicting information, with some yesses, some nos and others raising doubt anyone wants to go back down that road.

8. As for Calgary, there’s some overlap with Carlyle and Yeo. It would not be a surprise if Treliving used the overseas opportunity to meet with New Jersey assistant Geoff Ward, who is working this event with Germany.

The Germans went 4-2-1 in the opening round, finishing behind Finland and Canada in Group B. They will face Russia in the quarterfinals. Vancouver assistant Glen Gulutzan is another likely interviewee. I’m not sure about Green, but wonder if someone like WHL Victoria’s Dave Lowry gets any consideration considering all of his Calgary connections. The Flames are casting a wide net.

9. Can’t say for sure how serious it is, but a couple coaching sources say Washington’s Todd Reirden might get a call, too, now that the Capitals are out.

Since the Ducks and Flames are willing to wait, you wonder about coaches still active in the postseason, like a Kirk Muller. Tampa’s Rick Bowness would love another chance.

10. The expectation was Arizona would take another run at Dallas’s Les Jackson for the Coyotes’ open assistant GM position. But, as of Tuesday night, I could find zero evidence that’s happened.

The first negotiation fell apart because the Coyotes’ offer wasn’t enough. There’s still time if they want to go this route and if Jackson is willing to re-visit.

Arizona has said it has interest in executives still employed by playoff teams. Looking for connections, one stands out. That’s St. Louis’s Dave Taylor, who worked with Dave Tippett in both Dallas and Los Angeles. Taylor hasn’t commented, and I wouldn’t expect him to while the Blues are still playing.

11. Good offseason for coaches and we haven’t hit June.

Tippett is believed to be at $4M per season, although his job has added personnel responsibilities. The Kings’ Darryl Sutter is in the threes. Bruce Boudreau came in at $2.75M. And Ken Hitchcock’s contract is up, too.

There were rumours Tippett might not coach for his entire five-year extension, instead paving the way at some point for Jim Playfair. But Tippett said there are no plans to leave the bench.

12. Both Boudreau and the Senators say there was no contract offer from Ottawa when he met there. Word is term may have been an issue before money was even discussed. Minnesota was willing to go four years. Ottawa was not.

Guy Boucher received a three-year deal. It would not be a surprise if another Senators assistant turned out to be Rob Cookson, who has worked with both Boucher and Marc Crawford.

13. Free agents at the worlds: One GM had a good line about Vadim Shipachyov, who leads all scorers with 13 points in seven games after the preliminary round. Asked if he was having any luck signing him, the exec replied, “I’m trying like everyone else.” So it’s pretty intense.

Czech defender Michal Kempny has some outstanding possession numbers. Buffalo, Chicago and Vancouver are among his most serious pursuers. Former Florida Panther Evgenii Dadonov, who played 55 NHL games from 2009-10 to 2011-12, could be making a North American return as well.

As for Alexander Radulov, I’m not sure what to say. Still think Detroit and Florida are waiting. There are also wildly conflicting rumours of Colorado’s interest (or non-interest).

14. Memorial Cup starts this weekend in Red Deer, with the host Rebels facing Brandon, London and Rouyn-Noranda. There’s a free agent to watch here, too. That’s London defenceman Jacob Graves. The Knights got him from Oshawa in January. Never drafted, he turned 21 in March. He’s had a really good playoff and that’s probably going to get him an opportunity somewhere.

15. With Drew Doughty and Shea Weber already locked in on the right side of Team Canada’s World Cup defence, which two of Brent Burns, Kris Letang and/or P.K. Subban are you adding?

16. We all want a clearer picture on Steven Stamkos, but a doctor buddy says it best: the reason there’s no firm answer is because it’s a constantly moving target. The truth one day may not be the truth the next.

Kimmo Timonen could play on injectable medication. Pascal Dupuis had to stop. Twenty years ago, the Maple Leafs had to hide Dmitri Yushkevich’s gear so he wouldn’t try. The Miami Heat wouldn’t allow Chris Bosh near a court, and there are concerns his career is over.

Steve Yzerman’s answer, that he can’t give a yes or a no, is the honest approach.

17. Matt Murray’s won eight postseason games, which puts him among some interesting company.

Only four goalies with fewer than 10 regular-season wins (Murray has nine) have more victories in one playoff year. They are Ken Dryden (12 in 1971), Mike Vernon (12 in 1986), Steve Penney (nine in 1984) and Johan Hedberg (nine in 2001). Dryden led Montreal to a Stanley Cup, Vernon’s Calgary Flames lost in the Final.

Murray is accomplishing this despite opponents noticing one “tell” in his style. He drops his left knee a little early on occasion, which lowers his glove.

Here’s an example, and Rick Nash takes advantage. It’s not a killer flaw — Kelly Hrudey said he did that, too — but it’s something he’ll undoubtedly work on. His success despite that reveals both his ability, and how well the Penguins are playing in front of him.

18. At 39, Matt Cullen is having a huge impact in Pittsburgh, both off the ice and on.

GM Jim Rutherford is on record as saying he’d like to have Cullen return for 2016-17. Last season, while a member of the Predators, Cullen revealed he was considering retirement. It’s pretty funny, but he admitted with a smile that his agent, Pat Morris, advised him not to make such statements again.

It’s clear Cullen has plenty more to give.

19. Rutherford, asked if would have imagined going to the Eastern final with Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin all on different lines, laughed and replied.

“I don’t know about that. Teams that I’ve had success with have had good balance…top players have played on different lines. I guess my quick answer to that is I would be surprised. But I do believe that Kessel can play with Crosby or Malkin if that’s how it’s set up. In a short snapshot it didn’t work as well as its worked with Hagelin and Bonino. They just have really good chemistry…put in a position against players they wouldn’t be playing against if they were put on the Crosby line or the Malkin line. It’s just the best way to win.”

