The All-Star Game format is scheduled to be announced Wednesday. The NHL would like it to be a mini three-on-three tournament.
The follow-up question: how do the players feel? Their executive board, comprised of the 30 club representatives, is in the process of voting.
It’s going to be interesting. Erik Karlsson, who will be an All-Star for years, doesn’t like three-on-three. (As President of the Karlsson Fan Club, this is the first time I’ve ever disagreed with him.) Dustin Byfuglien, in Columbus last January and a NashVegas possibility this time, doesn’t like it. As much as players admit the game needs a fresh coat of paint, they’re not sure this is the proper colour.
In a season that is gruelling enough, some feel, All-Star Weekend should not be adding to their on-ice stress. A three-on-three tournament is more taxing than a leisurely 18-17 public skate. Some teams, I suspect, also hope this idea fails.
If it does, I have an alternate suggestion: If you really want to try bigger nets, try them here.
Try them behind some of your best goalies, many of your best shooters and most skilled players. Pick the players based on who you’d like to see test them, players whose opinions should matter the most.
It makes a meaningless game a meaningful experiment. The player draft is great, even if the alcohol consumption terrifies the league. The skills competition is tremendous, especially as the competitors get more and more creative. But, the game is a bore, which is why the NHL is absolutely right to search for a solution.
This is a perfect opportunity. People will want to watch. How much harder is it for Henrik Lundqvist or Carey Price or Pekka Rinne to stop a puck? How much more shooting room is there for Alex Ovechkin or Steven Stamkos or Shea Weber?
We’re all going to want to know what these guys think. The post-game questions will be so easy, even I can figure them out.
You can play all three periods with a bigger net. Or, you can play two with a bigger net and one with a same-sized net that has smaller posts. Maybe there’s a third prototype you’d like to try. Whatever. This is a blank canvas and someone can be da Vinci.
If the players do vote for three-on-three, this suggestion may be moot. If they don’t, wouldn’t this be a better option than what we’ve recently witnessed?
1. Jarome Iginla told The Bleacher Report’s Adrian Dater he will not approve any in-season trades for family reasons. He’s got one more year on his contract, then what? Has Iginla, who will turn 39 next July, considered this might be it? “I don’t know,” he said Monday. “I used to listen to guys like Nicklas Lidstrom say, ‘I’m going to take it one year at a time’ and not believe them. ‘They know what they’re going to do,’ I’d say. But now that I’m in their position, I get it. I feel good. But, we’ve got three kids (ages 11, nine and seven). At some point, I’d like to do more with them. Right now, I don’t know though.” Iginla added he and his family don’t know yet where their permanent post-career home will be.
2. Iginla said players were kidding Matt Duchene about the trade rumours. “He has to realize a lot of that is people guessing.” Erik Johnson added, “We told him, ‘Of course you’d have a big game on Hockey Night in Canada.’” Duchene had three points in the 6-1 win over Montreal. GM Joe Sakic stoked fires by telling Dater there might be changes if the road trip went poorly, but wins over Philadelphia, Boston and the Canadiens cooled things. “It’s not like we won those games with a lucky bounce,” Iginla added. My sense is Sakic did test the market, asking what would happen if the Avalanche decided to make a move. That’s not uncommon, but we aren’t at Duchene Defcon 1.
3. In researching the Duchene information, one thing became very clear: there are a lot of Tyson Barrie fans. The rise of aggregation sites is annoying, because some (not all) butcher reporting. I have zero evidence Barrie is on the trade block. I’m sure Colorado would love to sign him. Before last season, the Avalanche offered him a four-year contract. He said no, deciding to take a bridge and bet on himself. His personal faith is being rewarded. Barrie is a restricted free agent next summer, with arbitration rights. He will do very well in that process, if it gets there. Colorado let Paul Stastny walk and traded Ryan O’Reilly, because the Avalanche knew they weren’t giving the deal Buffalo did. I don’t know what will happen with Barrie. But, if the choice is to trade, there will be no shortage of suitors.
