31 Thoughts: Jets chapter nearing end, but Byfuglien story isn’t over

Winnipeg Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien. (John Woods/CP)

• Will Byfuglien play this season?
• Oilers, Pens have interest in Tatar
• Maple Leafs will explore goalie market

Years ago, it was the wild west when it came to individual testing of draft-eligible players. Eventually, the NHL decided it would try to get things under control.

At one GM meeting, the league revealed new protocols for when and how prospects could be tested. Following the conversation, according to one former manager, then-New Jersey boss Lou Lamoriello raised his hand.

“How much is the fine?” he asked. (At the time, the Devils were believed to be at the top of the list when it came to scouting budgets.)

It was at that moment everyone realized the punishment better have teeth.

The story repeated itself when Tim Murray was GM of the Buffalo Sabres. Again, the managers were warned of the testing guidelines. Murray, backed by an owner who was willing to spend, basically said, “We’ll pay the fine.”

He was told the amount: $250,000 per violation.

“That was the end of that,” laughed one GM who was in the room then. “Tim knew that wasn’t going to work.”

These stories popped into mind last week with reports of the NHL’s investigation into the Arizona Coyotes. The best way to start is with the rules. Until the morning after the Combine: no to physical testing; yes to psychological testing/interviews. Post-Combine: no to physical testing for prospects who attended; yes to physical testing for anyone not invited; yes to medicals, psychological testing and interviews for all.

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As I write this, it is difficult to pin down how long this investigation is going to take as the league is not commenting. The NHL sent a note to all clubs, trying to determine how widespread a problem this could be — asking if they had anything similar to confess. The teams pointed back at Arizona. According to multiple sources, the Coyotes have not denied that, in their interviews, the subject matter of certain questions were physical or medical in nature. (A strength and conditioning consultant, Tommy Powers, attended some of these meetings, and, in certain cases, players were asked to be in workout gear.) Their argument is that any violation is a matter of interpretation.

Opponents have reacted angrily to this claim.

CHL organizations were asked to inform the league if they had any complaints about the Coyotes — that deadline was last Friday. One of the initial flashpoints came from a CHL club upset about a player being worked out after a road trip that included lengthy travel, although, when I looked into it, I was told that accusation may have been revoked. Another alleged incident involved a USHL team. (I did hear from others who denied any issues.)

In this post-Houston Astros garbage-can-banging world, it’s going to come down to who’s willing to say what, what’s in writing and what the NHL already knows before it even begins formal interviews. And, there’s also the question of whether, if the Coyotes are found guilty, commissioner Gary Bettman expands the penalties to draft picks and/or employee sanctions. I tried to see if there’s any chance GM John Chayka could be in trouble, and no one was willing to say one way or the other.

So, we wait to see where this goes.


1. Familiar with that Dunkin’ commercial featuring Kendall Coyne Schofield and David Pastrnak? The company previously used Pastrnak in a successful ad campaign, and wanted both players this time. Although it would be commonplace for the Bruins’ winger to get a raise, the budget would not allow that because the desire was for both to receive equal pay. Pastrnak agreed to make it work. Schofield appreciated the gesture.

2. I never thought we’d see a legit challenge to Wayne Gretzky’s goal record, but here we are. Alex Ovechkin is going to give the NHL and its fans a gift — a race for number one. Ovechkin’s goals-per-game average after age 30: 0.59, which has him tied with Cy Denneny for eighth all-time, behind only Newsy Lalonde (1.26), Joe Malone (0.72), Harry Cameron (0.63), Bobby Hull and Mario Lemieux (0.62), and Mike Bossy (0.60). His number of goals after age 30: 223 and counting, which has him tied for 33rd all-time. (Gordie Howe is first at 415.) It’s going to be all about health.

