Quick reminder: 30 Thoughts usually appears after each round during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Sorry, but our producers are slave-drivers.
Game 1 of the Pittsburgh Penguins/Washington Capitals series was as good as advertised. Two hard-punching heavyweights standing toe-to-toe, firing away until the final bell. Even with this great entertainment, it was hard to ignore the story of Laremy Tunsil.
Tunsil, an offensive tackle at the University of Mississippi, was expected to be a very high selection in Thursday’s NFL Draft. Minutes before the event began, a video of him smoking a bong through a gas mask was posted on his Twitter account. He blamed it on a hack.
Sources say: that’s not good.
Tunsil dropped to 13th, where the Miami Dolphins snared him. Then came another shocker on his Instagram feed, revealing a conversation where he asked a college coach to pay some bills. During his first media availability, he admitted it was true.
Same sources say: also not good.
Post-draft analysis indicates the Dolphins may have lucked out, getting a top-three talent 10 slots later. That remains to be seen. But I wondered if anything like this ever happened before an NHL draft?
I don’t remember any top prospect dropping that type of video on humankind, but was there something behind the scenes that scared clubs away from a skilled prospect at the last minute?
I couldn’t find anything like this. But there were a couple of interesting ones — two from this century. One scout said a player showed up for an interview wearing a T-shirt “with a really stupid message.” What was it? “It was about drinking,” he replied. The scout wasn’t sure if he wore it to any others, but the individual did drop below pre-draft predictions. Maybe it was more than the dumb slogan. The player’s NHL career, once expected to be a success, totally fizzled.
Another example was a draft-eligible who had a reputation for verbally crossing the line. In an interview with one team, he repeated a previous slur, making everyone in the room very uncomfortable. He dropped, too.
Another executive brought up some more historical examples. He reminded that Jaromir Jagr dropped to fifth in 1990 because Czechs were such an unknown quantity at the time. And, prior to the 1984 draft, B.C.-born defenceman Craig Redmond sent letters to a few teams saying he wouldn’t play for them. (It is documented that one was the Toronto Maple Leafs.) The Los Angeles Kings took him sixth, and Redmond played 191 NHL games.
One other exec said I’d be surprised how many bad interviews are ignored.
“You look at what happens on the ice,” he replied, “not what happens in a 20-minute conversation.”
Undoubtedly, I’m missing others because it was a quick text blast in a short period of time. And those are nowhere near as publicly embarrassing as Tunsil’s video. How many good young athletes deleted everything in their phones Thursday night?
What a nightmare for him.
1. Sometime this week, the NHL and NHLPA agreed on expansion draft rules. No-move clauses are protected, and teams will not be able to expose those players. What’s next? A meeting of the NHL’s Executive Committee, the most powerful group of 10 owners. It’s chaired by Boston’s Jeremy Jacobs. It’s expected that group will be called together in the next week or two. If they approve, the final hurdle would be a full Board of Governors meeting. We’re getting close to knowing one way or the other.
2. Some Ottawa Senators fans asked (via Twitter) if owner Eugene Melnyk’s comments about former head coach Dave Cameron would hurt the search for a replacement. My answer is no, because there are only 30 of these jobs and people want them.
Very few coaches are in enough demand that they can pick their spots. In Ottawa’s case, they come in with eyes open. They know Melnyk is volatile. However, Thursday’s government decision to give him the right to negotiate for a downtown arena does improve the attractiveness of the job. If Melnyk lost, God only knew how he’d handle things. He’s promised it would be a game-changer for the team and he will be expected to deliver. Prospective coaches know that.
Ottawa’s initial list was long, somewhere around 30 names. Word out of the Under-18s was Senators GM Pierre Dorion cut it down to about eight or nine for interviews. Another exec said Dorion is going to solicit plenty of opinion about his team and players, which is never a bad idea. Mike Yeo was interviewed. Guy Boucher and Marc Crawford are scheduled, too. Dorion wouldn’t comment, but it sounds like he’s doing his homework on every former head coach you can think of (Randy Carlyle, Kirk Muller, Adam Oates, etc.). We’ll see who gets interviewed and who doesn’t.
