• IOC, IIHF clearing roadblocks for NHL involvement at 2022 Games
• Leafs play waiting game with defencemen
• Buffalo may make moves around the periphery
Before we really get into the meat of this blog: If it hadn’t been for the great work by Anaheim’s training staff, St. Louis’s training staff, and Anaheim’s doctor and paramedics, there would be an awful feeling around the sport on Wednesday. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe this performance under pressure. All the best to Jay Bouwmeester and his family.
There is a saying I love: “The surest predictor of future behaviour is… past behaviour.” And when it comes to the NHL’s Olympic participation, that behaviour is all about peace.
The NHLers first went to the Games in 1998. Prior to that, both the league and the NHLPA agreed to waive rights to re-open the CBA to ensure no disruption.
The last opportunity was 2018. Yes, there was the fight over travel costs, insurance, hospitality and marketing rights, but, 15 months beforehand, the NHL made it clear it would agree to Olympic participation in exchange for a CBA extension. The proposal was not accepted, and the league passed. (Both sides must sign off on going.)
Last week, the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation threw a Trevor Bauer curveball into NHL/NHLPA haggling over the 2022 Beijing Games. According to a couple of sources, it was made clear there was a commitment to coverage of charters, hosting, hotels, etc. There were also opportunities presented for use of the Beijing Olympic logo and event highlights across NHL/NHLPA platforms, a breakthrough both wanted. The IOC is notoriously stingy about access for non-rightsholders. Think of a mother bear protecting her cub.
“These discussions were encouraging and there were some proposals put forth on the issues,” IIHF Communications Manager Adam Steiss wrote in an email. “However nothing was confirmed by any of the parties involved, and more work needs to be done to get the NHL players back to the Olympic Games.”
Translation: Both sides know what’s on the table; we need a written agreement. Oh, and the league/players have to get to the altar.
The proposals came as a surprise, since, as recently as October, the IOC/IIHF weren’t indicating this level of co-operation. What changed things? There are lots of theories, from the IOC feeling the hockey tournament isn’t as good to Olympic/NHL rightsholder NBC demanding it to China itself being determined to put on the best show to improve its international reputation. Whatever the case, with compromise imminent, the NHL shifted the focus, moving from costs and marketing to labour. That irritated the players, especially since the current CBA is now locked in until at least Sept. 15, 2022 — almost seven months after the Beijing Olympics conclude.
There’s zero reason to consider playing any further regular-season or exhibition games in China if this opportunity disappears. It’s a waste.
As one source pointed out, there’s technically no end date to the CBA. According to Article 3, Section 3.1, “This Agreement… shall remain in full force and effect until midnight New York time on September 15, 2022, and shall remain in effect from year-to-year thereafter unless and until either party shall deliver to the other a written notice of termination of this Agreement at least 120 days prior to September 15, 2022 or not less than a like period in any year thereafter.”
Both sides could choose to keep going on a year-to-year basis as long as they wish. Clearly, the NHL wants more of a guarantee than that. (I suspect keeping the peace into the next U.S. television deal is a significant factor.)
When the league cancelled on South Korea, there was disappointment, but I also heard from plenty of people who understood the reasoning from a business/financial point of view. Eliminating that concern puts the NHL in position for public flogging, which is one reason I’m inclined to believe it gets worked out. Another is that the players signalled last September they are not anxious for a fight when they voted not to re-open the CBA.
Both spent Monday and Tuesday in bargaining sessions, with more scheduled for next week. At All-Star Weekend, Commissioner Gary Bettman was asked about a deadline for announcing participation.
“I’ll know it when I see it, when we get there,” he answered. “Obviously first and foremost it has to do with releasing a schedule, right? That’s the game-changer one way or the other.”
For this season, the schedule was released on June 25, 2019.
1. Ultimately, credit goes to the players, who have gutted it out and put the Jets in playoff contention during a challenging season, led by Connor Hellebuyck. But here’s why I’m a Paul Maurice truther: It would have been easy for the vibe around Winnipeg to be toxic with everything that happened at the start of the year. Maurice would not let that occur. The coach sets the tone. The players take it from there. Well-deserved extension.
