• Pageau, Kreider next rentals to go?
• Don’t expect a Devils fire sale
• Kovalchuk wants another shot
New Jersey GM Ray Shero bent over backward to be gracious to Taylor Hall after the 2018 Hart Trophy winner was dealt to Arizona. He pointed out that the winger never asked for a trade, never rejected any contract offers and never made any demands.
Shero opened a window into the organization’s thinking when he pointed out Hall “only played 33 games last year.” That’s why the Devils sat him out twice last weekend and pushed to get a deal done. Hall played 82, 72 and 76 games the three prior seasons, so he’s not made of peanut brittle, but there’s always a worry.
So, what’s next on the rental market? Or, who’s next?
The obvious name is the Rangers’ Chris Kreider. The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. Last season, the Rangers attempted to negotiate extensions with both Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello right up until the deadline, with both getting dealt in the final days and hours. I don’t sense any rush there. And, the later in the year, the easier it is from a cap perspective.
Same goes for Ottawa. They have a hot-shooting centre in Jean-Gabriel Pageau. And I’d bet there would be interest in Mark Borowiecki, not only for his on-ice acumen but also his ability to decrease crime rates in metropolitan areas. The Senators are doing a much better job of preventing a public circus, to the dismay of nosy reporters. I don’t sense any rush there, either.
If there’s a motivated team, it’s Los Angeles. The Kings have Trevor Lewis and Tyler Toffoli out there, among others. They are both UFAs, and L.A. is looking to bolster its stable of picks and prospects. It’s not a secret what they are willing to do. Same with Buffalo, sitting a pair of NHL-level defenders a night. They have two unrestricteds — Zach Bogosian and Marco Scandella.
What’s interesting is how many potential rentals play for teams who are trying to win, which eliminates their availability. At this time, that includes major names: Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby (Washington), Torey Krug (Boston) and Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis). Even if they remain unsigned, those teams are going for the Stanley Cup. They’ll deal with the fallout later.
But there are some other good players in that situation, too: Tyson Barrie and Jake Muzzin (Toronto), Justin Braun (Philadelphia), Joel Edmundson and Erik Haula (Carolina), Thomas Greiss (Islanders), Radko Gudas (Washington), Justin Schultz (Pittsburgh) and Carl Soderberg (Arizona).
Here are some other situations to watch:
First, Vancouver. There’s mass panic around the Lions Gate Bridge now that the Canucks are four points behind second-wild card Calgary. On my weekly Sportsnet 650 radio hit, I was asked if head coach Travis Green is in any trouble, which is insane. They’re not out of it and they’re not giving up. We’ll see what happens from now until February, and how negotiations go — but there will be interest in Josh Leivo and Chris Tanev. I’d include Jacob Markstrom, but goalies are tricky. Some teams hate doing that at the deadline, believing that it’s too difficult a position to integrate. And many of the contenders seem good in net.
Overall, though, the Canucks are going for the post-season and will probably stick with the current roster if in the race.
Second, Chicago. If he does not re-sign in-season, there could easily be a market for defenceman Erik Gustafsson.
The other one I’d mention is San Jose’s Brenden Dillon. The playoffs aren’t for the faint of heart, and Dillon’s not scared of anything. But that’s a later call, depending on where the Sharks stand.
1. In his availability, Shero said this wasn’t the start of a fire sale for the Devils. He’s also got two useful UFA defenders — captain Andy Greene and Sami Vatanen. Word is that at least one team asked about Vatanen while the Hall process continued. We’ll see where it goes as things continue. One of the reasons Arizona won the bidding for Hall is that defence prospects were important to New Jersey. That was a big stumbling block for Edmonton (along with the first-rounder) and St. Louis, which doesn’t really have that in their arsenal. (Someone reported Vince Dunn may have been offered, but that would surprise me.) Shero said they liked Kevin Bahl when he was drafted, and like him more now. They have big difficulties down low in their zone, and while Bahl needs AHL time to develop, they wanted someone in their organization to address that.
2. The Devils are going to have to keep some veterans. You need good people to show your kids the way. I don’t think Wayne Simmonds enjoyed being a rental and wouldn’t be surprised if he wished to be part of New Jersey’s solution.
