30 Thoughts: Good luck intimidating Yzerman

Tampa Bay Lightning Jonathan Drouin meets with the media and refuses to talk about his trade request, after his demotion to the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL.

Two years ago, as part of a blog on how the 2013 NHL Draft unfolded, Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman admitted pairing a left-shot Jonathan Drouin with a right-shot Steven Stamkos factored into his thinking.

“(Drouin’s) only 18 and hasn’t played in the NHL yet,” Yzerman said in October 2013. “But you make projections…We had that in mind, that he could fit very well into what we’re trying to do.”

Twenty-six months later, the Lightning stare at the possibility of a future without both men. Only the most primitive tribes on the planet are unaware of Stamkos’ situation, and, on Sunday, agent Allan Walsh revealed Drouin asked for a trade weeks ago.

Undoubtedly, the player and agent remember the Martin St. Louis showdown. When St. Louis emotionally celebrated Canada’s gold medal victory at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, we assumed any lingering animosity from originally being left off the team to be eradicated. We were wrong.

He was a New York Ranger 10 days later.

“Yzerman will be methodical. I’ll give you a reason,” one exec pointed out Monday. “Tyler Seguin.”

Or, as the great Sam Pollock once said, “You can never be sure of the guy you’re getting, so you better be damn sure of the guy you’re giving up.”

Seguin played 203 NHL games and signed a six-year contract extension before being sent to Dallas, but the comparison fits. Drouin is a highly skilled, dangerous offensive talent. The potential is there, and should it unlock in a new organization, Tampa’s going to regret it — if it does not get sufficient return.

Drouin’s worked very hard. He’s not Johnny Manziel, running off to Ybor City in a wig.

Yzerman, who graduated from the Detroit school of marinating young players in the AHL, is not going to listen to anyone sell him on the idea of the 20-year-old being a depreciated asset because he’s only played 89 NHL games. Nor should he. Other teams may try that approach, but they know it’s false.

“If there was a trade Tampa wanted to do,” another exec said, “Drouin would be gone already.”

So, who’s in this? The obvious answer is everyone. There isn’t a GM who won’t make a call to find out what it will take. The fascinating part of pinning down the asking price is it may vary from team-to-team.

You also wonder if the Lightning prefer West over East, so he doesn’t torment them for years to come. Some execs believe that’s antiquated thinking, you take the best trade you can make. St. Louis’ control limited Yzerman to one club, but Drouin has no such protection.

There are teams with young assets to make this move. Possibilities emanating from my admittedly warped mind:

Chicago and Winnipeg have forwards (Teuvo Teravainen and Nikolaj Ehlers, for argument’s sake). Tampa’s been looking for defencemen. Anaheim and Carolina have those. So does Nashville (and a forward or two, as well). New Jersey’s looking for young talent and has some pieces. GM Ray Shero and Walsh have a strong relationship.

Ottawa makes sense, but I’m not sure what the match is.

In the above situations, the potential fits were on entry-level deals. If Tampa wanted to go to second contracts, could that bring an Alexander Galchenyuk into the conversation?

Some gasoline on the fire for a Tuesday morning.


1. A nagging injury hasn’t helped the situation. The best thing for Drouin to do is go to Syracuse and dominate the AHL. An excellent performance increases interest. What happens if he does that and Tampa decides the best move is to bring him back? Walsh takes the bullets, which is what he’s paid to do, but no way he releases the trade request without client consent.

The smartest option for the Lightning might be to wait until there’s clarity with Stamkos. But, they will have to repair the relationship with Drouin. He’s competitive. He’s driven. Whether you believe he’s ready or not, do you think he’s unaware of comparisons to the rest of his draft class — Nathan MacKinnon, Aleksander Barkov, Seth Jones, Sean Monahan, Rasmus Ristolainen, etc? That’s a huge part of this. He’s disappointed, embarrassed. He wants to change the conversation.

2. One of the biggest questions being asked in the aftermath of Drouin’s trade request is, “What’s going on in Tampa?” St. Louis’ time ended badly. This situation is headed that way, and Stamkos looms large.

Coach Jon Cooper is annoyed with questions about his relationship with the captain and now he’s got to face them with a second player.

Yzerman told Mark Spector, “One has nothing to do with the other…They’re completely different situations for completely different reasons. It is completely unfair to lump them together.”

The GM extended Cooper’s contract weeks ago, so it’s clear he believes in his coach. I learned a lot about Yzerman the day he didn’t put St. Louis on the Olympic Team. I couldn’t believe it, because a lot of executives in similar situations wouldn’t have, solely to keep the peace in their own organizations.

But Yzerman thought it was the right thing to do, so he made a difficult choice. He is not afraid of them, just like Scotty Bowman wasn’t when he pushed Yzerman to change as a player. He knows Drouin wants to be in the NHL, but he thinks it’s better for him to be in the American League.