2. When it comes to Shea Weber, sounds like Montreal’s philosophy is, “Hope for the best, brace yourself for the worst.” The Canadiens await a clear timeline.
3. In Ottawa, most of the trade talk surrounds Jean-Gabriel Pageau, but if there’s an increased presence around AHL Belleville this weekend, there’s a logical explanation. Max Veronneau is expected to return from injury, and he is available. A year ago, he was a heavily recruited NCAA free agent. The Senators have a large prospect pool, and it is not easy to carve your place.
4. Edmonton made it clear in the Taylor Hall sweepstakes they weren’t interested in moving their first-rounder for a rental. I’m not convinced they’d want to move Jesse Puljujarvi for one. They don’t want to touch their top defence prospects. I don’t think any of that changes with Connor McDavid injured. The only way I’d see any of that changing is if a difference-maker with term or team control is in the picture.
5. Talks are underway between the Rangers and Chris Kreider, although New York continues to do its due diligence on his trade value.
6. In Buffalo, there’s a lot of talk about what major moves the Sabres can make, although there’s a decent chance they make moves around the periphery of their lineup. Among those who’d garner interest: recently acquired Michael Frolik, Johan Larsson (playoff nastiness written all over him), Evan Rodrigues and Conor Sheary.
7. Minnesota GM Bill Guerin’s first words to Calen Addison after the trade from Pittsburgh: “Did you miss me?”
8. Guerin told the Star-Tribune’s Sarah McLellan, “If there is quit, there will be more trades,” but the Wild told him not to worry with a 4–0 shutout of Vegas. What he’s hoping for is the the Ryan Donatos, Jordan Greenways and Luke Kunins take advantage of Jason Zucker’s move to Pittsburgh. (Left unsaid is that it also creates a 2020–21 opening for Kirill Kaprizov.)
“Don’t assume more is coming,” the GM said. “That’s not necessarily the case.”
Guerin wouldn’t discuss specifics, but, according to industry buzz, the most asked-about player on his roster is Jonas Brodin, followed by Mathew Dumba. (I’d bet there’s a bit for Marcus Foligno, too.) I don’t get the sense he’s inclined to do anything with either, unless it involves an elite centre, or maybe a No. 2 centre, providing that includes something extra — like a couple of first-rounders or something along those lines.
Whatever the case, Guerin could have made several moves already, but showed patience. The biggest beneficiary may be the Wild itself, because it would have been easy to give up on Kevin Fiala, now on a tear.
“Big difference,” Guerin said. “He’s driven.”
9. I once had a conversation with Kevin Lowe about trading with Glen Sather after the latter left for Manhattan. Lowe talked about the various emotions you go through making your first major trades, especially if it is with a friend/mentor. I asked Guerin if he was concerned about making a deal with Rutherford, his former boss.
“No,” he answered. “I know that with Jim, you’re going to get a fair shake.”
10. What is it with Florida defencemen who score as forwards? Mark Pysyk had a career night last week in Toronto, with a hat trick in a critical win. Michael Matheson had a goal and two assists in another huge victory, Tuesday against the Devils. Matheson has six more years to go on a contract with a $4.875-million AAV, but the cash goes up towards the end. The Panthers have explored the market for him, and I think there are teams that do like him. But the contract complicates it.
11. Toronto will likely wait until an upcoming doctor’s appointment for Morgan Rielly before deciding what to do with any cap room due to long-term injury. They probably won’t have clarity on Cody Ceci until after the deadline. And they continue to negotiate with Jake Muzzin.
12. I don’t think Anaheim is particularly interested in moving their key pieces — from Josh Manson, to Cam Fowler, to Hampus Lindholm, to Jakob Silfverberg, to Rickard Rakell. You’re really going to have to move the needle. Ondrej Kase is a possibility, and there are teams who like him — although he has missed two straight games after being hit by Muzzin. I could see contenders eying Derek Grant. He’s had a strong year and doesn’t come at an enormous cost.
