Going to start this week's blog with a plug.
During the Stanley Cup playoffs, I had time to read Behind the Moves
, which is basically a 252-page oral history of hockey's general managers. It's written by Jason Farris, who is now a Dallas Stars executive vice-president.
The book is outstanding. Over the next few weeks, I'm going to re-read it, this time putting together a structured notes package on its subjects.
One of the best things about working at HNIC is the access it allows. However, Farris, who has more of a business background than a sportswriting one, got these guys to reveal quite a bit about their philosophies and thought processes. That includes guys who tend to be quite secretive, like Lou Lamoriello and Pierre Lacroix. The group was also very honest about each other.
It is available solely through a website called nhlgms.com. There will be a little bit of sticker shock, but I'd absolutely recommend it. Even if you're not a total hockey puck, the insight into how GMs think probably applies to other sports.
Quite honestly, I'm jealous I'm not the one who got to write it.
THE DYNAMIC DUO
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Michael Russo received great praise for his coverage of the Zach Parise/Ryan Suter free-agent extravaganza, especially for his wrap-up of how the deal went down
Have had a chance to talk to several different sources over the last little while, and here are a few other details:
*Sounds like the bidding on Parise was instantly insane, with multiple immediate $100 million US bids. (Suter was slightly less crazy, lots of suitors but fewer nine-figure ones.) In horse racing, those that jump out to a quick pace are called "rabbits," and there were multiple hares here. Philadelphia's interest has been heavily reported, and at the end of the day, was the probably the highest bidder. But it's believed Buffalo also let both players know they would get $100 million apiece to dress for the Sabres. (Darcy Regier politely declined to comment.) There may have been others.
*What those initial offers did was force some of the teams who were legitimately in the race to increase their own proposals. The Wild were one. According to one source, Suter's agent, Neil Sheehy, called Minnesota on the evening of July 1, asking if the team was willing to adjust its package. (Sheehy did not want to discuss individual offers, saying it was unfair to the other teams involved.) Hearing that, GM Chuck Fletcher wisely increased his offer to Parise, too.
*On his July 4 conference call, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello said Suter wasn't interested in going to the Eastern Conference, a fact the defenceman later confirmed. Suter was made aware of every offer he received, but, by July 2, other teams were convinced the choice was between Minnesota and Detroit, both of whom made personal visits.
*Parise's situation was a little more complicated, at least for a while. It's believed he considered at least nine teams to various degrees -- New Jersey, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston, Buffalo, Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles. (Tried to press agent Wade Arnott for more detail, only to be told, "Zach would prefer to keep the process private.")
But, according to one source, after thinking about it, Parise eliminated the Eastern Conference, because, if he was to leave the Devils, he was unwilling to compete directly against them. Then, he dropped the other Western Conference teams and, as he later said on his conference call, it came down to New Jersey or his home state of Minnesota.
*Fletcher spent over a year working on a plan to get both players, but it became clear to several interested parties that, as Parise returned to his Minnesota home on July 3, "He was driving the bus," as one executive said. "It really became his process." Parise was down to two teams, and you have to believe he knew Suter was in the same position -- with both players having one of them (the Wild) in common. Suter was unwilling to go to the Devils. At that point, Parise basically had three choices: going back to New Jersey, going to Minnesota without Suter or convincing the defenceman to join him there. As Russo reported, he and Arnott did a lot of research into Minnesota's highly rated prospect pool, but Parise knew it would be much harder to win there without Suter.
*About 24 hours before the duo made it official, the Wild signed free-agent forward Jake Dowell. Dowell and Suter are close, represented by the same agent. When that happens, opponents tend to think, "Uh oh, they've landed the big fish."
*There's been a lot written and said about Detroit no longer "being a destination point" for players, but that's oversimplifying. If anything, the Red Wings were hurt by the fact Parise was the one who, at the end, took control over the situation. They worked Suter much harder. Think even the Wild were surprised (and impressed) at how Parise ran the show.
*It's been reported several times, but it's pretty impressive that Parise did, very late in the process, ask for the deals to be altered so that he and Suter would have the exact same financial structure. He took less -- and made his buddy a little bit more.
Right now, the owners on the NHL's negotiating committee are Jeremy Jacobs (Boston), Murray Edwards (Calgary), Ted Leonsis (Washington) and Craig Leipold (Minnesota). (Brian Burke, Jim Rutherford, Bill Daly and Brendan Shanahan also attended last Friday's meeting.) If Leipold is there when negotiations resume Wednesday, it's going to be very interesting. I have no problem with what he did in free agency. But, players, agents and even NHL execs found it funny he could be part of a group asking for such huge concessions after handing out $196 million to two players. Wouldn't be surprised if someone asks him if he knew about the NHL's opening salvo when he offered those contracts, or what he intends to propose with the 13-year deals should there be a five-year limit on term.2.
