Going to keep it pretty simple to open the season. No huge preamble. Right into the first 30 Thoughts of 2011-12.
1. There've been a few stories about how hard it is for Jets players to find housing in Winnipeg. One of the problems, I think, is that some landlords may be attempting a little price gouging.
2. What do the Unsigned Six have in common? (That's Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Luke Schenn, Brad Marchand, Kyle Turris and Josh Bailey.) They are all negotiating their second contracts. The huge deals for players of this age will be a target in the upcoming negotiations. So the agents, in particular, look at this as the last shot under a system they like.
3. Some hockey folks are wondering if Doughty wants out of Los Angeles. It's been reported that he wants a shorter deal. (Dean Lombardi confirmed that a nine-year, $61.2 million offer was rejected two months ago.) Although Doughty's best friend (Wayne Simmonds) was traded in the Mike Richards deal, a few people who know him well say a desire to leave is not a factor.
4. The strangest case is Turris. Not on the same page? How about not in the same universe. He and Bailey are the players who can least afford to have their training camps interrupted. Turris should strongly consider a one-year deal if things don't move, then prove Phoenix wrong next season. Don't think the Coyotes are going to budge.
5. Patrice Bergeron, asked if he's seen the Bruins' Stanley Cup rings: "No. They're being kept a surprise." He added he "can't wait" to see the banner raised.
6. Curious to see if Ryan Kesler's lengthy absence (could be mid-November) means Alain Vigneault allows the Sedins - especially Henrik, the centre - to play more of a defensive role. Both ask to kill penalties, but combined for the enormous total of 15 seconds of short-handed play per game. Vigneault also started them more in the offensive zone than any linemates in the NHL, according to the Behind the Net website (half of which I actually understand).
7. The Devils denied a New York Post report that they are risking lenders to "push the team into bankruptcy," but, the truth, according to one source, was the word "refinancing" in the team's media release. While missing a loan payment is not cause for celebration, it's not uncommon when both sides are aware a restructuring is necessary. Whatever the case, the team clearly has some financial questions.
8. Very interesting observation from one Eastern Conference coach about the Pittsburgh Penguins: "What they went through last year [season-ending injuries to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin] is going to make them even better. All of those guys suddenly realized they were still a legitimate contender without those two players. Their confidence will be very high." The Penguins finished with 106 points before losing in seven to Tampa in the first round. Threw that theory at Dan Bylsma, and he's a believer.
9. Of all the players who passed through the NHL/NHLPA media tour last week, the most striking conversation came with John Tavares. At 18, he was very uncomfortable in interview settings and clearly didn't enjoy the experience. (That's not a criticism as much as recognition that we forget how early these guys must deal with the spotlight.) But Tavares, who turns 21 next week, is a changed man. He's grown into a poised and confident speaker. Doug Weight and Matt Moulson really helped, but, ultimately, it's Tavares who deserves the credit.
10. Tavares, by the way, made some adjustments to his game during the summer. He was coy about it, allowing only that he's worked on his skating stride and his shot. (He did admit he will be shooting from different spots in the offensive zone.) It's the same point in Crosby's career that number 87 addressed his own shot, with extremely beneficial results.
11. Another player who changed his stride: Zach Parise, who did some work with a speed skating instructor. Instead of returning his foot directly back to the standing position after each step, he will bring it around in kind of a circle. (Of course, a written blog is not the best place to describe this.) Parise says he feels much more comfortable and it should help after the knee injury, too.
12. Finally, there's Jason Spezza. For the second consecutive summer, he worked with Andy O'Brien, who is Crosby's fitness guru. O'Brien worked with Spezza on staying lower while skating. "I had a tendency to straighten up a bit," he said. The Senator added his back feels better than it has in a couple of years. Ottawa needs him to have a great season.
13. Pavel Datsyuk, asked last Thursday when he started skating, smiled sheepishly and said, "Only a few days ago." Mentioned to him that several other players said they waited longer than normal, too. He smiled. "Tell that to (Mike) Babcock."
14. Nobody keeps a closer eye on Datsyuk than Logan Couture. "I watch all of his games [that I can]," the Shark centre said. "I look at everything he does. How he controls the puck on the forehand, how he controls it on the backhand, how competitive he is, how he uses his body to protect the puck. I think he's the best player in the league and I want to learn from him." Couture also watches Crosby closely, but going head-to-head with Datsyuk four times a year is something that really drives him.
