• What does Karlsson trade mean for Duchene, Stone?
• William Nylander, Maple Leafs still far apart?
• Laine Unleashed: Expect more ice time for Jets sniper
You don’t know what it means until it actually happens. Now, the reality hits and we’re left to examine the fallout.
First, Karlsson himself. Considering how divorce became inevitable over the last 10 months, it was really something to see the emotion on his face. There was always a sense that the captain preferred to stay, but lack of confidence in ownership made it impossible. The shock on his face proved that to be true.
He and wife Melinda have been through an awful lot over the past year. All he’s known is the Senators. She’s Ottawa to the bone. His preference was Tampa Bay, but there were times he considered the possibility of Dallas and Vegas. The Sharks and Senators spoke on-and-off throughout the process, but it is believed things ramped up during the past two-to-three weeks. It’s not a huge surprise there’s no immediate extension — Karlsson didn’t have a ton of time to process the idea.
San Jose’s Western Conference rivals were extremely unhappy. The Sharks, already a force, are even better. They like to bet on themselves. Just like with Evander Kane, with Martin Jones, with Brent Burns, with Joe Thornton. All of those players were traded to Silicon Valley. None of them left. It’s a great place to live, work and play.
As one exec said, “If you’re interested in signing him next summer, it’s a lot tougher. Especially coming from a fishbowl.”
As for the Senators, there are multiple angles. First, their primary upcoming UFAs: Mark Stone and Matt Duchene. Like Karlsson, they now move from an idea of the future to really understanding the future. Duchene said last week that there weren’t any serious talks to that point. There were conversations last summer with Stone, who is not eligible for a new contract until Jan. 1 (although they can talk beforehand). This is going to be a long process. Does this change their thinking?
Locally, there is an enormous crisis of confidence in Eugene Melnyk’s ownership. There’s just no goodwill, no buy-in from the fanbase. A few executives who watched their prospects last weekend in Montreal came away impressed with how good their top guys were. A couple said Rudolfs Balcers has a chance to be much more than what’s expected for a fifth-round draft pick. But their fans are so upset right now, they don’t want to hear it.
According to multiple sources, the closest Karlsson came to being traded prior to Thursday was to the Golden Knights at last year’s deadline. From what I was told, that was “a better business deal, but not a great hockey deal.” That means Bobby Ryan was included, with Vegas saying, “If you want us to do that, you’re not getting our best.”
At the time, Melnyk’s mandate was a great business deal AND a great hockey deal. A time machine doesn’t exist, but if he was willing to drop Ryan from the trade seven months ago, where would the Senators be? Instead, no matter what GM Pierre Dorion did to drive up the price over the summer, potential partners held back their best.
Dallas, for example, was never willing to do Miro Heiskanen. (I’d heard from a few places in the hours before the trade that Ottawa loved what it saw from Roope Hintz at last week’s Traverse City tournament and made a pitch, but that was disputed.) And it’s clear from the “Hoffman clause” in this trade that Eastern Conference teams were going to have to pay more.
If the time comes that Duchene and/or Stone are to be traded, the good news for the Senators is that interested teams will have extra motivation. They’ll either be struggling and searching for a boost, a contender who sees one as the final piece, or someone who wants them long-term.
Clearly, Ottawa wanted this saga to end. I wondered if the Senators were worried about Karlsson re-injuring his ankle, but that fear was downplayed. The best thing they can do now is take a deep breath, declare themselves (temporarily) closed for business, and wait for the pressure to rise for someone else.
1. Ottawa’s interviews for its vacant assistant GM position have included Chris O’Hearn (formerly Arizona), Claude Loiselle (formerly Islanders and Toronto), Brad Holland (formerly Toronto), internal candidates (Jim Clark and Tim Pattyson believed to be among them) and local TSN Radio host Shawn Simpson. Dorion indicated a hire is coming.
There was, at some point in the summer, contact between Eugene Melnyk and former Vancouver GM Mike Gillis. A couple of sources indicated they heard Gillis and Melnyk discussed a job, but couldn’t come to an agreement. (Gillis declined to comment.) Thursday night, via email, Melnyk denied it, saying “no chance” it went that far.
2. Duchene took a deep dive into his overall game during the summer. He said he returned to the curve he used for the first five seasons of his career, one that he changed at the request of a Hall of Fame GM. “Joe Sakic got me to use his curve, he wanted me to try it and I really liked it,” Duchene said.
