31 Thoughts: Defencemen flooding market ahead of trade deadline

David Amber and Elliotte Friedman discuss Andrew Cogliano’s ironman streak coming to an end and what names could be out there when the NHL trade deadline comes around.

• Phaneuf, Martin among available D-men
• Blue Jackets interested in Galchenyuk?
• Don’t expect Boston to move young players

It is a common observation from sports owners. You can run a huge billion-dollar business and stay anonymous. But, buy a professional team and prepare for a newer, more intense level of scrutiny.

“That’s the biggest adjustment,” Thomas Dundon said Sunday. “Eventually, you want your fans to have an attachment to the team. Your biggest asset is the players… and you want your fans to gravitate to them. That will come later. Right now, it’s me they want to hear from.”

Dundon finalized his majority purchase of the Carolina Hurricanes late last week. One of the first noticeable changes came as fans entered PNC Arena for Sunday’s game against Calgary. The Raleigh News & Observer’s Luke DeCock reported that the owner — disliking the setup in the team’s merchandise store — moved apparel into the concourse, making it easier to shop.

That came two days after Dundon met Alain and Monica Taylor, season-ticket holders who got married seven years ago on the arena’s ice surface. He gifted them with a spot on the team plane for a future road trip.

“Our fans are great, passionate,” Dundon said. “What we need is for each one of them to tell 10 more people about us. How can we get them to help bring more fans? It’s just effort. That’s the truth. I’ve told our people that every time I go there. ‘Here’s my schedule. I will make myself available and do all that is necessary.’ But it’s new. I haven’t done this before.”

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?

“Don’t walk in thinking you can make the team better without understanding it,” Dundon replied. Then he made an interesting comment about head coach Bill Peters.

“I was skeptical about the coach. What are the chances he’s a great coach? We haven’t made the playoffs. Then I met him, saw him work and realized he’s one of our best assets. He goes about the process the exact right way. What I have to do is provide him with more resources. If there is a player available who can help, if it’s just about the money, we’ll get him the help. But if the move that is going to help us today makes us worse tomorrow, we are not interested. The job is to give us the best chance to win forever. No one gives away quality assets without taking something back.”

There are two other hockey-related areas we discussed. The first: payroll. The second: scouting budget. The Hurricanes are consistently among the NHL’s lowest spenders. Only Arizona’s cash outlay is lower than theirs for 2017–18. Brett Pesce, Victor Rask and Jaccob Slavin were recently signed to good-value, long-term contracts. Sebastian Aho, Noah Hanifin, Elias Lindholm, Jeff Skinner and Teuvo Teravainen are among those due for new contracts over the next two summers.

“We will have more information than the market on our guys, so we should always keep our best,” Dundon said. “Put it this way — we won’t lose players we want for five per cent more money. Now, if someone (else) does something irrational? Losing the players we want will never be because of the money — it will be because someone does something irrational that makes us question the value. I believe we can run the business in a way that will make it work.”

As for scouting, the Hurricanes have a reputation for doing a lot despite not having enough. Other clubs say Carolina does a good job of finding players even though they have “gaps” in their coverage areas due to a limited budget. (One of those gaps, I’m told, is Russia.)

Proper coverage isn’t necessarily having an army. For example, Los Angeles doesn’t have the biggest staff, but pays well and puts money into “getting out there.” In exchange, their people are expected to work hard. And they do.

“Candidly, it’s definitely something that is on the radar,” he replied. “I think your premise is right, that we are underinvested (in the scouting department). We are investing in improvements in technology and information. Way more money into analytics and data capture.

“I’ve done the research. Successful teams have primarily drafted important roles, especially on offence. I have a saying: ‘There is art in science.’ Just data and [only] data will lose. I want our scouts to tell me their biases and preferences. Then we can confirm or take a second look. I am fine with people telling me what they think. If they are right nine out of 10 times, good. But if one of 10 has to change… everything evolves. If you think what the NHL looks like now is going to be what it looks like in 10 years, you are wrong. We have to figure out how to evolve quickest.”

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So let’s move forward a decade. What does Thomas Dundon hope to accomplish with the Carolina Hurricanes by then?

“I’d like our team and our brand to mean something,” he says after a quick pause. “Someone who says they are a fan or a part of our organization feels pride in it. Everyone says ‘Win the Stanley Cup or multiple Cups,’ and we want that, too, but you have to consistently do things the right way. If you are a fan of [another] team, when you are playing the Hurricanes, you’re probably going to be beaten or know it will be hard to win. If you go to the World Championships, there’s pride in being a member of the Carolina Hurricanes instead of another brand.”

“Now, if you’re a football player, it’s the Patriots. That’s the bar: Everything we do is seen as best in class.”

