A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. We’ve increased capacity up to 3,500 negative comments for this week’s blog.
1. From a Toronto Maple Leafs perspective — because is there another perspective? — one can’t help but see the playoff work Alex Pietrangelo is putting in for the Vegas Golden Knights and wonder.
One UFA summer ago, the right-shot, plays-the-right-way Pietrangelo represented everything the Maple Leafs needed. He’s a leader of championship pedigree who defends hard, contributes offence, logs tons of ice, and raises his play when stakes elevate.
Guys like that don’t come cheap. So, Leafs GM Kyle Dubas kicked tires but admitted he was “not very close” to winning a derby that saw Pietrangelo sign for $61.6 million in the desert.
Instead, Dubas focused on the more affordable, stay-at-home T.J. Brodie, a model of consistency and fine value at $5 million a season.
Chasing a difference-maker like Pietrangelo would’ve been a massive swing that required moving a significant contract out and, likely, eating some overpaid years as the D-man ages. (Vegas, you may recall, was so cramped to the cap ceiling, it could only dress 15 skaters for a meaningful game in May.)
Which brings us to Toronto native Dougie Hamilton, another prized free agent the Leafs — like any team — should at least discuss.
Like Pietrangelo, Hamilton is searching for long-term security and an AAV that begins with an eight. (Maybe that drops to a seven if Hamilton gets his desired eight years?)
To accommodate a star of that calibre — and improve his blueline’s righty-lefty balance and his power play all at once — Dubas would have to carve out salary somewhere.
Even if Zach Hyman, Frederik Andersen and whoever joins the Seattle Kraken (Alexander Kerfoot is a candidate) depart, something else would need to give to acquire all of Hamilton’s glorious underlying and overlying numbers.
More important: Hamilton, immortalized as a boyhood Leafs fan, would need to welcome the pressure of being the latest hometown saviour.
Dubas likes the player.
He also likes the player who would probably need to be dealt to make room for Hamilton: Morgan Rielly, a heart-and-soul component of Toronto’s roster.
Maybe the bidders will render the Maple Leafs “not very close” on the most coveted UFA defenceman.
But with Toronto’s contention window shrinking with each early ouster, and Rielly’s own raise due in 2022, it’s a route worth exploring.
2. Love that Rod Brind’Amour won the Jack Adams.
And the Carolina Hurricanes saved face by inking their head coach to a three-year extension hours before the celebration. Heckuva June 17 for Number 17.
Brind’Amour was a landslide winner, earning 61 first-place votes from the broadcasters. Runner-up Dean Evason took 24.
My beef with the Jack Adams is that the ballots must be cast upon conclusion of the regular season. The true test for coaches comes in the playoffs — the in-series adjustments, the climb-the-mountain motivation.
Four of the top six Jack Adams nominees were eliminated in Round 1. The other two were ousted in Round 2.
Of the final four coaches, Vegas’s Pete DeBoer is the only one who received a first-place vote (two). He finished seventh overall.
Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper was tied for eighth, earning just one second-place and one third-place vote.
The Islanders’ Barry Trotz was given a whopping single third-place vote, the same as Chicago’s Jeremy Colliton and fewer than New York’s David Quinn — who got fired.
Montreal’s interim coach Dominique Ducharme did not appear on a single ballot.
3. With Brind’Amour signing below market value (reportedly in the ballpark of $1.8 million per season), I wondered if his taking less could lower the bar for coaches’ salaries the way Mike Babcock’s windfall in 2015 raised it.
“It’s a consideration. I’m not sure that it changes anything because everyone understands what went on there,” says PBI Sports’ Neil Glasberg, who represents 70-plus professional coaches and general managers and has clients in the mix for the Coyotes and Sabres gigs.
Brind’Amour opted not to seriously explore other options, remaining in Carolina, where his family is comfortable and his team is a contender.
Future GMs might try to point to Brind’Amour’s salary in other negotiations, but the coaching contracts aren’t as influenced by comparables as player contracts.
“I’m not sure that there’s a direct cause-and-effect on these things anyway,” considers Glasberg, who brokered Gerard Gallant’s deal with the Rangers.
