It's been a near-perfect week for the city of Winnipeg and the province of Manitoba.
If Tuesday's announcement proved anything, it's that Mark Chipman's organization is well-prepared. The NHL asked True North to be ready with a season-ticket plan the moment the Thrashers moved north, and that certainly happened. As the snowball to Manitoba gained momentum, a few executives guessed that the average ticket price at the MTS Centre would have to be around $75 to make this work. The actual number will be $82, according to reports.
(There are several different opinions on where this ranks in the NHL. Forbes magazine's breakdown indicated that would be tied for second in Canada. Another source indicated the price would be fifth-highest in the NHL based on 2010-11 figures. That's behind Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and the New York Rangers. Team Marketing Report does a pretty good job here, but does not include some premium seats, which would increase those figures.)
The three-to-five-year commitment is sheer genius, because it guarantees the franchise can qualify for a full allotment of revenue sharing under the current CBA. Assuming 13,000 season tickets sold (and, like Commissioner Bettman, we all believe that will happen), Winnipeg will be at 86 per cent capacity. The NHL threshold is 80. Anything below that means less than a full share.
What Chipman must do now is make a quick decision on Rick Dudley, Craig Ramsay and the rest of the Thrashers' front office/coaching staff. If he doesn't want to keep some or all of those people, the right thing to do is release them quickly so they can find new jobs.
One of the reasons the sale took a little longer to close was that True North didn't want to be on the hook for contracts (like Dudley's recent extension) it didn't take. Teams want their staffs in place by the draft. The longer the Jets/Falcons/Moose/Polar Bears take to make those choices, the less chance those individuals will have to land on their feet elsewhere. There is a lot of competition, especially when it comes to coaching.
As for True North's own structure, Chipman made it very clear that Craig Heisinger will have "a significant role" moving forward. It's also believed Claude Noel, who impressed both the Moose and the Canucks this year, will get the big-league coaching job. Both men have really good reputations, but Chipman will look for a more experience NHL-level executive to help them get started.
That may not be easy, because you're going into a situation where you there isn't full control over who is working for you. Anyway, Vancouver has two candidates, Vice-President of Player Personnel Lorne Henning and Vice-President Hockey Operations Laurence Gilman (who is from Winnipeg). And don't discount former Toronto GM John Ferguson, either. He has Winnipeg connections and knows Chipman well.
1. What I learned from watching five straight Vancouver games in person: You cannot recognize how good the Sedins are on television. The medium just does not do them justice. The way they control the puck, those short passes to one another - you have to see it person.
2. If Rick Dudley is let go, could see him landing in Florida very quickly. Smart hockey man, Dale Tallon connection, guy who is happier being out of the spotlight. When he was Panthers GM, was happy to let Mike Keenan do all the interviews. Just wants to find players.
3. While the uncertainty about Atlanta's future did play a role in not getting Andrew Ladd signed, also sounds like there was a disagreement on terms. He's 25 years old, a captain with two Stanley Cups. His career high is 59 points - this past season. I don't think this signing is as much about Winnipeg, as it is about how to quantify Ladd's value. He is extremely important to any good team, but may not be an 80-point guy. Some teams get really nervous about shelling out big dough for that. One thing Winnipeg must understand: Ladd's going to be critical to a positive transition.
4. As mentioned, Noel is the frontrunner for the Winnipeg coaching job. But, the Moose wanted to interview Kirk Muller for the position before that hiring. The Canadiens declined permission.
5. Loved cranky Commissioner Bettman at the media conference. "If the building's not full, this doesn't work," is the kind of honest quote he should be delivering more often about several of his markets. Just hope, for his sake, "It's nice to be back in Winnipeg" doesn't become the NHL version of "I'm taking my talents to South Beach," the quote you regret forever.
6. Colin Campbell downplayed the on-ice taunts son Gregory was getting as a reason for stepping away from supplemental discipline. Thought that was interesting. One of the two between-benches games I did this season was Boston/Toronto. The Maple Leafs were merciless, and they weren't the only ones. Think any parent would feel awful about that. Gregory handled it unbelievably well.