3. Calgary definitely tried something that wasn’t futures-related. But they wanted assurance re-signing Hall was a possibility, and weren’t allowed to explore it. Florida desired similar. Not that we’re ever going to find out, but I heard the Islanders tried more of a “hockey deal,” too.
4. As all of this was flying around last Saturday, there were reports Florida scratched two of their top prospects at AHL Springfield: Henrik Borgstrom and Aleksi Heponiemi. That caused mass hysteria. Borgstrom actually was injured. Heponiemi was a healthy scratch, but word is they are not trying to trade him. He’s 20, talented and in his first AHL season. There are speed bumps along the way.
5. Arizona GM John Chayka made it clear in his various media availabilities on Tuesday that the Coyotes will take a run at re-signing Hall. But it won’t be until after the season. They handed out some big extensions to young players, but several of their veterans have contracts expiring in the next two years.
6. As St. Louis marched to the Stanley Cup last year, one Blue mentioned that he heard Al MacInnis would always ask, “How will this play in our room if we do it?” I thought of that with the Coyotes. There are times you have to take a chance. Nine of their key players are 28 or older. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2012. Before the deal, they were first in the Pacific Division, and had a goal differential of plus-13 even though their top scorer (Clayton Keller) ranks 93rd in the NHL. They didn’t give up anyone off their roster and got the best available forward. How can that not play well in their room? No excuses. You also have to reward your fans, give them reason to believe they have a chance. It’s why I supported what Columbus did last year. There comes a time where you just have to say, “What the heck. I’m throwing in my chips. All in.”
7. Big moment in Tampa Bay Tuesday night as Jon Cooper benched Nikita Kucherov. We’ve seen enough of these to know the next few games will tell where this is going. That period begins Thursday at home against Dallas. Kucherov has a lot of pride. Cooper is pushing his buttons. This used to be a coach’s league. Now, it’s a players’ league. Let’s see how Kucherov responds and how Cooper uses him.
8. Make no mistake: Ilya Kovalchuk wants another shot. There’s quite a bit of tire-kicking, but I think there’s a lot of factors here. Most of it’s fit — which is very important.
9. Markstrom’s negotiations are going to have a major ripple effect on Vancouver’s future. Also on the radar: The Canucks continue to gauge Nikita Tryamkin’s interest in returning for next year. The big defender went back to KHL Ekaterinburg after the 2016-17 season, and his current contract is up after this one. He cannot sign until July 1, but his intentions will be clear before that.
10. I don’t believe anyone is ruling out Micheal Ferland for the season, as has been rumoured in British Columbia. But I do believe no one’s going to be rushing him back into the lineup.
11. Speaking of Ferland, I wonder if his four-year, $3.5-million contract is going to be the benchmark for Zack Kassian in Edmonton. The Oilers and Kassian’s agent, Rick Curran, got together this week. Kassian scored his 12th of the season Monday night in the Oilers’ 2-1 victory in Dallas. He’s got 23 points in 33 games, a very nice complementary piece for Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. The big winger will be an unrestricted free agent. But he likes Edmonton, the organization likes him — and he’s been through a lot, understanding the value of a good situation. So there’s reason for optimism, but nothing is done until it’s done. It’s hard to get players to come there, and one thing the organization weighs is how to factor that into contract talks. Kassian and Darnell Nurse (who will be restricted) want to be part of the solution. If you lose them, how will you replace them?
12. Nurse’s situation is trickier than Kassian’s. He’s two years from being unrestricted, and the Oilers need that time to clean up their cap situation. This will take some creativity.
13. He is eligible for arbitration, which could solve things as a last resort. But, make no mistake, NHL teams are sending out signals about how much they despise this process. I wrote earlier this year about how Anton Forsberg getting a one-way deal without any NHL games last season ruined several GM’s August barbecues. I’ve heard from a couple of agents that clubs are threatening not to qualify players rather than go through arbitration. With a fairly tight cap situation, it’s a legit concern and a high-stakes game of poker.
