31 Thoughts: No shortage of Rick Nash suitors ahead of deadline

Overtime had not been kind to the Minnesota Wild. After beating Los Angeles 5–4 last Feb. 27, they didn’t win another in the regular season. (St. Louis beat them twice in overtime during the playoffs, but that’s an apples-to-oranges comparison since the post-season is not the same format.)

It didn’t get better as we switched to 2017–18. They lost in a shootout to Carolina on Oct. 7, then allowed the winner 47 seconds into OT one week later against Columbus. On Nov. 20, the Wild again failed to get through the first shift, allowing a New Jersey goal 52 seconds after three-on-three began.

Enough was enough. In those games, Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter were on the ice to start overtime. Jason Zucker was with them for the first two, Mikael Granlund the other.

Four nights after the loss to the Devils, they made a switch. A game against Colorado ended 2–2 in regulation. Out came Koivu — with Jonas Brodin and Mathew Dumba. The Wild dominated overtime, getting all six shots. They didn’t score, but won in the shootout.

On Dec. 2, the two defenders were joined by Charlie Coyle. Dumba beat St. Louis 39 seconds in.

“Quite frankly, we went to the analytics department and they gave us results of other stuff,” head coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters. “This is why we changed it, so kudos to them.”

Asked what other stuff he was talking about, Boudreau replied, “Speed, pairings. Stuff like that.”

Minnesota added two more overtime wins before momentum slowed. (They have three losses and two shootout victories since.) But Boudreau’s quote was interesting, as the Wild have a unique analytics department. In January 2016, the organization hired Alexandra Mandrycky and Scarborough, Ont.’s Andrew Thomas.

Mandrycky, from Atlanta, admits she came to hockey “later in life. My dad (Paul) said he was a Flyers fan, but never really passed that on.”

She played basketball, soccer and rowed crew. (She still does, as her husband is taking his PhD at the University of Washington, which has an excellent rowing program.)

She was a student at Georgia Tech University in 2010 when some friends invited her to a Thrashers game.

“It was against Buffalo, and I’m pretty sure the Thrashers lost,” she said Monday.

But the hockey bug bit her. Like any curious person, Mandrycky searched to learn more.

“I wanted to do statistical analysis that was more than class content. [It started with] quietly reading everything. In early 2015, (the hockey website) war-on-ice put out a call for help. It was a great way to connect and I sent them a note.”

Mandrycky followed her passion while working a typical nine-to-five data-analytics job. And a curious NHL was watching her work, even though its GMs did not specifically know her. After an invitation to Minnesota’s 2015 training camp, the organization hired her four months later — shutting down war-on-ice in the process.

“I have to thank Andrew for that,” Mandrycky says of Thomas, then a University of Florida associate professor. “He told [the Wild], ‘We could do a lot more with her skill set.’ And [current assistant general manager] Shep Harder bought into that. I know this is the only front office I’ve ever been part of, but it would be hard to meet a group of better people.”

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Were you met with skepticism?

“Skepticism? I think everyone should question everything. You learn more. It’s not about challenging, but to complement the decisions being made. If everyone agreed with everyone else, what’s the point?”

OK, let’s try this another way: Slowly, the door is opening to women in men’s team sports. New Jersey just hired Rachel Doerrie as an analyst of player information and video. (The Devils also hired Kate Madigan, whose father, Jim, just coached Northeastern to its first Beanpot championship in 30 years.) Becky Hammon is an assistant coach with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. Catherine Raiche was CFL Montreal’s assistant GM last season before moving to the Toronto Argonauts.

Was it difficult for her to fit in?

“It’s never hurt me in business that I know of — if anything they are nicer than normal,” she laughed. “Some were nervous to curse around me and I got a chuckle out of that. It gives me a different viewpoint, but with an analytics background I already have a different viewpoint.

“I want to be respectful. You go down and see how hard and how long the coaches are working. Everyone in this business works so hard.”

That is one of the biggest lessons she’s learned. There is nothing more tiresome on Twitter/the Internet than mind-numbing analytics-vs.-eye-test debates. The best teams use everything, searching for the tiniest of edges. But Mandrycky is careful to avoid specifics, because those are property of the Wild.

