PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — All eyes turn to Gary Bettman and Bill Daly.
With NHL owners set to gather for a Board of Governors meeting unlike any other in recent memory, the league’s most powerful men will speak publicly for the first time since Bill Peters resigned from the Calgary Flames, Marc Crawford was suspended by the Chicago Blackhawks and hockey’s culture was placed under the microscope by a series of allegations from former players.
The two-day gathering at America’s most scenic golf resort isn’t expected to produce sweeping answers. The issues are deep enough and serious enough that time will be required to form a complete plan of action, which is why the tone set by Bettman and Daly will be so significant.
The commissioner and deputy commissioner have already met with Akim Aliu, the player who spoke up about mistreatment from Peters — his former coach in the American Hockey League who used racial slurs in the dressing room. That was followed by allegations from others about abuse from their coaches, both physical and mental, which led to Crawford being removed from the bench while the Blackhawks conduct an investigation.
The NHL has released strongly-worded statements over the last two weeks and will need to enact preventative measures moving forward.
There has been talk about creating a league-wide code of conduct and requiring that all future matters of this nature to be reported directly to the NHL head office, rather than being handled internally by the organizations themselves. The governors have been asked to bring other ideas to the Monday and Tuesday sessions in Pebble Beach as well.
Eventually, action will be needed to move the league and sport forward. But the first steps will be taken here with some important discussion.
What makes the growing buzz about a Taylor Hall trade unique isn’t that the pending unrestricted free agent is available, but that he seems to be available right now.
Only the New Jersey Devils front offices knows for certain what the timelines are here, but there’s a belief among other executives that Hall could potentially be moved before the NHL’s holiday roster freeze comes into effect on Dec. 19.
That would be unusual.
Teams typically wait until much closer to the trade deadline before selling their wares — in part because that brings more bidders into play since they need to absorb less of the player’s cap hit and in part because the pressure of the impending deadline tends to propel managers into action.
However, there’s a case to be made for interested buyers to put forth a strong trade package now.
Hall is expected to be a pure rental — meaning he’s unlikely to sign an extension as part of a deal, like Mark Stone did while moving from Ottawa to Vegas last February — and so why not maximize the amount of time he has to get comfortable in his new situation while also giving him longer to deliver value on the asset expenditure?
Sidney Crosby has been the NHL’s best player for most of his 15 seasons, but he hasn’t ever owned the highest salary cap hit in the league.
That piece of trivia came to mind when I read Nathan MacKinnon’s comments to Forbes this week about being willing to take less money on his next contract with the Colorado Avalanche even though he’s already being wildly underpaid on this one.
Crosby’s influence on MacKinnon is strong. The Halifax-area natives have built a relationship that belies their eight-year age gap — working out together, golfing together and taking off-season trips together — and there’s little doubt MacKinnon has been a sponge while growing close with his childhood idol over these last few years.
The one thing No. 87 has prized above all is team success. His legacy will be tied to three Stanley Cups and two Olympic golds more than it will be scoring records or individual trophies.
And as the first transcendent star in the NHL’s salary cap era (along with Alex Ovechkin), that required helping make things work for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Crosby actually took less of the available pie on his third contract than his second one — signing for 14.5 per cent of the cap after earning 17.3 per cent — and that was paramount to Pittsburgh’s recent Cup wave because it allowed for Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and others to be taken care of while still leaving enough money to build a good team around the core.
During an appearance on the “Spittin’ Chiclets” podcast last summer, Crosby explained why he was comfortable sticking with an $8.7-million cap hit on the 12-year extension he signed in 2012:
“I was willing to take a little less, but taking a little less doesn’t work if everyone doesn’t take a little less … Geno took a little less, Tanger took a little less, Kuny took a little less. And it worked out.”
MacKinnon isn’t eligible to sign his next deal until July 1, 2022. The cap will have gone up by then and he’ll be in line for a well-deserved raise, but you can bet he’ll be looking at the broader picture as well.
This tweet sent David Amber and I down the rabbit hole backstage at the Hockey Night in Canada studio on Saturday night.
Not so much because of the debate around who is No. 1, but because the balance of power has shifted so much since we last saw NHL players in best-on-best competition at the 2016 World Cup.
If you were building a hypothetical Team Canada today, we’d be inclined to go with an all-Maritime top line: Marchand-Crosby-MacKinnon. There would be no shortage of options for Connor McDavid’s wings, but how about a look at No. 97 with Jonathan Huberdeau and Mitch Marner? Or Taylor Hall and Mat Barzal? Or maybe Logan Couture and Mark Scheifele?
The choices on the blue-line would arguably be the toughest. The 2016 World Cup team featured Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, Shea Weber, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Jay Bouwmeester and Jake Muzzin.
If you were picking a Team Canada today, you’d have to consider removing a couple of those holdovers to find room for the likes of Cale Makar, Dougie Hamilton, Josh Morrissey, Morgan Rielly, Thomas Chabot and Ryan Ellis.
In goal, would you bet on Carey Price’s experience for the No. 1 job or, say, Braden Holtby and Jordan Binnington’s big-game performances in the last couple years?
These debates are part of what makes best-on-best competition so enjoyable. Unfortunately, they’ve fallen silent with the NHL and NHLPA unable to find agreement on establishing their long sought-after international calendar of events.
Geoff Ward’s promotion from associate coach to interim head coach of the Calgary Flames came with a pay bump for the rest of the season, but few promises about the future. The organization will keep its options open and watch how the team progresses under Ward … My colleague Elliotte Friedman reports that Alex Galchenyuk is available on the trade market. He’s an impending free agent — the kind of rental often moved before the deadline — and is still just 25 years old … You could see the relief all over Milan Lucic’s face when he finally scored his first goal as a member of the Flames on Thursday night, and who can blame him? No player likes seeing a bagel under the ‘G’ column at this stage of the season, even if he’s not counted on for offence. Lucic followed it up by scoring in a second straight game Saturday. Among those still looking to escape this season’s No-Goal Club: Joe Thornton (31 games played), Charlie McAvoy (30 games played), Mark Jankowski (27 games played), Carl Hagelin (20 games played) and Brenden Perlini (18 games played).