30 Thoughts: Islanders working hard on John Tavares extension pitch

Craig Anderson stood on his head, Frederik Andersen flashed the glove and Corey Crawford stretched out.

It is one of the biggest dates on the NHL calendar — the draft lottery.

To be held Saturday in Toronto, it’s become arguably the greatest influence on the NHL standings. Good or bad, look at the effect its had on Arizona, Buffalo, Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver.

It’s a stretch to say the 2017 version will drastically alter the future of the New York Islanders. Of all the lottery teams, they have the worst odds at the top pick, slightly below one per cent. But, as the number of eliminated teams grow, they look to New York and ask, “Where are we going with John Tavares?”

Let me re-iterate a long-standing belief: that, all things being equal, Tavares’s preference is to stay. But he craves winning and we are approaching a landmark moment in his situation — an indication of whether or not he is willing to sign an extension on July 1.

The Islanders have been working hard to prepare their pitch. Doug Weight was installed as permanent head coach days after guiding them on a late-season push to the edge of the playoffs. Commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed last week that the team will submit a bid to New York State in an attempt to build a new rink at Belmont Park. As John Shannon reported, owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin were at Air Canada Centre for Game 6 of the Washington/Toronto series, getting a look at the facility.

Since the two men gained majority control over the club last summer, the Islanders have spent almost a year gathering information on their operations. Most of us expected a change, but GM Garth Snow received a renewed vote of confidence. Some sources have described Snow’s safety in even stronger terms than that, but this is a crazy business so you have to be careful.

Weight’s ascension certainly played a role. He and Snow have worked together for years, and the coach would definitely feel more comfortable with him than an unknown entity. The Islanders also received favourable reviews of the GM’s work when they asked around. I reported last week that they hired someone to solicit opinions for them, but a couple of sources disputed that, saying they were provided with the names of good people to query. Whatever the case, they asked a lot of questions.

The fact Snow got good reviews surprised me for one reason: In life, if you give people the chance to speak anonymously about someone else, it’s usually Carving Time.


What we don’t know yet is what all this means to Tavares. So we wait.

I’m not going to guess what he’ll do, but it’s safe to surmise that several teams will hold their off-season plans until there is some clarity. Tavares will be able to pick his spot should he choose to go, but even if you get a seat at the table you’ve got to have cap room and the players to make a trade work.

If you’re Detroit, Los Angeles, Montreal, San Jose, Tampa Bay or Toronto (although I’m not sure it can actually work there anymore), aren’t you waiting to see where this is going?


1. In the aftermath of Chicago’s loss to Nashville, there were internet rumours Joel Quenneville might be in trouble. I didn’t take them seriously, because they sounded insane. But assistant Mike Kitchen’s firing undoubtedly means the ground has shifted under his feet. The two are so tight that when Quenneville was fired by St. Louis in 2004, Kitchen called and asked for his blessing before taking the job. The next question: How much say does Quenneville get on the new hire?

2. Reading the tea leaves, my guess is we will get some clarity on Travis Green and Vancouver in the next few days. He’s a very legitimate candidate and it sounds like he wants the job. The Canucks have said publicly they want to do a full search, and I think they recognize if that’s the route, they have to let Green interview elsewhere. So it’s likely they make the call one way or the other while he’s exclusively theirs.

Green knows their young players and has a thick skin, essential to survival in Vancouver. He makes a lot of sense for them.

UPDATE: The Canucks will be hiring Green to fill their vacancy.

3. Another reason Green makes sense there? A lawyer who does some work with coaches and executives said the Canucks may find it difficult to get a head coach to accept less than four years term. New Jersey’s John Hynes and Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan got three years in their opening contracts with their current teams, as did Willie Desjardins in Vancouver. Gerard Gallant just got four in Las Vegas.

The hope internally is to get back to the playoffs well before then, but as the Sedin era potentially closes and a new one begins, the organization is searching for the kinds of offensive game breakers who can facilitate a quicker turnaround. If the Canucks must offer more term to get their man, probably better if it is the guy you know.

4. Vancouver may not be the only NHL team that showed interest in Ralph Krueger. It’s possible Las Vegas did, too. On its face, Krueger leaving his high-level position with Southampton FC for an NHL coaching job seems odd, but there was a selling process underway.

It fell through, but, for a time there, Krueger must have wondered about his future. He’s a very smart, proud guy, and I could see him wanting another shot at the NHL to show he could do it. But, as he emailed last week, such a move is not in the cards now.

5. Calgary GM Brad Treliving is scheduled to meet with ownership some time this week. The word around the league is he wants to stay. That’s always a positive, because without a willingness to make a deal, it becomes exponentially harder.