“It’s never simple, never back and white…. At the end of day coaches aren’t stupid. If you’re in the NHL, you’re a good coach…. I’ve gained so much understanding of how to evaluate.”

Several times in our conversation, Mandrycky talks about how much she wants to learn.

“I’m 26 — I’ve got a long ways to go.”

Maybe, but that’s one impressive first step.

31 THOUGHTS

1. Stealth possibility for Max Pacioretty: Florida. Would be interesting. The Panthers have a lot of talent, with Henrik Borgstrom ready for prime time after this season at NCAA Denver.

2. Max Domi scored his fourth of the year to open Arizona’s stunning 6–1 victory over Chicago on Monday night. It has been a hard year for the talented forward. The Coyotes are prepared to give him a fresh start, pending a fair offer. If it doesn’t come before the deadline, expect it at the draft. I do think Montreal will took a look, but I don’t know if that’s going anywhere.

3. Tomas Plekanec has made clear his desire to stay in Montreal, and, on a team struggling to find centres, coach Claude Julien probably wants that to happen. There’s an extension to be had there. Now it comes down to whether or not GM Marc Bergevin gets an offer he likes.

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4. Leading scorer for Jon Cooper’s 2006–07 North American Hockey League St. Louis Bandits? Pat Maroon, with 95 points in 57 games. I’d heard all three Atlantic Division playoff teams inquired, but it doesn’t make sense for Toronto (barring another move) and some other sources disputed Boston. NBCSports Boston’s Joe Haggerty reported he did hear the Bruins were interested, though. At this time of year, there is a lot of conflicting information.

5. Nashville definitely is all in on Rick Nash. The question is if they can outbid a large field. They already dealt Sam Girard, Vladislav Kamenev and their second-round pick in the Kyle Turris deal, so how deep are they willing to go? A first-rounder that might be 27th or lower won’t do it. They’ve still got excellent prospects (Dante Fabbro and Eeli Tolvanen atop the list) and no doubt the Rangers will try to leverage from those.

6. Steve Yzerman told Tampa Bay Times beat writer Joe Smith, “We are trying to win. We would want to add to our team, not go sideways.”

That said, if he wanted to, I could see a package of players, prospects and picks that could tempt the Rangers for both Nash and Ryan McDonagh. The Lightning would consider moving a centre for a signed winger.

7. Family connection I didn’t know existed: Ryan McDonagh’s agent, Ben Hankinson, is the brother-in-law of Boston assistant coach Kevin Dean. The Bruins are interested, but, like everyone else, know it will be a big price to pay.

8. It is extremely unlikely Vancouver would want to trade Chris Tanev. But should the Canucks think about it simply because he takes so much abuse and at some point it may affect his value?

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9. Calgary watched a lot of Ottawa, and I wondered if Zack Smith was the target. But I was told I’m out to lunch on that one.

10. All the Senators have to do is look 200 km east to see how rough it is when you can’t compete down the middle. That’s why they prefer to hold on to Derick Brassard, although a couple other teams are asking. Riley Sheahan’s doing a nice job in Pittsburgh, but the Penguins have poked around. Also believed to be in the picture: San Jose, interested in Joe Thornton insurance. Brassard has another year, which would fit the Sharks’ philosophy of avoiding rentals.

11. I can’t pin it down, but a few teams suspected there was some traction between Buffalo and Philadelphia. Their two AHL teams, Lehigh Valley and Rochester, met last Saturday. It sounds like it depends on if the Flyers’ wish to buy, and they woke up Wednesday five points into the playoffs.

12. When Islanders GM Garth Snow traded Travis Hamonic for Calgary’s 2018 first (among other picks), he talked about using those extra assets as pieces to improve the team. There’s no way he (or the Flames) saw it as a potential lottery selection. Now, Snow could have two lottery picks, although he’d rather not have one from his own team. That’s changed his philosophy, as he’s on record as saying he won’t deal either for rentals. Don’t forget — we’re coming off a year where New Jersey, Philadelphia and Dallas all moved up thanks to ping-pong balls. If Calgary was in a more secure spot, would Snow be less inclined to hold it?

