• Coaching situations to watch around the league
• Why it’s time to have a discussion about “willing combatants”
• Honouring Keith Yandle‘s amazing ironman streak of 989 games
Two months ago, podcast compatriot Jeff Marek asked Ryan Getzlaf if he might be the last player from the incredible 2003 NHL Draft to retire.
“I know it won’t be me,” Getzlaf said, laughing, barely letting Marek finish the question.
Can’t call him a liar. The leading scorer in Anaheim history announced his retirement on Tuesday, during a really well-done media conference featuring several surprise appearances. Thanks to wife Paige’s expert misdirection, Getzlaf thought his kids were in school and had no idea parents Steve and Susan were in town. Ryan delivered emotional tributes to current and former Ducks’ staff/teammates, future co-Hall of Famer Corey Perry and brother Chris, who played 11 CFL seasons with Hamilton, Saskatchewan and Edmonton.
“I really thought this would easier,” he said to emcee Brian Hayward.
Susan proudly discussed her son’s charity initiatives, while Steve told a couple of great stories of Ryan’s journey.
“At the age of four, you were not allowed to play hockey,” Steve Getzlaf said, looking at Ryan. “But I took you to the mini-novice tryouts to help run the camp. When the camp was over, you were really upset that you couldn’t play because, as you said, you could skate better than a lot of the other kids. Which, by the way, was true.”
“On the morning of the NHL draft in 2003, I asked who you wanted to be drafted by. You said you really didn’t know, but maybe Toronto. And I said, ‘Well that’s not going to happen, because they don’t have a first-round pick.’ And then you said, ‘Well, somewhere warm then.’”
“And look where you are.”
Everyone was a winner. Getzlaf got his warm weather, a place where he became a husband and father. The Ducks — and their fans — got a franchise stalwart, leading scorer in their 2007 Stanley Cup playoff run, only 1,000-point player in franchise history, someone who, as he admitted Tuesday, turned down the possibility of a trade to Vegas at the 2021 deadline because “it just didn’t feel right to go anywhere.”
And, even though he physically left Canada, he wore the jersey with great success. Two Olympic gold medals and a World Cup Championship, to go with a World Junior gold. Anaheim’s longtime PR maestro, Alex Gilchrist, often said there wasn’t a player who cared less about numbers than Getzlaf: “The only statistic that matters to him is wins.”
It’s going to be weird in Anaheim without him. Big guy, big presence, booming voice. You always knew he was there. Especially when the Ducks lost. He knew, with the letter “C” on his jersey, he needed to answer for it.
“I can probably say for certain that I will not be a coach,” he said in that podcast interview. “I think it would be a cool experience to be part of building a team.”
You know the organization will want him around in some capacity. But there is already one way his leadership style will continue to the Ducks’ next generation. At the end of every period or game, Getzlaf went to check on any player who left the bench early due to injury. He wanted to know how they were, what was the prognosis. That was the first thing he’d do.
1. So, who from that phenomenal 2003 draft class will be the last man standing? Brent Burns and Ryan Suter have three years remaining on their contracts. Corey Perry has another season. Jeff Carter just extended two years, Zach Parise and Joe Pavelski for one. Pavelski has indicated he’s a year-by-year guy now, which is probably the same for Patrice Bergeron. Dustin Brown is four back of Eric Staal (1,293) for most games played by this group. Other UFAs this summer? Marc-Andre Fleury (who I could see in Pittsburgh, assuming he doesn’t re-sign with the Wild), Brian Boyle (who will have to be dragged off the ice), Brian Elliott, Loui Eriksson and Jaroslav Halak. Technically, it could be Shea Weber — he’s got four years remaining. And don’t forget Matt Moulson, still going at AHL Hershey, four years after his last NHL appearance. That’s a guy who loves to play.