He wants to keep Stamkos, but only at a certain value. That is what he believes to be right, and part of running a team is making hard decisions — especially in a tight cap world. Other GMs may compromise. Yzerman, from what I see, does it less. Part of St. Louis’ greatness was his stubbornness. He’s not a Hall-of-Famer without the “Up Yours” attitude that drove him from the fringes to stardom.

When those two got into it, it was over. Neither was backing down. They were too alike.

3. Stamkos, to me, is different. Like the others, he’s competitive and driven. He burns just like they do. But, he’s eating the controversy, no matter what he privately thinks. His camp isn’t talking; he’s saying the right things. As I’ve said many times, I believe him when he says he wants to stay in Tampa and is willing to compromise to do it. He wants to see what compromises are made to him.

4. Of all the trade demands we’ve heard this season, the least likely to stick is Patrick Marleau’s. That one might just go away.

5. Another player trying to re-energize his career in the AHL is Sam Gagner, sent to Lehigh Valley. Not a surprise he cleared waivers, as no one wanted to take the full salary. Flyers GM Ron Hextall hinted there was a trade possibility. Gagner, who has not played an NHL game since Nov. 23, recognizes the need to get on the ice, no matter what the level. It might take time, but he’ll get a shot somewhere. Teams need scoring, and he can provide it.

6. With Brooks Orpik’s health situation uncertain, a couple of sources indicated to check Washington’s interest in Dustin Byfuglien. There’s logic to this, as their cap hits are within $300,000 of each other. Can you imagine the Capitals with him? Anyways, it doesn’t look like this is going to happen. Word is Orpik’s injury is not season-ending. If he was gone until the playoffs (e.g. Patrick Kane last year), I could see Washington trying.

7. Since we’re throwing things at the wall, here’s another: Now that Florida is showing itself to be a playoff contender, it would surprise no one if the Panthers took a run at Byfuglien. GM Dale Tallon was in Chicago when Byfuglien was drafted, and took over the hockey operations as he rose through the organization. He’s a fan. Something to watch for.

8. Tallon got an extension last week, as did head coach Gerard Gallant. Next: locking up the on-ice cornerstones. Florida has opened talks with Aleksander Barkov. Very preliminary. But, word is, the preference is a long-term contract, not a bridge. It’s believed there will be an attempt to get something in the six-to-eight-year range. Aaron Ekblad is not eligible for an extension until July 1.

9. Arizona’s trying to find a taker for Steve Downie. Didn’t go against Vancouver. Fewer than 10 minutes of action the last six times he’s played.

10. Think Ottawa was trying hard to move Patrick Wiercioch, but now Jared Cowen is in the penthouse of Dave Cameron’s doghouse. Not sure they can jettison both players, so we’ll see where this goes. Wiercioch finished very strong last season. Maybe the Senators see if he’s up for a repeat performance and test Cowen’s value instead. GM Bryan Murray’s been reluctant to give up on Cowen, but we’ve got to be approaching critical mass.

11. Very quietly, after some difficult seasons, John-Michael Liles is putting together a good season in Carolina. It goes Justin Faulk, Ron Hainsey, then Liles on the Hurricane blue-line. Hainsey and James Wisniewski are signed for another season, so there probably isn’t a fit. If Liles keeps playing this way, he will be an under-the-radar rental at the deadline.

12. Commissioner Gary Bettman told Scott Oake at the Winter Classic that the NHL “owes” Winnipeg an outdoor game. No guarantees, but a legit attempt is being made. What’s different about that one is the aim is to do it before Christmas 2016, which would make it the first time we’d see any outdoor game before a Jan. 1 Winter Classic. I thought Vancouver would be a good fit with the Canucks’ recent Manitoba history, but I don’t think it will be them.

13. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported last week Philadelphia-Pittsburgh could be the 2017 Winter Classic if it’s not Toronto. The Maple Leafs badly want that game, with the Rangers believed to be the likely opponent. There were rumours the NHL was considering an outdoor “doubleheader,” that day, with both games on the schedule.

Now, I’m told that’s “very unlikely.” The Toronto issue is the city’s crowded sports calendar — World Cup, Grey Cup, World Juniors. Is the right time New Year’s Day, smack in the middle of the juniors, less than three weeks after the Grey Cup? And, will tickets for the World Cup stop selling if there’s an outdoor game? That’s also going to be an expensive ticket because of the smaller venue.

14. Next year is also the 50th anniversary of 1967 expansion, a major reason the Flyers and Penguins want that game. Los Angeles has played in them, and Minnesota (although not the North Stars) gets its first chance soon. The one team missing from this equation is St. Louis, which absolutely deserves a game.