The idea of term limits led to a lot of discussion about what that would mean for Shea Weber, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, all of whom are scheduled to be unrestricted next year. But, if you really go through the list (capgeek is a good resource) the list of potential UFAs/RFAs is staggering. Alex Edler, Joffrey Lupul, Kari Lehtonen, David Clarkson, Milan Lucic, Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, Alex Pietrangelo, Brad Marchand, Zach Bogosian, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Max Pacioretty, Jeff Skinner and Jordan Eberle. How many of them will want to get deals done under the current rules?3.
One agent explained, though, that the dilemma will be whether or not you think there will be a salary rollback. Some players who signed after the 2005 settlement made more money because they weren't affected by the 24 per cent drop. Not sure that's relevant to a superduperstar like Weber, but to some of the others, it would be.4.
Couple other things: The plan to prevent any player from reaching unrestricted free agency until after 10 NHL seasons did not include an age limit. For example, Jason Garrison would have had to wait until 2020, when he would be 35, to hit the market.5.
Also, while the rookie contracts were to be extended to five years, they weren't necessarily guaranteed. They were set up as two guaranteed seasons, with three more one-year club options. So, if you're a star, you're locked up long-time. If you're a bust, you're done quick. In theory, this makes some sense, but, as part of the overall package there's no sale.6.
People rooting hardest for a settlement? Coaches. Some of them have 50 per cent pay cuts in their contracts should there be a lockout. It depends on the team, but some executives are to be shaved approximately 25 per cent. Don't think there are many teams who keep staff-wide salaries at regular levels.7.
Enough labour. One more note about Parise: Seven days after the Cup Final, he attended a charity game for "Defending the Blueline" -- an organization he supports in Minnesota. That's a tough time for a player, one week after your season ends -- most charities don't like to schedule events around then, because they understand guys need to decompress. But Parise kept his commitment, creating a tonne of media interest. Great stuff.8.
While Minnesota's strong group of prospects appealed to Parise, Fletcher made some smart moves in signing Dowell, Zenon Konopka and Torrey Mitchell. Adding that depth means the Wild won't have to rush the Granlunds, the Coyles and the Brodins (although he's a defenceman). It will be critical for those players to make an impact on their rookie-level contracts. You want to make sure they're ready when you start the contract clock, although those guys are pretty close. 9.
Good line about the Wild: "They probably want rookie contracts to last forever," one GM laughed.10.
Had some good conversations with other teams about Minnesota's moves. The thing they all talked about is how some organizations will always be where people want to go. (New York Rangers, for example.) Others have to work hard at it. Minnesota and Carolina made themselves "destination teams" this summer. Players look at Parise, Suter and Jordan Staal -- three respected guys -- and say, "Hmmmm...what attracts them? What should I be seeing here?"11.
Dallas quietly did a decent job, too. Getting Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr did not go unnoticed.12.
The Stars were willing to give Whitney a second year, which separated them from the pack. Couldn't reach him to ask about it, but people who know Whitney say he has this hilarious theory that it's easier for small guys to play into their 40s. Apparently, he's quite the convincing salesman.13.
Luke DeCock of The Raleigh News & Observer had a great note about how the Hurricanes immediately named Staal an assistant captain. Why? Because fans wanted to order jerseys and you've got to make them accurate.14.
Speaking of jersey sales, called a Canuck store (don't ask) and was told there is big demand for Garrison's in Vancouver. He hasn't been given a number yet. The Canucks don't like going too high, which makes me wonder if it's not going to be "52." When Sidney Crosby is available in 2025, it's "8" or "7" for you, buddy.15.
125,000 YouTube hits for this superb Ducks video
announcing Teemu Selanne's return. They filmed it in May, with the understanding that if Selanne retired, they'd "burn" the footage. It's great stuff.16.
Had a lengthy conversation Monday with new Oilers coach Ralph Krueger. Talked about some of his ideas and learned he thinks similarly to two successful bench bosses, Mike Babcock and Ken Hitchcock.17.
Red Wings players will tell you Babcock's belief is that "when we're defending, you do it my way. When we have the puck, you can create." (He laughed when asked about that.) Krueger's plan for Edmonton will be along those lines. "The only way we're going to learn to win is by having a solid team structure," Krueger said. "We had a lot of 'immature games' last season...they were fun to play and watch, but we lost. We need to learn to manage the game better -- play to the score, the clock, the situation."18.
