• NHL, Flames meet to discuss the way Calgary games are officiated
• Scouts have their eyes on Avalanche
• Canadiens competed with another team to sign Julien
It’s been a great season for milestones so far. Jaromir Jagr hit 1,900 points. Alexander Ovechkin hit 1,000. Then, last week, Sidney Crosby joined him.
Crosby hit the mark with an assist, then ended the night by scoring the overtime winner — a play where he outsmarted one of the NHL’s terrific young players — Mark Scheifele. The NHL is getting younger and younger, but Crosby is getting better and better.
So, a quick appreciation.
I used to look at Crosby’s career as disappointing in the sense that it was disappointing that we (and he) were robbed of the prime of his career. I thought we’d always think of him with a “What if? What if he wasn’t injured?”
We don’t think that way anymore.
Now, he’s got two Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals, a World Cup championship, and the potential for more. He’s constantly redefining himself as a player. He couldn’t win faceoffs, he wasn’t a great scorer -- you name the complaint. He’s addressed them all.
Watching him on the stage of the Top 100 at All-Star weekend, I wondered: if you actually ranked all these guys, where would he be now? And where will he be when he’s done?
Hockey’s got its Holy Quintet. Any ranking of the best players usually starts with some combination of Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Orr, and Maurice Richard. Rank ‘em how you want, but that’s usually the group. At his current pace, Crosby’s going to challenge that.
I used to roll my eyes at “process” people. But, as I’ve gotten older, challenges both personal and professional opened my eyes to how one's process affects achievements and failures. I actually own a “Do Your Job” shirt because I believe the true path to success is following that path to the best of your ability. The Patriots’ recent Super Bowl comeback was yet more proof that sticking to your identity is the way to go. They didn’t go for 50 points in five minutes. They did what they do, and won anyway.
When Crosby broke into the NHL, a common compliment afforded to him was that he was "a superstar with the attitude of a fourth-liner.” As we watched him recover and regain his standing atop hockey hierarchy, he never lost that. There was a lot to battle — injuries, losses, disappointments and doubts — but he did it.
The thing that makes it most impressive is it wasn’t like the league waited for him. His peers got better. Younger stars entered the league and made a huge impact. He didn’t have to simply get back where he was, he had to surpass that.
It’s an incredible accomplishment. Erasing that void in his career might be the most impressive thing he’s ever done.
1. As Antoine Vermette prepares for the appeal into his 10-game suspension for the slash to linesman Shandor Alphonso, I don’t think Doug MacLean is wrong in suggesting it will be cut to five games. In fact, I think that was the plan between the NHL and the NHLPA, and negotiating it is why it took a few days for the ban to be levied. The sticking point is the officials, who don’t like the idea of a reduction. We’ve seen decreases in the past (Daniel Carcillo, Michael Peca) and Vermette’s incident fits in with those two. But zebras didn’t like the result of the Dennis Wideman saga, and are pushing back.
The weirdest thing about it is that I’d probably name 700 NHLers who might do this before Vermette. Totally out of character for him. But there is definitely momentum to lower the number.
2. We get phone calls, Part I: Last week, Doug was talking about a penalty Calgary took in its win over Philadelphia and I joked about the “Wideman Conspiracy.” One referee did not find that funny. The next day, he phoned to complain and dropped a bit of a bombshell: The NHL and the Flames met to discuss the way Calgary games are officiated. They went through a ton of video, and even talked about calls not made — including some specifically against Wideman.
From what I was told, it was very tense at times. The Flames lead the league in penalties taken and penalty minutes per game. Last year, they were 26th and 19th, respectively, in those categories.
3. We get phone calls, Part II: One Blue Jacket called to discuss the meeting between head coach John Tortorella and the players. He did not deny it occurred as reported, but, as he said, “Tortorella is a lightning rod, and once it got out there, I was worried it would be a bigger deal than it was.” He said the meeting was “honest,” and happened because “we think we have a real chance here. We want to be on the same page. It wasn’t a fight or a sign things are out of control.”
4. Heard through the gossip line that a few teams had reached out to Detroit about Andreas Athanasiou when there were some battles over his ice time. Red Wings GM Ken Holland wouldn’t comment, but another team indicated he told them not to even bother asking unless “a 22-year-old top-pair defenceman” was part of the conversation. The Wings have told clubs they are “open for business,” but won’t consider moving any of their young offensive cornerstones unless that kind of player is potentially available. My sense is the same goes for Petr Mrazek. Thomas Vanek likely goes (and could come back in the summer). They will discuss re-signing Brendan Smith in the next few days before a decision on trading him.
5. I’m also not certain Detroit will trade Mike Green. He’s got one year to go on his contract, and they need offence from the defence. He delivers. In fact, it’s possible they discuss a short extension, as he’s eligible for a new deal on July 1.
6. Thought Patrick Eaves would be a perfect fit to re-sign in Dallas, but word is there have been no talks. So he’s going somewhere. Like Vanek, that doesn’t preclude a reunion later on. Get your asset and “see you in July,” maybe.
