Here’s the honest truth: other NHL teams loved seeing Edmonton violate the CBA’s “off-day” rule on Monday.
And that’s why the NHLPA has no choice but to grieve it.
The clubs — especially coaches — despise this regulation’s existence, especially since it snuck up on them in the aftermath of the 2012-13 lockout. (As you can imagine, players love it.) We were so focused on revenue split, contract term limits and backdiving blockages that we initially missed this part of the new CBA.
Players are entitled to four mandatory days off per month, to be agreed-upon at the beginning of each calendar change. According to Section 16.5 (a) of the agreement, “The parties recognize that events may unfold such that the monthly schedule may need to be altered or modified to adjust for unforeseen and compelling circumstances.”
The key words are the last two. At the time, I specifically asked both the league and the union if a brutal performance counted. Could a coach say, “We were garbage tonight, tomorrow’s day off is cancelled?”
Both sides said, “No, that doesn’t count.” Compelling circumstances were supposed to be things like unforeseen travel problems. Western teams struggle with the rule for a second reason: travel days can’t be used as one of the four. That compresses their practice schedule even more.
Oh man, did coaches complain when they discovered the full impact. Taking away days off due to poor performance is a tried and true strategy, but that arrow was gone from the quiver.
Several admitted they’ve sat in their offices after a rough game, considering such a move before realizing its not worth the aggravation. It appears this is the first such challenge. (Anaheim’s players practised without coaches during last season’s Christmas break, but this is not considered the same thing.)
Oilers bench boss Todd McLellan and his leadership group said all the right things on Monday, adopting a “We’re good with this, so who cares?” mentality. That’s fine and Wednesday is now a vacation day, but the union has to protect its interests.
If it doesn’t, more teams are going to follow Edmonton’s lead. Sooner or later, players won’t be as willing as the Oilers were on Sunday. If the NHLPA doesn’t step up, there will be precedence allowing it to happen. Those of you who took Grade 11 Law with Mr. Baird at York Mills Collegiate know precedence is everything.
The union has 60 days to grieve and, unless the NHL itself takes action, you know it will. Winning specific language to block this from happening is now the goal. In some ways, it’s actually quite amazing that it took almost four years until a team really threw down the gauntlet.
At the beginning of last week, word around the NHL indicated the two sides were $700,000 apart per season (Lindholm at $5.8M, the Ducks at $5.1M). I think that’s closed, but the critical sticking point remains that if it’s a six-year term (as it is with the Buffalo defender), that buys up two years of unrestricted free agency for Lindholm as opposed to one for Ristolainen. Anaheim has flirted with a five-year offer, but Lindholm’s camp doesn’t seem interested.
The Ducks aren’t off to a great start, but GM Bob Murray doesn’t get rattled by that — remember last year when everyone was calling for Bruce Boudreau’s head and he wouldn’t do it. Murray and agent Claude Lemieux are tough, tough people, so even though the gap is shrinking, I’m not sure how this closes. Neither one is talking.
The Ducks need him, badly.
2. At the end of his contract stalemate, Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau was getting some pressure from teammates to get it done. Word is Lindholm is getting similar messages.
This is an interesting one. Kelly Hrudey and Nick Kypreos made it very clear during Saturday Headlines they weren’t pleased about this.
3. Simon Despres’s injury may give Murray more time to finagle his roster. We always talk about the Ducks being a budget team, but they are right up against the cap. A couple of executives think Anaheim might have to trade two players off its roster, never mind one.
A GM indicated Murray has little desire to do a Cam Fowler trade for picks/prospects, because he knows that doesn’t make his team better. (Fowler has three points in three games, one behind Ryan Getzlaf for the team lead.) The Ducks are good and that kind of trade sends the exact opposite message through your room.
4. If all that wasn’t enough, teams doing their mock expansion drafts wonder how the Ducks are going to protect Jakob Silfverberg — another talented young player. Bob Murray is like Mad Chad Taylor, juggling the chainsaws.
5. A couple of notes on Gaudreau.
First, I think his opening ask was basically Aaron Ekblad’s contract. The Panthers’ defenceman makes $7.5M in tax-wonderful Florida, so you make allowances for the difference in Alberta.
