• No desire to make rash moves in Calgary
• Will Byfuglien contest suspension?
• Contract-year pressure getting to Barrie
Charlie Coyle’s skill created another debate about the offside rule, with managers given four months to prepare for a debate on tweaking the language in March.
Will it be as easy as saying that you don’t necessarily need the puck to touch your stick to have control? Will there be more support for the idea of the blue line as “a plane,” where simply having your skate above it is good enough to be onside? That idea’s failed to gain traction in the past, but NHL Senior Vice President Colin Campbell said three GMs pushed that vision during Tuesday’s meeting.
But there’s another facet to this, a mindset that’s worth investigating.
According to a few sources, one GM submitted the thought that linesmen — if they thought a play at the blue line was very close — should err on the side of letting the play continue because, “if it is offside, the team allowing a goal will challenge.”
To me, it’s an intriguing idea. (The GM who I believe came up with the idea did not respond to a request for comment, so I’m not naming him.)
First, let’s recognize the concerns. Getting a challenge wrong comes with a significant punishment, especially if it’s not the first time it happens in a game. Some teams won’t want even more replay responsibility, since you need conclusive evidence to overturn. Second, I’m not sure that’s a mentality you want from your officials: “Ah, it’s close, let it go.” They should make the calls as they see them.
I do, however, see where this GM is coming from. The replay era is teaching us all about unintended consequences, and one of them is that we are slicing the onion way too thinly when it comes to offside. A league looking for more goals is, instead, finding ways to remove them, sometimes by the size of a paramecium.
It’s not good for the game.
It’s not something you can change in the middle of the season. That’s a recipe for disaster. But, in the summer, the NHL has an officiating camp where it delivers instructions on how to proceed for the upcoming year. For example, two of last summer’s points of emphasis were on teams trying to delay after icing the puck and making sure officials knew that if a coach wanted to challenge something, they had to say yes.
At that camp, could the league discuss this, and maybe put it in place for exhibition games that have replay? Could we get enough of a sample size for the NHL, its teams and its players to see if this could work? I’d like to see what would happen.
Maybe, instead of changing the rule, you can try changing the mindset.
1. The Jets suspended Dustin Byfuglien on Sept. 21. Normally, grievances must be filed within 60 days. That would put us at today: Wed., Nov. 20. However, one source indicated that the clock might not have started ticking on that specific date (weekend? Not officially paid yet? I’m not sure). Whatever the case, a decision on whether or not to contest Byfuglien’s suspension is coming soon.
2. I’d be astonished if Calgary traded Johnny Gaudreau at this time. For one thing, the Flames are aware that this historically 12.5 per cent shooter is at 7.8 in 2019–20. There is concern about how he’s playing, as Gaudreau’s confidence and puck wizardry in the offensive zone are missing. A huge part of their offence was Gaudreau getting in close, where Sean Monahan could bury it. That’s missing. But there’s no desire to make a rash move.
3. I do think, however, that GM Brad Treliving will try to breathe new life into the group. I’m not sure how easy that’s going to be as the Flames are tight to the cap. And he’d be selling low on some useful players. Let’s take Mark Jankowski, for example. He’s really struggling, with zero points in 21 games. He scored 31 goals the last two seasons, seven of them shorthanded. I do think he’s available, but they see his value over the last three seasons while other GMs will say, “Well, we see this year.”
They’ve had Michael Frolik available for awhile, and it will be interesting to see how close to their core they are willing to get if their struggles continue. (My guess is not that close until the off-season, with the possible exception of Travis Hamonic, if he does not get extended.) Monahan may not be scoring, which hurts, but they asked for improvements in other areas of his game — such as faceoffs, where’s he’s got a career-high percentage. One interesting possibility: Oliver Kylington, who would like more opportunity. But, again, other teams have indicated the Flames are being careful not to undervalue their own players during tough times.
4. I don’t get the sense Bill Peters is in jeopardy. Calgary made a coaching change when this group petered out on Glen Gulutzan. The organization doesn’t want that to happen again.