14. A couple of my Russian contacts reached out after last week’s note about Islanders goaltending prospect Ilya Sorokin — who is considering an extension in the KHL. They think he’s trying to force a trade from New York to someplace with a clearer path to start. There would be interest — he’s very talented. We’ll see where this goes.
15. Thomas Chabot’s whopping 37:50 of ice time in Monday’s 4-3 overtime loss to Tampa Bay was not only the second-highest regular-season total since the official stat started being kept in 1997-98, it also featured 33:00 at even strength. No one is playing more at even strength in 2019-20 than Chabot, averaging 21:42 per game, 1:20 more than Florida’s Aaron Ekblad. That pace would be 11th-most all-time, with Ryan Suter setting the record at 23:17 in 2013-14. (Suter actually has the two highest totals, and former Senator Erik Karlsson owns three in the top eight.) It’s interesting to see how much the game changed after 2004-05. The only player in the top 88 from beforehand is Derian Hatcher, ranked 36th at 20:44 for Dallas in 2001-02. There was apparently a game in QMJHL Shawinigan where, with the Cataractes down to five defencemen, he played 40 minutes. Chabot also played 43:53 in the 2017 World Junior Gold Medal game, a 5-4 shootout loss to the United States. His ice time in the four period — 11:08, 11:30, 10:09, and 11:06. His superpower obviously is lung capacity.
16. Chandler Stephenson has points in four straight games after scoring his sixth of the year in Vegas’s 3–2 win over Minnesota on Tuesday night. Word is that when it became clear Stephenson could be the odd man out in Washington, Capitals GM Brian MacLellan made it clear he’d do his best to make sure the forward went to a good situation. Players talk about this stuff.
17. It was overshadowed by the Taylor Hall trade, but Chicago’s announcement that Marc Crawford would return to the bench on Jan. 2 was actually a more stunning story. I don’t know anyone who suspected that, in this climate, Crawford — absent since Dec. 2 pending an investigation into his behaviour — would be given another chance. The Blackhawks handled the investigation and are not commenting.
As I write this, it’s been barely 24 hours since his re-instatement was revealed, so there’s not a ton of information. But, this is a surprising development, so I wanted to pass on what I could gather. In his written comments, Crawford said, “I have regularly engaged in counselling over the last decade where I have faced how traumatic my behaviour was towards others. I learned new ways of expressing and managing my emotions. I take full responsibility for my actions.”
I understand this was critical to his position, and that Chicago verified he’d been seeing a therapist. All of the public accusations — Sean Avery, Harold Druken, Patrick O’Sullivan and Brent Sopel (Avery felt it didn’t merit an investigation and Sopel walked it back) — were more than a decade old, and Crawford certainly had a rep back then for being as harsh as they came. The Blackhawks, who had discussed this to some degree when Crawford was hired, did a deeper dive, reaching out to players and executives who were with him in Dallas, Switzerland and Ottawa, looking to see if there was anything new. They were satisfied with what they heard.
I wondered then, why was Crawford not allowed to immediately return? I’m told that it was felt that there should still be some kind of penalty, and it would also serve as a warning that there is zero room for any future violations. If he’s learned and is making amends, he deserves the opportunity to show it.
18. John Hynes is very much on Team USA’s radar for the world championships, if he’s so inclined.
19. Five coaching changes this year. NHL record: 11 in 2002-03. That seems absurd.
20. If Peter DeBoer wants to coach again this season, he will have the opportunity. But the situation has to make sense.
21. Trivia question: Name the three current NHL goalies listed under six feet.
22. Sportsnet’s draft guru, Sam Cosentino, said this year’s Canadian World Junior training camp was, by far, the most heavily scouted he’s seen from an NHL perspective. The reason: This one featured eight first-year draft eligibles; the last five camps had a combined six. That doesn’t include OHL Guelph’s Nico Daws, who was passed over in 2019 and is taking out his anger on the rest of the league. Daws lost 25 pounds last summer, and Sam’s sources indicate he could go in the second round of the 2020 draft. By the way, Cosentino is the smartest person on the planet, because he’s not on social media.
