How do you feel about 20 teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs? Jim Rutherford likes the idea.
The Hurricanes president and general manager proposed such a setup as the NHL headed into its contentious, cantankerous and certainly truculent realignment debate this week in Pebble Beach, Calif.
"If we shorten the exhibition season, we could end the regular season a week and a half earlier," Rutherford said last Friday. "And that way, the first weekend would have the teams ranked 13 through 20 playing a best-of-five series."
Now, a best-of-five would probably be too long. But a two out of three would be terrific. The four winners would join the rest in the "main draw." Those top 12 teams would get the benefit of a short break between the tough regular season and even more brutal playoffs.
Honestly, I love the idea. I'm for anything that increases excitement and that certainly qualifies.
Unfortunately, it didn't catch on with the NHL because it involves a one through 16 post-season setup. As was pointed out by one league executive, "That could actually make playoff travel worse."
As many of you know by now, the board of governors may vote on changing the current two-conference, six-division alignment in favour of a "four-conference" system -- and make no mistake, the NHL wants them known as conferences and not divisions. Included in this proposal is two rounds of intra-conference playoffs and a re-seeded Final Four, where the team with the highest-remaining point total plays the club with the fewest.
This is all about air miles and travel, which is why Rutherford's idea didn't fly -- no matter how interesting it is. It's been widely reported that, if the new plan fails, there will be a trade with Winnipeg going West and either Detroit or Columbus going east. Here's the problem with that scenario: There will be a lot of unhappy teams.
It doesn't really address the western travel issue and whichever of those two doesn't go east is going to be furious. And make no mistake, geography is an issue.
"If those eastern teams say, 'The current situation is good for us,' we're going to tell them, 'Well, it isn't good for us,'" one Western Conference governor said.
Said another: "If Toronto likes it so much, we should vote to send them west."
The best news for them (and other western-based teams) is attitudes like Lou Lamoriello's. The Devils' uberboss said Saturday that he likes the current situation, "but I'm willing to listen to other ideas. You have to do what's best for the league."
On his weekly radio show, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said: "If we don't get it done now, we're going to be in really tough shape if we don't get it done by the all-star game ... I don't even think we can wait that long. But I haven't figured out what we'll do if it doesn't happen."
Other NHL governors think Bettman is playing coy. Several of them said some version of "nothing ever gets put to a vote unless he knows he's got what he needs." (Bettman needs 20 votes.)
Personally, I've believed major realignment was a done deal ever since the powerful Ed Snider said as much during Hall of Fame Weekend. Now we're going to find out.
1. Many of you have asked about the fact that some conferences would have seven teams and others eight. One governor suggested he would propose a setup where, if a fifth-place club in a larger group had more points than a fourth-place squad in a smaller one, there would be a one-game playoff to determine who advances. When I ran that idea through an NHL source, he said: "We considered that. But it eliminates the geographical integrity of the new conferences."
2. Too bad I didn't think of it then, but what if the teams who finish fourth and fifth in those larger groups have a "winner moves on" showdown? That would be pretty exciting.
3. Phoenix: The NHL wants to keep the Coyotes in Arizona and will likely adopt the "Atlanta timeline," ie. waiting until the last possible minute before announcing any move. It's been reported the four potential sites are Seattle, Las Vegas, Quebec City and Kansas City. (Technically, the league can't talk to another city until Jan. 1). If it is one of the first two, the team wouldn't have to switch conferences. If it's Quebec, you're looking at the Montreal grouping. Kansas City? No idea.
4. It's believed that Toronto Maple Leafs president and GM Brian Burke is one of those who hates the new realignment proposal. But the Globe and Mail reported last month that Bettman added Maple Leafs chairman Larry Tanenbaum to the league's powerful executive committee. Do you think Tanenbaum gets that spot without supporting the commissioner's plan?
5. Funniest conversation of the week: While talking with Lou Lamoriello, he said he'd consider supporting the radical change even though "our division would be very difficult." (That's Devils, Islanders, Penguins, Flyers, Rangers, Capitals, Hurricanes). At the time, we hadn't confirmed that Florida and Tampa were grouped with three Canadian teams and Boston and Buffalo. So I asked him exactly who the Devils were with. You could almost see his "nice try" smile over the phone. Think I had a better chance of obtaining President Obama's launch codes.
6. Okay, enough realignment. Front-office rumour No. 1: That this is Lamoriello's final season as GM of the Devils. "No," he said. "Not unless you know something I don't." Uh, that's unlikely.
7. Front-office rumour No.2: That Rutherford will focus on the Hurricanes presidency and cede the GM job to Ron Francis. "That may happen at some point," Rutherford said. "But it's not just around the corner." He is skipping the board of governors meeting to go on Carolina's road trip that starts in Calgary and Edmonton. Those aren't the actions of someone planning on easing up.
8. Rutherford had a great line when told Boudreau's first NHL goal came against him: "I must have forgotten my glove that night."
9. Unlike Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray, who announced that he's not trading Bobby Ryan as he sees how a coaching change affects his group, Rutherford plans to make moves. Top candidates: Tuomo Ruutu (UFA-to-be, making $4.4 million in cash this season) and Tomas Kaberle (tough contract, two more years at $8.75 million -- cash total).