3. The Jets, Dustin Byfuglien, the NHL and the NHLPA continue to work towards an agreement on his contract termination. One of the key negotiating points is beyond both the team and the player, with the league and the union needing to agree on language about his grievance. From what I’ve heard, there’s a low confidence level at this time that he’d win it, and, in order for things to work out, they’re going to have to agree that this outcome cannot be used as precedent for any future grievances. That has happened before, with Mike Richards. When he settled with the Kings, both sides agreed it couldn’t affect future litigation.

4. Byfuglien has yet to resume skating, so it is extremely unlikely he returns this season. But, if he has any desire to play in the future, there’s going to be interest. There are obvious connections in Chicago (old organization), Florida (old coach) and Vegas (Kelly McCrimmon ran Brandon, where Byfuglien began his WHL career). Even teams without such clear relationships would wish to talk to him, too. There was a time during this process when the Jets wanted him to return with them, but the relationship soured as this continued. He’s a unique personality — I say that with respect — and there’s no certainty about what he’ll do.

5. With his $7.6-million cap hit off the books, Winnipeg will be in the market for defence. The Jets traded their 2018 and 2019 first-rounders for Paul Stastny and Kevin Hayes, respectively. (They did get the latter one back in the Jacob Trouba deal.) That’s when they were near the top of the standings, so I wouldn’t expect them to take such a big swing this time around — unless it’s for an impact player with term/team control. But they are in the race, and there is a desire to bolster a team that has competed hard in trying circumstances.

6. I don’t think Darnell Nurse is going to be signing for $8 million per season. There’s what you ask for, and what you’re actually looking for. Nurse wants to be an Oiler, which supersedes everything else. It could happen now on a short-term deal, or it could be punted to the summer, when there’s a clearer cap picture for the future. But there’s optimism that something will get done.

7. I think the Oilers have, at the very least, looked into Tomas Tatar. (Pittsburgh would be another team with interest.) GM Ken Holland knows him very well. Again, though, Montreal feels injuries derailed its season and wants to be competitive in 2020-21. So you’ve really got to move the needle to get the Canadiens’ attention.


8. There are several teams who would be shocked if Anaheim dealt Josh Manson.

“Your wife does not love you as much as the Ducks love him,” one GM said. (My wife doesn’t know anything about Manson, but admitted this is probably true.)

Trading Manson would also eliminate some serious edge and attitude from an organization that strongly identifies with those character traits.

9. All of a sudden, Thursday’s Predators-Flames game is massive. As we wake up on Wednesday, the Predators are within three points of the Flames for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Nashville has a game in hand on Chicago and Edmonton; two on the Flames and Winnipeg; three on Arizona and Vegas. One week ago, GM David Poile was at a loss for answers as we spoke by phone hours before a game in Washington.

“Honestly,” he said. “You’re asking all of the right questions, but I’ve been trying to answer them for several months now.”

Since that call, Nashville won wildly entertaining games against the Capitals and New Jersey, looked comatose in a home loss to Vegas and beat Winnipeg in a huge overtime game.

When we spoke, Poile’s frustration burned through the cellular connection. Roman Josi is Hercules, lifting the team on his shoulders. With 30 games remaining, he’s one goal away from his career-high of 15 and on pace to obliterate his previous record of 61 points.

Other than that, it’s the exact reverse up and down the lineup. Those headed for below-established norms include Matt Duchene and Craig Smith (goals), Ryan Johansen (points), Viktor Arvidsson (both) and Mikael Granlund (assists). Granlund, 38th in the NHL with 46 assists in 2017-18, is on pace for 13 this year. Kyle Turris is unrecognizable from his fantastic 2017 playoff form with Ottawa.

“You understand that this can happen to one or two players, but so many of them?” Poile said.

10. During our conversation, Poile said he was “willing to consider just about anything” on the trade front, with the obvious exceptions. Then the GM paused when I asked if he thought maybe all of the long-term contracts made his players too comfortable.

“I don’t want to think that’s the case,” he finally said, then added, “I refuse to believe that’s true.”

They have time to salvage their season.