7. Somewhat surprised Brendan Shanahan would want to take charge. That may be the hardest job in all of sports. You're getting a constant barrage from executives, players, league officials, everybody. It's a no-win position with ridiculously long hours and a ton of aggravation. Shanahan's had a fast rise up the NHL ladder. This will really test him, particularly with Bettman saying he wants tougher suspensions. (And Donald Fehr in the back of the room listening as Bettman said it.)
8. Advice for Shanahan: In some ways, Campbell approached his job like a good reporter should approach theirs - by talking to as many people as possible. That number would get into the 20s on a particularly tough ruling. From my own experience, it becomes what Pinball Clemons calls "paralysis by analysis." You hear so many things, you forget your own instincts. Go with them.
9. Supplementary discipline's going to be an interesting one in the next CBA. Bettman doesn't sound thrilled with the idea of making the decision by committee, which the NHLPA would like to explore. Plus, the union would like a different appeals process. Right now, appeals go through the guy who says he wants tougher suspensions.
10. There will be changes to the boards next season in Montreal, Calgary, Colorado, Phoenix, Nashville and Minnesota. Those rinks will be moving from the seamless glass (thick with little give) to plexiglass (thinner with more give, better for players) in the ends.
11. In 2007, as the Senators went to the Stanley Cup final, their AHL affiliate finished dead last with 55 points. The coach? Dave Cameron, who called it "his toughest year." I would guess this season was even harder. Second at the world juniors, second in the OHL playoffs, second in the Memorial Cup. The farther you go, the harder it is to lose. But, Cameron recovered then and he'll recover now.
12. Here's another coach with an interesting journey: He won a Memorial Cup in 1997. He won a bronze medal with one of Team Canada's weaker world junior entries of the past 20 years. He was 10 games over .500 in less than two seasons with Montreal, fired in 2005-06 because he wouldn't start Jose Theodore. He was 23 games over .500 in New Jersey, fired because he didn't fit the Devils culture. He was one loss away from getting fired four weeks ago. Claude Julien wins, but it seems as if he never does it in a way that makes everyone happy. His style hasn't changed. Good on him for doing it his way.
13. There are a lot of coaches who don't believe in talking to players right after games. Todd McLellan is one. He prefers to watch the video to see if it changes his original impression. After falling down 2-0 to the Canadiens, Julien briefly told his players he believed in them. I know I've mentioned this before, but it looms larger as Boston plays for the prize.
14. Thought Craig Simpson, Glenn Healy and Kelly Hrudey did a great job of breaking down why Zdeno Chara down low on the power-play might not be the right idea, but here's another: The Canucks clobbered him in Game 1. When you're in front of the net, there's an understanding you can receive more abuse. Vancouver took advantage, and when you play 30 minutes a night, it takes a real toll.
15. The Canucks told the league Tim Thomas makes 90 per cent of his saves outside the blue paint and wanted goalie collisions officiated accordingly. Alex Burrows took a penalty for such contact. That one could have gone either way, but will bear watching the rest of the series.
16. Roberto Luongo apologized to his teammates for Dan Boyle's 4-0 goal in Game 3 that turned out to be the winner in San Jose's victory. Unnecessary, but appreciated. He certainly reciprocated with 54 saves in Game 5 and a shutout as the final began.
17. Lorne Henning was a Dave Nonis hire. Mike Gillis had no relationship with him upon taking the GM job, but was impressed by their early conversations. Now, he's the buffer between Alain Vigneault and Gillis/VP-Hockey Operations Laurence Gilman. Neither of them coached in the NHL. Henning did, so he can add valuable perspective into what Vigneault thinks. Always hated the idea of cleaning house just for the sake of it.
