Sunday's announcement of a $400-million arena in Quebec City by September 2015 culminated a very strange week in the NHL's version of The Odyssey - The Coyotes' Saga.
It all started with a report that the league is getting closer to initiating its "Plan B" scenarios for the franchise (Quebec City, Seattle, Kansas City, Las Vegas) should a new ownership group not be found, and soon. No reason to believe the report isn't true, but the timing is odd.
The 30 team presidents met last week with Gary Bettman and Bill Daly in Las Vegas. Apparently, Phoenix was not on the agenda. It sounds like a couple of them may have asked about it, and the response was something like, "No news, we're working on it."
According to one, "nothing was said that gave us any indication [our team] wouldn't be going to Phoenix next season...Someone asked when the schedule will be coming out and we were told it would be at the normal time." That's around the middle of June.
Also asked a couple of other moderately well-connected people if they've heard anything about the Coyotes. Similar reaction, "nothing," one of them said. "It's quiet."
That led to two other questions: First, is it possible that the Coyotes could stay in Phoenix next year under the same circumstances? Second, is the NHL drawing up multiple schedules for next season including cities that are not currently in the league?
The answers (from a couple of different places) were 1) it would be a surprise if that happened and 2) "Not yet, no."
Adding another layer to all of this is that both the NHL and the organization are determined to avoid a repeat of last year's mega-distraction, where a story broke on the eve of the playoffs that the team was moving to Winnipeg. They probably weren't going to beat Detroit, but it didn't help in a 4-0 Red Wing wipeout.
Was speaking to one of the Coyotes last month. He asked if I'd heard anything. Told him no. "That's the way we like it," he said. "No distractions."
Last week's news and the Quebec City announcement will make keeping a lid on this very difficult. Even before Sunday's unveiling, the feeling in the provincial capital was very optimistic.
While the NHL is refusing to reveal the deadline for finding Phoenix a new owner, it's clear we're getting very close. If the team moves, what we know makes Quebec the common-sense solution. But, there's some pertinent information being kept private - for now.
1. Think the NHL quietly tried to find other owners for a potential Quebec City franchise. (Smart business, create a bidding war. A similar move took the Canadiens' sale price up to $600 million.) The Desmarais and Tanguay families share ownership of the QMJHL Remparts, and there've been lots of rumours they were approached. Andre Desmarais, president and co-CEO of Power Corp, said his family "has no interest in owning an NHL team at this stage." (That was in a phone interview.) Through a spokeswoman, the Tanguay family denied there ever was a meeting.
2. Canadiens owner Geoff Molson is on record as supporting the Nordiques' return (should this happen), but the timing is tough for Montreal. One of the reasons I hate my parents is that they met too late for me to cover a Montreal/Quebec playoff series, but the stories from reporters who did are fantastic. The Nordiques worked hard to identify themselves as the Francophones against the Anglophone Canadiens. After all of the Randy Cunneyworth craziness, you can see how we're going to go down this road again. (And, to my dad, who reads this blog, I'm just kidding.)
3. For that reason, wouldn't be surprised at all if the Patrick Roy-to-Montreal story that came out last week was a Canadiens' pre-emptive strike. He'd be a popular choice and a huge public-relations victory. However, most NHL people are with Steve Simmons, who wrote in The Toronto Sun that Roy will be part of Quebec City's team, whenever it does arrive.
4. Was interested that the Roy to Montreal report said he'd be GM. People who know him say he has a great in-game feel behind the bench, and is an excellent motivator and developer of players. But, he might want control and the front-office position allows for more of that.
5. On a Pittsburgh team stacked with stars, a couple opponents say the real key is Marc-Andre Fleury. The Penguins do give up chances, and Fleury prevents disaster. "Oh, he's really good," said one scout. "No rebounds. He's in total control and gives up nothing." You saw what happened in Ottawa Saturday night when he sat. Brad Thiessen is improving and talented, but not at Fleury's level.
6. Couple of notes from those in attendance at the Nashville/Pittsburgh game last Thursday. (Penguins won 5-1.) "I've never seen the Predators pushed around like that," the above scout said. "The Penguins physically dominated them."
7. The most interesting comment heard about Alexander Radulov: "He tried a lot of individual moves that might work on the larger KHL ice surface, but won't work here."
8. There's been a lot of discussion about his future: Nashville or KHL. But there's another possibility here, that he's summer trade bait as a restricted free agent. It makes sense, because it allows the Predators to get an asset/assets for him while giving Radulov the opportunity to pick a longer-term NHL destination.
9. The Oilers continued talks with Don Meehan, Ryan Smyth's agent, last week about an extension. Still work to do. Had heard that Edmonton didn't want to go longer than one year, but that was denied by both sides.
10. Eric Francis pointed out in Hotstove that it didn't make sense to play Taylor Hall again this season, which I completely agreed with. However, it was pointed out that Hall probably wants to play at the worlds (and Hockey Canada would probably want it too) because he's got a shot at being on the 2014 Olympic Team - should pros be in Sochi.
11. Have to think Kirk Muller will get a chance to be part of Team Canada's coaching staff at this year's event. Maybe not the head guy, but he's got to be considered as an assistant.
12. Big decision coming this week for Western Michigan defenceman Dan DeKeyser. He has two more years of eligibility, but there is plenty of NHL interest. Detroit's been considered the favourite, but other teams might try to offer him a game or two this season to burn the first year of his contract. That isn't always a smart thing to do, though, for free agency and bonus reasons.