13. Last week, I mentioned the Devils looking at “hockey trades,” not just rentals. I think they are looking for young players, maybe guys who would get more of an opportunity there than in their current situation. Players who can grow with Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes.
14. Nashville’s going to have an interesting decision with Mikael Granlund. Just as they play themselves into a playoff spot, they play themselves out of it. Granlund had a shift in Calgary that was as good as any I saw this season. He’s only increased his value to them, or to someone else.
15. The Winnipeg Free Press’s Mike McIntyre had a trade rumour last week involving Kyle Connor and Bowen Byram. (The actual one I heard was Connor for Byram and Vladeslav Kamenev.) There were multiple denials when I looked into it. I do think Kamenev wants more of an opportunity to play.
16. Had some feedback last week on the Dustin Byfuglien grievance. From what I understand, if he’d returned to play, the NHLPA felt he had a good chance to win. Since he decided against playing this season, their confidence level decreased. (The NHL was going to fight it with every fibre of its being.)
17. Wanted to mention a fun 10 minutes Tuesday after Arizona’s skate in Toronto. The Coyotes were in Montreal the night before, so it was just head coach Rick Tocchet, goalie coach Corey Schwab, defenceman Aaron Ness and forward Michael Grabner. Tocchet was into it. He was on the ice, battling away. Ness had to readjust his helmet a couple of times after some board battles with him.
“It’s just good to get on the ice,” Tocchet said after. “I was talking with Paul Coffey, and we were saying how coaching is so stressful, it’s good to go out there and compete.”
You could tell the players, in particular, enjoyed having their coach see up close how much they wanted to be in the lineup.
18. It was also interesting to see Grabner and Tocchet discuss practice philosophies. In the west, it is harder to find practice time, so they shared ideas on how you can get things done. Grabner talked about Boston always making sure there was time to work on face-off plays, because the Bruins scored on one days earlier against the Coyotes. And they thought about different ways to use the pre-game warmup. Unexpected bonus of lucking into the right spot. Really interesting.
19. Looking forward to Daniel and Henrik Sedin’s sweater retirement on Scotiabank Wednesday Night Hockey. The thing I remember most from the 1999 draft is Brian Burke walking onto the floor, and media members swarming to see if he’d pulled it off.
You had to see Daniel and Henrik in-person to truly appreciate their games. Their subtle genius didn’t always translate on television. Initially, I didn’t think they should have played in Edmonton on the final night of their careers, because I thought they should have finished in Vancouver. But seeing Oilers fans send them off with such an ovation was a truly excellent epilogue to their careers, an understanding the greatness is recognized everywhere. It takes thick skin to play 20 years in Canada. They took a lot of abuse on and off the ice, but kept on ticking. That is true toughness.
20. Chris Johnston reported last weekend on Headlines that Ilya Mikheyev’s gruesome skate-cut injury on Dec. 27 renewed calls for making added wrist protection mandatory. Four prototypes are being researched, with selected players being asked to try the different versions. As an aside, good to see Mikheyev skate this week.
21. It’s taken me a few weeks to finish working on this, but, during All-Star Weekend, I spent a little over an hour with New Jersey Devils president Jake Reynolds, who was promoted to that position in September. We talked at length about the ups and downs of the last eight months, and how the organization navigates this challenge, instead of running away from it.
“The night of the lottery, we had 75 employees watching together,” Reynolds said. “They went nuts when we won. There were 9,000 RSVPs for our draft party.”
Several times during our conversation, Reynolds referenced how loyal the hard-core Devils fan base is, and how excited they were about Jack Hughes.
“That night, I was driving back to Philadelphia (the team’s owners also own the NBA’s 76ers) and I got a call from (CEO) Scott O’Neil. He said, ‘Get ready.’ I was wondering what else could be happening. He said, ‘We’re making a move for P.K. Subban.’”
