You know what really stood out as the Duchene deal reached its conclusion? The stress. And then, the relief.
“The last 10 days were crazy,” one source said. “Everyone aged a decade.”
Monday morning, Senators GM Pierre Dorion couldn’t contain his smile as a relaxed Matt Duchene met Ottawa. Nashville’s David Poile showed a similar calm at his own briefing. On a conference call, Kyle Turris told reporters he was “real excited” to be a Predator.
What a change for all of them. Thirty six hours earlier, thinking this trade had fallen apart, a stunned Duchene could barely answer questions after a game where he scored and Colorado snared a huge shootout victory in Philadelphia. Turris, hurt and disappointed to realize his time in the nation’s capital was coming to an end, struggled in a loss to Vegas. Dorion seethed, angry Turris’s name went public. He also had to navigate the trickiest ownership situation of the three — by far — a wild card in the closing stages. Poile was tired from countless fruitless conversations, trying without success to bring either Duchene or Turris to Tennessee.
Poile, involved in three of the biggest moves of the past 24 months, was asked a good question at his availability: does he get a rush from these moments?
“Rush? Rush?” He smiled and paused as he searched for the proper words. “It’s hard, we’ve traded Seth Jones. Deep down you don’t want to do that because you know what you have. Sammy Girard looks like he’s going to be a really good player, you don’t want to do that…You want to have relationships with players, but you can’t get too close…You’ve got to be able to see the full picture for your team, what you need…To say everything’s a slam dunk when you make a trade? It’s not that way.”
He then recounted his first move as a GM, a 1982 blockbuster that saw him send Rick Green and Ryan Walter from Washington to Montreal for Brian Engblom, Doug Jarvis, Rod Langway and Craig Laughlin.
“My owner said to me, ‘I hope you know what you’re doing.’” Thirty five years later, Poile asked himself the same question.
One of the most interesting things about the post-trade conversation was all the praise given to their aides. Good leaders always share the applause, but this was more than normal. Dorion credited Colorado assistant GM Chris MacFarland and Nashville counterpart Paul Fenton for reviving talks when the two saw each other at a Miami/Ohio State NCAA game. Another source said Randy Lee, in the same role for Ottawa, was similarly important.
Even the agents, battling to manage their clients’ emotions during this rollercoaster, got into the act. Kurt Overhardt, who represents Turris, said Monday that one of his partners, Joe Oliver, played a pivotal role in getting them through it. Pat Brisson, who relentlessly pushed on Duchene’s behalf, credited his team, including Judd Moldaver.
Make no mistake, the guys at the top of the food chain make the final decision and do the heaviest lifting. But, in this long, twisting journey, each needed that “sober second thought” to trust the process.
Nowhere were the stakes higher than in Colorado. As a player, Joe Sakic was the ultimate poker face, not revealing much to reporters or opponents. It’s hard to get a read on him, mostly because he likes it the way. He’s probably the lowest-profile GM in the NHL.
The Avalanche are showing life. Behind talented young players and prideful veterans, they are competitive, in a playoff position after 14 games. In some ways, that made the Duchene situation harder, because every day he remained, frustration grew in him and his teammates, all wanting closure. Sakic also faced public criticism from media and private grumbling from other clubs frustrated at his seeming lack of urgency.
No one is criticizing him anymore. He pulled in two teams to get the assets he craved.
“Well,” one GM laughed, “he wasn’t getting that from us.”
“We were just waiting for the right deal for our team,” Sakic said Sunday evening in Brooklyn. “Doesn’t happen overnight.”
In an unrelated story, on Colorado’s flight to Sweden, he probably had his best sleep in months.
I’m betting he wasn’t the only one. This trade has a chance to work out for everyone. Three franchises are taking that bet, hoping the stresses on the way there are dwarfed by the rewards at the end.
