31 Thoughts: Bowman believes ‘more Cup runs’ possible for Blackhawks

• Bowman: No reason core can’t win more Cups
• No truth to Datsyuk comeback rumours
• Should Jets rest Scheifele down stretch?

A few days after each GM meeting, I’ll ask if anything was missed in the initial post-mortem. Most of the time, the response is, “Believe me, you didn’t miss much.” Once in a while, you get something different.

A couple different sources pointed in the direction of Chicago, which suggested an interesting, offbeat idea.

Stan Bowman’s been the Blackhawks’ GM since 2009. After 24 years with the Chicago Cubs, John McDonough became president of the hockey team in 2007. His baseball background is relevant for the purposes of this conversation.

“John’s been asking me for a long time, ‘Explain this healthy-scratch idea,’” Bowman said Monday, referring to players who don’t dress for games. “He’d say, ‘But we are paying them, right? I don’t get why we are not using them.’

“To be honest, I wasn’t really sure of a good answer. I think the idea used to be, you didn’t want a situation where if someone was coming in down four goals, they’d start a lot of trouble. But those guys don’t exist any more. If you can’t play, you can’t play.”

What Bowman suggested was every team continue to be allowed an in-game roster of 18 skaters and two goalies. However, coaches could insert their “healthy scratches” during a game. Like baseball, once someone is taken out, they cannot return.

Someone gets injured? Substitute. Down 2–0 heading into the third period, with an offensive player not dressed? Hey bud, suit up. Up 2–0 heading into the third period, with a good defensive player relaxing in a La-Z-Boy? Get dressed!

Holy smokes, do I looooooooooooooooove this idea.

Allowing anyone to be substituted for any reason rules out concern for faking injuries. If someone who enters the game late does start a fiasco, they could be eligible for extra supplemental discipline. Players would have to work out during the game to stay ready, so they aren’t totally cold.

You suggest a problem, I’m coming with an answer.

Bowman did get pushback, particularly concerns that this would benefit the wealthy franchises who can afford to carry 23 players. Not necessarily, he countered.

“We have money, but we can’t carry 23 because we don’t have the cap room. Nobody only carries 20. I’ve been looking every month. Everyone would have at least one substitute,” he said. “[And] if you’re really worried about that, maybe limit it to one substitution instead of three

The first player I thought of upon hearing of this was Frankie Corrado, whose development ground to a halt when Toronto wouldn’t play him, and wouldn’t risk losing him on waivers. More players would get to play, and, as an added bonus, improve that post-career pension.

“There have to be players who would get more of a chance in this kind of a system,” Bowman said. “Instead of getting scratched for 20 games in a row, maybe you’re down 4–0, you rest a top player and give someone else a chance. It won’t hurt you to give him minutes.”

Man, I’m sold. I hope this gets some traction. Would make the game more fun.

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31 THOUGHTS

1. There were some wild rumours that Pavel Datsyuk is coming back to Detroit for 2018-19. Dan Milstein, his agent, says that is not true.

2. It has been a very difficult week in Calgary, with the Flames on fumes, lurching to the end of the season. I think they are in a similar kind of shock Edmonton was in for awhile, stunned at how a hopeful season went off the rails. It’s led to a lot of questions about the team’s character, but my sense is they are less worried about that than a lack of urgency.

Yes, it’s a fine line, but let me give you an example of what I think this means. One of the stories I heard was that, in 2016–17, some players went to coach Glen Gulutzan and said the group responded better to a velvet glove than an iron hand. There are times that is true and good coaches use both, but the team has to be able to properly police itself. Gulutzan’s taken heat this year for public tirades/stick tosses, but he’s also got defenders who say he was trying to light a fire under a team that couldn’t do it. How do you add that edge? That’s the off-season question.

3. Carolina’s Bill Peters has one year remaining on his contract, but, according to several sources, he has an “out” after this season. He’s obviously not going to talk about it while the Hurricanes are still playing, but my understanding is he has approximately one week after their season ends to activate it. Peters has a $1.6-million salary for 2018-19.

