30 Thoughts: Still at odds over NHL Olympic participation

Elliotte Friedman sits down with the new interim head coach of the Florida Panthers to talk about the firing of Gerard Gallant and much more.

The Board of Governors convenes Thursday in Florida, with Olympic participation among the hot topics.

We know what the players want: Olympic participation. It’s very important to them.

The glow of the Games is a thrilling enticement over the dog days of a January hockey schedule. If you’re not playing, you get one week of beach frolication. Total win-win.

We know what the International Ice Hockey Federation wants: NHLers in South Korea.

President Rene Fasel pulled all sorts of levers and opened hidden doors to find the $10 million to $15 million the IOC decided not to spend. He was disappointed the NHL did not share his enthusiasm for this success. We know he will do anything to make it work.

We know what the NHL wants: something in exchange for going to an event its owners want no part of.

China, the 2022 host, is a different animal. The league asked the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks about playing exhibition games there, which doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The dollar signs are obvious. If one per cent of China’s population cares about hockey, that’s a good start. Shy of a 2018 avoidance ban, the NHL will be in Beijing.

The league looks at the $80 million in hockey ticket revenue from the Vancouver 2010 Olympics and says, “The IOC should be paying. Not the federations developing the sport.”

But it was willing to accept this payment plan in exchange for a three-year CBA extension, which the players declined. (From what I understand, the league was prepared to include two Olympics, two World Cups and a Ryder Cup-style event as part of its proposal.)

So here we are.

It’s uncertain if the governors will hold an actual vote on participation, but my guess is they wait this out until the reported mid-January drop-dead date. Before Sochi in 2014, there were people who strongly doubted the NHL players would get their insurance covered by the IOC.

It happened.

Sometimes people need a deadline to make everything work. We’ve got five weeks — enough for everyone to change their minds three times.

In previous negotiations, my feelings have always been “yada, yada, yada, they’re going. It will happen at the last second, but they are going.”

For the first time, I’m not so sure. The NHL does not like the IOC and the owners don’t like the toll this season’s compressed schedule is taking on the players.

There remains one wildcard: how seriously does the NHL take the threat of players going rogue?

How worried is Ted Leonsis about a problem with Alex Ovechkin? Daryl Katz with Connor McDavid? Ron Burkle with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin? Eugene Melnyk with Erik Karlsson? Geoff Molson with Carey Price?

Officially, the NHL’s position is basically, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

In theory, they could wait until a final decision. But if the decision is a big, fat “No,” the star players are going to want to know what that means — especially those who are determined to go anyways.

Someone’s going to need to provide an answer.

That’s why I wonder if that internal ownership conversation comes sooner, not later.

30 THOUGHTS

1. A note on the players’ decision not to accept the NHL’s three-year CBA extension: I’m very curious to see if this is the end of it. There are rumblings the players would like to find out if this was a one-issue, one-time offer or an opening to a larger conversation.

We all know their dislike of escrow. A couple of ownership-friendly sources indicated to me that if the players were willing to discuss limiting term to five or six years and/or tightening bonus-laden contracts, there might be a conversation worth having.

However, after I wrote that in the last couple of weeks, there was disagreement by others on the NHL/ownership side who said that uncapped escrow is important to them. Whatever the case, we just saw a new Major League Baseball CBA with no stoppage.

All indications are we will soon see a new National Basketball Association CBA with no lockout, bucking a negative trend in that league. So I can see why the NHLers might want to test the waters.

2. Teams should also get a preliminary cap number for 2017-18. A couple GMs said they are hoping for $75M. Early Christmas gift or lump of coal? Tune in to find out.

3. This is purely my conjecture…took a quick look on Tuesday night after David Desharnais went down.

But Winnipeg has a lot of young centres. Does Alex Burmistrov make any sense in Montreal if they need an emergency fix?

4. Newsday’s Arthur Staple broke the story last week about New York Islanders owner Jonathan Ledecky’s attempts to search for a “big name” to run the team’s operations. In all of our chasing to catch up, there are two things we’re learning.