I wondered if someone like New Jersey Devils assistant Geoff Ward would be a contender here, but the Senators seem determined not to hire anyone without previous NHL head coaching experience. I am curious, however, to see if Ottawa considers asking Toronto for permission to talk to Sheldon Keefe once the AHL Marlies’ season is over. Keefe obviously doesn’t fit that NHL-experience qualification, but he’s an up-and-comer with ties to the area. It wouldn’t be a stunner if the Senators desire a conversation.
3. Bruce Boudreau’s name leaps to the forefront with the Anaheim Ducks‘ decision to fire him on Friday morning. Boudreau has family in Ottawa, too. Ducks GM Bob Murray showed a lot of loyalty to his coach when the ship nearly capsized in December, but their relationship was distant — even though Murray believes very strongly his star players share the blame in any disappointment. Boudreau has one season remaining on his contract. (Murray has four more years, I believe.)
The playoff defeats are hard, but Boudreau gets you there. Do not underestimate how hard it is to consistently make the post-season. His record makes him a serious candidate both in Ottawa and in Minnesota.
The Ducks are a budget team. So, how much will the coaching search be affected by whether or not Boudreau gets another job right away? His salary is in the $1.5M range.
4. If Bryan Murray had remained Ottawa’s GM, there’s a belief he wanted brother Terry (now an assistant with the Buffalo Sabres) to be the bench boss. Don’t know, however, if Dorion feels similarly.
5. One NHL governor: “If Melnyk lost (the arena bid), would Quebec City call and say, ‘What figure would you like on that cheque, sir?’”
6. It also sounds like Clarke MacArthur’s health will have a significant impact on the Senators’ roster decisions. If he’s good to go, they can concentrate on centre and a depth defenceman. If not, they’re going to have to find another top-six forward.
7. While all of the SoCal attention is on Boudreau, there’s no clarity yet with Darryl Sutter and Los Angeles. His contract is up, and he’s said several times he will be back. The question — for anyone who may be looking — is whether or not he or anyone else on his staff becomes available. The Kings take pretty good care of them. John Stevens is believed to be the highest-paid assistant coach in the NHL and, if Sutter ever leaves, is assumed to be the heir apparent.
The evaluation in Los Angeles isn’t just why the Kings lost to the San Jose Sharks. It’s also why they blew what was a 12-point division lead on Jan. 6 and why, when they could have clinched the Pacific Division, they couldn’t hold a 3-0 second-period lead over the Winnipeg Jets on the final Saturday of the regular season.
8. Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher received a vote of confidence from owner Craig Leipold during the playoff series against the Dallas Stars. Fletcher said he “needs to decompress,” but will meet with interim head coach John Torchetti, probably early next week.
Is the coaching job open?
“I think you could say it’s somewhat open,” Fletcher replied. “We haven’t had time to talk yet about his vision. He had to inherit everything. I want to hear his view on how he would push forward. He came in and did a good job, deserves a chance to explain why he should be the guy.”
9. If there’s one thing Fletcher strongly disagreed with, it’s that his players lack character. While the GM admitted it was “a brutal year,” he is angry at suggestions they did not try.
“We had to fight to get into the playoffs, including win a big game at Colorado. We fought right to the end against Dallas.” What he does believe is “they did not buy in to how we wanted them to play.”
Fletcher stopped there and wouldn’t continue. But, based on some other conversations, it sounds like the next coach (whether it’s Torchetti or someone else), will be a strong personality and is expected to take control. If for any reason Sutter is not back in Los Angeles, I wonder if he’d be the kind of guy Minnesota looks at.
10. One Wild player who I thought had a better playoffs than regular season was Mikael Granlund.
“I’m pretty biased because I’m a big Granlund fan,” said Fletcher, disputing my hypothesis about the player’s performance prior to the post-season. “He played winger, not centre, in the playoffs, so there were not as many defensive responsibilities. He’s a very good defensive player, but was able to get up-ice quicker. He was laughing about it in our exit interview, how it is easier to play the wing.”
So, will he be a winger or a centre from now on?
“He’ll play both,” the GM replied.
11. Arizona Coyotes CEO Anthony LeBlanc said last week we could see a new General Manager named around this time, but it looks like the process may take longer. Initially, word was assistant GM John Chayka would not be the replacement, but as days go by, that looks more like the outcome. The holdup could be who comes to work with him.
