• Blackhawks launch independent review
• Does Tkachuk want out of Calgary?
• How Kraken presence affects trade talks
The Chicago Blackhawks tweeted five times this past weekend from their account. Four of them were related to the city’s Pride celebration and Pride Month. The other was their weekly charity draw, benefitting the team’s foundation. All positive and uplifting, nothing deserving negativity.
As of 11:30 p.m. (ET) Sunday, there were 173 combined replies. More than 90 per cent had nothing to do with the actual tweets, instead reacting negatively to lack of clarity regarding lawsuits that allege the Blackhawks covered up sexual assault allegations from 2010 against then-video coach Brad Aldrich. In 2013 — after he’d left the Blackhawks — Aldrich was convicted of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a high school student. He was sentenced to nine months in prison and five years of probation; he’s now a registered sex offender.
The organization can’t be surprised their social-media posts met with derision. And it’s not going to change until we get an explanation.
As with reporters at other outlets, everyone I’ve spoken to has supported the account of Paul Vincent, the skills coach from 2010 who informed senior management that something needed to be done. Because of that, however the legal process concludes, the organization must step up and detail what occurred.
On Monday, The Athletic’s Mark Lazerus reported Blackhawks CEO Danny Wirtz sent an internal email announcing the formation of an independent review: “We want to reiterate to you that we take the allegations described in these lawsuits very seriously,” Wirtz wrote. “They in no way reflect this organization’s culture or values.”
Former federal prosecutor Reid Schar will lead the review. “Mr. Schar and his firm have significant experience conducting independent investigative reviews, have no previous ties to the Blackhawks organization, and have been directed to follow the facts wherever they lead,” Wirtz added.
The team will refrain from comment until its completion, which is not a surprise. According to several sources, Blackhawks employees have been told to lay low.
This review will face enormous scrutiny. Some questions: Will it include the participation of former president and CEO John McDonough, who was fired in April 2020? Will it consist of informal interviews or formal sworn depositions? Is the mandate to assign blame or make sure it doesn’t happen again? And will they commit to making the report public? (The argument against this, from a lawyer’s perspective: People may not be as honest if it is.)
In the meantime, this will not blow over. Commissioner Gary Bettman won’t be able to avoid the topic at his annual Game 1 State of the Union on Monday. Anyone with a connection to that team is going to be asked about it, starting Sunday with Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin, then Blackhawks’ director of pro personnel, and Nick Leddy, who wasn’t on the 2010 champion, but made his professional debut with Chicago the following season.
That includes GM Stan Bowman.
Vincent said Bowman was one of four people he reported the allegations to, along with McDonough, Senior Vice-President Al MacIsaac and mental skills coach James Gary. We are at a time in the hockey calendar when general managers are extremely visible. There’s the expansion draft, entry draft, trades and free agency. You’re in front of the camera an awful lot.
I don’t know how anyone can expect questions to Bowman to stick to hockey. I don’t think, “Sorry, I can’t comment — it’s a legal matter” is going to cut it. Until there’s some clarity, this isn’t going away.
It’s possible judges rule the lawsuits can’t proceed because the statute of limitations have passed. That’s not a shield, and shouldn’t be used as one. These are very serious accusations. People want answers, and deserve them. Nothing else will be accepted; nothing else is acceptable.
1. Nothing is done until it is done, but it sounds like Wayne Simmonds will be back in Toronto.
2. This is what I can tell you about the rumours that Matthew Tkachuk wants out of Calgary: When the news about Seth Jones got around, no one was thrilled it had leaked, but no one denied it. Same for Oliver Ekman-Larsson being available and Dougie Hamilton free to talk to other teams. With Tkachuk, there’ve been firm denials. I do believe the Flames refused to include him in any Pierre-Luc Dubois trade talks last season.
3. Still hearing a lot of Philadelphia and Jones. The Flyers are definitely working at it.
4. Nothing definite, but Arizona’s done a very deep dive on OHL Ottawa’s Andre Tourigny.
5. Last week was quieter on the Jack Eichel front, but I’d expect that to get going once again when Buffalo hires its head coach. Incumbent Don Granato and Rick Tocchet are among the contenders.
6. Another name I’ve heard: Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson. Tough, hard-working player. Three years left at $4.25 million.
7. I do think some trade discussions are stalled because teams want to make sure they don’t run into expansion protection trouble. You aren’t making a move without making sure it means you don’t get chewed up by the Kraken. And Seattle is leveraging its position.
There are definitely teams concerned that the Kraken will draft exposed players and flip them elsewhere. For example, would Seattle draft a Matt Dumba or a Mark Giordano, potentially eat some salary and take bids? Either player makes sense for someone like Edmonton.