First, there are some executives who don’t like the idea of chasing a job while someone is still in the current position.

“I wouldn’t want it happening to me,” one said.

Second, this isn’t just about one job. I don’t know how this is going to turn out, but it sounds like he’s looking at very-large scale philosophical changes on how the Islanders do business. Staple mentioned agent Pat Brisson (who represents John Tavares), Pat LaFontaine and Brad Richards as people Ledecky has talked to. LaFontaine was at the Islanders/Rangers game on Tuesday night.

Luc Robitaille is in that conversation, too, although it’s hard to see him leaving Los Angeles. The owner is friendly with Wayne Gretzky, and has asked for his opinion as well, but that’s not going to result in The Great One joining the Islanders organization.

Mike Gillis’s name got out on Tuesday, and although the Canucks have not been asked for permission, I don’t see that as a problem since his contract is close to expiring. Ledecky is determined to improve the relationship between the team and the alumni, which is why you’ll also hear names like Pat Flatley. No doubt there are others we don’t know of yet. There are a lot of different ways this could unfold.


5. One Islanders rumour that was shot down: the team was willing to deal Josh Ho-Sang for immediate help. Strong denials on that one, including praise for how he played in training camp. I want to stress there was no hint of them wanting to deal him for any controversial reason, because he gets picked apart enough.

6. Finally, on New York: one day I’m going to ply GM Garth Snow with enough truth serum to find out how hard he planned to go after Steven Stamkos, what he was going to offer, and how that affected his July 1, 2016 decisions.

7. One other front office note: Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray signed an extension on opening night. Word is he’s locked in for four years—this last season of his current contract, plus a three-year addition.

8. Vancouverites went loco last weekend after Sportsnet’s Luke Fox published a Q&A with Trevor Linden. Linden took heat for one particular comment, saying about the Sedins:

“I don’t know how I walk into the room and tell these guys, ‘Strip it down.’ I’m not sure it’s fair to these guys.”

Here’s where I think he’s going with that. When Linden and GM Jim Benning took over, I believe the plan was to make one more run with the Sedins at the end of those contracts — next season. Now, you can certainly make the argument the team is not good enough, but that was the goal.

Considering Vancouver doesn’t seem interested in trading its veteran pieces, it might still be.

9. Don’t discount how much the results of the 2016 Draft Lottery affected Vancouver’s thinking, either. They finished 28th in the standings and dropped two spots to the fifth pick. They’re excited about Olli Juolevi, but that warned the Canucks against depending on ping-pong balls.

10. In that interview, Linden indicated the team will consider keeping pending UFA Ryan Miller beyond this season. In a follow-up, he added that decision won’t happen until the summer.

Maybe it’s just me, but if I was Vancouver, I’d wonder what the Anaheim Ducks would do to sweeten a Miller-for-Jonathan Bernier trade. Bernier’s contract is also up after this season.


11. Don’t think the Dallas Stars are trading John Klingberg. Or Julius Honka. Or Jordie Benn. I think there are teams who like Stephen Johns, but I’m not sure GM Jim Nill is going there, either. Other than that? Some possibility for movement.

12. Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic told The Denver Post’s Terry Frei he is not inclined to make changes despite a rough start.

“Not right now, no…changes are hard to do, especially this time of year. We’re two games under .500, but a four-game swing and you’re two games over .500 and right back in it.”

Colorado’s core (all signed long-term) is made up of Tyson Barrie, Matt Duchene, Erik Johnson (out 6-8 weeks with a broken fibula), Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Semyon Varlamov.

Varlamov’s hold on the net in tenuous, so he’s an obvious candidate when it is time. But who else?

The Avalanche are looking to add defencemen, not lose them. MacKinnon’s not going anywhere. That leaves Duchene/Landeskog, but one thing Colorado told clubs last summer was both men had great-value contracts, which increased the price.

