Here is the “Thoughts” portion of this week’s notes. The other part of the blog, a column about Pat Quinn and Viktor Tikhonov, can be found here.
1. As ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun first reported a coaching change may come in San Jose, a couple of contacts said they heard Doug Wilson reached out to Dan Bylsma. Suffice it to say Wilson denied that as strongly as anyone can deny something. “Tell whoever you want to tell that’s not true,” he said.
2. If anything does happen to Todd McLellan, he’ll be unemployed for about as long as he wants to be. San Jose’s had some weird results. They’ve played more on the road than anyone (16 times), with wins at Los Angeles (the night the Stanley Cup banner was raised), Anaheim and Tampa Bay. Yet they lost to the Sabres twice. The last two seasons, they have two wins in 11 games against Buffalo, Carolina and Florida. One theory is this group knows only the playoffs matter to how they are judged. Thing is, it’s not so easy to get there out west.
3. Or, as one opponent pointed out: how deep is their roster, really? In their 13 losses, the Sharks have 26 goals. Nineteen are from Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton. Tough to blame them.
4. Wilson promised a rebuild on the fly, and he’s doing that. When the Sabres beat the Sharks in California, Buffalo had five available skaters with fewer than 82 career games. So did San Jose. Wilson wouldn’t discuss potential moves in our (very brief) conversation, but, as usual, he’s telling other teams he will not trade youth or high draft picks. The Sharks have a rare buyout on the balance sheet (Martin Havlat). They picked up 35 per cent of Jason Demers’ salary in the Brenden Dillon trade. That affects depth on a budget team.
5. Finally on San Jose: Hindsight is 20/20, especially the emotional way the Sharks lost in the playoffs last year, but you can’t help but wonder if the message to Marleau and Thornton should have been, “Look, we’re going to start turning over the roster. Come to camp, see what you think, and, if it doesn’t look good to you, would you consider giving us a list of places you’d be willing to go?”
6. You don’t look at many trades and say, “That one could be perfectly even.” Demers/Dillon could be an exception. The Stars needed a right-hand shot, the Sharks a lefty. San Jose needed a physical body on a finesse blueline, Dallas needed someone who could move the puck, not bounce it off the glass. Demers was a scratch, and Dillon was out there in trade rumblings. Fresh starts for two men in places they will get a chance to excel.
7. Is Jim Nill finished remodelling his defence? The sense is yes, unless he (like everyone else) can find that top dog who can play 25 minutes. Jamie Oleksiak gets a shot at Dillon’s role and John Klingberg is adjusting nicely.
8. Saturday night, word was Edmonton had no interest in dealing its core players. By Monday morning, it was very different, that “everyone” could be available. The key thing here is what available means. Does it mean their cornerstones are only getting traded for massive return, for pieces other teams won’t deal? If yes, then they are not really available (and I would suspect that’s probably the case for a Taylor Hall or a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins). It might simply be the team trying to say that no one should be comfortable. There was a lot of internal soul-searching on Sunday. They badly want to make a move, but when you’re drowning, you must be careful. Other GMs don’t throw lifejackets.
9. GM Craig MacTavish has made it very clear: he would rather make a trade than fire the coach. Part of it is that they’ve made a lot of coaching changes. Part of it is they know the Oilers are undermanned, especially at centre. That is not what he wants to do.
10. No confirmation from anyone, but I think Edmonton already looked at bringing back Kyle Brodziak. Could that be re-visited?
11. The Oilers’ biggest worry has to be their top players eventually wanting out. Last season, even when things went badly, David Perron talked positively, believing in the future. He liked a bigger role and career-high 28 goals. Friday night, he was furious. “We keep talking about how much better we are this year, but for me it is the same record now that we had last year. It is not better,” he said. Edmonton would move Perron, but what if Hall gets fed up enough to feel that way? That’s a problem. A big one.
12. The second-biggest worry must be Justin Schultz. Last summer, MacTavish saw Schultz as one of his cornerstone young defenders, with Oscar Klefbom and Darnell Nurse. He’s regressing. You can see his confidence waning.
13. After MacTavish, the second-itchiest trigger finger in the NHL may belong to Ron Hextall. Here’s coach Craig Berube to reporters after Monday night’s 1-0 shootout loss to the Islanders: “We didn’t have enough guys that competed hard enough, that showed enough urgency throughout the game.” Not the first time we’ve heard that in Philadelphia.
14. When Toronto didn’t salute its fans after an important victory over Tampa Bay, I thought the controversy was ridiculous. Not so, argued one long-time NHL media relations person. He said his team felt similarly last season, but when he heard, he pressed them to do it because he knew it would create an inferno. He was right, obviously. Impressive victories over the Lightning and Red Wings were overshadowed.
15. There’s no doubt, after looking at the video, the decision was made on the ice. Cody Franson was skating to centre before being pulled off. If Dion Phaneuf or another member of the leadership group stood up after and said, “You know what, we were mad at the jersey tossers and all the nice things you tweeted at us. We lost our minds for a second. Bad call,” this probably goes away. But they didn’t.
16. The question now becomes: are there any long-term implications here? There were reports the team tried to tell the players what to say, but I’m not sure about that. It’s more likely they warned about the maelstrom and told them to decide their comments for themselves. In essence, the players passed the on-ice test but failed the off-ice one. Does that convince the organization to change its leadership group?
