Jordan Subban packed his suitcase as we spoke, getting ready for a short trip.
There’s one obvious reason to travel to Tennessee: moral support for brother P.K. as the Western Conference Final resumes Tuesday night. But there’s another more subtle opportunity: the chance to watch Ryan Ellis live and in-person.
A couple of weeks ago, P.K. Subban told reporters he’d advised Jordan to study Ellis’s game. And, as Jordan revealed Monday, one other important figure made the same suggestion.
“In my exit interview [at AHL Utica], Travis Green told me, ‘That’s a guy you should be watching,'” Subban said Monday.
It is Green he will have to impress if he wishes to crack the Vancouver Canucks' lineup in 2017–18.
Ellis finished an incredible four-year junior career at OHL Windsor in 2011, just months before Subban arrived in Belleville. Ellis never averaged less than a point a game in any of those seasons as Nashville took him 11th overall in 2009. His rise in the NHL took a little longer, but he is in the midst of a stellar playoffs and has established himself as a permanent fixture on one of the league’s best blue lines.
Listed at five-foot-10 and 180 pounds, Ellis is one inch taller and two pounds heavier than Subban, who scored 28 goals in 67 regular-season and playoff games during his final junior season. He was selected 115th overall by Vancouver in 2013 and spent the last two years in the American League. There were a couple of call-ups to Vancouver, but no NHL games.
Will he introduce himself to Ellis?
“I’m not sure. He’s a little busy right now, it’s not the best time,” Subban replied with a laugh. “But hopefully I’ll be able to get video of all his shifts from a series or the playoffs to study a little more.”
Ellis’s four goals are tied for first among all defencemen in the post-season; his nine points are tied for second. But it’s not the scoring Subban notices.
“It’s the way that he defends. He’s always in great position, always great with the stick. He plays hard and smart, he knows how to use his brain a bit more to slow down the game. I’m always trying to push the pace, so that’s something I’m going to watch.
“It’s different watching Ellis in certain positions than, say, Zdeno Chara. I never thought that way before. I always studied the best players, wanting to be like them.”
But Subban sees now that Ellis is a better model, since they are of similar stature.
“I’m still learning. I’m going to watch and it’s exciting.”
Subban will make some other changes this off-season. He’s always in great shape, but will spend more time skating than in recent years.
“You have to be physically strong, but hockey players are made on the ice. I’m also shooting pucks every day. This summer is a big one for me. I have one goal next year — to be in the NHL.”
1. Subban added that he and P.K. spend time during the summers critiquing each other’s play while watching video. That’s got to be some high-quality entertainment. “We’re really blunt with each other. He’ll say, ‘What are you doing? That’s such a dumb play.’ In the game, you think it’s not that bad, then I’ll watch it and think, ‘What the hell was I doing... that was so awful.’ But it’s the only way to get better.”
Okay, what do you tell P.K. about his video? “Oh, I’ll just tell him, ‘You’ve got to block that shot' or 'Your gap is too big.’” I’m betting it’s more cutthroat than that.
2. An unusual name started circulating in trade circles the last few days: Minnesota’s Nino Niederreiter. The 24-year-old winger had a career-high 25 goals in 2016–17, and, after making a few calls, it sounds like teams are looking at the Wild’s expansion/cap situation, wondering if he could be available. Two years away from unrestricted free agency, Niederreiter is arbitration eligible and will get a nice raise from the $2.7 million he just earned.
The Wild also need to re-sign Mikael Granlund. As an exec from another team put it, “It may not be their first choice, but if you make it worth their while, it’s possible.” All GM Chuck Fletcher would say is, “We are actively listening... on everything.”
3. It probably wouldn’t surprise Minnesota fans to hear Matt Dumba’s name, too. The Wild have an expansion logjam on the blueline.
4. After the Toronto Raptors were swept in the second round of the NBA playoffs by Cleveland, team president Masai Ujiri wasn’t thrilled about answering questions just days later. “I feel like talking now is BS. Maybe talk to me in a month,” he told reporters. “Why do we need to do this today? I can’t tell you I’ve made a decision on anything yet.”