There’s a real sense of, “They’re not seriously going to get rid of him, are they?” But I think it comes down to the Flames’ offer. If it’s market value, everything’s OK. If not, there’s trouble. And if it doesn’t work out, I wonder if Calgary will take a long look at Craig Conroy. His time is coming.

6. Apparently, the Flames have around 50 contracts in Hockey Operations expiring in June. That’s crazy.

7. In the aftermath of Buffalo firing GM Tim Murray and head coach Dan Bylsma, there were strong rumours the NHL would “advise” Sabres owner Terry Pegula to put a more experienced person at the top of the organizational food chain. “I would say that’s probably a safe assumption,” Pegula said Friday. “Experience is going to be key.”

But another word I’ve heard in the past few days is “progressive,” so there’s a mix at play. Pegula has a blank canvas, so there are several routes he can go. It allows for the possibility of multiple people, which would let him check both the “experience” and “progressive” boxes if one person can’t do both.

When Peter Chiarelli went to Edmonton, he chose to keep the General Manager title. (One of the reasons was he wanted to continue to attend the GM meetings.) So he’s got a big title: President of Hockey Operations and General Manager. The Oilers, therefore, are not set up like Toronto or Vancouver, with Brendan Shanahan or Trevor Linden overseeing someone who handles the more day-to-day operations. Which of those philosophies will Pegula choose?

8. If it’s the Edmonton model, that favours Dean Lombardi or, if he becomes available, Treliving. Both men will want to be very hands-on. Treliving is still in the infancy of his managerial career, and, if you know Lombardi, you know he dives in head first.

If Pegula prefers the Toronto/Vancouver setup, that might mean a Brian Burke or Don Maloney-type atop the pyramid. Burke is two months from his 62nd birthday. Maloney will be 60 next year. I saw him last November in Denver, and he looked very relaxed. I’m not sure either would want the full-time, day-to-day responsibilities of a GM, but they could oversee the operation while handing a smart, younger mind more responsibility than in a current job.

There are several candidates who could fill that role. Pegula has Pittsburgh connections, which tie him to Jason Botterill and Bill Guerin (Penguins) and Tom Fitzgerald (now in New Jersey). Norm Maciver comes from a very successful place (Chicago) and could carry a Scotty Bowman recommendation; that’s meaningful in Western New York. Nashville’s Paul Fenton has been ready for years. Same with Los Angeles’s Mike Futa, who went far down this process when Murray was hired. He just received a promotion with the Kings, but it wouldn’t hurt for Buffalo to ask. Toronto’s Kyle Dubas’s name always comes up when the word “progressive” is mentioned, and it was there on the weekend.

There is a more hybrid option, too. Someday, someone is going to give Mike Gillis another shot. He could deliver a “ready-made front office” with Laurence Gilman and Lorne Henning, both of whom worked with him in Vancouver. There’s not a lot of time, and this is a huge off-season for the Sabres, so that might be appealing.

9. ESPN.com’s Craig Custance reported Buffalo may have interest in Arizona’s John Chayka. That one took me by surprise, but Custance doesn’t just throw garbage at the wall and I think he’s on to something. That says he’s a legit contender, if the Coyotes allow permission.

Chayka’s not the only candidate in that situation. Another is Tampa Bay assistant GM Julien Brisebois. He interviewed in Pittsburgh when Jim Rutherford got the job, but I’m not sure his contract allows him to leave at this time. I’m also not certain the Rangers will allow Chris Drury to go, and he’d be a popular local pick. Finally, there’s Toronto assistant GM Mark Hunter. I suspect there’s a chance the Maple Leafs’ job will be his after Lou Lamoriello, so I don’t know if he’d want to leave.

10. One other possibility: Rick Dudley’s been in Montreal for five years. That’s a long time for him, as he moves from organization to organization quite a bit. Dudley’s got a lengthy history with Buffalo, and I wonder if he’d want to work for them again. If he does, I wouldn’t discount the Sabres taking a long look.

Guys with connections to the city really care about this team. Scott Luce, who went from Florida to Las Vegas, may not be available, because his new job is just beginning. But he’s also got that tie-in, and it would not be a stunner if the Sabres wished to tap into that.

Pegula has options. He’s got money and he spends it (to the tune of about $30 million in severance for the Ryan brothers, Bylsma and Murray). There will be no shortage of people who want this job.

11. Also curious to see if Buffalo tries to find an entry-level role for Kevyn Adams. A Boston first-rounder in 1993, Adams played 540 NHL games with Toronto, Columbus, Florida, Carolina, Phoenix and Chicago, winning a Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006. He spent two seasons on the Buffalo bench before being fired when Ron Rolston took over and has since become president of the Junior Sabres minor hockey organization.

