New Year’s Resolution: Get back to the Full 32. We’re getting there. This week’s edition:
1. I have no doubt some teams would like to tank — even more — for Connor Bedard. And who could blame them? The thing about Bedard’s performance on such a large stage is that it gives teams licence to do it with their fans. Before, to many who aren’t invested in prospects, Bedard was an exciting rumour. Now, they’ve seen him with their own eyes and salivate. The thing is this: The league is completely constipated and it’s not like anyone’s going to be able to hold a roster garage sale. For the most part, the tankers already have their treads on the tracks.
2. With the feeling that this year’s draft is better than next year’s, will teams offered a first-rounder in 2024 prefer a high second-rounder in June if the option is available?
3. Patrick Kane’s on pace for 0.73 points per game, which would be the lowest of his NHL career. (Previous low is 0.80, in 2011-12.) This isn’t about age. The last three seasons, he had 242 points in 204 games. Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson said Tuesday that Wednesday’s practice could determine if Kane returns to action Thursday against Colorado, but I think we’re getting a window into why he’s struggled. Some of the local reporters have speculated a knee or hip injury, and I’m leaning to the latter.
The biggest question is what this means for the rest of the season. If it’s a simple thing, no worries. But there seems to be some fear it’s a lingering issue that could require cleanup. We speculated about this on the podcast, but if it comes to that, does a one-year extension make sense — allowing Kane to get whatever procedure he needs, and come back healthy in 2023-24? If the Blackhawks win the lottery, I could watch Kane and Bedard for a while. That’s appointment viewing.
4. I don’t doubt that Edmonton will add a defenceman, the bigger question is when. The second question is, what kind? I hesitate on labeling defencemen as offensive or defensive. It’s antiquated thinking. While the Oilers need someone with an edge, they also want to be certain that player can make a pass. They want to give Philip Broberg a legit run, to see what they really have there. Since he got to northern Alberta, GM Ken Holland has always tried to keep calm when hysteria’s at its highest, which is the case after an awful performance Monday in Los Angeles. I think they liked Jake McCabe, but he can’t be traded to Edmonton without approval.
5. At some point, Calgary has to give their top prospects a legit shot. I don’t know if Jakob Pelletier — 96 points in 97 career AHL games — is the scorer they need, but I do know we’re not going to find out if he spends his NHL call-up eating press-box hot dogs (although they are tasty).
6. Don’t think there’s much going on with Canucks’ Bo Horvat right now, but one thing I’m hearing is when the time comes, there’s going to be several teams calling that we haven’t considered. That’s why I wonder about Seattle. GM Ron Francis told Jeff Marek on Tuesday that he wants to reward the players responsible for this year’s improvement and not throw a grenade in the dressing room, but they need a centre. No doubt there will be others. The big question is going to be if the Canucks allow anyone to talk contract with him beforehand.
7. Another possibility I’ve wondered about for Seattle is Florida’s Sam Reinhart. West Vancouverite. Spice up the rivalry.
8. I don’t think there’s anything imminent with the Flyers’ Ivan Provorov, but I do think we are headed down the road. He’s frustrated with them, they’re frustrated with him, internally everyone knows who feels what. Another exec made a good point: If you’re Philadelphia, you want to know by this summer anyway if he’s going to re-sign, so the Flyers are just getting ahead of things and doing their work. Crossing Broad’s Anthony SanFilippo had a wild one in his column the other day: that Winnipeg offered a Provorov-for-Patrik Laine deal before the latter was dealt to Columbus, but the Flyers passed because of their belief in the defender.
9. The Flyers lost 6-2 to Toronto on Sunday night. Their fans didn’t like that, but what they did like was the organization honouring their legendary founder and the spirit of the team, Ed Snider. A year ago, they didn’t even recognize Snider’s birthday (Jan. 6) during a loss that night to Pittsburgh, which infuriated the Flyer faithful. This time, the players wore Snider Hockey jerseys in warmup and honoured the late owner’s Youth Hockey Foundation all evening. Some of the same fans who were furious a year ago felt better this time around. It’s important. Snider’s legacy should never be forgotten.
10. We talk about a lot of the big names, but one executive made an excellent point: It’s some of the smaller moves that make a huge difference. In St. Louis, a lot of the attention is on Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko — deservedly so — but I wouldn’t be surprised if some teams also take a look at Ivan Barbashev (who was so good in 2019) and Niko Mikkola. Both are unrestricted.
11. A few of you have asked about Jakub Vrana being put on waivers. First, the most important thing is his health and mental well-being. Second, I remember a few years ago doing an interview with Steve Yzerman (still a player at the time), talking about opportunities being “deserved.” The move was jarring when I first saw it, but the more I thought about it, the more I got it.