1. Dorion said on Hockey Central at Noon that he had a deal done with Colorado for 10 days, but had to wait for the Avalanche and Predators to sort out their side. Poile told reporters that it was important to keep his first-round draft pick, which all but confirms suspicions that he was not willing to include that selection if Girard was in the deal. Since he was key for Colorado, the two teams had to massage their exchange.
That process began with Fenton and MacFarland’s chance meeting. Once they sorted that out, the Predators got permission to negotiate with Turris. I never thought that was going to be a problem. Overhardt’s agency has four other clients there: Viktor Arvidsson, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Johansen and Craig Smith. They range from Johansen’s eight-year, $64-million deal to Ekholm’s six-year, $3.75-million AAV — one of the best values in the league. They were going to get it done.
2. One of Canada’s most difficult international tournaments is the world under-18 championships, usually held in April — during Canadian Hockey League playoffs. For that reason, many of this country’s top players can’t go. Canada’s won three golds since its inception in 1999, tied for second with Finland and Russia behind the USA’s 10. But, on the overall medal table, Canada is fifth with seven (USA 15, Finland and Russia 10, Sweden 8).
One of the victories was 2008, with Pat Quinn coaching. On that team: Matt Duchene. On Quinn’s staff: Guy Boucher. Boucher ran the power play, and Duchene had a power play hat trick during a round-robin game against Slovakia. He led the team in that tournament with five goals, the last one coming 37 seconds after Sweden took a 1-0 lead in the semifinals. Canada came back to win that game 3-2 and blew out Russia 8-0 for the gold. Boucher’s been a fan since.
3. The most honest answer may have come from Turris, who paused, stumbled and sighed when a reporter asked why a six-year term worked in Nashville, but not Ottawa.
“To be honest,” he eventually said, “a six-year deal was never put on the table. It was very apparent things weren’t going to work out in Ottawa.”
When he asked for a trade from Arizona, a lot of people around the NHL didn’t believe he’d be a success. But all he did was work, stand face-to-face with everyone’s best centres (many of whom are bigger than he is) and earn the league’s respect. I was there last week for Ottawa’s 3-1 win over Detroit, and talked with Alex Burrows about comparisons between these Senators and the 2009-12 Canucks. One of the things we discussed was who were the comparables to Burrows, Kevin Bieksa and Ryan Kesler — edgy, prideful guys who created the necessary attitude. Burrows mentioned Turris.
There’s this theory that you can’t let a guy walk away for nothing, but there are times you have to take your chances (see Tampa Bay, Nikolai Khabibulin and 2004). I would have liked to see what Ottawa could do with both. Turris would stay at centre, Duchene could be creatively worked through the lineup. The Senators would have been a very tough out. But, Nashville wasn’t going to be involved without getting a centre and, under Eugene Melnyk, Duchene wasn’t coming in if dollars weren’t going out.
4. No doubt the Senators will do everything to re-sign Duchene before free agency in 2019. That was made clear as he arrived Monday. There a lot of big decisions to make. Cody Ceci and Mark Stone are restricted this July. Ceci does the dirty work on the blue line, while Stone is quietly turning into a franchise cornerstone. Then come Duchene, Derick Brassard and some guy who wears 65. As one of my favourite GMs always laughs and says, “Having to sign players like that is a good problem. But it’s still a problem.”
5. For all of the creative offensive talents on Vancouver then and Ottawa now, Burrows sees a similarity between Alain Vigneault and Boucher.
“AV would come to us and say, ‘If you want to win, it’s got to be this way.’ There was always a right way to play. It’s the same here. Once the playoffs start, there’s no more space. No one gives you anything. So, if you’re not prepared for that, you’re not going to win.”
At the time, the rest of the league hated the Canucks, who revelled in it. There isn’t the same dislike for Ottawa, but both dressing rooms had/have an “everyone’s against us” attitude that served them incredibly well. When I asked Burrows who epitomized that for the Senators like he, Bieksa and Kesler did for Vancouver, he paused to look around the room. As mentioned, he picked Turris in the Kesler role. For Bieksa, he went with Mark Borowiecki. Borowiecki’s teammates were ecstatic to see him get the two-year, $2.4-million extension. He earned it the hard way.
