The most asked question of the week: “What did you think of the Evander Kane trade?” (More on that later.)
The second-most asked question of the week: “What on Earth is going on in Toronto?”
There’s been two David Clarkson scratches, one Phil Kessel demotion, a meeting with ownership… and a partridge in a pear tree.
There are two ways to look at it. The first is through the eyes of Jacques Lemaire, one of the sport’s smartest people. Years ago, when asked to explain his philosophy, he said, “Teaching the game the way I want it played.”
If you asked the Canadiens or Devils or Wild about that, they would say they knew if they didn’t do it his way, they weren’t going to play.
Not long ago, one coach (who knew he was going to be fired) said to his team, “Guys, the next coach is going to demand you play this way, so you might as well start now.”
That’s going to happen in Toronto, whether or not Peter Horachek is there. He’s beginning that process and he’s going to do it his way, consequences be damned.
The other, more cynical, view is the team wants certain players to leave. So, you make life uncomfortable to see if you can facilitate it. A few have lists of teams they can be traded to (Phil Kessel has eight, Tyler Bozak and Dion Phaneuf have a few more), but sometimes you can “grow” that number if the player wants it badly enough. And, the way things are going right now, it may not take too much prodding.
The group is beaten, on and off the ice. There is no escape in Toronto.
After Thursday night’s 3-2 loss to the Islanders, Kessel told reporters, “I love Toronto. But if it’s not here, it’s not here.”
There’s no hidden meaning to anything Kessel says. He’s blunt and not afraid to tell you exactly what he thinks. Take him at face value. If he didn’t like Toronto, he wouldn’t have signed for eight years.
But, if he’s going to be traded, he’ll pack up and go elsewhere. I always thought Kessel would be immune to these depths, because he can insulate himself from the world. Now, teammates say he’s had enough of the maelstrom.
That quote is exactly how he feels: “I won’t stand in the way of whatever you want to do.”
If anything, it should force Canadian fans to recognize the Markovs, the Phillips and the Sedins, who can handle the high highs and the low lows with grace and aplomb.
Brendan Shanahan’s told one story several times: that when the Detroit Red Wings were winning Stanley Cups under Scotty Bowman, he would challenge the players to figure it out when things went wrong. In the playoffs, Shanahan said, Bowman believed there was only so much the coach could do because the rosters are set and the momentum swings quickly.
At that time of year, the players decide their fate.
That’s why Shanahan didn’t do anything when Toronto lost by a combined 15-2 to Buffalo and Nashville in November. That’s why his first major move was to fire Randy Carlyle and put the onus on the roster.
My sense is he suspected all along major change was needed. But he had to see for himself to be sure.
1. In researching potential Evander Kane deals, one GM had a good philosophy: “Wait to see who loses in the first round, because those are usually the most pissed-off teams.”
Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff needed immediate help and didn’t want the distraction, so he made the deal. But for Kessel, this theory makes a lot of sense. Teams have extra space (you can go 10 per cent over the cap in the off-season), and someone’s going to have an annoyed owner demanding a goal-scorer.
2. There’s increased chatter around Bozak, as Damien Cox reported last Saturday. As a general rule, the tightened cap has teams nervous about term, and he’s got three years remaining with a $4.2M hit. He’s had a rough year and a change of scenery benefits everyone. What do potential trade partners see in him? If it’s a No. 2 centre, that cap number is reasonable. If a No. 3, it’s high. But this is a move Toronto is trying to make.
3. Mike Santorelli is going to be interesting. The Toronto forward has a lot going for him: he's a good player and he can move up and down your lineup at both centre and wing. His cap hit is a delicious $1.5 million. The longer the Maple Leafs hold on, the more teams can be involved. Even the tightest could get him. Right now, we’re probably looking at a second-rounder in exchange. But, could demand drive that any higher?
4. So, how’s the rest of the chatter going? “Much heavier through the Western Conference than the East,” said one GM. Winnipeg was (and remains) a big part of that, but Anaheim, Nashville and St. Louis are driving discussion, too. The Ducks’ interests are well-documented, especially on defence.
5. The Central Division is murder, and that wears on you when you’re GM of a really good team. As you woke up this morning, the Predators, Blues and Blackhawks rank one, three and nine in the NHL. You know at least one is going out in the first round, and the odds are good that two will be done before the Stanley Cup semifinals. That can cause a tension headache.
Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman isn’t crazy about the deadline, and he doesn’t have the space for major in-season surgery (although he could use a depth defenceman). Nashville, with cap room, is going to add, it’s just a matter of what. Other teams expect Chris Neil to end up there if that’s what David Poile wants, since he can’t block a trade to Tennessee and Bryan Murray has a history of sending loyal employees places they want to go.
How many emoticons do you think Neil and Mike Fisher are sending each other daily?
6. Neil makes sense for Winnipeg, but it doesn’t sound like Ottawa can send him there without a change in his 15-team list.