18. There will be a lot of talk about this being The Futility Series - no Vancouver Cups, the Bruins without one in 39 years. But the pressures are very different. The Canucks are playing this for a province. Meanwhile, it was hard for the Bruins to watch the Patriots win three, the Red Sox two and the Celtics one, while they never got a sniff. That zero next to your name is hard when everyone else has one.
19. A lot of bitching about the schedule, but the one thing I like about the layoff before Game 1: It gives the players a chance to rest and get as healthy as possible. That's the way the Stanley Cup should be decided.
20. Had the note last week about teams not hitting Milan Lucic so he doesn't get angry. Glenn Healy was saying teams used to do that with Mark Messier. They totally avoided him, hoping it was one of the nights he didn't feel like killing anyone. "One night, he was off to a slow start, but the other coach taunted him from the bench," Healy said. "(Messier) stopped in the middle of play, looked at him and said, 'What did you say?' Meanwhile, we're playing four-on-five while he's staring down the guy. I think we won 8-2." Do believe, however, that Lucic is hurt much worse than is being let on.
21. Think there were two reasons the NHL's discipline department decided not to contact Nathan Horton prior to Game 7. First, they didn't think his spray-bottle attack was worth a deciding-game suspension. Second, there was some real queasiness about basing it on the cellphone videos provided by Tampa fans. While I do understand that, leagues have to recognize this kind of evidence isn't going away.
22. Horton's clearly a big-moment goal scorer, but no doubt the league warned him to control his temper. There has been a couple of incidents now at the end of games.
23. Steven Stamkos scored 96 goals the last two seasons, won a Rocket Richard Trophy and will be a recurring Hart Trophy candidate. But few things will define him as much as returning with a cage after taking a puck to the face in Game 7. First thing I thought of when that happened? Watching his boss, GM Steve Yzerman, frighteningly take one off the eye against Calgary in 2004. Happened right in front of me.
24. Stamkos got beat on the series-winner, yes, and when you care as much as he does, you don't forget it anytime soon. But he did a lot of things really well, back-checking hard, making sure he put himself in the right places. He will be an even better player because of this experience.
25. Thought a lot about what the Sharks could use, and there is no easy answer. They've got elite-level players, they've added edge and depth, they've got young talent. Get the sense San Jose needs a Mike Keane-type or two - someone who's won before, isn't afraid to be brutally honest in the room (even if you don't like what he's saying), then drives your opponents crazy. Claude Lemieux was like that, but they didn't get him until he was 43.
26. Dany Heatley had a broken hand during the season and suffered a high ankle sprain in Game 3. Despite that, definitely got the sense the organization is frustrated with him. The great shot is still there, but he's in danger of what happened to Wade Redden. Redden didn't take conditioning seriously and it caught up with him. Heatley must avoid the same path. (I'm not suggesting Heatley's going to the minors.) As one GM said, "When he's not scoring, he doesn't look good." He needs to get himself in position to score more.
27. How good was Joe Thornton in Game 5 despite that shoulder injury? After he'd stopped taking faceoffs in the second period, the Sharks needed him to return to that duty because his linemates were six-for-25. He went 10-for-18.
28. Obviously, there was a lot of talk about the "icing that wasn't" at the end of that game, but another huge play didn't get enough attention: Patrick Marleau dumping the puck into the Vancouver corner about a minute beforehand. Roberto Luongo had already gone to the bench, but Marleau wasn't aware of it. Don't know if the bench failed to yell at him or he didn't hear them or what, but that was an enormous snafu.
29. Off-ice moment that stood with me: Before Game 4 Van/SJ, I was waiting to pre-tape an interview with Marleau. McLellan walked out to chat with Scott Nichol, who was testing his hand-eye co-ordination with a hockey stick and a tennis ball. They talked briefly, and Nichol's face told the story. They decided he couldn't play. You can really see in that moment how much it hurts for someone not to go.
30. Seventeen years ago, Howard Berger helped open the door to my career. I'm not here without his generosity. Thank you, Howard.
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