A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. Fun fact: “Too Hot to Handle!” is also what I holler when I swish jump shots over my nine-year-old in the driveway.
1. “Weaponize your cap space” is term that become en vogue in recent NHL seasons, as clubs with high ceilings have increasing (and shrewdly) been willing to swallow an undesirable contract in exchange for a tasty kickback.
We all remember the legendary Arizona Coyotes careers of Marian Hossa and Pavel Datsyuk, right?
Last summer, the budget-conscious Carolina Hurricanes scored the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2020 first-round pick because they were willing to acquire, then buy out, Patrick Marleau. The Devils landed onetime Norris winner P.K. Subban for a song.
At the 2018 draft, Colorado’s Joe Sakic only had to surrender a second-round pick to Washington for an emerging starting goalie in Philipp Grubauer because the Avalanche were willing to eat the overpriced final year on Brooks Orpik’s deal.
A pair of club presidents, Boston’s Cam Neely and Toronto’s Brendan Shanahan, confirmed this week that while the NHL has no interest in decreasing the cap ceiling from 2019-20’s $81.5-million threshold, executives should expect a flat cap in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There’s no question this is going to affect the cap for next year, and it may even affect it a little bit after that,” Neely said Thursday. “Maybe a flat cap for a year or two.”
Basic economics teach us the law of supply and demand. So, with less cap space to go around, the price for securing it should logically go up.
The revisit of compliance buyouts could help alleviate some pain. So, too, could dealing with the teams that have space to weaponize. In this flat-cap world, it should be fascinating to see how the following clubs use this new advantage, either via trades to acquire picks and prospects or in their ability to outbid cap-tight organizations in the free-agent market.
• Ottawa Senators: As painful as it was to watch so much prime talent stroll out the doors, it’s difficult to argue against Pierre Dorion’s aggressive approach to stocking the cupboards. Yes, RFAs Connor Brown, Chris Tierney and Anthony Duclair deserve pay bumps, but veterans Ron Hainsey, Craig Anderson, and Mikkel Boedker are coming off the books, opening up another $12.25 million. Heck, the Sens may be more concerned about the floor than the ceiling. Absolutely, they can use that space to improve — if Eugene Melnyk approves.
• New Jersey Devils: Despite a flat cap, the rebuilding Devils should have roughly $29 million in wiggle room for 2020-21. Yes, RFAs Mackenzie Blackwood and Jesper Bratt will need nice raises, but that leaves plenty of cap space to dangle in front of their overcommitted competition.
• Los Angeles Kings: Like Dorion, Rob Blake has done some fine work purging his middle class and fetching nice returns for rental players. L.A. has stocked eight picks in the first four rounds of the 2020 draft. Blake realizes he’s not a year or two away from contention and should be willing to deal.
• Colorado Avalanche: What separates the Avs from the others on this list is they’re a bona fide Cup contender now. Sakic will have decisions to make on a bunch of 2020 free agents (Andre Burakovsky, Vladislav Namestnikov, Tyson Jost, Valeri Nichushkin, Ryan Graves, Nikita Zadorov), but his enviable cap picture provides a flexibility to chase difference-makers and/or scoop up some extra draft picks.
• Montreal Canadiens: Even with Carey Price and Shea Weber’s monster deals on the books till infinity, Marc Bergevin has been patiently hording cap space. We know he’s got the green light to use it (see: Sebastian Aho, offer sheet). A flat-cap world, combined with all those tradeable extra draft picks, might finally give the GM the necessary leverage to land a big fish and get back to the dance.
• Columbus Blue Jackets: Even when Jarmo Kekalainen locks up No. 1 centre Pierre-Luc Dubois (RFA), he’ll have plenty of cap space to improve one of the hardest-working groups in the East. This is a result of securing hockey’s cheapest goaltending tandem (Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo, a combined $6.8-million hit) and top-pair defencemen Seth Jones and Zach Werenski at a combined $10.4 million, through 2021-22. Look out.
2. I called up Doug Gilmour this week for a forthcoming interview about the 1993 playoffs, but we began by talking Michael Jordan. Like the rest of us, he’s keen to watch The Last Dance. Dougie and Mike are both 1963-born Hall of Famers.
In Gilmour’s basement sits one of 100 original prints of The Last Shot that he bought at a Chicago auction when he was playing for the Blackhawks in the late ’90s.
Like any Jordan acquaintance worth his salt, Gilmour has a golf tale.
“We had a golf tournament back in the day, Michael Jordan/Doug Gilmour. Just a one-year event. And it was at Lionhead. So, he came up to me said, ‘Thanks for doing this. Betcha 40 bucks today. What’s your handicap?’ I said, ‘I’m about a 10 handicap.’ He said, ‘OK, 40 bucks — U.S.’ I say, ‘OK, sure,’ ” Gilmour recalls.
