30 Thoughts: The value of young stud defencemen

Calgary Flames defenceman T.J. Brodie. (Paul Vernon/AP)

Spending the last few days researching TJ Brodie’s now-completed contract extension leads to one inevitable conclusion: if you’ve got a good, young blueliner on your roster, hold on to him like he’s a Sparkling Elsa doll during the upcoming Christmas rush. (Ask your daughter.) Difference makers on defence will be very hard to find

Before the Flames signed Brodie, he was scheduled to hit the market as a 27-year-old on July 1, 2017. Spend a little while on capgeek and see how many other established defenders are scheduled to be 27-year-old (or younger) unrestricted free agents in the next five years when their current contracts expire.


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I counted seven: Cody Franson, Alec Martinez and Jeff Petry (all 27 and UFAs next July 1); Luke Schenn (26 in 2016); Victor Hedman and Dmitri Kulikov (both 26 in 2017); and Cam Fowler (26 in 2018). That’s not much, and there’s no guarantee all of them — especially Hedman — go up for bid.

Who would you take over Brodie in that group? Hedman? Sure. You can debate Fowler. Anyone else? He compares very favourably.

Let’s expand the list to those who would be under 30 in the next five free-agent classes, assuming they do not sign in advance.

2015: Marc Staal (28), Mike Green and Andrej Sekera (29)
2016: Erik Johnson (28), Keith Yandle (29)
2017: Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk (28)
2018: John Carlson (28)
2019: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Ryan Ellis and Jake Gardiner (28), Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson and Tyler Myers (29)

We’re not even at one per team.

What this list doesn’t take into account are younger players who still must play through restricted free agency. For example, Detroit’s Danny DeKeyser and Vancouver’s Chris Tanev both have three more years of team control. The former will be 27 and the latter 28 when UFA status hits on July 1, 2017. The Red Wings and Canucks have ample time to extend through their prime years.

Brodie’s agent, Anton Thun, and Calgary GM Brad Treliving began talking in August. It was important to the Flames that the defenceman’s salary not eclipse the $4 million Mark Giordano makes in 2015-16, the final season of his current contract. That’s why Brodie’s actual salary next year will be $3.9 million. (If everyone here had a real sense of humour, it would have been $3,999,999.99.)

As the season began with Brodie averaging a point per game in more than 25 minutes of ice-time a night, the Flames undoubtedly realized $4.65 million per was great AAV. As the Canadiens learned with P.K. Subban, as the player’s leverage rises, so does the cost.

If you took Grade 10 economics, you know it’s all about supply and demand. Defencemen who can move the puck are in demand. The supply? Very limited.

30 THOUGHTS

1. Another part of the conversation about free-agent defenders: is Subban poised for a long run as the NHL’s highest-paid blueliner? Doughty, Karlsson and Ekman-Larsson are signed through 2019. Alex Pietrangelo is tied up until 2020, Duncan Keith to 2023, Ryan Suter to 2025 and Shea Weber to 2026. Brent Seabrook is unsigned after next season, and should do very well, but he will be 31. The one guy who stands out is Hedman. Respect for his game is growing exponentially. If he wins a Norris Trophy, how close does he get?

2. Wednesday night, The Los Angeles Times’ Lisa Dillman reported district attorneys requested additional follow-up from police in the case involving Los Angeles defenceman Slava Voynov. They have until Dec. 1 to decide whether or not to lay charges, as the player’s attorney, Craig Renetzky, was widely quoted as saying there was no crime. Could Voynov remain suspended for five weeks if nothing happens before then? The only answer I could get was, “Don’t assume anything.”

3. At this time, Voynov is suspended with pay, staying on the Kings’ cap. There is a chance Los Angeles receives salary relief if this takes time, as the NHL has “reserved the right” to re-visit the situation.

4. Depending on how this goes, we could see the first test of a new power given to Commissioner Gary Bettman in the 2013 CBA. The section “Discipline for Off-Ice Conduct” reads as follows: “Whenever the Commissioner determines that a Player has violated a League Rule applicable to Players (other than Rules subjecting the Player to potential on-ice discipline), or has been guilty of conduct (whether during or outside the playing season) that is detrimental to or against the welfare of the League or the game of hockey, he may discipline such Player in any or all of the following respects: a) by expelling or suspending such Player for a definite or indefinite period; b) by cancelling any SPC that such Player has with any Member Club.” In a worst-case scenario, Bettman could void Voynov’s contract, which has almost $22 million remaining. There is an appeal process.