So when the Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan reported Capitals GM Brian MacLellan wanted to take some time before his own availability, it made sense. In 2010, when Jaroslav Halak singlehandedly beat them, I wrote a blog for then-employer CBC saying Washington shouldn’t panic, the window is still open. Seven years later, we’re in a very different spot. And the biggest decision isn’t really MacLellan’s. It must be made by owner Ted Leonsis.
5. When you’re the highest-paid player and the captain, you take the heat. That’s the business. But Washington’s stunning Game 7 collapse was bigger than just Alex Ovechkin. It was a roster-wide meltdown. This was also the first playoffs Braden Holtby looked like a mere mortal in goal. However, Ovechkin is thrust into the spotlight because circumstances dictate such.
It is not insignificant to Leonsis that The Great Eight is the most popular player in franchise history, fills the building and sells merchandise. Games in Washington have an awesome atmosphere, but it’s fair for an owner to wonder how all of that could change with a trade, particularly one who saw life prior to Ovechkin.
The Capitals have significant roster choices and must make an honest appraisal of the captain as a player. In the last four years, his even-strength goals in the regular season go 24, 28, 29, then down to 14 this past year. He had three even-strength goals in 13 playoff games. He will be 32 in September. The Capitals know him better than anyone else. Is this a one-year blip? Or has Father Time, undefeated in sports history, caught even him? How many wingers drove Stanley Cup winners into their mid-to-late 30s? Marian Hossa? Are they comparable?
The question I asked as many people as possible was this: If you trade him, can you make up his regular-season goals (33, even in a “down” year)? You still need those to make the playoffs. The majority answer was yes, because it gives you a shot at keeping T.J. Oshie, John Carlson (next year), and working on extensions for Andre Burakovsky, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt. You still have the chance at a very good team.
6. Incredibly, Barry Trotz’s future isn’t secure. (One GM, hearing that, texted, “This league is a joke if [that’s] real.”) The surest predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. Trotz said all the right things about Ovechkin accepting a move to the third line, but check Washington’s history. Dale Hunter didn’t return after demoting Ovechkin in 2012. Adam Oates faced pushback when he moved the captain into unfamiliar positions, and a harsh team meeting late in the 2013–14 season (where Ovechkin was ripped by several teammates) caused significant problems before a coaching change.
Washington played two fantastic games after Trotz’s juggling. There is no doubt in my mind that one of the questions the organization is asking is, “What if our coach feels that’s our best chance of winning?” The history is not to support that. Trotz has one year remaining on his contract.
7. Trotz isn’t the only Washington coach with a cloudy future. Assistant Lane Lambert went deep into the process with Colorado before Jared Bednar was hired. Assistant Todd Reirden, a finalist in Calgary last year, is expected to be interviewed by both Buffalo and Florida. And there are rumours goaltending guru Mitch Korn would like to retire. It’s possible Scott Murray, who works with AHL Hershey and is a Korn disciple, replaces him. (He interviewed in Toronto two years ago, when Steve Briere got that job.) Those could be significant changes.
8. A goalie coach from another club said he noticed that Holtby has a slight “hitch” on his glove hand that the Penguins were able to exploit early in their series. If you watch the glove-side goals Pittsburgh scored in the first two games, Holtby “pulls” his hand towards his body before going where he really wants to go. When those kinds of shooters get time to exploit it, they can.
Another NHL goalie, asked about Holtby’s playoffs, said, “The goals in the Toronto series were weird — tips and strange bounces. The goals early in the Pittsburgh series were Grade-A chances. He’ll be fine.”
9. Finally, Kuznetsov: Thought he took big strides this year in the playoffs. What’s his new salary? I haven’t forgotten a World Cup conversation between him and ESPN’s Craig Custance. Custance asked Kuznetsov about Nikita Kucherov’s contract battle with Tampa Bay, and the centre replied: "If I would be in (Kucherov’s) position, I would be signed in the KHL for sure. I would sign and say, 'Bye.' I would buy a beach house and a couple Rolls-Royces.” Now we find out if he was serious.
10. Another big number to come: Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton. His agent is Mike Liut, who also represents Vladimir Tarasenko. Tarasenko signed an eight-year, $60-million contract out of entry-level and you wonder if Liut will go for the same ballpark with Draisaitl. (Liut would not comment.) Draisaitl did not accumulate the same totals over his first three years, but did outpoint the St. Louis scorer in Year Three and had a marvellous playoffs. If I’m the Oilers, I’m going for term, because if Draisaitl keeps this up, the number will only go higher.