As it was explained to me by a much-smarter person, someone making $7.5M in that state would net around $4.5M. (There is potential for other deductions, but I’m trying to keep this as simple as possible.) Someone making $7.5M in Calgary would net out around $3.9 million. So you raise your ask to compensate and that’s how I think it went into the $8.5M range. That was not going to happen, but you don’t short-arm your opening offer.
At the end, I think Calgary was only willing to go to $7M if Gaudreau gave up two years of unrestricted free agency, signing for seven seasons. That wasn’t going to happen. It was a struggle, but both player and team will benefit.
6. Although Patrice Bergeron remains out of the Boston lineup through Monday’s game in Winnipeg, the Bruins denied a rumour that their number one centre has a high-ankle sprain. Good news, no need to have such a great player on the sidelines.
7. Brad Marchand had five points in the opener against Columbus, on a line with David Backes and David Pastrnak. So, Bruins coach Claude Julien, would you consider breaking up the Bergeron/Marchand combination? “Not a chance,” he replied.
8. Unusual rumour of the week: That Dallas was interested in Dustin Brown. That one was shot down.
9. Tough to read the tea leaves with Ondrej Pavelec.
There are reports the Kings have contacted Winnipeg about him, but there are also some very firm denials. I could see why he’d want to go. Last year of a contract, chance to play, generally strong team.
I think there was at least one club considering taking both Pavelec and Jacob Trouba before the draft, but the Jets were unwilling at the time. They didn’t want to be naked if one of their younger goalies was not ready for an increased workload.
10. Los Angeles took a chance on former first-round draft pick Jack Campbell at AHL Ontario, and have another interesting project backing him up. His name is Jonah Imoo, son of the Kings’ development coach.
He played four seasons in the BCHL, staying a little longer than planned because an NCAA agreement fell through. 2015-16 was a lost season, just three games between the Southern Professional Hockey League’s Louisiana IceGators and Federal League’s Port Huron Prowlers. Imoo broke a finger in the latter spot, ending his season.
He’s got some fans, so we’ll see where it goes.
11. Future moves to keep an eye on: After acquiring Nail Yakupov, St. Louis will look to add experience at some point. GM Doug Armstrong loves his veterans.
Chicago will try to get a forward. Trevor van Riemsdyk, who has played just one of three games, is available, but the Blackhawks may need to sweeten the pot.
12. Tomas Fleischmann was supposed to attend Minnesota’s camp on a tryout, a good spot for him considering positive history with Boudreau. It didn’t happen, and Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said he wouldn’t provide any details other than Fleischmann failed a physical.
Agent Rich Evans confirmed that team doctors were skittish about the player’s history with blood clots. That was very frustrating for Fleischmann, who has been healthy for five years and cleared many times. The timing was a killer, preventing him from getting into another camp. But he still wants to play and continues to look for an opportunity.
13. Before the season, the NHL warned teams about players hanging a foot or leg over the boards during play. You see Alex Ovechkin do it all the time, for example.
Some of it is a safety issue, although a few teams are also convinced its an aesthetics issue. Players will be given warnings. If that doesn’t work, teams were told unsportsmanlike conduct or interference penalties could follow.
14. Big NHL turnout last weekend for an NCAA back-to-back in Colorado, where Denver swept Boston University.
There were five 2016 first-rounders and 17 overall selections. Among the high-profile viewers: Avalanche GM Joe Sakic (short trip), Montreal GM Marc Bergevin (who also took in Dallas-Colorado on Saturday) and Tampa Bay’s Pat Verbeek. Sounds like Anaheim, Buffalo, Islanders, Los Angeles, Nashville and Toronto were among other visitors.
Several of them were undoubtedly watching Terriers freshman Jake Oettinger, a goalie from Minnesota. He didn’t have a great weekend, but scouts still expect him to be a first-round pick in June.
I was in Montreal last season for Eichel’s first trip there. He was very excited. Loves the big stage.
16. While the Toronto Maple Leafs won the draft lottery, there’s no question the second biggest winner is the state of Arizona.