2. If you did a 2003 redraft, who goes first? Not easy, but I’d take Bergeron.
3. Big week for building contractors. Hoping for clarity in both Arizona and Ottawa on Thursday. The Ottawa Citizen reported that the National Capital Commission will, as part of a board meeting, update the LeBreton Flats project. The Senators are believed to have re-applied for the opportunity to build a new rink on the location. The team is not yet confirming its interest. Meanwhile, Tempe City Council is to discuss the Coyotes’ arena proposal in an executive session, which is not open to the public. The timing of an actual vote is not yet clear.
4. Heading into Tuesday’s games, the NHL’s collective goals-against average is 2.89, which would be the highest since 2.92 in 2005-06. The biggest difference since then is the number of power plays. Sixteen years ago, there were six per team per game. Now there are three.
Auston Matthews needs one goal to become Toronto’s single-season leader, and six to become the third player in the salary-cap era with 60 goals (Alexander Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos). Roman Josi is on pace for 98 points, which would tie him with 1975-76 Denis Potvin for 15th most in one season by a defenceman — which would also be the highest total in 30 years. (Cale Makar’s pace is 89.) Jonathan Huberdeau’s already set a single-season assists record for a left winger and, at his current pace for 87, has a chance to join Joe Thornton as the only player in the past 26 years with 90. Johnny Gaudreau is on pace for 88 even-strength points. That would be the highest since Jaromir Jagr’s 95 in 1995-96 and tied for 30th all-time with Bryan Trottier’s 1977-78. It’s good for the sport, and hopefully more than a one-year blip.
5. Martin St. Louis, on when he will make his decision about coaching next year: “I think at the end of the season. Right now, it wouldn’t be fair for the players, for anyone, for me to focus on that. Things will take care of themselves, let’s just stay the course on what we’re trying to do right now.” I think we know the Canadiens’ fans vote.
6. In a crazy year for coaching (and GM) changes, there are five other interims in addition to St. Louis: Andrew Brunette (Florida), Derek King (Chicago), Dave Lowry (Winnipeg), Jay Woodcroft (Edmonton) and Mike Yeo (Philadelphia). Brunette’s status is slightly different: he has another year on his contract as an assistant coach, although he was given a salary bump upon replacing Joel Quenneville. Apparently, most (but not all) of the Panthers’ coaches have no contracts for next year — which is surprising considering their success. Oilers GM Ken Holland said last week he will talk to Woodcroft after the season; that’s definitely trending in a good direction.
7. There is a team option next year on Rick Bowness (Dallas). The Stars considered a coaching change at All-Star, but Bowness’s own thoughts may determine where this goes. He wanted one more chance to run a bench and got Dallas to within two victories of a Stanley Cup in 2020. Jeff Blashill (Detroit) was initially reported as a two-year extension. It might be this year and a team option, but Steve Yzerman’s Lamoriello-esque secrecy makes it a challenge to know for sure. Dallas Eakins (Anaheim) and John Hynes (Nashville) are up. Hynes seems a lock to return, and Eakins wouldn’t surprise me, either. Bruce Boudreau has the most unique language of all. If Vancouver chooses to move on, there’s a payment to him. But he can also cut the cord and test the market by his own choice.
8. Wonder if Travis Green gets a shot at coaching Team Canada at the World Championships.
9. Canadiens fans are filling my DMs with demands for Jayden Struble updates. The 46th overall selection in 2019 is still deciding on whether or not to return to NCAA Northeastern for his senior season, although it appears he’s leaning that way. Remember: Montreal GM Kent Hughes knows him very well, so the organization won’t panic if the defenceman chooses that route. Teammate Devon Levi told Buffalo he’s returning to Northeastern, and a couple of people who know goalies much better than I do think that’s a smart play by Levi — and not a bad thing for the Sabres. (His rights stay with the NHL team for two more years.) The late-ending NHL season has fans in several markets hoping for post-Frozen Four debuts. Buffalo at Toronto next Tuesday? Hmmmmmmm.
10. Lots to unpack in the aftermath of Anaheim-Arizona last Friday night. First, let’s do what might come out of this. There have been two recent suspensions where someone punched an “unwilling opponent.” Max Domi was suspended for the rest of the pre-season schedule in 2018 for punching Aaron Ekblad.
