EDMONTON — First of all, to all of you who sent in questions for this mail bag and do not see your questions below, my apologies.
Look — a 1,200 word mail bag is long enough. We’re not The Athletic, you know. (Kidding!)
To @Chernia_john, who asked about Fred’s Special from Royal Pizza, I believe ham and pineapple, and pepperoni and mushroom are two different pizzas — never to be shared on the same pie unless it’s a half-and-half.
To @TheScottMac, who asked, “What do you think about the current golf course argument?” I say, I’d be fine with 12-hole courses from now on. As long as the 19th hole stays the same.
To everyone else, I hope you enjoy the first #AskSpec mailbag. Let’s go!
Al Iafrate would say, “Meet me at the stick bench in 10 minutes.” He’d show up with a cigarette in his hand, one behind his ear, light up with the blowtorch (there for curving blades), and you got Planet Al for two smokes, or about 20 minutes.
Teemu Selanne was as engaging and inquisitive as any player I ever met. When you started running out of questions for Teemu, he’d start asking you.
The Sedins were the ultimate gentlemen with the media, never, ever absent after a loss and usually there after a win. The gold standard of leadership through the media. Many of today’s captains could learn much from them.
Brett Hull once said, “Ah, [expletive] the fans.” Then, given a chance for a do-over, he declined.
Everyone hated Ryan Kesler, but he always gave me good quotes — while staying in character. Mattias Ekholm is thoughtful, intelligent and lets you in. David Backes was always a go-to guy. Kevin Bieksa was gold. Loved Brian Skrudland, Brent Gilchrist, Kris Draper. Connor Helebuyck is a different cat, but a fine, challenging interview.
Was once in a small group of scribes at Vero Beach when Joe Torre wheeled up in a golf cart, put his feet up on the dash, and held court for 40 minutes. Magic! Same with Willie Mays one day in Arizona. I’ll never forget it.
The thing many didn’t know about Anton was, he was not as comfortable in Canada as many foreign players. Not sure on this, but was told he and his wife wanted to raise their children as they were raised – in the Russian culture.
That could have had some bearing on why he chose a two-year deal with Red Army, rather than a one-year deal in Edmonton. (Apart from making more money with taxes, etc.) I always ask myself, would I want to uproot my family and raise my kids in Russia?
Some wish to come to North America, some don’t. I say, good luck to him.
The Oilers want him to return and play for them. But if the player will not, then there are options:
• Let him play another year in Finland, making far less money, and hope he changes his outlook on Edmonton being a re-entry point into the NHL.
• Trade him at the draft, where the Oilers are without a second-round pick this year and next. Can you get two second-round picks? A second and a prospect?
• If Holland can’t get his price he won’t do the player a favour. If I’m Puljujarvi and I’m still Oilers property after the draft, I come back on a one-year deal and show the NHL I can play.
I bet Gagner signs in Edmonton, and here’s why:
I believe GM Ken Holland sees Gagner as a future member of his front office, the way he did with Dan Cleary, Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby in Detroit. Now, Gagner wants to continue his NHL career, but no matter where he plays he will be a sub-$1 million player on a one-year deal. With the cap issues faced by NHL teams, Gagner’s agent will have to work to find him a place that is a better fit than Edmonton.
Meanwhile, Gagner’s home is in Edmonton, his family (three kids) is here, and as we said, we see his off-ice future here as well. Gagner has made a lot of money in his NHL career (over $33 million) and would likely sign in Edmonton as a fourth-line winger with the skills to moves up when needed, and the persona to help the Oilers young leaders succeed.
Gagner is at the point in his career where the person is as important as the player. And he can still fill a limited on-ice role. You want him on your team.
Q: I want to know the story behind Boris Mironov and Andrei Kovalenko’s infamous night out in Los Angeles.
No fishing boat, but Mironov did get out of a cab about 15 minutes before the players were supposed to be in the lobby the next morning catching shuttles to LAX. Sportswriter Robin Brownlee paid the cab fare for Mironov, who would later claim he’d woken up in his hotel bed early to find roommate Kovalenko not there. So he went out in search of his pal, like anyone would do.
“Boris told Ronnie [head coach Ron Low] he was out looking for Kovy. I don’t believe any of that,” Oilers GM Glen Sather told us back in ‘99. “I’m going to suspend both of them. It’ll cost them some pay.”
Added Sather: “In Kovy’s defence, he’s played great this year and he’s been very careful with himself. And I don’t think Bo has been living hard. I don’t know what the hell happened to them.”
It was January of 1999. Whereas today players bus from the arena to the airport after a game to catch a charter to the next town — where they often arrive too late to go out — in ‘99 players would fan out across L.A. after a game at the Fabulous Forum. Then you’d hope they were all back at the hotel in time to catch the morning flight.
As most Latvian drinking games involve collecting mushrooms in the forest or jumping over bonfires, I do not think this is Zoom-compatible.
Q: If the Oilers can shed some salary, do u think they look into bringing Taylor Hall back? 50/50 shot?
Only Holland knows for sure, but I predict a zero percent chance Taylor Hall ever pulls on an Oilers uniform again.
Too many huge salaries hamstring a GM — just look at Toronto.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a UFA after next season. So is Adam Larsson. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl already eat up about a quarter of the cap between them, and Hall will want a substantial raise from the $6 million he makes currently.
I think it’s a dream Oilers fans should wake up from. Hall’s not coming back.
I believe in retiring numbers and hanging them from the rafters. So let’s take Edmonton as an example.
The Oilers have retired seven numbers: 3, 7, 9, 11, 17, 31, 99. They hang from the rafters in distinction.
Let’s say you honour Ryan Smyth (No. 94), or Doug Weight (No. 39). If you install those numbers on a “Ring of Honour,” are they somehow less revered than the Gretzkys and Kurris? If they couldn’t make the cut with Messier and Coffey, why honour them at all? What would they feel like, being LESS honoured than Al Hamilton (No. 3) and Grant Fuhr?
When it comes to Colby Cave, that’s a separate category. Honouring a player who died during his career is the right thing to do, in any form. But once you hang banners, I believe the Ring of Honour is no longer an option.