5. I loved Mike Babcock’s quote about “betting on Mike Babcock” because it was a moment of “eff you” at a time the team needs some attitude. The 4-2 loss in Vegas was their sixth in a row, and desperate times might force the organization’s hand. The plan always was to give Babcock the season, wait for Travis Dermott and Zach Hyman to get healthy, then see how the team did. But, as Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone’s got a plan until you get punched in the face.”
Injuries haven’t allowed them a lengthy look and, suddenly, they’re 10th in the East, with more games played than everyone but Detroit and Washington. Maybe the front office thinks they’re the 2009/2016 Penguins or 2019 Blues, a coaching change away from a championship. There’s been a lot of good analysis the last few days about their dependency on point shots, for example. Sportlogiq data indicated that, during the Pittsburgh game last Saturday, they gave up their 18th goal of the season on the cycle, at the time a league high.
That said, keeping Babcock behind the bench allows you to see who’s really in the foxhole, who wants to be part of the solution. It was tough to watch Kasimir Kaskisuo get pummelled in his NHL debut, with the team failing to rally around him in such an important personal moment. Toronto allowed nine odd-man rushes. The Penguins are excellent at creating scoring chances on zone entries (30 per cent of the time, best in the NHL according to Sportlogiq), and did it on 12 of their first 25 chances against the Leafs.
I’ve said this many times, but Babcock is good at taking the heat. No one will escape unscathed if they don’t get this turned around.
Barrie honestly answered questions about his performance on Monday, admitting, “There’s definitely times when you feel kind of invincible and everything’s going the right way. There’s been stretches in my career where it feels the complete opposite — where it feels kind of hopeless, a little bit…. I definitely feel like I’m in one of those right now.”
He also agreed the pressure of playing for a new contract has gotten to him. Let’s see if that duo gets some run Thursday in Arizona. There’s definitely an understanding from all parties that this isn’t working so far. There’s interest in him.
7. Some other rumblings: This isn’t news, but the Sabres face a roster crunch. They are sitting NHL-calibre defenders every night (Colin Miller, Marco Scandella). It’s tough to make a good deal when everyone else sees the situation, and GM Jason Botterill wisely is trying to use every second he can. Zach Bogosian is close to a return, which adds cap chaos to the equation. Almost everyone else is capped out, too. It’s a delicate dance. They want a top-six forward that can help them.
8. Minnesota GM Bill Guerin is doing a lot of legwork on the value of his players.
9. Several reporters who cover the Kings more than I do indicated the team wasn’t crazy about losing Mario Kempe at AHL Ontario. But, one benefit for the organization is that it is at 49 contracts — one below the limit. This will create some flexibility for them.
10. Vegas moved Paul Stastny down to a third-line centre role. Some veterans would chafe at this. But one of his closest friends, Alexander Steen, showed leadership by accepting a fourth-line placement in St. Louis. That line played a major role in the Blues’ Stanley Cup run. Stastny, a very bright guy, undoubtedly sees the same opportunity in Sin City.
11. Ottawa’s made it very clear it “does not want a circus” with its negotiations. Things with Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Mark Stone were very public last winter. The Senators will work hard to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself with Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
12. Newly eligible for the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2020 will be Marian Hossa and Jarome Iginla, both excellent contenders. Deserving holdovers include Daniel Alfredsson, Cassie Campbell-Pascall, Curtis Joseph, Kevin Lowe, Alexander Mogilny, Jeremy Roenick and Doug Wilson. I thought Guy Carbonneau was a great add, and should open the door for another elite shutdown performer — Rod Brind’Amour, one of only two to win the Selke Trophy at age 36 (Rick Meagher, 1990). In his two Selke seasons, Brind’Amour became one of only two forwards to play more 1,800 minutes at 35 or older (Adam Oates). Not only did he captain a Stanley Cup champion in the first of those years; he’s one of only 41 with 1,100 career points and a Cup.
The only other eligible player with those numbers not already in the Hall is Vincent Damphousse. If that doesn’t convince you, try this: Who else has 750 points and a Selke? Patrice Bergeron, Bob Clarke, Pavel Datsyuk, Sergei Fedorov, Ron Francis, Doug Gilmour, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Toews and Steve Yzerman. That’s five guys in the Hall, and four who will get there. Please tell me why Brind’Amour shouldn’t get in.
