• Blackhawks down to three finalists for next GM
• Toronto’s options with Jake Muzzin‘s health uncertain
• How the Oilers may approach their situation in net
The reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was swift and immediate.
UEFA moved to pull the Champions League final from St. Petersburg. Czechia, Poland and Sweden demanded upcoming World Cup qualifiers be rescheduled out of Moscow. F1 drivers asked for the Russian Grand Prix to be postponed.
Reports indicate Helsinki-based Jokerit will forfeit its place in the KHL playoffs, since its arena is Russian-owned. There is pressure on the International Ice Hockey Federation to declare its intentions for the 2023 World Juniors (to be hosted in Novosibirsk and Omsk) and 2023 World Championships (St. Petersburg). New IIHF president Luc Tardif deftly handled rescheduling two recently cancelled events due to COVID, but this will be a much bigger challenge.
Russian NHLers are wary of commenting, knowing potential repercussions for their families back home. As things intensified earlier this week, several players with KHL interest for next season chose to wait or look elsewhere.
For those under contract, it’s not so simple.
Right before the Beijing Olympics, the KHL cancelled the remainder of its regular season, going directly to the playoffs starting March 1. The official reason was COVID, but the possibility of an invasion into Ukraine was on everyone’s mind.
I counted 23 Canadians and five Americans on playoff rosters. Several politely declined to discuss their feelings — even privately — knowing dissent isn’t tolerated, especially now. One agent wouldn’t allow a client of his to speak on or off the record.
Two did agree to talk, with one saying simply, “I’m considering coming back (to North America),” although he hadn’t made a final decision. The other said, via text, that he will play.
“If guys decide to play, it is to provide for their families,” he said. “I hope people understand that. If they quit, they don’t get paid.”
A couple of sources did confirm players were warned their contracts would be terminated if they went home.
“Our families are worried, of course, and some of the players are as well,” this individual continued, saying he felt safe in his situation. But asked if he ever considered not playing, he responded quickly: “No.”
“Leaving isn’t that simple.”
1. The Nashville Predators know that to re-sign Filip Forsberg, the AAV must be higher than Matt Duchene/Ryan Johansen’s $8 million figure. Forsberg knows that, if he wants to stay in Tennessee, he’s going to have to come in lower than Roman Josi’s $9.059 million. I wouldn’t be surprised if Forsberg initially asked higher — you don’t negotiate against yourself — but that’s where everyone’s got to get to: the sweet spot between those two numbers. (Plus, structure and no-trade protection.) There’s time. I believe there is a will for both sides to get there. If we get to the deadline and the Predators don’t believe they can sign him, that’s when a trade becomes possible. GM David Poile could keep an unsigned Forsberg past March 21, but it’s not his preference, and won’t happen if progress isn’t being made.
2. Chicago’s GM finalists appear to be incumbent Kyle Davidson, Tampa Bay director of hockey operations Mathieu Darche and Cubs assistant GM Jeff Greenberg.
This has been an interesting process. One of the things we’re all trying to get a handle on is how serious the Blackhawks were about non-hockey candidates Greenberg and Raptors vice president Teresa Resch? Were they legit candidates, or performative optics? Multiple sources at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment indicated Resch didn’t think this was the right thing for her, but felt Chicago was legit in its interest. (One thing about the Raptors, they pay very well.)
Greenberg apparently knocked it onto Waveland Avenue in his interview(s), which, I believe, led to a conversation about what it would really mean if someone with no hockey experience led your hockey operations. How would that work? What would you need around him? Would core players, potential free-agent/trade targets and fans buy in? Davidson was CEO Danny Wirtz’s favourite to begin this process, and Darche clearly impressed, too. Honestly don’t know how to handicap this one.
3. One thing I heard about the interview process: It’s very clear the Blackhawks know they have a lot of work to do to rebuild their image. “Scarred, and want to fix it” was how one candidate described it.
