Quick Shifts: Controversial lottery cliffhanger plays into NHL plans

Despite the Ottawa Senators not winning the first overall pick, general manager Pierre Dorion explained on In Conversation why he is still excited about drafting two players in the top five at the 2020 NHL Draft.

A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. I only had a 12.5 per cent chance of submitting this week’s blog on time.

1. The hockey world popped a collective set of emoji eyeballs Friday night as the best-/worst-case scenario (depending on your point of view) played out in Phase 1 of the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery.

A yet-to-be-determined team from a yet-to-be-determined pool of teams won the first-overall pick and the right to draft Alexis Lafreniere, a projected franchise player.

The Detroit Red Wings, last place with a bullet, dropped all the way to No. 4. The Ottawa Senators, who traded away a franchise player to increase their odds, tumbled from picks 2 and 3 to 3 and 5. And the Los Angeles Kings, rather quietly, made out like bandits by winning the second-overall pick, a wonderful development in Rob Blake’s rebuild.

But the grand prize remains as mysterious as Team E, for Enigma. Or Entertainment. Or Egads!

Call it chaos or parity. Label it foolishness or shrewd marketing. But don’t act like the NHL doesn’t love the drama.

Phase 2’s ratings should be something.

An actual hockey-related event hasn’t occurred in more than 100 days. The hub cities for a hopeful return to play have yet to be named. Commissioner Gary Bettman had no news to report on the occasion.

But Phase 1’s wild results fueled a distraction from hockey players’ positive COVID-19 tests and hub-city snags. Team E’s triumph stirs conversation and demands debate.

“This is a disgrace,” former general manager Brian Burke told after-show host Ron MacLean on-air.

“Is this lottery a joke?” tweeted former GM Doug MacLean.

Prominent player agent Allan Walsh labelled the result “an unmitigated disaster.”

Lafreniere saw his shadow and crawled back into his cave for six more weeks, cancelling interviews that would’ve been.

“To be honest with you, I’m not surprised,” said a disappointed Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman.

Nor should he be. This lottery was designed to give Team TBD a 24.5 per cent chance at No. 1, a 26.4 per cent chance at No. 2 and a 28.5 per cent shot at No. 3. The real surprise would’ve been no Phase 2.

Senators GM Pierre Dorion put on an optimistic mask as he did his post-loss media rounds, but he did mention that his beer of choice is Coors Light. ‘Twas no night for champagne.

And so it is, in this topsy-turvy season, that fans of the six Canadian teams that weren’t trying to tank for Lafreniere awake Saturday with greater hopes of winning the kid than fans of the team that blew it all up for the cause.

In the time it takes to flip a card, fortune performed a somersault.

No longer does losing the NHL’s play-in round mean being sad about missing out on the Stanley Cup. It means crossing your fingers and getting excited for a 12.5 per cent shot at Lafreniere.

“I hope to never have any discussions about the lottery with anybody again,” Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas said when the NHL first unveiled its two-part, maximum-drama lottery miniseries.

“Not to say that it would be a horrible scenario to win the lottery or anything like that, but I tend to focus more on the optimistic view, which is getting our team ready to … be able to have success.”

In the year 2020, when nothing is fair, having success and winning the draft lottery are so exclusive.

2. Knowing how “antsyJack Eichel is to make the playoffs and how five years of losing in Buffalo has escalated his frustration to a boil, the next place a fan or critic’s minds wanders is a dangerous one:

How many more lost seasons until Jack Eichel asks for a trade?

Now, to be clear, the superstar has always maintained he wants to drive the Buffalo Sabres’ solution. But the speculation around such a cornerstone piece got me thinking about the difficulty of moving any player making eight figures in a salary-cap world.