Krueger added the critical thing will be "finding a team defensive structure that works for the whole game, but allows players to use their intuition offensively." He explained that when it comes to that part of the game, he believes more in "principles" than a set system. An example would be always having a net presence on the power play. As long as those principles are followed, the Halls, Hemskys and Nugent-Hopkinses of the world can create.19.
The Hitchcockian stuff came when we discussed Edmonton's forward lines. In Dallas, Hitchcock once explained how he believed more in forward "pairs" than trios. For example, Mike Modano always played with Jere Lehtinen. The third could be rotated. Krueger wants to see if he can create a flexible, dangerous lineup that way.20.
He explained that he liked Jordan Eberle with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner with Ales Hemsky. That not only allows him to move Hall around the lineup, but also rotate others depending on the situation -- Ryan Smyth, Ryan Jones, Ben Eager and potentially even Shawn Horcoff on the wing. I'm really curious to see this. This stuff fascinates me.21.
Some of you will be wondering: what about Nail Yakupov? Krueger wants to see how the number one pick looks on the left side. Yakupov is used to the right, but with Eberle and Hemsky there, it's pretty jammed. Finally, Krueger closed by saying one of the most important things moving forward for the Oilers will be the group "demanding more from each other and the team right from the beginning."22.
Couple other Edmonton notes (should point out Krueger is not the source for any of this): think the Oilers, desperately searching for defencemen, took a long look at Islander Mark Streit. Garth Snow would not address that, but did say via text message, "I have no intention to trade Streit."23.
Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey got a lot of attention for helping recruit Justin Schultz to Oilertown, but do not underestimate the role Hall played. Word is his sales pitch was extremely impressive, because he was unafraid to discuss the tough things the team has gone through -- and how he believes those will be fixed.24.
Sam Gagner's arbitration is tentatively scheduled for Friday. This one's going to be interesting if it gets that far. The Oilers are probably thinking David Perron ($3.8 million AAV) while agent Jeff Jackson is likely looking at Brandon Dubinsky ($4.2M). Saw-off in the middle? 25.
Let's look at some player situations. First, Roberto Luongo. It's not exactly a state secret that he wants to go to Florida and in a perfect world, the Canucks would send him there. There's a bit of a stalemate now, as the Panthers feel Vancouver is asking too much and the Canucks feel Florida is squeezing too hard. One of the issues is prospects. Florida, which has done a great job stocking the system, is understandably unwilling to move Jacob Markstrom, Erik Gudbranson or Jonathan Huberdeau. An educated guess is that Vancouver has inquired about the "next level" of talented youth, like a Nick Bjugstad or Quinton Howden. Don't think Florida likes that, either. So, between that and the fact the Canucks don't want to take bad salary in return, things aren't really moving at this time.26.
The endgame for Luongo? If it doesn't happen with Florida, they'll ask him for more destinations. Eventually, he's going to have to play along, because he has "no-trade," not "no-move" protection. But, there's no real deadline now except for fan and media impatience.27.
Have to believe that, yes, Toronto's inquired about Jonathan Bernier. Brian Burke isn't doing his job if he doesn't. But there are doubts Burke is incredibly serious about him. Was he serious about Martin Brodeur? Yes. Is he more serious than he lets on about Luongo? Yes. Bernier doesn't really fit Toronto's stated criteria of a veteran in goal.28.
Shea Weber: the Predators met with Weber this week. Ultimately, they're going to have to say, "Look, we just went through this with Ryan Suter. We need an honest answer." If the response is anything less than a near-immediate signature on a long-term contract, David Poile's probably going to have to trade him -- barring severe CBA changes. Even if the owners got no free agency for 10 years (as in last week's proposal), Weber's played seven. So three more seasons is a best-case scenario for Nashville without a renewed commitment.29.
Been a lot written about a one-year, huge-money offer sheet. Think a couple of good teams have at least thought about it. Look, if you really believe getting Weber is going to mean giving up four 27th picks, he's worth it. Now, I know the counter: what if he leaves you after just one year? This is the dicey part: you almost need a nudge-nudge, wink-wink "understanding" that he's going to stay. And, if Gary Bettman finds out, he's going to CRUSH the team that does it. Google "David Stern Joe Smith Timberwolves."30.
So, if it does happen (and most GMs are skeptical), the more likely scenario is this: a team calls Poile and says, "We're going to offer sheet him if you won't make a deal." (Phil Kessel to Toronto followed this path.)BONUS END-OF-SEASON THOUGHTS31.