4. Quote of the week: “If it is Greenberg, is the next coach Joe Maddon?”
5. I can see Philadelphia in on Canadiens’ Jeff Petry. It makes a lot of sense for them.
6. I think the Flyers’ Rasmus Ristolainen gets moved. He wants a playoff series. Not only do I understand the desire to finally get a chance after almost 600 games, but I could see Ristolainen thinking postseason style as beneficial for his market value.
7. Claude Giroux’s 1,000th game as a Flyer would be at home March 17 versus Nashville (knock on wood). I think he’d like to get there, but it’s not a dealbreaker if something comes up beforehand. His media conference last week was a reminder of how this time stresses out people. You just want it to be over, but I don’t sense anything imminent. Apropos of nothing, I’ve really enjoyed watching Gerry Mayhew. He gives it his all.
8. Even though Toronto put Jake Muzzin on long-term injury reserve, I think the Maple Leafs still have to get a handle on his situation. We know now the danger of cumulative concussions, and the bruising defender suffered one on Jan. 15. Guessing recovery timelines is silly. They know he’s out until at least mid-March, and can see where everything stands before the deadline. They’ll do their legwork in the meantime.
While I do think J.T. Miller is perfect for them — and they have talked to Vancouver — I don’t think the Maple Leafs feel that is their No. 1 priority. They aren’t finished trying to tinker with their blue line and, at the very least, must be considering goaltending options. They had conversations with Dallas about John Klingberg, and may revisit after adding some edge they desired in Ilya Lyubushkin. By my math, they could have $7 million in cap room, although a pre-playoff return for Muzzin complicates that.
9. Toronto’s made it clear it desires to hold Matthew Knies and Topi Niemela — especially for rentals or shorter-term options. Nick Robertson for a rental seems unlikely. I suspect that, after the Olympics, Nick Abruzzese moved toward this group, as well. They don’t have a ton of draft picks, but feel very good about their prospects.
10. Los Angeles, looking for scoring, checked in with Vancouver. In a previous interview, Kings GM Rob Blake indicated he preferred to pay a lower price for Viktor Arvidsson. That was a second-rounder and a third-rounder.
11. I do think the Rangers looked at Buffalo’s Victor Olofsson. However, he is a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, and I don’t believe New York can handle next season’s projected number.
12. Anaheim’s concerned about term. The Ducks have made that clear in free-agent negotiations. Doesn’t make negotiations impossible (higher AAV?), but it’s a hurdle.
13. Oilers GM Ken Holland’s been very clear that he doesn’t want to make a bad, panicky trade for a goalie. In that case, I wonder if there’s any chance the Oilers consider recalling Stuart Skinner and carrying three goalies. Coach Jay Woodcroft is not uncomfortable using 11 forwards, so it could work. Goalies despise that setup, but Edmonton needs to win games. Skinner shut out San Jose in his most recent start.
14. Another Washington forward possibility: Seattle’s Calle Jarnkrok. He fits the way they play.
16. One undrafted free agent to watch: Port Coquitlam, B.C.’s Clay Stevenson, who plays goal at NCAA Dartmouth. Stevenson has a .925 save percentage (third in the ECAC) for the Big Green, who are 5-13-2 in conference play. He’s facing 33 shots per night. Their final regular-season game is Saturday, and NHL teams are making pitches.
17. Whenever we’ve had to deal with an abuse of officials situation, I’ve always been told, “Let’s see what’s in the postgame report. That will determine where we go.” Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon is very fortunate linesman Michel Cormier gave him a pass in the written version. That, as much as anything else, saved him a suspension. Not all of Cormier’s brethren agreed, but, at the end of the day, it was his call. Another official said that he knew MacKinnon would escape when no penalty was called on the ice.
18. MacKinnon’s so demanding of himself that he’s usually wound tight, and was extra-determined after last year’s second-round flop versus Vegas. There was COVID to start the regular season and a lower-body injury that cost him three weeks in November. He escaped supplemental discipline after a dicey hit on Nolan Patrick last Wednesday, and now this. He needs to rein it in a bit.