23. The NHL is down six officials with long-term injuries. Tim Peel suffered a fractured tibia last week, putting him out three months. He joins fellow referees Jon McIsaac and Eric Furlatt, and linesmen Michel Cormier, Steve Miller and Vaughan Rody. Peel was injured during an Arizona/Chicago game, and Coyotes players were amazed at how he got up, limped to the bench, casually hopped over the boards and exited down the tunnel. They were talking about it after the game, saying they couldn’t remember seeing a referee exit as play continued.
24. NHL Alumni Executive Director Glenn Healy is keeping the specific details quiet, but, on Dec. 7, there was a lengthy meeting at the NHL’s Toronto offices with 15-plus alumni. With them were the organization’s top doctors in neurology, pain management, psychology and overall player health. There is a lot of debate and discussion about post-playing-career care for those who need it. This kind of get-together is going to be critical to making sure things get better.
25. Another hot topic is accessibility — making the sport open and safe to anyone who wants to participate. At its Board of Governors meeting last week, the NHL unveiled its plan to attack racial, physical and emotional abuse. A separate, but important, issue is cost, which can be a barrier for many families. Last month, one program, the NHLPA’s Goals & Dreams Foundation, celebrated its 20th anniversary. Hall of Famer Mike Gartner started up this initiative in November 1999. It has donated new sets of equipment to more than 80,000 kids. Gartner left the union in 2007, disillusioned with the controversies surrounding former executive director’s Bob Goodenow’s replacement, Ted Saskin.
At this year’s Hockey Hall of Fame inductions, Devin Smith, hired to help launch Goals and Dreams, asked if Gartner wanted to return for one trip.
“Maybe I do,” he responded.
That trip was last weekend, to Faro, Yukon — four hours north of Whitehorse.
“That was the most enjoyable part of my (NHLPA) job, and this was a reminder,” Gartner said Tuesday.
Thirty-five years ago, Faro was home to a huge open-pit mine that drove the local economy and brought population up above 2,000. But it closed, and Gartner said the current number is closer to 400. He helped donate 27 new sets of equipment, but the highlight was a five-hour snowmobile ride through the region’s mountain area. How cold was it?
“Minus-26,” he answered.
I hope the rink where they did the clinic wasn’t outdoors.
“It wasn’t, but it felt like it was,” he laughed.
26. On our phone call, we discussed the cost issue. Gartner and partner Wes Jarvis (who played 237 NHL games with Washington, Minnesota, Los Angeles and Toronto) own three National Training Rinks facilities. They are based in Barrie, Newmarket and Richmond Hill, Ont.
“We see what’s going on in minor hockey all the time,” he said. “The biggest barrier to entry is not cost — it’s the lack of adaptation to changing times. There are no local papers anymore, but all you had to do for years was put an ad in them saying, ‘Registration for next season begins April 1.’ New Canadians want to participate. They want to be involved. Where we live, for example, there is a large Asian community. We put ads in Mandarin-speaking newspapers. We made sure we had staff members who speak Mandarin and Cantonese. It’s thriving. You have to reach out to the community.”
Gartner points to women’s hockey as a perfect example. Young girls wanted to play, and Canada did a great job of making the sport accessible to them.
“Now, you have so many strong role models. Just look at Hayley Wickenheiser’s Hall of Fame speech,” he said. “We have to reach out to different communities the same way. You can play hockey at a fairly reasonable cost. Eighty (to) eighty-five per cent of us can find great second-hand equipment and skate a couple of times per week. It’s the elite programs that get crazy, with $300 sticks, $1,000 skates and tournaments every weekend. We have to get the message out there that you can join for a reasonable price.”
