A week of actual hockey — can’t tell you how excited I am.
But first, more Coyotes. After a crazy weekend of twists, turns and swerves that deserve a 13-part Netflix series, unanswered questions remain. Let’s try (and mostly fail) to solve them:
Q: What exactly is this job John Chayka’s been offered?
A: From what I understand, it is a major position in an organization that owns teams in more than one sport. The leader in the clubhouse is New Jersey. David Blitzer and Joshua Harris, owners of the Devils, also run the Philadelphia 76ers and Crystal Palace of the English Premier League, and are serious bidders for the New York Mets. My theory is that this is some kind of analytics/sports science/leadership position across some or all of those (potential) platforms. But I’d be lying if I claimed I knew the exact role.
Another of my theories is Chayka knows how to speak “ownership language.” Ask any GM — they will tell you managing up is more critical than ever. He started an analytics company. He and his wife own 14 Wendy’s franchises. He played a big role in convincing Alex Meruelo to buy the Coyotes (a major reason Meruelo is so angry).
Q: Why would he quit right before the playoffs?
A: The timing is awful, completely foreign to what sports are (and should be) about. The only logical explanation I’ve been given is that Chayka was given legal advice to do it this way.
“Like him or not,” another NHL exec said, “he’s detailed. There’s a reason.”
I assume we’ll find out in the future. When the Coyotes were approached for permission, no one knew if we’d even be playing. There was an extremely awkward phone/Zoom hockey staff meeting last week where president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez got on the line and asked Chayka to declare his long-term commitment to the franchise. Chayka was so uncomfortable with being put on the spot that he gave a halfhearted response. That’s when everyone realized how bad it was.
Q: Could NHL commissioner Gary Bettman block him from taking the job, as Arizona is requesting?
A: Bettman’s been pulling all-nighters dragging the NHL towards game action, so this is not his top priority. The Coyotes accused Chayka of lying. It’s going to come down to what’s in writing. Then again, as another executive said, “What are the chances (Bettman) doesn’t know about this already?” The exec brought up Peter Chiarelli’s 2006 hiring in Boston, where the new GM wasn’t allowed to officially join the Bruins from Ottawa until 15 days after free agency began.
Q: Is this all cover for the fact that Chayka’s really being punished for illegally testing draft-eligible players?
A: There are GMs who want blood, but they’re coming around to the fact that the investigation has nothing to do with what happened here. This is about a broken relationship. Several times, the Coyotes have indicated they do not believe they are facing serious penalties. And will the league punish Arizona now that Chayka’s gone? (See New Jersey/Ilya Kovalchuk.)
Q: Where is Arizona going in the front office?
A: We know Steve Sullivan is interim GM. The organization will give him every opportunity to show he deserves the full-time position. His ascendance could mean good things for Scott Walker, the team’s special assistant to the GM. They are close. The wild card is owner Alex Meruelo’s son, Alex Jr. How big a role will he be taking? That’s one to keep an eye on.
1. I think the Coyotes’ offer to Taylor Hall was five years, $7.25-million AAV. That’s not a final offer from what I can tell, and we’ll see if they become more aggressive. I think situation is as important to Hall as anything.
2. The Peter Chiarelli-to-Arizona rumours have been out there for awhile, but it’s hard to see that happening while re-signing Hall is an option.
3. The Toronto Maple Leafs were 3-0 to start the 1999-2000 season. Game 4 was in Ottawa, and Steve Sullivan’s family was there to see him play. He didn’t have a point yet, but wasn’t expecting to be removed from a winning lineup. However, head coach Pat Quinn decided to scratch him. Sullivan, in the words of one teammate, “lost it.” He told the intimidating Quinn that he’d had enough and wanted out.
Eleven days later, the Maple Leafs signed Dmitri Khristich and needed a roster spot. Sullivan went on waivers. Claimed by Chicago, he lasted 808 more games, compiling 631 points. Big heart.
4. I was very surprised the NBA let Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams return after he went to a, uh, gentleman’s club during an excused absence. The NHL’s Stage IV protocols threaten stiff penalties (fines, draft picks) for teams whose players violate bubble sanctity, and Bettman made it very clear during one Zoom call that he wouldn’t hesitate to use them because so much money could be wasted by carelessness. In any case, it’s a good thing there are no such clubs in Edmonton or Toronto….
5. Bettman, asked who had the ultimate authority to decide if a player is fit to play: “Well, I guess in the final analysis it may be me, but I’m going to defer to the medical people, both from the governmental authorities and our own medical people in conjunction with the Players’ Association. I am not going to be making the medical decisions. I’ll be taking the guidance, but I suppose it’s my authority that determines ultimately who plays in our games and who doesn’t.”
6. The NBA and that league’s union negotiated what slogans were allowed on the back of each player’s jersey instead of their last name. NHLers are allowed to customize helmet and uniform decals with hashtags “#ISkateFor” and “#WeSkateFor.” They fill out the remainder of that sentence. Asked both the NHL and NHLPA if there was any negotiation over “acceptable” terms and was told no.
