31 Thoughts: All eyes on John Tavares during UFA interview period

Sportsnet Hockey Analyst Jeff Marek joined the Jeff Blair Show to discuss the Dougie Hamilton trade with Carolina that went down on day 2 of the NHL Draft.

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Monday afternoon, John Tavares begins The Process (sorry, Sam Hinkie).

Five NHL teams will be invited to pitch him on a new NHL home.

Dallas, San Jose, Toronto, Boston and Tampa Bay are in. Several teams are in a holding pattern, including Nashville and Vegas. It’s been reported that Los Angeles removed itself from consideration after signing Ilya Kovalchuk eliminated cap room. Things can always change, though. Maybe it ends up being more than five teams.

Adding to the drama is the fact Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello went right from Dallas to California. It’s a smart move, staying close to the action. (He’s probably got the room bugged.) The Islanders don’t count as one of the five; Tavares already knows what he’s got there.

All things being equal, my feeling from the beginning was Tavares wanted to remain an Islander. But, as the season progressed and they slid from a playoff position, you could see the frustration on his face. Clearly, ownership saw it, too, bringing in Lamoriello and Barry Trotz. The organization is paying a ton of money in salaries when you add what is still owed to Garth Snow and Doug Weight.

If Tavares returns, ownership will consider that money well spent.

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Draft weekend was excellent for the Islanders, even if a plan to use one of their first-rounders to add a current NHLer failed. Tavares’s new contract is going to be a big one, so the team will need effective youth on entry-level deals. They’ve got two more years of Mathew Barzal. And, in the near future, they can point to Noah Dobson and Oliver Wahlstrom. That was a coup for New York.

He’s got to believe he can win. If he’s convinced, it will be difficult to pry him out.

The other teams are intriguing. Four of them were in the playoffs. Dallas, Nashville, Tampa and Vegas have no state taxes. Most will have challenging long-term decisions if they are Tavares’ choice. Dallas can extend Tyler Seguin July 1 — that’s also going to be a big number. Tampa wants to extend Ryan McDonagh and is one year away from either a massive contract or arbitration with Nikita Kucherov. He is unrestricted in 2020.

Toronto is going to owe Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and possibly William Nylander. The Predators have to reward Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi.

Meanwhile, Vegas basically is a blank canvas and word was going around last week that they might let all of their impending UFAs reach free agency. San Jose’s positioned itself for this. Doug Wilson’s got a Hall of Fame case as both player and executive. The Stanley Cup is the one thing he doesn’t have. He wants this opportunity, badly.

On the weekend, one executive asked if there was any way Tavares takes anything less than seven or eight years. The honest answer is: I don’t know. But my guess is someone is going to ask if he’s willing to take an enormous short-term deal to see if he can win with a loaded roster before other players have to be rewarded. It would also allow him the potential of another major payday.

Another possibility: When the Toronto Blue Jays signed Roger Clemens before the 1997 season, they promised that if he was unhappy before the term of the contract was up, they would trade him. Two years later, they did, moving him to the Yankees. They got caught and were punished by Major League Baseball, but I can see the possibility of a similar promise. (The key is not leaving a paper trail.)

All of this, of course, is conjecture. Finally, we’re getting to the end. We’ve asked many questions. Soon, we get the answers.

31 THOUGHTS

1. Of all the GMs stating their case, I’m most curious about Toronto’s Kyle Dubas. He’s definitely a different thinker. It was reported the Maple Leafs prepared an elaborate on-ice presentation. In The Cubs Way (a book about their 2016 World Series victory), author Tom Verducci reported that GM Theo Epstein, in wooing pitcher Jon Lester, hired special-effects Masters from Hollywood and producers from the gaming industry to make a lifelike movie of the team winning the World Series. “(Epstein) didn’t want Lester to just imagine what it would be like to win,” Verducci wrote. “He also wanted him to see what it looked like.” Tavares may get the same treatment.

2. I really don’t like taking shots at players who get traded. You’re gone, move on, let’s go. Dougie Hamilton was hit with personal criticism when dealt from Boston to Calgary, and now while en route to Carolina. Hamilton politely declined a request to address all this, not wanting to toss more gasoline on the fire.

The move out of Massachusetts definitely was a personality clash, with differing opinions on who was right and who was wrong. After making a few calls, this is not about who’s attending team slumber parties. This is about role. Hamilton did not formally request a trade, but there is confirmation there were discussions about his spot in the lineup. There is also the issue of brother Freddie. When he was traded, Dougie was openly upset and that bothered the Flames. There was agreement a move would be better for both sides.

The Flames wanted to re-unite TJ Brodie and Mark Giordano, which will happen. They felt Travis Hamonic would benefit from playing with a steadier partner, as opposed to Brodie, more of a jazz-musician freelancer. That would take Hamilton off the top pair, which didn’t thrill him. He also didn’t start last season on the top power play, eventually replacing Brodie midway through. That was another bone of contention. This was necessary for both player and team. Hamilton will benefit from Carolina: he hears everything. Less noise there.

Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm were unhappy, too. Their contract talks were difficult, with Lindholm’s last conversation ending in a blowup the day before he was traded. A lot of players eager to prove something.

3. Last summer, when Calgary traded for Hamonic, the Flames fought hard to keep Adam Fox from the Islanders. Before Round 1 on Friday, Flames GM Brad Treliving made his final pitch to Fox’s advisor, Matt Keator. Treliving wasn’t going to risk losing him for nothing.

4. Jeff Skinner, who has a no-move clause, provided Carolina with a small list of where he’ll go.

5. On Saturday, The Boston Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont reported the Bruins had been told Rick Nash, who has a concussion history, was considering retirement. Reached on Sunday, Nash texted he is “weighing all options of where I want to pick up the family and move to. My main goal is to the win the Cup.” The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline reported Sunday night that Columbus is at the top of Nash’s list.

6. Sometime before Round 2, Montreal went to Max Pacioretty with a trade offer from the Kings. An extension was included. It was time-sensitive, because 2018 draft picks were included. Pacioretty said no, and switched agents to Allan Walsh. Can it be revived? Not sure. I do think the Kings considered adding two scorers, not stopping with Ilya Kovalchuk. But the issue is going to be Pacioretty’s next contract.

I do believe he would like to play in Los Angeles, but would also like to make up for what he left on the table with the Canadiens. LA can’t fit that. Pacioretty is upset and the Canadiens are upset, so even though word was they may keep him now, that’s going to be awkward if it happens. GM Marc Bergevin will revisit this, maybe depending on who misses their target on July 1.

7. There were rumblings Jake Muzzin was part of the Pacioretty trade, but that was denied. The Canadiens are believed to have inquired about Carolina’s Victor Rask.

8. Sounds like Los Angeles will not qualify Tobias Rieder. Acquired from Arizona just before the deadline, he will be a free agent.

9. Now that John Carlson has signed, Washington will try and keep Michal Kempny. Much more interest now than at the deadline, but the Capitals are still in it. Since Colorado bought out Brooks Orpik, he can return to Washington at a new salary. Someone is going to make it very difficult for Jay Beagle to stay. He’s got a lot of respect around the league for what he does. Carlson’s signing thrusts Erik Karlsson back into the spotlight, with Ottawa trying to create a bigger market for his services.

10. In addition to their Tavares pitch, San Jose is working hard on several extensions. What’s their history? Take care of guys a year before they hit the market. Two summers ago: Brent Burns. Last year: Martin Jones and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. It is Logan Couture’s turn, and several sources indicate it is coming. It’s also possible we’re going to see something with Tomas Hertl.

11. The $79.5 million cap will make it tough for Winnipeg to keep Paul Stastny. The key might be offering some kind of draft pick/asset for another team to take Steve Mason. He has one more year at $4.1 million. If they can clear that, we’re in business.

12. Not surprisingly, a lot of Day 1 interest in James van Riemsdyk. One team indicated they were told he’d narrow the field in the middle of the week.

13. Apparently, Toronto was asking a pretty big price for anyone to get into the 25th spot. They were looking for defencemen.

14. Draft rumblings were that Artemi Panarin’s preferences (in no particular order) are Los Angeles, New York and Florida.

15. It’s believed Buffalo is in on Carter Hutton.

16. There was Western Canadian interest in Jason Zucker. I asked if that meant Calgary, Edmonton and/or Vancouver, and was told, “Yes.” God only knows if that referred to one, two, or all three of them.

17. There looks to be a pre-July 1 price and post-July 1 price on Ryan O’Reilly. He is due a $7.5 million bonus, and that’s affecting what the Sabres can get. If Buffalo pays, it probably makes sense to keep him, except that the offers may improve. St. Louis was circling, and it’s possible that morphs into something bigger. The Blues might want Vladimir Sobotka to be part of the package, too. I could see the Sharks being a possibility if they don’t get Tavares.

18. Interesting: a few agents said we could see more arbitration cases this summer. We’re still a couple months away, but they reported tougher-than-usual negotiations for this time of year. In 2017, one of 30 possible cases had a hearing (Nate Schmidt). In the past five years, there were 124 potential hearings. Just five saw no settlement before a ruling, with a handful coming after the hearing, but before a judgement (for example, PK Subban). One of those was Sobotka, who had left for the KHL.

19. Filip Zadina is a confident lad. He told Montreal face-to-face that if they passed on him, he’d fill their net with goals. Then, he said it to the Detroit media when the Canadiens, Senators and Coyotes went elsewhere. The Red Wings wanted centres and defence, but threw that out the window when Zadina dropped in their laps.

The Canadiens also liked Barrett Hayton, who went two spots later to Arizona. There was real debate over which centre to take. Ottawa GM Pierre Dorion said he was worried the Canadiens would take Brady Tkachuk. Edmonton almost traded up to get Evan Bouchard, but realized as things unfolded that they wouldn’t need to.