13. All of the Detroit defence focus is on Mike Green, but, quietly, the Red Wings are trying to give Xavier Ouellet a fresh start somewhere else.

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14. As the website Cap Friendly pointed out, both Minnesota (Zach Parise) and New Jersey (Mirco Mueller) benefitted from players being allowed on injured reserve after appearing in AHL games. But there is something that makes people crazy about Lou Lamoriello doing it. With Parise/Mueller, not a peep. But Nikita Soshnikov? Wow, were teams upset.

“[Soshnikov] was running over people in the AHL yesterday!” one exec texted.

15. On P.K. Subban and Brendan Gallagher: When I wrote the long piece about “the 23 minutes that changed hockey” in September 2016, one rule was that no one was going to be allowed to anonymously slag anyone. If you wanted to rip a guy, you had to put your name on it. There were minor complaints (and probably some jealousy) about his popularity and love for the spotlight, but former teammates I spoke to didn’t run him down. Most felt the disastrous 2015–16 season was on everyone. It was clear the major issues were not with the players.

With time to think about it, what occurred post-game seemed more about what’s happened since then. The Predators are thriving, and Subban is thriving with them. He continues to get better every year, and he’s unsinkable. His interview with Nick Kypreos is proof that he’s still hurt by the trade, but is determined to enjoy life and prove you will not get to him.

For the Canadiens, things are the opposite, and there’s anger that the love for him grows the worse they do. If there’s one Subban comment that has bothered them, it’s that he has improved because he’s got better players around him. As one of them said, “When Carey was out, none of us made a difference (in 2015–16), including P.K.”

Gallagher, as competitive as they get, tried to rally them, and sounded off because the frustration of a nightmare season finally boiled over. We’ve all had bad breakups, but no one involved here is over it yet.

16. Speaking of Nashville, in a league where the slapshot is going the way of the original iPod, the Predators are a bit of an outlier, especially on the power play. They have some legit bombers, most notably Subban and the recently returned Ryan Ellis. Heading into last night’s games, only Florida (451) had taken more slapshots than Nashville’s 401. Only Washington (33) and San Jose (29) had more slapshot goals than the Predators’ 28. With Ellis healthy, their numbers should climb.

“It’s about taking advantage of your players’ strengths,” head coach Peter Laviolette said. “They can get it through, get it on net.”

An inability to get it through is a reason many teams are giving up on it. Nashville is fortunate to have this skill set.

17. Ellis, asked which Predator had the best slapper: “Pfffffft. Me, of course.”

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18. Last year, some of the younger Blackhawks talked about how the Cup-winning veterans always expected to win, even if down two goals late. Ryan Johansen made the same comment about this year’s Predators.

“The expectation is there,” he said. “And not just from the top six. From everyone.”

19. When Carolina coach Bill Peters sounded off about his team, there were two reactions: First, he’s incredibly blunt, so that’s not a surprise. Second, we’re going to get a test of where the organization is going under new ownership.

Well, we got an answer. It is extremely unlikely the Hurricanes would have buried close to $2 million in the minors under previous ownership, assuming both Josh Jooris and Marcus Kruger stay there. That’s a big change, and the team responded with a four-point weekend over Vancouver and Colorado. This is definitely a new way of doing business for them, which is not a bad thing at all. Now, everyone’s going to be watching to see if this means Peters is going to have greater say over his roster.

20. When I suggested last week a Justin Faulk trade with Detroit, someone pointed out that the Hurricanes’ defenceman entered this season shooting 6.8 per cent for his career. He’s at 2.6 this season, by far the lowest mark of his NHL life. An analytically inclined organization like Carolina would certainly be aware of that.

21. Edmonton has three forwards in important roles without a goal in almost 20 games: Michael Cammalleri, Milan Lucic and Ryan Strome. It has been a hard year for Anton Slepyshev. He was benched and offered to anyone who wanted him. He’s got three points in the last four games. Maybe it’s time to give him a run over the last two months. Solving your problems internally is always preferable, even if better late than never.

22. Don’t know if Oscar Klefbom needs some kind of surgery, but he hasn’t looked right all year. Wonder if we’re getting to the point he’s shut down to get ready for next season.

