‘Beyond Headlines’ is a deeper dive into some of the stories — and even some that weren’t — discussed each week on Hockey Night in Canada’s ‘Headlines’ segment.
These are a critical few days in Matt Duchene’s life. He’s reaching decision time with the Ottawa Senators.
There are a lot of things to like about his current situation, a lot of reasons to put pen to paper and sign a big-money, eight-year extension right now. He enjoys living in Ottawa and is playing more minutes than any of his previous six NHL seasons, which has helped put him on pace to set new highs for both goals and assists.
Maybe they even make him the next captain, if he stays and Mark Stone goes.
But there are also a lot of unknowns in Ottawa, too, from the status of a new rink to management’s plan to get this team out of the mud, to the owner’s commitment to seeing the job through.
Much of the recent dialogue between Duchene’s agent, Pat Brisson, and Senators GM Pierre Dorion has centred on the long-term direction of the franchise, rather than strict dollars and cents. The player wants as much information as possible before making his choice.
This week’s statement from Ottawa owner Eugene Melnyk — the one in which he vaguely vowed to spend “close to the cap” from 2021 to 2025 — would seem to provide a timeline for the turnaround, but at this stage it’s nothing more than an article of faith.
The Senators are dead last in the NHL and don’t own their first-round pick. They aren’t in the mix for Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kaako as a result.
Even if Stone and/or Duchene get moved prior to the Feb. 25 trade deadline, it’s extremely unlikely Ottawa is recouping a 2019 first-rounder in the lottery. They’ll be dealing with buyers who are playoff bound and own picks much lower down than that.
There hasn’t seemed to be much happening on the Stone front the last week or two, but there’s been plenty of dialogue with the Duchene camp. Let’s call it even money he re-ups in Ottawa, a fair chance, give or take.
While Dorion isn’t believed to have given the 28-year-old centre a hard deadline to make his decision, everyone knows the moment of truth is almost here. Conversations are due to pick up between Brisson and Dorion again Monday and Tuesday, and Elliotte Friedman reported on ‘Headlines’ that the Senators GM has told colleagues he should know by Wednesday whether he’s keeping or trading his high-end forwards.
So will Duchene stay or will he go?
That’s for he and his family to figure out. He can get more term, more of a role and arguably more money from the Senators than anyone else. But can he get everything else he needs to commit long-term to Ottawa, too?
The wheels are completely off now.
Off and abandoned somewhere on the East Coast following a five-game road trip where the Anaheim Ducks were outscored 29-7 while sinking to the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
Consider it a test of Bob Murray’s will. He’d been sincere and consistent about not wanting to make an in-season coaching change, resisting the urge to remove Randy Carlyle during previous losing streaks of seven and 11 games. The shoe finally dropped Sunday with the Ducks having dropped seven straight again, blown completely out of the water in every game.
Something had to give on a team with a minus-55 goal differential, which generates a league-worst 44 per cent of even-strength scoring chances in the games it plays, and has just lost No. 1 goalie/saviour John Gibson to injury.
Murray was spared from watching the most recent defeats first-hand, having just returned from a scouting trip in Europe, but couldn’t sit idly by any longer. He’s stepping behind the bench on an interim basis because he wants a closer look inside a toxic dressing room.
It wouldn’t be any surprise if the eventual succession plan saw Dallas Eakins finish out the year with San Diego and then come up to the Ducks along with Sam Steel, Troy Terry, Max Jones and others he’s coached in the American Hockey League.
However, the only thing written in stone is that Murray is going to handle the head coaching job himself for the final 26 games this season.
In the big picture, this isn’t the worst thing for the organization. Anaheim has only drafted inside the top nine once since 2006 and managed to remain a perennial 100-point team because of strong work from its scouting staff. They’re trending towards a high pick this spring — at a time when the Ducks are badly in need of a young star (or two).
But there’s a way to go through a losing season you can live with and then there’s embarrassing. This simply got too embarrassing.
If it wasn’t already painfully obvious, there are going to be no quick fixes in Edmonton. The Oilers have the best player in the world and three centreman capable of anchoring a Stanley Cup contender and … a whole bunch of holes beyond that.
Oh, and cap issues. There’s serious cap issues.
Ken Hitchcock sounded the alarm after Saturday’s loss to San Jose, questioning whether the players were as determined as the coaches in wanting to do what it takes to win.
On one hand, the Oilers are in a playoff race. On the other, it’s getting ugly in Edmonton.
The only way to truly right this ship is by finding better players to flank Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
With the Oilers now searching for a new general manager, they’d be wise to study the rise of the Toronto Maple Leafs under Brendan Shanahan. The Leafs got some lottery luck along the way, sure, but they were completely adrift as an organization until Shanahan came along and changed the process by which they operate.
In laying out the Shanaplan, he said in April 2015: “The challenge here in Toronto is not to come up with the plan. The challenge in Toronto is to stick to it.”
It’s no different in Edmonton.
This nugget from Nick Kypreos on ‘Headlines’ might explain how the fireworks will eventually get going in a trade period with a finite number of first-round picks in play: The Nashville Predators are open to the idea of moving winger Eeli Tolvanen, the 30th-overall pick from 2017.
Kyper also mentioned Winnipeg Jets prospect Sami Niku, a skilled puck-mover and the AHL’s reigning defenceman of the year.
Neither of those players is far from being a regular NHL contributor and each amounts to big currency in a buyer’s market.
EXTRA 1 PER CENT
So you want to be a hockey agent, hey?
Just know that there will probably be more hours, more travel expenses and more meetings than you could ever imagine. And the odds suggest a star client will fire you before a big payday at some point. It happens to even the biggest names in the industry.
Artemi Panarin provided a reminder of that this week, dumping Dan Milstein in favour of Paul Theofanous, just as he had once fired Tom Lynn to hire Milstein. The impending UFA is going to sign a massive contract when he hits the open market this summer and told Columbus reporters, “I’m more of a businessman now. … Right now I’m thinking about this as a business.”
In the last year, the list of players to change agents includes Drew Doughty (who represented himself in the negotiation of his recent extension), Taylor Hall, Auston Matthews, Max Pacioretty, Connor Hellebuyck, Roman Josi and Jeff Skinner.
There are individual reasons behind each of those decisions, ranging from wanting more experienced representation to more service and attention to someone who will advocate more fiercely for your interests.
But as one team executive put it this week: “The first question and answer is always money.”
Yes, there’s that, too. Agents typically charge a fee of three per cent, but the rate can be negotiable, especially when a client is jumping ship. Shaving even one per cent off the cost of an agent can translate to a big savings for a player when signing the kind of deals these guys get.
HAKSTOL WORLD TOUR
Dave Hakstol could be sitting on a beach or playing golf or doing anything he wanted right now. The former coach of the Philadelphia Flyers will continue to be paid by the NHL team through the end of next season.
Instead he found himself in Stockholm this week, going behind-the-scenes with Tre Kronor coach Rickard Gronborg and his staff during the Beijer Hockey Games tournament. Hakstol’s visit was documented by well-respected Swedish hockey journalist Uffe Bodin here.
The coach told Bodin that he hasn’t felt the need to take a break from the game, despite being urged by friends to do so after he was fired by the Flyers in December.
During their time together, Hakstol and Gronborg exchanged best practices and kicked around different ideas for running a team. Taking that kind of initiative and adopting a growth mindset should be beneficial when Hakstol gets his next job.