6. Check out Colorado’s cap situation. By my count, the Avalanche will have more than $25 million of space for next season with 17 players already signed. There are only three commitments past 2019-20 — Erik Johnson, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon.
7. In one move, two of the biggest trade possibilities were removed from the NHL chessboard. As one exec was saying Monday, “What happens if Vegas stays in the race and the owner decides he wants to make the playoffs?”
Something always shakes loose, but it means there’s nothing obvious right now for the likes of Columbus (which may have been in on both players) and Pittsburgh (hovering around Duchene). I still think Edmonton may be the next team to try something, but not as earth shattering as we just saw.
8. Like most teams, the New York Rangers blast music in the dressing room as they prepare for their pre-game warmup. About a minute before they hit the ice last Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, Henrik Lundqvist turned down the music. Three hours earlier, a terrorist attack killed eight people near his residence in Tribeca.
“For me, it was very emotional,” he said Sunday. “On game days, I keep my phone in airplane mode. (When I heard about the attack), I didn’t know where my kids were, if they were safe. All the buildings are in lockdown. It’s frightening.” His children, aged five and two, were safe. (Lundqvist says his eldest’s favourite building is the Freedom Tower.)
A couple other Rangers spoke too, but he did not want to name them. “We turned off the music and we talked. I just felt it was important to express my feelings. It was an important game, more than the two points. Anyone who knows the history of New York understands what happened in the past. I wanted to reinforce to the younger players that we had to come together as a group. We had to show New York that we cared for them and we were going to play for them. I was proud the way we answered that game.”
Trailing 4-2 after two, the Rangers scored four unanswered in the third to win 6-4. It was the first victory of a current four-game win streak.
9. One of the great things about being an NHL sideline reporter is going on-ice at Madison Square Garden to interview a Ranger after a big win. There’s something about being in the middle of “The World’s Most Famous Arena” with a delirious crowd celebrating the person standing next to you. It’s very powerful.
What was it like that night to salute the crowd after New York came back to win? “It’s hard to know what to say,” Lundqvist answered. “You want to be respectful but supportive. Give the people some good energy.” He, and his teammates, were successful.
10. On another subject, I asked Lundqvist if he’d ever reach out to Carey Price, as his Canadiens’ counterpart goes through a tough time.
“No,” he answered. “But he knows that the cream always comes back to the top. He’s so skilled and experienced, he will come back strong. I’ve been there before. There’s a lot of speed and skill, and if you’re not on top of your game, you will pay the price. (Goalies) understand what each other goes through. You can’t always be on top. How you deal with it determines how quickly you come back up.”
11. As Nick Kypreos reported last weekend, Price and the Canadiens agreed to extend the full no-move clause contained in his eight-year extension into this, the final season of his current contract. This can be done if the player is eligible for such protection and both sides agree in writing. Previously, Price had to submit a 15-team trade list every June. That is no longer in effect.
12. There were approximately 20 scouts at last week’s Detroit-Ottawa game. The Senators played Thursday, their AHL team (Belleville) followed Friday, and both competed in a driving-distance day-night doubleheader Saturday. Another interested observer was Paul MacLean, who coached Ottawa from 2011-14, then spent two seasons as an assistant in Anaheim after being fired. His deal with the Ducks was set up to run concurrently with the remainder of his Senators contract. Both expired last June. MacLean lives in Antigonish, N.S., but has two grandchildren in Ottawa and is more than happy to visit. He’s contributing to NHL.com’s “Coaching Room” blog, and doing some “personal” scouting.
“I’m watching, seeing what I can learn, keeping an eye on how the games are being played.” What does he see? “That the pace and speed of the game are always getting faster.”
He plans on travelling between Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and occasionally Buffalo.