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23. Great to talk to two very different success stories in the last week: Ottawa’s Mark Borowiecki and Tampa Bay’s Yanni Gourde. Because of Borowiecki’s injury, I hadn’t had a chance to congratulate him on his latest contract extension, for two years at $2.4 million. He earned it the hard way, and some of his teammates said they really missed him when the season hit an iceberg.

“I was anxious,” Borowiecki admitted about the negotiations. “It was a big relief to get it done.”

What’s more interesting is that he and wife, Tara, are looking to use some of the money to purchase farmland outside Ottawa. She’s an equestrian — “the height of some of those jumps!” he laughed — and he wants to get involved in sustainable agriculture. Sounds like something for our crack features department. Good story.

24. As for Gourde, he had a great comment about his first one-way contract, a two-year, $2-million deal with the Lightning: “It’s only one contract,” he said Monday. “I’m not guaranteed another one.”

Keep racking up those 20-goal seasons and no worries. It’s amazing how many AHL coaches/executives used the word “relentless” to describe him after last season. Gourde said that a couple of years ago he promised himself that, as much as he loved hockey, he would only continue if he was “moving forward” in his career. He went from being a part-time ECHL player in 2013–14 to a 29-goal AHL scorer to a guy getting an NHL cup of coffee to being a legit threat. Good on him.

25. After Monday’s victory over Tampa Bay, Toronto’s Frederik Andersen was on pace to face 2,276 shots and have a goals-against average of 2.65. Only two goalies have ever had a lower GAA seeing that much rubber: Roberto Luongo (2.43 in 2003–04) and Cam Ward (2.56 in 2010–11). And they both faced more shots than Andersen should.

26. Earlier in the season, when Andersen was facing criticism because his stats weren’t great, he was shown video of some huge saves made late in still-undecided games. Toronto won both. I love that kind of thinking/teaching.

27. Proof that the Insider label is dumb: We didn’t know for a month that Tom Anselmi had resigned as Ottawa’s President and CEO. It was weird to see former Senators employees taking shots at the organization on Twitter. That doesn’t happen very often. While owner Eugene Melnyk extended Pierre Dorion, the best thing he could do for the team is beef up Dorion’s staff. The Senators are woefully thin in what has become a draft-and-develop league. It is your only chance at success.

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28. Canucks prospect Adam Gaudette had a hat trick as Northeastern won the Beanpot for the first time in 30 years. While Vancouver fans salivate at the possibility of him joining them following this, his junior season, he has one more year before they really start sweating. Teammate Dylan Sikura, who had two assists, is on the clock, with the opportunity for free agency Aug. 15 if he doesn’t sign in Chicago. There are a lot of contradictory rumours, but the Blackhawks will do what is necessary.

According to NHL clubs, the number of potential August free agents is higher than normal, although there are different opinions on how many are worth chasing. Of course, some teams may decide to let players loose.

29. Just some names to keep an eye on, with NHL team followed by school: Brian Pinho (Washington/Providence), Ryan Donato (Boston/Harvard), Anthony Angello (Pittsburgh/Cornell), Louis Belpedio (Minnesota/Miami), David Pope (Detroit/Nebraska-Omaha), CJ Suess (Winnipeg/Minnesota St.), Jake Evans (Montreal/Notre Dame), Brandon Hickey (Arizona/Boston University — traded to the Coyotes in the Mike Smith deal), Nolan Vesey (Toronto/Maine) and Nolan Stevens (St. Louis/Northeastern). The latter Nolan, John Stevens’s son, scored a beauty in the Beanpot final.

30. When Anaheim visited Toronto last week, I tried to ask the Ducks’ player representative, Kevin Bieksa, about the state of the NHLPA. He is represented by Kurt Overhardt, one of the agents asking for a review. For the first time ever, Bieksa declined to comment about something, saying only, “This has to stay private.”

People on both sides of the debate were disappointed that news of a video supporting a review got out. There was a conference call scheduled for Monday of all team player reps, although some would be unavailable due to travel. I don’t know where this is going to go, but anyone who does speak has the same two message points: “We don’t want a public battle,” and “We need all players to care enough to be informed.”

31. Great to see (and hear) you on the Olympics, Steve Armitage.