Nick Shore returned to Siberia after the Beijing Olympics’ closing ceremony, readying for the KHL playoffs. The 29-year-old centre led Novosibirsk Sibir with 26 points in 49 games, the team finishing the shortened regular season sixth in the Eastern Conference.
Days later, when Russia invaded Ukraine, Shore had a decision to make.
“To be honest, I went back and forth quite a few times,” Shore said Sunday from Denver, where he returned at the end of last week.
“There’s a lot of emotions running through your head. Definitely a few sleepless nights. It’s a 14-hour time difference, so when I’m trying to go to sleep, you have friends and family — pretty much everyone you know — reaching out, seeing what’s going on, seeing if you’re OK. There were a couple of tough conversations when I was deciding what I was going to do.”
Shore said he never felt unsafe, adding the team was “great how they handled it. They tried to make it as easy, as comfortable as it possibly could be.” Then, the United States government recommended any American citizens leave Russia.
“That’s when it hit home for me,” he said. “Flights are closing, nobody knows what’s going to happen tomorrow. I don’t want (my family) to be in a situation where they’re up constantly, thinking if I’m OK or not. That would be a tough position for me to put them in.”
Shore flew home via Dubai and Washington. What was his parents’ reaction? “I think they were very happy to see me when I got back,” Shore said, laughing. “It doesn’t feel like the hockey season should be over for me. You want to be there with your teammates, you want to finish the year. But there’s definitely things that are more important.”
The exodus includes Americans, Canadians, Finns and Swedes: two of Shore’s KHL teammates, Jyrki Jokipakka and Harri Sateri; ex-NHLers Kenny Agostino, Teemu Hartikainen, Markus Granlund, Philip Larsen, Joakim Nordstrom, Shane Prince, Jake Virtanen and Lucas Wallmark.
One of the things we discussed is how difficult it would have been to play as the war intensified, even though the front lines are far from him. “I don’t think I would have been able to watch the news,” he said. “It’s tough enough for everybody. It doesn’t put you in a good mindset, never mind trying to play hockey.”
Shore loved his Olympic experience, despite USA’s heartbreaking quarterfinal shootout loss to Slovakia.
“That was tough. We’re going to think about that one for a while, because I thought we had a really good team,” he said. “But it was awesome, something I will remember forever.”
Novosibirsk Sibir trails Salavat Yulaev Ufa 2-1 in the KHL opening round. Shore is following that series while he skates at home, hoping to find an immediate opportunity in North America. That’s a little trickier than normal. With NHL and KHL communication cut off, teams must do extra due diligence.
Older brother Drew played 98 NHL games for Florida, Calgary, Vancouver and Carolina. Younger brother Quentin played in the AHL and ECHL after being drafted by Ottawa in 2013.
If the puck was thrown into a corner, which brother would come out with it?
Nick didn’t hesitate: “Oh, I’m coming out with it, for sure. The other two are so out of shape right now, I’d better be coming out with it.”
1. A lot of feedback to our podcast bit about Shea Weber’s contract and whether or not it would make sense for Minnesota. The answer, according to several capologists consulted for this blog, is no — and don’t expect the Wild to do it. “You do not want to be in long-term injury, over the cap, for years and years,” one said. “There’s nothing good about that.” It prevents you from accruing space, robs you of flexibility. (I didn’t realize you can’t trade for a player on LTIR without activating him first. That would be problematic for most.) There is also the question of whether or not Minnesota could put together a full roster before putting Weber’s contract on long-term at the start of the season. So, what seemed like a creative idea was anything but that.
2. Don’t be surprised, however, if Weber’s $7.6 million cap hit for the next four seasons is traded to a team looking to hit the floor. It’s $6 million of actual cash, total.
3. There was a lot flying around last week about Colorado’s Bowen Byram. First and foremost, wish him the best in his concussion recovery. That’s really all that matters. There were rumours that he wanted a fresh start, the opportunity to resume somewhere else once he is ready. That was denied.
4. It’s foolish to guess what Lou Lamoriello is up to, but there is increased chatter around Semyon Varlamov. One more year, $5-million cap hit, $4 million cash. His no-trade covers half the NHL. Teams are petrified of admitting they’re talking to the Islanders. If it happens, I’m not convinced it will be Edmonton.