31 THOUGHTS

1. A few more on Carolina’s new owner that didn’t fit above: While he understands there is a certain process you have to go through on the ice, he’s much less patient off it.

“On the business side, expectations have changed 1,000 per cent. But I will give people here every opportunity to reach them. I don’t like turnover just for the sake of it — that’s not fair.”

He then delivered a line I thought was excellent.

“People who say they are never at fault despite always being there…. I don’t like it. That’s not me.”

2. Dundon attended the Hurricanes’ ugly 8-1 loss in Toronto about a month ago. He was sitting outside the team’s dressing room after the game. I introduced myself and said a quick hello, but could tell it was not the time for small talk. It’s obvious he hates losing.

“Yeah, I’m not handling that very well. The coach is hurting, the players are hurting, everyone is hurting. If I didn’t respect their passion, I wouldn’t be here. I have no time for that, and you don’t have to look hard to find people who care in hockey.”

He did say last Friday’s loss to Washington — where Jay Beagle won it for the Capitals with less than one second remaining — was particularly brutal.

“I can’t imagine any loss could feel worse. I hope it’s not this bad every time.”

3. Finally, Dundon, who lives in Dallas, is close with NBA Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Cuban’s been fined around $2 million during his tenure, mostly for complaints about officiating. (He matches each one with a donation to charity.) When their ownership careers are over, who will have been fined more?

“Him for sure,” Dundon answered.

4. If I learned anything in the 48 hours before finishing this blog, it’s that many around the NHL — whether active or retired, coach or executive — had incredible respect for Andrew Cogliano and his streak of 830 consecutive games played. That streak ended 134 games shy of Doug Jarvis’s NHL record, due to his two-game suspension. Cogliano was emotional discussing it with Fox’s Kent French, which was something to watch considering he tried to downplay things whenever previously asked by reporters. One player, watching the interview, said he believed Cogliano teared up thinking of all the injuries he did play through, only to see it end this way.

In this job, you get the odd text here and there from people about whatever is going on, but there were many more than normal reaching out to say they were bothered by Cogliano’s punishment. That was newsworthy — I’ve never seen such forceful argument against a suspension for a headshot. (Tie Domi, Dave Gagner and Teemu Selanne were among those who tweeted public support.) Obviously, GM Bob Murray and the Ducks backed him all the way, but, apparently, others who reached out to him included Dan Cleary, Sam Gagner, Shawn Horcoff, Saku Koivu and Jason Spezza.

In a game where it is so easy to get injured, even by accident, Cogliano’s supporters felt his streak was impressive, important and something to be celebrated. They believed his lack of a disciplinary history should have meant he got nothing more than a fine, especially since Adrian Kempe remained in the game. Apparently, during his hearing, Cogliano accepted full responsibility, but made two arguments: He was skating parallel to Kempe, not blindsiding him, and Kempe tried to avoid the interference, which bridged the gap, so there was no lunging.

Personally I was torn. Hockey has to do the best possible job of protecting the head, so I asked everyone a note about that. The response, to a man, was that based on what they have seen in their careers, Cogliano’s play did not rise to a level of suspension, a fine was enough, and they thought the streak should have factored into the decision.

5. Adding to the complexity of the situation is that George Parros, head of the Department of Player Safety, played one season with Cogliano in Anaheim in 2011–12. The two of them even roomed together. The Ducks love Parros — and the feeling is mutual. I don’t think this was easy for him; in fact, I heard he agonized about it. A couple people asked if I thought he went harder on Cogliano to prove there was no bias. Parros wouldn’t comment further, as the NHL feels the suspension video should be the only comment on the matter. From what I understand, however, his team did discuss internally if it was fair not to suspend Cogliano because of the streak and came to the conclusion that was the wrong thing to do. They banned Brad Marchand from the outdoor game in Boston and Claude Giroux from a potential elimination game in the 2012 playoffs. The Department felt strongly that a suspension is a suspension.

But assuming Cogliano returns and eventually (unofficially) passes Jarvis, does anyone doubt a team with (potentially) Kevin Bieksa, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry is going to do anything but proclaim Cogliano “The True Ironman”?

6. Cogliano’s suspension is the second time one of Jarvis’s closest challengers was cut off by a non-injury. In 1993, Steve Larmer was within 80 games of the record when a contract dispute with Chicago ended his streak. The Blackhawks eventually traded him to the Rangers (via Hartford), where Larmer would win a Stanley Cup. Years later, I asked Larmer if he regretted it, and he replied, “Not for a second.” He is a person of great principle, later resigning from the NHLPA because he didn’t like the direction it was going. Former colleague Tim Wharnsby has long campaigned for Larmer to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. As a Blackhawks fan growing up, I agree.

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7. With all the controversy and hatred for goals being disallowed because of offside reviews where a skate is in the air, a reminder that, last season, people who didn’t want the rule changed convinced Commissioner Gary Bettman that this was a safety issue. The argument went that making the blue line a “plane” would create more dangerous cuts from the sharp blades. Of course, when I told one GM I’d heard that, he replied, “Do you buy that bulls—?” So, we’ll see where it goes this time.

8. A number of NHL teams were in Sweden over the last couple of weeks to scout potential free agents. There are four I know of: defencemen Lawrence Pilut (age 22) and Joel Persson (23); winger Michael Lindqvist (23) and centre Par Lindholm (26). Pilut’s father, Larry, was born in Detroit and played in the NCAA before going to Sweden, where he settled. Among the teams who were watching: Boston, Calgary, Chicago, Nashville, Vancouver and the Rangers. Likely more.

9. Last week, I wondered if the Islanders would consider Robin Lehner. Someone reached out with, “Stop wondering.” Don’t think they are going there. Thomas Greiss made 52 saves in a crazy-but-entertaining 5-4 overtime win in Montreal on Monday night. Now, will they give him the net at home? By the way, that game was a reminder that the NHL is more fun when no one bothers to play defence.

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10. Here come the defencemen. Now on the market: Jack Johnson (UFA this summer); Paul Martin (one more season under contract at a $4.85-million cap hit) and Dion Phaneuf (three more years, $7-million cap). Martin and Phaneuf’s actual salaries are slightly lower than their cap hits, though. Phaneuf has a 12-team trade list, and it’s safe to assume Ottawa’s spoken to everyone on it. Martin’s list is smaller, but his agent, Ben Hankinson, has permission to look around. Soon to come: Mike Green. He’s also unrestricted, with control over his situation.

11. Will Ryan McDonagh be added to that list? On Tuesday morning, the Rangers woke up one point out of the playoffs, and Henrik Lundqvist is having a Vezina-calibre season. But there is a growing sense they just don’t see it long-term and are willing to make changes. That undoubtedly means the UFAs (David Desharnais, Michael Grabner, Nick Holden, Rick Nash). It also means they will listen on McDonagh and Mats Zuccarello, but only if given good reason to pursue. It’s interesting. There is a growing group of sellers, but how many buyers are there?

12. There were rumblings Washington was shopping Andre Burakovsky for a defenceman, but that got shot down.

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13. Nick Kypreos reported that the likes of Boston and Ottawa have tried to pry Slater Koekkoek from Tampa, only to be rebuffed. The lefty shot gets a better opportunity with Victor Hedman out. Even before the Norris Trophy contender went down, it is believed the Lightning were looking for another defender.

14. Don’t know if the Islanders and Devils would make a trade with both chasing the playoffs, but I do think New Jersey has taken a look at Brock Nelson. May not go anywhere, though.

15. It’s one of those situations where we probably won’t know the full story unless someone opens up, but it has been rumoured for a while now that Johnson was close to an extension with Columbus early in the season, but… something happened. One of the reasons he asked for a trade is because his ice-time has dropped, but I don’t think that was ever the Blue Jackets’ plan. They wanted Johnson/David Savard to be their second pair behind Seth Jones/Zach Werenski, but both have struggled. GM Jarmo Kekalainen said any deal would be done at the team’s leisure, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if they waited to see whether or not Johnson regained his form. That could also benefit the player, since Columbus has high hopes and he could still be a part of that. Johnson’s never been much of a talker, but when he got to Ohio, the organization appreciated his work ethic and approach at a time it needed good pros. Unfortunate it could end this way — it was a good marriage for both.

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16. The Blue Jackets have watched Alex Galchenyuk pretty closely at times. I’m not sure if they are still interested, but they are looking for scoring.

17. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville reiterated to local reporters this week that Corey Crawford will be back this season. That’s good news for the Blackhawks because last week there was some real worry about whether or not Crawford would be able to return.

18. Vancouver’s going pretty crazy with the Ken Holland rumours, but, if he wanted to go there, wouldn’t he want to report directly to the owner? That’s his setup now.

19. I don’t think Chris Tanev is going anywhere. If it ever gets to the point where the Canucks aren’t sure they can keep him (he has two years left on his contract), we might be having a different conversation. There are some teams who believe Vancouver might actually keep Thomas Vanek and re-sign him, but I’m not yet certain.

20. Earlier this season, Darnell Nurse said the next phase in his evolution was “making opponents respect me on offence.” If Edmonton pulls off a miracle and gets in the playoffs, his four points combined versus Arizona and Las Vegas will be a turning point. He scored to get the Oilers going when they fell behind 2–0 early to the Coyotes and added the overtime winner one night later.