27. This was a very tough week. The 2012–13 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Quebec featured McDavid, Sam Bennett, Kasperi Kapanen, Dylan Larkin, William Nylander and Mikko Rantanen. But the leading scorer, with 13 points in six games, was Sweden’s Oskar Lindblom. If there was a knock on him, it was his skating. There were times at major international events where he did look a step behind, and it affected his draft status. But Lindblom had a champion — one Joakim Grundberg. Hired by Philadelphia in 2013, Grundberg had already worked for Peter Forsberg and Markus Naslund for MoDo in the Swedish League. He’d seen a lot of Lindblom, and liked the overall package. The story I heard was that Grundberg talked up the young winger; eventually then-director of scouting Chris Pryor and longtime scout Dennis Patterson came to Sweden — and Lindblom scored a hat trick while they were watching. Pryor, who now works with Nashville, was sold, and made a plan to draft him. The Flyers had no fourth-round selection in 2014, but were confident he’d be there in round five, which he was, 138th overall. By 2016-17, Lindblom was the best winger in Sweden’s top league. There are a lot of people rooting for him who believe that special character, drive, will and determination will help him in his battle with Ewing’s Sarcoma.
28. Scot and Kurt Kleinendorst were born 350 days apart (Jan. 16 and Dec. 31, 1960) in Grand Rapids, Minn. The were both drafted by the Rangers in 1980 — Kurt 77th and Scot 98th.
“Scotty and I were raised in the same town, by the same parents, and we played for the same coaches,” Kurt texted on Tuesday. “But we were night-and-day different in many ways. I use it as an example all the time about why coaches need to get to know their players. You could yell at Scotty and he would get so mad that you wouldn’t want to be lined up against him on your next shift. He would drive you through the wall. Me, on the other hand — polar opposite. [Lou Lamoriello, their head coach at NCAA Providence] yelled at me once early in my freshman year, and I didn’t talk to him again until Christmas.”
Kurt said Lamoriello reached out, constantly communicating after hearing of the industrial accident that injured his older brother last week. Sadly, Scot didn’t recover, and died at age 59. He had 12 goals, 58 points and 452 penalty minutes in 281 NHL games for the Rangers, Hartford and Washington from 1982-90. There is a story about one of his trainers yelling at another team’s tough guy, “Hey, so-and-so, you better settle down or we’ll send Kleinendorst out after you!” With a smile, Scot turned to the trainer and shouted back, “Hey, shut the (bleep) up” as his teammates fell over laughing. All the best to the Kleinendorst families.
29. Back in my first year at Western University, I covered the men’s hockey team for the student newspaper. On that team was a winger named Todd Humphrey. I lost track of him after he graduated until a) he showed up in an article about the mid-1990s Flint Generals in Esquire magazine, then b) the Seattle expansion team hired him as Senior Vice President of Digital, Fan Experience. Humphrey reached out Tuesday to discuss arriving up at training camp in 1992–93 for the Colonial League’s Detroit Falcons. He was given a new roommate, 23-year-old Vladimir Tsyplakov, fresh from Dynamo Minsk.
“I guess they thought a college grad could help him more than some others,” Humphrey said. “[Vladimir] spoke very little English, with his three most understood/used words being: hockey, vodka, girls. One day I took him to our favourite watering hole. He had never played pool before. So I got a couple of beers and two cues. He looks at me, heads back to the bar, returns and says, ‘You teach me to shoot pool; I teach you how to shoot vodka,’ as he puts four shots on the table.”
Humphrey would be traded to the St. Thomas Wildcats. Tsyplakov was an offensive force at that level, the start of a North American career that featured 170 points in 331 NHL games with Los Angeles and Buffalo. The two ran into each other at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. Tsyplakov played for Belarus, which upset Sweden in the quarterfinals.
“We were walking towards each other down the street, when this huge smile came across his face,” Humphrey said. “Gave me the biggest bear hug, and tells his teammate, ‘This is the guy who taught me to kick your ass in pool!’ He was one of the very best. Always happy, smiling, wanting to learn, mostly about hockey and life in North America.” Belarus’s Hockey Federation announced his death last week at age 50.
31. Through the magic of the internet, I met Aric John Sy Cua, a reporter from the Manila Times. He’s based in Quezon City, Philippines. Thanks to him, I learned there is a Southeast Asian Games hockey tournament, and it was held earlier this month in Manila. The defending-champion host country was upset 4–3 by Singapore in the semifinal, and took it out on Malaysia, 17–1 for the Bronze. Thailand won its first-ever gold medal, 8–0 over Singapore.