22. There was enormous optimism for 2019-20. From June to December 2018, the team’s website ranged from 26th to 31st in the NHL with regards to unique visits, time spent, articles read and video watches. From June to December 2019, it jumped to between eighth and 14th. Prior to the draft, the Devils’ all-time record for video starts in one day was 13,117. Since June, that number’s been beaten 38 times, with a new high of 41,504.
An example of something that worked well was Hughes’s first “goal” as a Devil:
*technically* Jack’s first goal at The Rock
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) June 25, 2019
(Weak glove hand, there.)
As everyone now knows, this season did not unfold as hoped, or expected. But Reynolds, who joined the 76ers as they began their descent into “The Process,” is calmly confident in the proper path. (A primer: After a 34-48 2012–13, the 76ers didn’t just demolish their foundation — they fired it into the sun. Over the next three seasons, they went 47-199, including 10-72 in 2015-16, second-worst in NBA history.)
Let’s be honest: The 76ers are not the Raptors (😂), but they are chasing a third-straight 50-win season and lead the NBA in attendance. In 2014–15, they were dead last.
23. Reynolds’s background is in sales, and he took responsibility for that department as the 76ers began their teardown.
“In Philadelphia, we had a saying: ‘Are we 50-win ready?’ When everything on the court is right, will we be prepared on the business side? Now, we are asking the same questions in New Jersey. Are we 100-point ready?”
One of the things the 76ers did was grow the ticket sales and service team “from 23 people to a peak of 115. The Devils have a 101-person sales team,” which Reynolds says is the largest in the NHL. Every conversation between an associate and a prospective buyer includes a minimum of 15 to 20 questions, and it is not unusual for a season-ticket buyer to get into a double-digit number of calls before committing. That’s not only a grind for the buyer, but also for the seller.
“When you’re selling hope and championships, do you do things the right way?” Reynolds asked. “You have to create a positive environment for your employees. Do you want to have a career in this business? Well, we have to make that fun for you.”
Hughes showing up at the office and blowing shots by an employee is a small thing in one sense, but a big thing in another. Reynolds gives a lot of credit to current players and alumni for their willingness to help. Martin Brodeur, for example, agreed to be present when the team’s Stanley Cup banners were lowered, so fans could take photos with him and the year of their choice. Nice to have three options.
24. Interesting note: If a season ticket goes unused two games in a row, the organization reaches out to learn why. It wants those tickets used, whether for personal, business or donation purposes.
25. One of our final topics was complimentary tickets. I’ve mentioned before that New Jersey leads the NHL in comps. Obviously, they’d like to lower that total, but Reynolds said even the 76ers — who, as mentioned, lead the NBA in attendance — make sure to use them.
“We are reaching people who have never experienced hockey before, and without [comp tickets], never will. It gives people exposure to the sport and grows a younger fan base.”
He referenced Subban’s outstanding Blueline Buddies initiative, which has followed the defenceman from Nashville.
— P.K. Subban (@PKSubban1) February 12, 2020
“That’s important for us. Each employee commits to 76 hours of community service. Once a quarter, the offices shut down for a service project. It matters. It’s a great way to get people involved.”
I enjoyed the conversation. It is easy to sell winning. You plan, God laughs. How do you deal with that?
26. Also at All-Star Weekend, NHL Senior Vice-President and Director of Officiating Stephen Walkom met with Andrea Barone. Barone was in his fifth season as an ECHL referee in 2018-19, when, after a negative mid-season performance review, he decided he’d had enough and resigned. On two occasions, reporter Jason Buckland has profiled Barone — October 2016 in the Hockey News and April 2018 in the New York Times. In the second of those articles, Buckland wrote, “Barone is sure of two things about himself: He is a hockey man, and he is a gay man.”
27. Kim Davis, the NHL’s Executive Vice President, Social Impact, Growth Initiatives & Legislative Affairs, saw the latter profile and reached out. Barone met with Davis and Jessica Berman (who has since left the NHL to become Deputy Commissioner of the National Lacrosse League).
