The legendary Bob Cole hates predictions. When we’d work together, I’d say, “Going to be a great game tonight,” and he’d reply, “How do you know? You have no idea!” It wasn’t a joke, either. Seriously annoyed him.
He learned that from Toe Blake. They were sitting next to each other at a game when the Hall-of-Famer saw something on the out-of-town scoreboard and asked Bob if it was a final result.
Bob said, “I think so.”
The next thing he heard was a loud smack as Blake’s hand slammed the counter.
“Don’t tell me what you think,” he snarled. “Tell me what you know!”
It’s a great story. And with apologies to both Toe Blake and Bob Cole, I’m excited for this season. I think it’s going to be an incredibly entertaining year. I’m actually not crazy about predictions either, but if you’re going to be forced to do them (Sportsnet basically tortures us to do so), you’ve got to find a fun way.
So, this year, I’m eliminating obvious candidates for Hart, Norris, Vezina and the Stanley Cup Final. Here goes:
Eliminated candidates: Leon Draisaitl, Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid. There will be a huge push for Cale Makar. He won the Conn Smythe, he’s incredible and unique. Voters like unique. I’m as guilty as anyone, sometimes we twist ourselves into knots to try and look extra smart.
This isn’t a huge stretch, because he got votes last year, but I’m going with Kirill Kaprizov. With Kevin Fiala in Los Angeles, there will be even more need for him to lift the offensive burden. He’s going to have a massive year.
Eliminated candidates: Adam Fox, Victor Hedman, Roman Josi, Makar. I’m a first-class (with wireless) passenger on the Charlie McAvoy train, but he’s out a while, this is not the year. So, we’re going with Miro Heiskanen. He’s becoming Dallas’s best player, and it’s not unnoticed.
Eliminated candidates: Igor Shesterkin, Andrei Vasilevskiy. I predicted Jacob Markstrom last year, and didn’t want to do it again.
There are a lot of good candidates. Juuse Saros, Ilya Sorokin. But my pick is Thatcher Demko. The Canucks are hugely reliant on him, and he’s getting better. The thing I worry about is Vancouver’s location makes it harder on someone who’s going to see a lot of rubber. But he looks like he can handle it.
No eliminated candidates here. What a great class. Matty Beniers, Kent Johnson, Mason McTavish, Owen Power, Shane Wright. Dylan Guenther looked really good for Arizona, too. Wanted to pick McTavish, who is coming off some kind of year, but it’s hard to go against Power.
Whatever “it” is, both of them have it. But Power’s going to play a lot of minutes and will have greater opportunity to shine.
STANLEY CUP FINAL
Eliminated candidates: Colorado and Tampa Bay. Admittedly, this is kind of ridiculous. It’s like being asked to pick your favourite hamburger without a bun and meat. But you’ve got to expand your horizons, and that takes me to Edmonton/Carolina.
Several years ago, Mark Messier said that in a cap world, everyone has a fatal flaw (or flaws). How do you overcome them? The Avalanche and Lightning are as close to perfect as you get in the NHL, and I do think there’s a drop from them to number three. But, no guts — no glory. So, with the knowledge all of this could blow up in my face, I’m going with a 2006 rematch of Carolina/Edmonton. Calgary, Minnesota and the Rangers could have the most to say about it, especially if the Rangers find a way to tighten up a bit around Igor Shesterkin. Toronto and Vegas are the most fascinating teams because their ceilings are so high, but no one knows how the goaltending will go. Dark horse: Kings.
1. Hockey Quebec’s statement said it best on Tuesday, referring to the mass departures from Hockey Canada as “inevitable.” CEO Scott Smith is leaving and the board of directors is out, joining Andrea Skinner, who resigned last weekend as a director and interim board chair.
It took longer than people wanted, needing sponsor pressure to eliminate the inertia, but now we get to the most important of questions: who (individually or in a group) is best positioned to take us where we must go? This shouldn’t be rushed. You can’t get these hires wrong.
The bigger challenge might be the interim, because many of these are volunteer positions and there’s worry people won’t be interested. We will find out if that’s true — I hope those who genuinely want to make a difference aren’t scared off — but one of the problems is public-facing representatives have been so poorly prepared for their appearances, which comes with major consequences. The two situations are not comparable, but when I screwed up the swimming in Rio, I was not concerned with the fallout for myself — but my wife, son and co-workers at CBC. I was worried about the effect on my family and embarrassed for the great people in front of and behind the camera who care so much about what they do. What has been lost here (among other things) is that when you speak for Hockey Canada, you represent everyone in hockey in this country. When things go badly, everyone feels the pain. If you understand that publicly, it gives you the best chance to fix what must be cleaned up privately.
