30 Thoughts: What Voynov’s return to Russia could mean

Elliotte Friedman of the NHL on Sportsnet joins Prime Time Sports to talk about what the Toronto Maple Leafs and fans can expect from head coach Mike Babcock and Dion Phaneuf.

So, here’s where things stand with Slava Voynov:

He has begun “the formal process of returning to Russia” with his family. The Kings announced they had “decided he would no longer play for the team,” but Voynov’s move made termination of his contract unnecessary.

What does it all mean?

In the NHL’s eyes, it is the Kings’ responsibility to void the deal. So, unless L.A. chooses to do it, Voynov will owe four years should he return to North America. And, he can, if he applies for (and receives) a new visa to re-enter the United States. No question he’ll be able to apply for one. Actually get it? That’s another matter altogether.

There were rumours in the summer that the highest levels of the organization made it clear there would be no Voynov return. It’s possible they allowed GM Dean Lombardi to see if there was any kind of trade market (answer: no), but, at some point, the end was coming.

Voynov helped them close the chapter, although the Kings can still “protect the asset,” in case he comes back. It looks like that will be the path.

As Los Angeles navigated a difficult year of arrests and legal battles, Lombardi accepted some of the blame. On a conference call with reporters (as quoted by ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun), he called himself “negligent” and added “we will fix that going forward.”

Sometime in the future, one of those decisions could again involve Voynov. His old KHL club, Chelyabinsk Traktor, is on record as saying it will welcome him. But, if an NHL return ever becomes a possibility, who will take the chance?


1. More on L.A. in a second, but first: At the draft, one agent pointed to Brock Nelson and the Islanders as a stalemate to watch. Owner Charles Wang’s rules state those absent when camp starts don’t play, essentially giving a deadline of 7 a.m. Thursday. At some point, GM Garth Snow offered Nelson a seven-year extension, which didn’t happen. There were rumours New York took a very hard line, offering two years at a total of around $2.5-$2.7 million, but the Islanders denied that hours before Nelson agreed to a three-year, $7-million deal. Apparently, anyone who asked to trade for the forward was told he’s not available.

2. Still no set date for the Mike Richards grievance. One source said in August it might not happen until right before the season and that’s looking more likely every day.

3. Jake Muzzin drove down Highway 401 a few times per week in late August to play some games with regular defence partner Drew Doughty and a collection of NHLers who stay in the London, Ont., area. They didn't pair in scrimmages — “I see enough of him,” Muzzin joked — but did work on a few things.

“We looked at all our shot attempts and practised getting them through more often,” he said. “Being more mobile on the blueline, changing the angles…shooting off different feet. What else can we do instead of making a dead play? We play so many games, you get tendencies and habits…good and bad ones. We worked to change the bad ones.” Muzzin also watched a lot of video of himself, seeing if there were different reads to make on the penalty kill and “whether you're leading the rush or the fourth man, being more aggressive — or less — and still being an option.”

4. Muzzin was back in L.A. when we spoke this week, calling it “an exciting time. Everyone’s here now, pretty hungry, determined to be back on top.” Who looks particularly good? “Jonathan Quick. Looks great. Took it upon himself to come in and look good.” First impressions of Milan Lucic? “He’s a big man,” Muzzin laughed. “Now that I see him, I understand why, when you hit him, he doesn’t move too much.”

5. Doughty, who skated 140 more minutes than anyone in the NHL last season, said he was told in his exit meetings the Kings want him to drop from 29 to 25 minutes per game. A noble idea, but we’ll see if Darryl Sutter and John Stevens can hold back when crunch time comes, especially now that Voynov is gone.

6. Anze Kopitar’s agent, Pat Brisson, was scheduled to go to Switzerland this week to visit another client, Auston Matthews. That may slow down negotiations with the Kings, but it certainly sounds like both sides are taking a serious run at getting this done before the season.

7. The Islanders also investigated the possibility of Marek Zidlicky during the summer. He isn’t going there, but there are a couple of teams looking.

8. Upon arriving in Tampa, Steven Stamkos said he was in the “middle stages” of negotiations with the Lightning. Whatever that means, the league reaction outside western Florida is, “We’ll believe Stamkos becomes a free agent when we see it.” As one GM said, “How can this not get done? He’d be the biggest free agent ever.” Another pointed out Steve Yzerman and Don Meehan have a strong relationship, so you could make a deal, then work together if both sides decided to extricate themselves in the future.

