Eric Nystrom knew what he wanted to do when his playing career was over.
“I told Red Berenson that I wanted to replace him and coach Michigan hockey for 30 years,” Nystrom laughs on Tuesday. “He said, ‘Take a number, there’s a long list.’”
After nine seasons and 593 NHL games, Nystrom is eyeing that next phase. Father Bob, who won four Stanley Cups with the Islanders, made it an early priority.
“My father made a much better living post-hockey, setting up a successful business. He was on me, would drive me crazy: ‘What are you going to do next?’ What are you going to do next?’
“My roommate at Michigan was Reilly Olson. He didn’t have as successful a pro career, but Red was always telling us how proud he was of Reilly. He finished his education and made the transition.”
Eric Nystrom has a liberal arts degree. Now, he’s taking online courses with the Business of Hockey Institute, working towards its Certified Hockey Professional (CHP) designation. Think of it as an Executive MBA specifically tailored to the sport.
As Nystrom jokes, he’s “the guinea pig,” the first player to try the program.
It’s intense, beginning with core business courses. He’s completed Strategic Management and Human Resources Management. The current focus is Finance and Managerial Accounting — for which he recently submitted a 3,000-word essay. Each course involves an approximately eight-week online commitment. The hockey stuff comes later, with a focus on both on-ice and business operations.
For someone like Nystrom, who’s also considered becoming an Athletic Director, there’s an opportunity to discover which path he prefers, learning both along the way. He credits Michelle Kennedy, Executive Vice-President, General Counsel and CFO of the Nashville Predators, for helping.
“We had to finish an analysis, asking all kinds of questions about a game day. How it works,” Nystrom says. “There are some things I don’t know the answers to. She’s a great resource.”
What has he discovered so far? How different he is from his classmates. (He converses with them mainly in chat rooms.)
“Everyone else has a lot of managerial experience, they’re doing this on the side. Our experiences are very different. In hockey, when you’re doing badly, the coach comes in and says, ‘If you don’t get going, you’re going to be sitting in the stands.’ There’s no [Human Resources] to run to. We have no idea what it’s like in a standard workforce. But, on a hockey team, whether you are on the worst or the best team in the league, every guy truly wants to win and try their best. There are businesses that can’t sustain the success they want…because they don’t think that way.”
Last week, the NHL and NHLPA announced a joint Core Development Program, targeting younger players as much as older ones, prodding them to think about post-hockey life — just like Bob Nystrom did with Eric. Honestly, the more options that exist the better.
“You make a great living playing the game…it puts a lot of guys into position to go into the workforce,” Nystrom says. “As much as [it’s about] doing the schooling, I want to be a model of success. Time will tell.”
1. A potentially game-changing move in Seattle on Tuesday with Chris Hansen, who has tried to secure a new arena in that city for years, offering to forego public financing. In May, city council voted not to vacate a stretch of road that would have given Hansen the space he needed to build. Now, he’s trying to find another way of closing the deal. This will create a new spate of NHL-to-Seattle think pieces but the league is going to be very cautious.
Commissioner Gary Bettman publicly denied he’s been waiting for that region to re-enter the expansion game, and there are plenty of big shooters who feel Seattle didn’t just fumble the last process but that it vomited the ball across Puget Sound. I’ve been told Hansen meets with the NHL once or twice a year, but for now, the NHL’s position is “wait-and-see.” What it says is that a potential Seattle bid better be beyond ironclad before it gets considered.
2. The other problem for Seattle is Quebec City fared so well with its bid. It did everything right, including accepting the disappointment with class. Do not underestimate how much that matters. It’s even harder to bypass Quebec for the Pacific Northwest now.
3. With some time to make a few calls, here’s what I can glean on Vancouver defender Nikita Tryamkin. He has admitted he made a mistake by showing up out of shape. That disappointed the Canucks who were counting on him after he showed real promise in last season’s 13-game NHL debut. The club wanted him to stay in B.C. all summer, but he needed to go home for legitimate personal reasons. (Agent Mark Gandler declined to comment, saying only, he “doesn’t have a problem with how Vancouver is handling this” and didn’t want to inflame the situation.)
There is an agreement in his contract that says he can go back to Russia if the Canucks want to send him to the AHL, and he remains steadfast on that point. GM Jim Benning did try to negotiate a deal with Tryamkin’s KHL club, that the player could go back as long as he’d return if Vancouver needed him, but that was a non-starter for Yekaterinburg. So, he’s practicing to get in shape. The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that the Canucks are going to need him and soon. They are already hurting on the blue line, and history shows they need 12 defencemen a year.