The beer sponsorship issue (Budweiser vs. Coors) is blamed, although some sources dispute that. The two are scheduled to merge, which should end any debate. Maybe Missouri is a fresh new location.

David Krejci gets hurt, Brad Marchand gets an alternate captaincy, and in his first game with the letter, he gets suspended. What stood out was how many coaches and executives basically said the same thing: “He’s a great player, but you cannot trust him.”

With Milan Lucic gone, Marchand gets a chance to become the Bruins’ emotional leader, an important role for that team in that city. However, it’s the second time this season he’s apologized for a costly penalty. Marchand has one more year on his contract. He could cash in. He could also cost himself a lot of money.

The eye test indicated it, and the numbers prove it: P.K. Subban is carrying the puck more. In the last five games (starting Dec. 22 in Minnesota), he’s averaging almost five “controlled exits” (he’s skating with it) from the defensive zone, as opposed to three per night before. He’s also got 26 more seconds of possession time in the defensive and neutral zones. It will surprise nobody to hear he and Erik Karlsson lead all defencemen in possession time at even strength. (Credit: sportlogiq)

17. More help from sportlogiq on this one. Was looking at St. Louis, which is really struggling at five-on-five. They are plus-3 this season (66 goals for, 63 against) after going plus-27 last year and plus-29 in 2013-14. What’s weird is they are good at many of the things that should matter. Only two teams have the puck more than the Blues.

They have the most scoring chances off the rush. Their defencemen — particularly Colton Parayko, Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk — are among the best at carrying the puck into the offensive zone, then making successful passes once gaining the blue-line. Despite that, St. Louis, seventh in five-on-five goals the last two seasons, is 15th in 2015-16.

18. So, what gives? One of the issues is their shooting percentage is dropping. They were top three in 2013-14 (five-on-five) and top 10 last year. Now, they are 23rd. That’s a huge swing. Another coach pointed out that, with Jaden Schwartz injured, the Blues lost a quick forward who can create problems on the rush. Someone like Vladimir Tarasenko can play whatever way you want, but there are others who aren’t built to play that game with their defencemen. It bears watching, but that’s why it makes sense for St. Louis to pitch for Ryan Johansen. Maybe they should be added to the Drouin list, too.

19. Shattenkirk is on a tear. He’s got at least one point in 12 of the last 15 games. He’s not the fastest skater, but he’s very smart. Asked if the coaches have any rules for him, he smiled and said, “Not really. But sometimes I’ll take a chance they won’t like.”

Head coach Ken Hitchcock didn’t disagree, but defended Shattenkirk. He said there are times a misplay looks like a Shattenkirk error, but is the fault of someone who should have been covering for him.

20. Some good stories can be found on the web about St. Louis’s discovery of Colton Parayko. Here’s a few more. The rookie defenceman said he knew of three other teams who had interest — Arizona, Chicago and Toronto. Marshall Davidson was one of the scouts who watched Parayko. He said a coach from Fort McMurray, Alta. got a call from the Blackhawks after the Blues surprised by taking the defender 86th overall in 2012. “They asked him if he tipped us off about Chicago’s interest,” Davidson said. You could almost see his smile over the phone. Scouts live for that.

21. Bill Armstrong, the Blues’ director of amateur scouting, got a tip about Parayko following a tournament in Russia. Armstrong turned it over to Davidson (now with Columbus) and Dan Ginnell. Davidson said the first time he saw Parayko, it was a poor performance at a tournament in Calgary.

“He was playing only about 15-second shifts. We were wondering what was going on. People didn’t stay around for the Sunday game, but he was much better. We wondered if he was hurt, and it turned out he was…rib injury.”

The Blues got another break when Parayko didn’t get a lot of opportunity at the World Junior A challenge. In pure stealth mode, “We didn’t see him in places like Calgary or Edmonton, where there could be other teams. I’d go in blue jeans and sneakers so there was less chance I’d be recognized. One night I went to see him in Drumheller. It was cold and snowy, but that was when I saw what a great player he could be.”

22. Davidson and Parayko met for lunch shortly before the draft. The latter told the story about how Al MacInnis called to say St. Louis would be taking him and he didn’t believe it.

“I kept refreshing the computer to see if it was true. It took a few minutes,” he laughed. What, you didn’t know at the lunch meeting St. Louis would take you? “No.”

Davidson said, as the two were walking out, “My shoulders up to his hips, I suddenly remembered I’d never seen him fight. I asked, ‘Can you handle yourself? He looked at me like I had three heads and said, ‘Yeah.’ ”

How tough is Parayko? He suffered what looked like a gruesome ankle injury against the Islanders, but returned quickly. “They told me if it turned outward, it would have been terrible. But it turned inward. I was lucky.”

23. Calgary captain Mark Giordano said no one smothered them recently as much as Anaheim did, a 1-0 Ducks win last Tuesday. “It was extreme, the biggest trap we’ve seen all year. When we had possession, they fell back.”