Duchene has two more seasons at $6 million. Landeskog has four more years as $5.57 million, although the actual salary is higher. The team has about $17 million coming off the cap next summer (including Brad Stuart’s buyout), so I wonder if the organization prefers to see what it can add with that flexibility before tearing apart the core.

13. Matt Hendricks was back in the Edmonton Oilers‘ lineup for Tuesday’s loss in Buffalo, getting 14 minutes.

There’s something at play here, especially since the 35-year-old is coming to the end of his own deal. Minnesota is looking for fourth-line help, which makes the Wild a potential fit. He’s a Bruce Boudreau favourite. But they would probably want the Oilers to keep some of his salary and also are looking at a top-six guy as well. They’re tight to the cap, so we’ll see where it goes.

14. Teddy Purcell not being picked up on waivers seems purely a budget/cap decision. The Kings let it be known they were willing to trade him, as long as they did not take a contract back in return. That didn’t work.

There are so many teams tight to the cap, they didn’t have room. The Ottawa Senators have space and Purcell played for Guy Boucher in Tampa Bay, but that’s a budget issue.

It’s little consolation for him now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone takes a chance later in the year, when teams have more room.

15. The Senators are very much in it, but thin up front with injuries. Bobby Ryan is going to try to play hurt on the West Coast. If they could add another player, it would do them a world of good — but that’s Eugene Melnyk’s call.

Say what you want about Ryan, but he’s tried to play through a lot of injuries.

16. Ottawa’s Ryan Dzingel turns 25 in March. At the end of this season, he’ll have played three pro seasons. If the Senators don’t get him to 80 career NHL games, Dzingel was going to be a Group VI unrestricted free agent.

He’s got 24 to go. With 14 points in 26 games this season, safe to say he’ll get there.


17. Always wonder about teams with good goal differentials that are outside a playoff position. Tampa Bay is there now, plus-5 and one point out in the East.

“They get pushed around a lot,” one opposing coach said.

18. That is certainly not happening with Columbus, a nasty, edgy team that is on a great spurt. The Blue Jackets’ underlying numbers are very good, and it’s at the point you have to say, “This looks like a legit, strong group.”

Some keys: Sergei Bobrovsky, obviously. A deep, mobile defence. They’ve been relatively healthy compared to the rest of the league. And their centres.

I think there was a time Columbus looked for help there, but Alexander Wennberg and William Karlsson are hanging in, big-time. Lukas Sedlak is on the fourth line, but I wonder if this is a club that takes a long look at a Martin Hanzal. He’d be an awesome fit.

19. Tyler Dellow escapes witness protection long enough to do some research on power plays. Columbus’s top unit — Cam Atkinson, Nick Foligno, Sam Gagner, Wennberg and Zach Werenski — is at a pace that would make it the most lethal in Goals For/60 minutes since Washington in 2010-11. That’s rarefied company. And it will win you a lot of games.

20. There is a lot of debate over where Dale Tallon truly stands in Florida.

Two years ago, he was the primary decision-maker on a rising team, but his influence waned as the organization was re-shuffled. When head coach Gerard Gallant was fired last week and Tom Rowe was put behind the bench, there was a belief it would be good for Tallon — a void for him to fill.

Externally, that is met with skepticism. Panthers vice-chairman and alternate governor Doug Cifu appeared on the Steve Dangle podcast earlier this week.

“What confuses people, to put it bluntly, is we have a different structure,” Cifu said.

At Virtu, the financial company he owns with Panthers owner Vinny Viola, “I don’t have an organizational chart. Titles are meaningless. There’s Vinnie on top…152-ish employees underneath in a ‘big box.’ Does it make sense to have a single a person that is really good at scouting, is really good at negotiating contracts, is really good at going to that rink in Saskatoon and finding that kid that no one has found, and is really good at counting sticks and pucks and managing a budget?…[Tallon] is great at identifying talent, particularly young talent. Is he doing the same thing he was doing before we bought the team? No, in some ways we are getting the best out of him, he doesn’t have to worry about that stuff.”

