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Hockey Night in Canada30 Thoughts: Players can't be boss of NHL teams

Posted: Sunday, April 27, 2014 | 11:44 AM

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Washington owner Ted Leonsis admits Capitals players influenced his decision to fire GM George McPhee and head coach Adam Oates, writes Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman, adding Leonsis and team president Dick Patrick Leonsis and Patrick interviewed just about everybody they could think of. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press) Washington owner Ted Leonsis admits Capitals players influenced his decision to fire GM George McPhee and head coach Adam Oates, writes Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman, adding Leonsis and team president Dick Patrick Leonsis and Patrick interviewed just about everybody they could think of. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

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Washington owner Ted Leonsis admits Capitals players influenced his decision to fire GM George McPhee and head coach Adam Oates. We're in a touchier/feelier era of coaching and management, but someone must still be the boss.
Saturday night, we were sitting in one of our Green Rooms. I was asking Hockey Night in Canada's Glenn Healy, Craig Simpson and PJ Stock what they remembered about their average end-of-season exit interviews.

"The one I remember was my last one in Los Angeles," said Healy, a King from 1985-89. "Robbie Ftorek was the coach. He told me he wouldn't be back ...and I wouldn't be back."

Can't call him a liar. Ftorek was gone, replaced by Tom Webster. Healy ended up a New York Islander.

"I can't even remember one, other than in Buffalo when I was done and wasn't coming back," Simpson said. As for PJ, he said his were like most, you're told what you're expected to work on in the summer. See you in the fall, be in shape and ready to go.

As Bob Dylan sang, The times...they are a-changin'.

The season would end, and the general manager would make the call on the coach. Or, the owner would call for a fresh start. We've always understood that stars have huge sway in organizational choices. But it seems to go deeper than that now. 

The Rangers' post-season meetings from 2013 led to John Tortorella's dismissal and Vancouver's Trevor Linden said Canucks players would have a say in Tortorella's West Coast future. Now, Washington owner Ted Leonsis admits Capitals players influenced his decision to fire GM George McPhee and head coach Adam Oates.

Thorough process

For the first time since buying the NHL club, Leonsis participated in the exit interviews, alongside president Dick Patrick. It wasn't only the competitors. Leonsis and Patrick interviewed just about everybody they could think of.

Friday afternoon, a player on another team said there were rumours the two men were surprised by what the Capitals had to say about the team's on-ice chances. 

"[The players] gave them something to think about," he said.

The owner confirmed that after announcing the moves. 

"We were left with the overall impression that the team wasn't trending towards competing for a Stanley Cup," Leonsis said. He wouldn't reveal any specifics, not wanting to violate omertà.

Eventually, we're going to get a good idea. We'll see who gets moved out, or who is put in what role next season. Whoever considers one of the Washington jobs knows he's taking over a group with the ability to talk the owner into massive change. Talk about a potential red flag.

"The inmates weren't running the asylum, people that were paid to make the decisions made them," Healy said about exit interviews of the past, in his typically understated way. 

It's different now, for sure. We're in a touchier/feelier era of coaching and management, but someone must still be the boss. Leonsis needs to make it clear this was a one-time offer.


1. The Capitals announced McPhee will meet the media Monday. A few execs from other teams believe he will exit gracefully, saying this is the right move for everyone. He'd been there 17 years and is ready for a new challenge. Oates released a statement and isn't scheduled to do anything else. That's usually a very different sign. He hoped to return and probably thought he would.

2. It comes with the big contract and the captaincy, but the question becomes, "What was Alexander Ovechkin's role in all this?" Don't think he can be blamed for this one. Despite their public spat after a backchecking faux pas against Dallas, Ovechkin and Oates had a good relationship. The way this reads is not what Ovechkin said, but what the other players said. It's also possible they said a lot about him. We're not going to know for sure until we see how he is deployed next season.

3. As a result of all this, it would be a surprise if Washington goes for a first-time NHL coach. Team president Dick Patrick pointed out in the media conference that Ron Wilson was hired before McPhee back in 1997, which forces us to consider the possibility history repeats itself. Barry Trotz began his American Hockey career in this organization. You have to think he's on the list. 

4. Patrick added there would be no other changes at this time, which means Ross Mahoney remains to do the draft -- and Washington's done well in it. Someone with a scouting background (like San Jose's Tim Burke, who could be a really good hire) might not make sense for that reason. Mahoney's presence gives the Capitals time to find the person and create the structure they want. There's the new-style setup with a Linden or a Brendan Shanahan or a Wayne Gretzky atop the ladder. But, at a huge moment for his franchise, Leonsis is going to need experience at running an organization, too. If he doesn't want an all-expenses-paid vacation, I can see Mike Gillis getting interviewed for this.