5. Paul Coffey remained around the Oilers for Monday’s Battle of Alberta. Loves and knows his hockey. Again, we’re told nothing formal, but I’m curious to see where this goes.
6. There is clear mutual interest to continue the Dallas-Joe Pavelski marriage. Teams are expecting him to stay, and why would anyone want to leave Jason Robertson? San Jose continues to make a hard push on Tomas Hertl, they’re not fooling around. During his weekly radio hit on ESPN 102.5 in Nashville, Predators’ GM David Poile said there’s “nothing new” to report on Filip Forsberg. Several sources indicated not to count out St. Louis’s interest when it comes to Claude Giroux, as we’ve mostly been mentioning Colorado and Florida.
7. Anaheim GM Pat Verbeek made it clear he wants to know the market. That means Nic Deslauriers, Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson and Rickard Rakell. That doesn’t mean automatic trades, although some — Manson and Rakell — appear more likely than others, with the caveat that it takes just one phone call for things to change. Verbeek dislikes term like Batman dislikes the Joker, although word through the grapevine is there’s a bit more wiggle room for Lindholm. I’m just not sure how much. As Jeff Marek reported, last year’s leading scorer, Maxime Comtois, is available too, during a difficult season where he’s been a regular scratch.
8. Marek also reported that Jack McBain, taken 63rd by Minnesota in 2018, will go to free agency this summer. The Wild are looking for a second-rounder, and a lot of eyes look slightly north, where Jack’s father, Andrew, played the first six seasons of his own 608-game NHL career. The Jets do not have a second-rounder this year, or next. Yet.
9. Winnipeg wanted to see for itself once Nik Ehlers returned. That started with an overtime defeat to Dallas, a loss to the Rangers and an impressive win over Tampa Bay. I think the Jets’ biggest decisions come this summer. I wondered if there was any chance they tried to pivot and extend Andrew Copp, but can’t find any evidence of that possibility. Boston and Colorado are believed to be among interested parties.
10. Very curious about Washington. How big do the Capitals go? How good do they think they are? Is this really the year to take a shot at picks or prospects for a rental?
11. Buffalo is thinking about Owen Power’s defence partner. Who should that be? What type of player? He’s expected to join them this season, so it will be interesting to see if the Sabres pursue someone now.
12. Last week, Toronto Raptors fans booed Goran Dragic, who left the team after only five games and was traded to San Antonio where his contract was waived, allowing him to sign with Brooklyn. It’s going to be tough to trade P.K. Subban and that $9 million cap hit. However, actual cash this year is $2 million for him. With more than half of it already paid, does it make any sense for Subban and New Jersey to try the same thing? Terminate his huge cap hit and sign for similar money (or whatever) elsewhere? I can already hear the howls of protest, and I haven’t run it by the NHL. Just an idea.
13. One GM’s theory: “We all stare at each other until one hour before the deadline, and then rush to make deals. The B- and C-level players go when we figure out who is getting the A-listers.” I hope he’s joking.
14. Chicago is getting closer and closer to a reunion with Norm Maciver. He’ll depart Seattle and return to his previous NHL home as part of the Blackhawks’ front-office renovation. By the way, one of the departures last week — that of assistant GM Ryan Stewart — was mutual.
15. As part of its GM search, Anaheim asked for permission to speak to Florida assistant GM Paul Krepelka. Apparently, he declined the opportunity because the timing wasn’t right.
16. Quote of the week: One executive, asked if he thought Nick Robertson is getting a showcase in Toronto, replied, “There’s 20 scouts watching the Marlies every night.” He’s not someone I know real well, but AHL Toronto defenceman Joseph Duszak is looking for a new start. He’s got 37 points (32 of them assists) in 37 games. I didn’t see it, but he also played one game at forward.
17. Phil Kessel extended his consecutive-games streak to 956 with one shift in Tuesday’s blowout of Detroit, before leaving on a charter back to Arizona for the birth of his first child. Players high-fived him as he skated off, and someone in the crowd said you could hear some of the Coyotes jokingly ripping him for breaking a sweat. I got texts from people hating the idea, but if there’s one organization that shouldn’t apologize or feel bad going the extra mile for its players, it’s this one.
Another example: Matias Maccelli’s family was in Arizona when he was originally scheduled to make his NHL debut. That was just after Christmas in San Jose, but the winger tested positive for COVID and couldn’t go. He got a second opportunity last week against Colorado, and the organization made sure to bring back his parents from Finland.
