30 Thoughts: Free agency doesn't offer strong field | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in Canada30 Thoughts: Free agency doesn't offer strong field

Posted: Saturday, June 7, 2014 | 02:54 PM

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Centre Joe Thornton would have to waive his no-trade clause before the San Jose Sharks could swing a deal. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Centre Joe Thornton would have to waive his no-trade clause before the San Jose Sharks could swing a deal. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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Teams needing change don't like what's available in free agency, with one exec calling it, "the weakest group we've seen." So, they're going to be aggressive in trades, hoping they can address their issues in advance. 

Get ready for a wild ride after the Stanley Cup final.

Teams needing change don't like what's available in free agency, with one exec calling it, "the weakest group we've seen." So, they're going to be aggressive in trades, hoping they can address their issues in advance.

We'll get the Ryan Kesler watch, the Jason Spezza watch and the Joe Thornton watch. We'll get so many watches you can open a Fossil store.

Let's go with Thornton. Whatever San Jose wants to do, he has the hammer with his no-move protection. How hard does he want to swing it?

I haven't spoken to him, but, from the little information out there, it's going to be tough to get him to do this -- right now. He just signed a three-year, $20.25-million US extension, which, in this free-agent year, was below market. He wouldn't put pen to paper until Patrick Marleau closed his own deal, even though Thornton agreed weeks sooner.

If he wanted out, he wouldn't have signed. He wouldn't care if Marleau stayed. He'd let it play out, picking his next destination in July. Now it's more complex. If Thornton is a free agent, all it takes to get him is cash. Now, it's assets. And GM Doug Wilson tends to make good trades.

You can never, ever assume anyone is a guaranteed contender, but if Thornton is to waive his no-move in the near future, he's only going to a five-star lock on paper. He's not going to a team with a ton of questions, especially if it has to give up good pieces to get him. He's got his money. He's got his stats. There's only one thing left, and it's the Cup.

I think the only way he'd do it this summer is if the Sharks sent him somewhere like Chicago or Los Angeles. Jonathan Toews and Thornton as a one-two is a fancy dream, but that's all it is -- a dream. Otherwise, my guess is he waits to see how next year unfolds before agreeing to any kind of list. That way, he can see who the other contenders are, or how things go for the Sharks.

Thornton had 65 assists last season, second in the NHL behind Sidney Crosby. The guy is still a threat -- a big one -- but there is always a fear with an offensive player at 35 (Thornton hits that on July 2). How many players reached 65 assists at or above that age? Five -- including Wayne Gretzky three times. The others were Johnny Bucyk, Adam Oates, Jean Ratelle and Martin St. Louis. Those are Hall of Famers (I'm betting St. Louis gets in), and Thornton will be there, too.

30 THOUGHTS

1. The Toronto Sun's Mike Zeisberger reported Toronto's interest in Thornton. In 2012-13, when the Sharks traded Ryane Clowe and Doug Murray, I think the Maple Leafs asked if he was available. Obviously, that didn't happen, but there's a history here. 

2. Vancouver's Ryan Kesler re-iterated his desire to be traded during a meeting with GM Jim Benning. It's a challenging spot for Benning and Trevor Linden, because this is their first big decision. In a city where the fan base created change, you have to "win" this one. The Canucks will be in better position now, as teams will have extra flexibility and potential trade partners who've lost and are more willing to alter their mix.

3. Anaheim, for example, wasn't willing to give up someone off the roster in-season. Will that be different now? And, if Ottawa asks for a first rounder, an NHL player and a prospect for Spezza, will Vancouver say it will take more than that for Kesler? The final question is: are the Canucks willing to start 2014-15 with Kesler on the roster? I think they'd prefer to make a trade, but will keep him if they don't like what's out there. That said, my guess is someone steps up.