Rutherford also said the puck-over-glass delay rule that nearly derailed the Penguins in Game 6 versus Washington is a “rule that I agree with and I like.” Maybe not so much that night, however.

20. One impressive stat about San Jose: in Game 7 against Nashville, the ice-time difference between their most- and least-used defencemen (Burns/Brenden Dillon) was just 5:01. That’s great balance.

21. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Rutherford is on top of all things Blues, and his reporting indicates the last talks between the organization and David Backes ended at three years at $5.5M. There may have been some wiggle room there, a willingness from the team to go to $6M and a fourth year.

Backes eyed Ryan Kesler’s six-year, $41.25 megadeal with Anaheim as a comparison (as did Andrew Ladd), although it’s believed he was willing to drop a bit on term and dollars. But talks broke off as both sides realized they weren’t close, even with whatever compromise existed. Negotiations will resume once the season is done, and Backes will have the hammer.

The trip to the Western Conference final is an overdue accomplishment for St. Louis, and their great fans, in particular, deserve it. I’m curious to see how Backes, Troy Brouwer and Hitchcock, all of whom are under expiring contracts, are rewarded.

22. Word on Chicago’s negotiations with Andrew Shaw — a restricted free agent — was that there was some “small progress” but no new talks were scheduled. The Athletic’s Scott Powers, who is in Russia, did get some confirmation from Blackhawks’ GM Stan Bowman. Bowman said he is waiting for the official cap number before figuring out how to make it happen.

23. On unrestricted free agent-to-be Loui Eriksson: there were some conversations when Boston GM Don Sweeney and agent J.P. Barry were both at the World Under-18s in North Dakota. There are plans to talk again in the near future. Sounds like both sides searching for more common ground.

24. Anaheim has some critical negotiations to close. Frederik Andersen, Hampus Lindholm, Brandon Pirri, Rickard Rakell and Sami Vatanen are all restricted free agents needing new deals. They’ve been at this for awhile with everyone but the recently acquired Pirri with not much success.

We’ve expected the potential trade of a surplus defenceman, and that’s still possible. But, what’s also interesting is that a couple of terms have heard the Ducks are considering having some of those individuals play next season under their qualifying offers if nothing long-term gets worked out. That doesn’t happen much anymore, although teams would undoubtedly love to see someone bring back that precedent so they could all use it.

The risk is you run into a Subban-esque situation, where the player gets annoyed, doesn’t forget it and makes you pay even more in the long run. We’ll see.

25. It is Brian MacLellan’s history to tell you what he’s looking for and go get it.

In 2014, right after he was hired, the Capitals GM said he would target the blue line. He snared Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. Last spring, he mentioned top-line wingers, indicating a trade being more likely than free agency. He did both, getting T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams.

So, when he says last week he’s looking at a top-nine forward to solidify the bottom six, you know that’s what he’s going to do. At one point during the season, I think he wanted in on any potential Backes trade before Blues GM Doug Armstrong said nothing would happen. But that’s not financially feasible for Washington in free agency.

26. During one of the games I worked in D.C., MacLellan talked about the “window” for this particular roster. He said it goes for one more year, since that’s when Karl Alzner and Evgeny Kuznetsov need new contracts.

Tinkering with this group — not overreacting — is the right move at this time. I’m not interested in complaints about the playoff format. Teams overwhelmingly voted for it, they knew what they were getting into. But the lopsidedness of certain divisions means organizations have to look at the bigger picture, not, “Oh no, we lost in the second round again!” You take your chances with this group of Capitals.

The only other cap-related move I heard about for them was Marcus Johansson, who needs a new contract. But any potential departure depended on Andre Burakovsky’s growth.

27. Finally on the Capitals, it will be interesting to see how any new centre affects Jay Beagle’s role. When Washington re-signed him last year, it made a commitment to put him in more offensive situations. It was a responsibility he desired, and the wish was understood.

28. L.A.’s AHL team (Ontario) is in that league’s Final Four, and it’s going to be interesting to see how much of this roster graduates to the NHL.

Part of the whole philosophical debate Sutter and GM Dean Lombardi went through was a commitment to adding — and using — new blood. The Kings felt their best players were burned out, especially as they lost control over the Pacific Division lead down the stretch. At the very least, you have to think defenceman Kevin Gravel gets an extended look after a short, five-game 2016 trial.

29. Thanks to a Tweeter named @haywirejackson, who sent along a FOX News interview with MGM Resorts International Chairman and CEO Jim Murren.

Murren discussed the “Business of Vegas” and was specifically asked about the future of professional sports in the city. He said, “I bet we’re going to have a hockey team and I’d bet they’re on the ice in 2018. I’d bet we get a basketball team not long after that. It’s not up to me, but I bet it.” He added if there is enough private-sector support for the NFL Raiders, he’s all for it, but placed a $1.4 billion price tag on that project.

I asked the NHL for a reaction, and the league stayed with its standard response — that nothing is guaranteed, not even a certainty Vegas will happen. It’s clear the NHL likes Murren, but believes he’s a little optimistic about some of these projections. Was an interesting interview, though.

30. Wanted to recommend Ken Reid’s second published book, One Night Only. Reid interviews 39 players who competed in just one NHL game. I liked the story about Brandy Semchuk still being mad about a Canadiens’ stick boy eying the Kings’ equipment prior to Game 2 of the 1993 Stanley Cup Final. The book is worth your time.