Weekend Takeaways: Trade demands no longer scary

Damien Cox and Elliotte Friedman discuss all the big news in the NHL, including more NHL games outdoors, if Jaromir Jagr will play in the All-Star game, and much more.

Demanding a trade in the NHL just isn’t what it used to be.

Once upon a time, if memory serves, players could demand their way out of a situation in which they felt unhappy or unappreciated or underpaid. Or all three. Teams felt like it didn’t work to keep disgruntled players around.

Montreal traded Patrick Roy to Colorado four days after Roy told team president Ronald Corey while standing on the team bench he would never play for the team again. Every fall, the league seemed to have a few players who wouldn’t re-sign with their former teams, and smaller market clubs really felt the pressure.

When Chris Pronger didn’t want to play in Edmonton any more, he was dealt to Anaheim. Dany Heatley demanded out of Ottawa in the summer of 2009 and was traded to San Jose. Back in the fall of 2011, Kyle Turris refused to report to Phoenix because he wanted out, and after signing in late November, was traded to Ottawa about a month later.

Even two years ago, Martin St. Louis demanded a trade out of Tampa Bay after being “snubbed” by the Canadian Olympic program, and was moved to the Rangers weeks later.

This season, with the NHL trade market having dried up almost completely, three significant players have asked their teams to move them, and the teams have essentially shrugged in response.

Yeah, we’ll trade you. Maybe. If it works for us.

Patrick Marleau probably thought taking his feelings public would have him on a bus out of Silicon Valley very quickly. He’s still a Shark.

Travis Hamonic asked off Long Island/Brooklyn for “personal” reasons months ago. He played almost 26 minutes for the Isles last night against Dallas and doesn’t seem about to go anywhere.

Now Jonathan Drouin, we are told, asked the Lightning to trade him months ago, and instead the Lightning have sent him to the minors. GM Steve Yzerman said in a formal release on Sunday that the team does “acknowledge” Drouin’s trade request, and that his “sole intention is to act in the best interest” of the Lightning.

In these three situations, then, asking for a trade has accomplished absolutely nothing other than bringing a trade request to the attention of the public.

Two things seem to have happened. One, the salary cap has made trading in general much more difficult. Most teams are either at the cap or even over, using long term injury space, and those that aren’t are so-called “budget” teams, clubs that make an internal decision what their payroll will be and stick to it.

So there’s no teams sitting around with money to burn, no New York Rangers or Detroit Red Wings capable of building as large a payroll as they choose.

Second, teams seem to understand more now how to use the control they have as long as they have it. We saw this with the Canadiens back in 2013 when they negotiated a “bridge” contract with P.K. Subban rather than give him the kind of long-term deal other clubs had given players coming off entry level contracts.

The Habs just didn’t budge, and Subban had little or no leverage as a restricted free agent.

Teams can complain that players can become unrestricted as early as 25 now, but until that happens, the clubs can determine where a player plays and for how much.

Marleau has another season left on a contract that comes with a $6.66 million cap hit. Hamonic is under contract until the summer of 2020. Drouin has another year left on his entry year deal and is years away from arbitration.

Once a trade demand could frighten a team. Those days seem to be gone. Indeed, you wonder if the Roy scenario were to unfold now, whether the Canadiens would just shrug and say, “Sorry bud. You’re our goalie until we say you aren’t.”

Yzerman finds himself in a mess

Steve Yzerman’s record as GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning is a very good one. He inherited Stamkos and Victor Hedman from the Brian Lawton regime, and then built around that core. When he made a mistake tabbing Anders Lindback as the club’s goalie of the future, he fixed it by stealing Ben Bishop out of Ottawa.

But two significant draft errors may haunt Yzerman. He whiffed on his first high pick, taking Brett Connolly sixth overall in 2010, with players like Jeff Skinner, Cam Fowler, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko going in the next 10 picks.

Then he took Drouin third overall in 2013, ahead of Seth Jones. Ouch. And it’s not only Jones, who was followed by Elias Lindholm, Sean Monahan and Rasmus Ristolainen. Every player taken in the top 10 that year is in the NHL, except for Drouin.

Every team has hits and misses at the draft table, and for Tampa, getting players like Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat lower in the draft and Tyler Johnson as a free agent has meant the decisions on Connolly and Drouin haven’t hurt as much.

Right now, the defending Eastern Conference champs are sitting outside a playoff position, have seen Drouin ask out and can’t seem to find a way (yet) to strike a deal with Stamkos. What seemed to be a franchise set to win for several years has gone a little sideways in Tampa, and Yzerman has some tough decisions ahead to get this back on the rails.

What is Drouin’s ceiling?
Is Drouin still a viable player or, more important, a future star?

Hard to say. He’s always been a late bloomer, as the Halifax Mooseheads will tell you. This year it looked in September like he was ready to take off. He led the Lightning in pre-season scoring and started the season on a line with Stamkos.