Vrana has struggled in his return to the AHL, while some of Detroit’s younger players, particularly Jonatan Berggren, grabbed the NHL opportunity. Head coach Derek Lalonde initially said he wanted to keep his young players in the lineup when Robby Fabbri returned, but the final decision was his GM’s. Yzerman is a big believer in playing those who deserve to play. And, when you’re trying to build yourself into a winner, you have to stick to that. I don’t want to guess where this goes from here, aside from I hope that mentally, Vrana stays in a good place.
12. It’s not the boldest prediction, but Carolina can win the Stanley Cup this spring. GM Don Waddell said the team will look to add depth on defence and up front. Generally, the Hurricanes do not believe in rentals — or at least, paying a big price for them. Jeff Marek asked Waddell if that philosophy changes with a team this good. “I would say this does not alter our thinking because we are in this for the long haul,” he replied.
13. With Frederik Andersen on the precipice of return, Waddell said he is comfortable with the idea of keeping three goalies. What he doesn’t like is doing it earlier in the season. It doesn’t make any sense to bury Pyotr Kochetkov in the minors for any length of time. With the injury histories of Andersen and Antti Raanta, if you move one, you could regret it.
Buffalo is going through something similar, trying to weave Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen up and down from AHL Rochester when they need him. He was supposed to start Tuesday against Seattle, but got sick. The Sabres are making this interesting, and have to give it the best run they can. Henri Jokiharju’s return means a roster squeeze, and GM Kevyn Adams doesn’t like to make rush moves. That makes recalls their best option with Luukkonen, but no doubt they are preparing for what happens if they decide they need him more often or during their two longer-travel road trips that remain.
14. Another one of those depth guys that always seems to find a spot? Arizona’s Josh Brown. I could see a team or two taking a look.
15. One of the questions the Coyotes are asking: is 23-year-old Ivan Prosvetov ready for full-time NHL work? That determines what, if anything, happens in goal.
16. With the arrival of 2023 came a new Canadian law, banning non-residents from buying homes until 2025. There are exceptions, such as Canadian citizens who live elsewhere, refugees and workers on temporary visas — as long as they’ve filed taxes in Canada three of the past four years. I spent some time working on this one, trying to figure out the impact for NHL teams. Many entry-level players rent, so it doesn’t have huge impact for them. Same for those who sign short contracts or are traded later in long-term deals.
One agent, Dan Milstein, is particularly annoyed, because he represents Ottawa’s Artem Zub (who just extended) and Vancouver’s Andrei Kuzmenko (now eligible to sign one). They would definitely be affected. A couple of Canadian-team GMs said that while they don’t think this will have enormous impact, they recognize it will be a pain in the butt. In free-agent recruiting, it will be another thing used against the Canadian clubs — whether fair or not.
17. Speaking of renting, newest 1,000-game member Sam Gagner is renting Ryan Reaves’ place. Bet that cheque arrives on-time every month.
18. Going to be interesting at the next GM meetings to see what, if anything, comes from Toronto’s $100,000 fine for taking off to St. Louis 80 minutes before being allowed to on Boxing Day. Is there a movement to make fines more punitive? Or, is there a push for greater flexibility when a day-of-game flight is approximately two hours? Chicago, for example, asked to go to Carolina on the night of Dec. 26, and were told no. The Maple Leafs are more than happy to belch out that fine, showing their players — who supported the move — their desire to win. This became a thing when a 52-win Colorado team made a two-and-a-half hour flight to Chicago in 2013, and lost 7-2 that night. Initially, the idea was to have the first day of post-Christmas travel be short hops or buses, but it doesn’t always happen.
19. Apparently, one of the teams that had to fly early on Dec. 27 this season didn’t have coffee on their plane. Reminds me of this scene from the 1982 classic, Airplane 2.
20. The NHL has a Heritage Classic next season (Calgary-Edmonton) and a Winter Classic (Vegas-Seattle), but are considering another Stadium Series game. It could end up in a market that’s already had one, possibly in a different locale. My first thought was Washington, but that might happen closer to when Alexander Ovechkin is on pace to pass Wayne Gretzky.
