A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. Tonight, we tested positive for free-agent fever. We will begin our quarantine now and enter our recovery process on Oct. 10. We will get through this TOGETHER!
1. Glass half-full or glass half-empty?
Let’s fret about the hockey hibernation later and soak in the deluge of news and rumours that is upon us. Fast on the heels of the Stanley Cup’s booze cruise, we’re getting the draft, free agency and enough trade chatter to knock out a tooth or two. Enjoy it.
Some thoughts on the latest scuttlebutt:
• Oliver Ekman-Larsson could’ve had his pick of half the league when he approached free agency. Instead, he bet on the team that drafted him.
“I love living in Arizona and I love playing for the Coyotes, so it was a no-brainer for me,” Ekman-Larsson said upon inking his life-changing $66-million extension in 2018. “Being loyal to your team and people that really care and believe in you, that’s something I had in the back of my head and that’s why I wanted to stay.
“I didn’t really think about leaving or going anywhere else, to be honest with you, but it’s nice to get an end to people asking me if I would stay or go somewhere else. I’ve been focused on staying in Arizona. That’s where I want to play. I think we have something good coming.”
The good never arrived, and the captain — holding a full no-move clause he negotiated with John Chayka — has earned the right to not stick around for more of the mediocre.
We understand why Ekman-Larsson wants to join Boston or Vancouver, but this is a difficult first deal for rookie GM Bill Armstrong to execute. How can the Bruins’ Don Sweeney sell letting fan favourite Torey Krug walk and making an imported talent the highest-paid guy on the roster?
And with the Canucks so tight to the cap, how many young players lose their raise to make space for OEL?
Also: Arizona wants a high draft pick for Tuesday. Boston doesn’t pick until Round 2 and Vancouver doesn’t pick until Round 3.
• Jake DeBrusk would look great in Oilers sweater, but Sweeney would need to immediately start looking for a second-line winger.
• Regarding Patrik Laine: Has anyone traded away a 22-year-old 40-goal scorer and won the deal?
• Marc Bergevin saying he wants to make Brendan Gallagher Montreal’s highest-paid forward sounds splashy until you realize that the highest-paid forward is Jonathan Drouin at $5.5-million and Gallagher’s comparables are much closer to $6.5 million. Anything less than making Gallagher the highest-paid forward would be an insulting offer.
• Bergevin is willing to trade his first-rounder (16th overall) for a top-six winger, as he should be. It wasn’t so long ago that Tampa’s Julien BriseBois traded late first-round picks for bottom-six wingers Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman. Pittsburgh landed what it sees as a top-six winger in Kasperi Kapanen for the 15th-overall pick, but only because Toronto viewed Kapanen as a third-liner. The trick will be finding a team undervalues one of its wingers or has a glut of them.
• Laurent Brossoit signed Friday. There is going to be an NHL-calibre unsigned backup goalie waiting for a phone call upon the first injury of 2020-21, isn’t there?
• I love Devan Dubnyk. I’m rooting for Devan Dubnyk. That said, his win total and save percentage have dropped in each of the past three years, and he’s been playing behind a decent defensive squad. I’m not convinced he’s the answer for San Jose.
• Vegas has been grouped in with Colorado, Florida and Detroit among the parties interested in trading for Krug’s rights before Friday. The Knights’ left side is decent and their right side got exposed against Dallas, so this is a tough fit for me. Would rather see them pursue righty Alex Pietrangelo and work their way down that list.
• Rookie GM Bill Zito has already traded two regular defencemen away from the Florida Panthers, a bad defensive team. Is he simply cutting costs or setting up for a bigger play, like Krug?
2. Las Vegas, 2012: Sent to cover my first NHL Awards for this fine website, my editors wanted me to earn my pool time. In addition to conducting interviews and filing stories, they also asked me to shoot iPhone photos and capture Instagram videos for this thing called “social media” that was all the rage back then.
This entailed covering the red carpet walk of hockey royalty.
If you’ve never covered a red carpet before, understand that it is a manic free-for-all. A lawless environment in which the lions pounce on any fresh meat that tries to scoot by.
If you’ve never found yourself wandering a giant Vegas casino looking for a very specific location, understand that it may take you longer than anticipated to maze your way there.
I say all of this to say that when I did find the carpet, I was late, sweaty, confused and fumbling to figure out the recently-downloaded Gram when I looked up and saw the King gliding my way.
Resplendent midnight-black tuxedo. Hair clipped from the heavens. The amount of stubble that makes a man looks like he doesn’t care but he totally does. Smile out of a toothpaste commercial. Eyes the colour of confidence. Henrik Lundqvist looked like 59.5 million bucks as he walked in to collect his Vezina.
I asked for a minute of his time. Graciously, he said yes.
Then… nothing. Mind blank. Silence of the most awkward degree. I’d seen a flash of handsome and had pounced without a plan.
For the first and last time in my career, I was so flustered I couldn’t even speak.