4. I'm not crazy about the way Pittsburgh handled Dan Bylsma's situation (or those of his assistants), but the Penguins did a very good job of structuring their front office. This looks similar to the setups in Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver, with Jim Rutherford overseeing a very capable staff. When a team is disappointed in results, it can get rid of good people just for the sake of change. Then, you sit there and say, "we need some good people." It was smart for the Penguins to keep Jason Botterill, Tom Fitzgerald and Bill Guerin.

5. Rutherford mentioned analytics in his media conference. There is one stat we've talked about before: each player's scoring chances for and against in what he calls "The Red Zone" (Put a home-plate sized shape on the goal-line that goes as wide as the face-off dots before closing at the top of the slot and you'll understand what he means). He likes that one, but might have to change the colour moving from Carolina to Pittsburgh.

6. Whether you agree or disagree about Bylsma, one thing is for certain: it won't impact the Penguins' ability to find candidates. Just add water, this team is an instant contender. Wonder if Ulf Samuelsson, on the Hurricanes' list, gets into this picture because of his Penguins' history.

7. Expect their AHL coach, John Hynes, to be one of the interviewees -- maybe even the first. Hynes is going to be an interesting contender here. The front-office holdovers know him very well, and he's got a good reputation for in-game adjustments, something Rutherford specifically mentioned in his opening media conference. Five years ago, one of the reasons Pittsburgh promoted Bylsma was they knew they would lose him if they didn't use him. Hynes is getting to that point, too.

8. Bylsma's availability certainly changes things. Gerard Gallant was gaining steam in Florida...does this alter that idea? Also, don't forget those who are still working -- Willie Desjardins, Samuelsson and John Stevens. Vancouver has interest in Desjardins and Stevens, and of all the open markets, that's the one I'm not convinced chases Bylsma or interests him as much. He can also sit back and wait to see what opens next year. Maybe he wants to work with Ray Shero again.

9. There is some debate Los Angeles may try to keep Stevens by anointing him Darryl Sutter's successor, whenever the time comes.

10. There is a second opening in Vancouver, the WHL Giants. Have heard Tim Hunter's name in that mix.

11. Another AHL coach to watch: Norfolk's Trent Yawney. Hearing Anaheim wants him on the bench next to Bruce Boudreau. 

12. Final coaching note: have mentioned before that Toronto's AHL assistants are a possibility to move up alongside Randy Carlyle. Just a couple other names out there: Ted Dent, who coaches Rockford and worked with Carlyle in Washington. Mark Morris, formerly of Manchester, who has some history with Dave Nonis.

13. The Islanders made a sharp move getting Jaroslav Halak and signing him. Dan Boyle hoped for a two-year deal in San Jose, and it wouldn't be a surprise if New York was willing to do that. However, the question is what else Boyle would like. He won a Stanley Cup in 2004, but wants another shot. Can he be convinced the Islanders have a shot in that span? Boyle is another guy -- like Thomas Vanek -- who hasn't been through this process before and may want to see how it goes.

14. Panthers GM Dale Tallon wasn't kidding about trading the top pick. After the combine, other clubs were absolutely convinced he's serious. But, what if it is Florida's desire to trade not once, but twice?

15. One exec outlined this great scenario. Let me just say that I don't know if it happens, but it's such a creative idea it deserves mention. The expectation is that Buffalo, with a few good, young defencemen already in place, is taking one of the centres. So, does someone want to leapfrog the Sabres? Or, does someone value another player they are not sure they are going to get? That's the obvious first move for Florida.

16. But, let's say the team moving up still has a high pick. We're probably talking someone from three to five (last month, Tallon said he could see himself dropping to between seven and 10, depending on what his scouts thought). Would Florida move down again, as long its target was still attainable? If the Panthers pull it off, they get their man along with extra haul. "That's the way I'd be looking at it," said the exec who outlined this idea. Anyway, I loved the thought, so why not share?

17. By the way, Florida's guesstimated targets are Nikolaj Ehlers or William Nylander. A skilled winger makes sense with their roster.