It’s difficult to sort out fact from fiction, but it’s possible Dallas’ Les Jackson was not actually interviewed for the GM position. Instead, it was for more of a scouting role, similar to the one he currently has with the Stars. Maybe the Coyotes want to announce everything at one time.
12. Current Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett is expected to have a Patrick Roy-style role, with plenty of roster authority. When this is all over, it will be curious to see if whatever new contract he signs includes a succession plan for the head-coaching position. He’s been behind the bench in Arizona for seven seasons. Does he have any desire to move full-time into the front office (or presidency) at any point and allow someone like associate coach Jim Playfair to take over?
13. As usual, nothing with Alexander Radulov is as easy as it seems. While Russian reporters (Igor Eronko) were stunned that he did not show up at the country’s World Championship training camp, NHL teams were in ‘What’s the big deal?’ mode as he talked with several of them from New York City. They were expecting him to stay a few days before returning for the Worlds, but word from overseas was he might not be welcomed back.
All of this added another weird layer to his possible return, with a couple clubs wondering, “Who would take a chance with this?” The Colorado Avalanche were thought to be the frontrunners because of Semyon Varlamov’s comments that all the Avalanche had to do was phone Radulov, but a couple of sources warned me away from that possibility. (I was guilty of assuming.) Not sure how many teams are involved here, but the Florida Panthers are definitely one. I’ve heard the Detroit Red Wings sniffed around, too, but it’s difficult to gauge the depth of their interest. The other question is: what does Radulov want or expect, contract-wise? Decision is expected next week, I think.
14. By now you’ve heard plenty of debate about the uncalled penalties seconds before John Tavares tied Game 6 against the Panthers, as Vincent Trocheck and Reilly Smith tried to clinch victory for Florida.
During Sportsnet’s coverage of that game, Nick Kypreos said he wanted officials to swallow their whistles. Kelly Hrudey disagreed, saying he wanted some of these flagged down. (I still remember a high-school card game disrupted by a fight over whether or not a penalty shot should have been called at the end of Youngblood.)
I’d love to find out how the players feel, as a group.
“‘Let them play’ will be the majority,” one texted Sunday. I suspect he’s right. But isn’t it time to know? The NHLPA could certainly do it. The union polls its members on prospective rule changes, and annual meetings are upcoming.
Since team representatives are expected to attend (except those still in the playoffs), it wouldn’t be difficult to get some kind of handle on how the group feels. Depending on the conversation, you could take it en masse. Or, the NHL itself could wait until everyone returns in the fall and do it as part of some pre-season questionnaire through each team. Whatever the case, it’s time to end the debate and the controversy. It happens over and over again, usually because a team and its fan base feels wronged by a no-call that costs them a series. Give us some hard evidence one way or another.
15. Watch Tavares on the series winner.
He gets a push from Aaron Ekblad, who is no soft touch. The New York Islanders captain stays on his edges, scoring seconds later. It was a great play, and the kind of thing Tavares didn’t have in his repertoire when drafted. His association with Toronto-area power-skating coach Dawn Braid is well-known, and I reached out to her this week to ask about that goal.
“I don’t like to take a lot of credit for it, because John is the one who deserves it,” she said. “He’s the one who put in the work, he’s the one who’s committed to doing what it takes.”
Tavares first joined Braid’s classes at 18, and she says his skating was so unremarkable that she initially didn’t see him as any kind of standout.
“I asked, ‘Was he the one in the blue helmet?’”
Braid said she noticed a difference when Tavares was 20, as his body matured and he became stronger. But her “wow moment,” when she really saw him take off, was before the lockout-shortened 2013 season. He had 28 goals in 48 games, behind only Alexander Ovechkin (32) and Steven Stamkos (29).
Braid is very close with another influential skating coach, former Canadian World Champion Barb Underhill. It’s funny, but they are friendly rivals over the next two weeks — one of Underhill’s NHL clients is the Tampa Bay Lightning.
16. Tavares is all business. Braid said he has his summer skating schedule planned out by January.
“It will change based on how long the Islanders play, but not by much.” I asked if there was a fun story about Tavares she could share. Braid was careful, not wanting to violate his privacy, but did come up with a good one.