The true test is how long Tallon stays with the organization. Think it is also very possible Shawn Thornton is in this front office next season.

21. Last Friday, Rowe was with assistant GM Eric Joyce before we taped an interview in Ottawa. (Watch the full interview at the top of this post.) They went over the lineup. How does it work between them?

“Before the game,” Rowe said, “there’s a website I look at…different numbers (in the) Detroit roster and what advantages I might be able to take advantage of…I sat with Eric and I said, ‘Help me sort through some of these guys and what you think matches could be.’”

Are lineups suggested to him?

“Sure, [but] I’m not told I have to play those guys, and Gerard wasn’t told you have to play certain guys.”

Ultimately, do you have final say over the lineup?

“Yes.”

And how you deploy it?

“Yes.”

22. Rowe also filled in the blanks on Gallant’s firing. Florida played great in getting ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes 2-0 after one period that fateful night, but coughed up the lead in the second. Viola called and said he wanted to speak to Rowe and Gallant post-game.

Did Rowe know it was going down?

“Vinny and I talked about it after the second, let’s get through the rest of the road trip, let’s maybe evaluate to the middle of December and then if things aren’t going good and you want to make the decision to let Gerard go, that’s probably the better time to do it. Obviously the decision was made sooner.”

The GM/coach is well aware that most of the hockey world thinks the fix was in during the summer.

“I know there’s a lot of people who are going to be listening to this interview and not believe it.”

23. Gallant’s contract continues for two more seasons at $1 million and then $1.1 million. His next deal should eclipse that.

24. Last Florida note: Rowe said Aleksander Barkov and Aaron Ekblad were going to see their ice time totals go up. Barkov’s first five games under the new coach went 20:56, 23:35, 22:53, 18:57 and 21:36. Ekblad went 26:14, 25:42, 22:06, 25:12 and 23:22. That’s above what both were used, particularly Barkov. Rowe admitted he’s not sure the centre will be able to handle that workload the rest of the way.

25. Detroit Red Wings goalie Jared Coreau, who made his NHL debut last Saturday, is such a beast that his newer, tighter pants needed man-made slits at the bottom so he could get them on.

26. Nazem Kadri’s becoming such a good pest that teams are telling their players to “get on him before he gets on you.”

Watch Calgary’s Freddie Hamilton grind on Kadri before scoring on the first shift of last Wednesday’s game:


27. Jared Cowen’s arbitration result is due today (Wednesday, Dec. 7). If the Toronto Maple Leafs lose, that’s going to wreak havoc on next year’s cap. They will have several overages due to their talented rookies achieving bonuses.

UPDATE: The Maple Leafs won the arbitration hearing against Cowen.

28. Jhonas Enroth’s last four starts were all on the second ends of back-to-backs, with the opponent sitting and waiting for the Maple Leafs: at Calgary on Nov. 30 (Toronto played in Edmonton the night before); at New Jersey on Nov. 23 (at home against Carolina); at Islanders on Oct. 30 (home versus Montreal); at Minnesota on Oct. 20 (at Winnipeg).

Tough business. He went 0-3-1 with a 3.67 GAA and an .876 save percentage.

29. Quote of the Week: Paul Maurice. On Monday’s Hockey Central at Noon with Daren Millard, Colby Armstrong and Gord Stellick, Maurice was asked about switching goalies for the shootout. He said it was a consideration when he coached in Toronto.

“We talked about that at the time…we had Vesa Toskala and Andrew Raycroft, but there was very little chance of us winning the game with one of those guys.”

Yikes! Maurice added that Ron Wilson tried it with Curtis Joseph, who “just about breaks his ankle. I think it’s really tough to put a cold goalie in something like that, even if his numbers are right.”

Craig MacTavish once pulled Ty Conklin in that situation, and Conklin was furious.

30. Good on Jacob Markstrom for having the presence of mind to protect Philip Larsen as a melee unfolded around him. That could have been a disaster.