11. I did ask if Poile would consider upgrading his goaltending. He threw cold water on that idea.

12. Kings coach Todd McLellan lobbied for Tyler Toffoli to be extended, but it is more likely than not the winger is dealt by the deadline. Boston and Calgary’s interest has been reported; I think Philadelphia considered the idea, as well.

13. Same goes for Alec Martinez. The Athletic’s Lisa Dillman mentioned Nashville. Florida and Vegas are believed to have discussed him, too.

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14. Toronto GM Kyle Dubas has made it clear that he won’t trade for a goalie unless the upgrade is significant and the cost isn’t prohibitive. And, if other teams sense desperation, they throw you anvils, not life preservers. That said, the Maple Leafs will explore the market. One under-the-radar name to consider: Jack Campbell in Los Angeles. The Kings have Cal Petersen at AHL Ontario, and he’ll need a spot. OHL fans will recognize that Dubas has traded for Campbell once before. He knows the goalie well. (One exec’s line as I asked around about this yesterday: “You’re eight years behind.”)

15. Michael Hutchinson, who will start Wednesday in Manhattan, jokingly picked up the nickname “Mr. Saturday Night” since three of his victories came on that day of the week.

One quirk about his play — his numbers aren’t good when he comes in mid-game. Hutchinson’s taken the loss in his last three such appearances, twice against Florida and once versus Edmonton. He has a goals against of 4.74 and an .804 save percentage in those games.

16. Any defensive changes in Toronto will depend on Morgan Rielly’s health and Rasmus Sandin’s readiness. Those factors determine the path.

17. On Kasperi Kapanen: It’s hard not to look at this and see Nazem Kadri in 2015. The Leafs were at their wits’ end with the centre, and his two-game suspension was a last-gasp effort to see if he’d make the personal changes they demanded.

“We expect a certain level of professionalism,” Brendan Shanahan said then. “It’s time for him to start making better decisions. There’s a history here.” (Compare that to Sheldon Keefe’s “internal accountability” with Kapanen.)

To his credit, Kadri ate it and became a critical piece of the group. Toronto would like history to repeat itself. Justin Bourne — who knows Kapanen very well from his days as an assistant coach with the Marlies — made an excellent point in a column for The Athletic, that Kapanen may be unsettled by his situation. His name is all over the rumour mill, he’s struggled to find his way in Keefe’s system, and the two had their battles in the AHL, although I think the coach’s motives were simply to make him a better player.

The one thing to remember is that Dubas made a big bet on Kapanen in the Phil Kessel deal at a time when everyone was down on the winger. He’s always liked Kapanen, who has the potential to be a great player. The GM’s preference would be to keep him, and I’ve always believed that if Kapanen were traded now, we’d look at the deal and say, “Oh, I get it” — even with the one-game vacation.

This suspension is a shot across the bow. You don’t get this kind of punishment for sleeping in once.

18. What a run for the Canucks, who, even with Tuesday’s 4-0 loss in Boston, have charged to first place in the Pacific. Lots of talent, lots of depth. There was some Twitter sniggering after that game, when J.T. Miller told reporters, “I don’t think (Boston) is anything special. They’re a good hockey team. I’m not sitting here like, ‘Oh, we’re playing this team tonight.’ We’re a good hockey team. We should have swag about that.”

I thought that was excellent. When the Canucks were at their best at the beginning of the previous decade, there was an “eff you” mentality around them. Great teams have it. If there’s any frustration, it’s not in the dressing room — it’s in the front office at the fascination with contract talks involving Jacob Markstrom and amateur scouting director Judd Brackett, a huge part of what they’ve accomplished.

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19. Mikko Koskinen was months away from his 31st birthday when he signed a three-year, $4.5-million AAV extension with Edmonton. That contract filtered into Darcy Kuemper, who will be 30 when his two-year, $4.5-million AAV extension kicks in with Arizona. Markstrom just turned 30.