After four years, though, he tinkered and went back to his roots. That means less of a wedge and more of a toe-curve. Not going to the World Championship meant getting back to training in May, skating twice a week by June and three times a week after. Any particular areas of focus? “Slowing the game down. Do things fast, but don’t hurry.”
3. Prior to the Karlsson trade, Duchene said Ottawa’s veterans had some conversation during the summer about how to fix what ailed their room. “We’ve got to do more things together as a group,” he said. “We’ve got to be tighter.” They also discussed better practice habits.
4. As training camps open, there’s no clarity on Rick Nash’s future. There were plenty of teams who checked in (Las Vegas and Toronto believed to be among them), and a GM indicated he heard one club was willing to offer $16 million over three years. Wife Jessica recently gave birth to their third child, and Nash’s injury history (including multiple concussions) had him seriously considering retirement. Agent Joe Resnick: “Nothing has changed since July 1. Status quo.”
5. Like Carey Price one year ago, Tyler Seguin and agent Ian Pulver made sure that their no-move protection is effective immediately, even though his extension does not take effect until next summer. The way Seguin got talks moving did not go unnoticed.
Two weeks ago, at the BioSteel camp in Toronto, he used the word “disappointing” four times in his media availability to describe the lack of progress. No screaming, no rhetoric, polite, but firm. But there’s a lot of frustration everywhere with the unusually large number of unsigned restricted free agents.
6. Let’s look at some cases: The gap between Toronto and William Nylander sounds wide. The player doesn’t want a bridge deal. Neither Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas nor agent Lewis Gross are talking, but the rumour is the player ask is near Leon Draisaitl territory ($8.5 million AAV). I can see that being true for three reasons.
First, a player/agent ask is always high – Draisaitl’s contract is a bit of an outlier compared to his peers, with Aleksander Barkov, Nik Ehlers and Nathan MacKinnon all in the $6 million range. Second, in the two years before he signed, Draisaitl had 128 points. Nylander had 122. (Draisaitl also had an awesome 2017 playoffs with 16 points in 13 games.) Third, Connor McDavid’s (deserved) contract pushed Draisaitl’s number to a higher level.
You can see how Nylander’s camp would strive to stay close to Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and John Tavares. The surest predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour and Gross has not been afraid to sit clients (Johnny Gaudreau, Torey Krug). I suspect Toronto will point out that Tavares, Nazem Kadri and Morgan Rielly have all taken less to make it work. Because Dubas is new to his position, it’s harder to judge his reaction. But, he’s not afraid to stand up for himself and is a different thinker. You should not expect him to follow conventional wisdom, whatever that might be.
In 2016, four signed two-year contracts: Matt Dumba ($5.1 million), Cody Ceci ($5.6 million), Ryan Murray ($5.65 million) and Jacob Trouba ($6 million). Since then, it is five years for Colton Parayko, six for Shayne Gostisbehere, Noah Hanifin, Damon Severson and Brady Skjei, seven for Jaccob Slavin, eight for Michael Matheson.
Morrissey prefers a bridge, Nurse prefers a bridge, and Theodore is apparently wide open. Some of the trouble stems from teams saying those contracts are based on what happened two years ago, while players/agents respond with, “Have you heard of inflation?”
9. Eligible for an extension on July 1, 2019, Nashville’s Roman Josi has new representation, Wasserman/Orr Hockey.
10. There’s no reason not to take Steve Yzerman at his word, that family concerns were the reason he stepped down as Tampa Bay GM. Say he signed a five-year extension. That would mean almost 15 years with the Lightning, with his family in Detroit. It’s a big ask. One of the other theories is that the organization was concerned about losing both Yzerman and Julien BriseBois, promoted to replace him. The latter’s time in the No. 1 chair was coming, whether in Tampa or elsewhere. (He was interviewed by Pittsburgh when the Penguins hired Jim Rutherford.)
Yzerman’s uncertainty made it important to keep/elevate BriseBois. As usual, Yzerman kept it in the vault. His GM brethren reacted with shock, with one texting, “Are you drunk?” when asked if he’d heard anything about the potential move. Whether discussing moves or in casual conversation, Yzerman gave little indication anything was coming. His typical (and generally appreciated) bluntness set off a storm of speculation, however. Instead of saying he has no future plans other than going home, he left open the door for something else in one year’s time. We’ll see.
11. Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky had some blunt commentary as training camp opened for the Blue Jackets. GM Jarmo Kekalainen declined to comment when asked by local reporters. It’s not an optimistic situation. While Artemi Panarin did get together with the team during the summer, Bobrovsky did not show for at least one meeting. Kekalainen and agent Paul Theofanous did not respond to requests for comment.
12. One Blue Jacket excited to get going: Alexander Wennberg. He slumped from 59 points to 35 after signing a six-year extension. Many players do struggle with the pressure in the immediate aftermath of a new deal, but Wennberg didn’t think that was the problem.
“I like it there (Columbus),” he said. “I want to be there. But I did stress about points. (Coach John Tortorella told me), ‘Don’t change. Do the little things right, don’t get caught up in worrying and change how you play.’” He was very interesting talking about watching Washington finally bust through and win. “I think we are good, too. We must be doing things right because the best teams beat us. We are young, still gaining experience.”
13. Wennberg is pretty funny. Asked who the best Swedish NHL golfer is, he thought about it before answering, “Erik Gustafsson.” Then, he added, “I’m saying that to be modest. I already beat him.”
14. You’ll remember that Washington traded defenceman Brooks Orpik to Colorado at the draft. The Avalanche bought out Orpik from the one season remaining on his contract, and he went back to the Capitals one month later. Savings for Washington: $4 million in cap space. A couple of weeks ago, the league notified the individual clubs that it reviewed the situation, and explained its concerns. Teams viewed the memo as a warning, that if the NHL could make an example of someone, it would.
15. Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine, asked what the Jets’ coaches told him at the end of last season: “Nothing specific,” he answered. “Just be ready for more minutes.” Laine had 44 goals in 2017-18, averaging 16:29 per night. Since the NHL’s ice-time data went public, no one’s scored as much in so few minutes. According to hockey-reference.com, only two 50-goal men averaged less than 20 minutes a game: Jonathan Cheechoo (56 in 2005-06) and Milan Hejduk (50 in 2002-03). They were close, though. Will be fun to watch Laine Unleashed.
16. The Jets begin the 2018-19 season as a serious Stanley Cup contender. Both Laine and Mark Scheifele said they had no idea how hard the playoffs were going to be. “You win a round,” Laine said. “You feel so good about yourself. Then you start the next series, and the other team feels good about itself, too.” Added Scheifele: “You need a short memory. The only time you can relax is when you have the Stanley Cup in your hands.”
Boston’s Charlie McAvoy, whose team won one fewer round than the Jets, said he understood what they were talking about. “The feeling in the building and the feeling in the locker room of winning a playoff series, winning a Game 7 versus Toronto, is so emotional,” he said. “You’re so happy, so tired, but get a feeling as if you’ve won the whole thing. And then you realize it is only one round. You have to rein it in, because it is only one round.”
17. Nashville’s Filip Forsberg, asked who will stand up in the Predators’ room and say, no matter what happened last year, we are still good enough to win this: “That will be me. That will be me this year. Because I really believe it.”
18. Per NHL.com, one of Connor McDavid’s 87 career goals is via slapshot. The greats always find something to perfect, and McDavid’s one-timer was a focal point in the off-season. “It’s an area that I really struggled (with) before,” he said. “A little bit is my stick, I use a short little blade, not very tall. So it’s hard to take one-timers.”
Edmonton’s power play was dead last in 2017-18. More than one opposing coach said the day McDavid figures out his shot and becomes a little more selfish, everyone else is in trouble. He admitted the man advantage was a major factor. “I play on the flank and I need to be able to shoot from there. We stumbled on the power play last year…a lot of it runs through my hands, I have to find a way to get better at it.”
Training alongside Steven Stamkos helped. “Watching this guy take one-timers is something like art.” What advice did he give? “Be more patient. Let it come to you. I was going out and getting it. You almost get too excited, you just want to hit it. So be patient and let it slide into the perfect spot.” McDavid also got serious about golf for the first time in his life. How do you shoot? “Around 90. You’ve got to break 90 and go from there.”
19. What would make McDavid happy? Are we talking 50 goals and 150 points? “If anyone could do that,” Draisaitl said, “he can. But 90 points and the playoffs will make him much happier.” What would you target? “I don’t like to say 30 goals and 50 assists, because if I don’t get that, I’ll be frustrated as hell.”