5. This should be a week for clarity. The Under-18s will be done, so there won't be any GMs overseas. If teams are going to make changes, it's time to let guys know so they can move on with their lives.

6. Don't know exactly what the role is going to be, but hearing Plymouth Whalers GM/head coach Mike Vellucci will join Carolina's revamped front office.

7. Sounds like Phoenix assistant Brad Treliving was interviewed by Calgary last week.
8. As the Oilers look towards the future, one of the things they are looking at is how they evaluate goalies. They've gone through a major organizational shift, trading Devan Dubnyk and Olivier Roy; adding Laurent Brossoit, Viktor Fasth and Ben Scrivens. That's a lot of movement for one season.

9. Long Island News 12 producer Rob Del Muro with a good tip: Islanders GM Garth Snow attended a season-ticket holder event last week and told one fan, "It would be a safe wager on his part that we would utilize this year's (first-round draft) pick." The team has until June 1 to let the Buffalo Sabres know about the selection. If not, Buffalo gets New York's 2015 first-rounder. The GM added the fan "could wager any amount of money because it wasn't MY money." Good line.

10. Snow also said the Islanders had a deal worked out for a goalie, but backed off when the trade partner asked for Brock Nelson.

11. One Eastern-based forward, out of the playoffs but watching intently, says he is amazed by the difference in defenceman usage between the two conferences. "In the East, they get into the offensive zone and play parallel to each other on the blue-line. In the West, some teams basically use them as rovers...They take more chances, but don't take an angle that gets them into trouble." He says Chicago's corps is the best at it.

12. When Henrik Zetterberg was injured at the Olympics, some of the Swedish players said he was in so much pain, they were worried about his career, never mind the season. Impressive comeback, despite Detroit's defeat.

13. It's starting to sound like a conspiracy theory, but watching Sidney Crosby's ice time is fascinating. He led all Pittsburgh forwards at 19 minutes 54 seconds in Game 5, which is a good omen. Combined with his 18:47 in Game 4, that's his third-lowest back-to-back total this season. His 44-second shift length was comparable to everyone else, but the second straight game it was 10 seconds lower than his season average. Don't know what to make of it all.

14. Most points by an 18-year-old in one playoff year: Jaromir Jagr (13, 1991), Ed Olczyk (11, 1985), Nathan MacKinnon (10, 2014). Most by a teenager: Jagr (24, 1992). That will be tough to catch.

15. Pretty interesting hearing David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty talk about how much they had to adjust their games to play with Thomas Vanek. Desharnais said that when he played with Brendan Gallagher, you had to go support him when the winger got the puck in the corner. Vanek wants the opposite. "The farther we can spread teams out," he said, "The more success we will have." Desharnais also had to get used to carrying the puck less and driving to the net more, because Vanek likes to carry it, too.

16. "I've never seen anyone make the decisions [Vanek] makes," Pacioretty added. "He's basically thinking, 'What do guys think I'm going to do with the puck right now?' and he does the opposite of it." Pacioretty said Vanek is making him re-think how he plays the game. "One thing that really sticks out is he said to never have your stick on the ice in front of the net, because the d-man can tie it up. He's always hanging around with his stick in the air, and instead of putting it on the ice and waiting for a tip, he kind of slaps at it when the puck comes...You get more speed on it." 

17. It's too late to do anything about it now, but was Anders Lindback's development hurt most by lack of North American playing time? He came over from Sweden in 2010 and played 102 games (including playoffs) in four years. That includes just 27 appearances his rookie season and never was an AHL starter. Look at the other goalies in these playoffs who came from overseas. Sergei Bobrovsky played 60 NHL games his first year; Henrik Lundqvist, 56. Guys who were in both the NHL and AHL included Tuukka Rask (59), Kari Lehtonen (53), Frederik Andersen (47), Ilya Bryzgalov & Semyon Varlamov (46) and Antti Niemi (43). Jimmy Howard played more than 200 AHL games before snaring Detroit's net.