“Uh… I forgot my question,” I finally conceded, disclosing my inner idiot. The carpet no longer looked red compared to my face. “It’s all right. Go ahead to the next one.”
“No, no, no. That’s OK,” Lundqvist replied, patiently. “Take your time. No rush.” A smile.
Able to breathe again, I got through asking him a few questions — one of which may or may not have been “Will you marry me?” — and he sailed off to charm his next pesterer.
The Rangers lost a Hall of Famer this week, absolutely. But they also lost the classiest hockey player of a generation. Here’s hoping Lundqvist takes his talents elsewhere and keeps his Cup dream alive. GMs are inquiring.
For a legend.
For representing the Rangers with class and dignity.
For loving our city unconditionally.
For saving the day, time and again.
For giving it all - always.
For New York sports.
For a lifetime of memories.
For you, HEN-RIK. pic.twitter.com/OQ4v7ClsZp
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) September 30, 2020
3. The amount of dead money on the Rangers’ books is staggering. Buyouts Dan Girardi, Kevin Shattenkirk, Ryan Spooner (retained salary) and now Lundqvist will account for $12.99 million on the cap. Brad Richards doesn’t count against the cap, but the Blueshirts will still be paying the retired star $1.06 million a year through 2025-26.
No wonder Jeff Gorton was happy to find a trade partner for the dependable but expensive Marc Staal. The price to unload Staal’s paperwork wasn’t cheap (a second-round pick), as the Detroit Red Wings did a fine job weaponizing their cap space and adding a solid veteran to a depleted defence core.
On paper, New York has more cap room than any club who qualified for the NHL’s 24-team return to play. But Gorton has valuable RFAs to sign at every position: centre Ryan Strome, winger Brendan Lemieux, defenceman Anthony DeAngelo, and goalie Alexandar Georgiev.
Complicating matters? Every one of them holds arbitration rights. Every one of them is hot off the best showing of his career.
It’ll be more challenging to wedge Jack Eichel’s $10-million contract into this roster than you think (wink).
Stray thought: If Gorton knew he was going to win the Alexis Lafreniere draft lottery, would he have signed Chris Kreider to a seven-year, $45.5-million extension in February? That’s a heckuva price for the third-best left wing on the depth chart.
4. Sportsnet’s chief prospect prognosticator Sam Cosentino and I had a long, enjoyable Zoom call with projected top-10 pick and quick wit Marco Rossi from Austria. The story comes out next week, but this anecdote can’t wait.
Rossi was interviewed by too many teams to count. I asked him the strangest question fired his way by an NHL team executive.
“The weirdest question I got was, like, if I would hit my mom to win a game,” Rossi said, smiling. “And I said, ‘No, I would never do that. Would you do it?’ And he was just loving it. It was so funny.”
Did you tell your mom?
“I did. And she was in shock,” Rossi chuckles. “And I was like, ‘No! I didn't say yes.’”
Poor Claudia Rossi, getting dragged into a fight from the stands.
5. Quote of the Week goes to the general manager of the Detroit Red Wings:
“I was doing yoga for most of the interviews, so I was trying to not be a distraction.” — Steve Yzerman, on why he was muted behind a dark screen during Zoom calls with draft prospects
It’ll be a while before we know how Detroit’s 2020 picks turn out, but this draft is already a triumphant victory for multitaskers.
6. Yzerman dished on the backstory of drafting Conn Smythe runner-up Brayden Point in the third round of 2014.
At No. 80 overall, the Lightning were one pick behind Minnesota (79) and eyeing the undersized centre. One of the voices at the Tampa table piped up: “Oh, Minny. He’s the type of guy Minny drafts.”
The Wild were at the next table over.
Yzerman grabbed the phone, called Chuck Fletcher and said, “Chuck, are you interested in a seventh for us to jump in front of you for the pick?”
Fletcher looked over at Yzerman 10 feet away like, “Are you serious?”
“Yeah,” Yzerman responded.
Fletcher shrugged. “OK, but you gotta tell me who you’re picking.”
Yzerman told him the truth.
“Obviously it turned out pretty good, but in all likelihood Point would have still been there, and we would’ve had our seventh-round pick,” Yzerman told reporters Thursday.
At No. 80, Fletcher drafted defenceman Louie Belpedio (three NHL games played). The seventh was for 2015 and used to draft defenceman Jack Sadek, who had a respectable ECHL season with the Allen Americans last year.
— Here's Your Replay (@TheReplayGuy) September 26, 2020
7. All the juicy draft tales from the championship roster are coming to light.
Yzerman did the heavy lifting, but Brian Lawton and Julien BriseBois bookended his construction with some key ingredients.
Lawton was at the helm when Tampa drafted Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman. He credits Jay Feaster for the Stamkos pick and delivered fantastic insight behind the Hedman decision on Real Kyper at Noon Wednesday.
