31 Thoughts: Is Letang’s situation too complex for an in-season deal?

Ondrej Kase beats Matt Murray after an errant pass by Kris Letang that Brian Dumoulin was unable to pick up to put the Anaheim Ducks up 1-0 on the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Growing up in Toronto, it wasn’t unusual for Shawn Badali to be surrounded by star power.

“Wayne Gretzky would park his Ferrari in our garage,” he said Tuesday with a laugh. “Not a lot of kids got to say that. There was another time I walked into the house, and there’s this huge guy lying on the couch. I remember thinking, ‘How tall is this guy?’ My dad said later, you didn’t recognize Mario Lemieux?”

“Dad” is Gus Badali, who, as an agent, represented Gretzky, Lemieux, Paul Coffey and Steve Yzerman early in their careers.

“The thing you noticed was the top players were exceptional on and off the ice,” Shawn Badali continued. “Gretzky especially was a down-to-earth guy. The way he treated people on the sidelines, those who were quote-unquote ‘not as important,’ who couldn’t do anything for him. He treated them so well, asked them questions, talked to them.”

Shawn didn’t follow his father into the business. He wanted less travel, a career that would allow him to spend more time with a future family. He studied kinesiology as an undergraduate at York University, added a teaching degree from Roehampton University in London, England, then returned to North America for a Masters in Education from Harvard.

He started his teaching career in Boston, where he also resumed playing hockey.

“I loved skating,” he says. “I loved hockey. I actually wanted to be a goalie, but my dad said, ‘No way.’ I’d basically retired. That’s when I picked it up again.”

In 2005, Badali took a job at Muirhead Public School in Toronto. Now 45, he has spent much of the last 12 years working in Muirhead’s unique Kindergarten Intervention Program. Let him explain:

“I work with at-risk kids. But I found that with older kids, it was more difficult to make an impact than with a younger age. It’s small class for children with behavioural issues. At that age, parents are guessing what is causing those issues. Is it a learning disability? Is it ADHD? Autism? We try to create a safe place to learn about them for a couple of years. What’s the engine driving this kid to have so much difficulty in a school setting?”

“I never thought I would have done this or enjoyed it,” Badali continued. “But to see the benefits, to see the joy in parents seeing their kid the way they thought they’d see them…”

Badali doesn’t really finish the sentence, but, then again, he doesn’t need to.

Before he got to Muirhead, another teacher created a skating program. He’s continued it, trying to get each student from Grades 1 to 5 on the ice at least three times per school year. For most of them, it’s their first time on skates. Until this year.

As the calendar turns to 2018, no one’s had the opportunity yet, thanks to a shortage of skates and helmets.

“We are not going to run the program until everybody can go,” Badali said.

Contributing to the shortage is the fact that Muirfield’s enrolment increased with 75-plus Canadian refugee claimants.

“Never mind skating,” Badali said, “some of them have never even seen snow before. To get them gloves and snowsuits is a journey, but I consider this part of the education of what it is to be Canadian. It is worth putting the effort into giving these students the exposure. Who knows if hockey will grow with them, but you know it won’t grow without planting seeds.”

I gave Badali contact information for the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone initiative and the NHLPA’s Goals and Dreams Foundation — both excellent programs – but if you have an extra helmet and/or skates (that’s all he is looking for) and want to drop it off/send it, the address is: 25 Muirhead Rd, North York, ON M2J 3W3.

“I heard one of the special education kids say last year, ‘This is the greatest day of my life,’” Badali said. “Many of their parents are not familiar with the world of skating, but because they are included, it is a great social equalizer. These kids look forward to it.”

Let’s help them get back out there.

31 THOUGHTS

1. In 1957, my father, who had just turned 18, worked on a Canadian National Railway engineering crew near Lake Waskesiu on Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan. There was a restaurant/bar on the premises, and, during the summer, Johnny Bower ran it.

Bower played much of the previous season with the AHL’s Providence Reds, appearing in the final two of his 77 games as a New York Ranger. Approaching 32, he was one year away from his life-changing Toronto tenure.

Bower was already very popular in his home province. Everybody knew him, liked him and was proud of him. (My dad liked him, too, even though Bower wouldn’t serve him illegally — the drinking age was 21 at the time.) Eventually, the rest of the country found out what the Land of the Living Skies already knew.

In the phenomenal Hockey is a Battle, published in 1970 by Punch Imlach and Scott Young, Imlach explains that when he signed Bower he was actually trying to snare a minor-league sniper named Guyle Fielder. Fielder rejected the offer when they met in Seattle, and, on the way back, Imlach stopped in Saskatchewan to get Bower. That turned out … reasonably well.