20. Hours before the draft, rumours circulated Tkachuk would go back to Boston University. The Senators didn’t back down and made the selection. Nick Kypreos had a good idea: the Senators should let him, particularly if this is going to be a hard year. Don’t expose him to the negativity and see where everyone stands 12 months from now. Will college teammate Dante Fabbro, a British Columbian, return for his junior season, or will Nashville come calling?

21. Doug Wilson on Ryan Merkley: “We spent a lot of time with him. We asked him the tough questions, we liked the way he handled it…the answers he gave us made us feel comfortable looking him in the eye that he wants to be a great player and hockey is what he wants to do. He’s a young man, and watching him play he just has to channel some of his frustrations differently…We see a real high end to this player.”

22. A team thinking of trading for Mike Hoffman tracked down one of his fiancee’s college roommates to find out as much as they could.

23. Senators owner Eugene Melnyk pulled the Darcy Oake disappearing trick after the Board of Governors’ meeting, but made it clear to compatriots that he is determined to stay.

24. One possibility for Minnesota’s front office: Tom Kurvers, currently with Tampa. He’s from Minneapolis and was briefly new GM Paul Fenton’s teammate in Toronto.

25. Dwight King, who played last season in the KHL, is looking to return, even on a two-way deal. He’s played 365 NHL games for Los Angeles and Montreal.

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26. Great, but hot, week in Dallas and Vegas. I sensed some grumbling about the Awards moving from a “neutral site” to a “home game” for Vegas. The Golden Knights won several awards and the hometown fans loved it. I really hope this does not become a problem, and everyone thinks bigger picture. After a long season, you want people to attend and be enthusiastic. There is nowhere like it available.

I was impressed with the opening, led by Brian Boyle, Kevin Cheveldayoff, Gerard Gallant, PK Subban and Blake Wheeler. Rare that Subban loses best suit, but Pekka Rinne’s lime green linen ensemble was really good. Jamie Benn and Mike Modano were great at the draft. Keep it coming. Show off the personalities.

27. Selke finalist Sean Couturier had a great line about Game 6 versus Pittsburgh. It’s not exactly a pleasant memory, since the Flyers were eliminated, but he had five points despite a torn MCL. When teammates were finally able to joke about it, Couturier said they told him his performance wasn’t that good, “because you really weren’t hurt, were you?”

28. As he re-united with the newly-retired Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Roberto Luongo reflected on his lengthy groin injury from the 2017-18 season. “There were times I wondered if that was going to be it,” he said. “It wasn’t much fun.” But Luongo recovered, as did the Panthers, to make a late-season charge that just missed the playoffs.

“You remember how much you love it. I want to go as long as I can. We have something special here, and I want to be a part of it when everyone else realizes it.” After acquiring Hoffman, the Panthers are overloaded at forward. GM Dale Tallon said the players will sort it out by how they perform.

29. Colorado’s Jared Bednar on what he learned watching the playoffs: “The intensity, speed and tenacity of the puck pressure by Vegas. That’s what we’re going to have to match.”

30. I was worried that the NHL Awards recognizing Las Vegas, Parkland and Humboldt would be too much and too exploitative. Thankfully, there was nothing to worry about. The recognition was tasteful and respectful, featuring marvelous speeches from Luongo, George McPhee and Christina Haugan.

I rarely get nervous anymore, but was before the Humboldt media conference Tuesday and Willie O’Ree presentation (with Scott Oake) Wednesday. You want to do them proper justice. Two players are returning to the team — Brayden Camrud and Derek Patter. Patter said he “didn’t listen to any other offers,” solely concentrating on a return to the Broncos. Camrud was hilarious at the morning rehearsal, deliberately giving me wrong name pronunciations for a good laugh.

Kaleb Dahlgren will play at York, alma mater of assistant coach Mark Cross, who died in the crash. Bryce Fiske will dress for the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. Tyler Smith is waiting to see how a finger injury heals before figuring out his next move. Xavier Labelle is graduating on time from high school, even though he only recently left hospital. Grayson Cameron joined the coaching staff of the Midget AAA Red Deer Optimist Chiefs. Matthieu Gomercic went from Vegas back to Winnipeg for a skate at Mark Scheifele’s hockey camp.

Goalie Jacob Wasserman, just released from hospital, talked about a visit he received from the great Rick Hansen, that reset his mind. Ryan Straschnitzki was headed back to Philadelphia for more rehab work. Flyers GM Ron Hextall and assistant GM Barry Hanrahan visited there and planned on taking him to their facility. Three players — Morgan Gobeil, Layne Matechuk and Nick Shumlanski — were unable to attend.

31. Worst rumour: Jeff Marek says he hears Sabres GM Jason Botterill is going to wear the same suit he wore in 1994, when drafted by Dallas — this year’s host team for the draft. I ask Botterill about it, and he looks at me like I’m nuts. Thanks, Jeff.

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