“I ended up shooting a 79. He shot an 84 or something like that. So, I said, ‘Well…’ And he goes, ‘I’m not paying you, you sandbagger.’ ”
And he doesn’t.
When Gilmour signs with Chicago in ’98, he starts hanging out with Jordan’s longtime bodyguard, George Kohler, because they’re frequenting the same little pub. So, Gilmour tells Kohler about the unpaid $40 bet.
“I was there!” George laughs.
Flash forward three years. Gilmour is in Montreal playing for the Canadiens. He buys a TV from a guy who overcharges, and the guy takes off with the money. Gilmour has someone trying to chase this swindler for the dough.
One day Gilmour gets an anonymous phone call from a voice he naturally assumes is the TV conman.
“Hey, Gilmour! You want the money? Try and collect!” Click.
“So, I call the NHL security to find out this guy’s name, right?” Gilmour recalls. “And the next day I get a call: ‘Hey, did you get your message from MJ?’
“I said, ‘No s–––… that was him?’ Here I am calling the NHL security on this other guy.”
Gilmour laughs, in admiration of Jordan’s commitment to that 40 bucks.
He’d run into Jordan again in 2001. Gilmour decided to play another year for the Sabres after 9/11, and Jordan had come out of retirement to play for the Wizards. During a Washington road trip, Dougie ran into Kohler at the rink.
“MJ was in the back room doing a workout and stuff, so I went in and saw him. He goes, ‘Holy s–––! You’re still playing?’ ” Gilmour laughs. “I said, ‘I guess you are, too.’ ”
3. Like me, vintage Leaf Jason Spezza was in his formative years when the Bulls — and their Starter caps and No. 23 jerseys — dominated. He’s all over The Last Dance.
“My wife was joking that she hadn’t seen me so excited to watch a TV show in a long time. I spent a good portion of my youth in a Michael Jordan jersey that I bought on a family trip to Florida,” Spezza says. “I’ve got hundreds of pictures with the jersey on, so that’s right in the heyday of my fandom. To see behind the scenes — you’ve heard the stories, but to see the raw footage is pretty cool.
“Even with how much of a fan you become, I didn’t know the inside of that because I was a young kid. Just to kind of see the history of it all is kind of cool. Some of the practice confrontations and stuff like that is what you kind of expect from Michael with the stories you hear, but it’s cool to see.”
4. A young T.J. Oshie was a point-per-game stud for three seasons at the University of North Dakota and was initially enthused that his alma mater was under consideration as a neutral site for the resumption of NHL action.
“North Dakota is probably the No. 1 place I’d want to play in the world, so that would be amazing,” the Capitals star said. “All the blocked shots, all the injuries, all that stuff — that all is geared toward getting in the playoffs and having a chance to raise the Cup. And to not have that possibility is a hard pill to swallow.”
Oshie became a dad (again) during quarantine and is champing at the bit to resume Washington’s legitimate run at a second championship. Oshie says give him a week on-ice and he’d be good to make an impact in the playoffs.
Things change fast. The notion of neutral sites has been ditched in favour of four, division-based locales in established markets.
“There was some talk of North Dakota and some other sites,” Colin Campbell said Friday on Hockey Central at Noon Friday. “We need an NHL arena.”
5. Boston blueliner Charlie McAvoy smiles as he tells a story about how his father’s aversion to conflict forced him into his position at a very young age:
“Naturally, we all wanted to score all the goals and be the sniper. I was no different. So, I grew up wanting to play forward — that’s what I love. My dad, he was the coach. So, he said: ‘Everybody wants to play forward.’ And instead of having to talk to parents and be like, ‘Yeah, your son’s gonna play D,’ he just didn’t even give me a choice. He said, ‘You’re playing D.’ So he put me back there.
“But still wanting to be that guy, I think that’s how my offensive side of the game came into it. I still wanted to go score and rush the puck — a lot of things that I still try and do today. Looking back on it now, I wouldn’t change anything.
“I had one year when I was 11/12 that I went up and played forward. It was good, but then we ended up getting a [defenceman] hurt, so I had to drop back to play for him. That was the point where I said, ‘I never want to play forward again.’ ”
6. Jacob Markstrom doesn’t actually get to vote on the NHL awards, but he was kind enough to offer up a couple of his picks on Zoom call.
Hart Trophy? “David Pastrnak in Boston. I know Vancouver and Boston aren’t really friends, but he’s an amazing person and an even a better hockey player. He’s playing out of his mind right now.”
Norris Trophy? “Quinn Hughes is up there, but I think he’s gonna get his get his opportunity [later], so right now I’m going to go with my fellow Swede, Victor Hedman.”
7. Current NHL players were polled as to who among them is the funniest.
Keith Yandle won in a landslide, securing 18 per cent of the votes. (Drew Doughty finished second with seven per cent, followed by Brad Marchand and Phil Kessel.)