18. Another draft idea to wonder about: Will the Islanders try to unite the Reinharts? Griffin was drafted fourth overall in 2012, Sam will be a high pick this year. Will have to try to move up to get him. GM Garth Snow is not afraid to try something big, offering all of his selections for Ryan Murray two years ago.

19. Montreal GM Marc Bergevin didn't reveal much in his end-of-season media conference. Obviously, the biggest question surrounds restricted free agent P.K. Subban. Under the new CBA, teams cannot "block" a restricted free agent from receiving an offer sheet by asking for arbitration. There is a short window where it can happen, but it would be a stunner. There really isn't much point in targeting a revenue powerhouse like Montreal.

20. There were some discussions between the Canadiens and Mike Weaver about re-signing, but both sides decided to wait until after the season. It's a nice fit. Wouldn't be surprised if they start talking next week to see if the money works. Same goes for Brian Gionta.

21. When Dale Weise returned to Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final after taking a huge hit from John Moore, then missed Game 6 with a concussion, the Canadiens took criticism for allowing it to happen. The NHL investigated Montreal's handling of this, and cleared the Canadiens of wrongdoing, saying they followed the protocol.

22. I understand there will be a lot of skepticism, but remember David Perron. In November 2010, the Sharks were livid when Thornton was suspended for hitting Perron, especially since he came back to score the winning goal. But, the symptoms came afterwards and Perron, then with St. Louis, missed 97 games. At his annual State of the Union prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final, commissioner Gary Bettman indicated the league is investigating teams (and players) who do not correctly follow protocol. But he and deputy commissioner Bill Daly wouldn't say if anyone has been fined.

23. The NHL also wouldn't say if Michel Therrien was fined for his practice-watching outburst against the Rangers, but that's the rumour. Evidently, the league didn't find it as humorous as the rest of us did.

24. When the Sharks re-signed assistant GM Joe Will, the media release included the statement, "we are extremely pleased that he has committed himself to staying and working in San Jose, despite being approached with several opportunities by other NHL clubs." Think he was one of the guys Pittsburgh talked to.

25. The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch reported this week talks broke off with free-agent-to-be Ales Hemsky. The Senators can't extend Bobby Ryan until July 1, at the earliest, but it wouldn't be a surprise if all decisions were being made with Ryan's future in mind. He's a major priority and they have to make sure their financial house is in order.

26. Good line from one player, who said Chicago's first Game 7 goal against Los Angeles was an indication of how to beat Jonathan Quick's aggressive style: "You need to make that quick pass to the other side. Only problem is, only one team has Patrick Kane to make it."

27. It's been reported before that Marian Gaborik was atop L.A.'s list of players it targeted prior to the trade deadline. A little more to the story: during the Olympic break, Kings coach Darryl Sutter took a crash course in Gaborik, watching a ton of video to make sure he would fit. Here's one case where going to Sochi helped a team.

28. Didn't have a lot of time in our Inside Hockey interview with Henrik Lundqvist to discuss his equipment, but he did confirm one thing about his pads: he changed from metal buckles last season to Velcro straps in order to lighten the weight. Imagine how little that must be, but as he said, "everything matters." Lundqvist also changed to a lighter overall pair this season.

29. Lundqvist also admitted he had a crisis of confidence early in the year, calling it the toughest stretch of his career. He even started playing further out from his goal-line than normal, not trusting his regular style. Goalie coach Benoit Allaire (who declined all offers of bribery to appear in the interview) got him to get back to the goal-line by reminding him the Rangers would get better, leaving fewer wide open opportunities for opponents to shoot. The Kings got a couple in Game 1-- including the winner -- but Allaire was generally prophetic.

30. The future of the CFL's Toronto Argonauts was thrown into question when BMO Field, which houses Toronto FC, didn't get all of the requested funding for a stadium expansion. In addition to the football question: will that prevent the Maple Leafs from hosting an outdoor game in the NHL's 100th anniversary season, because the venue won't have enough seats?

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