11. Speaking of Tarasenko, the Blues indicated there wouldn’t be too many changes on their roster. He’s a dangerous scorer, not predictable. Look at his goals — they come from all over the place. But he needs help. I didn’t get to watch a ton of the Minnesota series, but scoring was a grind for them against Nashville.
If you look at the top 10 scorers this season, no player had a bigger gap between himself and a teammate than Tarasenko. The next highest Blue was Jaden Schwartz, in 61st. Connor McDavid (first) had Draisaitl (eighth). Sidney Crosby (second) had Evgeni Malkin (15th). The others: Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin (third and 11th); Nicklas Backstrom and Ovechkin (fourth and 21st); Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak (fifth and 19th); Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman (sixth and 14th); Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler (seventh and 12th); Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski (ninth and 24th). It would take a lot of creativity, but this would be a great spot for Jordan Eberle.
12. Could see Detroit with interest in Calvin de Haan from the Islanders, who would be worried about losing him in the expansion draft. He’s been very solid at the Worlds.
13. Several NHL scouts came back from the Under-18s incredibly impressed with Finland’s Miro Hesikanen. A lot of the jockeying begins with the third pick, and he is one of the candidates. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if a team like Detroit or Tampa Bay, searching for blueline depth, tried to move up to take him.
14. Newsday’s Arthur Staple reported last week that Doug Weight is expected to hire Luke Richardson as part of his coaching staff in New York. Have also heard that Kelly Buchberger will join Weight, too. It makes sense, as they are tight. Buchberger was seen watching Mathew Barzal with Weight during the WHL playoffs. Barzal was a beast as Seattle defeated Regina.
15. Also wondering if the Islanders will make a hard push for Ilya Kovalchuk. It makes sense for them, although they will have to convince him they are going for it now. Russian sources believe Kovalchuk had serious interest in the Rangers, but a) I’m not sure of their interest, and b) I’m not sure they could pull it off if they wanted to. Sounds like Florida has also inquired. But, if he was interested in the New York area, why wouldn’t the Islanders try?
16. Panthers GM Dale Tallon is part of Team USA’s leadership at the Worlds, so he’s there until it ends. While overseas, he re-iterated he’s “got time” to wait before selecting his coach. Still see three current assistants he could talk to: Marc Crawford (Ottawa), Phil Housley (Nashville) and Paul MacLean (Anaheim). Another possible interview: Detroit’s John Torchetti. He and Tallon have a history.
17. Mentioned during Hockey Night in Canada a couple of weeks ago that there was some talk of a position for Ed Olczyk in Buffalo. Not sure where that stands now, but did hear since then there were discussions before last season about Olczyk joining Paul Maurice’s staff in Winnipeg. He has said that he would like to coach again, and I wonder if we’re getting closer to that time. Would the Blackhawks consider him for the opening on the NHL staff or the Rockford AHL job?
18. How much does new Sabres’ GM Jason Botterill consider previous NHL head coaching experience as a prerequisite for his first hire? “It’s not a necessity, but I do see it as a value,” he said last Saturday. “You can develop as an AHL coach, but the scrutiny from fans, media and organization at the NHL level, how do you handle that? The expectation to win is much greater. That said, I’m not going to limit who we look at.”
Botterill knows Reirden and Rick Tocchet very well. He almost hired New Jersey assistant Geoff Ward for AHL Wilkes-Barre, eventually choosing Mike Sullivan. Housley and San Jose’s Bob Boughner could be interviewed here, too. And I do wonder if he’d ask Jim Rutherford about Montreal’s Kirk Muller. Rutherford hired Muller in Carolina.
19. Botterill said there have been “no restrictions” on who he can take from Pittsburgh to Buffalo, with one caveat: no lateral moves. So, if he’s taking anyone, it has to be a promotion. He wouldn’t comment on specific names, but two are making the rounds. One is former Ottawa and Florida GM Randy Sexton, who is the Penguins’ director of amateur scouting. The other is Derek Clancey, director of pro scouting.