“When I skate with people, I’m always grabbing their sticks to make a point. I guess John didn’t like that, but he wouldn’t say anything. Finally, one day, he came up to me with a stick and said, ‘Dawn, this is for you.’ That way, I’d stop taking his.”
The best part of the story? It took three years before Tavares did that.
18. Cal Clutterbuck’s empty-netter at the end of Game 1 was the first time these playoffs Nikita Kucherov stood on-ice for an opposition goal. It was 11-0 Lightning prior to that (10-0 vs DET, 1-0 vs NYI).
19. For the first time in my professional career, I’m jealous of Scott Oake. He gets ringside duties for Pittsburgh/Washington.
The 2009 series remains one of the highlights of my career — an awesome, emotional and brilliantly-played series. Seven years later, one Penguin finally gave permission to tell a favourite story. This individual (and I’m not saying if he was an executive, coach, player or staffer) asked why no one ever reported on Ovechkin’s illegal sticks. We got into a debate about it, and he gave me a tip, provided he could go off-the-record: the Penguins knew which were illegal, because they were marked with blue tape. And, at the right moment, they were going to call for a measurement. I was sworn to secrecy until they did it. Then I could say what I knew.
For seven games, I waited for this opportunity to look smart. The Penguins never did it. They never made the call. After Pittsburgh won, I asked this person why. His reply: “Yeah, we’ve got some illegal ones, too.” We both started laughing. But he said I had to keep it quiet, until relenting this week. Fun memory.
20. It was March 2014, the end of a hard season at the University of Massachusetts. Eight wins in 34 games. It was also the end of Connor Sheary’s NCAA career. He had one solid professional offer — Pittsburgh, an AHL deal. He took it, going to Wilkes-Barre, where he had 11 points in 15 playoff games. Sheary followed with 20 goals in his first full season and, suddenly, there was other interest. He could have left the organization, but thought it remained his best fit. Months later, he’s Sidney Crosby’s linemate. Pretty amazing.
22. Had some conversations with former Ken Hitchcock players about what happened with Vladimir Tarasenko in the first round, and one who summed it up best said this:
“There’s this assumption he doesn’t like offensive players. That’s not true. He doesn’t like offensive players who don’t defend. Mike Modano and Rick Nash got their minutes, because they made the effort for him. He believes Tarasenko can make a difference offensively, but doesn’t trust him defensively.”
This was not a minority opinion — a couple other players made similar comments. In Game 7, Hitchcock took pains to make sure Tarasenko was out there in offensive situations. During previous games, he’d take that line off the ice if Jori Lehtera was not on his strong side for a face-off. (David Backes got a lot of those.) It didn’t happen as much in the decider, as Tarasenko was out there for eight of the first 10 draws in the Chicago zone. However, as the St. Louis Blues zealously guarded their one-goal lead, the sniper played just 23 seconds of the final 6:10 and none of the last 3:55.
23. Hitchcock’s comments that he wanted to see St. Louis hit Chicago 70 times had me wondering: how often does that happen? The NHL started keeping this statistic in 2005-06. The Islanders set the regular season record this past year, with 63 in a 2-1 win over New Jersey on Nov. 3. The non-overtime playoff record is 69, by the Kings against San Jose on April 17, 2014. But the bruisingest night was May 4, 2008. Dallas threw 88 hits at San Jose in quadruple overtime. Therefore, 70 is a lofty goal, indeed.
24. Apparently the Blues played a little Chelsea Dagger in the building after beating the Blackhawks. I remember hearing the Vancouver Canucks wanted to do the same in 2011, but decided not to.
25. International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel told Inside the Game that the prognosis for NHL players at the 2018 Olympics “is not really good” and the challenges are “even more difficult than before.”
At issue is the IOC’s sudden unwillingness to pay the players’ insurance and transportation costs, which it did for Sochi in 2014. Other leagues (including the NBA) don’t get such consideration, but the NHL makes a strong argument that it is the only one shutting down play to get to the Olympics. The players still want to go, but even the NHLPA recognizes that, if this does not change, NHLers won’t be in South Korea.
“A non-starter for the commissioner and the owners,” multiple sources said. The good news: there is still plenty of time. The IOC has this summer’s games in Rio to worry about, and a Tylenol bottle the size of the CN Tower might not solve those headaches. It’s likely talks resume at the World Cup. The bad news: this skirmish might be a pawn in a battle between Fasel and new IOC President Thomas Bach. They are not tight.
26. Henrik Lundqvist refused to blame the eye injury he suffered in the Pittsburgh series for any of his struggles against the Penguins. In the aftermath, there was plenty of debate surrounding the “cat’s eye” facemarks used by the goalies. It’s almost unbelievable when you think about it, but there’s only been standard testing on masks for the last two seasons.
“Before that, they could show up wearing a garbage pail,” one GM said last week.
While the league won the stricter testing on the shell, it did not succeed with the wired cage. Quite simply, the goalies said skaters aren’t forced to wear a full cage, so why should they? (Someone should have brought up Dominik Hasek.)
Adding a layer of intrigue: in April 2009, Health Canada informed manufacturers, importers and distributors of helmets and face protectors that “cat eyes” were not to be sold in this country. The industry was warned they did not meet specifications, and, “It has come to our attention that some ice hockey helmets and face protectors sold in Canada or offered for sale in Canada do not meet these mandatory regulatory requirements…Combination goaltender helmets and face protectors are included in this assessment, in particular, ice hockey goaltender masks sold with large ‘cat-eye’ cages which may not meet the regulatory requirements. There are no exceptions allowing the sale of helmets and face protectors not meeting these regulatory requirements.”
Hockey Canada won’t enforce this on the pro leagues. So, if an NHL goalie wants to use a mask featuring them, he has to buy it in the US and bring it back. You can own them, you just can’t purchase them here.
27. As we head into Draft Lottery Weekend, a lot of the conversation surrounds Patrik Laine. Can he catch Auston Matthews for the top spot? But another fun debate is where Clayton Keller will go. Keller, MVP of last week’s World Under-18 Championship, is listed at five-foot-10 and 168 pounds. But he is so skilled and is rising the rankings.
The safe bet is he goes somewhere between 10-15, and there are Johnny Gaudreau comparisons being made.
“He’s a wild-card,” one exec said. “I could see someone really liking his skill, taking him a little higher than predicted.”
28. Back in 2007, I was honoured with the opportunity to host the Roger Neilson coaching clinic in Windsor. One of the attendees was Doug Houda, a Boston assistant. Not long after the conference began, he rushed out of the room to take a call. It was the Bruins, letting him know head coach Dave Lewis was fired. I’ll never forget the ashen look on his face as he tried to figure out if he still had a job.
“Life of a coach,” one of the other attendees (half-)joked.
Houda stayed another decade, celebrating the Stanley Cup win of 2011. Boston doesn’t like its assistants talking to the media, so our conversations were brief, but we always laughed about that day. Houda was fired after this season, and declined to talk when I reached out.
“We had a great run here, no regrets,” was all he said. But a friend says he’d like to continue working with defencemen and the penalty kill. Wanted to throw that in here.
29. One other assistant who could be moving on is Winnipeg’s Pascal Vincent. There are rumblings he’s up for some AHL and/or junior openings. Also heard Guy Carbonneau is trying to get back into the NHL, possibly in player development instead of coaching.
30. It was the 2011 Western Conference Final, and we were in San Jose. Prince was playing on one of the off-nights and a few of us got tickets. The show was spectacular. It’s one of my favourite concerts, on a list with Paul McCartney, Metallica and Bruce Springsteen. The next day, I was talking about it with our producer, Sherali Najak, who also went, in the bowels of SAP Center. One of the ushers overhead and told a pretty amazing story: Prince left after playing for almost three hours, but the rest of his crew stayed behind. Arena staff wondered what was happening, so one of the bandmates explained that it wasn’t unusual for Prince to leave, think about something he missed or wanted to try, and decide to come back. Everyone else had to wait for a call from his driver to make sure Prince was finished for the night. Only then could they leave. What a legend. RIP.
Bonus 31. Unrestricted free agent Drake Caggiula is in Vancouver today, visiting the Canucks. It sounds like he travelled to somewhere between six and eight cities, including Edmonton, Ottawa and Vancouver.