Heading into the 2009 draft holding the second-overall pick and knowing the Islanders would select John Tavares No. 1, the consensus among Lightning brass was to choose Matt Duchene. However, the buck stopped with Lawton, and he had in his own mind landed on Hedman.
The GM quietly met with then-owner Oren Koules, informed him that the staff debates favoured Duchene but that on draft day he’d be taking Hedman instead. Koules gave Lawton the green light, and Lawton informed his staff at the draft that he was overruling the consensus.
Further, Lawton says he was “privately pleased” that he’d lost the lottery to the Islanders because he had concerns about Tavares’s skating. By picking second, he’d able to secure his target in Hedman and avoid any backlash had he been tempted to take Hedman over the highly touted Tarvares at No. 1.
Prior to the draft, Lawton invited Tavares, Hedman and Duchene to Tampa at the same time for interviews and testing and dinners. He wanted to see the three interact.
At one dinner with Koules and the three top prospects, the Lightning made a rule: no hockey talk.
Lawton said because Tavares and Hedman had been competing with players older than them, he sensed they were “much more advanced emotionally than Matt — and that meant something to me.” He spotted the seeds of a leader in a shy youngster.
One unnamed staff member was ticked off that Lawton had chosen Hedman over Duchene. He approached Lawton post-draft and said, “Brian, the Colorado Avalanche are laughing at us.”
8. I’ve been burning through episodes of SmartLess, the newish podcast started by actors Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes and noted Maple Leafs fan Will Arnett.
In one fun riff, Bateman chides Arnett for getting his golf balls custom stamped with the No. 17 — in honour of Wendel Clark, the “greatest hockey player” in Arnett’s opinion.
Leafs president Brendan Shanahan, a friend of Arnett’s, notices.
“I sometimes feel like Shanny feels like, ‘Wow, you really love Wendel,’ ” Arnett said. “Shanny’s 14.”
“Well, that’s a better score than 17,” replied Bateman, arguing that looking down at such a large number isn’t helpful for golf’s mental game. “Save you three shots on the next hole.”
9. The latest edition of Quest for Cup, the league’s inside-the-bubble docuseries, features a pair of great speeches from inside the Lightning’s dressing room before they reach the mountaintop.
One is from injured captain Steven Stamkos, explaining how impressed he’s been by his teammates’ play, how far they’ve come, and why he believes they have what it takes to finish off the Stars. (The speech is carpeted with F-bombs and won’t be transcribed here, but seek it out. Earmuffs, kids.)
The other comes care of coach Jon Cooper, during the second intermission of Game 4, which was easily the best, most controversial and most pivotal game of the series:
“Do we have any worry in this room? Not a chance,” begins Cooper, before preying on the mentality of the opposition.
“They’ve blown a 2-0 lead and given up goals at the end of both periods. They have zero room for error. That’s it. They gotta be sitting over there like, ‘Holy f---.’
“Just come at them in waves. Keep driving, fellas. Go get it here, boys.”
Tampa would take that back-and-forth grudge match 5-4 in overtime to seize a 3-1 stranglehold on the series.
10. “I’m the Big Rig! And I’m back-to-back!”
Even deep in a well of Bud Lights, Patrick Maroon knows what he has accomplished is a rare feat:
Maroon became only the third player of the expansion era to hoist the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons with different teams and the first since Cory Stillman did so in 2004 (Tampa) and 2006 (Carolina), a run interrupted by the lockout.
Claude Lemieux pulled off the stunt in the mid-’90s with Colorado and New Jersey.
“I thought last year was something else, but this year was something special. I’ve been fortunate enough to be on so many good hockey teams,” Maroon said. “Most people don’t get a chance to play in a Stanley Cup Finals. I got to do it back to back, and win. I got the chills talking about this.”
Maroon took a surprising small-rig salary as a 2019 free agent and was worth every penny of the $900,000 the Lightning paid for his services this year.
As a free agent, he heads to market with an opportunity to pull off an individual three-peat. Playoff teams could do much worse when it comes to complementary role players in their bottom six.
11. Turns out, you don’t need a start date for the 2020-21 season to bet on the winner of the 2021 Stanley Cup. Some interesting odds (via BetOnline):
The Lightning (7/1) are favoured to repeat, followed by Colorado (15/2) and Vegas (15/2), then Boston (12/1). Despite winning the West, Dallas is tied at seventh (20/1) with Toronto.
Decent value in longshots St. Louis (22/1), Carolina (28/1), Winnipeg (33/1) and Chicago (80/1). Only the Senators (100/1) and Red Wings (150/1) have longer odds than the Blackhawks.
12. Hang around the game long enough and good things can happen.
KHL journeyman Andrei Kuteikin, a 36-year-old Moscow Spatak defenceman, fired a puck from behind his own blue line Thursday and it went right through CSKA goaltender Alexander Sharychenkov. Yikes.
The most enjoyable part of the video is Spatak coach Olegs Znaroks laughing at the goal, then realizing he better cover his face with his lineup sheet.