5. Boston and Buffalo did talk quite seriously about Chris Stewart, but it doesn’t appear at this time to be a match. According to other teams, the Sabres want two young players (or a young player and a draft pick) for the winger and couldn’t reach an agreement with the Bruins. Buffalo won’t make the move early unless it gets what it wants.

6. Those same teams believe Buffalo’s asking price for Tyler Myers is so high because of a worry he’ll go to a better team and make them look silly for trading him.

7. Jim Rutherford came right out and said he wants to keep Marc-Andre Fleury as his goaltender, and there’ve been some early talks to see where everyone stands. Things aren’t that far along, yet, but the goalie will be 30 when his current deal concludes. If the Penguins don’t want to extend him through the end of his career, the term that makes most sense is four years. That way, he could get another contract before the penalties that come with those who sign after age 35.

8. Team Canada asked Martin Brodeur if he had interest in playing for his country’s Deutschland Cup team next month in November. He declined. Apparently, the invitation was also extended for December’s Spengler Cup, so we’ll see where everything sits at that time.

9. One exec on the Oilers: “They are making (fewer) trade calls than you would think.”

10. When Viktor Fasth went down with a groin injury, Edmonton felt it would be a two or three week timeline and decided against adding another goalie. Ilya Bryzgalov would have been a simple add, since he’s been there and appeared in Minnesota’s camp. Ben Scrivens is validating that decision. In his last three games, he’s stopped 82 of 87 shots (.943), two of them very impressive victories.

11. You can see why Vancouver wanted Martin Marincin as part of the package when the Canucks and Oilers talked Cory Schneider two years ago. To protect a one-goal lead on the final shift against Tampa Bay, Dallas Eakins put him out there with Mark Fayne, Boyd Gordon, Matt Hendricks and Jesse Joensuu as Edmonton held on.

12. Like Edmonton, the Avalanche were confident they wouldn’t need to sign another goaltender since the injuries to Reto Berra and Semyon Varlamov weren’t serious. Another reason not to go that route? They are at 49 contracts. The max is 50. You don’t want to go there unless absolutely necessary.

13. It didn’t register much at the time, but Patrick Roy’s open disappointment during training camp with 2013 second-rounder Chris Bigras and 2014 top selection Conner Bleackley was foreshadowing. The Avalanche fired Rick Pracey last week, their director of amateur scouting, who pre-dated Roy. Tension began when Roy arrived, since Colorado didn’t have Nathan MacKinnon atop their 2013 draft list. Roy made it very clear MacKinnon would be the pick. Can’t argue with that one.

14. Like any scout, Pracey had hits and misses, but did make some great calls. There were plenty of options at No. 2 in 2012 and the Avalanche chose wisely with Gabriel Landeskog. Ryan O’Reilly and Tyson Barrie were big hits in 2009. Calvin Pickard got the start in Montreal when both regulars were hurt, but word is goalie coach Francois Allaire really likes 22-year-old Sami Aittokallio’s technical game. We’ll see how that plays out. Other teams are free to hire Pracey now.

15. MacKinnon beat three-time Olympic short-track speed-skating gold medallist Charles Hamelin in a quick race set up by CCM. How much burst does Colorado’s tremendous forward have? A company called PowerScout hockey is starting to track both top speed and acceleration through a computer program that uses three cameras set up around a rink.

16. The sample size is small (one-to-six times per player), but growing, and PowerScout (for business reasons) won’t allow its videos to be posted. The data I did see was compelling. MacKinnon was not one of the quickest accelerators (Alexander Ovechkin was first among those tracked, followed by Erik Karlsson, Ryan Kesler and Taylor Hall), but only Carl Hagelin had a faster highest speed, at slightly above 37 kilometres per hour. MacKinnon was tied for second, with Phil Kessel. (You can see some of that information here)

17. Not yet public is tracking indicating how much a player skates at a pace above 20 kilometres per hour. I saw a little bit of that information. Only three men stayed at that speed more than 40 percent of the time with at least 10 minutes of five-on-five play. They were Hagelin (44.2 per cent of 13:36), Sidney Crosby (42.4 of 19:19) and Joe Colborne (41.7 of 12:29).

18. The big surprise? Ovechkin was at 20 km/h just 25.4 per cent of the time. And, maybe it shouldn’t be so unexpected, but most defencemen stay in the teens.

