When dealing with people, you look for patterns.
For awhile now, the pattern with Columbus general manager Scott Howson was very simple. He was willing to say, on the record, that the Blue Jackets would not trade Rick Nash or Ryan Johansen. Made sense. Nash is The Franchise and Johansen is The Future.
Now, the ground is shifting. Given the opportunity to deny the latest Nash-related speculation, Howson has, to at least three different media outlets (including this one), declined to do so. His response is that he doesn't comment on rumours.
There's nothing wrong with that - in a vacuum. Dealing with rumours is the bane of every GM's existence. (And, it's not always fun to chase them, either.) But, when you consider the change in his response and the reports flying around - it makes you wonder.
(Nash's agent, Joe Resnick, is also much quieter than usual.)
Nash has a no-move clause, and there are some similarities to Jarome Iginla/Calgary in that neither side would want to be seen as the one who forced the situation. But, it sounds like some kind of conversation took place as recently as last week between Nash and the organization.
And, there is a belief that, in said meeting, Nash was asked if he thought it might be time. Here's the $7.8 million US (per season) question: Did Nash, in response, submit a list of four or five teams he'd be willing to go to?
Because it appears that way.
Howson showing up at a non-Columbus game (The New York Daily News reported he went to Saturday's Rangers/Flyers matinee) is interesting, too. Several years ago, he arrived at an HNIC affair between Toronto and Ottawa. It was a bit of a surprise. Days later, he acquired Antoine Vermette.
Small sample size, yes, but it fits a pattern.
There are a lot of questions here: Should Columbus really trade its franchise player in the middle of a nightmarish season? Can the Blue Jackets actually get equal return? Why did the team's position on dealing him change so quickly? Wouldn't it be better to wait until the summer, when you can take a deep breath and really think about this?
It seems so rushed. But, for the first time, it looks like it could happen.
Jets under Winnipeg's microscope
Winnipeg, you do not want to go down this road. Just ask Edmonton. Or Montreal. It's not worth it.
Evander Kane hasn't tweeted to his 71,000 followers since Jan. 22, shortly after posting a photo of this now-famous sign imploring him to "stop walking out on his bills" at local restaurants. Two weeks later, he was asked to deny rumours he suffered his recent concussion in an "off-ice incident."
I'm not there, and it's hard to judge the "truthiness" of this stuff from a province away. If Kane is behaving poorly, prove it. Go to the Jets and force them to do something. Generally, they will, because teams don't want this stuff getting out. (Years ago, I was staying in the same hotel as one, until it moved out - complaining of noise. Years later a laughing player revealed they were kicked out because of a teammate's actions.)
If this continues, it eventually will ruin the best Canadian hockey story of 2011.
Players talk. They ask each other what it's like to live in each city. The great, the good, the bad and the ugly. Make no mistake, this is ugly. You can see Claude Noel's exasperation as he's forced to defend his best scorer.
During the preseason, Nashville players marveled at the enthusiasm of Jets fans during an exhibition game. Now, the question is: "What's going on up there?"
You never want to give players a reason to say "No" to your city. Ask Edmonton, which suffered from the reaction to Chris Pronger's trade request. Ask Montreal, which has all sorts of problems attracting players (especially French ones) because of the white-hot scrutiny on the team. Think Randy Cunneyworth's treatment made the city a more desirable place to play?
Ask the Islanders, who basically wrote blank cheques to Dan Hamhuis, Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek two summers ago, only to have all three take less money elsewhere. It's hard to shake that label once you get it.
Kane - and the other Jets - have to be smart, too. It's a small town with passionate people. Word travels fast. It's a big adjustment from Atlanta, where Thrashers players could blend in very easily. Don't give people ammunition.
But, in the end, the franchise always loses. You can't attract/keep the best. Or you're forced to hand out cap-busting contracts to do so. Neither should appeal to Winnipeg's fans.
1. Was reading more this week about the attempts to build a new arena in Seattle. That situation has serious ramifications on another city -- Anaheim. Last week, Ducks owner Henry Samueli broke ground on a $20 million US upgrade that is intended to make Honda Center more palatable for the Sacramento Kings, the NBA squad reportedly targeted by Seattle. That team tried to move to Anaheim last season, but the Lakers fought hard to block it. Samueli wouldn't own those Kings, but stands to gain financially should they become a tenant. Sacramento faces a March 1 deadline to secure financing for a new arena.