According to John Shannon, he is atop the list to coach Team Canada’s World Championship entry. Peters won gold with that group in 2016. Vancouver’s Travis Green is expected be part of Canada’s coaching staff, too.

4. Canada could have at least nine members of its gold-medal-winning Sochi team compete in Denmark: Carey Price and Mike Smith; Dan Hamhuis and Duncan Keith; Jamie Benn, Matt Duchene, Patrick Sharp, John Tavares and Jonathan Toews. Jay Bouwmeester and Shea Weber are injured or they could have been there, too. And some combination of Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty, Ryan Getzlaf, Roberto Luongo, Corey Perry and Alex Pietrangelo is still possible. That’s over half the team. Maybe I’m the only person who finds this incredible.

5. One year ago, Florida’s coaching search came down to Bob Boughner and Denver’s Jim Montgomery. Boughner won the job, and he’s got the Panthers on the brink of a marvellous in-season comeback. A day after the NCAA Pioneers’ attempt at a championship repeat was derailed, Montgomery answered the phone by laughing and saying, “We’ve got five minutes to talk before I start the barbecue.” I had a simple question: Will he try again?

“I’d never say never,” he answered. “But it would have to be a perfect opportunity for me and my family…. Denver is a great place to live, and I work for great people.”

6. Detroit’s Ken Holland is in the cone of silence, not revealing much about his future. I’m loathe to say he’s 100 per cent coming back, because nothing is done until it is done, but all indications are pointing in that direction. The Athletic’s Craig Custance quoted sources as expecting a three-year extension; I heard rumblings about a two-year move. Whatever the case, the organization is working through the process.

Owner Marian Ilitch has a place near the site of last week’s GM meetings and it is believed they met. There are some GMs who know the end is coming and give off a “Dead Man Walking” impression, but Holland isn’t acting that way. He’s spent much less time around the team than normal, throwing on his scouting beret for a hugely important draft.

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7. As I complete this blog Tuesday night, the Red Wings were the lone non-West Coast team to get a visit from Minnesota State free agent defender Daniel Brickley. He went to San Jose and will meet the Kings before sitting down with agent Pat Brisson to discuss where things stand. There are two other possibilities, but, at this point, Brickley doesn’t intend to see them in-person. Detroit’s biggest advantage is that it can “burn” the first year of his contract by putting him in right away, while the Sharks and Kings may have to wait until their playoff positions are secure. But he’s got options, for sure.

8. Teams are preparing as if St. Cloud State’s Jimmy Schuldt will leave school and go pro, although he hasn’t announced a decision. “You always have to assume that until proven otherwise,” one exec said.

9. Always interested in seeing the structure of some of these contracts. Florida’s Henrik Borgstrom and Vancouver’s Adam Gaudette both signed three-year deals at an average annual value of $1,491,700. The tiny difference? Borgstrom’s pro-rated salary for the rest of this season is $925,000 — while Gaudette’s is $900,000. The former gets a $25,000 bonus for games played. That’s probably a low hurdle, and Vancouver, out of the race, can commit easier than the Panthers. Minnesota’s Jordan Greenway is at $1.225 million, as his bonuses the next two seasons ($400,000 and then $500,000) are lower than those of Borgstrom and Gaudette, who both can hit $850,000 in each year.

10. Florida GM Dale Tallon fought off any urge to move Borgstrom this season. They were trying to get Ryan McDonagh and there’s no doubt the Rangers asked.

“He is an NHL-ready player,” said Montgomery, his college coach. “The key will be his consistency of competitiveness. He’s so creative, he can make plays from the middle of the ice. If he wants to be good defensively, he can be.”

Is he ready to play centre right away in the NHL?

“I used him at wing when I put our big three together. But he’s better defensively as a centre than a wing.”

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11. It’s rare that a 30th-overall selection gets the best possible bonus package, but Eeli Tolvanen had the leverage. Nashville agreed to the terms, and Tolvanen will also have an “out” to go back overseas if he does not wish to go to the AHL — should more seasoning be necessary.