13. MacLean will go to Winnipeg next week for onetime linemate Dale Hawerchuk’s induction into the Jets’ Hall of Fame. He’s also planned a trip to Europe to get the lay of the land for coaching in that continent. MacLean wants another chance to be a bench boss, and he’s willing to listen to all options. Were there any opportunities after Anaheim?
“I was asked about being an assistant, yes. But there were no interviews for any of the NHL jobs. I understand that…there are different racehorses for different racecourses. I’m going to see what is out there: Europe, American League, NHL.”
MacLean won the Jack Adams Award in 2013, and it’s rare for someone who wins that trophy not to get another chance. Has he asked why it hasn’t happened in his case? “Yes,” he answered, carefully choosing his words. “I’ve been told I have a reputation for being…too grumpy.” MacLean added his final media conference in Ottawa, a testy exchange with the local media, was brought up to him.
14. I always worry how people interpret this kind of an interview through the written word. There’s no camera to accurately convey tone, so I’d like to stress the conversation with MacLean was honest and not contentious. I enjoyed it. The questions weren’t always easy, but he wasn’t ducking them.
He asked what I’d heard, and I told him word is that he “changed” after winning the Jack Adams. “That’s true,” he answered. “I did.” Then, he paused. “All I ask is people remember that Daniel Alfredsson left after that season, and we agreed we had to change our approach to get the best out of our group.” After that, MacLean concluded with, “I understand how it goes in hockey. Sometimes you’re on the wheel, sometimes you aren’t. I’m going to look to get back on.”
15. Speaking of Anaheim, the Ducks made a legitimate attempt to work out a trade for Vadim Shipachyov, but the bonus repayment issue got in the way. When this is finally resolved, he will retire from the NHL, with the Golden Knights retaining his rights until he’s 35 (similar to Ilya Kovalchuk). He’ll repay most of his $2-million signing bonus and go back overseas. It might be the first time someone’s ever had to do that, but there is pretty clear language about returning money in case of retirement. The price of a potential return was in the neighbourhood of a fifth-rounder.
16. One of the conversations that stuck with me over the years was with Wade Redden. After the Rangers sent him to AHL Hartford, Redden planned to retire. But Curtis Leschyshyn told him to continue, basically saying, “You’ve given your life to hockey, you can’t retire angry. Go, have fun and leave it on good terms.”
Last summer, David Booth was in the Vancouver airport, returning from a charity event in the Yukon with Mike Smith and Eric Gryba. Booth was thinking of quitting after two unfulfilling years in the KHL. He ran into Ray Ferraro, who told him not to do it, play as long as he can. So, Booth emailed Ken Holland. How long did it take for Holland to reply? “He got back to me in less than two hours. I was really impressed.” He signed a one-year, $700,000 deal with Detroit. He didn’t dress in Ottawa, but came off the ice with a huge smile, simply glad to be part of it — even though he cleared waivers while skating.
17. Booth was wearing a large digital watch when he peeled off his gloves. It was wirelessly connected to a band across the chest similar to the Catapult systems teams like Philadelphia and Toronto use. This one, Booth explained, was made by Garmin, better known for its GPS technology. He uses it to monitor his heart rate, to make sure he’s at peak effectiveness when pushing himself. He said that his ideal number is 175-6, so that’s the target when working out or skating hard. Teams collect this data, but Booth is the first player I’ve seen monitoring it on his own.
18. After a two-game experiment, Detroit moved away from an Andreas Athanasiou–Dylan Larkin–Anthony Mantha line. Too bad, I enjoyed watching it. Mantha pointed out that while they hadn’t played much as a trio, the three of them had experience together in pairs. Larkin said he and Athanasiou didn’t worry about speeding into the same areas. “I’m the centre,” he responded, “so (Andreas) is usually up the ice ahead of me when we break out.”
19. Vegas has 19 points in 14 games. Only St. Louis and Tampa Bay have more regulation and overtime wins (10) than the Knights (9). It’s an incredible story.