20. Best news from the conversation with Botterill: he has texted with Kyle Okposo, and plans to speak to him in the near future. The expectation is the winger will be ready for the start of camp. Okposo missed the end of last year, and spent time in neurological intensive care with a mysterious ailment.
21. Not surprisingly, Botterill's priority is the defence. “It’s not rocket science,” he said. “We have to address the depth of our D core. Rasmus Ristolainen is a great young player, but we have to help manage his minutes. It’s important. We’re going to look at every possible [method of addition]." He wouldn’t discuss specifics, but the organization has to make a decision on Evander Kane. Do they let him play out his contract, re-sign him or try to move him for that defender?
22. Over at the World Championships, the vultures circled, wondering if the changes in Buffalo meant defenceman Viktor Antipin would waver on his decision to join the Sabres. But it sounds like he’s sticking with his original decision. Not for lack of trying.
23. Last one on Buffalo: Botterill was asked if he is comfortable with Robin Lehner and didn’t hesitate. “I have no problem starting next season with him in goal. There are more pressing needs. I liked what I saw from him when he won the Calder Cup.” Lehner backstopped the Binghamton Senators to the AHL title in 2011.
24. Pittsburgh’s top seven defencemen in these playoffs — Ian Cole, Trevor Daley, Brian Dumoulin, Ron Hainsey, Olli Maatta, Chad Ruhwedel and Justin Schultz — have exactly zero lifetime Norris Trophy votes between them. (Mark Streit, who would be number eight, received votes in three different years.) That’s almost unprecedented for a Stanley Cup champion.
The only real comparable is 2006 Carolina, also managed by Jim Rutherford. The Hurricanes’ top six — Mike Commodore, Bret Hedican, Frantisek Kaberle, Niclas Wallin, Aaron Ward and Glen Wesley — also had none. The seventh, Oleg Tverdovsky, did. He dressed for one game in the final.
Botterill credited Sergei Gonchar and Jacques Martin for their efforts with the Penguins.
“Sergei is responsible for one-on-one work. Video, stick detail and individual skills. Jacques chooses the pairings, the defensive-zone strategy, how do we want to play opponents?” Different roles, but prepare their defenders very well.
25. A major reason Anaheim is in the Western Conference Final? Ryan Getzlaf is shooting the puck. Getzlaf was tied for 201st in shots during the regular season with just 138. That put him even with Alexander Edler. He hit the net less than twice a game, nowhere near enough for someone with his skillset. Now, however, Getzlaf is bullying his way to the goal, taking 3.15 shots per game. That’s a significant improvement.
26. One of the reasons some people still hold out hope for Olympic participation is that no All-Star Game has been set for next season. However, it does sound like there are plans for one. At this past season's All-Star Weekend, it was believed the next one would be held in a Western Conference city, but there are rumblings the league went southeast instead. It will be announced with the full schedule.
27. A lot of mystery at the Worlds with Evgeni Dadonov. A few NHL teams claimed they heard he’d decided to join good buddy Vadim Shipachyov with Vegas, but others disputed that, saying the decision was not final and there are still KHL offers. What I do know is a few more NHL teams like what they see. He's not a big guy, but plays a hard game that works in North America.
28. Remember Anton Belov, a defenceman who played 57 games for Edmonton in 2013–14? Word is he’s considering a return engagement. But it would be a year from now.
29. Funniest World Championships controversy? During most games, the in-arena announcements were in German (for the games in Cologne) and English. But when the Russians played in Germany, the announcements were in Russian. It drove the Germans and Swedes bananas. Trump!
30. I’d forgotten (until last weekend) how much doctors and chiropractors hate each other. Years ago, I did a feature on Ted Carrick, a chiropractic neurologist who helped Sidney Crosby recover from his concussions in 2011. Some medical doctors reached out, annoyed we’d given it such a platform. My response was, “Crosby believes it helps, it’s a story whether you like it or not.”
Well, Ottawa’s Clarke MacArthur credits “upper cervical chiropractics” with straightening his mind and head after his own concussion battles. He said his C3 vertebra was out of line. He got it adjusted and minutes later “could feel the blood flowing through the left side of my head.... It was like the train was off the track a little bit.”
That also didn’t go over well with the medical community. MacArthur said he got the idea from former teammate Drew Stafford. It’s becoming more common in hockey and it’s probably not going away.