Later in the book, Imlach waxes poetic about his respect for the goalie, who he called “The world’s greatest athlete. I’ll defend that against anybody.” There was always a question about how old Bower really was, and Imlach revealed one conversation where he actually saw a birth certificate. The Leafs coach/GM told him, “If you were born in this day here that you’re telling me, you had to be overseas with the First Division, in 1939, when you were 13. And in the Canadian Army I know they were stupid but they were not that stupid.”

Bower put the paper back in his wallet. Imlach said he never saw it again, adding, “I don’t care about his age anyway; in his prime he was the world’s greatest athlete, and whether he was 30 or 50 didn’t alter that.”

2. While Dave Keon was the Maple Leafs’ standard-bearer for on-ice performance, Bower was the most beloved player in franchise history. Fans loved him.

A cursory Google search found three times in the last 10 years where the crowd serenaded him in Happy Birthday. Curtis Joseph tweeted out a photo of Bower alongside several of his Toronto goaltending descendants — including Felix Potvin, Mike Palmateer and Joseph himself. James Reimer’s wife April tweeted one of the Hall-of-Famer and her husband. A couple of years ago, a friend who works at Scotiabank said Bower remained one of the most popular celebrity requests at corporate events.

And, if you ever had the pleasure of shaking hands with him, you noticed how enormous his hands were. Massive.

Toronto’s next home game is Jan. 2 vs. Tampa Bay. I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

3. One very intriguing name has surfaced out of Pittsburgh: Kris Letang, who won’t play Wednesday against Columbus and is listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

Letang’s got four years left at $7.25 million. The theory is that the Penguins need to free up cap space, and they did win without him last season. The other thing to remember is that GM Jim Rutherford is fearless, unafraid to make an informed gamble.

It hasn’t been an easy season for Letang, who selflessly took ownership for a critical mistake in Pittsburgh’s final pre-Christmas game, a 4-0 home loss to Anaheim, but there is not a ton of concern about his ability.

He’s good, and everyone knows it. What makes this tricky is his health history — which includes a stroke and concussions, among other injuries. Letang’s seen several doctors/specialists outside the Penguins’ prism, so you’d have to assume any interested opponent would want access to that information. Therefore, the big question is going to be: Is this too complex for an in-season deal?

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4. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of Montreal conjecture after Letang’s name was reported.

I could see a trade match and do believe the Canadiens are on his list of clubs he can go to. Adding him means they would have almost $27 million per season tied up in Karl Alzner, Letang, Jeff Petry and Shea Weber for the next three seasons (barring other moves). Petry’s contract would be the first to expire, in July 2021. That’s a lot of financial concentration on the blue line.

5. I always wonder about Detroit whenever a top defender is available.

6. I think there is also concern in Pittsburgh with the toll so much hockey has taken on Carl Hagelin.

He’s a tough competitor, but no one has played more playoff games since 2012. (The total is 112, 11 more than Brian Boyle.) Add that to 453 regular-season games, the Olympics and the World Cup over that span, it’s a lot.

7. Sounds like Arizona is working to find Anthony Duclair a fresh start. At 22, have to think someone takes a shot.

8. I worry about writing this kind of sentence because things change and it blows up in my face, but it doesn’t seem like there’s an Edmonton-Ottawa match for Mike Hoffman – curious to see if a Carolina or a St. Louis looks at him.

9. Doug Armstrong’s deserved post-Christmas gift is a four-year extension with the St. Louis Blues, with a club option for year five.

GMs without contracts for next season (that we know of): Jim Benning, Chuck Fletcher, Ken Holland and Lou Lamoriello — although I believe Brian MacLellan is on this list, too.

If Seattle gets any kind of conditional franchise over the next several months that is going to be a coveted job.

10. One of the reasons Armstrong’s had success in St. Louis is that he’s put together a really strong staff. You assume he’s going to try and keep as many of them as he can.

Martin Brodeur was interviewed in Buffalo before Jason Botterill got the job, and he’s going to be a GM someday if he wants to be. Another more unknown entity, who has a good reputation among his peers, is Bill Armstrong, who runs the Blues’ draft.

11. Blues coach Mike Yeo said Wednesday that Jay Bouwmeester may practice Thursday. That’s huge for St. Louis. There was concern his injury could be much more serious and long-term than many of us realized.

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12. The NHL would like to announce its 2017-18 European schedule over the next few weeks, and there are some intriguing options.