Asked if he preferred to play with McDavid or Draisiatl, newly signed Oiler Tobias Rieder said, “I will take either.” (“He should have picked me,” Draisaitl replied.) Rieder is gambling on himself, taking a one-year deal in Edmonton. “I was not satisfied with last season.” Bothered by an injury at the start of 2017-18, he simply didn’t get going. “You have to produce to get paid.”
20. Speaking of one-timers, has Matthews told Tavares he likes them in a certain spot? “Yeah, I told him front foot,” Matthews replied. You sure you can get it there? “Yeah, I hope so,” Tavares laughed.
21. Another improved shooter? Florida’s Vincent Trocheck. “I flirted with a few different techniques watching the playoffs. Auston Matthews’ toe-drag shot. I saw Panarin go down the wing, pull it tight and go far side. It made me go insane.”
The Panthers’ centre also studied one of the NHL’s best two-way centres, teammate Aleksander Barkov. “He’s a good role model. So much patience, calm demeanor, doesn’t show a lot of emotion. I’m a bit too eager sometimes, jump on a puck when not the smartest move. He waits until he’s 100 per cent to get the puck before he goes on offence and it’s still the same outcome.”
22. Bo Horvat’s gone from 16 to 20 to 22 goals, but feels there are too many missed opportunities. “I could have been a better finisher around the net. I think I had 10-15 breakaways last year, and I was probably one-for-15,” he winced. How do you fix that? “I worked on my hands around the net. Visualizing yourself scoring is a huge part of it. Watching Brock (Boeser) in practice and how he scores all the time…his confidence around the net, I can learn from that.”
23. During the summer, a couple of players and coaches raved about T.J. Oshie’s play in the Stanley Cup final — pointing out that as the series progressed, the Golden Knights couldn’t budge him. “They bounced right off,” one said. “They couldn’t do anything to him.”
At last week’s NHL media tour, Oshie said he recognized early in the series the Vegas players were coming hard, so he made an adjustment to his skates. He normally keeps them loose, with some extra padding, for added flexibility. He removed the padding and tied them tighter, going instead for stability. It is a little thing, but it paid off in a big way for Oshie and the Capitals.
24. He didn’t want to go into specifics, but Vegas’s Marc-Andre Fleury said he’s trying to change the way he plays around the posts. “It’s still a work in progress,” he said.
25. Asked teammate Pierre-Edouard Bellemare if, looking back at it, there was anyone on last year’s Knights who surprised him in a positive way. Someone who he wasn’t sure about upon first meeting them.
“I’m not a hockey nerd like some other players,” Bellemare replied. “I had to Google some of the guys. I would say James Neal. I saw him, saw how he carries himself like a superstar, and I was not sure. But the more I got to know him, the more important I realized he was. In the playoffs, the way he talked, most of us had never gone that far. He told us what to expect and how good we could be.”
Bellemare added that he thought the Golden Knights were going to find a way to come back in the Stanley Cup final until the final few seconds of Game 5.
26. If the NHL ever does a “Most Interesting Man in the World” takeoff, Bellemare would be a good choice. This past summer was the first in four he didn’t buy a house and personally renovate it. “We don’t do the plumbing, but everything else. Walls, floors. I love it.”
27. Other good lines from the NHL Media Tours: Asked if he hoped to get one final big hit out of his career, Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall replied, “No, I’m too slow to catch anyone.” San Jose’s Evander Kane, who briefly lived with Joe Thornton upon his trade to the Sharks, said he saw no evidence Thornton’s home even contains a razor.
28. Mentioned this last season, but, again, there is a sense Montreal is going to get more involved in Russian free agency. Not sure if these players are particular targets of theirs, but two names to keep an eye on are forward Ilya Mikheyev (Omsk) and defenceman Artem Zub (St. Petersburg).
30. Thing that stuck with me most this summer was from James Andrew Miller’s Origins podcast on Nick Saban. ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi said, “(Saban’s) definition of discipline? He demonstrates with two hands. He holds up his left hand, and he says, ‘On this hand is something you really want to do, but you know you shouldn’t do. Can you keep yourself from doing it?’ On the other hand — and he holds out the hand — is something that you really don’t want to do, but you know you need to do. Can you make yourself do it? That’s discipline.”
31. First broadcast Tuesday. Kraft Hockeyville. Ottawa/Toronto in Lucan, Ont. Drop the puck already.