7. Most-watched body part: Johnny Oduya’s ankle. There is a lot of respect around the league for the defenceman’s game, and, in a perfect world, he’d be an easy pickup for a contender. But, some GMs are leery of his injury, which knocked him out of the lineup in mid-January. Ankles are problematic things.
8. Florida GM Dale Tallon said this week he’d like to add power play help for the Panthers. Word earlier in the season was the team had interest in Winnipeg’s Mathieu Perreault, who had 11 power play goals and 27 extra-man points the past two seasons. However, Perreault’s four-year contract extension (signed July 7) likely makes that impossible.
9. It’s amazing what happens when a team gets healthy and everyone plays where they are supposed to. As one opponent pointed out, though, Jonathan Huberdeau is almost 90 seconds below his ice-time from last year. Vincent Trocheck is four minutes up. As that evens out, the Panthers will get better. In a league looking for defence, I think there were some teams sniffing around Alex Petrovic, but Florida doesn’t want to do that. He’s formed a pair with Mark Pysyk that Tom Rowe trusts at even strength, so why mess with it?
10. I think Pittsburgh was in on Michael Stone, but may have needed time for cap reasons. You know who makes a ton of sense for them? Ron Hainsey. Jim Rutherford knows him well. Moving Stone was a signal Coyotes GM John Chayka is ready to go after collecting intel.
11. I would be very surprised if Stone was Brad Treliving’s only move. He’s looking at wingers, preferably someone with a bit of edge. And, even though he won’t discuss it, it’s hard to believe he’s not looking for a goalie.
12. I loathe including “thoughts” such as this one, because the moment you write it, you’re worried it’s wrong. But here we go anyway: there are a couple of teams with interest in Matt Duchene and/or Gabriel Landeskog who don’t think they can complete a trade and still compete for the Stanley Cup. On paper, it makes sense, as the Avalanche have set a high bar. Anaheim is one of the few with enough assets to be an exception, although GM Bob Murray has indicated he may not make any blue line decisions until after the season. This could benefit a team that sees either player as a piece for 2017, as opposed to now, but it might put off a move until the off-season. There’s still time, but some GMs are wary you’re plugging one leak while opening another.
13. In the middle of everything else, it sounds like the Avalanche would also like to find a new home for Mikhail Grigorenko. His contract is up; he is a restricted free agent.
14. Scouts/executives crammed KeyBank Center for Colorado/Buffalo last week, including three from Toronto, two from Calgary, Columbus, Los Angeles, Montreal and Winnipeg. (Dean Lombardi was one of the Kings’ representatives.) Quote of the Week: “Biggest spread I have ever seen,” one said. “All the dessert might get eaten.” Couldn’t stop laughing at that. Usually, execs complain media eats the sweets.
15. Several scouts have seen a lot of the Avalanche over the past few weeks as rumours intensified. You know who they praised? Matt Nieto, claimed on waivers from San Jose. “He went from the Stanley Cup final to dead last,” one said. “And he’s played hard every time I saw him.”
16. One of the nicer moments of the season was Jets captain Blake Wheeler consoling Patrik Laine after the Calder Trophy finalist accidentally scored an own-goal against Winnipeg. Skaters used to treat goalies as if they were radioactive, but Wheeler was asked if he’s tried to pull Connor Hellebuyck along as he did Laine. “You have to let these guys know, they're so young, there's going to be more moments like that, but the good moments are going to outweigh them tenfold,” he said. “When things go bad, especially for a young player, they might start to feel isolated from the team and they’re screwing it up for everyone. So you want to make them feel like they’re a big part of the team and a big part of our future.... I think he's been real good since [Ondrej Pavelec] got hurt.... The hardest part is, ‘How am I still effective when maybe I don’t have my best night or I'm not feeling good? How do I battle through those starts when it's not going my way?’ You're starting to see more of that consistency in practice, working on some things.”
17. Winnipeg players (and undoubtedly the organization) were upset Jacob Trouba was suspended two games for his hit on Mark Stone after Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin got nothing for his hit on Wheeler. The Jets are an interesting group in the sense they are tough — a throwback team. Opponents know they're going to get bruised when they play Winnipeg.
After listening to the Jets’ comments Tuesday morning in Toronto, I spent a chunk of the afternoon re-watching the Pittsburgh game. Two Pittsburgh defenders (Olli Maatta and Justin Schultz) went down that night. I wonder if the Penguins just got frustrated, leading to a bit of old-school frontier justice — Malkin has a real edge to him. It’s probably a bigger column/conversation, but one of the problems all sports face now is that we like tough, intense competition but can’t handle the consequences. That was a great game and the intensity boiled over. Not everyone can handle Winnipeg’s nastiness.
18. With Tyler Myers out of the lineup, Trouba is coming on. A number of players who missed training camp/the early season have really struggled, but, as Trouba himself pointed out, “The World Cup made a big difference. Much better than training camp.” He’s been a real difference maker, and one of the reasons is he’s incredibly motivated to prove what he’s said all along, that he’s an impact player on the right side. Myers’s salary drops to $6.5M cash over the next two years, too. If Winnipeg wanted to sign Trouba long-term (which will take a big number), there would definitely be interest in Myers.
