• Matthews deal a “massive tremor”
• Panarin determined to be 2019 UFA
• Canadiens hunting for forward depth
Everyone in the NHL knew this was coming. Oh, teams hoped Toronto would somehow hold the line, stand up and say to its franchise player, “No, we’re not going to change the way business is done.”
But when Auston Matthews exploded out of the gate with 10 goals in the first six games, any hope of pushback was over. The Toronto Maple Leafs had one responsibility — to do the best deal for themselves. His $11.634-million AAV is not as high as Connor McDavid’s record $12.5 million, but that contract buys four unrestricted seasons. Matthews’s will be one. It’s a massive tremor.
Today’s young player is not afraid to demand a larger share of the pie — not afraid to say, “Just because you’ve done it that way before doesn’t mean you’re going to do it that way now.”
For a few years, I’ve been saying offer sheets are coming, and, finally, people in the NHL believe it. (It is like predicting the housing bubble will burst. Eventually, you’re going to be right.) It did not go unnoticed that Detroit GM Ken Holland did not brush off the idea of an offer sheet in at least two recent interviews. For someone of his stature to give the impression he’d consider it, that’s big.
He can’t be the only one.
The Maple Leafs knew that. And other teams trying to sign their own restricted free agents knew that. It was frustrating for those clubs, because the players (and agents) would say, “Let’s see what happens with Nylander.” When that was done, they’d say, “Nah, we’ll wait.” It was almost as if each player/agent was waiting for someone to go first.
For the teams, it was a multiple-choice quiz:
a) pay a bit more than you want, but get it done yourself
b) risk that someone else sets the terms for you
Again, this was an easy decision for years. Offer sheets were (mostly) a dream. And who knows, maybe none will come. The difference this time is teams believe they might.
Maybe Toronto should have snared Matthews before the season at $12 million/year. Matthews was willing to go the maximum term, and the Maple Leafs certainly didn’t object, but when he busted out to that huge start, the number got too high — probably close to $14 million. Toronto wants to make multiple runs at greatness, and that number would crush the roster.
“I don’t really operate in a way where we’re looking back and wondering what might have been,” GM Kyle Dubas told Sportsnet’s Caroline Cameron after the Matthews press conference. “We’re at where we’re at, and we’re very comfortable with it.”
Dubas, Matthews and agent Judd Moldaver had only one goal this week: put an end to this.
The extension smashes the previous cap-era record for this term. That was Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, at $8.7 million. As a percentage, however, Matthews’s is actually lower. Assuming an $83-million ceiling as projected for 2019-20, his chunk will be 14 per cent. Crosby and Malkin were at 15.3.
The biggest percentage of the salary cap spent on four players by any Stanley Cup champion is 45.2, by the 2017 Pittsburgh Penguins (Malkin, Crosby, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel). Again, assuming the $83-million number for next season, Toronto is at 36 per cent for Matthews, John Tavares and William Nylander — with Mitch Marner to come.
But Matthews is locked in, and this chapter is closed. For Toronto, that’s a victory. For the all other high-level RFAs and their teams, those stories are just beginning.
1. Now watch the Maple Leafs take a run at signing Marner. His agent, Darren Ferris, has maintained there wouldn’t be any negotiations during the season. But now they know the Matthews number, Marner wants to be a Leaf, and, most importantly, Toronto wants to end the contract circus.
2. I’m really uncomfortable being on the opposite side of Brent Seabrook, but here is all the information I can provide into his situation: At some point, there was a conversation between the player, the organization and his agent about the future. (Team and agent declined to comment.) According to an individual who reached out on Monday, the discrepancy might be timing. The discussion was during the darkest days of Chicago’s season, probably around six weeks ago. Now that the team is making a charge at the playoffs, things could be different — and it should be noted multiple sources indicate the club’s feelings on Seabrook’s positive impact have not changed. What is true is the Blackhawks have checked the market to see what opportunities might be out there, they currently do not have permission to trade him, and Seabrook loves Chicago. If, somewhere in all of that, something I said was in error, that is totally my fault.