18. Max Patterson scored the winner with 3:53 remaining in the deciding third game, as the University of Calgary defeated the University of Saskatchewan in the Canada West hockey quarterfinals. Mike Babcock, who coached the Huskies this season, did an interview with long-time local broadcaster Wray Morrison after the elimination. Babcock said he loved the experience, coaching with his son, Michael Babcock III, who took an MBA at the school. (Mike III is committed to returning in 2022-23.)
“We didn’t do what we wanted to do, (but) we had a ton of fun doing it,” the former Anaheim, Detroit and Toronto coach said. Do you miss the NHL? “I miss the red wine (Morrison had a great response, asking, ‘You can’t bring that in here?’), I miss some of the meals. Other than that, the guys in our room, the love in this room. … I’d sit in my office, I’d listen to them laugh and maybe it’s because it’s COVID and this was their place to come release, but there was pure joy.”
Have NHL teams reached out to you since you’ve been here? “Since I’ve been here they have, since the season’s been over they haven’t,” Babcock answered. (This was one week ago.) “Once we made the commitment, we were coming for the year. Period. Non-negotiable. When you make a commitment to people, you stay.” He referenced coaching at the University of Lethbridge in 1993, and WHL Spokane asking him to leave for the Chiefs mid-season. He didn’t do it. “I have no idea what’s going (to be) next,” he said, “but I do know that over the next little while we’ll decide what’s upcoming.”
19. Cale Makar had a goal and two assists in Colorado’s 5-3 loss to New Jersey on Tuesday night. Prior to that, Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino pointed out that, in Makar’s first 154 games, he had 157 points. That’s three more than Mark Howe, 13 more than Phil Housley, 15 ahead of Sergei Zubov, 16 on Larry Murphy, 18 atop Brian Leetch, 21 on Al MacInnis and 27 from Ray Bourque. It’s an incredible pace. This is the point in Paul Coffey’s career his numbers started to go stratospheric, so I’m looking forward to see how that compares. Makar is making a Hart Trophy case. (Should be mentioned that was a great performance by the Devils.)
20. Danny DeKeyser was placed on injured reserve by Detroit after clearing waivers on Tuesday. One of the best free-agent stories I ever heard was about him. One of the teams pursuing DeKeyser finished dinner at a restaurant with him and asked for directions. He said, “Follow me, I’m headed that way.” Team knew it wasn’t winning this recruitment when it saw the defenceman’s licence plate had a Red Wings logo.
21. Connor McDavid is the second NHLer, after Auston Matthews, to sign with a wagering company as a brand ambassador. Just like he followed Wayne Gretzky to Edmonton, he followed Gretzky to BetMGM — although McDavid is the first active athlete on their roster. No financials released, but it’s a big deal, in the seven figures. One major difference: Matthews stayed with free-to-play, while McDavid didn’t shy away from paid options. Eli and Peyton Manning do “responsible gambling” commercials as part of their sponsorship deal, and McDavid will do similar. (As you can imagine, it won’t be a time-consuming thing while the Oilers chase the playoffs.)
22. In the aftermath of Calvin Ridley’s NFL suspension for gambling on his own team, a few of you asked what the rules are for NHLers. Exhibit 14, Section 2 of the CBA spells it out very clearly: “Gambling on any NHL Game is prohibited.” That also goes for fantasy hockey.
23. Fantastic and emotional ceremony last weekend in Columbus as Rick Nash’s 61 became the first number retired in franchise history. “My first time in Columbus, we walked into a Bob Evans (restaurant) to grab a coffee before we started circulating (on a media tour),” he said last week. “The waitress serving us, mentioned something (like), ’Oh, you guys have Blue Jackets’ shirts on, didn’t you guys just draft a new first-overall pick?’ It was tough to tell her that I was standing in front of her, ordering a coffee.”
Nash kept one promise, making sure to recognize long-time employees who built the Blue Jackets from zero. Vice president of communications Todd Sharrock reminded of founder John H. McConnell’s 2008 funeral. He and Nash had a great relationship, so the captain returned from the World Championships in Nova Scotia. Asked to give a eulogy, an emotional Nash made a vow. “I was probably a little above my head promising him watching from heaven a playoff berth,” he said. “I’m telling you (in 2008-09), everything seemed to go right. It seemed like he had his hand in it and he was helping us along the way.”