2. One further note on Andrea Skinner: She alluded to receiving some nasty correspondence during last week’s testimony, and apparently some emails sent her way were way, way, way over the line. If you’re doing that, you’re part of the problem, not the solution.
3. There was hope Jakob Chychrun would return to practice this week, but the Arizona defender is not yet ready. He’s been skating on his own now that the previously injured ankle healed, but we’re waiting on clearance from the wrist recovery. The timeline is uncertain — maybe later this week, maybe even later than that — but the big question is: is anyone willing to make the trade before he’s 100 per cent healthy? Ryan Ellis’s unfortunate inability to get back to full health hasn’t gone unnoticed around the NHL, so there’s a bit of hesitation about trading for those injured even though he’s expected to make a full recovery.
The Coyotes are properly and wisely holding out for a major return, but there is incentive to get this done sooner rather than later. The organization is trying to shape this as a fun/unique season in a collegiate environment, and it will be hard enough to do that without constant speculation of an eventual trade lingering like mouldy cheese. It’s been almost a year since the team went to Chychrun about moving, you can hardly blame him for wanting it to be over. Multiple sources have indicated that nothing’s ever been truly close despite the noise. There’s definitely interest, with Ottawa trying to play this as intelligently as it can.
4. A couple of sources used similar terminology to describe the Bo Horvat contract negotiations: “stalemate.” I try not to get too worked up over this kind of stuff (easier to do that when it’s not your own contract), because there are always highs and lows in this kind of conversation. The most important predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. Remember this about Vancouver: they spent months saying they wouldn’t do something like seven-times-eight for JT Miller, then they did it. Sometimes, you stare into the abyss and don’t like what you see, especially two key players unsigned heading into their free-agent seasons. Horvat is a born-and-bred Canuck, and until proven otherwise, I believe an extension is what everyone wants.
5. The summer extensions for Mathew Barzal, Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas — added to the predicted cap increases in 2024-25 — changed the market. Some Vancouverites weren’t crazy about my use of Sean Couturier ($7.75M) as a comparable for Horvat, but anyone out there thinking the captain’s next deal is starting with a six is in a Wizard-of-Oz-style dreamland. Same thing with Dylan Larkin in Detroit, another one where the honest intention is for him to stay. What’s happened this summer has pushed-up his number, I believe. The Red Wings aren’t going there right now, so you have to grind to bridge the gap.
6. I don’t believe those contracts have much to do with David Pastrnak. This one was going into the stratosphere regardless, and everyone knew it, including the Bruins. He’s not afraid of discussions going on during the season, so those conversations (which have been referred to as “constant”) continue.
7. A couple of sources have told me to “stand down” on Marcus Pettersson and Vancouver rumours.
8. Big for both Vegas and Nic Hague to get it done. They need him and it’s never good for a player to miss games. Interesting structure, too, with year two of his three-year contract approximately $1.2M less than years one and three, optimizing the qualifying offer at the end of the deal. The other thing I was curious about are rumours that, both at the start of free agency and then again as things dragged on, there were teams who contacted his agent, Murray Koontz, about offer-sheet possibilities. Koontz wouldn’t say much (I really tried to find out who it was), but one team indicated if it was going to happen, it was going to be on Tuesday, the first day of the season, when Vegas’s cap situation would make it most vulnerable. Obviously, we never got there, and I think two main reasons were that Hague’s preference was to stay and, for all the talk about offer sheets, they mostly amount to hot air. You can’t count on them. (Added reason: Golden Knights owner Bill Foley is the type who’d never forget.)
9. Believe Toronto will continue exploring waiver-exempt or waiver-cleared defensive depth thanks to three preseason injuries. The Maple Leafs have a surplus of depth forwards.
10. Will be closely watching the Wild, not just because they could win it all. Minnesota GM Bill Guerin will keep an eye out for scoring help, but not before he gives his talented youth the opportunity to prove how much he actually needs it.
11. Have to say I was surprised Joey Daccord cleared waivers. So, too, I think, were the Kraken. Speaking of Seattle, a couple teams who played them said they looked noticeably faster and better.
12. Two numbers to watch for Ottawa: .918 and 105. Asked to provide an indication of what they’re hoping for this year to be successful, these came from GM Pierre Dorion and head coach DJ Smith. Dorion mentioned a .918 save percentage. The NHL average was .907 in 2021-22, the lowest since 2006-07. Ottawa was 16th at .904, Rangers first at .919. Smith wanted a combined powerplay/penalty kill at 105. The Senators were at 99.6 last season. St. Louis was top at 111.1. You should have lofty goals.
13. A few years ago, a photo of Ed Jovanovski’s hip surgery was included in this blog. It came with a warning, and is undoubtedly the most graphic thing posted within. Apparently, there is a photo of what was removed from Mark Stone’s back. Would he allow it to be seen? “Ah, no,” he laughed. “A little piece of crap. Kind of gross.” The Golden Knights’ captain laughed off rumours it would threaten his career or he’d have to retire. “Ridiculous. I was never super worried.”