“They’re market values — but they’re market-specific values. I mean, some teams are considerably wealthier than others. So regardless of what somebody gets paid, they may just not have the affordability to be able to match.”
Arizona, for example, has a recent track record of hiring first-time GMs and head coaches. Candidates who are looking for a break and won’t command the salary that, say, a free agent like John Tortorella, Claude Julien or Babcock would command.
4. Glasberg client Rikard Gronborg, who’s highly regarded for his work in Sweden, interviewed for the Buffalo Sabres head job.
“I think it’s just a matter of time that NHL teams in the U.S. and Canada look over here at some of the excellent European coaches,” Gronborg told me in 2019.
“Hockey is hockey. The challenge is for the NHL to open up a new chapter. Hiring coaches with some new backgrounds is only healthy.”
On another note, a couple teams have kicked tires on Patrick Roy, who has thrown his hat in the ring for NHL coaching and executive jobs this summer.
To this point, however, Roy has yet to receive an offer. Not all doors have closed yet.
5. The Jack Eichel trade rumour mill is in full spin, and the scuttlebutt is leaning West.
“I’m hearing days, not weeks,” tweeted WGR 550’s Jeremy White on Thursday.
6. Eichel hogs the headlines in Buffalo, and rightly so.
But Sam Reinhart’s trade value may never be higher, and this summer seems ripe for a trade.
Kevyn Adams should take advantage of Reinhart’s abnormally high 19.2 shooting percentage.
The 25-year-old Reinhart ($5.2 million cap hit), who is coming off his most productive campaign (25 goals and 40 points in 54 games), could take the Sabres to arbitration, get a one-year raise and walk as a UFA in 2022.
In need of top-six forwards, the Devils, Canucks, Blue Jackets, Kings and Red Wings are among the teams who could benefit from Reinhart’s offence.
Reinhart’s faceoff work and two-way game are improving, but he’s still a guy who starts 60 per cent of his shifts in the O-zone.
“The Canucks absolutely should be linked to Sam Reinhart because he wants to play in the West. There’s no question about that. He’s fed up in Buffalo. I don’t think there’s much in Buffalo that he likes or wants to be around, so I think he’s ready to move on.” WGR Sports Radio’s Paul Hamilton told The People’s Show Wednesday.
“Buffalo has never offered him a long-term contract. It’s always one- or two-year deals…. I would imagine he feels disrespected by that.”
7. I always get a kick out of the NHLPA Player Poll.
What was striking about the 2021 results were the landslide victories. Victor Hedman (64.71 per cent of votes) cruised to a best defenceman threepeat, according to his peers (Roman Josi was second at 7.35). Teammate Andrei Vasilevskiy was named best goalie with 54.12 per cent of votes (Marc-Andre Fleury was a distant second at 8.88 per cent).
Patrick Kane was named best stick-handler with nearly half the votes (49.48 per cent). Connor McDavid finished second at 25.7 per cent.
Most complete player was a dead heat. Sidney Crosby and Patrice Bergeron each earned 112 votes for a 23.78 per cent share.
Crosby was also crowned most superstitious (27.35 per cent).
My favourite question — If you need to win one game, who is the one player you would want on your team? — saw a changing of the guard.
In 2020, Crosby (44.03 per cent) edged out McDavid (30.53 per cent) in this category. This year, McDavid (36.74) surpassed Crosby (23.04 per cent).
8. Only one player not on an entry-level contract delivered more offensive bang for his bucks than Toronto’s Jason Spezza, 37.
Spezza worked for $23,333 per point in 2020-21, the best value of any impending UFA. Arizona’s pending RFA Conor Garland ($19,871) supplied a more efficient cost-per-point rating, per CapFriendly.com. Those names stick out in a list crowded with ELC bargains like Jason Robertson ($17,666), Kirill Kaprisov ($18,137) and Adam Fox ($19,680).
The difference between Spezza and Garland, 24, is that the latter is about to get a significant raise — and holds the arbitration rights to ensure it.
The former re-upped for a third league-minimum contract with his hometown Maple Leafs, saying: “If I could take less, I would. I just love playing the game.”