Yandle’s wit was on full display when he crashed this week’s all-Beantown Zoom call with some of Massachusetts’ best: Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes and Chris Wagner.
“Krieds, you look like you’re trying out for a Prison Break episode,” Yandle snaps.
The interview plays out like hockey’s version of a “Sully & Denise” sketch from Saturday Night Live. Between this, the 2011 Bruins’ Zoom reunion, and that club’s townhall series, Boston is winning quarantine.
(On the topic of that rather, um, lively 2011 Zoomunion, Neely says, “I understand there was some colourful language, but we were excited the players were very interested in doing this for our fans.”)
8. My personal quarantine challenge this week (Grade 4 long division and rationing one family bag of Doritos notwithstanding) was trying to stop grinning at the Wayne Gretzky–Alex Ovechkin love-in, which spilled from a double interview into a very sloppy and very vocal game of NHL 20. (Mic’d up Ovi is the greatest Ovi.)
Here’s my favourite anecdote.
Ovechkin is an avid collector and owner of nearly 100 game-used sticks. Years ago, in his first meeting with The Great One, Ovechkin asked Gretzky for one of his old twigs.
“Win the Cup, and I’ll give you a stick,” Gretzky replied.
Ovechkin never mentioned it again — until that sloppy summer of 2018.
Gretzky remembers hearing from Ovechkin once a month after that, pestering for his prize.
“He promised me,” Ovechkin said.
Finally, Gretzky dug up the silver Easton he used to score his 807th goal and mailed it to the Capitals. “I don’t give away these things,” Gretzky said.
“I was happy like a little kid to have a Christmas gift,” said Ovechkin, who promptly showed it off to his teammates. “If I’m going to use that stick, I’m probably not going to shoot as hard as I do right now.”
I paused the clip and zoomed in on the blade’s inscription: To Alex, Love watching you play. Wayne Gretzky 99.
Incredible. A wise person once told me to never criticize my son’s game after watching him play. “The best thing you can say to your own kid is, ‘I love watching you play,’ ” he said.
That always stuck with me.
9. Ovechkin asked Gretzky what he would do in these unusual circumstances to stay sharp for the playoffs.
Gretzky said he’d find the closest simulation to actual hockey. With no ice available, he’d seek out a set of inline skates and stride around flat pavement in his neighbourhood as much as possible. The first thing a player loses in the off-season, 99 figures, is a skating stride.
“I would try to find places to Rollerblade as much as possible,” Gretzky said.
We know Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are on blades these days. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy and Lightning coach Jon Cooper say their teams have made an effort to equip players with Rollerblades, too.
“The technology has advanced so much that they’re getting similar to skating with blades on ice,” Cooper says. “But there is really no replication. I know a lot of guys have tried it. A lot of guys are doing that.
“You can you put a stick in your hands and a ball and things like that. It can help you out, keep you in the rhythm of what goes on in the ice, but you ask any of the players: Rollerblading and skating are still two different things. Replicating it is extremely difficult. But if you want to inch your way a little bit closer, the guys wheeling around in Rollerblades, it makes them feel like they’re playing a little bit closer to the game.”
10. Meet Zeus, Marner’s 11-month-old chocolate Lab and emergency backup defender.
“He loves the water. He loves anything to do with balls or chasing and retrieving things. We’ve just been trying to take him in the backyard when he gets all hyper, throwing the ball around for him and letting him just run around and do his thing,” Marner said last week, proudly.
“I’ve been stickhandling on the lawn with a golf ball and one of my irons, just playing around with my dog in that regard. I’m just trying to keep my mental state right. I’m trying to stay healthy with it, happy with it.
“I’m staying up to par conditioning-wise and hoping that my hands and stuff will come back when I grab a hockey stick again. But obviously if this thing keeps going how it’s going, then I’m going to get a stick and hopefully a net somewhere around this house and start shooting and stickhandling.”
Zeus looks game.
11. With hockey revenue set to suffer an unprecedented hit, one cost the league will surely cut is the NHL Awards gala, an annual party/broadcast endeavour that costs millions to put on.
Expect one of two other awards formats. There could be a slow rollout of the winners during the playoffs, much like the way the NBA used to do its unveilings and the way the NHL did in a lockout-shortened 2013. Alternatively, the league might opt for a virtual TV show, in the vein of last week’s One World: Together at Home concert, pulling in computer feeds from several players and presenters.
12. This life pause has given some of us extra time to dig into our literal or digital closets and rediscover gems (or purge junk) from the past.
My uncle, Dave Hudson, had a friend send him the following short, audio-free clip from way back in his days centring the Dallas Black Hawks — before he graduated to the NHL and enjoyed a 409-game run with Islanders, Scouts and Rockies.
Too young to ever see my uncle play, this is a tiny treasure. Shout out to Uncle Dave, No. 11, setting up a Grade A scoring chance against the Oklahoma City Blazers.