21. After a week of intense rumours around Edmonton, my belief is this: Everything they do is about being a contender next season. They know they haven’t matched up to last year, but refuse to believe they are as bad as this year. If Wayne Gretzky wanted a bigger role, he could probably have it, but I don’t believe that’s what he wants. Plus, he’s around plenty and they don’t ignore him as a sounding board.

22. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was injured in his final pre-break game in Vegas. It looked like a bad shoulder injury, but turned out to be much less than that. He was able to go on his mini-vacation. Good news for Nugent-Hopkins and the Oilers.

23. The Oilers, by the way, were the only team who seriously pursued Jordan Oesterle coming out of Western Michigan in 2014. When I reported it at the time, there were several comments indicating he was a real, real longshot. Good for him. He stuck with it, and is now getting time with Duncan Keith on the Chicago blue line.

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24. At last year’s outdoor game in Winnipeg, Jets coach Paul Maurice agonized over the decision not to play Mark Stuart and Chris Thorburn. Those games are seen as rewards by the players, and Maurice knew that. But coaches are paid to make tough decisions, so he scratched them to go young. The Jets lost 3-0, and I think that really bothered him, feeling Stuart/Thorburn would have brought more.

I was reminded of that watching the Jets play very well despite losing Mark Scheifele. Obviously, goaltending makes a huge difference as Connor Hellebuyck rises to a new level. But I also see a team and a coach that believes in their youth much more than a year ago. Kyle Connor, Nikolaj Ehlers, Patrik Laine, Josh Morrissey — those guys are impact players. And there is a belief Laine, in particular, still has lots more to give.

25. Bruins GM Don Sweeney told a great story about his own career in reference to Zdeno Chara partnering with Dougie Hamilton, Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy when all were teenagers.

“My first year out of Harvard, they put me with Raymond Bourque,” Sweeney, who was 21 at the time, said last weekend. “Harry Sinden pulled me aside and said, ‘You can’t just give the puck to Ray all the time — you have to see what plays are available.’ It was the most comfortable thing for me and it was never a bad play to give it to Ray. But teams game-plan for that, and they were worried I was going to get him killed. He was such a great teammate and person because we’d get to the bench and he’d explain what else was out there and what I could do. Later, when they put me back with him as a shutdown pair, I was ready. Zdeno is the same way.”

Sweeney re-iterated the plan is to re-sign Chara and added that of the three teenagers, McAvoy is the most advanced at his age.

26. There are rumours the Bruins have told teams they are not trading their best young players and prospects.

“It is true that we aren’t interested in moving young players who are impacting our lineup. We know what other teams want, and it’s a painful list to part with.”

27. Matt Duchene and Mike Hoffman are creating some nice chemistry. Duchene made some spectacular cross-ice passes to his winger during games against San Jose (a goal) and Chicago (a great save by Anton Forsberg). In Toronto, Duchene found Hoffman in front of the net for a crucial score. That was a big win for Ottawa, one night after the Blackhawks obliterated them at home.

“I’m starting to understand where he likes to be,” Duchene said of Hoffman. “If I’m on one wing, he finds the open spots. If I’m behind the net, he’s going to the front.”

Despite those instincts, he was fooled by Chicago’s Ryan Hartman. Duchene said he was going behind the net, when he heard a sound on the side boards, a request for a pass.

“I thought it was weird because that’s not where Hoffman usually is, but I put it there.” He winced. “Ruined a great pass, too. Right on his tape. That won’t happen again.”

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28. That story reminded me of one of my favourite media scrums ever. During my first year covering the Raptors as a radio reporter, Charles Barkley was ranting about someone being dumb. I asked if whoever it was (I can’t remember) was the dumbest player in the NBA. He said that the dumbest was actually Mark Bryant, because (paraphrasing) “He had the ball on offence, I yelled ‘Yo’ at him, and he threw it to me. He thought he was Magic Johnson with the no-look passes. Dummy.”

29. Reached out to the University of Massachusetts to see if Cale Makar was willing to discuss his decision not to play for the Canadian Olympic Team. He politely declined. I think, after being a power-play specialist at the World Juniors, he felt he owed it to the school to return and play 25 minutes rather than filling the same role at the Olympics. I was also told that he felt he made a commitment and wanted to honour it. I probably wouldn’t have made the same decision myself, but totally respect his right to choose his own path.

I will say this: Some NCAA coaches were angry Canada chose to make Makar the “face of denial” when no CHL kids are on the team.

30. Some people made fun of the players on Team Canada, but that’s a joke. If they get anywhere near a medal, the country is going to rally around them, big-time.

31. Every NHL player should be forced to watch the Dan Robson/George Skoutakis feature on Kevin Stevens. And they should be forced to listen to two quotes over and over again: Where Stevens talks about being handed cocaine for the first time, and where his sister talks about him losing $21M. Those lessons can’t be re-inforced enough.

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