Stone gave up golf for the time being and joked he lived the life of a dog for a month. A year earlier, Dr. Robert Watkins (who did the surgery), said he didn’t think it would be necessary to operate, but things changed. “It was an extra chunk on my disc pressing on my nerves,” Stone said. “Nothing to do with disc health. People can say what they want, I know I’m going to be healthy.”
14. Stone on the Knights: “I know people are low on us. We don’t really care. Hate us, that’s fine. We feel we have a good team.”
15. Quite a few tweets asking about Sonny Milano. Unfortunately did not work out in Calgary, a lot of surprise among fans he’s not signed in the NHL. He’s let it be known he’s willing to sign a one-way contract for close to the minimum, and there is interest. There are overseas offers, but his strong preference is to stay here.
16. It’s early, but I really liked Nasvhille’s Mattias Ekholm-Ryan McDonagh pairing.
17. Word is that Norway is on the radar as a possibility for European games.
18. Heard one of the interviewees for Edmonton’s assistant coach position was 726-game NHL veteran Joel Ward, now with AHL Henderson. Someone to watch.
19. For the first time in almost 45 years, Travis Green is not starting a hockey season on-time. “It’s been weird,” he said last week. “You try to be productive in other ways, but you miss it.” He will be going to Finland as part of the NHL contingent when Colorado and Columbus play Nov. 5-6, doing some clinics. He plans to visit a few European clubs to broaden his horizons. “I want to make myself a better coach.”
20. Green confirmed he interviewed in Florida (which went to Paul Maurice), but didn’t want to say much more about who he talked with. “It took a while to clear my head and really take a step back,” he said. “It felt like yesterday we were in the bubble. A year and a half goes by so fast, you’re going 100 miles per hour. It took a little while to reset and feel good again.” He said he spent a lot of time looking back and performing self-evaluation. “Yeah, there are some things I’d have done different. Every coach makes mistakes, but being around for a while, I’ll be a better coach next time around learning through the hard ones.”
21. Prior to re-joining Edmonton (this time as an executive) Steve Staios ran the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, where his family billeted Mason McTavish during the player’s monstrous playoff performance for the team. Staios waxed poetic about everything McTavish did on and off the ice, then added: “That kid can eat.”
22. We’re shaped by our experiences growing up. We lost a parent when I was 11, and what it taught me was to seize the day. Life is fleeting, you’d better enjoy it and go hard to accomplish what you want to accomplish. As a result, I wasn’t the best long-term planner. I think a lot now about securing their future, and had a conversation about it with player agent Allain Roy on a recent podcast. Roy merged his agency with another called North Rock X, to create NRX Hockey. One of North Rock’s founders is future NBA Hall-of-Famer Tony Parker, who told Forbes in 2016 he “saw a lot of stuff happening in the sports world, people taking advantage of athletes, so I wanted to do my part. I’m very emotional when I talk about topics like that.”
23. Roy said “the biggest mistake is not understanding budgeting and cash flow for the younger players. Education is key, communication, but also giving them a sense of control. The financial irresponsibility of a young athlete, if not educated, is dangerous.” He said that one of the advantages of the entry-level contract in the NHL is it gives an opportunity to teach. Carolina’s Brent Burns met another of NRX’s founders, Rob Nelson, several years ago, and became comfortable with his counsel. When I think of Burns, I think of the ranch (and the armadillos). He laughed about that, but added it’s a perfect example of getting the right advice so you don’t do something you regret. “There are so many things out there you have no idea about at all,” he said. “A lot of stressful decisions.” He talked about filters, tanks and generators…finding the right people to ask the right questions. “That’s how you play your best and be at your personal best.”
24. A few years ago, one player told me about a teammate who bought an expensive car and didn’t know how to turn it off. So, it was left running at a practice while someone came over from the dealership to do it. “I would say cars is probably number one in the NHL,” Roy said. “Some guys have that fashion fetish, they want to spend a lot of money on clothes. The other one that I’ve seen a lot, more so in the last few years, is shoes. The Nike limited edition stuff. Those conversations we do have, and we need to have, and once we put it on paper in front of them, it makes a lot of sense.”
Crypto? I wonder about crypto. “I don’t know enough about it, I can’t give that kind of advice, but we have people who can. In the locker-room the soapbox guy seems to get as much credibility as opposed to who is (a real expert). There’s always one or two guys in every locker room who has invested in this, they only tell you when their investments make money, you never hear when they lose money. That is very dangerous. I’ve seen guys led into some bad areas listening to that. Sometimes saying no is even more important. Being able to say, ‘Listen, you can’t afford this, or you can’t give that much money to your family right now.’ I’ve noticed, probably more so in the past, players they would think it’s bad for us to have that conversation about retirement. ‘What are you going to do after hockey?’ But players are more open now. It’s easier to have those conversations with the younger generation.” That’s very good to hear.