Zack Kassian was suspended two games in 2020 for fighting Matthew Tkachuk, who had delivered a huge hit to the Oiler winger and looked to pursue the puck when Kassian sought revenge. In those cases, Ekblad and Tkachuk showed no interest in fighting and weren’t the aggressors.
This is different in that Troy Terry did engage Jay Beagle first, but it still got way out of hand. Beagle’s had three career fights, he’s got no rep as a dangerous or dirty player, but Terry was overmatched. In a television interview (more on that in a moment), Beagle said the way Terry entered the scrum made him think this was a fight. In the immediate aftermath, there was real concern Terry suffered a broken orbital bone — the players furious and shaken.
Most Mondays, I do Andrew Peters’ and Craig Rivet’s podcast, and this week Peters talked about how he let up in certain fights because he knew it was the right thing to do. I recognize that’s easier said than done in the emotion of the moment, but the fact Terry did not play Sunday against Edmonton is a bad outcome. Jeff Marek made a good point, that if this happened a week earlier, it’s leading the GM meetings. But, it should create discussion on “willing combatants,” adjusting the definition or enforcement of it. I love a skilled, tough game. If two people are willing to fight, that’s one thing. This wasn’t that.
11. Beagle talked to Bally Sports Arizona’s Todd Walsh before Sunday’s 3-2 win in Chicago. Asked if the way the Ducks celebrated or carried themselves had anything to do with what happened, Beagle flat out rejected the idea. “For me, it’s pretty black and white,” he answered. “You poke the goalie, it’s 5-0 … it’s happened to me, it’s happened a million times. You’ve got to have that onus, you’ve got to take accountability and be accountable for what you do. It’s too bad, you don’t want to ever see anyone get hurt … but we’re obviously not going to let that happen.”
12. Weirdest part of entire situation: Phil Kessel, not even on the ice during the incident, getting a misconduct from the bench, thereby removing him from the game. Did he think there was going to be retribution or something?
13. Watch Sonny Milano on the latest Zegras lacrosse goal. With Zegras still behind the net, Milano goes to the front. It’s the play you learn the moment you pick up a stick, get to a scoring area to receive a pass. It’s funny to watch Milano trying to get out of the way once he realized Zegras was trying to score. This is going to rewire brains.
14. Other big story from the weekend was Keith Yandle’s consecutive-games streak ending at 989. I don’t think this was a Mike Yeo decision as much as an organizational choice. Some of the Flyers’ veterans were upset, as you’d expect them to be for their friend. At the very least, they wanted him to get to 1,000, and I suspect that Kessel being just 19 games behind played a role in their disappointment for him, too (although that will have to be decided next season). Yandle handled it gracefully, which is no surprise. I don’t think someone in his shoes is ever happy with a streak ending, but he knew it was getting close. There had been conversations about what would happen if a contending team wanted to acquire him for depth reasons, with no guarantee of playing every night. The key is to remember Yandle for 989 games in a row, and how much teammates adore the guy, as opposed to how it ended.
15. There’s a deeper discussion about streaks in general. A couple of coaches said privately teams grow to hate them because they feel hostage to them. They understand how core players would support Yandle (and did in Florida last year when his position was threatened), but argued it’s not fair to depth veterans or prospects on the fringe of the lineup. There are times they deserve to play, but get scratched to keep streaks alive. They don’t feel that’s right. The Flyers want to see Cam York, and just signed Ronnie Attard out of NCAA Western Michigan. Nick Seeler (who just fought the fearsome Nic Deslauriers) is trying to earn a contract for next season. Those coaches feel sometimes these kinds of players get squeezed.
16. Absolute breakout season for Josh Norris, whose hat trick in Sunday’s 5-2 win over Detroit made him the first Senator in a decade to hit 30 goals. Milan Michalek (35) and Jason Spezza (34) were the last, in 2011-12. In 2017-18, as a freshman at Michigan, Norris had eight goals in 37 games. He followed with 10 in 17 as a sophomore and 31 in his professional rookie year at AHL Belleville, so this is no fluke. The man can fire it.
