Weekend Takeaways: The difficulty with Jonathan Drouin

Elliotte Friedman and Damien Cox discuss all the rumors around the NHL, including where the Lightning are with Steve Stamkos and Jonathan Drouin and if Jaromir Jagr will be in Nashville for the All-Star Game.

The numbers are fascinating.

Going into play Sunday, there had been 55 instances this season in which NHL coaches called for a replay review of an opposition goal, alleging the other team had been offside.

On 22 occasions, the two linesmen reviewed the play on an iPad-like device at rinkside, and overturned the goal.

That’s a 40 per cent reversal rate. Much, much higher than anyone would have expected, and certainly higher than the NHL would like to live with.

Here’s the next question. Are NHL linesmen missing offside calls in general with that level of regularity?

Even if that’s not the case, let’s say offsides are being missed at half that rate. That would mean 20 per cent of offside calls are being missed. The other concern is that linesmen could start whistling down all close plays at the blueline to avoid missing the call.

It was felt by many the NHL was opening a Pandora’s Box by allowing video review of offside calls. That may very well be the case.

The other problem is the difficulty linesmen are having getting camera angles from television to make the best offside replay calls. At the All-Star Game this weekend, the league will test cameras mounted on the boards or glass at either end of the blueline to try and see if that offers more conclusive video for officials to consider.

The league will also try out new cameras in the crossbar for goal/no-goal calls. The ones that have been used in the posts simply are blocked out too often and useful only about five per cent of the time, according to league officials.

In total, going into play Sunday there had been 141 coaches challenges this season, with only 38 successful. Coaches challenged 86 times alleging goalie interference, but were rewarded only 16 times. 

San Jose’s Peter DeBoer led the league with 10 challenges, with Toronto’s Mike Babcock second with nine this season.

Indications are Jaromir Jagr will indeed head to Nashville to participate in the NHL All-Star Game this week.


If he pulled out, Jagr would have had to miss a game before or after the all-star break. After Florida beat Tampa Bay and Chicago on the weekend, the 43-year-old veteran’s competitive juices may have convinced him he doesn’t want to voluntarily miss any regular season action.

The Panthers play Tuesday against Toronto, and their first game after the break would be Feb. 2 against Washington.

The return of Dave Keon to the Maple Leaf fold on Saturday was enthusiastic, yet somewhat muted at the same time.

Keon couldn’t really say why he’d decided to end his exile, other than it was for his children and grand-children. He said for years he didn’t feel like a Leaf, and gave a strange answer when asked by Sportsnet’s Scott Morrison if he would now feel warmer to the hockey club for the foreseeable future.

“We’ll see,” he said.

Hmmm. So Keon’s back, possibly for good. Sound about right?

Here’s the biggest challenge for any team interested in trading for Jonathan Drouin.

The Tampa Bay prospect has made it clear he’s not interested in playing in the American Hockey League despite the fact he hasn’t proven he can play in the NHL. Beyond that, he has chafed at being asked to play any role other than as a top-six forward when with the Lightning. In fact, he asked the Bolts to trade him when he found himself in that situation.

That’s a lot for any team to commit to for a player who, despite an excellent pedigree as a junior and a third overall NHL draft pick, has more than his fair share of doubters.

Ottawa is one club interested in Drouin. GM Bryan Murray has held talks with Tampa GM Steve Yzerman to see if there’s room for a deal.

Murray, however, doesn’t want to part with Cody Ceci, a 22-year-old defenceman. While Ceci is not yet an all-star, the Senators have seen young defencemen Jared Cowen and Patrick Wiercioch regress this season, and the team is 29th in NHL team defence despite the play of goalie Craig Anderson and star blueliner Erik Karlsson.

Ottawa had hoped to add depth with Swedish defenceman Mikael Wikstrand, but the 22-year-old bolted for home during training camp and had been sitting inactive until the Sens approved his transfer to Farjestads last week. It’s unclear if he’ll ever show up in North America.

So, right now, Ceci is a significant asset for Ottawa, and giving him up for another forward might not exactly be what the Sens need. Still, Murray remains interested in Drouin.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported on Saturday that the Lightning have offered Steven Stamkos a contract with an estimated average salary of $8.5 million per season. That would likely mean Tampa would be willing to go up to at least $9 million, which would still be significantly below the top salaries in the league and $1 million per season less than the contract recently signed by Los Angeles Kings centre Anze Kopitar.

It’s hard to say whether Stamkos would accept less than “market value,” and difficult to ascertain exactly what market value is at the moment for a high-scoring winger yet to win a Stanley Cup.

Zack Kassian is headed back to the minors. But it’s not a bad thing.