2. For all of the current Tim Thomas craziness, I'd love to know exactly what was said last week when Tuukka Rask was yanked in Buffalo. If you go back and look at the video (he was pulled after the Sabres went ahead 3-0), Rask stops Thomas to say something and the latter waves his glove in the manner of, "Don't worry about it." One (very smart) analyst's guess: Rask was apologizing. Why? Because that was supposed to be Thomas' night off and Tuukka couldn't stop the flood. It's not unusual for that to happen and Thomas did the right thing by telling him not to worry about it.
3. Craig Anderson is on pace to play 74 games for the Senators. Here is what should concern Ottawa: The only other time he had this heavy a workload was 2009-10 (71 appearances). Before March 1, he was 31-16-5 with a 2.42 GAA and a .924 save percentage. Afterwards, the numbers were 7-9-2, 3.29 and .895. He's not a big guy. Will his body hold up?
4. Apparently, no GM is burning up the phone lines more than George McPhee. The Capitals face Canadian-franchise-level pressure to succeed.
5. Was surprised to read reports that Joel Quenneville could be in trouble. Ridiculous, but Chicago president John McDonough can be very demanding, to put it mildly. Asked a few opponents what they thought, and all said the Blackhawks remain a dangerous team. One opposing coach on what does ail them: "Lack of a commitment to defence... [They] expect to win with offence, [but] goalies and defensive details are not covering up mistakes." He added that you can really see the frustration on the players and coaches.
6. Big worry: Are Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook exhausted? One exec: "They look burned out." Their ice time [26:45 for Keith and 23:49 for Seabrook] isn't out of line with what they've done in the past. But, these two play hard minutes and, in times like these, would want to play more.
7. First came across now-retired Mike Comrie at one of Hockey Canada's World Junior camps. He was one of those 6 a.m. cuts. Will never forget him walking into the lobby of Kitchener's Sheraton Hotel, looking at the scout who let him go and saying, "You made a big mistake." That was the moment I really realized how brutal that phone call can be.
8. He has a great sense of humour. Was doing a feature on him once and asked a teammate for some intel. The player said, "Mike is the only guy in the NHL with two cell phones." Comrie loved that.
9. Comrie and Joffrey Lupul are proof that if you're going to bring a player to his hometown, better be careful. Might be better to do it when they're a little older, more experienced and prepared to handle all of the extra stuff that comes with it.
10. Leafs and Penguins played back-to-back on January 31 and February 1. Upon landing in Toronto after the first one, the Pittsburgh plane got the full-body cavity search -- a rarity in the NHL. Prediction: next time Toronto visits Western Pennsylvania, the team's hotel is "accidentally" made public.
11. If I Was A GM, Things That Would Drive Me Crazy, Part I: It's funny when Henrik Lundqvist intentionally makes a save off his head. But, if I worked for the Rangers and thought of Mike Richter, I'd cringe every time.
12. If I Was A GM, Things That Would Drive Me Crazy, Part II: Last week, Ilya Kovalchuk rushes to Zach Parise's defence, kayoes Brayden Schenn and galvanizes the Devils. This week, Mikael Backlund rushes to Blake Comeau's aid, fights Andrew Alberts and is out injured.
13. Blair Jones could be gone for the year with a "cracked" ankle, and that's a bad one for the Flames. They thought the rest of the team played bigger as he grew into his role.
14. Great After Hours with Brent Sutter. Scott Oake asked about Sutter's demeanor behind the bench. Sutter's reply: As coaches, "It's not our job to smile."
15. Here's Kimmo Timonen after Philly's 5-2 loss Saturday to the Rangers: "I'm disappointed at the effort...The emotional level [against] a top team in the conference and the league. To be honest, I think we had half the guys going and half the guys not."
This is where the Flyers miss Chris Pronger most. Pronger could be merciless on underperfoming teammates, but, when he demanded a higher level, they responded. No doubt Claude Giroux's game went to another level after a confrontation last March with the captain.
16. Sounds like Mikhail Grabovski, agent Gary Greenstin and the Toronto Maple Leafs are playing a game of contract chicken. The Maple Leafs don't want to go above $5 million, but it appears as if the player/agent equate value with the team's highest-paid forward, Phil Kessel ($5.4 million). Who's going to blink first?