19. Chuck Fletcher took care of two important pieces of business, extensions for Jonas Brodin (six years) and Charlie Coyle (five). Still to come is Mikael Granlund, one of the NHL’s rapidly improving players. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Michael Russo reported Granlund prefers a bridge deal, and it sure looks like, if something gets done, it will indeed be for two or three years. A longer contract was discussed, but seems unlikely.

20. By Oct. 23, 2013, there were already 13 suspensions for on-ice incidents, including pre-season. Oct. 23, 2011: 11. Oct. 23, 2010: 6. This year: none. To be honest, there’s hasn’t been much screaming about it, although Minnesota hated Kesler’s last-second hit on Granlund last Friday. They thought it was unnecessary, if not dirty. But, it does seem like a quieter start to the season.

21. When Steve Yzerman drafted Jonathan Drouin, one of the theories behind it was putting Drouin, a lefty, with right-handed Steven Stamkos, so they could feed off one another. They didn’t start on the same line in Edmonton, but eventually took a few shifts together and you could see the potential. The biggest concern about the rookie’s game after last season was that it was so easy for him to take the puck wherever he wanted to in junior that he’d try things in the NHL he shouldn’t. There was a little bit of that in his own zone against the Oilers, but, offensively, he’s ready for this.

22. Opposing player on Stamkos: “He was tentative coming back from his injury last year. He’s not worried about it anymore.”

23. Biggest adjustment for the Lightning with Hedman’s injury is he had more freedom than any other Tampa blueliner to carry the puck. Will anyone else get that rope in the interim?

24. Players and advanced stats, Chapter 3,628: According to a package put together by Bloomberg, Corey Crawford had the NHL’s second-best save percentage in 2012-13 on shots from farther than 30 feet (.975). Last year, it dropped to .950, the worst among all eligible goalies. He started perfectly this season, 14 for his first 14. Before last week’s Calgary/Chicago game, I asked Scott Oake to bring it up with Crawford, see if he knew about this, and if it was something he specifically worked on. Suffice it to say, the answer to those questions was a big, fat no. And Oake won’t be taking any more questions from me, either.

25. Chicago outshot Calgary 50-18 that night, but lost 2-1 in overtime. In 2013-14, there were four games where one team outshot another by at least 32. Washington by 33 over Buffalo on Dec. 29; the Blackhawks by 32 over Dallas on Dec. 3; San Jose by 32 over Edmonton on Jan. 29; and Carolina by 32 over the Sabres on March 13. Only the Hurricanes won their game.

26. Underrated aspect about Carey Price: he really knows the rules and is acutely aware of how to use them to his advantage. Tuesday night, Pavel Datsyuk’s beautiful spinning backhand goal was waved off, because Price leaned into Justin Abdelkader, whose skate was in the blue paint. He did the same thing in last year’s playoffs with Alex Killorn. Rule 69.3 says a goalie must be able to move in his crease as he feels necessary. If you’re in there, he’s going to “bump” you — and it’s your problem, not his.

27. Bad news for Mark Hunter, newly hired in Toronto: He might have to get voice mail on his phone now.

28. Nick Kypreos reported last week that Brendan Shanahan contacted the Red Wings last summer about Mike Babcock’s availability before the Maple Leafs extended Randy Carlyle, but were denied any contact. The highest-paid coach in the NHL is Joel Quenneville, with an average salary believed to be $2.9 million. (One qualifier: Patrick Roy’s exact compensation is unknown, but he has a Vice-President’s title.) Babcock is aiming for that, and beyond. The NHL does not have too many situations (if any) where the coach makes more than the GM. Are the Red Wings willing to do that? It’s common in the NBA and NFL, but not in puckville.

29. Detroit’s been a model of stability for a long time. In the words of one exec, it’s “weird” to see an issue playing out so publicly for them.

30. My first Hockey Night in Canada broadcast was Thursday, Oct. 9, 2003 in Ottawa. That morning, Harry Neale told me to jump in the front seat of our hotel-to-rink shuttle because he and Bob Cole liked to sit in the back and talk about the game. Bob stepped out of the lobby, stopped, glared at me, opened the door and said, “Young man, I sit in the front seat here,” as Harry howled in laughter. I was so nervous. Preparing to interview GM John Muckler two minutes into the show, I said, “This must be the first time the interviewer is more scared than you are.” He replied, “I doubt it.” That made me laugh and broke the ice. I ruined a suit (and one of Brian Williams’ ties) covering a CFL game at Lansdowne because we couldn’t use our metal umbrellas during a lightning storm. I’m going there for a charity event in two weeks, and those great memories are what I will always link to Ottawa. What happened Wednesday will never change that.