“They’re the only team playing like it’s the playoffs now,” one executive said last weekend. “Their intensity is higher than everyone else’s.”
“Everyone here has something to prove,” Brayden McNabb said Monday.
Other players threw out different theories. For the defencemen, you know you have to play well, because there are extra bodies longing to get into the lineup. The majority of the roster is on one-year contracts. And, they know with the injuries in net, they have to play a great team game to be successful. It will be interesting when Marc-Andre Fleury comes back. Do they stick to what’s been working, or do they relax?
20. Team the Golden Knights said is actually performing with playoff-level intensity: New Jersey. That’s fair, but some people really hate taking a compliment.
21. On expansion teams, there are a lot of guys who meet each other for the first time. So, Nate Schmidt, is there someone you didn’t like playing against who you really enjoy sharing a dressing room with?
“You know what? David Perron,” he answered with a laugh. “Hard to play against, and while he doesn’t say much, he’s got this sly way of talking at you. Couldn’t stand it before, great guy now.”
22. Watch Mark Scheifele, entering Tuesday’s games seventh in scoring with 18 points. A major step he’s taking: turning his head to survey the play before he gets the puck. That anticipation separates the good from the great.
23. One coach on Toronto: “I know there’s a lot of concern about Tyler Bozak’s and Mitch Marner’s confidence, but the guy they really have to fix is Nikita Zaitsev.”
That’s true. Zaitsev was a rookie revelation in 2016-17, becoming a critical piece. No Maple Leaf played more than Zaitsev, who was also the only defenceman to play at least 1:30 per game on both the power play and penalty kill. He’s actually up a minute per game so far this season, but is really fighting it as Toronto goes through its first bad stretch. They need him — badly.
The one pairing Toronto kept together is Ron Hainsey–Morgan Rielly. One Pacific Division coach compared it to Los Angeles putting Sean O’Donnell and then Willie Mitchell with Drew Doughty. (He stressed he was not comparing Rielly to Doughty, but using the situation itself.) “You can tell Rielly trusts Hainsey just like Doughty trusted those guys. Made him a better player.”
24. What a great piece by producer George Skoutakis on Evgeni Malkin. You can be the best interviewer in the world, but if the subject isn’t co-operative, you’re stuck. Malkin was there to entertain, showing more than those of us outside Pittsburgh have ever seen.
Most revealing: that, yes, he is bothered by not being selected as one of the NHL’s Top 100 players, and, yes, he considered leaving Pittsburgh to be The Guy somewhere else.
“I (thought) about that…a lot maybe five years ago, when my (last) contract was over, I change teams, and…be number one. It’s better if I stay and play with Sid. And I think I’m right. We won three Stanley Cups and I think we’re not done.”
25. A ton of interest in Andrei Svechnikov, who will be a very, very high selection in June’s NHL draft. After 58 points in 48 games for USHL Muskegon last season, OHL Barrie took him first overall in the CHL import draft. He had 10 goals in his first 10 games, then went down with an injury, reportedly a broken hand. Dr. Herb von Schroeder, who performed surgery on Svechnikov on Oct. 24, clarified the exact problem in a statement. He called it a “sagittal band tendon injury on his right long finger,” adding the talented forward “did not have any fractures or a broken hand.” Svechnikov is expected to return to full play within the next four weeks. His brother, Evgeny, was a Detroit first-rounder in 2015 and now plays in AHL Grand Rapids.
26. Couple of weeks ago, we briefly discussed goalie Parker Gahagen, who graduated from NCAA Army after the 2016-17 season, readying for a pro career. A free agent, Gahagen said the choice was between two West Coast teams, deciding on San Jose.
“I liked that the (AHL) Barracuda and the Sharks are based at the same rink. It promotes player development. You can talk to both goalie coaches, bounce ideas off one another. That was probably the biggest thing.”