17. One of the greatest speeches I ever heard came from Marcus Allen on the day brother Damon was honoured by the Toronto Argonauts. Allen thanked Canada for giving Damon a chance to be successful at the position he loved most. It was an unexpected, classy message. Mats Sundin was right there. Remembering Pat Burns, Wade Belak, Igor Korolev and Alexander Karpovtsev; imploring the Toronto fans to understand the pressures on their players. It was very well done.
18. Best story I heard about Sundin: One year, the Maple Leafs were playing in Florida on St. Patrick's Day. After the game, the team wanted to celebrate, so the bus pulled up at an Irish pub. Bouncer: "Sorry, we're full." Sundin pulled out $500. Bouncer: "Plenty of room for you!"
19. Tomas Holmstrom used to make the Red Wings laugh when saying he was stuck in Scotty Bowman's "dogyard," and they joked that he was the one European whose English got worse the longer he stayed. It's clear they admired his strength in dealing with the successful, but tough, coach. Bowman would demand Holmstrom skate faster in practice, with the Swede yelling back, "I'm going as fast as I can." He reached 1,000 games the hard way, for sure.
20. Edmonton's power-play is third in the NHL, around 22 per cent with or without Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in the lineup. (He has 15 extra-man assists.) Was talking to associate coach Ralph Krueger, who runs it, and he shared an interesting philosophy: "Everybody talks about the quarterback being back at the point. But, if you look at the truly great powerplays, they are led by a dangerous player off the hashmark." Krueger feels the Oilers have two such bodies -- Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner. The one-timer options (Jordan Eberle, Corey Potter) give them room to move.
21. Andy Sutton re-signed with Edmonton for $1.75 million, including bonuses. Was wondering about Sutton after Todd Bertuzzi blew by him Feb. 4, because you can see he's unsure about hitting after two suspensions. The Oilers need defencemen and this won't cause cap trouble. Safe risk for both sides.
22. Randy Cunneyworth on PK Subban: "We want him to understand that, most times, his first thought -- the simple play, the easy play -- is the correct one. It's when he overthinks that he gets into trouble...When you make the simple play, your teammates know what you're going to do. When you don't, they can't support properly because they're unsure of where you're going."
23. One source thought Vancouver might be a landing spot for Jeff Carter, because there was a time the Canucks really liked him. There was a time a couple of years ago (and I STRESS we're not talking anything recent) Vancouver and Philadelphia discussed a Jeff Carter/Ryan Kesler deal. Carter's new contract kiboshed that, because it doesn't fit into the Canucks' cap structure.
24. One scout: "I'm sick of Jeff Carter trade rumours. I hear a different one every week." Amen.
25. Max Pacioretty never got the puck from his first NHL hat trick (Thursday in Long Island) because no one was sure the last one would count. (It was an empty netter at the buzzer.) Gave away the stick to his parents as a gift, too.
26. Several tweeters disagreed with my praise of Hurricanes broadcaster Tripp Tracy for showing restraint when Carolina lost to Anaheim after referees missed an obvious Corey Perry penalty in OT. Look, we all know that was a bad mistake. The pressure on some of the home-team broadcasters to freak out in those situations is intense. There was no need to pile on.
27. Steve Yzerman said he won't play in next season's outdoor alumni game. Now comes the real test: can he withstand 11 months of heavy lobbying?
28. For Hockey Day in Canada, Darryl Boyce shared his favourite story about minor hockey in his native P.E.I. As a Bantam, he scored a huge overtime winner against a team led by current Winnipeg defender Mark Flood. Boyce won a draw in his own zone, then raced up ice to beat Flood to a puck flipped ahead of them. Does he remind Flood of that? "Of course," Boyce said.
29. One correction to last week's blog about Nashville. Mentioned that Tampa went for it in 2004, even though Jay Feaster knew Nikolai Khabibulin would walk as a UFA. Khabibulin wasn't free until 2005. What I meant was Feaster knew he was going to lose the goalie to keep Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. Still makes sense, but I made an error in the process.
30. Just a few days remaining to try and win an autographed Ilya Kovalchuk puck. Proceeds to the families of those who died in the Lokomotiv plane crash. Details can be found here.
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