12. The Panthers are trying to trade 2016 second-rounder Adam Mascherin of OHL Kitchener. A 40-goal scorer for the Rangers, he informed Florida he would not sign there before he can re-enter the draft in June. It’s unfortunate, as it appears there was some broken telephone that made things worse than they needed to be. This will not be easy for the Panthers, since interested teams won’t want to give up something if they think they can just draft him in three months. Their best hope is that someone who lacks draft choices where Mascherin might be taken decides it really wants him.

13. Very curious to see how Winnipeg handles Mark Scheifele for the rest of the regular season. He was momentarily stunned by a collision at the end of the second period of the Jets’ wild shootout victory over Boston on Tuesday night. He’s already suffered two shoulder-area injuries this season, and there was fear a third would cost him the season. They are close to clinching second place in the Central and lead Vegas by one for second in the conference. Do they sit him for a game or two, just to preserve his health?

14. Getting back to Chicago, the Blackhawks have some serious debriefing to do.

“One thing I’m not going to do is blame the goalies,” Bowman said. “Obviously, we feel a healthy Corey Crawford would make a difference, but we were already out of a playoff spot when he went out of the lineup. What we are really hopeful for is bounce-back years from our best five. I think they would tell you they weren’t happy with their play this year. Our young and peripheral guys played hard and were more than adequate.”

That leads to another question: Are Bowman and the Blackhawks worried the window has slammed shut on that core? That they’ve played too much hockey and it has taken its toll?

“It’s a common question I get, but I’m not sure I buy it,” he answered. “They haven’t played as much the last three years. The window concept… Look at Boston. Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci. They are older. Who predicted they would be at the level they are? It doesn’t happen to everyone, but there are players who maintain their level. Our guys are still incredible players, and we need to surround them with good young players. If we do that, there is no reason we can’t have more Cup runs. We are excited about where we are headed.”

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15. One of the rumblings I’d heard was the Blackhawks considering trading their upcoming lottery pick for someone who could make an immediate difference. Bowman didn’t seem so keen on the idea.

“I would be surprised if we traded it. Maybe if it was for a 22- or 23-year-old, who would be a couple of years ahead of draft age. But not for a 25- or 26-year-old. We think fans will like (newly signed) Dylan Sikura…. Add him to Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz. We want to add to that group…. Like I said, maybe for someone who is a couple years ahead but has a ton of hockey left.”

16. Joel Quenneville has two years and approximately $12 million remaining on his contract, and the biggest question might be if he wants a new challenge. The relationship is believed to be strained, especially after assistant coach Mike Kitchen was fired last year and the coach, upset about draft-day trades, did not show up for the first round at the United Centre. Bowman pushed back against that narrative.

“I’m going to say the same thing I’ve said to everyone. There will be a review of the coaching staff. I’m going to be evaluated by the people above me. It’s too early to tell what, if any, changes [there could] be. After this kind of disappointing year, we’re all under review. I’m not above that. But I don’t think any coach and manager get along 100 per cent. There is no way he likes everyone I put on the roster and I don’t always like the deployment. That’s par for the course.”

If anything, Bowman feels that what the organization has accomplished will eventually overshadow all other memories.

“It’s hard to think about right now when you’re in the middle of this, but history will be kind to us. One [Stanley Cup run] is an accomplishment — how many are going to win three [in] six [years]? What Pittsburgh could do would be even better. Three in a row? That would be unbelievable. It’s too hard to think of the great times now because we are disappointed in the moment. Fans are expecting championships, and I understand that. The NHL is not set up for continued success, but for a lot of balance and the system works.”

17. One of the oddest stories of the year was the early-season visor crackdown and what happened to it. Toronto’s Leo Komarov was practically incarcerated. Things changed when Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall returned from injury a week into the season, and, suddenly realizing what was up, objected. Rather than battling a grievance, the league gave exemptions to Komarov, Kronwall and Arizona’s Niklas Hjalmarsson. (All three could have refused to wear one, since they were in the NHL prior to 2013–14.)