3. Artemi Panarin freezing all contract talks until after the season is another earthquake reminding teams that players are more willing than ever to maximize their leverage. Eight months after Tavares took one further step than 2016 Steven Stamkos, Panarin’s preparing everyone for a similar meet-and-greet. Tampering rules prevent open statements of lust, but jockeying is underway for an audience.
This will force teams to make even earlier assessments about their star players. Trade them at the draft a year before they hit the market? One exec said his team, if unsure about ability to contend, could weigh doing it even earlier — two trade deadlines before unrestricted free agency. There were rumours New Jersey would consider that path with Taylor Hall, currently available in July 2020. But Devils GM Ray Shero said Saturday there was “zero chance” he would trade Hall this month. (Nor, from what I understand, is Hall looking to go anywhere.)
Not long ago, the idea of trading such a player 19 months before his contract was up wouldn’t just fly in the face of normalcy. It would be like picking up conventional wisdom, slamming it to the ground and kicking dirt on its face. But, at the very least, that thinking is going to become part of every club’s process.
4. Over the weekend, the feeling was Florida would not make trades for Panarin or Sergei Bobrovsky — feeling there was no need to spend assets when the Panthers liked their chances in free agency. Monday, the New York Post’s Larry Brooks reported the Panthers are thinking about trading for Bobrovsky, so as to give him eight years. We will see where this goes, but don’t be surprised to see Florida continue to try to clear room. Mike Hoffman, now in his fifth-straight 20-goal season, could be another to go. Teams are always looking for scorers.
5. Panarin’s decision sent shockwaves through the Blue Jackets. Columbus lost three straight in regulation after agent Dan Milstein’s announcement. A couple days off before a Colorado/Arizona/Vegas trip gives them a chance to breathe and re-set. Trading either player for something that can’t help them now isn’t an option. Doug MacLean was saying last week that he’d trade both players, and, if the assets were futures, flip them for immediate, impactful help. I think GM Jarmo Kekalainen is considering just that. If the Blue Jackets do deal Bobrovsky (and remember, the goalie has control of the situation), do not be surprised if they take a run at Jonathan Quick.
6. There’s a ton of interest in Panarin, but those teams indicate they aren’t being allowed to talk contract with him. Then again, it probably doesn’t matter anyway, since he’s not interested in signing now.
7. I’ve tried to be very careful reporting on Ottawa’s negotiations with Matt Duchene and Mark Stone. Experience teaches you that, without a definitive statement like Panarin’s, it is a roller-coaster ride. Some days it sounds like they’re going to sign. Other days, it is the opposite. With two important players, the whispers double. That’s life during high-stakes negotiations, especially when Matthews signs with huge bonuses — something the Senators try very hard to avoid. There are peaks and valleys, people go through a lot of different emotions. We “should” have a pretty good idea if they are going to sign very soon. The Senators need to know, because it affects other decisions — like Ryan Dzingel’s future.
8. Ottawa arena info is tight, but we’re less than four weeks from the current deadline. I have been reminded, however, not to underestimate how much it means to Eugene Melnyk to own the Senators. While he’s willing to add partners to the development plan, it won’t be as easy to get him to add a partner in team ownership.
9. Montreal GM Marc Bergevin watched Anaheim in Winnipeg and Toronto. He doesn’t tip his hand, but I think he’s looking at forward depth. Bergevin has said he won’t give up futures, which takes him away from the Ducks’ prime assets. The Canadiens may also have checked out Dallas’s Brett Ritchie.
10. Buffalo is like Montreal. The Sabres do not want to use their best assets on rentals. I could see them looking at someone like Carl Hagelin. He’d be a good fit.