10. One agent and a couple of GMs made an interesting comment about in-season trading. They pointed out that, sometimes, the toughest thing about making deals is not what's owed on a contract in future seasons, it's what owed this season. ("If you want, you can dump a contract in the summer," one GM said). So many teams are at their budgets -- or over -- because of injuries. Carolina might have to wait a little bit before it can move either player. There is interest in Ruutu. Rutherford seems confident he can trade Kaberle in a month or two as long as the defenceman starts playing better.
11. Same rule goes for Derick Brassard, who has two more years at $7 million in cash. There is a belief Columbus can move him because he's got skill and could blossom in a different situation. But interested teams need to wait to fit him under this years budget (I would guess, for example, that's Ottawa's issue).
Walsh's controversial tweets in favour of his clients. "I don't think he does anything without anyone knowing about it," he said. Then Elias added: "Has anyone fired him after he's done it?" The clients in question are Jaroslav Halak, Martin Havlat, Tomas Vokoun and Brassard. The answer is no.
13. My biggest issue with Walsh's move is that it kicked Blue Jackets head coach Scott Arniel when he's really down. Walsh, undoubtedly, would reply that his client is down, too, and going public was the last option to get something done.
14. Solution? Well, Brassard will get dealt at some point. But in situations like this, I remember talking to former Calgary Flames GM and current NHL Network analyst Craig Button. Button traded Marc Savard to Atlanta for nothing because head coach Greg Gilbert wasn't a fan. Savard then totalled 491 points in 463 NHL games until the Matt Cooke hit. Calgary lost a supremely skilled passer and Gilbert would eventually be fired so, as Button said, his organization got nothing out of it. The Blue Jackets feel they've given Brassard plenty of chances and were 4-2-1 in the seven games he was scratched. If other teams do like him, could this happen to Columbus?
15. One GM on the amount of injured players this season: "I hope [Brendan] Shanahan keeps [bleeping] suspending guys because too many are [bleeping] throwing themselves recklessly at each other." (Not any GM quoted in this blog).
16. There was some complaint about how Anaheim handled Randy Carlyle's firing. Murray was on the east coast when he closed the deal with Boudreau and wanted to tell Carlyle face-to-face. Because he was flying cross-country, he had to wait until after the Montreal game. It's far from ideal, but it was 100 per cent the right thing to do.
17. Murray said teams called him about Ryan. Other execs said they thought Ryan was being "auctioned off." And there was a lot of interest -- Toronto, Philadelphia, Rangers, Vancouver, Florida, Carolina, Minnesota, among others (You would expect that for a 24-year-old with 100 goals the last three seasons).
"All of a sudden, it went quiet," said one of those competing execs.
18. Second-funniest conversation of the week: Told Murray there was talk he'd asked about John Tavares. He almost drove off the road.
19. Murray on speculation about asking Teemu Selanne if he wanted to be traded: "He will retire an Anaheim Duck."
20. The Ducks were trying everything last week to raise morale. On Tuesday, George Parros handed out prizes for best and worst Movember moustaches. Niklas Hagman (best blonde) won some kind of fur jacket; Selanne (best overall) got a terrific leather jacket; Matt Beleskey (worst effort), a too-tight vest. Judging from the quotes after Sunday's loss to Minnesota, they still have the same problem -- when something bad happens, they fall apart. Dangerous lack of confidence.
21. Radical idea heard this week: Maybe new Capitals head coach Dale Hunter should try using Alexander Ovechkin as a penalty killer. It's time to try something different to get him going.
22. A story to watch: What are contenders San Jose ($2.5 million in cap room), Boston ($4.5M), Chicago ($5.5M) and Detroit ($5.6M) going to do? All of them are expected to add for the Cup run. Who will go first?
23. It's kind of funny, but it's believed the Blackhawks will try to add a Brian Campbell-type defenceman. They miss his game. However, it's likely they will go after someone whose contract ends this summer.
24. Two major reasons Tyler Seguin has improved so much in Year Two: He's adjusted to creating offence when you're waiting for the puck on the wing as opposed to carrying it at centre and the great work of the Boston coaches in teaching him to play along the boards.
25. Florida was one of the teams interested in Kyle Turris. But you can't help but wonder if the Panthers would want to tinker with their excellent chemistry.
He's still very good and, even though his cap hit is $5.83 million US, his actual salary drops to $5 million next season and $1.5 million in 2013-14. Also, his no-move ends after this season. Not starting any rumours here, just wondering.
27. Los Angeles Kings owner Philip Anschutz brought the team to his Colorado ranch before the season. All rookies and newcomers (eg. Mike Richards) had to give a speech in front of the team.
28. Saw Nicklas Lidstrom break up a two-on-one attempt last week. Why does anyone even try to pass in that situation?
29. There is some kind of end-of-the-month deadline for Matt Hulsizer's purchase of the St. Louis Blues. Told that if it's not done by then, it's not necessarily off the table, but sounds like the NHL wants a clearer idea of the plan.
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