Chris Johnston reported on Headlines last week that the Canucks offered a two-year extension, and, based on those previous moves, it didn’t come as a surprise. That’s not going to do it for Markstrom, who has been phenomenal and is not afraid to bet on himself. But, like Nurse, it doesn’t mean the negotiation is over. Just means it is going to be challenging. It’s a tightrope, and you don’t want it to affect your room. GM Jim Benning isn’t saying much beyond the fact that they want to get it done, because, in such a rabid market, one wrong word throws gasoline on the fire.

20. As for Brackett, from what I understand, this is purely about structure, and how things will work. The Canucks have made several staff changes since Trevor Linden left, and, according to several sources, Brackett wants to know if he will have the same say in running the department he used to have. If not, he’ll move on when his contract ends on June 30.

21. Chris Kreider took a full practice on Tuesday and will be in the lineup for the Rangers on Wednesday. If St. Louis is not his eventual destination, one of the Blues’ fallback options would be Florida’s Mike Hoffman. St. Louis considered him twice before, and did extensive research before Ottawa traded him. Of course, the Panthers have to decide if they’re going to go this route. They are looking for some defensive help. In their last 25 games, they’ve given up fewer than 28 shots just once. Six of those games were in the forties, including Tuesday’s 1-0 overtime loss to Columbus. The goaltending numbers may not look great, but those guys have been pretty good.

22. I think teams have checked to see if Boston would consider moving Torey Krug. Even with his future uncertain, he’s a big part of who they are and what they want to accomplish in June.

23. In addition to any possible rental moves, New Jersey is willing to consider “hockey trades,” too.

24. About 15 teams worth of scouts were disappointed that Josh Anderson was not yet ready to return from injury for Florida/Columbus on Tuesday. Hopefully they got to visit the North Market, instead.

25. Dallas is built for the playoff grind, but I wonder if they look for a playmaking forward. When we looked into it last week, only Anaheim (129) had fewer assists from that group than the Stars’ 130. (Detroit also had 130.)

“We create from good team defence,” head coach Rick Bowness said.

After Tyler Seguin’s team-leading 28, next on the team are defencemen John Klingberg and Esa Lindell (19), followed by Miro Heiskanen (18). Bowness said they’ve worked on making themselves “more predictable. When you’re in trouble, knowing where the puck is going. That helps you play faster.”

26. I’ve had to watch a lot more Los Angeles and Ottawa lately to see how some of their players are doing before the deadline. The results haven’t been there, but those teams play hard.

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27. Something for the future: Teams scouting Swedish draft-eligible forward Alexander Holtz at Djurgardens are also getting a look at the team’s leading scorer, Patrik Berglund. The former Blue and Sabre has centred Holtz at times.

28. Very happy for Nathan Gerbe. After playing 47 games with Carolina in 2015–16, he went to Switzerland and the AHL in an effort to revive his career. On Sunday, he signed a two-year extension at $750,000 in the NHL and $500,000 in the AHL. At this time, that’s the highest AHL salary for next season for any player on a two-way contract. (The Marlies have three players at or above $700,000 for next season, but those are one-ways.) Nate Prosser (Lehigh Valley), Michael Sgarbossa (Hershey), Andrew Agozzino, Zach Trotman and David Warsofsky (Scranton-Wilkes Barre), Gabriel Dumont (Iowa) and Jake Bischoff (Chicago) are all at $400,000 or more.

29. In its attempt to fool around with All-Star Weekend, should the NHL consider a Team Florida for next season? With the event in that state, put together a team of players comprised of the Panthers/Lightning representatives, any other all-star who once played there, lived there or has some connection to Florida (Jakob Chychrun, Shayne Gostisbehere).

30. Obviously it’s been an emotional couple of weeks with athletes and the general public around the world coming to grips with Kobe Bryant’s death. I thought the various NHL tributes — from Zach Werenski (No. 8) and Nathan Gerbe (No. 24) standing alone at the blue line to Matt Dumba and Alex Oveckin honouring him in their pre-game skates — made the players and league look classy and big-time.

31. What coverage is worse: Iowa caucus with no results, or NHL trade deadline with no trades?

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