30 Thoughts: Canucks’ Bieksa deserves better

Daren Millard, Mike Johnson, Damien Cox and Sam Cosentino along with George Stroumboulopoulos, John Shannon and Elliotte Friedman offer up their takeaways from the 2015 NHL Draft.

You could see the frustration on Canucks GM Jim Benning, who badly wanted to add a second-round draft pick.

You could see the frustration on agent Kurt Overhardt, standing at the fence that separated the team tables from everybody else at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, FL.

You could feel the frustration from almost 6,000 kilometres away, as Kevin Bieksa waited for his NHL future to unfold.

Overhardt would not comment, despite multiple attempts to ask the same question in different ways. Benning said, “I’ve been in contact with Kevin every step of the way and have been honest. He understands our position and we’ll try to do what’s right for (him).”

It was revealed Friday morning that Bieksa agreed to waive his no-trade clause for San Jose. But the Sharks and Canucks failed to consummate a deal, with the two sides disagreeing on what year Vancouver would receive a second-round draft pick. And, even if Doug Wilson succeeded on holding off until 2016, the Canucks wanted something they could use in the last 48 hours. Wilson is tough to close a trade with, a strategy that makes other teams crazy.

(Curtis Pashelka of The San Jose Mercury News quoted the GM as saying he needed that 39th selection to trade up and get defenceman Jeremy Roy. He accomplished this goal, moving up eight spots in a deal with Colorado.)

According to a couple of different sources, three entities — Bieksa/Overhardt, the Canucks and the Sharks — were working on this for at least a week and probably longer. In fact, the player recently visited the San Jose area with his family to look at houses.

Knowing that, it’s incredible this didn’t work out. Everyone involved had plenty of time to understand the parameters. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of private disgust.

There were reports the trade fell apart because Bieksa wanted an extension. An executive for another team guessed it would end up in the area of three years and $12M. One player, furious at how this unfolded, said it was important to the defenceman because he did not want to uproot his family twice in two years. It doesn’t sound like that was the deal-breaker here, unless Wilson vacillated as cover for not liking the idea.

The Canucks are hurt the most, not getting what they hoped from a potential trade. Benning is a scout first and foremost. He badly wanted a second-rounder. When someone with his expertise desires that, it’s for good reason. (Funny how last year, he was praised for draft manoeuvres. Now, the fan base is all over him. Vancouver turns quickly.)

There’s still a lot of interest in Bieksa, with approximately 10 teams having shown some desire to acquire him. He may be disappointed now, but there’s still an opportunity for a soft landing. He deserves it.

30 Thoughts

1. Vancouver tried lots of things on Saturday. It was deep into the Milan Lucic sweepstakes, and apparently circled back to Boston on Saturday to see if the Bruins were still interested in Bieksa. It’s likely they pitched Zack Kassian too, as a kind of Lucic-Lite. Didn’t go anywhere. Could see Boston needing to take a trade time-out, though.

2. Benning coveted that number 31 pick, originally belonging to Buffalo. He was hoping to get it for Eddie Lack. The Sabres used it to snare Ryan O’Reilly, but may have dangled it to see if that would get Frederik Andersen. Anaheim would need a lot more.

3. More on Massachusetts in a moment, but one of the rumblings coming out of the draft is Winnipeg making progress on a Drew Stafford extension. Stay tuned. As for Michael Frolik, looks like free agency. There’s a lot of interest. No one’s sure what the price will be, but everyone’s sure he can help you.

4. The Dougie Hamilton trade watch was a real rollercoaster. As news broke Friday morning, it looked like Arizona was going to be his next home. But, as we learned later, GM Don Maloney’s staff pushed back at any move that prevented them from getting Dylan Strome in the draft.

No deal with the Bruins — whose highest selection would turn out to be 13 — was going to allow that. There was a point where things were close with Colorado, but that didn’t work, either. Edmonton felt it could provide a prettier cornucopia of draft picks, but for Peter Chiarelli, the price was going to be higher, since Boston’s worry of an offer sheet from him started all this. The Oilers were not going to include Darnell Nurse.

Teams were upset that they didn’t know of Hamilton’s availability until it was too late, probably because the Bruins preferred to send him West.

5. You don’t need to look hard to find reaction to Boston’s moves.

I’m more curious about practical analysis, as in, what does this tell us about the new regime? One GM compared it to “Harry Sinden running the team again.” What he meant was Hamilton and Milan Lucic made contract asks the Bruins didn’t like, and rather than doing much negotiating, pulled the trigger.

To be fair, Don Sweeney was up against a July 1 offer sheet possibility, although not with Lucic.

The best information I can give you is it appears the team offered six years and $33M to Hamilton, while the response was about $2M per year higher.

Sometimes, we get caught up in initial proposals. Any good negotiator will tell you to exaggerate your opening position. As for Lucic, I’m not sure money was discussed. This was about term. He opened with eight years. Don’t think Boston wanted to go higher than five.