7. The NHL is estimating there will be 66 minutes once the ice is clear after one game to the end of the next game’s warm-up. Plan your schedules accordingly.
8. Logic trivia question: When NHL teams were suggesting ideas for CBA negotiations, one of them recommended a “flex cap.” The idea was that clubs would be permitted to roll over any extra cap room from year to year, allowing them to long-term plan for their own individual circumstances over periods of time. If you know you have some major signings in the future, you can create extra room in advance. Or, if you’re rebuilding, you can bank cap space for when you expect to be better.
So, here’s the challenge: Can you guess which team suggested it? (It makes sense for them, in particular.)
9. It was reported that the finalists for the Devils’ GM job — which went to Tom Fitzgerald — were Mike Futa and Laurence Gilman. Heard that among other interviewees were Mark Hunter, Colorado’s Chris MacFarland and Ed Olczyk.
10. One NHL exec and I have been joking with each other about how many players were reported to have shown up in great shape or looked dynamite in practices/scrimmages. Everyone’s excited to be back (even reporters), so enthusiasm reigns. That’s not a bad thing after months of crappy news. But if there was one player who seemed to particularly benefit from a rest, the name I heard a bit more than others was Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes.
11. I begged out of the Sportsnet predictions article (coming Tuesday), because a) predictions are stupid, and b) does anyone really know anything about this season? However, there are some storylines. For one: How patient will coaches be? The top four seeds in each conference can afford to relax a little, but the other eight have zero room for error. How many bad games does a skater — or even worse — a goalie, get?
Brian Burke believes the top four have a huge advantage, and one example is the situations involving Steven Stamkos’s injury and Boston’s “exposure,” particularly when it comes to David Pastrnak. Teams in the play-ins would be panicking, but the Lightning and Bruins have the benefit of time.
12. Stamkos and Sidney Crosby are both believe to have abdominal core issues. Will there be concerns with that type of player taking the ice in August? On a conference call last week, Colin Campbell said he was not worried about excess heat in the hub buildings.
“The real problem is when the doors open in a facility and the fans come in, with their body heat,” said the NHL’s Executive Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations. “We have no concerns about the ice conditions, and we’ve talked with our ice guys in depth about this.”
The other concern — and it’s more early than later in these playoffs — is usage. There are going to be a lot of games chopping up the ice in a short time.
13. Not-so-obvious situations to watch: Andreas Athanasiou, Edmonton. The Oilers forward is a restricted free agent, with arbitration rights. With fiscal responsibility rammed into the new CBA, this is the kind of situation where things could be tight for the team. Can the Oilers make his arb number work? Players decide. The way they play determines the choices you make.
14. Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov, Islanders. We know Ilya Sorokin’s going to be a factor next year. Varlamov still has term and Greiss is a UFA, so the obvious move is the former stays and the latter walks. But New York faces a cap crunch. What if Greiss outplays his partner? Could they offer him a friendlier deal and try to move Varlamov?
15. Mikael Granlund, Nashville. I’ve been doing an informal poll, asking what will be the first real trendsetting contract of the new CBA. There’ve been a couple of votes for the Predators’ forward. He’s a talented player in a time of tightness. Can he ramp up his value?
16. Mikko Koivu, Minnesota. Is this it for the determined Wild captain?
18. More obvious situations to watch: Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry, Pittsburgh. Penguins GM Jim Rutherford on Murray: “He started slow, but he was coming on the second half. You can always find ways to move money around … at a different position and keep both goalies. I don’t think it needs to boil down to people automatically thinking that Matt Murray’s the guy who needs to leave Pittsburgh.”
19. David Rittich and Cam Talbot, Calgary. Do they convince the Flames not to try something bold in net? And how will on-ice performance dictate decisions to be made in Tampa Bay, Toronto and Vancouver?
20. Rutherford, asked if there will be any Evgeni Malkin trade rumours this summer: “Only if somebody makes them up.”
21. Other votes for the first “trendsetting contract” of the CBA: Mathew Barzal got the most. Carter Hart had a few. Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson didn’t get as many as I thought, because the conventional wisdom is they’ll wait. We’ll see. Among UFAs, it was Alex Pietrangelo. Many players are going to get squeezed, but no one thinks he will — unless he chooses to do so.
22. Something I learned last week: Adidas does not automatically get the rights to create an NHL team’s jersey.
“It is not a rite of passage,” Dan Near, Adidas’ Global Head of Hockey & Lacrosse, said last week. “You have to be interviewed and selected for it. All of the (major) event jerseys default to us. (But) teams can go elsewhere.”
Adidas did work with Seattle on its jersey, part of a spectacular Thursday reveal that gave us some fun in the middle of all this.
What about the Kraken’s process really stood out to Near?
“In every meeting, someone asked, ‘Could you imagine a player lifting the Stanley Cup with this jersey?’” he answered. “They wanted to make sure it could stand the test of time.”
“That goes back to when Dave Tippett was here,” said Heidi Dettmer, Seattle’s Vice President of Marketing. (Tippett worked for the expansion team before returning to the bench in Edmonton.) “Right from the beginning, we knew the hockey side of the business was going to play a big role in our brand’s identity.”