No, the Edmonton Oilers seem relatively pleased with Kassian, who has one goal in six games since being recalled. But rather than having him take the all-star break off, they’ve sent him to Bakersfield to keep his feet moving and mind occupied. Seems like sound player management.

With the Condors, he’ll skate alongside the recuperating Connor McDavid, although McDavid is expected to practice only, not play for Bakersfield.

One of the more intriguing players at the CHL Top Prospects game in Vancouver this Thursday will be William Bitten of the Flint Firebirds, a young man who has been at the centre of a most unusual and disturbing junior hockey story this season.

Bitten, 17, grew up in Gloucester, Ont. and played for the Ottawa Jr. Senators organization before being drafted as a 15-year-old in the OHL Priority Selection process. He was taken seventh overall by the Plymouth Whalers, which meant, he not only had to leave home, he had to pursue his junior hockey dreams across the border.

That situation became more complicated when Peter Karmanos, owner of the Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL, decided to sell the Whalers to Norwegian businessman Rolf Nilsen, who decided to move the team to the struggling city of Flint, Michigan. There were concerns about the living conditions that would greet the players, but the situation seemed to get off the ground reasonably well.

Then everything changed.

Nilsen, after the team defeated Oshawa in early November, angrily fired the entire coaching staff led by John Gruden. That ridiculous decision prompted the team, including Nilsen’s son, Hakon, to quit en masse. OHL president David Branch drove from Toronto to Flint to deal with the situation, and Gruden was reinstated. Nilsen, the owner, was asked to promise in writing not to meddle with the club.

Things seemed to settle down until this month, when the team’s GM, Terry Christensen, was fired, replaced by Gruden. That came after the club’s star goalie, Alex Nedeljkovic, was traded to Niagara, ostensibly over Gruden’s objections.

Now, Nilsen’s would-be “special hockey advisor,” a Russian national named Sergei Kharin, has suddenly appeared on the Flint bench. The team has won 14 of 45 games, is winless in 13 and is last in its division despite the efforts of Bitten, a speedy centre who has 21 goals and 26 assists.

Overlapping all of this is the Flint water crisis, which has been going on for months and is now receiving national headlines after the area was declared a national emergency by president Barack Obama. Children have been found to have elevated lead levels in Flint since the city switched its water supply to the Flint River, and nobody can actually drink the water.

The players are housed in a nearby suburb, not inner city Flint, but are affected nonetheless. After all that has happened in Flint and with the Firebirds, it will be extremely difficult for the team to attract and draft players. Last summer, the team’s top draft pick, Ryan McLeod, declined to report to the club.

You can bet a youngster like Bitten didn’t expect all of this when he was drafted two years ago.

As reported by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the Leafs appear to be the team likely to sign free agent Russian defenceman Nikita Zaitsev. Zaitsev is 24, playing this season for CSKA Moscow and is viewed as a player ready to play in the NHL next season, although probably not with a big offensive impact.

Zaitsev was apparently offered a two-year, $4 million deal by CSKA boss Sergei Fedorov to stay, but wants to try North America.

The unusual part of this year’s top prospects game compared to other years is that most of the very top NHL draft candidates won’t be there.

Auston Matthews is playing pro hockey in Switzerland, while Finnish forwards Jesse Puljujarvi and Patrik Laine are in their homeland. Top U.S. prospects Kieffer Bellows and Clayton Keller are with the U.S. National Team Development program, while Penticton centre Tyson Jost and defenceman Dante Fabbro, aren’t eligible to play in the CHL game and will instead play in the CJHL top prospects game on Tuesday in Surrey.

Two other top-rated Americans won’t be there either: Luke Kunin, who is at the University of Wisconsin, and defenceman Charlie McAvoy, who is at Boston University. 

Still, the game is loaded with intriguing prospects. Players like Brandon defenceman Kale Clague, Mississauga blueliner Sean Day and Sarnia defender Jakob Chychrun would like to use this game to re-establish their credentials for the draft after others have stolen the headlines in recent weeks.

The drafting of Morgan Rielly is starting to look like one of the great success stories for a Toronto franchise that has traditionally struggled at the draft table.

Rielly, if you remember, played only 18 games in his draft season, and ended up available to the Leafs at fifth overall after Nail Yakupov, Ryan Murray, Alex Galchenyuk and Griffin Reinhart. Then-GM Brian Burke went for Rielly, although there were safer picks available.

As of today, Rielly looks as good as any player taken in the first round that year, including Galchenyuk (third), Jacob Trouba (ninth) and Zemgus Girgensons (14th), among others.

These are all players still in the early stages of their careers, and much could change. But watching Rielly flourish under the tutelage of Mike Babcock suggests the Leafs may have, for once, been smarter than the rest.