For 20 years, its been a punching bag for the rest of the hockey world, constantly ripped as a mistake that should have been corrected eons ago. Auston Matthews’ arrival legitimizes everything everyone in the area did to breathe life into the team, and may turn out to be one of Commissioner Gary Bettman’s biggest victories.
Can’t help but smile when thinking that Toronto’s franchise cornerstone is from the NHL region most mocked by its fans. Montreal Canadiens’ radio analyst Dany Dube had a great point, though. Are we going to see the NHL’s newest American star at the Olympics?
17. Producers Chad Walker and John Woo did a nice piece with Auston’s father, Brian.
The elder Matthews said one thing that really stands out visually with what we’ve seen so far: “He was always going against bigger, faster, stronger players, so he constantly got knocked down, but he knew hard hard it was to get the puck back.”
Matthews, especially in the World Cup, made incredible plays from his knees or off-balance. It’s definitely hard to get it from him.
18. As Nick mentioned during last Saturday’s show, the sponsors came flying out of the woodwork after Auston Matthews’ four-goal NHL debut.
It will be fascinating to watch how this plays out, because Mike Babcock and Lou Lamoriello came to Toronto with a mandate to put the focus back on the ice, not off it. The idea they won’t let anyone near Matthews seems silly, since Toronto made Steven Stamkos’ endorsement potential a focal part of his free-agent meeting with the organization. It’s a little different in the sense that Stamkos is older and needed to be wooed, but it shows they recognize Toronto is a different animal.
Lamoriello himself does radio commercials for a car dealership. They’re going to protect him and make sure it isn’t too much, but I can’t see them hiding Matthews in a closet.
19. Pretty interesting that a couple of Senators and Bruins were as impressed with Mitch Marner as they were with Matthews. Still early for both, though.
20. Asked Morgan Rielly about Babcock, and what he told the defenceman at the end of last season.
“He’s in contact with you in the summer a lot more than you’d think,” Rielly answered. “Not all of it is hockey. Yes, he’s asking if you’re doing what he wants you to do, but he’s also asking what else you’re up to.”
He then laughed a little and said, “I like hearing from him. But my family was surprised at how much he reached out.”
22. Shaw needs to get himself under control, very fortunate not to be suspended for the slew foot on Buffalo’s Johan Larsson.
The Canadiens expect him to help sort out one of their biggest problems from last season — the fact there weren’t enough Gallaghers to go around. On top of everything else that happened, players admitted there was frustration among some forwards who did not get to play with him.
Gallagher did the kind of dirty work on the top lines not many Montrealers could or would do. Shaw gives another option. He’s got to keep himself available.
23. Very interesting to watch Carolina’s usage in its first two games — both losses after the Hurricanes could not hold leads.
Nine seconds after going up 4-1 in Winnipeg, Blake Wheeler scored shorthanded to begin the comeback. Coach Bill Peters did not yank Noah Hanifin after he was undressed by Wheeler (although it should be noted Jeff Skinner put Hanifin in an awful position), keeping the second-year blue-liner on the ice. Up two, Peters continued to deploy four forwards on the power play, which kept Teuvo Teravainen out there.
Teravainen scored with the man advantage three nights later in Vancouver, again with four forwards on the ice. Those losses hurt, but there’s a bigger picture. The Hurricanes hope that Hanifin and Teravainen are key parts of their core for a long time. This is the only way they learn.
24. Vancouver came back to beat Carolina 4-3. The Canucks re-united the Sedins in overtime on Saturday before beating Calgary in the shootout.
On Sunday, Daniel started the extra period alongside Brandon Sutter, who scored the winner on that shift. The Canucks split up the twins last year in three-on-three. Looks like the experiment to go back to them lasted 24 hours.
As much as I love watching them together during the “real” game, I think this makes more sense in the wide-open OT.
25. During the World Cup, I did a couple of interviews with Russian reporters and repeated a familiar theme, that one of Russia’s biggest problems on the international stage is that opposing coaches feel the Russians lack creativity behind the bench.