“All of us shoot well,” he said Monday, including brothers Dalton and Coale. “My little brother (Dalton) shoots better than me, to be honest with you.” Before that sophomore season, personal skills coach Brandon Naurato suggested a curve change. He uses CCM sticks, and switched from a model P46 to a P28. “The back end is a little bit flatter. The toe curve is more of a banana hook. It’s a shooter curve, for sure.” Good adjustment for Norris and the Senators, very bad for helpless goaltenders.
17. Norris is not the type to set numeric goals, but more about setting a personal tone for himself. After a 17-goal, 35-point rookie season that showed a ton of promise, his goal for this year was to “play with confidence and swagger, like I’ve been in the league for 10 years,” while recognizing there is still plenty of work to be done. “Not dwelling so long on mistakes.” He was really good talking about some of his eye-opening moments from the Canadian Division. Last season, Edmonton absolutely tortured Ottawa. On Jan. 31, right off the opening faceoff, goalie Matt Murray froze a puck. Leon Draisaitl clearly beat Norris in the ensuing draw, and Dominik Kahun’s shot deflected off Norris’s stick and in after just eight seconds.
“I was thinking, OK, this might be a long night,” he said, laughing. That was an 8-5 Oilers win. He also mentioned a 6-5 loss to Toronto on April 10, where Auston Matthews had three goals and an assist, while Norris went minus-4. But, the truly talented develop a thick skin and persevere. He specifically mentioned one Edmonton game “where I started to take off” — all signs point to April 7, 2021 — where head coach D.J. Smith matched him against Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. The Oilers won 4-2, but Norris scored, prevented either from getting a point at even strength, and won 12 of 17 faceoffs.
18. Someone who knows Norris said I had to ask him about living with Quinn Hughes at Michigan and “the balance in cleaning duties.”
“There was no balance in our cleaning duties,” he answered. “There was no cleaning whatsoever. We had a hardwood floor, and you couldn’t even see it. You couldn’t go anywhere without stepping on anything.” Apparently, this was an extraordinary mess, even by college standards. In-game photos capture him wearing a No. 9 necklace. He was slightly sheepish discussing it, but it looks great. “It’s a gift to myself,” he said. Tyler Ennis is the trendsetter in this area (No. 63), and Drake Batherson followed (19). Ennis has a jeweller in Edmonton who did his, and Norris went to her, too. “(Batherson) told me to ice it out, but I was like, ‘I don’t know,’” he laughed. “I thought that was kind of cheesy. I iced out the border of it.”
19. Norris’s father, Dwayne, had a long pro career that took him and family to Germany. Josh has said before that he’s fluent in German, but Tim Stuetzle called him on it. “(Tim) won’t back down, he loves to give (bleep) to everybody. He told me, ‘You’re not fluent, stop saying that.’ It’s true, my German is not as good as his English. I can listen to it and understand it, but not speak it as well.” The thing that will make Senators fans happiest about our conversation is that it’s very clear Norris loves the group. Mentioning newly arrived Jake Sanderson and Mads Sogaard, who just made his NHL debut, “There’s more coming.” Really enjoyed the interview.
20. If Connor Hellebuyck plays 10 of Winnipeg’s last 12 (two are back-to-backs), he’ll play 68 games, most since Cam Talbot’s 73 for Edmonton in 2016-17. He’s faced 89 more shots than Juuse Saros, second in the NHL, and would see 2,231 of them at his current pace. That would be 11th-most in any season. Roberto Luongo holds the top two spots — 2,488 for Florida in 2005-06 and 2,475 with the Panthers two years earlier.
21. Blake Wheeler’s super-slow shootout winner in Buffalo last Wednesday is not going to lead to any dramatic changes. It may be slow (as was Evgeny Kuznetsov a few weeks earlier, also against the Sabres), but there’s no desire to curtail those attempts.