Edmonton let it be known it would like to go to China, but with Leon Draisaitl on the roster, Germany appears more likely. Nico Hischier has New Jersey on Switzerland’s radar. I’ve heard Boston, Calgary and Washington as possibilities for China or Europe.

The Bruins make sense for China because they’ve had players make summer trips to that country for a few years. You could send the Capitals almost anywhere. So there are a few puzzle pieces, but to those of us on the outside, the picture isn’t yet clear.

13. I do think Ottawa’s post-Sweden results have made a few teams nervous about participating. Whether or not you believe in cause-and-effect in this case, GMs are a superstitious lot.

14. We’re going to find out in the next few weeks if it’s sabre-rattling or something more serious, but there are rumblings several players don’t want to go to the all-star game because they’re still upset about missing the Olympics.

I used the word “boycott” in one conversation, but one agent said that was taking it too far “at this time.” Feelings on the topic are still very raw, however. Don’t forget the NHL can suspend if a player who avoids all-star doesn’t miss a league game.

Something to keep an eye on.

15. If it does happen, a suggestion for the three-on-three event: Put together a team of all Tampa Bay Lightning.

They’re hosting, and their play dictates large representation.

Have Jon Cooper coach and stack the roster with Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point, Mikhail Sergachev, Steven Stamkos, Andrei Vasilevskiy and/or whoever else the organization wants.

Can’t imagine the home fans would hate it.

16. Chris Johnston reported last week that Team Canada will announce its Olympic roster Jan. 11, which gives Hockey Canada six days to sort out taking a couple junior-age players after the World Juniors are completed.

There were rumblings a few professionals on two-way deals might ask out of their contracts to compete in South Korea, especially if the NHL is not in their immediate future. One possible case was Colorado’s Joe Colborne, but he has battled a concussion and appears unlikely. Too bad, and best wishes in his recovery.

17. Quote of the Week comes from Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen, asked if there’s any kind of sophomore slump for Zach Werenski: “I don’t think he knows what that is.”

18. Before Werenski went down with an injury and missed a couple of games last week, Kekalainen said he agreed with coach John Tortorella’s decision to keep Seth Jones and Werenski together — even as the rest of the blue line went through some struggles.

“Those two play 25 minutes and solve a lot of problems,” Kekalainen said. “Before Ryan Murray was hurt, we liked how he and Markus Nutivaara were playing. Jack Johnson and David Savard weren’t where they have been in the past, but we are confident they will get back there. I thought it was a good decision.”

19. Injuries never come at a good time, but the Blue Jackets suddenly are hit hard.

Both Cam Atkinson and Alexander Wennberg are out a few weeks. Wennberg appeared to be re-discovering his feel after a very difficult start.

“He was getting his confidence back,” Kekalainen said.

As for Atkinson, a good player having a nightmarish season, it might actually help him to reset and restart.

Asked if the player felt the pressure of his new contract, Kekalainen answered, “Before, everyone asked if he felt pressure because he was playing for a contract, so I don’t know which one it is.”

20. I like interviewing Kekalainen. He’s pretty blunt.

I think Columbus could be good enough to win it all. He does, too, but is there anything he looks at with his team and says, “We need this if we are going to get there?” Answer: “Yes.”

Q: “Uh, what would that be?” A: “I’m going to keep that between myself and our organization.”

Ryan Dixon and Rory Boylen go deep on pucks with a mix of facts and fun, leaning on a varied group of hockey voices to give their take on the country’s most beloved game.

21. Anonymous quote of the week comes from a Western Conference coach, who said, “Once Connor McDavid starts shooting on the power play we’re all dead.”

Edmonton’s man advantage is 22nd — up a little from last week — but it’s the one area where McDavid hasn’t exerted full dominance.

In his 163-game career, he’s got nine power-play goals. Alex Ovechkin leads with 42 over that span, Jamie Benn and Wayne Simmonds follow with 34.

Not only that, but McDavid’s taken only 54 extra-man shots in 118 games the last two seasons — 102nd among all NHLers.

“I shouldn’t tell you this,” the coach said, “But it makes them easier to defend.”

At some point it’s going to change.

You can tell the storyline annoys him as McDavid gave quite the stink-eye to Sportsnet sideline reporter Gene Principe when Geno asked him about it during a pre-game bench interview last Saturday. (Sorry, Gene. That was the studio’s fault.)

22. Anaheim shows up on Edmonton’s schedule for the first time next on Jan. 4. There is no one who brings out the best in Draisaitl more than the Ducks: Twenty-one points in 12 games last season, including the playoffs.