It’s going to be very interesting to see which of the talented young defenders — Hughes, Miro Heiskanen and Cale Makar — gets done first. Hughes is a little different than the other two, because he is not offer-sheet eligible. Ottawa’s Thomas Chabot signed for eight years and an AAV of $8 million in September 2019, which was prior to his final entry-level season. (He’s represented by Ian Pulver, who also reps Heiskanen.)
From what I understand, all three of them consider themselves “ahead” of Chabot at the time he extended. So that’s something to keep an eye on, although COVID-related finances make circumstances different. (I’d throw Adam Fox into the group as well, since he can be extended this summer. But he has another year on his current deal and may prefer to wait.)
9. Speaking of offer sheets: As expected due to COVID, the 2020–21 average league salary decreased from the season before. It ended up at $2,960,905 — an 11.6 per cent decrease from $3,348,230. That means offer-sheet thresholds dropped slightly, too. Here are the 2021 off-season “zones”:
To give you some comparison, the highest level last off-season was $10,907,735.
10. I think New Jersey would consider moving the fourth-overall selection for a good, young defenceman.
11. Looks like there will be some churn among Carolina’s depth forwards. According to a Facebook post, Jordan Martinook’s family thinks he’s going to the open market, and there are Warren Foegele trade talks. Both player and team appear to want a change.
13. As has been reported, Chris Phillips resigned from the Senators’ charity because he was upset by the firing of another employee. In addition, several sponsors were upset with owner Eugene Melnyk’s comments on Bob McCown’s podcast last May. At that time, Ottawa city council voted to approve a $2.9-million tax break for a new car dealership in the neighbourhood of Vanier, part of a bigger plan to “stimulate business investment” in the area.
“Here I am paying through the nose in taxes out there and they just gave the Porsche dealer a [$2.9 million] tax break,” Melnyk said. “Give me a break. Give me the tax break. I’m dying out here. I’ve got no fans and I’m still trying to put on a show for everybody…. My point is this. It’s about fairness. It’s not even about the money — it’s the fairness.”
Not everyone disagreed with Melnyk’s stance, but the business community sure did, considering the work that had been put in to get that deal done. Those are advertisers, and there’s going to have to be some fence-mending.
14. I can’t find anyone in the NHL who thinks Alexander Ovechkin’s extension isn’t already “in the drawer.”
15. After last season, I had a lengthy conversation with Steve Valiquette, the former goalie who works on the Rangers’ broadcasts and is the CEO of Clear Sight Analytics. Like others who try to build strong predictive models, he is constantly searching for the right ingredient or statistic to create that “Eureka!” moment. After Tampa Bay won the 2020 Stanley Cup, he’d zeroed in on something.
“For a few years, I thought the surest predictor of winning was goaltending,” he said Sunday. “Then I was looking at differentials, such as expected goals for and against.”
It wasn’t predictive enough for him — until he zeroed in on high-danger goals against at five-on-five/60 minutes. Goalie errors are not included.
“We leave them out for this exercise,” he added.
Here’s last season’s Final 16 playoff bracket:
As you can see, teams ranked higher in the stat Valiquette pinpointed went 14-1.
“Two years ago, Tampa Bay was 19th; last year [they were] first,” Valiquette said.
(The Lightning slightly ruined this year’s exercise, finishing 18th in 2020–21 as they leaned more on Andrei Vasilevskiy.)
16. Dallas was No. 1 overall in high-danger goals against at five-on-five/60 minutes this season, but didn’t make the playoffs. Guess who was second? Your Stanley Cup finalist Montreal Canadiens.
“I did not put any money on Montreal,” Valiquette laughed. “At face value, I didn’t see it happening, no way.”
We both laughed at the idea he didn’t trust his own model, but the proof is four wins away from a championship. Toronto, by the way, was third, one spot below the Canadiens.
17. The conversation with Valiquette gave me an opportunity to ask him one story I’d heard, but he declined to answer, saying he could not discuss personnel moves because some teams are clients. The story I’d heard is that Minnesota finished first in that metric last season, and targeted Cam Talbot because his specific strengths addressed their specific weaknesses.
I think that’s true, but got no confirmation. I also think he advises teams that finish high in the metric but don’t finish well — Minnesota last year, Dallas and Toronto this year — to address those kinds of specific weaknesses rather than ripping down to the studs and starting over.
18. One other number I loved from last week: In Jeff Petry’s return game from injury against Vegas, he was targeted 20 times on various entries. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Golden Knights saw him as a weak link — it’s just that Petry is on the ice a lot and against good players. On those 20 entries, there was only one scoring chance against. (Courtesy: @shutdownline, my favourite microstats accumulator, Corey Sznajder.)
19. Moments before Montreal scored the series-winning goal against Vegas, there was an icing against the Canadiens that should have been waved off. You couldn’t help but notice how calm Luke Richardson remained in the moment. Alex Burrows did the screaming, but a team takes on the personality of its head coach, and Richardson didn’t lose it. He’s been lost in recent coaching searches, but I don’t think he’s ever lost the goal of being one, and this will thrust him back into the spotlight.
20. Don’t know how many of you are fans of the great comedian Bill Burr, but I love the guy. I listen to his podcast whenever it comes out and nearly drive off the road in laughter. Burr is a huge Bruins fan and the Canadiens’ run is absolutely killing him. He said he was cheering for the Islanders, even though they beat Boston, because their ascendance in 1980 ended that Montreal dynasty. I can’t wait to hear the latest episode because I can only imagine how much agony he’s in over this.
21. After the Lightning beat the Islanders in a tense, tight, entertaining Game 7, Garry Galley and I thought the New Yorkers believed any extra shots on Nikita Kucherov were going to be penalized, because of the way he was injured, via a crosscheck to the ribs. They didn’t harangue the superstar forward as much as I thought they would. I’m curious to see if the Canadiens are as careful.
22. Not that Lou Lamoriello is going to offer much insight, but I think the Islanders — who have lots of work to do — start at Adam Pelech and go from there. He’s got arbitration rights and is one year from unrestricted free agency. It doesn’t mean his deal gets done first, but everything flows from where that number will be.
23. Had a chance last week to chat with new Columbus head coach Brad Larsen, who was promoted from within. One of the things we discussed was how incredibly difficult it can be to move from assistant coach to head coach on the same team. You go from good cop to bad cop, and players can see that as phony. Rod Brind’Amour is one of the very few who made it work.
“One of the questions (John Davidson and Jarmo Kekalainen) asked was, ‘How different was I going to be than John Tortorella?’ The easy answer was, ‘I’m going to be me,’” Larsen said.
I like that response a ton, but it leaves something hanging. What does that mean? Larsen pointed out he did this exact move in the AHL, spending two seasons as an assistant at Springfield before being promoted to head coach. This was from 2010 to 2014, before the Blue Jackets brought him to their bench. The Falcons were 92-45-15 under Larsen with one playoff-round victory.
“As an assistant, I was given a ton of responsibility,” he said. “I grew up rapidly. Quite honestly, there’s a lot of stuff about being head guy I don’t like. You have to have tough conversations, rip hearts out, tell guys they are not good enough. I understand what that’s like because it’s happened to me. But you must be assertive and convicted. Empower your staff. I truly believe there is no substitute for experience.”
Is there anything he did as an assistant that he won’t give up?
“[Keeping track of] scoring chances,” he laughed. “For five years [after every game], I put on my jeans and cowboy boots and took a couple of hours to do them right.”
24. Larsen said everyone starts fresh in training camp as the Blue Jackets begin a new era. What hangs over from last year?
“The foundations that we believe in do not change at all,” he answered. “We had a bad year. Deal with it, learn from it and move on.”
25. I asked Larsen what he learned from Tortorella.
“There’s not enough time to answer,” he replied. “What conflict looks like and how to handle it. If there’s something to deal with, deal with it head on. There were incredible moments — I shake my head thinking about them. He pushed players, challenged them, but showed he cared about them. I was surprised at how many of his old players still call him. It proved to me players want to be coached.”
26. As I mentioned in the last blog, I wouldn’t be surprised if 2021–22 All-Star is Vegas. I think that’s going to happen. I also think Nashville’s success as a visitor to the Dallas outdoor game (and its overall success as a market) puts it on the radar for its own outdoor event.
27. Some fans tweeted they didn’t like an offside goal review in the Islanders/Tampa Bay series occurring 53 seconds after the entry. This was debated when the rule came in — should there be a limit on how long you get to clear? But the feeling was an offside taints the entire play, no matter how long before the goal.
28. I heard on the weekend that there’s a team that offered to extend its amateur scouts — whose contracts expire at the end of this month — a 30-day extension through the draft. That’s rough.
29. Podcast co-host Jeff Marek had a conversation with Ryan Strome, who told a great story about meeting Colin Blackwell, who joined the Rangers this past year after two seasons in Nashville. When they were kids, they played against each other at the famous Brick minor-hockey tournament — Blackwell for the Boston Icemen, Strome for the Toronto Bulldogs.
At the time, Blackwell asked Strome for his jersey in one of those post-game exchanges, but Strome apparently blew him off. He had zero recollection of this incident, but Blackwell brought it up when they met this year in New York. First, that’s hilarious. Second, it’s always a reminder of someone’s always going to remember how you treated them.
UPDATE: Strome reached out to add something. He said his father had told him that if his team won the event he should keep the jersey for memory’s sake. It’s in his basement today:
30. Voting on the NHL’s awards is stressful enough, but the NBA is something else. Boston’s Jayson Tatum and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell saw the value of their contract extensions drop by $33 million because they weren’t selected to any All-NBA team. I don’t think I could do that. It would eat at me if I cost someone that much money.
31. Just wanted to send the best to David Pastrnak and Rebecca Rohlsson on the loss of their newborn son, Viggo. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.