18. Steven Stamkos looked pretty fast at the end of the season, but doesn't believe he'll be what he should be until after a summer of Gary Roberts workouts. "I definitely don't feel the same," he said just before the playoffs. "Before I got hurt I felt I was playing the best hockey of my career...That explosiveness, those first three strides, I can tell it's just not there yet." Steve Yzerman is unconcerned: "Initially we weren't sure we were going to see him at all this year...He's been pretty darned good."

19. Stamkos on Martin St. Louis: "When you have close friends, you support them...Did I totally agree with it? Maybe not," he said. "I wish he would have stayed for selfish reasons ...That was his decision, and he made that in the best interests of himself and his family. You have to respect him for that." It had to be tough on Stamkos and the Lightning during their defeat, knowing how much St. Louis could have helped. 

20. Is it true Lightning head coach Jon Cooper once had a dog named Gretzky? "I did," he said. It was a Maltese bought on the day of the OJ Simpson chase in 1994. "Everybody wanted me to name the dog Bronco, because there was a white bronco and the dog was really white. And I was like, 'Not a chance'... and so I named the dog Gretzky." 

21. Cooper felt he had a shot at Tampa's AHL job when Lightning assistant GM Julien Brisebois drove him back to the airport after the interview. When they didn't make him take a cab, Cooper knew they were intrigued. Both Yzerman and Brisebois had him on their list of candidates. Yzerman said it was St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong who told him to take a look. 

22. The NCAA now uses expanded video review, which makes it even harder to understand why the NHL (in conjunction with the NHLPA) can't get it done. Situations where college hockey uses it and the big boys don't: goaltender interference; if an attacking player was illegally in the crease and prevented the goalie from defending when the puck entered the net; and to determine if a goal was scored as a direct result of the puck deflecting off of the protective netting, by the first team to gain possession of the deflected puck.

23. NCAA referees use a monitor in the penalty box. In tournament games a video-replay official can be assigned, although the on-ice official makes the final decision. They don't call it a challenge, but a team may use its timeout to ask for a review. If the challenge is successful, the team retains its timeout. 

24. Aside from the obvious reasons of getting the call right, there should be a financial incentive for doing this, too. Look at Tampa. Back in the playoffs for the first time in three years. You want to build on this, sell tickets, use the excitement to grow your audience. The Lightning weren't winning that series, but, if replay changes one call and gives them another home playoff game, is that worth it? I bet Jeff Vinik says yes. There's so much at stake. 

25. The aftermath of last week's infamous referee discussion proved one thing to me: Teams believe the crowd at the Bell Centre influences more calls than any other building in the NHL. It is undoubtedly the best home-ice advantage in the league, an intimidating place to officiate. Takes strong-minded people to work there.

26. The lawyer in me thinks the reason Matt Cooke didn't get more than seven games is because no one's ever been banned for, say, 20 because of kneeing. The closest recent example I could find is Kevin Porter, suspended four games in 2011 for a knee-on-knee to David Booth. It's not a satisfactory reason, I know, but the appeals process means legality is a big part of it.

27. So, who exactly qualifies as a repeat offender? The phrase appears in section 18.15 of the CBA, which discusses how much money a player loses if suspended. It states pretty clearly that this status "shall be re-determined every eighteen (18) months." However, in commissioner Gary Bettman's defence of Patrick Kaleta's suspension, he wrote, "Nothing in Article 18 limits the League's right to consider suspensions that occurred more than eighteen (18) months earlier in determining the number of games for which a Player should be suspended for a subsequent offence."

28. Bettman followed with, "Moreover, I note that the Union's notice of appeal does not challenge Mr. Shanahan's consideration of the prior (2009, 2011 and March 2103) suspensions of Mr. Kaleta in determining the quantum of discipline here." In Wednesday's Matt Cooke suspension video, it was stated "Cooke is not considered a repeat offender under the CBA," but adds "Cooke has been fined or suspended nine previous times during his 15-season NHL career." Lots of tightrope-walking on this one.

29. Have to admit: it was uncomfortable seeing David Backes return for Game 5 of Chicago/St. Louis. He did look more like himself as the game went on, but was really tentative early. (I will be the first one to tell you that if I was in his skates, I would play, too, because when it's you, you'd do anything to help your team.) When the NFL settled its concussion lawsuit, one of the magistrates wrote it would be harder for current players to sue because it's impossible to argue they didn't know the risks. Seeing is believing.

30. Stole this from someone: First, Joel Quenneville grabs his crotch. Then Milan Lucic spears Danny DeKeyser in them. Then Patrick Roy tells his team to show its cojones. You know what we're going to get next? A Joe Thornton four-goal game.

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