Arthur Griffiths remembers getting his NBA franchise. Then, he was told the restrictions.
“To be honest with you, we were so focused on getting the franchise that we didn’t think about anything else,” the original owner of the Vancouver Grizzlies told us Dec. 5. Then he joked about the old “you can’t be half-pregnant” line.
“We were pregnant. But we were not treated as a partner.”
When the Grizzlies and Toronto Raptors arrived for the 1995-96 NBA season, the franchise fee was US$125 million. By comparison, the previous entry fee was approximately US$30M for the four teams that joined in 1989 and 1990 (the original Charlotte franchise, Miami, Minnesota and Orlando).
For $125 million, the Canadian interlopers were not allowed to win the draft lottery for five years. They also couldn’t spend to the cap ceiling for four years, even if they wanted to. Why? The Magic had won the lottery back-to-back in 1992 and 1993. That led to Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway (via trade) and an NBA Finals berth in 1995.
“We were victims of their success. It hurt us immensely,” Griffiths said. “I understand old-school management. I’m competitive as well. But, you still have to sell that team into coming into your building. It’s just contrary to producing the best product you possibly can.
“The hawkish owners prevailed in the NBA. But not in the NHL.”
That’s relevant, as hockey considers another round of expansion. I was talking to a GM about potential draft rules to stock those rosters. He laughed.
“We’re going to send them our smouldering carcasses,” he said.
Griffiths, who also owned the Vancouver Canucks, watched NHL commissioner Gary Bettman navigate his own expansion challenges.
“There were virtually all the same questions. What division, how to disperse players, what do with first-round draft picks, fair treatment… These were the same discussions. Gary persuaded everybody to be more reasonable than the NBA was.”
Told of Griffiths’ comments following the Board of Governors’ meeting in California, Bettman said, “These markets need to be competitive. You must keep the enthusiasm past the initial enthusiasm.”
Bettman was also asked if there’s anything from the last expansion draft he would change.
“I’m not ready to weigh in on that yet,” he replied.
I covered the Raptors back then in my early reporting days. That expansion draft was… barren. Griffiths refused to blame it for the Grizzlies’ eventual move to Memphis, but it immediately hampered the organization.
“They were irrelevant players,” Griffiths said. “Good people, but not impactful on-court. It goes without saying that if we’d won more games and been more competitive early on, we would have had more success at the gate. Basketball was not the financial burden hockey was at the time, but I had a partner (John McCaw) who saw the ability to turn $125 million into $160 million and wanted to sell the team.”
Griffiths, who thinks Quebec City would be “a spectacular success,” finishes by saying no expansion is much better than an uncertain one.
“If you don’t want to share that pie, don’t bring them in. Don’t expand. For God’s sakes, if they’re going to pay $500 million, show them respect.”
1. Knowing a little about Bettman’s feelings about ensuring potential expansion teams are healthy, would it surprise anyone if one of the reasons for elimination of compensation for external hires was to protect them?
I can’t imagine expansion teams giving up two or three picks to staff their organizations. That would be crippling.
2. One of the biggest questions surrounding a potential expansion draft is what would happen to players with no-move clauses. As much as everyone hates lawyers, you have to look at it like one. What does the CBA say about NMCs?
Well, let’s go to Article 11.8, Section (c): “A no-move clause may prevent the involuntary relocation of a Player, whether by Trade, Loan or Waiver claim.”
Yeah, I don’t see anything about expansion drafts. Now, before players and agents go berserk, remember that one year ago at this time the NHL made noises about having the right to unilaterally impose the salary-cap inflator (raising the ceiling by five per cent) if the players did not. That didn’t happen. The players chose to do it on their own. According to a couple of sources, nothing has been negotiated yet, but the hope is the NHL and NHLPA can find a solution without a skirmish.
3. One of the questions you ask when something doesn’t add up is, “What don’t I know here?”
A league that’s very good at keeping things quiet when it wants to is going the extra mile. A lot of this is legit caution. Las Vegas was asked for some additional data prior to the board of governors meetings (there was conflicting information on whether Quebec City was asked to do the same), but both were told to continue to be patient.
Two governors admitted they thought the league was moving away from accepting anyone, but had their opinions changed after this meeting.
“I wouldn’t say it’s going to happen,” one said, “but I’m not as negative about it.”
Another source said, “When this is over, you will look back and say, ‘I see what they were doing. That makes sense.’”
4. So what is it? Here’s one reporter’s guess: The NHL will consider expanding by one team for 2017-18, and I would suspect that’s Las Vegas, as adding an Eastern Conference team creates even larger conference imbalance.
If you look back at Bettman and how he handled Winnipeg’s re-entry, he kept the Manitoba capital as a safety net for fixing a serious problem. The Coyotes were minutes away from going there before a new deal was worked out, and Atlanta did go when that situation couldn’t be saved.
Smart commissioners (and Bettman is one) always have a backup plan. Until he gets some brushfires extinguished as Florida was with a new lease deal on Tuesday, I could see the league saying to Quebec, “Your time will come, but I need to be certain you aren’t needed for relocation in the short-term.”
As for 31 teams, the NHL did play with an odd number of clubs (27) for one season in 1998-99.
5. I’m hearing there will be a change in Arizona’s ownership, resulting in three of its current partners — Andrew Barroway, Gary Drummond and Anthony LeBlanc — taking on larger roles. This kind of news makes you wonder, “What now?” but word is it’s not bad. Local arena options may prefer a more centralized ownership group.
6. I had a one-line note written for this week’s blog saying, “I really hope the Penguins and Pascal Dupuis have a firm grasp on his health.”
That was after Dupuis left last Tuesday’s game in San Jose with medical complications. Like many of you, I watch a lot of Pittsburgh hockey and have great respect for Dupuis. He was honest about trying to ignore blood clot concerns to play. As his absences increased, it made me squeamish as an observer. I can only imagine how it affected his family and friends. Retiring is hard. Very hard. But Dupuis has a lot to offer and the organization needs him. There is no doubt in my mind he tried to play not only because he loves the game, but because he burned to help the Penguins at a difficult time.
He might be the most respected player in that room, and wanted to hold them together.
7. From a financial point of view, the language in the Dupuis announcement was careful. Not retirement, but “will no longer play hockey.”
It’s similar to Chris Pronger and Marc Savard, a loophole where the player gets paid and the club gets long-term injury relief, if necessary. The team and the athlete benefit. Pittsburgh is right at the cap, so the remainder of his $3.75 million salary this season can be used to great benefit.
8. Since the puck dropped this season, not one player currently on an NHL roster has been traded. The only move was Tampa sending goalie Kevin Poulin to Calgary, and he was injured playing for AHL Stockton.
By this time last year, there was Sergei Gonchar/Travis Moen, Bryan Allen/Rene Bourque and Jason Demers/Brenden Dillon.
In 2013-14, we saw Matt Moulson/Thomas Vanek, Steve Downie/Max Talbot and the Ladislav Smid trade. I went back about 20 years and couldn’t find another season like this one. It is total gridlock.
9. Canucks GM Jim Benning mentioned to Dan Murphy during a broadcast last week that he looked around after Brandon Sutter underwent surgery. It doesn’t sound like there was anything even remotely close, though.
10. World Cup assignments really add to the scouting guessing game. Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin was in Toronto the night before Mike Babcock was named coach. Asked if he was in town for the media conference, he smiled and said, “No, I’m just here to watch a game.”
Last week, Bergevin was in Philadelphia, telling TVA’s Renaud Lavoie that it was a Team Canada mission. Blues GM Doug Armstrong saw five games in the New York area last week. He laughed and said, “I can use the cloak of Team Canada” when asked about it.
11. St. Louis has had a pretty heavy scouting presence recently. In addition to Armstrong’s trip, Larry Pleau joined Rob DiMaio in Toronto to see the Maple Leafs against Edmonton. The Blues GM threw a bit of cold water on all that, saying, “I’d like to see our full team together before we rush into anything.”
Patrick Berglund and Jaden Schwartz should both be back by the end of All-Star Weekend.
“That gives us a month before the trade deadline.”
12. I did wonder if there would be any fallout from Jake Allen’s gesture towards Ken Hitchcock after he was (temporarily) pulled in Saturday’s loss to Toronto.
One of Hitchcock’s former players said if there was any, it wouldn’t be from the coach.
“There were times when me, or another teammate, would have swearing matches with him. The next day, you’re thinking, ‘What’s he going to be like?’ and he’d just move on like nothing happened. It’s part of his style. He rarely took those personally. My experience was the players took them harder than he did.”
Hitchcock told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Rutherford he will do it to save timeouts. Allen added, “It’s not a big deal,” and responded nicely, beating Arizona.
13. When Boston’s Brad Marchand surfaced in a trade rumour earlier this season, Bruins GM Don Sweeney told him to ignore it and not to worry. Brandon Prust may not be a fan, but the Bruins feel Marchand is getting to the next level. He has 13 goals, the same amount as Alex Ovechkin and Max Pacioretty, but in fewer games.
The Bruins did not like a penalty he took Nov. 5 against Washington, although Marchand later apologized both publicly and privately.
14. As John Gibson grabs more of a hold on the Anaheim net, remember something: one of the Ducks’ only issues with him is his ability to stay healthy. The organization would love it if he ascended to the top spot, but will they risk trading either Fredrik Andersen or Anton Khudobin this season because of that worry?
If you deal one, and another gets hurt, you’re suddenly swearing at yourself in the mirror.
15. The agent and the team are not commenting, but word is the Jets and Jacob Trouba mutually agreed to wait until after the season to continue contract negotiations. (He will be a restricted free agent this summer.) The one caveat: Columbus and Sergei Bobrovsky said the same thing, but worked out a new deal during the season. So things can change.
My guess is the Jets want to go long-term, but that involves UFA years, which automatically drives up the price. He’s also had some wild swings in minutes played, so maybe Trouba wants to wait and see what his role will be.
16. When I crunched the numbers last Friday, Ottawa’s Mike Hoffman was fourth in the NHL at 1.19 points per game. His run to that total is almost unprecedented in recent history. In the past 20 years, only 42 players averaged 1.19 ppg over a season. Hoffman recorded his first career point at age 24. None of the 42 needed that long to get that opening tally.
Thirty-three of them got their first point between the ages of 18-20, including franchise stars like Sidney Crosby, Mario Lemieux and Joe Sakic. The other nine were between 21-23. They included several Europeans who waited a little longer to come over, including Daniel Alfredsson, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. To see such a late-bloomer like Hoffman rise to the top of league scoring? It’s remarkable.
17. Are there any comparables? A couple. Hoffman had his first NHL point at 24, became a regular at 25 and is on-pace for his first point-per-game season at age 26. Martin St. Louis got his first point at 23, also became a regular at 25 and nailed down his first point-per-game season at 28, the same age as Daniel Briere. Briere got his first point at 20 and became a regular at 24. Those guys had great careers
Undoubtedly, Hoffman (and the Senators) would be happy with a similar trajectory.
18. We saw Penguins GM Jim Rutherford openly wonder when Daniel Sprong would get into the lineup, and you have to wonder what the end game is with Colin Greening in Ottawa. Once called up, he played four minutes last Thursday against Chicago. Then he was sent back down as Mark Borowiecki played forward in Florida. The Senators won both games, but I don’t see how this will help them move him.
19. Steven Stamkos has played 5:47 shorthanded this season. Half of that total came in Tampa’s past two games — 0:52 in Los Angeles and 2:00 in San Jose, on a night the Lightning had to kill eight penalties. Curious to see if this is a blip, or a trend.
20. The Ryan Johansen move to the wing is fascinating, simply because anyone who might trade for him wants to see him at centre.
21. It’s a huge breakthrough for women’s hockey with Montreal of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League facing Boston of the National Women’s Hockey League outdoors on Dec. 31 as part of the Winter Classic.
This wasn’t easy. The two leagues eye each other warily and there was some animosity during initial meetings. But at the end of the day, it came down to, “Do you want a game or not?”
Fortunately, common sense prevailed this time and hopefully common sense can prevail a second time with USA Hockey allowing some of its top players to leave camp a day early for this spectacle.
22. The full feature will air Dec. 27, but a snippet of producer Chad Walker’s skills piece with John Tavares aired last weekend on Hockey Night in Canada.
Tavares, seeking to grow his game, spent time last summer with Darryl Belfry, a performance coach now employed by Toronto.
Another client (who preferred to remain anonymous), said Belfry teaches his highly-skilled pupils not to just fire it at the goalie, but to search for a legit scoring chance. With their ability, he does not want to waste a shot.
Belfry is in media jail like several other Maple Leaf employees, but looking at the video above, you can see that one of the things they worked on was Tavares’ drive from the corner to the net. This goal against the Rangers is almost a carbon copy of his work with Belfry.
23. One exec had an interesting take on the Boston/Calgary game last Friday in Alberta. The Flames were on a power-play tied 3-3 late in regulation. Dougie Hamilton interfered with Brad Marchand on a breakaway, leading to a penalty shot. Marchand scored, but Calgary kept the power-play.
Jiri Hudler tied it with less than two seconds left, and Johnny Gaudreau won it in OT. You’re never going to get rid of the penalty shot, it’s too exciting. But, this exec wondered, should Calgary get to keep the power play?
“Is there enough of a penalty there? Yes, Boston scores, but they lose the game because they have to stay shorthanded. And, if they don’t score on the penalty shot, it’s a huge disadvantage.”
It Wwas an interesting conversation.
24. Quote of the week: A scout predicted (tongue-in-cheek), “William Nylander will join Toronto with 39 games to go.”
If he spends less than 40 games on the Maple Leafs’ roster, Nylander doesn’t gain a season towards free agency or salary arbitration. We’ll see.
25. One of the guys who does my suits also works with Garret Sparks. I saw Sparks last year in the ECHL and asked him how he was doing. The goalie replied, “Don’t worry about me, I’ll be in the NHL.”
26. The NHLPA’s concern about 3-on-3 overtime was the wear-and-tear on players. So something I wanted to do this season is keep track of what changes (if any) we’d see. At this time last season, no team averaged less than three minutes of overtime play. Boston, Dallas and Edmonton were the closest. This season, nine teams are averaging below three minutes, although it’s kind of cheating to include Colorado, since the Avalanche have reached extra time just once.
Chicago is under two minutes. The rest are Anaheim, Arizona, Carolina, Detroit, Edmonton, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Others, like Washington, have seen their average drop by approximately one minute, to about 3:30.
27. Whose time has gone up? Toronto. The Maple Leafs were at about 3:15 per OT at this point in 2014-15. Now they are No.1 by a good margin. Seven of their eight appearances have gone to a shootout, and the other was decided 2:17 in. The only other teams averaging above four minutes are Buffalo, the Rangers and St. Louis. But those three are right at 4:00.
28. The NHL looked at cameras inside the goalposts to help determine if pucks go over the goal line, but scrapped the idea because not enough could be seen around the netminders. Soon, there will be a different attempt, a camera looking down from inside the crossbar. The league will check to see if the view is any better.
Also, cameras inside the boards at the blue-line and in the air above it will be tested in the near future, including at All-Star Weekend. The hope is to help with offside reviews. As Damien Cox reported, GMs will consider a rule change in March: making it irrelevant if your skate is in the air above the blueline. You either break the plane, or you don’t.
29. Speaking of offsides, if there’s one surprise about replay, it’s how many goals have been erased because of it. The league was concerned linesmen would be sensitive, but told the officials to relax. It is such a tight call at high speed and many of the violations are by infinitesimal margins.
It’s tough to do much better with the naked eye.
30. This is the only inside joke I will ever do, but at Pebble Beach this past week during the Board of Governors meetings, one governor asked, “How are you doing for your blog? I have a suggestion.”
“This is a nice place. That’s a thought.”
Yes it is.