But there was a hitch. On May 1, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis rescinded a policy that allowed service academy athletes to immediately turn professional. The change meant they would have to serve active-duty requirements (a minimum of two years) beforehand.
“In previous years, you could do recruiting, or other things (during your downtime),” Gahagen said Monday. “His intention, since we essentially go there for free, was for taxpayers to get their money’s worth. We all understood that.”
He also wanted to give back to a place that was very good for him. Born in Buffalo, Gahagen said Army began to recruit him during his second year of junior hockey.
“There’s no military history in my family, but I liked the challenge. Go where you’re most wanted. I thought it was better to be there, playing almost every game, than going somewhere and sitting on the bench.”
27. Gahagen’s first West Point team went 5-22. “That was the toughest year of hockey I’ve ever experienced. To battle through that, bring a winning attitude…what you want to do is leave a place better off than when you got there. It’s a proud accomplishment not just for me, but everyone in my class.”
When did you know NHL teams were looking at you? “At the end of my junior year, assistant coach Zach McKelvie told me Boston asked about me. It’s funny how things unfolded. The NHL was nowhere on the radar and now that I look back, if I signed a two-way contract (with San Jose) last March, I wouldn’t have the Olympic option.”
That’s true, since players on two-way contracts are not eligible. Because Mattis’s decision loomed over the process, Gahagen and the Sharks waited before signing anything. Agent Michael Wulkan looked to another option: the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, which supports nationally or internationally ranked soldiers for the Olympic Team. Generally, though, it was for individual athletes. “This is the first time anyone tried it for hockey,” Gahagen said.
28. The Army let him go to San Jose’s rookie camp, and he played one game, making 32 saves in a 7-4 win over Colorado. Other than that, he had to wait, spending some time in Fort Carson, Colo., instead of with his AHL teammates.
“It was a bit of a bumpy ride, but I was okay with the uncertainty. I’m pretty easygoing and trusted it would work out. My wife (Kaitlyn), she likes to plan. So it was harder for her,” he laughed.
Was he worried the Sharks would walk away? “It’s always in the back of your mind. I would have completely understood, but they stuck with me. I earned a lot of respect for them and want to reward them for that support. I will do what I can to help this organization be successful.”
USA Hockey put him on the “long list” for the Olympics with approximately eight other goalies. That made a difference and Gahagen was approved. Now, he’s back with the Barracuda, hoping to make his professional debut soon. Number one Troy Grosenick is on maternity watch, which could create an opportunity soon. “When I get the chance, I just have to play well.” Good luck.
29. Regular readers of this blog know I keep a Nov. 1 stat. Since 2005-06, six of 48 teams that were at least four points out after games played on that date came back to make the playoffs (This excludes lockout-shortened 2012-13). There were no contenders last season, as the late start from the World Cup put nobody in that position. This year, six will try and beat the odds: Arizona, Buffalo, Edmonton, Florida, Minnesota and Montreal.
30. Those who cover hockey know the nicest people we come across are generally those who work at the arenas. Whether ushers, security people, support staff, name a job, they are (99 times out of 100) friendly and accommodating. Nowhere is that more true than Ottawa. During Hockey Fights Cancer Month, it was great to see Jeff Johnston at Canadian Tire Centre. You look great, Jeff.
31. The American Collegiate Hockey Association runs the sport at the U.S. college club level. In 2015, Liberty University won its first-ever championship, beating Miami (OH) 4-1 in the title game. Their second-leading scorer was Aurora, Ont., native Sarah Stevenson, who would soon become the first player from that conference to be drafted by the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. Stevenson, who graduated with a degree in criminal justice, joined the Toronto Furies, delaying her eventual career as a police officer to play as long as she could. Last Monday, Stevenson came down with a sudden illness that turned out to be Neisseria Meningitidis. Emergency staff at Southlake Hospital tried to save her, but Stevenson died the next day, at age 24. Condolences to Ian and Janet Stevenson, the rest of their family and friends. Sarah had already accomplished so much, and there was a lot more to come.