12. As expected, Pegula threw himself on the grenade that exploded around Jack Eichel. The owner called reports the franchise forward threatened not to sign an extension if Bylsma was still the coach “a complete fabrication. I defend Jack… it’s not a true story.”

There were suggestions Eichel (or his agent) leaked this info since he benefits because Bylsma is gone. That’s a little fishy to me. The exact opposite occurred. He got destroyed in the media. His agent had to shoot it down, and Eichel (very smartly) talked to Buffalo News reporter John Vogl to deny it in his own voice. Many players would say, “Sorry, gone for the summer,” but he knew this was not the time to duck.

The other thing was it came out 10 days after the players said their goodbyes, at a time ownership was doing its final meetings with the coaches and front office. The timeline doesn’t make sense. But I do think the Sabres were worried Eichel would lose trust in them if that wasn’t fiercely kiboshed.

13. Now, what does this mean for Boston University coach David Quinn? I can’t prove that someone on the Sabres reached out to gauge his interest. But I refuse to believe some kind of contact didn’t happen. Quinn is respected and expected to be on Florida’s radar, too. (He was an assistant coach for Team USA at the World Championships in 2016. Panthers GM Dale Tallon was part of the Advisory Board.) Are the Sabres worried that hiring him is compromised by the Eichel report, true or not?

14. Two immediate questions that leap to mind about Buffalo personnel: Robin Lehner and Bob Woods. Murray believed in Lehner, a restricted free agent whose contract is expiring. What to do in goal will be one of the biggest questions of the off-season. Woods, an assistant coach, ran the NHL’s No. 1 power play. What will his future be?

15. We’ll get back to some other coaching news shortly. There’s some doubt this Ilya Kovalchuk news is any different than other years, but it is different. Agent Jay Grossman and New Jersey GM Ray Shero aren’t commenting, but word is Kovalchuk has informed the Devils of his desire to return. And, in Russian circles, they are preparing for it. The process is in motion.

The Devils own his rights. He can sign and play immediately with them. If he tries to sign anywhere else, he can only play with the consent of the other 30 teams. So this will be a sign-and-trade, because I’m far from certain New Jersey will be the final destination. Alexander Radulov’s successful return is good news for Kovalchuk, and for the Devils, since it eases concerns about risk.

16. That could help New Jersey add to its talent pool. Speaking of Shero, watching Pittsburgh blitz Columbus with Brian Dumoulin, Jake Guentzel, Olli Maatta, Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary playing prominent roles, well, it has to make Devils fans feel confident the organization can find players. (That doesn’t even count Matt Murray, who didn’t play.)

Look at the routes taken. Dumoulin was drafted in 2009, traded to the Penguins in 2012 and didn’t become a regular until last season. Rust was drafted in 2010, Murray in 2012, Guentzel in 2013 and Sheary signed as a free agent in 2014. It took time and only Maatta was a first-rounder. Sometimes you have to wait two or three seasons after a GM leaves an organization to see what they did or didn’t accomplish. Shero’s Pittsburgh resumé looks much better now than in 2014. That’s a good omen for New Jersey.

17. Montreal GM Marc Bergevin was asked by Eric Engels about chasing Vadim Shipachyov, who has been on the Canadiens’ radar before. Bergevin gave an interesting response, basically indicating you never know how easy it will be to get guys out of the KHL. But don’t be surprised if the Canadiens take a long look at what’s available from there.

18. Now that Montreal is out, will Kirk Muller start getting interviews?

19. It is very rare that players reach out to me to promote their coaches, but one did last week. He texted on behalf of AHL Grand Rapids coach Todd Nelson, who was in Edmonton before Todd McLellan. The Griffins are up 2–0 on Milwaukee in the first round of the playoffs. Anthony Mantha took big strides under Nelson. He felt Nelson deserved more “buzz” around his name.

20. Los Angeles reached out to University of Denver head coach Jim Montgomery about joining John Stevens on the bench. That won’t happen, but it gives you an idea into what they are thinking. There are rumblings Montgomery will meet with Florida this week. Very serious candidate. Dave Hakstol set a high bar when he left North Dakota for about $2 million per season in Philadelphia. That might be what it takes to get Montgomery.

21. Rumour shot down: that Colorado was looking at beefing up its scouting department with a “Rick Dudley-type” hire. (That’s the phrase I used when asking, because that’s the way it was presented to me.) GM Joe Sakic said Jared Bednar will return as coach, feeling Bednar was not given a fair opportunity to show his best last season.

22. It wasn’t uncommon to find a Tampa Bay Stanley Cup prediction before this season, and even though they missed the playoffs, it wouldn’t be ridiculous to see high projections for 2017–18. Not that vice president and GM Steve Yzerman is getting into that game. “Our goal next year will be to make the playoffs,” he said last week.