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18. Another small, but interesting, idea that was thrown out there at the GM get-together: Teams getting to pick which side of the ice they want face-offs to be on while on the power play.

19. For the first time, the NHL Alumni Association presented at the meetings. That’s a win for Glenn Healy, who is hugely invested in this organization. Among his wishes: that team doctors be made accessible to alumni and their families, should medical attention be necessary. Healy is determined to improve medical care for retired players, and that would be a major step.

20. I have believed for years that PJ Stock would be a fantastic assistant coach. Hockey seasons can be a lengthy slog — challenging and difficult. PJ has an infectious attitude — he’s relentlessly positive and determined. He’s got a great head for the game, and don’t be fooled by the fact his NHL goal total was five. He showed in junior and at St. Francis Xavier University that there is much more depth to him.

Well, two years after we last worked together, PJ is embarking on that journey.

“I wanted to do it from the day I stopped playing,” he said this week. “But television was better for my family, more stable. [In coaching,] you’re hired to get fired and we’ve got a family with four kids. But I was always thinking, ‘When is the right time?’”

That time is now.

“I remember being in my parents’ living room deciding to go pro, and I wasn’t sure I could even make the AHL. But they told me I could always go back to school and I’d regret it if I didn’t try. I had to make sure it was right for my kids, and they are in the right space mentally.”

21. One of the moments that stuck out about his knowledge was a game we were doing where Alex Ovechkin was slumping. PJ suggested a couple things he could try and people were tweeting at him, “Why is the guy with five goals instructing the guy with 500?” (We would look at those and laugh.) Later, we saw Ovechkin do something he’d mentioned and bust out of his slump. I turned to PJ, and he loved the fact I’d noticed. He started patting himself on the back as we cracked up.

“I could see how things were supposed to be done, but couldn’t do it. In my head I could do it — physically I couldn’t. It frustrated the hell out of me. But I can teach and I watch a lot of games. It’s about pushing the right buttons on individuals to get most out of them. I think I’m good at that. My skill set was not good enough to be there, but I found a way to get there. Every individual can get a little bit better. I believe that if you can make 20 players a little bit better, your whole team is a lot better.”

Good luck, PJ. (This concludes the former co-worker section of this week’s blog.)

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22. Toronto’s Nazem Kadri just became the fifth player this century to have his first two 30-goal seasons at ages 26 and 27. He’s got 62 (and counting) the last two years. Todd Bertuzzi scored 82, the highest since 2000. Others are Anders Lee (72, like Kadri an active streak), Patrick Marleau (66) and Matt Moulson (61).

23. Mitch Marner’s ice-time jumped 2:57 per game while Auston Matthews was out. James van Riemsdyk’s went up 1:34. They dropped back down to 15:32 and 14:26 in Matthews’s return, right around their averages. It looked like things were back to where they were, both spike back up in the next two games. Marner played 18:46 and 19:17; van Riemsdyk 17:47 and 16:33. Maybe the shackles are off both, for good.

24. Ottawa’s Filip Gustavsson, acquired from Pittsburgh in the Derick Brassard deal, made his North American debut last weekend for AHL Belleville. One game is not a large enough sample size, but a couple of scouts who watched agreed that Gustavsson “looks very calm.” Sergei Bobrovsky once said the biggest adjustments were the smaller ice surface and much more traffic.

25. Anze Kopitar is 11th among forwards with 171:40 of shorthanded ice time in 2017–18. He’s got 88 points. No two of the 10 ranked ahead of him — in order from one to 10: Zach Hyman, Jay Beagle, Carl Hagelin, Blake Comeau, Riley Sheahan, Leo Komarov, Carl Soderberg, Mikael Backlund, Brandon Sutter and Luke Glendening — combine for more points than the Kings’ captain. The highest you get is 78, which is Backlund (41) plus Hyman (37). In a year with more MVP candidates than ever, throw Kopitar into the pool.