13. Tuesday was an unusual night, with just one of 13 games going to overtime — making it 88 of 330 for the season. That’s 26.7 per cent, on-pace for the highest total ever. Previous mark was 25.6, in 2003–04. That was right before the season-long lockout, where the game was changed.
14. The NHL has asked teams to submit more possible dates for early-season home games. The Rangers, for example, played one game in 11 days barely a week into the schedule. That’s far from ideal, and it adds to fatigue later in the season.
15. There’s a simple solution for what happened with Matt Calvert last Saturday and Zach Werenski in the 2017 playoffs: model it after the new “losing your helmet” rule.
As of this season, if you lose your helmet during play, you have to either pick it up and properly put in back on, or go to the bench. A minor penalty is the punishment for anything else. There is a slight loophole: If the offending player is directly involved in the play, they can continue to participate in the moment. So, in the Calvert/Werenski situations, allow an immediate scoring chance. But, if the puck starts getting thrown around (as it was by both the Canucks and Penguins before they scored), blow it dead.
16. It’s safe to say the NHL didn’t like the Penguins being given 2:34 to decide if they were going to challenge Dominik Kahun’s initially disallowed 4–0 goal Saturday night against Toronto:
While the Penguins did win their argument, the choice is supposed to be made within the 35 seconds allotted for television to show replays. There’s the potential for some leeway, but two minutes is ridiculous.
17. There was some discussion about what officials can say to coaches who want to challenge things that really aren’t supposed to be challenge-able. But, as Colin Campbell re-iterated following the meeting: “They have a rulebook.” The NHL’s position remains that it is the responsibility of the coaches to know the rules.
18. Remember that Dec. 1 is the deadline for restricted free agents to sign and be eligible to play in the NHL this season. Sounds like Jesse Puljujarvi will spend the year in Finland. As for Julius Honka, it seems quiet. Let’s see if anyone bites.
19. When Connor McDavid had six points through two periods in last Thursday’s 6-2 win over Colorado, I thought he was going to challenge Darryl Sittler’s one-game record of 10. It was one of those nights where a great player was at his best, and everything was ending up in the net. Instead, McDavid — who has a heavy workload — played just 4:14 of the third and didn’t add to his total. Leon Draisaitl, who had five points, saw just 4:05. No one complained. A small thing, but a big thing. Big picture.
20. Seattle GM Ron Francis attended the Prime Time Sports Conference the day after close friend Jim Rutherford’s Hockey Hall of Fame induction. He also taped an interview for the 31 Thoughts podcast and was asked what he’s looking for in his first coach.
“The most critical thing for me is the experience,” he said. “You’re going to be picking players from all different teams, you’re going to try and bring them into your locker room and get them together as your team and get them on the same page. You’re trying to figure out what you have, and how they fit…. I think it’s critical for me to able to say, ‘I know it’s not the coach.’ A guy with some experience in the role to start for sure.”
Francis re-iterated that the plan is to wait until 2021 to hire someone, although he reserves the right to go earlier if the opportunity presents itself.
21. The Krakens (I’m calling them the Krakens until that’s officially not the name) will do their first mock expansion draft in January.
“Everyone agrees (that) what we’re looking at today and what we’re looking at in June of 2021 is going to be different,” Francis said.
But it’s never too early to begin your preparation.
22. A couple of opponents noticed a change in Shea Weber; that he’s more aggressive in the offensive zone this season. Sportlogiq data backs that up. Last year, the Canadiens’ captain took 89 per cent of his shot attempts from above the top of the circles. That’s down to 69 per cent in 2019–20. His slot attempts have doubled. There is a suspicion that’s not a tactical thing, but more of a health thing. Weber’s teammates indicated last season he was hurt much worse than anyone knew. The Predators always claimed Weber was shafted in Norris voting because they were in Nashville. If he keeps this up, and the Canadiens stay in the race — he’s going to test that theory.
