Around this time of year, I try to look around and figure out who's going to be the biggest newsmaker. It's an exciting point on the calendar - the draft, free agency - and someone usually steps up and grabs the headlines.
This year, many hockey people are watching an agency.
Like many of you, I love Entourage, the HBO show based on Mark Wahlberg's Hollywood experiences. Not every agent is like Jeremy Piven's Ari Gold, but the most factual thing about his character are the experiences with clients. There are so many highs and lows, so many others trying to poach your people. This is a tough, dirty business.
For years, the largest agency in hockey has been Newport Sports, led by Don Meehan and Pat Morris. (Wade Arnott, Mark Guy, Craig Oster and Rand Simon are also registered by the NHLPA from this company.) At times, as many as 140 NHLers have been represented by them. That number guarantees important signings every season.
This summer, Newport's key players include RFAs Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty, UFAs Brad Richards and Eric Brewer, Zach Parise (who is going to arbitration with New Jersey) and Ryan Smyth (who wants to go back to Edmonton). As good as that group is, there was potential for even more.
Approximately two weeks ago, Shea Weber left Newport for Titan Sports Management, led by Kevin Epp. That followed Ilya Bryzgalov's defection to Ritch Winter's Sports Corporation.
It can be difficult to report on negotiations, because, as one agent said to me, "If you're not in the room, you're guessing." (That, or being spun by those who were there.)
What's true is that the star defenceman's move created a ton of buzz. While the Predators, Lightning and Kings are working hard with Newport to get Weber, Stamkos and Doughty signed to new contracts, we are getting close to July 1, which is when offer sheets can be made.
While it remains possible they will sign before that date, the closer we get, the more the leverage shifts to the players. God only knows what will actually happen, but, among NHL types, Weber was considered the most likely to receive an offer sheet. That's why Nashville offered arbitration last week. It eliminates the possibility of an offer the Predators figured was coming. (Stamkos and Doughty are not eligible for arbitration. Meehan, reached in Minneapolis, declined to comment.)
Rightly or wrongly, Weber's move is seen as a sign of dissatisfaction with Newport, a sign that he wants to stay in Nashville first and foremost. There is a belief he will avoid arbitration and sign with the Predators (probably in the neighbourhood of $6-$6.3 million per year). Suffice it to say that there isn't exactly a shortage of people happy to see this. And it's not just other agents. Newport's power makes it a target, and when sharks smell blood in the water, you know what happens.
That's why it will be interesting to watch where things end up with these players. They all have leverage, but there are plenty of people whispering, "It's not being used properly."
In two weeks, we're going to know who is right.
1. One more note on Weber: If he doesn't get signed long-term, he, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne are UFAs next year. They are three critical pieces, but could count for 40 per cent of the team's payroll.
2. Is one of the Predators' young defencemen - Kevin Klein, Cody Franson - available for an impact forward? (Not so sure the Predators will deal Jonathan Blum.)
3. Today, the Board of Governors meets to officially close the Thrashers' sale to Winnipeg. Yesterday, some Atlanta employees were finally being told they had one day left of work. Real impressive.
4. One GM on the Oilers: "Everything they do will be about putting Taylor Hall in the best position to succeed." Doesn't sound like the Kings want a ton for Ryan Smyth (The Los Angeles Times reported it could be a mid-round draft pick), but the question the Oilers should be asking themselves is, "Can Smyth make Hall a better player?" If the answer is yes, they should do it.
5. Considering the level of disappointment the Vancouver organization had with the refereeing in the Stanley Cup Final, the Sedins showed an unbelievable amount of class by skating over to the officials after the handshakes and thanking them. According to one source, their comments were along the lines of, "We know that a lot gets said. This is an emotional time and you shouldn't take all of it personally." And, if anyone thinks that makes them soft, the two Flyers who did the same thing last year were Mike Richards and Chris Pronger.
6. Daniel Sedin had the truest post-mortem: "If we'd scored on the power play, the Bruins couldn't have played the way they did." Obviously, Brad Marchand drove Vancouver crazy. But, the Canucks had several similar players who got quieter as the series went longer. That's something the organization will have to investigate.
7. I'm a big believer in one of Ken Hitchcock's coaching theories: that, sometimes, people need to be put in uncomfortable situations to grow. Alain Vigneault does a great job of protecting the Sedins by having them concentrate on offence, keeping them off the penalty kill, rarely having them take defensive-zone faceoffs. Daniel and Henrik would enjoy greater responsibility and become even better players. Can't imagine what we saw in the final was their ceiling.
8. Boston refused to hide from last year's playoff failure. From training camp, the organization decided to make dealing with this a priority. "It happened, so what do we do about it?" was Peter Chiarelli's description. The players were forced to talk about it honestly, give their opinions and think about how to prevent it from happening again. (Maybe it's no coincidence their easiest series was against Philadelphia.) The result? "No matter what happened along the way, we believed we were good enough to win the Cup," Andrew Ference said.
9. Forget the contract. Roberto Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks should take a deep breath, wait a little while until the emotion dies down, then seriously and honestly chat about the future. Doubt he'd have complaints about the organization, but it says a lot about his stature in the city that the Canucks scored just eight goals in seven games and Luongo is receiving the most blame. My guess: He loves his teammates, but can't stand the fan base. Is that enough for him to want to stay?