7. The Blues are healthier, with the exception of Kevin Shattenkirk. They made a huge try one year ago with Ryan Miller, and Doug Armstrong believes you can’t do that too often. Buffalo has their first-round pick in June. Is Armstrong willing to move another pick or a prospect to get what he wants? It may be the last chance for his core, and this is a very good team.
8. What a difference a week makes. After an ugly loss in Florida last Thursday, the Kings were re-considering the idea of short-term rentals as every Western contender openly rooted for them to miss the playoffs.
Three wins in a row and they are three points out. One thing to remember: when they got Marian Gaborik, they had the opportunity to talk to him first, gauging his interest in staying. Wonder if they would try that with someone like Andrej Sekera. But it hasn’t happened yet.
9. It was 2-0 St. Louis over Tampa Bay at the first intermission Thursday night, with the Lightning coaches in their office figuring out how to get going. All of the games were on monitors, and assistant coach Steve Thomas kept glancing over to Edmonton vs. Montreal. Then he saw it: his son Christian’s first NHL goal.
“I was so proud, but I admit I would have enjoyed it a little more if I was with my family,” Thomas said after the Blues’ 6-3 win. “I’ve been hoping for this, because he’s worked so hard but hasn’t had the result. He shoots the puck really well, you think it’s a matter of time, and if he just continues like this, he’s capable of scoring a little more…get his mojo back.”
What did you think about when it went in?
“I coached him in minor bantam, bantam and minor midget. The one thing I told him — and all his teammates — is you all have aspirations to get to the NHL, but you don’t know how hard it is…everything has to be about preparing; from eating properly, to being a good person on and off the ice, to training every night. Not making the Under-18s, not making the World Juniors, I told him this is just adversity. You get stronger by dealing with it.”
10. “He’s the best guy to look to,” Christian said of his father. “Not drafted by the OHL, not drafted by the NHL, he’s a lot of help to me.”
What was his best advice?
“Compete every shift, so if you make mistakes, they can’t fault how you worked.”
Christian called the goal “surreal. You dream as a kid to score like that…the building went crazy.”
11. Christian’s first was a terrific wrister (“That goal reminds me of a lot he’s scored,” Steve said.) Steve's first, against Detroit in 1985, “hit one post and the other post, then dribbled in…Not sure I could shoot it as hard or as well.”
Christian wasn’t buying that.
“I think he’s being pretty generous there. He had a good shot…still has it. It was good to get a nice one. I thought the first would just hit me and go in.” Great moment for the Thomases.
12. Quote of the Week: After Buffalo’s deals Wednesday, one GM said, “How is Don Maloney going to counter?”
13. You have to look at the big one as two trades. The first is straight up: Zach Bogosian for Tyler Myers. The second is Evander Kane for Drew Stafford, Joel Armia, Brendan Lemieux and a first-round pick. Now how do you feel?
At least two teams were wondering if Winnipeg took Myers to keep him, or flip him. Cheveldayoff said he is keeping him. It will be interesting to watch the Jets manage the right-hand shots on their blueline. Byfuglien (24:45 vs Nashville), Myers (21:23) and Jacob Trouba (20:19) are big-minute guys. But it’s a nice problem to have.
14. The two most likely players (with term) to be moved were Kane and Myers, and now they are off the board. So, who else was in? Calgary certainly was in on both, with the Jets and Sabres intrigued by the Flames’ youth at centre.
But the southern Albertans were unwilling to pay a very high price that focused on at least one, if not an attempt at both, of Sam Bennett and Sean Monahan. (You can’t blame someone for asking.) It might have ended up being one and a more experienced middleman like Mikael Backlund, but that’s a lot. Centres are hard to find. The moment you trade them, you’re looking for them.
15. Washington tried hard on Kane. It is believed the Capitals made a strong pitch for him at the draft. There were more talks this season, but the sense is they were not willing to subtract from what they have now. Washington could not have given Winnipeg what the Jets needed right away. Arizona, rebuilding with youth, didn’t have the extra first-rounders or young forwards Buffalo did. The Coyotes need to keep those players.
16. Vancouver was “half-pregnant.” You know the old line: you’re either pregnant or you’re not, you can’t be in the middle? The Canucks were in the middle. Buffalo was hoping ownership or public pressure might force Jim Benning to cannonball into the Evander Kane pool, but that didn’t happen.
When you look at the trade and realize the Canucks weren’t going to talk Bo Horvat, Jake Virtanen or Jared McCann, well, they knew they weren’t really in it. And I’m not convinced the organization really thought it was a good idea.
17. Los Angeles asked about Myers a while ago, but, as with Toronto, were not interested in including a Tanner Pearson or Tyler Toffoli.
18. Also from earlier this season: heard Buffalo asked Boston about Malcolm Subban. (I’d assume the topic was Chris Stewart.) Were told no.
19. How big has Adam Lowry been for Winnipeg? For a long time, the Jets wanted a centre as part of any Kane return. His arrival and development changed that need.
20. Armia’s an interesting case. Former Sabres GM Darcy Regier was excited abut his 17-year-old season in Finland, when he scored 18 goals in 48 games against men. But his development slowed in North America. One scout said Armia has a really good move to shoot off the half-wall, but opponents figured it out and he was very slow to adapt. He’s been better this season. AHL Rochester was in Milwaukee on Sunday, and he went down pretty hard with what looked like a bad injury. But he came back to play, which did not go unnoticed.
