When Sportsnet’s John Shannon sat down with a half-dozen executives of NHL teams on Saturday ahead of the draft lottery, the GMs offered some interesting tidbits on their respective off-seasons outside of the Nolan vs. Nico debate.
Making like that one classmate you vaguely recall from high school, we just spent more time on Facebook than is healthy. Yes, we watched Sportsnet’s full FB Live interviews with seven busy front-office types in order to share a quick notebook of the juiciest morsels for the 2017 hockey off-season.
• The Vancouver Canucks, president Linden reminds, have six picks in the top 120 at this year’s NHL Draft, so the rebuilding club is not stressing over tumbling to fifth overall — a worst-case scenario come true.
“We’re going to get an excellent player. Perhaps the player you get at four or five will be every bit as good as the players you get at one or two,” Linden said. “If that’s a power-play defenceman, if that’s a centre-ice man, both would be needs in our camp.
“The focus has to be on finding two or three players in this draft that’ll be in the National Hockey League.”
• Heading into the final season of their contracts, Daniel and Henrik Sedin are excited to work with new coach Travis Green and would be happy to see their role reduced as their age goes up. The twins will be 37 when the puck drops on 2017-18.
“They’ll show up at camp in the best shape of their lives, like they always do,” Linden said.
“They would like nothing more than for someone to take their spot as the No. 1 line. We saw bits of that this year with Bo [Horvat] and Sven [Baertschi] and whoever was their wingman there. I think they’re OK with that.”
• Top-six Jets forward Bryan Little ($5 million cap hit) will enter the final year of his deal next season and is eligible to sign an extension as early as July 1. Cheveldayoff identified the 29-year-old as a player “we’re anxious to keep in our organization.”
• The GM defended his inexperienced goaltending tandem of Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson — “When a goalie has a tough night as a young player, there’s nobody to bail you out” — but is no doubt aware Winnipeg’s team save percentage ranked (.900) third-worst overall.
“Goalie is certainly a position that we’re going to evaluate,” he said. “When you look at our goaltending, certainly we’d like more consistency.”
• Cheveldayoff pointed at an unpredictable salary cap as the biggest challenge when figuring out an appropriate extension for emerging star Nikolaj Ehlers, who is eligible to re-sign this summer and has one more year on his entry-level deal. Similar situation as Connor McDavid.
“Nik Ehlers is going to be a Jet for a long, long time,” the GM assured. “Man, can he skate.”
• The Colorado Avalanche is prioritizing an upgraded blue line.
“Certainly we need to improve our back end,” GM Sakic said. “[Our forwards] need support from the back end to create opportunities.”
• Sakic preached patience and long-term vision, so youth and speed are on his shopping list: “We feel we’re set up right now, cap-wise as well, that we can go that route.”
• The Avs 2016-17 season, in a nutshell, per Sakic: “Up and down our lineup, nobody had a great year.”
• Having a full summer to prepare for the job will help Jared Bednar be a better coach.
• Nathan MacKinnon is progressing further as a defensive centre, matching up against the opposition’s top lines.
• New Jersey Devils GM Shero said he’s happy to see Adam Larsson’s success with the Oilers in these playoffs and looked back on last June’s blockbuster.
“It’s worked out really well for Edmonton and worked out well for New Jersey. When the trade was made, I think Peter [Chiarelli] got a little heat out there. I was defending him more than myself: ‘Has anybody ever seen Adam Larsson play? This guy’s a good player.’ “
• Shero said it’s “fair” to say the Devils have need at every position.
• There’s a reason to love players on entry-level contracts besides the lack of commas on their paycheques. “You get stale sometimes,” Shero said. “The energy level, the speed, the youth can really help a team, too.”
• Shero has never met Ilya Kovalchuk, the star Russian whose NHL rights he controls. Interesting that the GM pointed out that the Devils have changed both ownership and management since Kovalchuk abruptly departed for the KHL.
Shero will reach out to Kovalchuk’s agent, Jay Grossman, this week to discuss a possible NHL return, but there’s no rush between now and July 1.
“He’s coming off a great year at 34 years old. He won the KHL championship with St. Petersburg, and he was a huge part of it,” Shero said.
• The Los Angeles Kings assistant GM pointed at “wear and tear,” partly due to September’s World Cup, as a contributing factor to the San Jose Sharks’ early playoff exit and injuries to the Kings’ core: Marian Gaborik, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick.
“It takes its toll,” Futa said. “We’ll have plenty of rest now, so there will be no excuses next year.”
• The Kings’ other issue? “We just don’t score enough,” Futa said.
Look for 23-year-old centre prospect Jonny Brodzinski, who needs a new contract, to help fix that problem.
“He was our leading scorer this year [in AHL Ontario, with 27 goals in 59 games]. He got injured last year and missed some playoff time and the team really missed him,” Futa said. “He’s a kid that puts the puck to the net the same way [Tyler] Toffoli does.”
• The Coyotes use analytics to evaluate junior players, too. But since the CHL doesn’t offer much beyond box scores, Arizona collects its own data or uses a third party.
• GM Chayka said the Coyotes will be drafting the best player available and aren’t too concerned about position. Further, he is “absolutely” willing to trade up or down the board.
• Chayka needs a play-now centre. “We’ve got as deep of a young forward group as there is,” he said. “In the short-term, the centre position needs to be addressed, but I don’t think that’ll be addressed at the draft this year.”
• On Lawson Crouse, who only had five goals and 12 points as a rookie: “He’s a 19-year-old power forward. Those guys typically take a little bit longer. He came in and was one of our best penalty killers.” Chayka likes Crouse’s physical game and said he’d be a Coyote for a long time.
• Will UFA Shane Doan play or retire?
“Shane is the Arizona Coyotes,” Chayka said. “He’s still listening to his body right now. We’ll see how it goes.”
• Compared to your average GM, Chayka isn’t too worried about losing a key piece in the expansion draft: “We have more guys that are exempt.”
• Former/current Florida Panthers GM Tallon had the best line of the bunch: “The puck doesn’t know how big you are. It’s how big your heart is.”
• Tallon is bullish on his defensive depth and sees a handful of prospects from AHL Springfield pushing for a roster spot this fall.
“Our depth chart looks solid on the back end,” Tallon said. “If we had any need at all, it’s a natural goal scorer.”
• Like Chayka, Tallon isn’t sweating the expansion draft: “We’re in good shape there.”
• Unlike recent draft classes, Tallon doesn’t see a big talent gap between 2017’s top-rated prospect and the 15th-rated skater.
• Six head coaching candidates have already been interviewed by the Panthers (one is Michel Therrien). Tallon wants a patient coach who works well with young players. He hopes to fill the position prior to the draft.
• Tallon will meet with immortal UFA Jaromir Jagr’s agent at the world championship later this week. First, does Jagr even want to come back? If he does, can the sides come to an agreement on a one-year deal that “makes sense”?
“It’s a matter of what’s best for him,” Tallon said. “Jaromir’s a very honest and sincere guy.”
• James Reimer had a career-high 43 games played in 2016-17 and will continue to progressively take over No. 1 goaltending duties from 38-year-old Roberto Luongo.
Further, Tallon is high on 20-year-old prospect Samuel Montembeault as Reimer’s likely successor: “It’s a good balance for us.”