In the 15 years the NHL has operated under a cap, no such trade has been pulled off. The fine Steve Fellin of SN Stats helped run down the most expensive cap hits dealt in the modern era. Only six stars making higher than $7.5-million AAV have been traded (two of them twice). Here they are, ranked from highest cap hit:

• June 22, 2019: Nashville Predators trade P.K. Subban to Devils ($9M cap hit) for Steven Santini, Jeremy Davies and two second-round picks

• June 29, 2016: Montreal Canadiens trade Subban to Predators ($9M cap hit) for Shea Weber ($7.857M cap hit)

• Feb. 28, 2016: Carolina Hurricanes trade Eric Staal to New York Rangers ($8.25M cap hit, but Hurricanes retain 50 per cent, so cap hit dealt is only $4.125M) for Aleksi Saarela and two second-round picks

• July 1, 2015: Maple Leafs trade Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh Penguins ($8M cap hit, but Leafs retain 15 per cent, so cap hit dealt is only $6.8M) for Nick Spaling, Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington and a first- and third-round pick

• Feb. 26, 2008: Tampa Bay Lightning trade Brad Richards ($7.8M cap hit) and Johan Holmqvist to Stars for Jeff Halpern, Jussi Jokinen, Mike Smith and a fourth-round pick

• July 23, 2012: Columbus Blue Jackets trade Rick Nash ($7.8M cap hit), Steven Delisle and a third-round pick to Rangers for Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and a first-round pick

• Feb. 25, 2018: Rangers trade Rick Nash to Bruins ($7.8M cap hit, but Rangers retain 50 per cent, so cap hit dealt is only $3.9M) for Ryan Spooner, Matt Beleskey and a first-round pick

Trends arise: retaining money to push the paperwork through; some pure rentals and straight salary dumps; turning the page on a star only after he’s already delivered most of his prime years; and some rather tricky sells to the faithful.

These are complicated trades to pull off. They’re even more difficult to win.

Even though the other 31 clubs would love an Eichel on their roster, somehow finding a suitable partner and fair value for a such an expensive (albeit fairly paid) talent like Eichel — a 23-year-old with $60 million in salary still forthcoming between today and the summer of 2026 — feels all but impossible in a cap world.

That should only compound the urgency for both management and the superstar to make this marriage work. There is no easy way out.

3. Does Alexander Mogilny deserve to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame? Absolutely.

What about Theo Fleury? Yep.

Rod Brind’Amour and Jeremy Roenick? You can build a strong case.

Daniel Alfredsson, who was left off Lanny McDonald’s call list for a fourth year? I thought so, but after reading Wayne Scanlan’s persuasive argument, I know so.

But if the 2020 quintet has taught us anything, it’s that these debates aren’t worth getting too flustered about. Doug Wilson waited 24 years for the honour. Kevin Lowe lingered for 20.

As the cloak-and-dagger HHoF committee — count me among those who’d like more transparency from the voters — gets younger, I suspect our overlooked heroes of the ’90s and early ’00s get their due, eventually.

Look how long Eric Lindros had to wait. Or Willie freaking O’Ree! If anything, it made the celebration that much sweeter.

Plus, I love the image (highlighted on Twitter by Ottawa Senators legend Chris Phillips) of Alfredsson going in the same year Bryan Murray does as a builder.

“I would love to see Alfie get in. I hope he gets the respect that he deserves in terms of voting. He’s a guy that didn’t win the NHL but won a lot internationally. He was a guy who was a huge role model for me. Foundationally in Ottawa, he’s the guy who really helped bring that club to respectability and he did so much for the community,” long-time Senator Jason Spezza said. “I can’t say I’m not rooting for him.”

Individual accolades in the ultimate team sport are a funny thing. Lowe gets in the door because he won six Stanley Cups, but he never carried a franchise like Alfredsson.

“I think if we would’ve won (the Cup), he would be a lock to get in,” Spezza said. “But because we didn’t win, there’s a little bit of a debate about it.”

4. Alfredsson and the raft of other bubble candidates should jump right back in the mix this time next year, as the 2021 class isn’t flooded with first-ballot Hall of Famers.