Then it all fizzled. There’s skill there, for sure, and it’s way too early to write him off. The Bolts may simply need to let him sculpt his game in the minors, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

That said, this potentially represents an opportunity for Yzerman. The Lightning could surely use a top four D-man, and Drouin still could, theoretically, bring in that kind of player in a trade before this year’s trade deadline.

Easy fix to John Scott fiasco
Of course it’s silly John Scott is going to the all-star game. Of course, he should have listened to all of those who suggested various gracious ways out of this situation.

But it’s happening. If Scott – a healthy scratch on the day it was announced he’d been voted in as a divisional captain – wants to make a farce out of a game that’s been limping along for years, an event the players’ association should be trying harder to make more legitimate, that’s his call. He seems to think the hockey world is laughing with him.

But this one’s easy to fix in the future. The NHL just needs to put out a list next year of the players who are eligible for all-star votes. It can be large enough that the Latvians can still get Zemgus Girgensons in. But it will erase the kind of silliness we saw with Rory Fitzpatrick, and now Scott.

Media doesn’t have to play ball with Maple Leafs
You can go along with the “upper body” injury nonsense with William Nylander if you like, but it’s clear he suffered a brain injury (concussion) that Sweden and the Maple Leafs would prefer not to acknowledge.

That’s their business, their choice. If the choice is to hide injuries, well, that allows the rest of us to guess what those injuries are. The media is under no obligation to report just what teams want them to report. End of story.

Why Bakserfield is a good spot for Kassian
Zack Kassian is in a place that offers the best chance for him to get back to the NHL. Now, it’s up to him.

By being moved to Edmonton, that gives him a chance to re-start his career with the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL. It so happens that when Kassian was in the NHL’s substance abuse program, he did most of his work in California, and that’s where his sponsor and main support group are.

So having him in Bakersfield, rather than someplace in the east, could be the best place for the troubled 24-year-old. He played two games on the weekend for the Condors, scoring his first goal on Sunday night against Stockton.

Virtanen alone not to blame for Team Canada

Not sure why there’s all this “it’s-not-Jake’s-fault” moaning about Jake Virtanen and his performance at the world juniors.

First of all, nobody has said Canada’s loss was caused primarily by Virtanen and his penchant for dumb penalties. He was a negative factor, but not the only one. At least as meaningful were the errors on the blueline and the iffy netminding of MacKenzie Blackwood, who has taken as many darts as Virtanen.

Mitch Marner’s strong offensive performance in the game against the Finns was terrific, but Marner took a dumb penalty in the third, too.

So enough of the stop-being-mean-to-Jake nonsense. He’s getting his share of the blame, no more.
Here’s the bigger story: He was a better player at the world juniors last year, and it appears the Canucks haven’t done a very good job of developing the sixth overall pick of the 2014 draft this season.

Injuries haven’t helped, but everybody got all excited because he landed a stiff bodycheck on Connor McDavid in the pre-season and forgot you need to have a plan with these young players, and right now, it’s hard to see what Vancouver’s plan is.

Unless he’s going back to a regular shift with the Canucks, returning to Calgary and competing for a Memorial Cup is the best idea. Worked for Leon Draisatl.

Hanging up the skates, picking up the books
There have been two stories of late about young players making tough decisions to end their competitive hockey careers and pursue education.

Tyler Boston, 18, decided to leave the Guelph Storm a few weeks ago and start preparing for a post-secondary education opportunity after being passed over in last summer’s NHL draft.

“Undrafted, the chances of becoming a pro hockey player were becoming slimmer and I’d rather not be a life-long player in the minor leagues. No offence to those that are, but it’s not for me,” he said.

This past weekend, meanwhile, Christopher Clapperton decided to part ways with the AHL Toronto Marlies organization in order to use the CHL education package he earned during his seasons in the QMJHL. The 21-year-old Clapperton was drafted by Florida in 2013 and was part of the Rimouski team that went to the Mastercard Memorial Cup tournament last spring, but after playing 17 games for Orlando of the ECHL this season, appeared to reach the same conclusion as Boston.

These are hard decisions made by these young men, but smart ones. While you applaud the determination of those who hang in there for years toiling in the minors trying to make it to the NHL, if that goal isn’t met they’re often not left with much to be successful with after hockey.

Here come the Ducks
After a horrible first half, Anaheim is on a 4-0-2 run and finally moved into a playoff position Sunday night by beating Winnipeg.

Defence has turned the Ducks season around; they’ve given up two goals in the past four games, and six in six games after surrendering five goals to the New York Islanders on Dec. 21.

GM Bob Murray’s decision to stick with head coach Bruce Boudreau appears to be paying off.

Meanwhile, Sidney Crosby now has 10 points (five goals, five assists) in his past seven games after starting the season with a paltry 19 points in 30 games.

Whatever was ailing Crosby seems to have evaporated, and he seems to be responding to the coaching change which brought in Mike Sullivan.

With both the Ducks and Crosby, perhaps we’re just looking at a regression to the mean. In other words, show patience, and both struggling teams and struggling players often return to their normal level of performance.

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