4. In a search for creative solutions, one agent suggested Vancouver asks Tryamkin to go to the AHL for a conditioning stint, with a promise that he will be in the NHL lineup on a certain date. He wondered if that would work.
5. Troy Stecher makes his NHL debut Tuesday against Ottawa. Hopefully, he’s allowed to breathe, make his mistakes, and grow. There’s so much hype, so fast. The best attribute he’s shown in the AHL? He knows his physical limitations and is smart enough to understand how to defend despite them. Very competitive and very intelligent.
6. With Matt Murray returning to Pittsburgh’s lineup, one has to think Mike Condon will be back on waivers. I could see Boston bringing home the Massachusetts native, since both Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin are banged-up.
7. Don’t look now, but looming large over Winnipeg’s goalie situation is Ondrej Pavelec. The Jets have allowed 19 goals in five games. There are conflicting reports on how seriously they talked to Los Angeles, with some sources indicating they wanted to get rid of the contract and others saying they always intended to keep him as an insurance policy.
After scoring in the Heritage Classic, Edmonton’s Mark Letestu told Scott Oake it was the same move that worked for him in beating Connor Hellebuyck during an exhibition game. Hellebuyck’s going to be a stud but that shows the very steep learning curve. Can’t let a guy beat you the same way twice.
8. Before bringing in Anders Lindback, the Kings did an exhaustive look around the NHL. Among their considerations: Pavelec, Steve Mason and Reto Berra. Mason’s $4.1-million contract wouldn’t fit and it’s not as if Philadelphia has a ton of flexibility either. Florida’s price wouldn’t have been high on Berra and it sounds like the Panthers recognized giving him a chance to get back to the NHL was the right thing to do. But the Kings didn’t see him as enough of an upgrade. If they were going to go out and get anyone, it had to be someone who clearly eclipsed Peter Budaj.
9. One other possibility that might make sense for LA: Jonathan Bernier. Anaheim also needs to clear space and Bernier is at $4.15 million. It would take a lot of creativity and a willingness for two rivals to work together but Kings’ goalie coach Bill Ranford is a believer in his former protege.
10. One goalie coach on Toronto’s Frederik Andersen: “Everything stems from the fact he can’t get his feet set.” Mike Babcock likes his goalies to be aggressive, and Andersen is still getting used to that. All of the difficulties (including trouble catching the puck) stem from the footwork.
11. There’s no substitute in reporting for face time. Going into Winnipeg and spending a weekend there, you can’t help but be struck by the feeling the Jets are determined to play hardball with Jacob Trouba. Several teams have tried to be creative but GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is not budging or talking. All he says is, “We will do what’s best for the Winnipeg Jets.” Unless he gets an elite, young player with term or team control, this is not going anywhere for the time being.
12. To that end, the Jets are committed to Josh Morrissey. It wasn’t easy for Paul Maurice to scratch Mark Stuart (and Chris Thorburn) from the Heritage Classic, but they want him to learn. Morrissey shared some great insight into playing with Dustin Byfuglien, calling him a excellent partner with one (tongue-in-cheek) exception. “I’ll go off after 30 seconds, and he’ll say, ‘You’re never going to keep up with my minute-long shifts if you do that,’” Morrissey laughed. He added there have been times Byfuglien has yelled at him to stay on the ice when he’s gone for a change.
13. Blake Wheeler on the best advice he received about being captain: “Don’t change who you are. People see right through that.” Wheeler said he spoke to former captains Olli Jokinen and Andrew Ladd about doing the job. He also talked to Max Pacioretty, who “went through just about everything last year.”
14. Milan Lucic, asked if Connor McDavid requests him to go to any specific places once the Oilers gain the blue line: “Nope. He hasn’t suggested anything. But he is one of the best I’ve seen at making ‘late plays.’” Late plays? Basically, you think a particular option is finished and he finds a way to get it to you. As for McDavid, he said he doesn’t need to ask anything specific because he understands his linemates’ tendencies. “Milan goes hard to the net. [Jordan Eberle] likes to circle back and find the open spaces. I know where they are going to be.”
15. Lucic, by the way, says he still finds it very strange to watch Boston games on television. “I know it’s been two years,” he says. “But I do.”
16. The Oilers really hope to see Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson establish themselves as a top pair sooner than later. Sometimes, though, I get the sense they feel the need to lower immediate expectations on Klefbom. He’s 23 years old, in is his fourth season in North America, but has played just 113 NHL games.