The Blue Jackets made the playoffs for the first time. Nash said his favourite photo is where he reacts to scoring the goal that sent Columbus into overtime against Chicago, giving the team the point it needed to clinch.
In the summer of 2018, with Toronto and Vegas among others pursuing, Nash met with GM Jarmo Kekalainen about a reunion. “We kind of came up with a plan and a situation that would bring me back to Columbus to play some more,” he said. “I asked them to give me some time, so I could talk to the doctors and sit down with family. After a few days, we figured out what was important to me and that obviously being my health. I called Jarmo and thanked him. Said it would have been great to continue, but after the amount of years and concussions I went through, I just figured it was time to pick my family and health over hockey.”
Now the team’s director of player development, he says he is interested in being a GM someday — but recognizes there are no shortcuts on that path.
24. Two other good stories about the great winger: during exec John Rosasco’s 26-year tenure with the Rangers, his 1,500th game was against Columbus on Dec. 11, 2010. Tied 1-1 late, Nash scored what he admitted was a “lucky goal” from behind the goal line with 5:09 to play, then added a beautiful insurance marker at 18:48. Next Christmas, Rosasco received a gift of an autographed stick, signed “JR, sorry for ruining your 1,500th game, Rick Nash.”
25. Nash was traded to the Rangers on July 20, 2012. His first day, he was invited to Henrik Lundqvist’s penthouse apartment. “I walk in, there’s Alex Rodriguez standing right there,” he said, laughing. “That being my first night in New York, sitting in a penthouse apartment overlooking the whole city, a few drinks with the King and A-Rod. That was one of those moments where you felt like you were in the NHL.”
26. Juraj Slafkovsky’s phone burst with notes of congratulations after Slovakia won a bronze medal at the Olympic hockey tournament — Marian Gaborik, Marian Hossa, singers and rappers. But the one that stood out was from Zlatica Puskarova, a Slovak television personality.
Everyone’s hopping on the Slafkovsky train after a seven-goal performance that made him tournament MVP. He will be a very high pick in the upcoming draft, not just because of that performance, but also because the 17-year-old made a decision to play against men in Finland. That’s a methodical, defence-first league — a real challenge for him — and he will benefit from that. Last week on the 32 Thoughts podcast, he was laughing that Finnish teammates “didn’t believe Slovakia could win any medal,” and bet he wouldn’t score. Easier for the Finns to joke with their gold medal, but Slovakia and Slafkovsky exceeded all doubts.
27. Slafkovsky was really good talking about his family. Regarding his Olympic performance, parents Juraj Sr., and Gabriela “were so happy. But they were also like, ‘You still need to keep working and stay grounded. Just like before.’ These medals can change (you), that’s what they repeated to me.” Gabriela was a competitive swimmer, as is his sister, Lucia. “She grabs the medal and says, ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to get one also. Just wait.’ I think it’s good motivation for her.” The family has two dogs and two cats. “My mother likes to come home and bring a cat,” he said, laughing. “And come home (again) in two weeks, and bring another cat. It’s a little zoo, I like all the dogs and cats we have. But I think it’s enough for now.” Slafkovsky makes a great impression on and off the ice.
28. His coach at the national level is hockey lifer Craig Ramsay, who played 1,070 NHL games before spending some 35 years behind the bench. “Even when I wasn’t scoring, he was calling me ‘shooter,’ that I (will) score one day. After the bronze medal game, he told me that whenever I need something I can ask him or call him. He’s a really nice guy.” An excellent teacher on Slafkovsky’s journey.
29. Speaking of the draft, things are looking more positive for it staying in Montreal, but nothing official yet.
30. One night before Anaheim defeated San Jose in overtime with the old lacrosse play (Rakell scored), Ducks draftee Mason McTavish tried the same thing for OHL Hamilton. Organizational strategy? Thank you to Reed Duthie, the voice of the Bulldogs, for this video.
31. Nothing better than mentioning one player who’s in the conversation for OHL exceptional status (last week) and being besieged for not mentioning two other possibilities: Mississauga’s Michael Moore and London’s Ryan Roobroeck. This is why I make Marek discuss that stuff.
32. On International Women’s Day: long-deserved praise and respect to my four sisters (Randi, Allison, Natalie, Erica) because I am a useless brother. People would look at them, see me, and say, “What happened to you?”