Hearing his analysis reminded me of the 2011 Winter Classic. Bruce Boudreau coached Washington then, and the Capitals were recovering from a brutal losing streak that saw him explode at his group on HBO. He laughed while admitting he was coaching the trap for the first time in his career. Are the two situations similar?

“Yes, they are,” he said after the Ducks beat Winnipeg 4-1 Sunday night. Did you ever think you’d be sitting back with this team? “No, I didn’t think this would happen. I thought we’d be ‘aggressively defensive.’ But we can’t score. What does a coach have to do? You do what you have to do to win.”

Anaheim’s back in the playoff picture.

24. As Calgary’s defence starts moving back towards its 2014-15 levels, Giordano said he never felt there was carryover from the arm injury that prematurely ended his season.

“It wasn’t physical, more mental. We were putting so much pressure on ourselves. None of us were producing, none of us were hitting our spots,” he explained last week. “Everyone thinks things turned around when we beat Dallas (4-3 in a shootout on Dec. 1), but I think it was Boston (three nights later). We fell behind on a penalty shot with a minute to go, but found a way to tie it and win in overtime. Now you’re on a little roll and your confidence grows. I’m glad we kept a positive attitude. It’s funny, in other years, the losing might not have been as big a deal, big expectations were up because of last season. If it goes badly, it can get negative pretty quick. We didn’t do that.”

Teams adjusted to Calgary’s home-run approach, forcing them into turnovers or missed plays. “We’ve been moving up and down the ice together, creating more. That makes us tough to beat. We were guilty of stretch plays…too many long passes, making us too easy to defend. When there’s no play to be made, we’ve done a lot better at swinging with everyone together, chipping the puck, using our speed to get it.”

25. Giordano on partner T.J. Brodie: “In the offensive zone, he jumps through seams. I’m open because he takes a forward with him.”

Have you guys talked about being paired together on Canada’s World Cup team?

“You know what, we haven’t. The way things have gone this year, it’s not on our minds. Honestly, I think (T.J.) deserves a lot of recognition. He’s taken another step, in my mind top five in the NHL for sure.”

Should Team Canada be forced to take both of you or neither? Giordano laughed.

“Yes, tell them we are a package deal. You can’t have one without the other.”

26. During his intermission interview with Dan Murphy during Vancouver’s 3-2 loss to Arizona on Monday, Canucks GM Jim Benning said the team plans to inform Jared McCann which games he will miss in the next few months. Injuries, etc, make these schedules difficult to keep, but the idea is sound — let him know when he won’t be in the lineup so he can tailor workouts accordingly. Benning added it is still possible Jake Virtanen goes back to junior. It sure sounds like they want him directly under their supervision for as long as possible, getting him into the conditioning routines they prefer.

27. Everyone has their episode of Coach’s Corner they remember. One that stood out for me was when fans tried to vote Rory Fitzpatrick for the all-star game. Cherry railed against it, saying, “They’re not laughing with you, they are laughing at you.”

It was the truth then, and it’s the truth now. The players have to take responsibility for this, as they’ve allowed it to devolve where this can happen. There is no doubt the league will make changes to prevent a repeat next season, likely in Los Angeles. You can say what you want about John Scott, but he’s played 285 NHL games. That’s an accomplishment. A big one, to be respected.

No doubt there are people trying to talk him out of this, and he’s not listening. Go to the event. Enjoy it for free. Smile and take selfies. That could be really something. I’d hate to see him embarrassed in the skills competition at all-star, or embarrassed in a three-on-three game because he won’t be able to do it. It will be painful to watch.

28. This also puts the Coyotes in an awful position. Scott’s been on waivers three times. If they need to make a roster move that necessitates doing it again, they’ll get crucified by people who think they’re burying him on purpose.

29. Expect Team USA’s assistant coaches for the World Cup to be announced shortly.

30. As the Bruins were preparing to skate with their families last Wednesday at Gillette Stadium, Tom Brady walked by on his way to practice. Not having covered the NFL in years, I figured, “What the heck? Why not watch the Patriots practice for a few minutes?”

Yeah, that didn’t last. Security came over and politely indicated this was not a legal manoeuvre.

Three quick notes:

In the cold, several players were hilariously yelling, “Yeah, this will get us ready for Miami.”

Rob Gronkowski is a massive human being. Television does not do him justice.

Finally, as I walked away, Bill Belichick passed by, flanked by two men. On his left was a younger guy, carrying the coach’s binder. It was clear, by the way this person was ripping through the pages, he was looking for something particular he couldn’t find. Belichick was staring, burning a hole through the guy, who absolutely could feel it. There was this panicked look on his face, like, “Come on! Where is it already?”

I didn’t see any job postings in the next few days, so I assume the necessary information was found.

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