13. If the Ducks are optimistic about anything right now, it is their ability to re-sign Jakob Silfverberg. They are hopeful it can happen by the deadline, but there is a scenario where it might have to wait until later. Anaheim has a “tagging” issue. (The cap is $79.5 million this season, and no one’s 2019-20 commitments can be above that until July 1. The Ducks are tight to that number.) They could open room with further moves, sign him and risk a tighter squeeze, or make a verbal commitment and wait until the summer. Whatever the case, they are attempting to close this.
14. Anaheim held a team meeting on Sunday after the 9–3 loss in Winnipeg. It was blunt, but the players reminded each other that they were still only two points out of a playoff spot. Then came the 6–1 defeat to Toronto.
Head coach Randy Carlyle admitted he was concerned about John Gibson’s workload, but they may also be worried about mental fatigue. He’s been dynamite, carrying the Ducks for two years. You get to a point where that’s a huge burden for anyone. Gibson was pulled against the Jets and Maple Leafs, leaving the bench in the latter game and not returning. Everyone who knows him believes he can handle the responsibility, but everyone has a limit.
15. Anaheim’s got a few players that would be coveted by both contenders and clubs thinking long-term. GM Bob Murray is not on this trip. He’s patient. But word is he is considering major surgery. Question is if he does it now or later.
16. Five Red Wings — Nicklas Lidstrom, Alex Delvecchio, Steve Yzerman, Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom — played 1,000 games for that franchise and no one else. Niklas Kronwall is 76 games from becoming number six. Don’t think they are unaware of that. The organization has great respect for Kronwall, which is why Holland will not trade him unless the defenceman asks for the opportunity to chase a Stanley Cup or they get an offer they absolutely must consider.
17. Detroit’s got a few interesting choices. They already have 10 picks in June’s draft and a group of talented youngsters pushing for NHL jobs. They want a few veterans around. They are trying to extend Nick Jensen, who quietly has had a strong season. The trade-a-guy-and-re-sign-him plan rarely works, but I can see the possibility with Jimmy Howard — although they could just as easily keep him. There’s a path to a new contract there.
18. Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill could get an extension, too. They believe he’s pushed the right buttons with that group.
19. Besides Hall, New Jersey’s got a few interesting pieces. Brian Boyle stands out, with the Athletic’s Arthur Staple indicating the Islanders have interest. (Of course, now that this is out there, Lou Lamoriello will refuse to do it. True story: When the Cory Schneider–Bo Horvat trade went down, he told Vancouver that if he heard someone break it in the seconds before Commissioner Gary Bettman announced it at the draft podium, he’d cancel the deal.) You can see Marcus Johansson and Ben Lovejoy — both unrestricted — having an appeal. There’s a decision to be made on Keith Kinkaid, too.
21. That Arizona/Dallas game was one of the wildest of the season. The Coyotes were down to three defencemen early in the third period. Alex Goligoski was out after being hit into the boards by Ritchie late in the second period. Oliver Ekman-Larsson got a hooking penalty trying to stop a breakaway. (I thought he made a great play, but the referee disagreed.) Then, Niklas Hjalmarsson put one over the glass. Dallas scored three times to go from down 2-1 to up 4-2. The Coyotes — who really have taken the personality of their coach — fought back to tie it, before the Stars scored again. Then, Esa Lindell made a great save off Derek Stepan to preserve it, before Ben Bishop made another terrific stop to close it.
22. One of the fourth-round picks that Florida acquired from Pittsburgh in the Bjugstad/McCann/Brassard trade is the Mike Sillinger of draft selections. Originally, it was Minnesota’s, traded to Arizona in February 2017 for Martin Hanzal. Ten months later, it was Pittsburgh’s, as Michael Leighton was sent to the Penguins, with Josh Archibald headed west. Now it belongs the Panthers — the fourth team to own it.
23. I think the KHL is going to fight hard to keep Pavel Datsyuk.
24. Alluded to this last week, but the NHL is indeed investigating a game in Russia as a possibility for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Just not sure of all the hurdles.
25. Most insane controversy: that Elias Pettersson is tough to deal with. No one at All-Star complained. He’s done After Hours, and an in-studio sit-down with Nick Kypreos the day after he was injured in Montreal. English is not his first language, but he tries to do everything. This can’t be serious.