26. Over 2012–13, Wasserman Media Group (now known simply as Wasserman), represented the No. 1 draft picks in the NFL (Andrew Luck), NBA (Anthony Davis), WNBA (Brittney Griner), MLB (Carlos Correa) and MLS (Andrew Wenger). Run by Casey Wasserman, grandson of late Hollywood power broker Lew Wasserman, it added two recent NHL top picks, Aaron Ekblad (2014) and Connor McDavid (2015), when it bought into Orr Hockey this week. It’s not the first time the agency has done this, making major pushes into baseball and basketball in 2006. Jeff Jackson, who represents McDavid, indicated the process took almost a year.

This kind of growth and exposure is never, ever bad for the NHL. I wonder how much the players themselves care about this, but Jackson sat down with several of his clients to explain what it means and how it could benefit them.

“They were very interested,” he said. “We’re going to learn a lot.”

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27. The ECHL Cincinnati Cyclones have six games remaining, and are in good position to make the playoffs. The end of their season likely means the end of a quietly remarkable career. On Nov. 6, 2015, Buffalo-born Paul Berrafato manned the net for NCAA Holy Cross against Sacred Heart. It was the first of a ridiculous 102 straight starts for Berrafato, a streak that ended with the conclusion of his senior season on March 10, when the Crusaders were eliminated in their conference quarterfinals. Berrafato missed Ben Scrivens’s NCAA record by a measly two. Was he angry he came so close?

“Not so much that,” he answered during our phone conversation on Tuesday. “I was more upset that we missed going further in the playoffs.”

Berrafato signed with the Cyclones for the rest of this season, but knows this is probably it.

“There isn’t a huge market for a five-foot-11 goalie,” he laughed. “But this is something I wanted to do, to say I played pro hockey before I finished.”

He’s started one game, a 4–1 loss to Toledo.

“It is a little strange,” he added, “to not be playing all the time.”

28. Was there ever a time Berrafato thought the streak would end?

“This year,” he answered. We had five games in nine days.” (That was Nov. 17–25.) “The last two were back-to-back against Arizona State, a non-conference opponent. I thought I wouldn’t start one of those two. But we lost the first one, and I was back in.”

He said there was one game he played with a painful groin injury, but there weren’t too many like that.

“I moved out of the way if someone shot at my head in practice. Good business decision.”

It’s always interesting to hear about the families of goalies. Berrafato is getting married this summer to Katie, who he met while playing junior with the NAHL’s Amarillo Bulls.

“She didn’t know anything about hockey when we met. She liked everything about it, except for road games. Those weren’t for her.”

His parents, Tony and Cheryl, never sat together at games.

“My father would stand at the opposite end of the rink, on my blocker side. He didn’t like hearing the other parents talk. No matter where we were playing I could always find him.”

29. Ever since Ryan O’Reilly explained his decision to become a vegan a couple years ago, I’ve been asking players how many more are making the change. I’d heard Justin Abdelkader, but he said he’s not ready to give up fish.

Andreas Athanasiou is a full-blown vegan, though,” he offered.

Abdelkader said he was considering cutting red meat, and did it after watching documentaries like Fast Food Nation and Food, Inc.

“When I first came into the league, I’d go out for dinner and watch what everyone else ate. It was always steak. Now, I feel a lot better, and my sleep has improved, too. I used to feel it sitting there in my stomach, and that’s gone now.”

30. Best Vegan-related conversation: One player said he couldn’t give up ice cream. I told him Ben and Jerry’s solved that problem and he looked at me like I’d mined millions in Bitcoin.

31. Back in 1998, I covered an IndyCar race in Detroit for The Score. The celebrity starter was mobbed by fans as she walked around the track, and someone I knew said, “I’m going to walk behind her and wave. Take a photo.” The best part about this was she totally busted him, laughing and saying, “Ah, the old walk-by. Seen it many times.” That was Karen McDougal and we totally forgot about it — until last week. Crazy world.

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