6. Hard to believe the Bruins are done.

They re-signed Adam McQuaid, who took four years (instead of an originally asked-for five) to stay. McQuaid had some real interest in the market — with Arizona, Edmonton and Ottawa among those sniffing around. After Boston got him back, the Coyotes traded for Nicklas Grossmann and the Oilers acquired Eric Gryba. Not sure they were there at the end, but the Albertans looked at Grossmann,too.

Edmonton was not willing to take on Senator money (probably Colin Greening) which is why it didn’t acquire Robin Lehner.

7. Curious to see if Calgary or Ottawa makes a free-agent poke at Chris Stewart. Both teams pursued him when available in Buffalo. The Flames are looking for some sandpaper, and the Senators have liked him for a while.

8. Doug Wilson set off the speculation game by indicating he could solve his goaltending issue with someone we don’t expect. “There are more people available in discussions than you guys hear about,” he said.

That sets off five-alarm blazes in a reporter’s head, and you start wondering who he’s referring to. Two weeks ago, another exec indicated he thought the Sharks would ask about Tuukka Rask. (Again: Not that it would happen, but that they would check.) I looked into it at the time and was told Boston wasn’t interested, because Zane McIntyre and Malcolm Subban are not ready. Martin Jones is now a Bruin, which is a better current option, but, at the draft, Sweeney kiboshed Rask talk.

9. After a final where the Blackhawks and Lightning emphasized skill and speed more than physicality, the Kings added a big-time power forward to an already imposing lineup. They are sticking with their winning identity in the face of this trend. Will be fascinating to watch.

10. One Western Conference coach on Lucic: “He’s going to have a huge year. We all know it.”

11. In the Stanley Cup celebration, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman jubilantly told Brent Seabrook he wasn’t going anywhere. All of the attention is on Marcus Kruger, Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp. But Bowman is well-aware of Seabrook, who can be a UFA next summer. The two sides have talked and don’t be surprised if Chicago makes this a big priority in the next few weeks.

12. Ducks GM Bob Murray emphatically denied John Gibson was on the trade block after adding Anton Khudobin. “(He) is not getting traded…put that (bleeping) out there,” he said, before getting his mouth washed out with soap.

Remember one thing about Gibson: he is still on a two-way contract, so the Ducks could put him in the AHL. That allows the possibility Murray keeps all three into next season. The danger is, at some point, Gibson’s going to be very unhappy.

13. Expect Anaheim to take a run at extending Ryan Kesler. The centre has one more year on his contract, and there’ve been initial conversations.

This is purely a guess: but I could see the biggest hurdle being term. Kesler will be 32 when his next contract kicks in.

14. One of the reasons Carolina took James Wisniewski for Khudobin is his cash total ($3M for next year) is lower than his cap hit ($5.5M).

They were looking for defensive help and thought it would cost more on the open market. The goalie they traded was scheduled to earn $2.5M, while Eddie Lack is at $1.3M. So, it’s good financial value for them.

What really stands out is, barring extensions, both Lack and Cam Ward are unrestricted free agents next summer. Just in case, I checked to see if Ward was asked to waive his no-trade as Lack arrived. Was given a definite negative.

15. After Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, the winner of an informal poll picking the draftee with the best chance of sticking in the NHL next season: Noah Hanifin. Boston College coach Jerry York was in attendance. Bet he would have voted for someone else.

16. Toronto looked at grabbing some draft picks for Tyler Bozak, but obviously didn’t.

It terrifies me to write this, because if it changes I look like a doofus, but word after the draft was there’s a decent chance he starts next season with the Maple Leafs. That wasn’t likely at the end of the year.

17. I’m a huge Michael Jordan fan. One of my favourite quotes of his is: “My attitude is that if you push me towards something that you think is a weakness, then I will turn that perceived weakness into a strength.” Was reminded of that the other day thinking about Jim Rutherford.

One of the reasons the Penguins are linked to Jiri Hudler, Phil Kessel, TJ Oshie, Sharp and Jeff Skinner (among others) is the GM’s listening on all of them, waiting for the best deal.

Everyone thinks the Penguins are desperate in their search for wingers, he sees it as the other teams are desperate to move them. It’s a gigantic game of chicken, and there aren’t many teams as willing to take some of those players. It’s an important way to think.

18. No one will comment on how close it was (or still may be), but Kessel to Pittsburgh had serious traction. Toronto was willing to ease the Penguins’ contract burden. But there was no consensus on the reward.

19. A lot of talk the Canadiens are closing in on a bridge deal with Alex Galchenyuk.

About the Kris Versteeg situation, Montreal and Chicago were working on something and I heard a fifth-rounder was going to the Blackhawks. Versteeg said he didn’t veto over the lack of an extension. The trade didn’t happen, but I can’t say why with certainty.

20. In the Department of Player Safety, Chris Pronger moved from being unable to rule on incidents involving the Flyers to being unable to rule on incidents involving the Coyotes.

Personally, I have no problem with what Arizona did, but I’m a loophole guy. I’ve never won the Media Hacks Hockey Pool, but proudly forced Commissioner Pierre LeBrun to change several rules.