19. Walked up to Curtis Lazar Saturday morning in Toronto, hours after agent JP Barry met with Ottawa GM Pierre Dorion. Lazar is 22, and smart enough to recognize that his team is playing well, a sudden challenger in the Atlantic Division. He didn’t want to cause an uproar, any kind of firestorm. “I just want to play,” was all he would say. That was his message to the Senators. Teams have asked, but Dorion has made it clear he’s not giving away Lazar for a mid-round draft pick. He’ll stand pat instead of that.
20. Kyle Turris was a beast Tuesday in New Jersey, scoring once and playing 26:09 as the Senators gutted out a victory minus Mike Hoffman, Bobby Ryan and Mark Stone. What a player he’s turned himself into. Asked if the players talk about catching Montreal, he replied, “Not once. You’re always looking below you to see who’s chasing, not above you.”
21. The Senators were furious the NHL used the words “no injury” in the Trouba suspension video. One thing I’ve learned over the years about NHL Player Safety, no matter who was in charge — they are very defensive about teams saying, “Great, you suspended our guy, and the person he hit didn’t even miss a game!” So if a team says it’s possible someone can go despite a dangerous hit, they will err on the side of caution.
22. One of the reasons Montreal closed so quickly on Claude Julien? Someone else was negotiating with him. It wasn’t just permission; another offer existed. The obvious answer is Las Vegas, but I don’t think it was the Golden Knights. It was a currently active club. Can’t pin it down, although there are a few good theories.
23. I’m not sure where negotiations will go between Montreal and Alexander Radulov, but with his 31st birthday coming in July he knows this may be his last big swing at the plate. The Canadiens were eligible to re-sign him Jan. 1. Word is the initial ask was somewhere between six and eight years. Common negotiation strategy is not to undercut yourself, so the first ask is always big. This is a productive marriage. Now, how do both sides find common ground?
24. GM Marc Bergevin made a strong statement last week when indicating none of his top prospects would be traded. He joined Hockey Night in Canada before Julien’s debut, and we tried to press him on specific names. He smiled and said, “The obvious one.” Mikhail Sergachev? He laughed, replying along the lines of, “You’re smart guys, you can figure it out.”
25. As I learned last year, reading KHL tea leaves can be tricky. Things change fast. But a couple of overseas sources indicate Radulov’s success is not going unnoticed by Ilya Kovalchuk. Kovalchuk’s KHL contract ends after this season, but he is not free and clear for an NHL return until his 35th birthday — one year from now. If he wanted to come back for 2017–18, he would have to apply for re-instatement.
26. As much as the Calder race is going to be insane, so is the Hart. Connor McDavid and Brent Burns are one-two entering Wednesday’s games in percentage of a team’s goals one player is involved in. McDavid is at 39.9 per cent, Burns an even 39. The Sharks’ wildman has been on the ice for 56.7 per cent of San Jose’s scores, the highest number in the NHL. McDavid is the only forward in the top five, at 51.8. Rasmus Ristolainen, John Klingberg and Erik Karlsson separate them. And we haven’t even mentioned Sidney Crosby.
27. St. Louis is impressed with the early play of 21-year-old Ivan Barbashev. He phoned his parents in Russia when he found out he was getting promoted. What did they say? “‘It’s 5 a.m. Why are you calling us?’” he laughed. He told a good story about AHL coach Craig Berube. “He texted me, ‘Congratulations.’ But no one had told me yet, so I didn’t know why he was sending me that message. Then I found out.”
Berube’s received strong reviews for his work with the Wolves and there are rumours that he will be on the Blues’ bench next season if he’s not running his own team. (He has a friendship with Las Vegas GM George McPhee. I always considered him a dark-horse candidate there, but think that’s less likely now.) Barbashev likes him. “Really good at explaining things I need to do,” he said. So he doesn’t yell at you? The player laughed. “He yells at you during the game and explains later.”
28. In last week’s notes, I mentioned Yale University captain John Hayden. A 2013 Chicago pick, Hayden is finishing his senior season and is expected to join the Blackhawks instead of testing free agency in August.
Last week, Harvard counterpart Alexander Kerfoot scored as the Crimson won its first Beanpot in 23 years, 6–3 over Boston University. Kerfoot is a 2012 New Jersey draft pick with 33 points in 27 games. He can also become a free agent in August. The Devils have room for offensive talent, which makes sense for him. But if he does decide to test the market, his hometown Vancouver Canucks are expected to take a look.
After my list of NCAA free agents last week, a few scouts reached out to include one other defender: Neal Pionk, from Minnesota-Duluth. Right-handed shot, which always helps.
29. Three weeks ago, I wrote about former NHLPA lawyer Richard Rodier and his skirmish with the union regarding revenue claims against the NHL. I’m not sure where this is going to go, but when the Anaheim Ducks were in Buffalo two weeks ago the players met with him. After that conversation, Steve Fehr and Mathieu Schneider also made time to meet up with the players. I would assume, however, that any in-depth conversation on this matter happens after the season.
30. You know what Twitter really needed? The Florida Panthers making a playoff run.