23. I’ve never seen a wimpy Kraken in any Clash of the Titans or Pirates of the Caribbean film, so I’m not sure such a creature exists. This one wasn’t going to be the first.
“This was not going to be a joke, not a cartoon to laugh at,” Near said. “They discussed how, when you skated on the ice, players were going to be proud to wear it.”
“We couldn’t have anything that looked like it could be eaten by … a shark,” laughed Katie Townsend, Seattle’s Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications, with a nod to the team’s soon-to-be rival from San Jose.
Everyone I spoke to about the reveal described an intense process where things were debated many, many times. Near again: “There were hundreds of discussions, ‘Should there be two eyes? Should we see the monster in its entirety?’ I give them credit for the level of detail. They thought of every angle.”
“The eye was the big decision,” Dettmer said.
“Once we knew (the logo) was going to be an ’S’ shape, we knew there was only going to be one eye,” Townsend added.
There’s no question that not revealing the “full Kraken” was a big discussion, too. The organization wanted some mystery and hasn’t decided if they will ever do it. Will be interesting to see what the mascot looks like.
24. I was on Team Kraken from the moment someone suggested it, and was pleasantly surprised with the choice. It’s not conservative. It’s bold and a step outside of the comfort zone. In January 2019, the Seattle Times did a big poll asking what the name should be. Sockeyes won, but Kraken picked up early support. (The format was an elimination bracket.)
“In that poll, we noticed a big spike in the chatter by fans (for ‘Kraken’),” Dettmer said. “It was something we listened to.”
But internal support for the name existed in team offices as early as 2018. Dettmer remembers a door adorned with a post-it note reading, “Release the Kraken.” (She has no idea who did it.)
Kraken was one of three finalists. Dettmer declined to reveal the other two, but the answer was sealed in an envelope, then placed into a time capsule in Seattle’s famed Space Needle. It will be opened in 2062, its 100th anniversary. (I’d better start eating healthy.) When did the organization decide Kraken was the choice?
“Last November and December, it emerged as the favourite,” Townsend answered.
There was also a codename, to try and prevent leaks. Kraken was known as “Project Cascade.” Townsend said at least one person was fooled into thinking that was going to be the team name.
25. Was anyone unsure about the choice?
“The sequence was name, identity, colours, uniform,” Near said. “If (the Kraken logo) was drawn up a different way, maybe it couldn’t work. But once I saw the different sketches, I saw how it worked. Add the colours and identity — it clicked together.”
“Our fans overwhelmingly wanted blue or green, that kind of pallet (like the Mariners and Seahawks),” Dettmer said.
I failed Grade 8 Visual Arts, so I’m not up on the concept of “negative space” — but the black area through the ‘S’ being a tentacle was huge hit:
That stuck with me when I saw it, too. I totally missed it on first glance, and thought it was clever. Near pointed out that the pandemic gave Seattle the opportunity to reveal its name, logo and jersey all at the same time. You don’t normally do all three at once, and it really worked for them.
26. Will a Stanley Cup banner be raised on Opening Night in Seattle? The Metropolitans were the first American-based team to win the sport’s greatest trophy, and were competing for it in 1919 when the Spanish flu pandemic prevented the Cup from being awarded. Townsend said that president and CEO Tod Leiweke is “very passionate” about that history, but declined to go any further.
27. Happily, NHL Chief Content Officer Steve Mayer threw cold water on Jeff Marek’s out-there thoughts that since Seattle’s gone “off the board” with its name, the team should play on green ice. (Marek wants someone to go with a different colour.)
28. There was a report that Toronto’s Egor Korshkov is going back to the KHL. Word is that it will be a “loan,” so there will be an opportunity for him to play next season. The large number of positive COVID cases on some teams might lead to a delay in the start of that league’s season, too.
29. Slowly and carefully, a few European countries are dipping their toes in the water. The Czech Republic and Slovakia are planning some under-20 exhibition games this week, with the number of spectators limited to 200. Germany and Switzerland are trying a couple of under-18 scrimmages, again with limited seating. Finland is having some intra-squad scrimmages that scouts can attend. The Czech Republic will try to host a four-nation under-20 tournament at the end of August, and Finland a three-team under-18 event around the same time.
Watching what’s happening in baseball on Monday morning, I hope everyone involved follows a tight, tight protocol. These are teenagers; we have to be careful and smart. No guarantees the games get played, but there’s an effort to try — if possible.
31. As I hit 50, I’ve learned that being in a good mood is a skill. If it were so easy, everyone would be happy all the time. We all have challenges — especially now — and you have to work to avoid being a downer. No one in my work life has been better at lifting himself (and others around him) than Paul Hendrick. There were days I’d be annoyed, he’d be in a great mood, and I’d be thinking, “WTF? How is this guy always happy? Get him away from me!”
Paul gave me a huge break early in my career by offering me the opportunity to work stats on the old CHCH-TV Ontario University football broadcasts. It was such an important step — a huge confidence builder at that time in my life. I’ll always be thankful, and I’m glad he called his shot:
If anyone has earned the right to decide when it’s time, it’s Paul.