19. Jordan Binnington stopped 25 of 26 as St. Louis beat Philadelphia 4-1 on Tuesday. He’d been struggling, and surging Ville Husso got the start last Saturday in Toronto. That’s normally a home game for Binnington. As competitive as he is, he couldn’t have liked it, but I bet he understood it.
20. Toronto and Carolina are both challenging for the best combined power play/penalty kill number since the 1977-78 New York Islanders’ 114.9. The Maple Leafs are at 114.7, the Hurricanes 113.9.
21. The Maple Leafs do have to cut down on rush chances, however. Montreal is 32nd at 7.3 per game, followed by the Rangers (7.2, thank you Igor Shesterkin), Edmonton (6.9) and Toronto (6.7).
22. There will be a lot of talk about Mark Giordano, but the bigger question might be what Seattle decides with Jared McCann. Career-high in goals, will get there in points. One year from unrestricted free agency and needs a new contract.
23. What a week for Jean-Francois Berube. Returns to the big league for the first time in four years, and wins three straight games. The first — 7-3 over Buffalo last Sunday — was the first time his 19-month-old son got to see his dad play an NHL game, which is awesome. He followed up by beating Toronto and Florida. Montreal’s Andrew Hammond also got his first win in four years. That kind of dedication should be rewarded. Next week, Kari Lehtonen?
24. When Cheryl Pounder said Canada’s 2022 women’s hockey gold medallist was this country’s best team ever, well who am I to disagree? But I will always be partial to the 2002 version. That was the first Olympics I covered, and eight consecutive penalty kills in the championship game was incredible. Pounder won gold as a member of that team, so her praise of this group is particularly notable.
25. When Marie-Philip Poulin is ready, the Canadiens will listen. But she still wants to play, and who can blame her? Still at the top of her game.
26. I was surprised that Finland hadn’t won hockey gold before. Just didn’t realize it. They’re always right there, and so aggravating to play against. Like to see great hockey supporters get rewarded, and the Finnish fans sure qualify. Was also happy for Slovakia. Some of their players had been worried about the future of Slovak hockey. This will create momentum, as will top draft prospect Juraj Slafkovsky.
27. Thursday was the 20th anniversary of Canada’s gold medal win over the U.S. in Salt Lake City. What a great tournament that was. So much exciting hockey. Two non-hockey events I never forget from then. First, there was an IHOP across the street from the rink. I went there for breakfast before the game, and out walked Steve Nash. I was like, “Didn’t you have a game last night?” He said, “Yup.” (Dallas beat Sacramento at home, 111-97.) “Don’t you have practice today?” “I told Don I wasn’t going to make it.” “Don” was head coach Don Nelson. Second is Canadian golfer Ian Leggatt, who won his only PGA Tour event that day.
28. Was reminded this week that if you want to credit anyone for being the architect of LTIR chicanery, it is Philadelphia vice president and assistant GM Barry Hanrahan. I totally forgot this, but the Flyers were in long-term injury for years. All of it was legitimate, from Keith Primeau to Mike Rathje to Derian Hatcher to Chris Pronger et al., but it was almost a decade they spent every day on LTIR. “(Hanrahan) is the true genius behind this,” another exec joked.
29. Wanted to wish good luck to Bob Murray as he returns to the NHL as a scout for Calgary. Murray went to a facility and is working to change his lifestyle.
30. Wednesday, the National Lacrosse League announced the departure of commissioner Nick Sakiewicz. He’s been linked to the Arizona Coyotes. Good luck to Jessica Berman, the league’s deputy commissioner, who steps into the role as a succession plan is finalized. Berman spent 13 years at the NHL as a vice president.
31. It is so good to see Canadian buildings full of hockey fans. Missed it so much, hope it stays this way.
32. Be safe, Isabelle Khurshudyan.