21. Another reason to keep Byfuglien as a defenceman? Opponents notice how much faster he tires at forward. “Watch him on the forecheck,” one player said. “When he goes hard early in a shift, it’s tougher for him to get back and maintain a high level. You can see it on his face. On defence, he can pick his spots, conserve his energy, and he’s very good at it.”
22. Good piece of intel: when Tim Murray was in Ottawa, he handled the Senators’ inquiries on Kane’s availability. So, he’s had interest for a while. There’s no doubt Kane has the ability to play with a Jack Eichel or Connor McDavid next season (assuming Buffalo gets one of them). The question is style.
Kane played primarily with two centres this season, Lowry and Mark Scheifele, and mixed better with the former because Lowry doesn’t need the puck as much. Kane’s best move when he reached the NHL was to flip it past a defenceman, and use his power/speed to get it back. Apparently, Slava Kozlov went to him and advised to add to the repertoire, because teams scouted it and were setting up Kane for big hits.
He suggested a delay move, or using a teammate for the give-and-go. It's still a work in progress. It’s the next evolution in his game, and will make him a more effective partner for a passing centre.
23. A positive example for Evander Kane? How about Patrick Kane? In preparing for Wednesday’s Vancouver/Chicago game, one defenceman laughed and said, “He was so much more fun to play when he had only one move entering the zone.”
That was a delay-and-wait-for-help kind of thing. Now, he does so many different things, it’s ridiculous. “I like to be in line (above) the faceoff dots,” Kane said. “Then I take what the defence gives me.”
He’s got inside moves, outside moves, cuts to the middle. Good luck with that, defenders. Tell you something else about Kane: he is one of the best in the NHL at explaining things so even dopey reporters can understand them.
24. In a season where the Hart Trophy race is wiiiiiiiiiiiiiide open, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville cast an unbiased vote for Kane.
“What people don’t recognize is how much his defensive game has improved,” the coach said. “When we don’t have the puck, he gets it.”
Case in point: the 1-0 goal in Chicago’s loss to Vancouver on Wednesday. The Canucks are breaking out, or so they think.
25. With all of Chicago’s cap concerns, opposing personnel guys warn not to discount a deep prospect base — a number of players at the AHL level who are very close. Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman, when asked about Teuvo Teravainen, made an interesting comparison to Vladimir Tarasenko.
“Understand, I am not comparing the two players, but their development,” he said. Tarasenko's first season in North America was the lockout. He played 31 games in the KHL and 38 in the NHL. His second was a big step, and now he’s outstanding in his third.
This is Teravainen’s first full year across the pond, and, at 20, he’s one year younger than Tarasenko was. You see what Chicago wants. Take a dip in the pool now, and wade in deeper next season. Then, we expect to see a full swan dive in 2016-17.
26. Daniel and Henrik Sedin shrugged off the radio comments from Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, but it was clear their teammates were angrier than they were.
“For all the things they’ve done on and off the ice, all the charity work,” one said, “you think they’d get more respect.”
27. Shawn Matthias, moved back to centre for the first time this season with Nick Bonino out, compared returning to “riding a bicycle,” but did say Willie Desjardins’ system does ask the centre to do different things.
“Low and slow,” is what the Canucks’ coach wants, he explained. “Be available to the defence for the breakout.”
What was the centre’s responsibility last year? “Watch it go around the boards,” he said. It's not exactly a secret that Matthias and John Tortorella did not see eye-to-eye.
28. It was good to see Henrik Lundqvist looking relaxed and healthy after a scary vascular injury after being hit with a Brad Malone wrist shot.
It was an odd situation, as Lundqvist seemed fine as he finished that game against Carolina, practised the next day, then beat Florida before complaining of a pounding headache. He was similarly hit in practice years ago, but didn’t go through anything like this.
What complicated matters was the injury (which was not easily identified) wasn’t in the area where he was hit. There’s no shortage of people who felt badly for trainer Jim Ramsay, who has been with the club for 20 years — especially former players. I work with a few, and they swear by him.
29. I don’t know Ramsay myself, but I have heard one great story. He worked with Team Canada at the 2010 Olympics. Head coach Mike Babcock heard someone barking at the referees, so he turned to assistant Lindy Ruff and said, “No yelling at the officials.” Ruff replied, “Don’t look at me, it’s (Ramsay).”
30. Former Minnesota assistant GM Tom Lynn is representing Viktor Tikhonov, who wants a return to the NHL after July 1. He will be an unrestricted free agent. Tikhonov has a history with Dave Tippett (he was drafted by the Coyotes) and Todd McLellan (he lived in San Jose and his wife is from there), but Lynn says, “I asked if I should focus on certain teams and was told no. He wants the best opportunity.”
Lynn said about eight teams have indicated direct interest, with another four or five indicating they will see what their roster looks like after the trade deadline and/or the draft before determining their interest.