4. Two other Avalanche targets to watch. It’s not a secret they would like to add defencemen. Last year, they came very close to a Patrick Wiercioch deal with Ottawa. (I believe it was for Stefan Elliott and a third-round pick.) It fell apart around the trade deadline. When Wiercioch was a healthy scratch last week, I wondered if anything re-kindled, but it doesn’t sound like it. Also, another source indicated Colorado and Toronto spent time trying to put together a deal around O’Reilly and Jake Gardiner. Obviously, it didn’t happen and I’m not sure, under Toronto’s new regime, if there would be any kind of match.
5. Nathan MacKinnon, on what he’s learned after two full seasons? How to relax. “If I have a bad game, or a bad shift, there is time to make up for it.” He pointed to his third NHL game, in Toronto. He made a terrible giveaway that led to a goal against, then set-up the winner for the Avalanche. “But you need to go through it a few times to understand.”
6. Finally on Colorado, good news on 10th overall pick Mikko Rantanen, sent down to AHL San Antonio. “He’s having some dominant shifts down there,” an opposing coach said. Also getting strong reviews? Anaheim/San Diego’s John Gibson: “Ridiculously good.”
7. Speaking of the Ducks, an opposing exec advised to back off the Cam Fowler rumours. “Last year, possible. This year, not so much. He’s one of their only guys playing well. They need him.”
8. As the GM meetings wrapped up last week in Toronto, several clubs (including Arizona, Calgary and Winnipeg) drove an hour west to see OHL Kitchener host Sarnia. Mike Richards is skating with the Rangers, and there were rumours one NHL team (none of the ones noted above) offered him a tryout. Minnesota was mentioned, but GM Chuck Fletcher said that was incorrect, as he declined several PTO opportunities. Richards’ next court date is Dec. 8.
9. Fletcher would not comment on this, but teams looking for defenders are curious to see when he feels two AHLers are ready for the next step. Many of you remember Mike Reilly, the hotly recruited college free agent. The other is Gustav Olofsson, whose 2014-15 was wiped out by a shoulder injury. Ideally, Minnesota would like to give these guys time, unless someone forces their hand by making a good offer for one of their NHL regulars. Once they are deemed ready, it’s going to be a crowded, youthful blueline. There’s not enough room for everyone. (As usual, no one quoted is used as an anonymous source.)
10. Who is looking for defence? Ottawa for sure. Columbus, too. Yes, the Blue Jackets made a coaching change, but that hasn’t stopped GM Jarmo Kekalainen from wanting to adjust his roster, too. Chicago’s Trevor Daley could be had, but teams are careful about anyone with term. Daley’s got one more season at $3.3 million. Thought he’d score there, but it hasn’t worked so far.
11. At the start of the season, as Joel Edmundson and Colton Parayko made St. Louis, the thought was Carl Gunnarsson would be the defenceman to go in a trade if the Blues had excess. Parayko’s been such a revelation that suddenly the Blues are flush with right-handed shots. There’s Alex Pietrangelo (an average of 27:05 in all 18 games), Parayko (19:42 in 18), Kevin Shattenkirk (20:03 per night, although he missed 10 games with injury) and Robert Bortuzzo (12:52 in 10). Teams always need extra. But, suddenly, the Blues have real flexibility.
12. One coach wondered if GM Steve Yzerman is looking for another right-shot blueliner. Tampa has the terrific Anton Stralman shooting that way, as does Andrej Sustr. The organization is on record as saying it wants to manage Stralman’s minutes. Since the start of the 2013-14 season, Stralman’s played in 292 of a possible 295 games, including playoffs. That’s tied for the most of any player in that span — with Niklas Hjalmarsson and Marcus Kruger. At times, he’s looked tired, not that anyone can blame him.
13. Tampa Bay led the NHL with 262 goals in 2014-15, one more than Dallas. This season, they are on pace for 189, which would place the Lightning 23rd. Going through the NHL Guide and Record Book, I can’t find a team that dropped farther from first place the following season. Took an informal poll from three teams who have faced them this year. All of them said some variation of, “The Lightning are way too good for this to continue.” But there were some constructive critiques: “Not enough junk to the net…Too fine with their shots, not creating enough second chances.” And: “Overpassing…need to learn to get their noses dirtier to score.”
14. The NHL’s Player Safety Department met with several repeat offenders in an attempt to reign them in. One was Zac Rinaldo, who escaped suspension a week earlier for hitting Sean Couturier, much to the department’s chagrin. While in Arizona during camp, Chris Pronger spoke with Steve Downie and John Scott. New Jersey’s Jordin Tootoo was offered the opportunity after being fined for a dangerous trip. Now on the radar? Washington’s Tom Wilson. Several teams have complained about his hits. As of yet, no meeting. But it’s been requested.
15. Things you don’t see every day: Both Erik Karlsson and PK Subban played every second of their team’s power play time Monday night — 3:54 for the former and a full 8:00 for the latter. In previous games, both were lower. Karlsson was at 3:11 (of 5:00) Saturday against the Rangers, while Subban saw 5:48 (of 8:00) versus Colorado.
16. The Canucks dressed five players on entry-level contracts against the Canadiens — Bo Horvat, Ben Hutton, Jared McCann, Hunter Shinkaruk and Jake Virtanen. Seriously, who saw that coming? It’s not as if these players are just filling out roster spots, either. Vancouver made changes to its scouting department last summer, but those who are gone did not leave the cupboard bare. GM Jim Benning has a good eye, too. In 2014, he grabbed Russian defenceman Nikita Tryamkin 66th overall. “I was like, ‘Who?’” one North American-based scout laughed last week. “Now, I’ve seen him. He’s going to be a player.” The team hopes he joins AHL Utica after the KHL season. The most fascinating thing to watch will be which veterans stay. There’s zero interest in ever moving the Sedins; the hope is they retire as Canucks. Word is the club plans to reach out to its potential UFAs in the new year to gauge things. And, it sure sounds like the organization believes Jacob Markstrom is a future number one.
17. After seeing Daniel Sedin miss zero shifts in Montreal after getting his face sliced with a stick, can we end this idiotic discussion the Sedins aren’t tough?
18. One of the things I like to ask young players is who did you go up against that made you realize, “Holy $%&@, I have some work to do here?” Hutton said Evgeni Malkin. “The coaches are always reminding me about gap. Malkin came at me with the puck, and I let him have too much room. Next thing I knew, he was going by me. Luckily (Matt Bartkowski) came to help. When I got back to the bench, the coaches just said, ‘Gap,’” he laughed. McCann named Jason Spezza. “I went to take the puck from him. He’s strong, he’s got that long reach and long stick. Didn’t work.”
19. Last season, Willie Desjardins mentioned the combination special teams stat as something he closely monitors. (That’s adding your power play and penalty-killing percentages together.) Vancouver’s total in 2014-15 was 105, third in the NHL behind Washington (106.5) and St. Louis (106). So far on the 1-3-2 road trip, it is 85.6. That’s an ugly stretch, as the lowest 2015-16 overall number is Philadelphia’s 90.5. The Canucks have 11 power play goals, but have allowed four with the man advantage. That plus-7 total is the lowest for any team that’s reached double-figures in power play scores. That may be why they tried Jannik Hansen over Radim Vrbata on the top unit. His speed can chase down mistakes.
20. Same question as above to Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl, with 13 points in eight games since his recall. “Last year, my third game was against the Kings, and by far it was my toughest. I don’t think I touched the puck once,” he laughed during a phone conversation Monday. “To be honest with you, it showed me what the NHL was really like.” Draisaitl was minus-3 that night, a stark contrast to last weekend, when he had two points as Los Angeles beat the Oilers 4-3. He looks like a totally different player, saying he tried some new workout routines in the Czech Republic with a trainer named Marian Voda. “At the beginning, there were some things I couldn’t do at all.” Like what? “The Bosu Ball. I was struggling with the co-ordination, but it became naturally easier and easier. It helped me a lot. I can just feel it on the ice now…a million times stronger, not as tired as last year, where I was falling off by the third period.”
21. Apparently, Draisaitl had somewhat of an epic meeting when told he was going to AHL Bakersfield at the start of the season. He let the Oilers know how upset he was, but wouldn’t specifically go into what was said. “I was really disappointed…being the last guy cut was hard for me to take,” he admitted. “It took about a week to get over that and it showed in the way I played. Then you think, ‘This might be good for me, working on weaknesses.’ My mind changed.” By the way, Leon, are you a centre or a winger? “I don’t really know,” he laughed. “I say I like to be a versatile player.” Good interview.