21. We’re going to drop a podcast interview Wednesday with Nashville’s Ryan McDonagh. He’s soft-spoken, but one of my favourite players. A couple of his former teammates couldn’t believe he’d agree to do it. Couple of good stories as a preview:
In Game 2 of the 2020 Bubble Eastern Final against the Islanders, he set up Nikita Kucherov for the winning goal with 7.8 seconds left. It was a beautiful, but blind, pass from the left corner to the right slot, and one Lightning joked I should ask if McDonagh “blacked out” before making the play. He smiled, but broke it down in a really thoughtful way. “No doubt it was a very fortuitous pass,” he said. “But if you play with Kucherov long enough, you know that’s where he hangs, off that right side of the net. I knew there wasn’t much time left, so it’s one of those ‘hope plays’ that it’s awesome if it does (work), but if it doesn’t, you knew the buzzer is going to sound in a few seconds. He wants us on the ice to know that he’s going to be over there.”
22. The second story involved a harsh lesson he learned from the Kings’ Dustin Brown during the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. “I thought he was going to be a friendly teammate to me, because we had played together in the Olympics. But my gosh, he was just destroying me, getting under my skin, getting me to take penalties. They had won a Cup before, he knew what he was doing. … I never forget going through the (handshake) line, him apologizing. Saying, ‘Sorry, Mac, but it’s the Cup.’ That was the lesson right there for me. If I ever get back and make another run, that I’m going to make sure that I leave no prisoners out there.”
23. It happened late Friday night, so not sure how many of you saw it — but this is the toughest offside decision I’ve ever seen. It’s somewhat similar to Cale Makar’s from the Western Conference Final. Two things to look at: was the puck on or off Cam Fowler’s stick when Adam Henrique’s skate crossed the blue line plane, and was Fowler’s skate still touching or on the blue line plane when Henrique’s skate crosses it? The goal stood because there was no video evidence proving Henrique was offside, so stay with the call on the ice. Colin Campbell warned video review would have unintended consequences. This is one.
24. On his cross-country flight from Seattle to Toronto before Team Canada’s World Junior camp, head coach Dennis Williams (who leads WHL Everett) and eventual team captain Shane Wright (coming from the Kraken) ended up next to each other. “No one put that together,” Williams told Ron MacLean and Kevin Bieksa, “because I changed my ticket the night before to switch to a different seat.” That five-hour conversation cemented their relationship. What happened the last few weeks is going to be great for Wright.
25. Rooting for Team Canada goalie Thomas Milic, undrafted twice. The knock on Milic is size (WHL Seattle’s website lists him at six-foot-one, 175 pounds). The prejudice against smaller skaters is waning, but the one against smaller goalies remains strong. Whatever the case, I saw a real battler. How many times did he absolutely save Canada when they were on the ropes? A couple of scouts and junior executives added that the perception of him has been hurt by playing behind an excellent Thunderbird team. They went to the WHL Final last year and have 28 wins in 35 games this season. (His goalie partner, Scott Ratzlaff, is going to the Top Prospects Game.) At the very least, Milic is going to be able to pick an organization as a free agent.
26. No issues with Bedard staying in WHL Regina, even if they aren’t a huge postseason favourite. If that’s his wish, that’s his wish. Depending on how the Pats do in the playoffs, curious to see if plays at the World Championships.
27. Definitely have a greater understanding of why a passionate group of scouts thought Logan Cooley should have gone first in the NHL Draft.
28. Best to Anaheim centre Justin Kirkland, released from hospital Monday night after a car crash. A lot of people who care about him are incredibly relieved, as word is it was a significant crash.
29. Moments before Nyheim Hines’ electrifying 96-yard kickoff return touchdown to open Buffalo’s win over New England, the Bills honoured the organization’s medical and training staffs who saved Damar Hamlin’s life. Since Hamlin’s cardiac arrest, it’s been hard not to think of several frightening hockey incidents where quick-thinking and well-prepared medical/training staff saved lives.
From Chris Pronger to Jay Bouwmeester to Jiri Fischer to Rich Peverley to Craig Cunningham; dangerous cuts suffered by Evander Kane, OHL Kingston’s Maleek McGowan (in December) and NCAA Army’s Eric Huss (last week) — we’re very fortunate to benefit from the expertise of these people. They are really good at their jobs and well-prepared. It’s also amazing to think that Pronger didn’t miss a single game after his own heart briefly stopped beating during a 1998 playoff contest.
30. Two very different book recommendations: First is “Anna,” by Amy Odell. A biography of Vogue’s Anna Wintour, it starts slow. The last half is really interesting. The whole world is a stage now, we’re all public figures. Wintour’s best asset is keeping her path, no matter the obstacle. This is a window into how she does it. The other is “Super Bowl Blueprints,” by Bill Polian. Easy read, oral history, great stories. You forget because his last years were off-the-rails, unfortunately, but Al Davis was way ahead of his time.