10. If he wants to leave, would $30-million-under-the-floor Florida be interested? Would Luongo sell tickets and create interest in Sunrise? I'd be curious to hear from Panthers fans on this one. (Florida does have uber-prospect Jacob Markstrom.)
11. If he wants to stay, Luongo has to have a great year. I've written before Vancouver won't trade Corey Schneider unless the offer is extremely good. That goes triple now. It's not the fairest thing in the world, but, in the new CBA, owners will go after a less onerous buyout. If they get it, some of the long-term deals will be jeopardized.
12. Before every game in the final, Bruins players put on Stanley Cup rings provided by Mark Recchi, Shawn Thornton and assistant coach Doug Jarvis. That's some serious motivation.
13. Nathan Horton poured "Garden Ice" on the Rogers Arena surface before Game 7. NHL ice guru Dan Craig said long-time Oilers equipment man Sparky Kulchisky did something similar in 1988, with Snapple bottles. Edmonton went 5-2 on the road.
14. Another good luck charm: Kit Kat restaurant in downtown Toronto has a "Tree of Heaven" growing through its kitchen. (In Latin, it's called an Ailanthus Altissima.) Apparently, Tim Thomas kept a piece of bark from it in his stall.
15. A few of you were surprised I'd ask Chiarelli if he'd ever come close to trading Thomas last season. I've been curious about it, simply because no one gives a straight answer. (Chiarelli said no.) Thomas' agent, Bill Zito, politely refused to go there, while the goalie himself laughed and said, "I'm saving that story for my book."
16. In September 2005, right out of the lockout, reigning Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft had a contract dispute with the Bruins. So, Boston offered Thomas, who was playing in Finland, the first one-way contract of his NHL existence. He refused. "He didn't think he'd get a fair shot," Zito said. "He said, 'I'm going to make my family move again? No.' We had to convince him to take it. Then, they sent him down to Providence and with recallable waivers, it didn't look like he'd get back to Boston all year." But Raycroft struggled and Hannu Toivonen hurt his ankle. That's when Thomas took over. What's crazier? That it took so long for Boston to hand him the net, or that any other team could have claimed him on waivers?
17. Darren Pang had a good line about the Conn Smythe winner: "He always looks at the puck and never plays the percentages." Or, the opposite of just about every other goalie.
18. Jannik Hansen had a really good playoff for Vancouver (especially impressing the Sharks), but there was one play that really stunned a couple of opposing coaches. In Game 6, he thought he scored early in the third to cut Boston's lead to 4-2, even raising his gloves in celebration as the puck went by. Then, he went to the bench, where Glenn Healy heard him say he wasn't sure it was a goal. (It wasn't.) "I couldn't believe it when I heard that," one said. "At this time of year, you've got to be sure. If he didn't celebrate, he could have knocked in the rebound."
19. One NHL player was asked who was going to win Game 7: "I don't know. I'll be sick to my stomach either way."
20. Claude Julien read that Bobby Orr said he couldn't play in the coach's system because it was "too restrictive." Julien laughed and said if he had Orr, "The system would apply to the other 19 guys, not him."
21. Julien took a lot of heat during the season for leaning on his fourth line - Shawn Thornton, Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille - more than any other coach. In the long run, that depth really paid off for him.
22. Got a tweet from one of Julien's old Hull Olympiques, Daniel Hudgin. (Twitter handle: ScopeHockey.) Hudgin said that, on a long bus ride home from Rouyn-Noranda, the driver was tired so the coach took the wheel and told him to go sleep for a few hours. Even now, Julien is apparently licensed to do such things and gets a little impatient when he's unhappy with the services provided.
23. One thing the Canucks said really surprised them: Brad Marchand's quick release.
24. Two other scouting reports about Boston shooters: Milan Lucic goes for the five-hole in close and Michael Ryder always looks to go "just under the bar."
25. Just 9:14 of ice time for Tomas Kaberle in Game 7. One coach, however, saw some value in the defenceman's post-season play. "If you watch Boston, they don't like to throw the puck up the boards. They prefer to pass back and forth between defencemen, waiting for the proper breakout. Kaberle allowed them to do that with Adam McQuaid."
26. Six clubs (Islanders, Atlanta, Colorado, St. Louis, Edmonton and Florida) that had 2010-11 payrolls below next season's floor. Teams are going to use bonuses to get there next season, since they will count immediately against the cap.
27. Those who probably rolled their eyes most at news the Rangers won't be able to buy out Chris Drury? Other players, since the long-term injury list is a killer for escrow. Can't fault the suggestions of Ryan Callahan as the next captain, but how about Marc Staal?
28. At the recent GM meetings, I asked Chuck Fletcher if he'd be afraid to hire Mike Yeo because Todd Richards (another AHL grad) didn't work out. Fletcher launched into a passionate defence of Yeo's readiness and credentials. To be a successful, you have to do what you think is right, regardless of the public reaction. He clearly believes Yeo is the right guy.
29. Several years ago, I hosted the Roger Neilson coaches' clinic. Yeo was one of the presenters, with a focus on how the Penguins gained the blue-line and created offence from above the faceoff circles. It was pretty interesting, complete with a ton of video. Midway through, Yeo deadpanned, "It's a lot easier to do this with Crosby and Malkin."
30. Gerard Gallant will have some options for an NHL assistant's job, but he'll also have a great shot at repeating as Memorial Cup champion with the Saint John Sea Dogs, even if Jonathan Huberdeau is in the NHL. A third straight .700 season and a second Cup makes for an unbelievable resume.
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