17. Still a long time before Las Vegas has to make its coaching decision but I wouldn’t be surprised if two of the interviewees are AHL Utica’s Travis Green and NCAA Denver’s Jim Montgomery. Green interviewed in Anaheim and Colorado last season. Montgomery interviewed with Calgary. But, depending on how things shake out, there will be plenty of others.
18. With Bauer buying Easton, a few NHL players were unsure if their particular stick pattern would still be manufactured for them. Tampa Bay’s Alex Killorn tried Pacioretty’s and adopted it. “Different curve,” Killorn said. “But much more whippy. I can really fire it.”
19. It’s very interesting talking to the Lightning players. I was chatting with a few of them about how they and Washington are the “start the playoffs already, that’s all that matters” teams in the Eastern Conference. Their response was instructive. They felt they had that attitude last season after losing the Stanley Cup Final and it was a major reason they weren’t anywhere near their best for a good chunk of 2015-16. The Lightning and their coaches are challenging themselves not to think that way this time around, to find more purpose before the postseason begins. They are number one on ESPN’s franchise list. Now it’s time to be number one in the NHL.
20. Hockey fans know goalies become stone-faced maniacs prior to games, but fewer take more of a 180-degree turn than Ben Bishop. Many of his netminding brethren are stone-faced the entire game day but he admits he doesn’t change until “I show up at the rink to play. Ask [Tyler Johnson].”
“It’s true,” Johnson said. “In the morning, I can say ‘hi’ to him if I see him coming. In the afternoon, if I see him, I turn away.”
21. Wayne Gretzky was disappointed in his performance at the Heritage Classic alumni game and said it might be the last one he plays in. Hope not, but I’ve learned to understand that the best cannot stand being below what they expect from themselves — even if they retired 20 years ago. St. Louis wants him to dress for their event at New Year’s. Gretzky has big-time ties to that city.
22. At the Jets’ gala dinner, he had a great line about the famous 1987 last-minute face-off before Mario Lemieux scored the Canada Cup-winning goal. He explained Dale Hawerchuk took the draw because, on the ice, the Great One told him: “I’m not losing this one.”
23. Speaking of Outdoor Games, I am curious to see where this is going to go. The NHL realizes it is time to breathe new life into the event, as we are running out of new cities. The biggest problem remains Florida. Bettman has said before that the state is a much different animal than California due to the humidity. What’s being considered are big-name, third party sites, or tying it into special events. West Point is on the radar for 2017-18, if the stadium works. Notre Dame is lurking too.
An international event is also a possibility, with a couple of league officials saying they get some pretty interesting pitches. (I was thinking they could do a “Mystery, Alaska” game with the Rangers and whomever.) There is some intriguing potential.
24. Sounds like everyone wants the Parliament Hill outdoor game but it is very expensive. That’s the hurdle. Who is going to pay how much? Would be outstanding.
25. From a friend of mine who is a gambler: “Best bet in the NHL? The Ottawa Senators and the ‘over.’”
26. There was a weird rumour last week that the NHL was going to argue that players who had partial no-trade clauses but full no-move clauses could be exposed in the expansion draft. After all, the rumour went, those NMCs were for waivers or demotions, not to block every potential trade. But I’m told that’s not accurate — players in those situations cannot be exposed without their permission. Also, I think a number of GMs already know who on their team is willing to waive — and who isn’t.
27. Meanwhile, a GM was willing to bet me anything that Anaheim’s Jakob Silfverberg would be protected. (Last week’s notes mentioned how several teams’ mock expansion drafts have him exposed.) “I know how it looks right now,” he said. “But they are going to find a way.”
28. If the NHLPA does grieve last week’s “day-off” practice in Edmonton, expect the Oilers to point out that moving the off-day to Wednesday from Monday was much better for Cam Talbot’s family, in particular. Talbot’s wife, Kelly, gave birth to a pair of beautiful twins via a previously scheduled cesarian section.
29. One correction from last week: in discussing Auston Matthews’ endorsement potential in Toronto, I mentioned that Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello has a sponsorship deal of his own — with a car dealership. Someone (not Lamoriello) reached out to say that’s not correct. Apparently, the sponsor asked for Lamoriello to read it and he is not specifically paid.
30. Back when I covered the CFL, one of the most insightful and helpful players was B.C. Lions defensive back Barron Miles. Miles had the gift of telling you something that could help for a broadcast without telling you something he didn’t want to give away. Always enjoyed my interactions with him. Sportsnet’s Arash Madani recently wrote about a medical issue involving Miles’ wife Jennifer.
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