That’s it? “That’s it. Just get back in.”

With a little time to think about what happened, is there anything that stands out? “Injuries didn’t help,” he said. “But every team goes through that. Pittsburgh was hammered on the blue line and got through it. We gave up far too many scoring chances in the first half. Got away from what made us successful. There were more chances given up, more shots given up, more goals allowed. It’s why we lost.”

Will you change the way you play? “We’ll talk about it (with head coach Jon Cooper). I’m sure we will on the penalty kill. We’ll have to address why we weren’t more consistent five-on-five, but I’m pretty comfortable and pleased with our structure.”

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23. Yzerman wouldn’t address the aborted Kevin Shattenkirk trade, but did say the Lightning will look at adding “more offence from the blue line, but there’s no guarantee we can do that.”

Is there a preference for a right or left shot? “Doesn’t matter,” he replied.

He had high praise for Norris Trophy finalist Victor Hedman (“an evolved presence on and off the ice”) and Nikita Kucherov (“really, really driven to be a top player and win”).

24. The Lightning’s cap questions are well known, and Yzerman helped himself out by making trades that cleared room for bonuses. By comparison, Toronto will have an overage in the $5-million range.

New contracts are needed for Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. Their base salaries came in at approximately $7.5M this season. Does Yzerman have a guesstimate for where that total will go? “I can’t speculate, because the term could make the number dramatically different (especially in Drouin’s case). We have an idea, but I’m not going to share. We have had those discussions though.”

25. Watching the closing of Joe Louis Arena, seeing the outpouring of emotion for Yzerman… you couldn’t help but wonder if he’s thought about returning someday to the Red Wings. He wasn’t going there. “I’m the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning,” he replied.

26. Anaheim’s Shea Theodore said his smartphone was “blowing up pretty good” after scoring twice against Calgary in Game 3. He’s come a long way this season. What did the Ducks tell him a year ago? “(GM) Bob Murray told me not to worry too much about the on-ice, but focus on my strength off the ice,” Theodore said. “I switched trainers. I lived an hour outside Vancouver, but I moved downtown. My mother was not too happy.”

Is she OK now? “I think she’s gotten over it,” he laughed. “I trained with Tanner Glass, Brenden Dillon [and] Curtis McKenzie. You really notice how hard those guys worked. It was good for me. Kept on a strict routine, up at 7:00 a.m. for a good breakfast. Hard workout. Nap.”

You made the breakfast? Are you going on Chopped someday? “I got better this summer,” Theodore said. “Nothing spectacular, though. Eggs, pancakes, toast with peanut butter.”

27. Theodore bounced between Anaheim and AHL San Diego, his recalls in the double-digit range. “I understand the situation. You take it in stride, don’t get upset, it’s just a matter of time. I was feeling good about my play. (Bob Murray) texted, ‘Don’t get down on yourself, it’s a process.’ I can tell I’ve gained the confidence with the coaching staff this year. Normally, a bad shift or two and they’d be hesitant to throw me back out. (Randy Carlyle and Trent Yawney) have been showing me the positives to get back on track, not the negatives.”

He says he’s learned one critical thing about making it in the NHL. “Some games you are not 100 per cent, [but] you have to find little things in your game to get you through. Don’t expose yourself too much. Worry about a few things, not everything.”

28. Mike Modano’s been tweeting a lot about Ken Hitchcock’s return to Dallas, and a couple of people who’ve worked with and played for the coach said the Stars would be very wise to bring in bodies like Modano to prepare the current group for what is to come. “It’s not a bad idea to have him around Tyler Seguin, helping him through this,” one said.

Another player that popped into my head: Richard Matvichuk, who won a Stanley Cup with Hitchcock in 1999. He just finished a 45-win season with WHL Prince George, although the Cougars lost in the first round of the playoffs. Hitchcock also has a long history with Perry Pearn, just let go in Vancouver.

29. As Chris Botta reported on Twitter, it is expected that Peter Luukko will leave Florida to join the Islanders as point man on the team’s new arena. The NHL loves Luukko, who previously worked in Philadelphia and navigated the Panthers’ new lease deal with Broward County. He is also co-chairman of Oak View Group, a key partner in the Islanders’ arena plan.

30. Finally, Washington took Brian Pinho, then of USHL Indiana, 174th overall in the 2013 Draft. It turned out to be a shrewd pick, as he had 40 points in 39 games as a junior this past season at NCAA Providence. He could be a free agent if unsigned by June 1, but he’s going back for his senior year. That makes him eligible for free agency on Aug. 15, 2018. If he has another season like the last one, an NHL team near you will come calling.

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