Who becomes eligible? Daniel and Henrik Sedin are icons who deserve induction. I’d put Triple Gold Club member Henrik Zetterberg in, too, but not necessarily on the first ballot. I’m a huge fan of the way Rick Nash played the game, but there should be no crazy rush to induct the greatest Blue Jacket of all-time. The list weakens from there.

In short, 2021 will present another opportunity to let a couple of the more patient players into the party. Mogilny time.

5. Stumbling upon a quote you want to use in a press release is about as common as finding an N95 at a reasonable price.

So, it was with great joy to read this gem buried at the bottom of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s 2020 class announcement.

“I’m not even a Hall of Famer in my own house,” said inductee Doug Wilson, presumably speaking for dads everywhere, “so joining this club means the world to me.”

6. Here’s a compelling pitch for the Hockey Hall of Fame’s builder category that I hadn’t considered before. I mean, is there a position in any sport that has evolved and improved over the past 35 years more than hockey goaltender? Does that happen without teams hiring goalie coaches?

7. If we’re power-ranking the NHL’s coaches by quotability, you’d be hard-pressed to elbow Paul Maurice off the podium.

Here he theorizes that the 2020 Stanley Cup will be won in a battle of minds and hearts. Can you, as a collective, get amped up to win a hockey series when normalcy has vanished, fans are absent, your family misses you and the thermostat is screaming beach weather?

“You only have this emotional well that you can go to so many times,” Maurice said. “The team that wins probably gets to final and is able to keep that emotional well intact. They haven’t gotten to that point of, well, ‘Uncle. This is enough. I want to go home now.’ They’ve stayed in it.”

Worth an 82-second listen:

8. Quick: Which Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender has made more appearances in 2020, Matt Murray or Tristan Jarry?

Sorry, trick question. It’s a dead heat at 15 apiece, which begs another question: Who will get his 16th start first?

Even though Jarry was the one Pittsburgh sent to this year’s all-star game, the smart money is it will be the two-time Stanley Cup winner’s crease to lose in a best-of-five showdown against Carey Price.

“We have extremely high expectations for Matt,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told Josh Yohe of The Athletic. “He has shown the ability to play at his very best when the stakes are at their highest, and I can’t think of a better characteristic to have for an athlete.”

Sullivan said the team is “comfortable with both guys,” which suggests Murray will be on a shorter leash than most starters, but experience should get nod. (Anyone else experiencing Marc-Andre Fleury flashbacks?)

Murray’s career post-season numbers sparkle like truck jewelry: 28-19, 2.16 GAA, .921 save percentage. Jarry wrapped his regular season on a four-game losing skid and has yet to appear in an NHL playoff contest. Both are impending RFAs, and it’s no stretch to assume their performance this summer could factor into GM Jim Rutherford’s extension plans.

“All I can do is focus on what I can control and try to put my best effort forward every practice and every game, and try to be prepared,” Murray told reporters Tuesday. Quarantining with his family in Muskoka, Murray returned to Pittsburgh to work out with teammates for Phase 2.

“Every individual on the ice is going to be working to help the team have success. That includes myself. I’m going to do everything I can to be sharp and be at my best, to help this team win another Stanley Cup.”

9. Imagine finishing atop your conference despite your best pure scorer participating in a scant 10 games.

Vladimir Tarasenko registered 10 points in those 10 games for the St. Louis Blues, and we’re probably not making a big enough deal that he’s strong, healthy and champing at the bit to help the champs’ repeat bid.

“The closer you get, the more positive emotions you have, the more happy you are for seeing the boys for the first time, skating with them,” Tarasenko told Blues play-by-play man Chris Kerber in a Zoom interview this week. “I was lucky to go on a couple road trips (before the pause) and feel that atmosphere. I’m ready to come back and play some hockey.”