What a couple of people did ask is, would the NHLPA try to block the trade by grieving it? If I was a player I’d hate this, but I’m not sure there’s any CBA violation.

Last summer, Pronger’s contract was discussed in at least two moves. One was Nashville (if Vincent Lecavalier had gone there, too). The other, I’m not sure.

The Coyotes are sensitive to the issue, saying they will spend more money on players, not just use Pronger’s $4.9M cap hit/$575,000 actual salary to reach the floor. Grossmann is a legit pickup. We’ll see where this goes.

21. Had a funny conversation with Flyer GM Ron Hextall about Matej Tomek, the Slovak goalie he took 90th overall.

I don’t have the Tweet anymore, but a fan sent me a note that Hextall showed up in a small town to see Tomek play last season for the NAHL’s Topeka Roadrunners. (Thank you, again.)

He didn’t return a text asking if it was true, so I asked on Saturday. He laughed and said, “I saw him once. You can’t go anywhere anymore.”

22. Philadelphia’s decision on Sam Gagner’s future impacts Tampa Bay. It pays a share of the forward’s salary for 2015-16, the final one of his contract. If the Flyers do opt for a buyout, the Lightning will owe one-third of the remaining money over the next two years. Tampa has no say, it’s Philly’s call.

23. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, asked if the playoffs made him debate whether Steven Stamkos is a centre or a winger. “Why not both? I played both in my career, and it helped me. It’s more about who he plays with than where he plays.”

Second question: Is he worried about any fallout from Jonathan Drouin’s inability to get into the lineup? “No.” He smiled and that’s all I was getting. Later, he complimented of the rookie’s handling of it when asked by NHL.com’s Dan Rosen.

24. Chris Johnston has a good read on Andong Song, the first Chinese National to be drafted into the NHL.

Some other Islanders business: GM Garth Snow says the club is working towards new contracts for Thomas Hickey and Anders Lee. (Brock Nelson might take a bit longer since the forward doesn’t have arbitration rights.)

As for Kyle Okposo, Snow said going into the draft there would be no trade. “A couple teams called to ask,” he admitted, “but nothing serious.”

25. Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi were roommates on the Finnish National Team, but it’s going to be interesting to watch them together in Dallas.

GM Jim Nill took some of the heat off Lehtonen during 2014-15, saying the team’s defensive issues early in the season had a lasting effect. Deeds speak, however, and bringing in Niemi says there’s going to be a challenge for the number one job.

I looked into the possibility Lehtonen gets a surprise buyout and was told no. They do want to see if Jeff Reese can help. Some guys thrive with competition. Lehtonen gets a chance to show he’s one of them.

26. Nill’s been open about his search for a heavier body on the blueline, but said it was unlikely something materializes in free agency or via trade. “Most of the defencemen available (July 1) are offensive players.”

He mentioned that he’s got 11 blueliners ready for next year, and would like to see one of them be the solution.

27. How much did Calder Trophy Winner Aaron Ekblad watch the playoffs? “Not a whole lot. The final series? Yes.”

What did he think watching Victor Hedman and Duncan Keith? “I’m thinking these guys are so poised, it doesn’t even matter that they’re in the NHL finals,” he said. “They’re just bringing out the confidence day in and day out, they’re trying new things even in the finals. They’re not afraid to make mistakes, even at that part of the season. They’re skating ability is ridiculous too.”

What that taught Ekblad was not to be afraid. “They’re making risky passes, they’re jumping up in the rush, they’re doing all those things that great players do. The risk-reward kind of benefit to loss, it’s calculated almost. It’s not even a thought to them. That’s what makes them great…You can’t sit back, you can’t just play simple defence.”

28. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma on what Ryan O’Reilly does for his lineup:

“He gives us protection. If we don’t get him, we’ve got Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart…and Zemgus Girgensons is the protection. Can he do it? He’s a good, young player. But do you want him to do it? Now, we’ve got Ryan O’Reilly, and he can be that protection for Eichel and Reinhart. We have David Legwand. You don’t have to worry.”

The coach added he will look at both Girgensons and O’Reilly (in certain situations) on the wing for added flexibility.

29. Bylsma, asked about his research into the ex-Avalanche: “The guys who played with him at the World Championships said, of everyone we were with, he was the one who surprised us the most, on and off the ice.”

He explained they liked his work ethic, especially in practice. Bylsma didn’t go into the off-ice stuff, but there’s an air of mystery about O’Reilly. Because he had contract squabbles with Colorado, there’s probably some expectation that he’s an edgy, difficult non-conformist. Guess not. Tyler Ennis, who played on Team Canada, was one of those surveyed.

30. Didn’t realize it, but on Sunday, I stood for a few minutes directly in front of Brandon defenceman Ryan Pilon. He was ranked 24 among North American skaters, falling all the way to number 147.

It’s hard to sit for so long when you’re expecting so much better. The good news for Pilon is the Islanders traded up, so someone valued him. But it’s an excellent reminder for anyone disappointed on draft day: it really doesn’t matter in the long run. You’re in. Now, what are you going to do with the opportunity?

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