22. UQTR won the Canadian University championship with a 5-4 double-overtime victory over top-ranked University of Alberta (someone please make sure Bob Stauffer is OK). Alexis Gravel, drafted 162nd by Chicago in 2018, was MVP of the tournament, with 66 saves in the final and a .950 save percentage in the event. Gravel played two games this season for the ECHL Allen Americans before heading to Trois-Rivieres. It’s his plan to return to Les Patriotes, but I wonder if any teams saw that and give him another look.
23. April 23 and April 30, AHL Stockton at Bakersfield. Edmonton signed Golden Bears centre Noah Philp on Tuesday, and he will start by joining the Condors. That means he can dig for pucks against brother Luke, who has 21 goals for the Heat. Calgary was one of the teams that tried to get Noah, too. Two New Brunswick Varsity Reds signed AHL contracts: goalie Ryan Parenteau with Toronto and centre Samuel Dove-McFalls in Grand Rapids.
24. When one NHL media relations person heard Johnny Oduya wanted to do a podcast interview, he almost fell over in shock. “He never wanted to talk, especially about himself,” was the response. It turned into a 55-minute conversation, and the defender was great.
Business before pleasure: Oduya has created a clothing line, Atunya, with the mission to provide “simple, high-performing training apparel of exceptional quality and comfort.” It’s right in his wheelhouse: Oduya had an excellent reputation for fitness/taking care of his body, but he wants a different “look” to appeal to a wider section of people. “There’s a challenge in hockey,” he said. “It’s a beautiful community, but it’s also very traditional. In Sweden, the demographic for hockey is quite tight. … We need to develop this. We need to have this different approach. Through Atunya, I can work on all these levels. … How do we develop the sport and grow the game in a good way and a sustainable way? I think that’s really important and something I like to do. Create a picture of a hockey player that’s maybe a little bit different than we’re used to. Through the brand, I can do this in multiple places.”
25. Oduya’s definitely taken the sport to some non-traditional locales. He found a league in Thailand during the 2012-13 lockout. “They thought first it was a joke, ‘Why would you come here?’ They were really surprised when I showed up at the airport. ‘Its actually you,’” he laughed. “Yeah, I wanted to skate.” How was it? “Fantastic. Beautiful hockey community.” Oduya pointed out his championship there was “the first thing I won,” coming before his 2013 Stanley Cup with Chicago.
Last summer, he and Calgary’s Oliver Kylington traveled to Kenya (Oduya’s father is from there). “Little bit different of a project,” he said. “(There’s an) old square rink in a hotel that they play at. When we were there, that rink was closed. They have this big parking lot in the centre of Nairobi.” Roller hockey it was. “We brought these plastic pucks, the ones you use on asphalt … and they weren’t holding back on us. They were blocking shots with no gear.” If you’ve ever played with one of those, you know how much it stings. I still have road hockey scars from them. “They don’t care about anything; most passionate hockey players you can imagine. And some of them are from, probably one of the toughest parts of the world … some of the ghettos outside of Nairobi. Eye-opening and humbling. There’s a lot of these places around the world where hockey is very cool, that you don’t think of. When I see this, this is a pure form of love for the sport. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Nairobi or playing street hockey in Canada. For me it’s the same thing: there’s no lights, there’s no cameras, there’s no media. There’s something very pure and beautiful around that.”
He will be running a street hockey tournament in Sweden this summer: “Bring your shoes, a stick and some gloves, and you can play the game.”
26. Oduya, on what he learned about creating his own line: “Don’t start a clothing company during a pandemic.” That was pretty funny.
27. He played 850 NHL games with New Jersey, Atlanta, Winnipeg, Chicago, Dallas, Ottawa and Philadelphia — winning two Cups with the Blackhawks. Now, he teaches kids how to play defence, passing the knowledge he learned under Hall of Famers Larry Robinson, whom he called “fantastic as a human,” and Jacques Laperriere, “a calm, smart individual with a funny sense of humour.”