9. Asked a few execs about an under-the-radar team that might still make an interesting move or two. No overwhelming favourite, although New Jersey was mentioned a few times. GM Ray Shero is taking the long view and his owners are patient (see Philadelphia 76ers), but he’s got a ton of flexibility. It’s not just cap room. After signing Jiri Tlusty, the Devils are at 43 contracts, although it could go to 45 if John Quenneville and Pavel Zacha make the roster. The max is 50.

10. CSN’s Joe Haggerty sprayed some napalm Tuesday with a blog about the Bruins’ dressing room issues last season. I spoke about it with one exec who said it didn’t surprise him. “One of the toughest things to do is introduce change on a successful team, particularly if your core doesn't think it’s necessary. You get push back.” One of the unconfirmed stories I heard last year was complaints about new blood getting power play time, and you can see that was probably true. Now that Boston missed the playoffs, the critical question is whether or not the veteran core understands change must come.

11. The article brought up the Johnny Boychuk deal. Former GM Peter Chiarelli has always refused to discuss this theory, but I believed he felt the club could only afford Boychuk or Dougie Hamilton under the cap. He chose the latter. Now they are both gone.

12. Has Zdeno Chara decided to play at a lighter weight? “No…bad rumour,” he said last week. He admitted he's done a lot of research into his hips, how to make them “fire” with more efficiency as he ages. What have you learned? “I can't tell you,” he smiled. “What, it’s a secret?” “No, it’s not a secret. I just can’t tell you.”

13. Very interesting word got out that Boston’s three first-rounders —Jakub Zboril, Jake DeBrusk and Zach Senyshyn — failed their conditioning tests. As a former NHL strength coach once said, “Failed tests only get out when the organization wants them to get out.”

14. After a strong performance at the Penticton rookie tournament, the question is asked once again: Will Leon Draisaitl be a centre or a winger? One exec made a good point. In Boston, Chiarelli saw Tyler Seguin play both. In San Jose, Todd McLellan moved around Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski. Wouldn't be a surprise if Draisaitl does the same.

15. The Montreal Canadiens hope they don’t have to do the same — that Alex Galchenyuk starts at centre and stays there. His first game down the middle last season was the the team’s first at home after Jean Beliveau died, and he was terrific against the Sedins in an emotional evening. He had four goals and seven points in his first eight games at the position, then three in six after the calendar flipped to 2015 and the experiment ended. His possession numbers also saw a significant drop. There was a lot of debate in Montreal as to whether Michel Therrien or Galchenyuk himself made the decision to switch back, but the truth is both sides were uncomfortable with where things were going. It makes more sense to start there, but there must be a willingness to stick with things when tough times inevitably arrive. Galchenyuk had four points in his first three games after going back to the wing, so managing that temptation may be a challenge, too.

16. Another future Canadiens centre hopeful, Michael McCarron, impressed at least one opposing exec at the rookie tourney in London. “Other teams really went after him — hard,” he said. “(McCarron) handled it very well.”

17. In July, Canucks GM Jim Benning said he could have traded Ryan Miller. Best intel I could find indicated the likeliest possibility was San Jose. The Sharks went out and got Martin Jones, as Benning is committed to Miller.

18. A smart evaluator once said, “Never pay attention to the first week of exhibition games. It’s the second week that determines who’s ready, because that’s when the veterans start to care a little.” Jake Virtanen will be an interesting test. No question he stood out in Penticton, but will he continue to impress as he faces stronger, more mature men? It’s always tougher for young players who depend on physicality. One exec compared him to Raffi Torres. “He hits right through you, and he hits you hard.”

19. Boy did Winnipeg’s Nik Ehlers coast through his first two games at that tournament. But he finished well, leading a couple of scouts to laugh that Ehlers was letting everyone know he’d be more competitive at the main camp. Also: “He’s stronger than you’d think.”

20. When the final horn sounded, and Connor Hellebuyck realized he'd shut out the Czech Republic en route to a stunning bronze for Team USA at the Worlds, what went through his mind? “Honestly, it’s very difficult to put into words,” he said, adding that it was equally as special to walk into his family’s home with the medal for the first time. Hellebuyck said his first pro season was a much bigger adjustment than he’d thought. “I didn't realize I’d hit a wall during the year. You think with all those days off (in the AHL), that you're okay, but the workload is so much heavier.” He played 53 games in two NCAA seasons, and 58 last year in St. John’s. “I’ll be ready for it this time.” Meanwhile, Winnipeg isn’t making it easy for anyone to discuss its young goalies.

21. Not sure how many people expected to see Kerby Rychel in a Blue Jackets uniform this season, but the reviews were excellent at the Traverse City tournament won by Columbus. I’m still not certain what his long-term future is in Ohio, but GM Jarmo Kekalainen made it clear he’s not going to set a low bar in any trade. “Couldn’t be happier with his progress,” Kekalainen wrote via email. Rychel’s best option was to show up and make an impact. He’s taken a very good first step.

22. Carolina’s Noah Hanifin is another big-time film watcher. He'll watch all his shifts post-game, but also makes sure to analyze the likes of Duncan Keith. What does he look for? “How he reads the play,” the fifth-overall selection answered at the NHLPA Rookie Showcase. “How does he defend an odd-man rush, how does he know when to take a risk so that it doesn’t hurt his team?” Hanifin says he knows that, as a rookie, his mistakes will be heavily scrutinized, but knows he’s not helping the Hurricanes if he’s too cautious to try.

23. Twelve months ago, Dave Nonis said Connor Brown was three years away from playing in the NHL, but the Maple Leafs were confident he'd get there. At the end of the 2014-15 season, Nonis said that timetable “accelerated” a bit. He saw a chance Brown could get a few games this year. The sixth-round pick, who had 61 points in 76 AHL games in his first pro season, said the Marlies coaching staff did a great job of teaching him the little things. Like what? “In junior, you get on the wing and just go up the boards. You can get away with that,” he said. “Not here. They showed me how something simple like two steps toward the centre ice can create room and make a big difference.”

24. A lot of times, you hear “everyone gets a clean slate” and you roll your eyes. I do think that will be the truth in Toronto. Those players will be given the chance to start fresh and see where this goes. GM Lou Lamoriello has a philosophy: “Don't be who you're not, and we are going to give you everything you need to be who you are.” What’s going to be most interesting is what the “rules” will be around them. Lamoriello is old-school — suits and ties, limited facial hair, no owners in the dressing room, no individual endorsements. How much of that will we see?

25. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Michael Russo reported that Zach Parise and Ryan Suter spent time doing on-ice work with Hall-of-Famer Adam Oates. It would be nice if Oates answered his phone, but word is he spent time with several NHLers this summer, working on skill development. Parise and Suter didn’t want to be seen as undermining their coaches, but you can’t fault someone for wanting to be better. Apparently, Suter and Oates spent a few hours watching video of the defenceman's game, too. By the way, when Oates actually does answer, he can address rumours he may soon be working with a team as a consultant.

26. For all the firepower in Dallas, the Stars' most important skater might be defenceman Patrik Nemeth, who missed most of last season with a wrist cut. On the NHL media tour, Tyler Seguin named the defender as an under-the-radar performer ready to make an impact. GM Jim Nill has openly discussed the need to find some muscle on the back end, and it’s critical to develop it as opposed to having to go out and trade for it/throw money at it. Nemeth is skilled at defending the cycle, which every team needs. He could quietly be a game-changer for the Stars.

27. Two years ago, the NHL's new jersey supplier, adidas, introduced the miCoach Elite Team System in MLS. Basically, it was attire that allowed someone on an iPad to monitor a player's heart rate, exertion, stamina, etc. in real time. Could that happen in the NHL? The new deal with MLB Advanced Media may eliminate the need. By the time adidas takes over, MLBAM hopes to have developed some impressive player tracking on its own.

28. As for sweater ads, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman shot down the idea — until someone comes up with a number that really makes him pause. Don’t forget the NBA put them on some of their All-Star weekend uniforms. That I could see. No one cares what’s on All-Star sweaters.

29. TVA’s Renaud Lavoie asked a good question at the NHL broadcasting meetings: What happens if a coach calls for a video review of a missed offside, and while looking, the referee notices the goalie was interfered with? Is the goal disallowed? Answer is no. You have to be specific about what you want to review.

30. Former Dallas assistant GM Frank Provenzano is out of the hockey business, working for a sports data analytics company called E15. It just launched a new sports/social media app found at fanseyesports.com, starting with football. It’s pretty interesting. The hope is to add the NHL next season.