23. Back when Marc Bergevin first took over as GM of the Canadiens, he talked about going for singles in the trade market when you weren’t in contention and trying to hit home runs when you were. Is he choking up on his bat or swinging from the heels?
25. Just wanted to wish good luck to Cory Schneider, headed to AHL Binghamton to re-discover his game. One of the NHL’s good guys was knocked down by injuries and a lack of confidence. You could see where this was going when MacKenzie Blackwood twice started both ends of back-to-backs this month. That never happens anymore. Blackwood, by the way, went 3-0-1 in those games, winning the second one both times.
26. Schneider’s demotion is a huge opportunity for Louis Domingue. Domingue won 21 games in Tampa last season, but cleared waivers and hasn’t yet appeared in the NHL this year. The Devils got him for very little, only having to give up a seventh-rounder if he plays in seven regular-season or one playoff game this year, or if he’s traded before the 2020 draft. HIs $1.15-million salary scared off some teams.
27. I was looking at save percentages across the league and saw the average so far in 2019–20 is .908. That continues a downward trend for the fourth straight season, and would put the NHL under .910 for the first time since 2008–09.
28. Boston lost four in a row en route to Toronto last Friday. I asked Charlie McAvoy if that group ever really worries.
“We know there’s things we have to fix,” he said. Then he smiled. “But we don’t panic much here.”
The Bruins then grabbed five of six points.
29. Bob Gainey politely declined an interview request to discuss his relationship with Guy Carbonneau, but it clearly meant a ton to the new Hall of Famer that Gainey presented the plaque to him. The close friends went through a difficult time when Gainey fired Carbonneau as coach of the Canadiens, and there were some fans who didn’t know they had reconciled. It was nice for them to see that. Gainey wrote a terrific testimonial to his former teammate for NHL.com.
30. Matt Hughson, asked if his father ever used his “announcer voice” at home: “Only when I was in trouble.” Great to see you honoured, Jim. You deserve it.
31. A couple of weeks ago, I attended a fundraiser for the Western University men’s hockey team. It was a fun event, featuring several of their current players, the three men who’ve coached them over the past 55 years (Ron Watson, Barry Martinelli, current boss Clarke Singer), and some of their alumni: Ryan McKie, Adam Nemeth, Sal Peralta, Jeff Petrie. But a story I wanted to tell was Chris Abbey’s. They called him “Abzilla,” and I can see it. He’s a big man, a goalie who appeared in 10 games for OHL Sudbury in 2005-06. (He began playing goal after he saw Olaf Kolzig in person.)
Abbey described his lowest hockey moment: As a member of the Junior B St. Thomas Stars, a series-winning goal allowed the rival St. Mary’s Lincolns into the 2008 playoffs.
“It was the only time I cried in hockey,” he said. “They came on a two-on-one…. I tried the best I could. I was face down on the ice bawling my eyes out. I thought I was done playing.”
But an assistant coach at UWO — Pat Powers — recommended Abbey to Singer as the third goalie. He was out of shape, and they had him run extra laps to get back into it. Abbey spent three seasons as a Mustang, playing just twice — the back half of an exhibition game and an overtime win against NCAA Ohio State. Despite that, “he never missed a practice of a workout,” said current assistant Patrick Ouellet. “He stayed on the ice until everyone was done shooting. Guys would be working one-timers, and pucks would be hitting him up and around the head. They’d apologize, and (Chris) would just say, ‘No worries — it’s my job. That’s what I’m here for.’”
A few months ago, the school organized a reunion for its 2009 Queen’s Cup champions. (That trophy goes to the winners of the Ontario University league.) Abbey attended, and was surprised to see his nameplate at the back of his old stall. Singer does that with all graduating players, but Abbey didn’t think he’d played enough to warrant it. During the event, he took Singer to the stall, pointed at his nameplate and then his heart, thanking him for putting him on the team and treating him the same way he treated his first-line centre. In return, whenever the program needs anything, Abbey always returns their calls. I know this story is apropos of nothing, but it’s the way things should be.