25. Any young people reading this, hockey player or not, I hope it inspires you a bit. For young players there are plenty of agents out there who are smart and can point you in the right direction. Do your research, even though it’s not as fun as golf, poker or video games. Roy closes by saying, “You don’t want to ask a question that’s going to make you sound stupid…so you don’t ask the question. To me there’s no bad questions, especially when it comes to your money and protecting your legacy.”
One of the books I read last summer was From Saturday Night to Sunday Night by extremely successful television executive Dick Ebersol. He tells a story of one of his first big meetings as a 20-year-old in 1967. He didn’t understand some technical requests from a veteran director, Lou Volpicelli, who recognized it. Ebersol admitted he didn’t get it. “Make this the most important lesson you learn in this business,” Volpicelli said. “Do not ever be afraid to ask a question when you don’t understand something. Never be hesitant about it. Never be embarrassed about it…Because it’s always on you to figure it out and get it right.” Great, great advice.
26. Added note about Burns: you can tell he’s very excited about his fresh start in Carolina. Sometimes we don’t realize how much we need a new challenge. I did ask him about the knapsack, and he said he doesn’t understand the mystique. “It’s all necessary stuff,” he said. Blender, foam rollers, a pillow he prefers. I told him there was a rumour he carried a machete in there, and he howled. Guess not. He’s going to have a huge year.
27. One great thing that happened in hockey over the summer: the NHL Alumni finalized a deal with the league and teams where ex-players can go to current facilities for medical examinations. You don’t have to go where you played, so if you live near Los Angeles, but didn’t play for the Kings, you can still get an appointment. Medical coverage is not cheap, which means it is real change. I think there’s still one team that isn’t finalized, but we must get there because this care is critical.
28. At the NHL’s European media tour, the players were asked who is most underrated in the NHL. Everybody but one said Aleksander Barkov. (He’s still underrated, really?) The lone holdout was Carolina’s Sebastian Aho, who picked Jaccob Slavin.
29. This could be an all-time Winter Tankathon in both the NHL and NBA. Hockey fans already know about Connor Bedard, with 15 points in his first eight games for WHL Regina. Arizona and Chicago are all out for him, with Montreal still in the picture, although trying to improve. Not sure if you saw the highlights this week, but France’s Victor Wembanyama has the NBA drooling so it’s going to be similarly epic for him. There are other good draft-eligible prospects for hockey, too. One to add to your long-term list: Czech goalie Michael Hrabal, who dazzled at last month’s USHL showcase in Pittsburgh. He plays in Omaha, and is likely NCAA-bound for UMass, although Regina also owns his CHL rights.
30. For the past two seasons the Ontario Minor Hockey Association allowed freer player movement at three levels: Under-14, Under-15 and Under-16 — as long as it was within OMHA member teams. Now, there is discussion about ending that opportunity, reversing the decision.
It’s of concern to parents who saw their kids make new friendships and relationships, finding situations they liked better than before. From the outside, it’s very strange — to say the least — that people who legally switched would be forced to return. There is no accusation I could find the rules were not properly followed. There’s also a danger of players being cut if others are forced to return, essentially wasting two years of commitment. It affects two age groups (2008 and 2009) because after Minor Midget, borders are open.
I understand that maybe things didn’t work out as expected, and could understand saying, “In the future, we’re going back to the old model.” But the kids who’ve already been through this should be grandfathered. So many children, youths and teenagers lost valuable fun and competitive time during the pandemic. Make it as easy as possible. Grandfather the current players.
31. Members of the hockey community are hurting following the loss of Josh Ciocco, who died last week at age 38. Ciocco, who played at NCAA New Hampshire and was an assistant at Merrimack, spent a lot of time in Canada, with the Durham Huskies, Prince George Spruce Kings, Vernon Vipers, Cowichan Valley Capitals and Salmon Arm Silverbacks. Wanted to send the best to his friends and family. That young, it’s so hard to comprehend.
32. During our 32 Thoughts tour stop in Peterborough, we were joined by one of Jeff Marek’s favourite musical artists, Hawksley Workman. In 2010, he released a song called Warhol’s Portrait of Gretzky. It includes the line, “Hello Immortal eyes, Mike Bossy shoots it wide.” Workman brought with him a framed, autographed Bossy jersey, which was sent to him by the Hall-of-Famer, who we lost last April at age 65. Bossy heard the lyrics and wrote, “To Hawksley, I never shoot wide.” That’s just awesome, and a great way to end this week’s edition.