With Spezza, those aren’t simply words that will further endear him to the fan base. He means it.
To be fair, Spezza’s estimated career earnings have reached $88.9 million, per CapFriendly.com.
We believe Spezza (970 career points) when he says his return has nothing to do with a pursuit of 1,000 points and everything to do with another Cup shot.
“I’ll be honest. I’m completely comfortable with not getting goals and assists and knowing that I can contribute. You change your value system as you get older as a player,” said Spezza, who should slot in on the fourth line again. “It is a positive when we can score, but by no means is that our main focus when we’re out there. We’re trying to give good shifts and carry momentum.”
“I can’t say I judge myself on goals and assists anymore. That would be unfair to my teammates.”
Spezza had a “longer conversation” than usual with wife Jennifer and their four daughters before deciding to reload the dream machine.
He’s already back in the gym with an eye toward training camp.
“I don’t think that a couple of weeks in between has really lessened the pain of the loss, but you try to reflect and figure out what you’re going to do,” Spezza said.
“I’m still pretty angry about [the playoff loss] and frustrated, but I feel like the group has potential. We’re pretty close to having a chance at a run. Until we do it, no one’s gonna believe us. But internally we believe that.”
9. Bruins GM Don Sweeney holds a bunch of this summer’s most talented UFAs — Taylor Hall, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, Mike Reilly, Jaroslav Halak, Sean Kuraly — but prefers to leave them unsigned in advance of the Seattle expansion draft. Otherwise, they’d need protection.
“We’ll have discussions and hopefully be able to find common ground,” Sweeney said this week.
“You get into that interview period and period beyond expansion that may get closer to the deadline, and they find ground somewhere else that they feel is a better fit. There’s a risk there.”
Sweeney was asked if he could strike a handshake deal with a UFA in advance of the interview period but hold off on filing paperwork.
“You can only talk in generalities with your players,” the GM replied. “You could never come to a full-fledged agreement and not file the contract.”
10. The Bruins’ defensive depth took a hit with Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara’s departures in 2020 and got exposed in their Round 2 loss to the Islanders.
President Cam Neely was asked about Hamilton. A top-10 pick by Neely’s club in 2011, Hamilton has developed into one of the best at his position.
“Well, we certainly liked his size, his skating, his offensive ability. Especially on the offensive blue line. He’s matured into a better two-way player. It’s not just about the numbers, although he puts up really good numbers,” Neely said.
“You’re in this game for a long time, you certainly like to believe players can learn and adapt a little bit more on the defensive side of the puck. Which I think he has.”
Hamilton is a righty.
The first position Neely mentioned when asked about Boston’s off-season needs?
“The elusive left D we’ve been looking for that can chew up a lot of minutes. Maybe play on the second pairing with [Brandon] Carlo. That’d be more of a shutdown or some puck movement. Some offensive blueline acumen,” Neely said.
“Our D this year had maybe eight concussions, which is something I don’t know how to combat. But that position is something that we’ve been looking for, for a while. And hopefully we can do something to grab someone that’s going to help maybe play 20 minutes a game for us.”
With cap space opening up, I wonder if the Bruins revisit an Oliver Ekman-Larsson trade. Arizona’s asking price should go down.
Only five UFA left-shot defencemen averaged 20-plus minutes in 2021: Alex Goligoski, Alec Martinez, Alexander Edler, Derek Forbort, and Jamie Oleksiak.
Oleksiak or Martinez would make a great Bruin.
11. Quote of the Week.
“He’s a little pit bull. He’s a dressing room glue guy. He’s always talking. You hear him coming before you ever see him ’round the corner. He’s got a great energy around the rink, loves it, and it’s contagious to our group. And when the puck drops, he’s an absolute pit bull. He’s willing to do anything to win a game.” — Vegas coach Pete DeBoer on five-foot-nine Jonathan Marchessault
12. How awesome must it be to look up in the stands after you pot your first NHL playoff goal and see your older brother, Brock, rocking a “Goal Caufield” T-shirt?
— BobbyLotsOfNumbers (@TheReplayGuy) June 15, 2021