17. During a Saturday morning chat, Mike Babcock was asked about the top teams in the league. He grabbed the daily stat sheet and circled the five with the best goal differential — Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Chicago, Nashville and St. Louis. “There you go,” he said. Note to NHL: Babcock thinks that statistic should be on the front of the package. It’s on Page Two.
18. That’s bad news for Montreal. On Nov. 12, the Canadiens were minus-2. They were up to plus-9 before Sunday’s serious dent in Manhattan. Since 2005, only three teams have made the Conference Final with a goal differential in single digits or lower. Tampa (plus-7 in 2011), Montreal (minus-6 in 2010) and Edmonton (plus-5 in 2006). The Oilers went to Game 7 of the Final. History is against this type of situation, though.
19. Brendan Gallagher, asked last Thursday night by Chantal Desjardins if the referees have a different standard for him: “Yeah they do. I’m used to it by now. Even tonight, I was tripped behind the net. (One of the referees is) telling me that’s a penalty, but not on me.” Oy vey. Kelly Hrudey and Nick Kypreos didn’t like Gallagher revealing an on-ice conversation. As a media person, I’m not going to rip anyone for being honest. Every team has its divers. But it is pretty clear Montreal was the primary target in the embellishment crackdown.
20. The Rangers’ 5-0 win over Montreal saw Kevin Klein fight Brandon Prust for the second time this year coming to the defence of a teammate. Quietly, Klein is having a good year on a decimated blueline. He’s tied his career-high with four goals, two of them game-winners. Only Marc Staal starts less in the offensive zone than he does.
21. Had a good conversation with Luke Glendening, becoming a Babcock favourite. Asked to describe the centre, his coach used a compliment that cannot be put in a family blog. Glendening is a great story. He was getting ready to play Ivy League football when the University of Michigan offered him a spot as a hockey walk-on. He took it but admitted he didn’t think it would go anywhere. “My senior year, my agent (Alec Schall) told me he thought he could get me a pro contract,” Glendening said. “I thought he was joking.” The Red Wings were the only team to give him a one-way AHL deal, although he started in the ECHL. Less than two seasons later, he’s in Detroit.
22. Schall, by the way, also represents pending Los Angeles UFA Alec Martinez. He offered no update Monday other than the two sides touched base. The Kings aren’t saying anything, either, but other teams are under the impression Martinez will re-sign. One exec said he wouldn’t be surprised if the contract is similar to Jake Muzzin’s ($4 million average).
23. Mark Giordano leads all defencemen in scoring and stands 11th overall. You expect he’ll cool down at some point, but he’s averaging 1.05 points per game. No blueliner has accomplished that in 70 games since 1993-94. He’s also shooting 10.9 per cent. In the 21st century, only four defenders have played 82 games and done it: Tom Gilbert (13.3 in 2008), Drew Doughty (11.3 in 2010), Andrei Markov (11 in 2008) and Mattias Ohlund (10.9 in 2004).
24. Brenden Morrow was in the Dallas organization when it won the Stanley Cup in 1999, an NHL rookie as the Stars came within two wins of a repeat in 2000. That was a team of veterans. Are the young Lightning ready to win? He was honest: “I can’t answer that right now. I don’t know,” Morrow said, then added: “You need to understand adversity.” He pointed at Steven Stamkos’s stall. “He’s been through it, with the injury.” He pointed at Victor Hedman’s stall. “Him too. So they have some experience understanding it.”
25. Jon Cooper’s quote on Martin St. Louis is perfect. “People should remember what he did for the organization because he did great things. After that, he should be treated like a visiting opponent, just like everyone should.” St. Louis returns Wednesday and what we are all going to find out is how much time has healed these wounds — both his and Tampa’s.
26. St. Louis, the best player in franchise history, adamantly believes he did the right thing. Some Lightning players understood, but there were hard feelings among the fan base and inside the organization. His mural outside the arena was gone immediately after the trade to New York. Remember when Mats Sundin almost broke down on the bench in Toronto? If St. Louis gets a similar ovation, we’re going to see the exact same thing.
27. Patrice Bergeron had a great story about the poetry commercial he did for NHL 15. “I had agreed to do it, my flight was booked,” he said, not knowing the script until close to the filming date. Once he found out the plan? “I couldn’t back out,” he laughed. “They were smart not to tell me beforehand. But I trusted them. They knew what they were doing.” Yes, it’s terrific stuff.
28. When the Red Wings turned over their roster last season, some of the veterans — Niklas Kronwall, Henrik Zetterberg — talked about how the younger players made their room noisier. It used to be very quiet, they said. For Boston, it’s the reverse. With Johnny Boychuk and Shawn Thornton elsewhere, it’s much quieter. In addition to everything else they are going through, there’s a personality adjustment for the Bruins.
29. Some of that comes from what’s happening with Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand. Lucic’s shown his anger — at Dalton Prout, at Dale Weise — but it is not translating on the ice. I don’t know if he’s still feeling the effects of his wrist injury, or he and Marchand are being instructed to tone it down and worry about playing between the whistles. They don’t have the same edge, and Lucic, in particular, drove the team with his.
30. Bergeron added the Bruins were trying to implement a more aggressive forecheck, something that’s been hampered by all of the injuries. It particularly affects the defencemen, who are expected to pressure harder in certain offensive-zone situations. So many of them have been hurt, it’s difficult to get used to it.