26. New England’s Super Bowl win over the Rams made Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler victorious in the Jets’ NFL playoff pool, edging goalies Laurent Brossoit and Connor Hellebuyck. It is a fitting triumph for the linemates, who have drank the Kool-Aid, all in on The Cult of Brady.
“I’m a huge Tom Brady fan,” Scheifele said. “I’ve got a signed jersey in my condo…. [I] went and met his chef two summers ago.”
He loves the Patriots, unlike Wheeler.
“For me, I’m born and bred a Vikings fan,” the captain said. “So I’m not a big Patriots fan by any means. But when those Tom vs Time documentaries started coming out last year… once the calendar flips and you’re on the wrong side of 30, you start thinking about those things. To see how he takes care of himself, how he invests in himself to compete at a high level… at 40 years old or whatever he is now, I mean, that is just… I want to try to keep getting better. What better guy to look up to?”
27. If you’re familiar with Brady’s TB12 method, you know that he has a very strict diet. In 2016, his chef, Allen Campbell, told the Boston Globe about it:
“No white sugar. No white flour. No MSG. I’ll use raw olive oil, but I never cook with olive oil. I only cook with coconut oil. Fats like canola oil turn into trans fats. I use Himalayan pink salt as the sodium. I never use iodized salt. [Tom] doesn’t eat nightshades, because they’re not anti-inflammatory. So no tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, or eggplants. Tomatoes trickle in every now and then, but just maybe once a month. I’m very cautious about tomatoes. They cause inflammation. What else? No coffee. No caffeine. No fungus. No dairy.”
Wheeler doesn’t follow that exact path, focusing more on the philosophy.
“I would say that the thing I’ve taken is how specific his diet is for him. I don’t have the same characteristics as him. I’m not built the same way, our insides aren’t the same. If you can find the information that works for you, that’s the most important thing.”
Scheifele: “As athletes you’ve got to be optimal as much as you can. When you eat the right things, get the proper rest, get the right treatment, do the right stretches and do the proper workouts at certain times… it all goes towards the same things in becoming the best player you can be. He’s mastered that. It shows in his play and that’s what me and Blake and anyone else who wants to listen can learn about… every game being top-notch.”
28. Finally on this topic, Wheeler’s been seen skating while wearing a headset from time to time.
“It was built into our training program last summer. That’s a voice giving you the rest-to-work ratio, when you should be pushing, when you should be resting. When we’re not with our trainers in the gym in the summer, we’re doing the same thing over FaceTime. It just goes into that same idea of, ‘Why would I train the same way as [Scheifele]?’ Why would I train the same way as really, anyone? Because I’m unique — I’m different than all those guys. I’m made up differently, so I want to do this to attack my deficiencies and my weaknesses, especially as I’m getting older to keep getting better.”
The Jets have a unique and impressive culture. A sizeable group of them get together to work with Adam Oates in the summer, too.
29. During the 2012-13 lockout, Johnny Oduya ended up playing in Thailand. He spoke glowingly of the experience, telling the Bangkok Post he would consider doing it again after his NHL days. The 37-year-old, who played 850 games with New Jersey, Atlanta, Winnipeg, Chicago, Dallas, Ottawa and Philadelphia, is expected back in that country for games as early as Thursday. Known as the Siam Hockey League, it is for expats who live in Thailand and want to lace up the skates.
30. One of the SHL’s founders, Christian Olofsson, reached out to say that the ex-NHLer donated a trophy that will go to the league’s most valuable player. It is known simply as… “The Oduya.”
31. Last week, Benoit Huot retired from competitive swimming. A 35-year-old from Longueuil, Que., Huot won 20 Paralympic medals (nine gold) and 32 World Championship medals during his phenomenal career. Most importantly, Huot, born with a club foot, continued to “move the line” for athletes with disabilities and the public’s understanding of what can be done. Very, very impressive person.