He hasn’t been the same assertive, aggressive player in 2017-18, and as the Oilers charge into the playoff race, they know they need him to get back there.

23. Edmonton’s hoping it found a diamond-in-the-rough late in the 2017 Draft. Seventh-rounder Philip Kemp (208th overall), was the final defenceman cut from the Team USA World Junior roster. No guarantees, but that was a good showing for him.

24. You’ll remember a few years ago that Edmonton tried to sign one of the two Vladimir Tkachyovs — this one out of QMJHL Moncton. The NHL voided the contract, saying he was still draft-eligible. He went back to the KHL in 2015 and has been there ever since.

A couple of weeks ago, his team, Vladivostok Admiral, announced it couldn’t afford to pay his contract (among others) and he became a free agent. I think there was some NHL interest, but he decided to stay in Russia.

His North American saga keeps him on my radar from time-to-time, curious to see if he will ever come back. There’s some doubt he’s more than an AHL player right now and a desire to see him try that league first may have made his decision much easier.

25. Jets head coach Paul Maurice said Wednesday that he hopes to have Dustin Byfuglien back next week.

Winnipeg’s very much in the race with Connor Hellebuyck’s improvement. To give you an idea of how much he’s improved and how important he is, the Jets give up 1.2 more goals per game when he isn’t playing. As a team, they’ve gone from 27th in 2016-17 to a tie for 11th this year.

26. A lot of the Calder love surrounds Mathew Barzal, Brock Boeser, Clayton Keller and Sergachev, all deserving, but watch for the Charlie McAvoy acolytes. They’re out there, making themselves known, especially as Boston rises in the standings.

27. A major reason for the Bruins’ surge? Patrice BergeronBrad MarchandDavid Pastrnak have outscored opponents 10-0 in almost 200 five-on-five minutes.

Overall, it’s 22-4, with two of the goals against coming shorthanded and the others being empty netters, I think.

28. Colton Point gets the start for Team Canada’s World Junior clash Wednesday night against Slovakia. Philadelphia prospect Carter Hart cemented his grasp as No. 1 with an opening-game victory over Finland, but this is a big opportunity for Point, who was a long shot to make the team before the season.

Point’s goalie coach is Michael Lawrence, a Canadian who works with Lugano in Switzerland. As NHL clubs add more goaltending expertise to their organizations, Lawrence is a name to watch. He also works with Michael DiPietro, who was Canada’s final cut at the position.

29. Last Wednesday the NHL closed a lengthy pursuit of Stephanie Vail, whose online GIF work through the Twitter handle @myregularface made her an essential social media follow for hockey fans.

There were failed conversations a couple of years ago (which involved different people than now), but I don’t think the idea of hiring her truly went away. You can follow her work through @NHLGifs, but she has also been given a “central dropbox” where teams can pluck her stuff and post it on their own feeds.

The reason I mention Vail is this: People ask all the time about getting into hockey or into the media. The greatest advantage this generation has is the ability to give yourself a voice. We didn’t have this kind of mass communication when I was 10, 15, 20 or 25. I strongly believe that the right people are always watching. Always. You are constantly being evaluated, whether you recognize it or not. Remember that.

Dimitri Filipovic provides entertaining and thoughtful dialogue about the game of hockey with an analytical edge. Not as nerdy as it sounds.

30. Rich Sutter told a really good Ron Caron story last week during an intermission of the Montreal-Calgary broadcast.

Sutter said Caron didn’t want his team playing at home right before Christmas break because he thought it was harder to concentrate around family. So he would always try to get them on the road.

It kind of worked in Sutter’s final St. Louis season (1992-93), as the Blues tied (remember ties?) Minnesota 2-2 after three straight home losses. Much of the evidence, however, is Caron overthought this.

In 1991 they lost 5-2 in Chicago after 4-0 and 6-2 home victories over San Jose and the Islanders. In 1990, the Blues’ last two pre-Christmas games were at home, a 3-3 tie with Washington and a 5-0 bashing of Chicago.

This doesn’t change Caron’s status as one of the funniest people reporters ever dealt with.

31. I grew up in Toronto, but everyone in our city knew Irv Weinstein.

“It’s 11 o’clock, do you know where your children are?”

He delivered it with a presence, after the best news theme ever, ABC’s Eyewitness News.

He was actually Buffalo’s, but many southern Ontarians knew him better than their own anchors.

Forty years ago, I wanted to deliver a newscast like Irv Weinstein did. R.I.P.

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