Early in the tournament, it was typical. Roll four lines one after the other no matter the situation. When Pavel Datsyuk went down, the coaches did some newer things, dressing 11 forwards and seven defenceman against Canada, mixing and matching a little more. That was different, and a good step.
Anyway, one Russian hockey official reached out to dispute my point of view, although he chose to remain anonymous. While disappointed with losing in semifinal, he made a spirited defence of the way the team performed and was coached.
Unlike the Czech Republic, Finland and United States, he said, Russia advanced in a tough tournament, the only country to beat Team North America. And, it was the first time they reached the semifinal of a best-on-best since the 2006 Olympics.
To me, that’s kind of disappointing in itself, as international hockey is always better when Russia is a force.
26. I followed-up with one question: Would his country ever consider hiring someone like Washington’s Barry Trotz to coach the National Team? (Before you tell me I’m nuts, it happens all the time in soccer.)
His response was “no,” because he felt strongly their group did a good job.
“We trust the current Russian national team coaching staff: Oleg Znarok and his assistants. The contract with them runs until 2018. Znarok has lots of experience in the KHL, winning the Gagarin Cup on two occasions. His international experience consists of three World Championships, where he has won gold, silver and bronze medals.
“Before the World Cup, Znarok had never worked in North America, but this tournament should help him and us for the future. Znarok chooses his own assistants. If he felt that a foreign specialist was required, we would agree to his desire. Right now, the national team’s coaches will not change.
“Also, we would like to point out that we do not shut ourselves off from the rest of the world. Russia cooperates with the best experts all over the planet, including North American coaches, and is in contact with the top ice hockey federations…I do not agree with the opinion that we lost to Canada because our coaches don’t work in the NHL and didn’t have enough information about the opponents. This was not the reason behind the defeat.”
I thought it was a passionate (and unsolicited) defence and wanted to share.
27. One player who did say he noticed things were changing: Buffalo’s Dmitry Kulikov.
“Coaches did come up to us and ask, ‘What do you guys like to do in this face-off situation?’” he said. “We hadn’t seen that before.”
28. Had a vote in the Maple Leafs’ top 100. I’ll admit it, I had a pre-1967 bias.
They remain the greatest years in franchise history, and I think that in these kind of votes, previous eras get shafted. So Darryl Sittler and Mats Sundin, both great players, finished a little lower on my list than where the majority put them.
And, it was my desire to make Borje Salming the highest-rated post-1967 player. Salming’s career only improves over time. Thirty years after he left, he’s still fourth-ever in franchise scoring and first in assists. He was also a First- or Second-Team All-Star from 1975-80, an era of Guy Lapointe, Brad Park, Larry Robinson and Serge Savard. (Bobby Orr was, unfortunately, starting to lose his injury battles.)
Salming achieved all of this while a target, the first Swede to really make an impact. That’s another thing that is forgotten over time.
29. My top 10: Dave Keon first, followed by Turk Broda, Syl Apps, Tim Horton and Frank Mahovlich. Ted Kennedy, Charlie Conacher, Johnny Bower and George Armstrong came next. Then Salming, Sundin and Sittler. Fire away.
30. Laughed my head off when I saw the Minnesota Twins present David Ortiz with a giant jar of peanut butter during his last trip there.
Back in my baseball days, I did a piece with Corey Koskie — still a Twin then — and he told the story of how he smeared peanut butter all over Ortiz’s underwear one night. Koskie called it the greatest practical joke he ever pulled, since the slugger put them on without noticing.
After doing the interview, I figured I’d better ask Ortiz about it. He was still a bit unknown then and I’d never come across him. The Minnesota media person told me to come early the next day because Ortiz was scheduled to do some extra hitting. He came walking across the field towards the dugout, and I really got to see how massive he is. He was expecting me and agreed to an interview.
I’m asking the question about the joke and he didn’t even crack a smile. I thought, “Oh boy, this is going to be a disaster, he doesn’t want to talk about this.” I finished asking and he paused. “Yeah, he got me good” and then we both started laughing.
I didn’t do much baseball after that, but you could see the huge personality before he became a Hall-of-Fame calibre player. Infectious enthusiasm.