15. Jonathan Toews, asked if he re-watched any of the Vancouver series: "Just the games we won."
16. Asked Patrick Kane about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He was interested in the comparisons between the two because he's watched the Oilers' top pick and "I see the similarity." Kane was talking more about puck skills than size, because he says Nugent-Hopkins will fill out to be much larger than he. When it comes to getting hit by the NHL's big boys, Kane says the rookie "shouldn't think about it. I never did."
17. Tim Thomas never lacks motivation, but admits a season where he won the Vezina, the Conn Smythe and the Stanley Cup tested his hunger for the future. What helped? Reading a book by a boxer. "He said that the worst day of his life was the day after he won the world title" because he'd accomplished his goals and there was nothing else to look forward to. So, Thomas has set his target at winning all three - again.
18. So, who was the boxer? Thomas, laughing: "I don't remember."
19. Aside from Brad Richards, the Rangers targeted Mike Rupp, a great locker-room presence with a 2003 Cup ring. On June 18, Rupp tweeted that he got his "favourite chocolates" for Father's Day. (They are called "Ohio Buckeyes." Rupp is from Cleveland.) New York staffers noticed that, and, made certain their July 1 free-agent pitch included some. It's a small thing, but a big thing. Nice little move.
20. As Sheldon Souray returns to the NHL, he's with a team that's been interested in him for awhile. Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk said he wanted to add Souray sooner than he did (July 1), but couldn't afford to before Edmonton bought out the defenceman's previous contract.
21. Hearing the Sabres are going to be very impressed with their new surroundings. The organization spent $8 million upgrading things.
22. Buffalo owner Terry Pegula is also putting together quite the facility at Penn State. Included in the new arena will be a very steep section right behind the visitor's net for the first and third periods. It will be very intimidating.
23. Also hearing that veterans who skated with Mike Zibanejad raved about him. Zibanejad said he knew Ottawa was interested because Bryan Murray invited him to visit right before the draft. He said the Senators also did that with Ryan Strome and Sean Couturier. (Strome was gone before Ottawa picked.) Apparently, (and this is me talking, not Zibanejad) Murray tried to snare a second high pick to grab Jonathan Huberdeau, but couldn't.
24. Alexander Semin took a beating from former teammates this summer, but it will be interesting to see how Bruce Boudreau handles him during the season. On the right side, the Capitals' coach has Semin, Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward and Mike Knuble. Semin must realize that, for the first time, Boudreau has several significant options to threaten him with. How will that affect "The Other Alex?"
25. New Minnesota coach Mike Yeo made a special trip to Finland to meet with his captain, Mikko Koivu.
26. Very curious to see how long Florida takes to cut down its training camp roster. That's a team with no need for extra bodies. After such radical surgery, the Panthers must get players used to each other in a hurry.
27. Last year, we spent a game day with Mike Babcock as the Red Wings hosted the Canucks. During the afternoon, Brad McCrimmon walked through the coaches' office after his mid-day nap. He looked like, well, he looked like he just woke up. Our camera was off at the time, and as he walked by, fellow assistant Paul MacLean started laughing and said, "You guys missed the shot of the day right there." What a resume for McCrimmon: defence partner of a young Lidstrom, a young Pronger, a young Gary Suter.
28. At the 2004 World Cup of hockey, Slovakia was losing an elimination game to Russia. As the second period ended, Pavol Demitra was our quickie interview guest, and he was furious at the way the team was playing. He went into the room and some crazy yelling began. A Slovak journalist started laughing, so I asked what was going on. He said that Demitra and Zdeno Chara were swearing at their teammates, demanding a better effort for their country. Really admired his passion. That's what we'd expect of Canadian players.
29. Igor Korolev was a Maple Leaf when Alexei Yashin held out in Ottawa. They shared the same agent, Mark Gandler, so a few reporters started asking about the whole situation and what kind of guy Gandler is. Korolev rarely showed much emotion to the media, but he loved this line of questioning. When it was over, he walked over to Dmitri Yushkevich (another Gandler client) to tell him. The two started laughing. We asked Yushkevich about it, and he told us Korolev loved how everyone thought Gandler was the devil. Korolev played one more season in Toronto, and every time he was scrummed, he had this little smile. Always thought it had to do with that Yashin/Gandler conversation.
30. We've had to tell too many of these stories too soon. Can only hope the Boogaards, the Rypiens, the Belaks, the families affected by the Yaroslavl crash and all their friends are finally feeling some comfort. And, as the summer ends, hopefully, happier times begin.
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