22. The Penguins made it clear they preferred to privately handle Malkin’s “We’re mad at each other. We need to just stop and look in the mirror” comments after Saturday’s shutout loss to New Jersey. One of my favourite movies is A Clockwork Orange. Whenever that happens, I have visions of someone being brainwashed like Malcolm McDowell was in the Stanley Kubrick film. Sure enough, he backtracked on Monday, telling reporters, “It’s a little bit not what I want to say. It’s not mad at each other…But I mean, when [nothing works] in a game like New Jersey, we start to get a little bit frustrated with each other.” (Transcript courtesy NHL.com.) I don’t think Malkin was misquoted or misunderstood. He was guilty of being too honest at a time when the team — and the organization — is fragile. I rarely, if ever, criticize someone for being honest. From the franchise’s point of view, he was probably told something like, “We are really going through a tough time. We’re getting beaten down badly enough by people on the outside. We can’t make it worse on ourselves.”
23. One exec had an interesting take on the Penguins. “You can’t be half-pregnant,” he said. “They are all in.” However, the next move is not an obvious one. They already went out and got Phil Kessel. It’s not as if you look at the roster or the prospect base and say, “That’s the next guy to go!” In fact, you almost say, “Would they really want to do that?” At some point, you’ve got to keep your picks and prospects. The biggest disappointment has to be Derrick Pouliot. Played himself off the NHL team, getting in trouble in the AHL. They counted on him to step up.
24. Just as there will be no quotas of Canadians versus Americans on the World Cup Under-24 team, it was decided last week there will be no quotas for Team Europe. The best will be picked, regardless of nationality.
25. Another suggestion to increase scoring? Don’t let goalies leave the blue paint; force them to stay in the crease. Was talking with Eli Wilson, who runs successful goalie camps (and worked for Hockey Canada, Anaheim and Ottawa) on another matter, and asked him about this. “It would create scoring chances that don’t exist right now,” Wilson said. “If the goalie stays in the paint, the shooter can score. The goalies would have to become more athletic, more reactionary.” Then, he paused: “But no one under 6-foot-4 would be able to play goal anymore.” We’re getting there anyway. When Mike Gillis ran the Canucks, policy was not to draft anyone under 6-foot-2 for that position. He wasn’t alone.
26. With all the debate about goalie equipment, an ugly scenario returned last week — the size of holes in masks. Marc-Andre Fleury was bloodied when Ben Lovejoy’s stick got through the cage. This is another long-running battle between the NHL and its players. Teams have demanded smaller holes for years. It shows how complex this process is.
27. Forgot to mention one familiar name from last week’s Karjala Cup in Finland: Vladimir Sobotka. St. Louis executives Martin Brodeur and Rob DiMaio were there watching him. I didn’t speak to them, but there were some differing viewpoints on his performance, with one team saying he “was okay,” to another calling him “the best in the tournament.” Sobotka is a really good player, but his contract demands didn’t mesh with the Blues’ estimation of his worth. Suspended by the club, he can return this season without waivers, similar to Nashville’s Alexander Radulov in 2012. He owes St. Louis another season at $2.7 million after losing an arbitration case in 2014. As of now, “we have no plan for (his return),” GM Doug Armstrong wrote in an email.
28. Mentioned last week that the overwhelming belief is Russian free agent Nikita Zaitsev will sign in Toronto. One very good source warned not to discount Pittsburgh, if Gary Roberts remains in the organization. Zaitsev started training with him three years ago.
29. It is a tense league. A lot of executives, coaches and players feeling the pressure. You can really sense it in conversations and written exchanges. More than ever, in my experience.
30. At the morning skate for Vancouver/Toronto last Saturday, a gentleman approached with a letter and a request. His name is Kevin Gassien. He explained that he would like to organize a ball hockey tournament next summer in Oshawa, ON to raise money for the Parkinson Society of Central and Northern Ontario, and the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Why? Because, as he writes in his introductory letter, “I was diagnosed with it two-and-a-half years ago.” Kevin rushed off, so I did not get contact information. But the website for the Parkinson Society is here and the Fox Foundation is here.