“It was a general conversation, with them asking, ‘What can we learn from you?’” Barone said Tuesday during a phone interview. They learned Barone was proud to be a role model for those who felt trapped in their own skin, afraid to come out to friends or loved ones.
“No one has to feel as alone as I once did,” he says.
They also learned he wanted to be an NHL referee. That dream hit a roadblock last season. Barone said he walked away from the ECHL because of “too much bulls— off the ice. I was not getting (to officiate) AHL games. I was being ignored. I knew I was good enough, but nothing was going on with my career.”
The final straw was the aforementioned mid-season review, featuring critiques he’d never heard before. “I’d had enough.”
28. Barone said he didn’t think his career stalled because of homophobia.
“I didn’t feel discriminated against. No one was ever homophobic or thought less of me because I’m gay.”
ECHL Senior Vice-President Joe Ernst, who spent 16 seasons as a referee himself, said Wednesday, “I hired Andrea. He told me he was gay, and I said, ‘I don’t care — can you referee?’”
Ernst acknowledged the review from the league’s manager of officiating, Stephen Thomson, but felt it included fair criticism, and wasn’t intended to damage Barone’s morale.
“We told him, ‘When you’re dialled in, you’re one of the best referees in the league, but you’re not there right now.’ I do think our officials — not just him — worry too much about AHL assignments.”
Barone did feel the attitude towards him changed after publication of the Times story. That article detailed a specific incident of a slur directed at Barone. That resulted in a fine, not a suspension — Barone believes that was because the offending coach’s team faced playoff elimination. (Around Christmas 2018, another coach used a derogatory term towards a linesman, with Barone in the vicinity. That coach was suspended.)
“I don’t think (the league) understood why it was so important for me to spread my story. It’s not for notoriety. But I need to do it. After the Hockey News article, I had so many responses from people saying it gave them courage to come out to their parents, or their teammates. Or they were not ready to face themselves,” but his story provided comfort.
During his time away, he has worked for You Can Play, and, always a fitness buff, as a high-performance trainer. And he has realized another important truth.
“I still have that drive.”
He misses it and wants to try again.
29. Davis connected him to Walkom and they had a 45-minute conversation in November before meeting in St. Louis.
“He told me he’s not ‘going to wave a magic wand,’” Barone said. “But it was a good conversation, where I’m going to get a chance. And that’s all I can ask for.”
Reached Tuesday, Walkom said that he’d never seen Barone work, but, “I gave him the same advice I give anyone who wants to officiate. The game needs people who want to do it. Don’t be discouraged if things don’t go right the first time around.” (The NHL also brought Barone to Toronto one evening to spend time in its situation room.)
Walkom didn’t say it, but if Barone applies to this summer’s officiating combine, he’d be seen by several different leagues. They’re always looking for talent.
“I don’t want special treatment,” Barone says. “I’m only 30. I want to do this. And I’m not giving up without a fight.”
30. If you’ve walked through the media entrance at Canadiens’ games, you’ve gotten your game-day credential from (or checked in with) Andre Lemoyne. Friendly and orderly, Andre manned the media desk. The Score did not have wide distribution in Quebec, so Andre didn’t know who I was until I started working at Hockey Night In Canada. I showed up once for a game, and he said, “Finally, I’ve seen your work.” I told him that I bet he was disappointed. He laughed at that, and we’d always joke about it whenever we saw each other. Sorry to hear of his passing last week. Very, very nice man.
31. Early in my career, a reporter pointed out Christie Blatchford to me. He said, “Watch how she does her job. She never takes no for an answer. We could all learn from that.”
When Alan Eagleson was headed to court in 1998, Blatchford was one of many journalists waiting outside before the room opened. She was among the first to arrive. Several who came later jumped the queue when the doors opened, and boy did she just unload on them. They all ran behind her. Blatchford died Wednesday morning at age 68. What an absolute force of nature.