Tarasenko had already hopped back on the ice and was on the brink of returning from shoulder surgery prior to the pause. These extra 100 days have granted the sniper bonus recovery and strength-building time. The 28-year-old has potted 33 goals in 70 playoff games and should be a steal in playoff pools.

“It’s like a big trade that you make and getting a great player,” coach Craig Berube said. “We haven’t had him all year and our team’s been very successful.”

10. Sticking with the Blues, Alex Pietrangelo gave a solid interview after Tuesday’s practice. The captain figures he’ll draw on his gold-winning 2016 world cup experience in terms of jumping into meaningful action after months away from the rink.

“I’m banking, as the week goes on, to not be using my bed as leverage to get up from the sore knees and the sore back,” Pietrangelo said. “You can work out like crazy, bike, whatever you want to do — but nothing is like skating.”

In my opinion, another superb season from Pietrangelo (he appears on my Norris ballot) and the position he plays (RD) makes him the NHL’s most valuable impending unrestricted free agent.

With news that the UFA date will tentatively be pushed from July 1 to Nov. 1, the Pietrangelos’ plans have been thrown for a loop. Tuesday, the defenceman said he and his wife, Jayne, wished to re-sign with St. Louis prior to Canada Day.

“We never really wanted to get to that point (July 1). Here we are, we don’t even know if we’re playing,” Pietrangelo said. “Players need to plan.”

Staying involved in CBA talk, Petro said the owners and players’ union still haven’t decided on a 2020-21 salary cap or escrow rate — key factors to his personal contract negotiation.

“Those all come into play in what a team wants to do moving forward. The more answers we get, the quicker we get them, the better off I think all the teams will be,” said Pietrangelo, who won’t let the uncertainty of his future detract from the Blues’ on-ice mission.

“If we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do it to win,” he asserted. “We’re not just doing it to kill time.”

11. I got some interesting responses to last week’s column about the benefits of athletes using meditation. Some people I know came out of the woodwork and let me know how mindfulness has improved their own lives.

Here’s an anecdote that didn’t make the original article.

Dr. Amy Saltzman, who’s written books on the subject, stressed the advantage of an entire team practising mindfulness, citing the 2015 FIFA women’s world cup winners, Team USA, as an example.

American defender Julie Johnson (now Julie Ertz) committed a foul in the 59th minute of a tied semifinal against Germany that led to a free kick — a nightmare mistake. She was falling apart. Her teammates sensed it and helped her forget that moment and focus on the next one.

“She could’ve started beating herself up and being super upset and not focused on the next play, but she reset and she was supported by her teammates in resetting. And so, when it’s a team language, it reinforces what each individual’s practising. And so I think more and more teams are hiring people to offer mindfulness to the team as a whole,” Dr. Saltzman explained.

“When everybody speaks the same language, when everyone’s using the same core principles, that just gets amplified.”

The Americans had the presence of mind to rally from a potential emotional disaster and come out victorious.

As Johnson’s teammate, Cari Lloyd told her at the time: “No time for tears. We’ve got a game to play.”

12. Contrary to reports, it’s not always sunny in Philadelphia — but this week it was.

Oskar Lindblom skated with his Philadelphia Flyers teammates Tuesday for the first time since his diagnosis with a rare bone cancer, Ewing’s sarcoma, in December.
The 23-year-old forward won’t be playing when/if the Flyers begin round-robin action, but what a mental boost for Lindblom.

“It’s fun to be out there,” Lindblom said. “Still tough not to be as good as I used to be when you’re normal. But it’s fun to be out there, fun to be with the boys again, skate around and get the feel of it.”

Lindblom announced that his chemotherapy has been going well and that he doesn’t have many treatments left.

“There’s a light in the tunnel,” he said. “That’s the only thing I’m waiting for right now is to be done with my chemo and get back with the team and play some hockey. That will be unreal to get back to real life again and have fun.”

Have a sunny weekend, everybody.

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