Rick Nash: MLive's Ansar Khan reported Tuesday night
that Detroit made a run at the Columbus captain, speculating that Johan Franzen and/or Valtteri Filppula would be the centrepiece. For what it's worth, I'd heard the latter but not the former (although Khan is much closer to it than I am). Scott Howson's getting critiqued for his stubbornness, but what if the trade proves that to be the right play?32.
Think the Red Wings are very confident that they can go in different directions because Babcock can coach multiple styles and systems. He didn't exactly preach puck possession in Anaheim, but showed up in Detroit, saw who was on his roster and realized, "We can do that here." If the roster dictates another adjustment, he can deliver.33.
Shane Doan: ESPN's Craig Custance quoted a GM as being "90-per-cent sure" Doan will turn to the Coyotes. That's probably true, but I really wonder how much he's being tempted. Only a fool underestimates the Coyotes on-ice, a brilliantly run and coached organization full of players who compete beyond belief. But, Doan's getting great offers to play with the Sedins or Pavel Datsyuk or Sidney Crosby or Claude Giroux or Joe Thornton. He'll be 36 in October. How hard is he thinking about trying to win a Cup on a high-revenue team for the first time in his career?34.
Multiple reports the Stanley Cup winners are looking at Doan, too. Get the sense Dean Lombardi is one of those guys who believes it's not a good idea for a champion to come back intact. It's hard enough to repeat without being a little stale.35.
Think the Coyotes, who are looking for offensive help, really like Boston's David Krejci. I'm not as certain the Bruins are shopping Krejci, but they are loaded down the middle -- especially as Tyler Seguin readies for an expanded role. That is probably where all the Keith Yandle rumours come from. 36.
The only reason I'd trade Yandle is, at the All-Star Game, he knew all the words to Drake's songs.
Alex Semin: you try to be careful with Semin, because, it reaches a point where it's like piling on. But, here's the issue: he always seems unhappy. Last year's playoffs weren't easy on either him or Alexander Ovechkin. Ovechkin, though, decided to put on the best possible face because the team eliminated the defending champs and pushed the Rangers to seven games. Semin didn't do that. It's a long season and it's hard on teams when guys are like that. He's got incredible talent, and if he ever showed a little more warmth (for lack of a better term), opinions might change.38.
Patrick Kane: Teams have been told he's not going anywhere. (Thoughts like this one scare me, because I worry he gets dealt tomorrow.) Think some of it comes down to Stan Bowman feeling a real sense of responsibility towards a player who used to live with him, and making sure everything is okay. Good on Bowman if that's the case.39.
Dan Boyle: Name that has popped up a few times. At 36, can still carry the puck, run a powerplay and has some of the best head-fakes in the NHL. (Only offensive concern: has trouble getting his shot through.) He just lost full no-trade protection (now limited), so it sounds like teams are calling about him.40.
As the Sharks looked at adding another coach, some sources were saying, "They are going to add someone with lots of bench experience." Others swore it was about "getting someone who had a lengthy NHL career." After hearing the choice was Larry Robinson, you understood the confusion. He qualifies under both guidelines.
Some Canadiens fans were upset their team didn't approach Robinson, but one thing the organization did was improve its coaching depth. Obviously, the hope is Michel Therrien is a success. But they've added Gerard Gallant and Sylvain Lefebvre, both of whom will be bench bosses some day. 42.
Thought it was interesting that Montreal wasn't really interested in extending Carey Price beyond six years. God only knows what the new rules will be, but when Price is done, he'll be 31. That's the age both Ilya Bryzgalov and Roberto Luongo signed their big deals. There's another big contract in Price's future.
Two last notes on the Stanley Cup Final: When the Kings scored three goals in their five-minute Game 6 power play, wondered when was the last time a team did that. Had to be a long time, right? Not so much. Ace stat man Jeff Girodat snared the answer: Columbus did it against Nashville on December 22. Jeff Carter had two of the goals.44.
Also, the Kings became the first champion to use only six defencemen the entire playoffs since the 1980 New York Islanders. When you're that healthy and that consistent, you're laughing.
This is the final 30 Thoughts Blog of the 2011-12 NHL season. Wanted to thank all of the players, coaches and executives who answer my annoying questions; the reporters around the league whose work creates ideas; the media relations people who help set up the necessary interviews; the poor cbc.ca editors who comb through these inane ramblings; and, most importantly, the readers. If you weren't interested, there'd be no point in writing it.
I am very fortunate to cover hockey for a living.
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