13. The GMs vote for the Vezina. What are they going to do with the St. Louis goaltenders? As of Monday morning, the Blues are 17 goals better than second-place Los Angeles with a true tandem of Jaroslav Halak (43 appearances) and Brian Elliott (35). They've got 14 shutouts between them, most in the NHL since Tony Esposito's 15 in 1969-70. The last shared victory was 1981 (Richard Sevigny, Denis Herron, Michel Larocque), as the league created the Jennings Trophy to eliminate this phenomenon.
14. The last goalie to win the Vezina with fewer than 50 appearances was Patrick Roy in 1989 (48). Saw some suggestions on Twitter that Elliott should win it, after he whitewashed Phoenix for his eighth shutout of the year. Tough thing is: he won't play 40 games. How many goalies have won the Vezina without playing at least 40? Zero - unless it was shared. (Bill Durnan was closest, hitting that exact number in 1945-46. Of course, it was a 50-game season then.)
15. The Blue with the best chance for individual hardware is probably David Backes (Selke, will get my vote). One opposing exec recently pointed out how the captain plays all three forward positions extremely well. Another criminally overshadowed player is Alex Pietrangelo, but it's going to be tough to get Norris votes against Erik Karlsson, Shea Weber and Zdeno Chara.
16. Last Thursday, Pietrangelo played a ridiculous 4:11 of the five-minute overtime in Los Angeles. His last shift (which included a power play) was 2:19. Maybe that's why he wears 27 - a tribute to Alex Kovalev's shift lengths.
17. You always wonder how a young player thrown into the middle of a playoff drive is going to handle it, but one exec thought Braden Holtby would have no problems. "Just by watching him play, you can see that kid does not lack in confidence," he said. After shutting out Minnesota Sunday night, he went on the Capitals' post-game show and said he left his car at the day-to-day airport parking in Harrisburg, Pa., because he didn't expect to be with the big club too long. That was a week ago. Never mind the bill, he'll be lucky if it isn't towed.
18. Ok, Calgary shootout. Wondered how Miikka Kiprusoff felt, because the situation reminded me of an old Curtis Joseph story. When he played in Toronto, there was a game where the Maple Leafs led the Blackhawks 3-2 late in the third period. On a faceoff in the Toronto zone, Yanic Perreault was not on the ice. Chicago won the draw and scored to tie it. Afterwards, Joseph was angry. He didn't say anything, but you could tell. So, I asked another player, who revealed Joseph (pretty much the team's MVP) was upset because he felt the wrong guys were out there.
19. Asked a few people what they thought of Sutter's decision not to use Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen or Curtis Glencross. (Alex Tanguay was hurt and couldn't do it.) The response was really interesting, because I was surprised how many understood Sutter's reasoning. You've blown a 2-0 lead to the NHL's lowest-scoring team, which had Matt Cullen playing defence because the blue-line was so banged up. And, a Glencross penalty started the comeback. But, the one thing they all said is this was Game 74, and you're fighting for your life. The coach's decision becomes the story instead of the players who underperformed.
20. Poor Jokinen. Always in the middle of a shootout controversy. Two years ago, when the Rangers missed the playoffs because of a last-day defeat in Philadelphia, there was a firestorm because he shot - and Marian Gaborik didn't.
21. Ryan Callahan, asked about the Rangers' win in Toronto and the Penguin loss that same night: "Let's talk about us...too many questions about Pittsburgh."
22. The NHL's new leader in goals scored on the road: Matt Moulson, with 22. That's one ahead of Gaborik and Alexander Ovechkin. Asked him last week what he's learned most to be successful and he said it's "that everyone has slumps. The Sedins are slumping right now. You can't get too hard on yourself, you just have to make sure you do the work to get out of it."
23. It went under the radar, but what a big move it was for the Islanders to get Evgeni Nabokov under contract for another year. Remember when they took him on waivers? He wouldn't talk to Garth Snow and initially refused to report. If you can get guys to change their minds like that, people notice. His family likes it there, which is always a bonus.
24. Earlier on in the season, Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville carried the Sabres through their tough times. Now, it's the younger forwards grabbing the attention. Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno and Corey Tropp are getting great reviews.
25. Some of the Blackhawks were surprised Daniel Sedin already showered prior to the doctor's visit last Wednesday. They thought it was awfully quick. But, you'll remember that when Cody Hodgson wobbled after his December collision with Ottawa's Nick Foligno, the Canucks refused to consider a return. Betting the same thing happened here. There was no way Vancouver was letting him back into the game, no matter what the doctor said.
26. Another GM raised an interesting point about Sedin: it was a tough place for him to get hurt, because of the travel. Both Columbus and Washington have wondered if lengthy flights contributed to symptoms suffered by James Wisniewski and Nicklas Backstrom. Because the Canucks were on the road, they didn't really have another option than sending him home to see the doctors.
27. Had to be brutal for Shane Doan, the Coyotes' captain, to watch his team play Colorado, San Jose and St. Louis without him. Probably felt the same as Matt Cooke did watching the playoffs last year. But, that makes an effective deterrent. Doan gets back next game, but Phoenix also needs a healthy Radim Vrbata. All he does is score important goals.
28. That Coyotes/Sharks game was vicious, a man's game. Ryane Clowe took a shot off the face. He briefly wore a visor earlier this season (the Sharks insisted), but didn't like it. Wonder if he'll put it back on.
29. Toronto gets 27 shots in back-to-back losses and it's an affront to society. Florida gets 30 in back-to-back wins and Dale Tallon points out, "shots on goal don't get you points...We played a great game." (Courtesy: Miami Herald.) As a player once said, "your wife always looks better when you win." (That's paraphrasing, by the way.)
30. NHL teams watching Nail Yakupov in the OHL playoffs last Friday: Toronto, Anaheim, Buffalo, Columbus. Probably more, but those were the ones I heard about.
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