“The way they pursued and focused on the defensive game and the team game. It was quite surreal at the beginning, I really got to learn how to play defence. … How to really develop that sense and awareness. All we talked about is where to position yourself. You need to understand where to put yourself at all times.” Oduya feels the accelerated rate young defenders make the NHL — as opposed to playing in the minors — means they must be exposed earlier to what will be expected of them. He calls it a “mindful defence camp,” which he runs with Daniel Broberg, who coached him in Sweden.
“We work on basic awareness. I want to teach how to play an NHL defence game. From (age) 12 and up, I wanted to bring them different situations, what can happen and also what happens if you do a certain thing. Prepare them for different type of scenarios. Because some coaches would like them to go attack fully in the corner. Some of them want you to angle and position. Some of them want you to play overload defence. There’s so many variations of what can happen. I want to expose them to that. Maybe they won’t use it for one or two years, but eventually, they’re going to run into that. Having the understanding … I think is important. The game now has changed. You need to be ready way earlier. … The league is younger, players are younger. There’s more speed. So if you’re 16-17 and you’ve never been exposed to any of these things, and you think you’re going to play in the NHL two years later or three years later — that is a challenge. … It’s so much more important to learn those things way earlier. And they’re adaptable, they can do it. Some of them are doing better than the older players I coach. They pick it up so fast. I love doing that.”
28. Oduya assisted on Dave Bolland’s 2013 Stanley Cup-winning goal versus Boston. “I felt really good that game, I still remember the feeling I had. The game before, I didn’t. But we won that one, thank goodness.” Then, he won again two years later. “I remember sitting on the bench in 2015, I think it was the countdown of the last couple of seconds. Time just slows down, you’re watching around the United Center. The place is full, everybody’s screaming. I remember how slow those 10 seconds (felt) … and it’s quite hard to describe, but is one of the things I wish for everybody on this planet — it doesn’t matter if you play sports or whatever you do — that you, at some point in your life, will have the feeling of that.”
Oduya watches every potential Cup clincher every season to remind him of that euphoria. “I live it every time I watch it. I watch the players and the feeling they have, and how happy they are. That is why we do this. We’re not in this for new cars or buying the new house or buying all these things. It’s these simple moments that will line up eventually and give you experience you cannot pay for. You have to work to get it.”
When he won his first Cup, he remembered Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp — already with a previous championship — watching him during a party. “It’s something beautiful when you’re watching someone else and you’ve already been in this space. I love that part of the game.”
As mentioned, Oduya is a fitness fanatic, but said no one compares to Keith. “(He’s a) physical and mental phenomenon. A lot of his power is not just in his body, it’s actually in his mind and mindset. I admire him a lot. I loved being in Chicago for that reason. All of a sudden all of these extreme things and weird things that I liked to do but couldn’t do in other places, that was possible to do in Chicago. It was seen as something positive. ‘You want to do something extra to win, OK, do that.’” Who had the worst diet? “(Brent Seabrook) was like the human trashcan, he would put down anything he could.”
29. Finally, Oduya said he could not remember the story (told by Michael Rupp) that the two of them almost ran over Giants quarterback Eli Manning at a crosswalk. The three lived in the same building in Hoboken. “Could have been true,” he laughed. “I would probably blame that on (Rupp). He talks a lot and gets excited, maybe we were having a conversation and none of us were paying attention to the road.”
30. Mississauga’s Michael Misa set a new OHL Cup record with 20 points in seven games. (The OHL Cup is basically the Ontario under-16 championship.) That broke Connor McDavid’s record by one. I wouldn’t make any crazy comparisons to McDavid, that’s insanity. Misa is one of three Ontario kids who have applied for exceptional status. We’ll see what happens over the next week or so.
31. NHL agents are meeting with the NHL Players’ Association in-person for the first time in two years. That’s Wednesday in Toronto. On the agenda: CBA stuff, including second opinions. Arizona will probably come up, too. Don Fehr and his future is not officially a topic.
32. I’ve written before about Anden Bieganowski, a teenage goalie for the Blackfoot Chiefs in Alberta. Anden is on the autism spectrum and has come a long way, very comfortable in pads. April is Autism Awareness Month. Wanted to share his story and several others, put into film here: