As the hockey world begins its descent on Pittsburgh (with a short stop in Vegas for some), all eyes are on the two teams at the top of the draft.
Edmonton and Columbus exert great control over the weekend activities, with the Oilers holding the number-one selection. Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets own both the second pick and Rick Nash, who will be at the centre of the trade rumour storm.
Scott Howson's always maintained he will be patient and not deal Nash until he gets what he wants. He proved that at the trade deadline. He's going to be tempted here, though. One rival executive (a non-GM) says he's heard Howson's "been flooded" with phone calls over the past two weeks.
But, those two teams can't have all the fun. There are plenty of clubs looking for defencemen and others with an excess. Through an incredibly informal poll of NHL front-office types, here are those to be watched:SAN JOSE:
Doug Wilson loves Canada, but is no fan of July 1. He's called it "inflationary" on several occasions. However, Wilson knows his team needs improvement. The Sharks struggled to make the playoffs, only to be wiped out by St. Louis.
San Jose's got a good fan base, but the organization knows it must be a contender. The average ticket price is just below $50 US (according to Team Marketing Report) and the last time the Sharks missed the playoffs, season subscribers dropped by about 3,000. Reloading is essential for competitive and financial reasons.
They love Nash, but aren't willing to trade Logan Couture to get him.
Wilson is one of those GMs who likes to kick tires. He makes a lot of calls. But his peers think he's seriously interested in some roster surgery. PHILADELPHIA:
Paul Holmgren turned the 2011 draft on its ear with the Mike Richards/Jeff Carter deals. Don't know if they will be in on the Nash derby at the end, but the GM with "the biggest, brassest ones in the NHL" (according to one compatriot) is worth keeping an eye on.
Holmgren told reporters Monday he's "fairly certain" he can re-sign Matt Carle, but Chris Pronger's future remains uncertain.
"Philly is looking for a defenceman," said one exec.PITTSBURGH:
Hometown team+playoff unhappiness=GM ready to move. Sidney Crosby's contract and Jordan Staal's future are sexy topics, but what Ray Shero wants to do on defence may dictate things. Matt Niskanen declined his qualifying offer, so there's one necessary negotiation. Other teams believe the Penguins think Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo are ready for duty, which creates the possibility of an extra body or two.
In a league where many teams are looking for defensive help, how will Shero alleviate this logjam?CAROLINA:
Jim Rutherford is stepping up to the plate like Mark McGwire circa 1998. He wants to create buzz around a team he thinks has something brewing under Kirk Muller's core of Cam Ward, Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner. There are other names to include -- Brandon Sutter, Jamie McBain, Justin Faulk among them -- but if improvement happens via trade, Rutherford's going to have to give up something to get something.
Jordan Staal is the obvious name, but there's no guarantee Pittsburgh is dealing him yet. You could certainly see Carolina making a play for Nash. If there's an impact forward available, Rutherford will try to get him.RANGERS:
If Nash ends up in Manhattan for a big price, the Blue Jackets should buy Zach Parise a new Tourbillon every Christmas. Parise's declaration he won't go to the Rangers eliminated Glen Sather's biggest bargaining chip against Columbus. Even if New York decides not to go the Nash route, it will be in the market for a scorer.
This team is close. Nash would be expected to play to his Olympic level for a new team. If he delivered that, are the Rangers good enough to win? You could make a very convincing case.
Three other teams received several votes: Minnesota, Detroit and Chicago. But, the guess is they will wait to see what they get in free agency before making serious cap commitments. Everyone's expecting the Wild and Red Wings to jump in with both feet, but it's interesting that opponents consider the Blackhawks a player, too. 2.
One CBA note: The NHLPA's Executive Board (30 player reps and alternates) meets next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in Chicago. At that meeting (or shortly thereafter) the Negotiating Committee will be revealed. And that's when negotiations will start -- finally. 3.
Holmgren's comments about Matt Carle stand out because there is a lot of talk the player's preference is to move closer to his western-based family, barring the Corleone offer he can't refuse. His twitter account (@mattcarle25
) is the best Alaskan tourism ad in existence and brother David works for the University of Denver's hockey program. (Congratulations to David on his graduation, four years after his playing career ended due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.)4.
Ryan Suter's agent, Neil Sheehy, denied similar reports, that his client is not interested in the Eastern Conference. Do think Suter wants to go somewhere relatively quiet and Philly does not qualify. Not everyone is built for daily cross-examination. Some larger markets with good hockey fans and less intense coverage (Detroit, for example) do fit.5.
If you're Nashville, your best hope with Suter is looking at him like he's about to get an offer sheet. Whatever someone gives him on July 1, you want to believe, "We're going to get a chance to match." It's a difficult position to be in, because, sometimes a player gets such a good pitch that he just decides to go. 6.
Darren Dreger reported that Jaromir Jagr will test free agency. He had a very good season and exposure to him benefitted the Flyers' young players. The only drawback may be that both Detroit and Pittsburgh found negotiating with him last year to be an excruciating experience.7.
The Toronto Star's Damien Cox reported the Maple Leafs are no longer on Nash's trade list. Can't confirm that, but do believe this: the two teams discussed a trade, but realized there was no match.8.
Think other teams may be asking George McPhee if he's interested in trading the rights to Evgeny Kuznetsov.9.
Asked a couple of GMs if they'd heard Evander Kane is available. Both said no. Is it possible the relationship is strained? Yes sir, but trading a 20-year-old 30-goal scorer is risky business. Both GMs did say they would absolutely be interested if Kane got to the market. 10.
While all of the attention in Edmonton is on the number one pick, the organization is very curious to see how Taylor Fedun fares at the team's summer development camp. If he gets back to the level showed before his serious leg injury, he's an important piece of the defensive puzzle. The returning Craig MacTavish gets credit for finding Fedun, but two others should be mentioned: head scout Morey Gare and assistant GM Rick Olczyk. Olcyzk, who played at Brown, was a big believer in Ivy League hockey and tracked Fedun during the latter's freshman season at Princeton. That helped the Oilers as Philadelphia closed hard. How can anyone cheer against a Fedun comeback?11.
Curious to see where MacTavish's role takes him. He'll have significant input in a lot of areas, so this could be a path to being GM. And, if you ask others what his greatest strength is, it's recognizing who can play and who can't. He's got a great eye for that. But, one exec made a very interesting comparison between him and Larry Robinson. Robinson's gone back behind the New Jersey bench a couple of times (now as an assistant) because he's comfortable there. Would MacTavish eventually do the same thing in Edmonton? 12.
As this is written (Sunday night), I have no idea who the Oilers will take first. But, the best policy is always this: take who you think is the best player, regardless of position. Before the 1984 NBA Draft, everyone knew Houston was taking Hakeem Olajuwon first. Portland, picking second, felt it had no room for Michael Jordan because Clyde Drexler was already in the lineup. The Blazers needed a centre, and Bob Knight (who coached Jordan at the Olympics) blew up at their GM, Stu Inman, saying they should take His Airness anyway and play him at centre if they had to. They didn't, and it's arguably the most spectacular draft blunder ever. If it's Nail Yakupov, take him. If not, take Ryan Murray or whoever else. Always make sure you get the guy you want.13.
At this point, there seems to be more interest in trading down than up. That may change as things unfold Friday night, but there don't seem to be a ton of guys who can help now. Therefore, teams may try to get multiple picks later in the first or during the second. 14.
That's basically what David Poile did in securing two 2012 second-round selections as part of the Anders Lindback trade with Tampa. There was at least one other serious suitor, which allowed Poile to drive up the price and include Kyle Wilson. Wilson had a two-way contract in 2011-12 that morphs into a one-way next season (value: $550,000). The Predators can use that flexibility. 15.
Steve Yzerman ended a lengthy pursuit of Cory Schneider in getting Lindback. You never know how a backup is going to handle getting a starter's job, but there is consensus this is a good bet for the Lightning. "He watched another tall goalie [Pekka Rinne] up-close the last couple of years. He worked every day with a great coach in Mitch Korn," said another team's goalie instructor. "The European goalies aren't as technically oriented as the Canadians, but they do have a great mix of technical skill, competitiveness and instinct. He knows how to use his [six-foot-six] body to make a save...He's ready to prove he's a number-one guy." 16.
There is no doubt Zach Parise's first choice is to stay. However, when he talked about his future, he was two days removed from the disappointment of a Stanley Cup defeat. In that time, you're understandably emotional. Before making his final decision, he's going to need assurances the Devils' financial situation will not prevent them from being a serious contender. He badly wants to win, and, if New Jersey can't convince him that's possible, how can he remain?17.
The toughest interviews are always with a team/individual that loses a championship final because the longer you play, the harder it is to fall. Kelly Hrudey once said the only thing he remembers about the 1993 playoffs is the defeat by the Canadiens. Think about that: all the terrific things that happened to Los Angeles that year -- including maybe the greatest game of Wayne Gretzky's career -- and all you take from it is the pain of losing. That's very hard.18.
That's why Steve Bernier's willingness to show up as soon as the Devils' dressing-room door opened should never be forgotten. Ejected from the game, he refused to watch. But the crowd's eruptions told him the Kings scored three times on his penalty and he had to sit there a couple of hours before answering for it. Brutal.19.
Jarret Stoll really impressed with his post-season performance. He's a UFA, but one team that likes him assumes he stays in LA and doesn't make it to the market. 20.
One of the major reasons Dean Lombardi thought a Carter/Richards reunion would work: they probably thought they'd never get a chance to play together again. "You could see how excited they were about being back together," the Kings' president/GM said. "We felt they'd be determined to prove they belonged on the same team." Good call.21.
Lombardi told a great story about how things have changed in a decade. "When we were in San Jose, we had two rules for our players if they went out: No driving and no fighting. Even if someone challenges you, it's your responsibility to walk away," he said two weeks ago. "You don't want to prevent your guys from going out once in a while and having a good time. But those were our conditions. Now, you have to add, 'No photos.' It's hard on them because cameras are everywhere, but nothing good comes from pictures." 22.
The Kings will get questions about Jonathan Bernier's availability. Don't think anything happens with him until Jonathan Quick's extension is done. Lombardi didn't tip his hand, but you do get the sense the Kings believe they have a group that wants to stay together. 23.
Darryl Sutter and Ron MacLean know each other very well and the Kings coach spent some time telling the HNIC host how, 33 years apart, life came full-circle for him. The summer/fall of 1978 was tough on Sutter. Disappointed that he'd fallen to the 11th round of the NHL Draft, he went to play in Japan. He told MacLean that, on Christmas Day, he sat down on the beach and decided to return to North America. On Christmas Day 2011, given a fresh start in Los Angeles, he sat on the beach in California, marvelling at everything that happened in between. If Ron was writing this blog, he'd point out how author Henry Beston said, "The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach."24.
Sutter's son Brett was probably as excited about the Kings' victory as his father. He's getting married this summer and the stag was last weekend. Can't imagine it would've been much fun if New Jersey came back and won the series.25.
Some final insight into Martin Brodeur's post-season: can anyone else find a 40-year-old goalie who's won 14 playoff games in one year? (He hit that age on May 6.) Jacques Plante won eight in 1968 and four in 1969. Gump Worsley went 11-0 at age 39 and grabbed five more wins the next year, but Rogie Vachon was the guy in the Final. Pre-expansion success for 40-year-olds is pretty slim, too. Johnny Bower won two games in Toronto's 1967 victory, and probably was older than 37 when the Maple Leafs won in 1964.26.
Couldn't help but watch Rob Scuderi and think of Filip Kuba. Both men are paired with stud defencemen, Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson. Those guys are great players, but need an egoless partner who recognizes how to be a perfect complement. Scuderi/Kuba are exactly that. UFA Kuba appears ready to leave Ottawa, and it'll be interesting to see who the Senators view as Karlsson's next mate. 27.
Can't imagine Mason Raymond is too happy with Vancouver right now, but even though history shows losing to the Kings isn't so bad, you have to look at this as a shot across the bow from management to the players. It was a disappointing end to a hopeful season. Trying to "cut down" Raymond's salary lets everyone know status quo is not going to be tolerated. Raymond probably isn't thrilled to be the example, though.28.
Same goes for Chris Stewart in St. Louis. His actual salary for 2012-13 is down by $250,000 and you have to wonder if the Blues considered the same route. The new deal was announced Friday, hours before the filing deadline for the kind of arbitration Vancouver is using. Undoubtedly, the Blues and Canucks hope this will motivate these two players.29.
Barret Jackman took a lot of abuse during the second-round defeat to LA, but his three-year, $9.5 million extension is a very fair contract. The cap hit is hardly unmanageable. One of the biggest things I've learned is that it's hard to replace players who get 20-plus minutes. Unless you know you're bringing in someone who can fill that time, you're changing roles for several guys. You have to be very careful because not everyone can adapt.30.
Garry Galley once told a story about Ray Bourque's injury during the 1990 Hartford/Boston series. Bourque went down in Game 2, not returning until Game 7. Galley said Bruins coach Mike Milbury called him in and said he would be getting all of Bourque's minutes, because he thought it was better to affect a guy he knew could handle it, as opposed to the entire blue-line. Years later, Galley said it was one of the smarter coaching moves he experienced, even though he needed a defibrillator after the series. 31.
Thought a lot about Brian Burke's comments
to The Toronto Star after the Luke Schenn note last week. I concede that I should have used the word "reports" instead of "rumblings" in my copy. Sometimes, in trying to avoid overuse of one word, I get too cute. I decided to write about it after seeing the Schenn-to-Edmonton note
in The Montreal Gazette and The Toronto Sun
. Other than that, I stand by everything written: that Burke loves the big stage; that the Oilers like Schenn and have asked about him; that other teams believe he'd be a better player out of Toronto. Burke said, "Some editorial control at Hockey Night would be nice for a change." I recognize he is sensitive about hearing his players' names mentioned in rumours. But, as a long-time GM, he knows that, by participating in the process, he does have some control over what is said, because I'm obligated to report his responses. But, for months now, he has refused to participate in the process, including to a question posed as recently as two weeks ago. It's like an election: If you don't vote, you've got no right to complain.
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