Washington Capitals v Philadelphia Flyers

Thoughts on Thoughts” is a feature that looks at Elliotte Friedman’s terrific weekly post “30 Thoughts.” Justin Bourne selects his 10 favourite tidbits, and elaborates.

Last editionDallas is team to watch at NHL trade deadline (full Friedman edition here)

Friedman’s column, April 12th: NHL players in Sochi Olympics won’t come cheap

Opening:

In this week’s opener Friedman explains some of the financial complications that come along with the NHL and IIHF agreeing to have professionals participate in the 2014 Olympics. There are issues like travel (likely a couple million-plus to charter flights for NHLers to get to the games), and insurance (all the long-term contracts means you’re in another couple million to ensure if a player gets hurt in the games he gets his money), and yada yada yada.

Honestly, and maybe I’m naive here, but I just can’t see how a handful of millions could derail the process, let alone be more than a speedbump. Knowing the amount of money there is to be made by those involved – TV rights, jersey sales, ticket revenue and beyond – I have a hard time seeing how this doesn’t get tidied up fairly easily.

That said, that’s the most outsider-y outsiders perspective of all time, and I truly have no clue what the fine details are, so much like I was (and others were) during the lockout, I’m in full “Whatever man, just fix this” mode.

***

1. I couldn’t help thinking of Calgary when Jean-Sebastien Giguere ripped the Colorado Avalanche’s give-a-care meter. The Flames were criticized for talking about playoffs next season because fans believed it showed a lack of commitment toward a true rebuild. Giguere was angry because no matter what a team’s record, the players and the organization should never allow losing to become acceptable. When you’re developing, say, a Sven Baertschi or a Nathan MacKinnon, that’s the tone that must be set. Maybe “playoffs” wasn’t the right word, but it’s the right mentality.

Yeah, I’m fully on board with this. How are you supposed to mentally get up for every game knowing your team doesn’t actually give a shit about winning during the current season?

This reminds me of a hockey school I used to attend, and eventually taught at, Dave Roy’s Edge of Excellence in Kelowna, BC. Roy was the Dallas Stars skating coach for awhile, and I believe worked with a few other NHL teams as well. One of the things he had players do was find their limits and break through them. As in, when you’re doing crossovers around circles (lower body angled in, shoulders level), push your speed to the point that you fall. Push, fall, push, fall, push, fall (when everyone is falling you’re less self-conscious). That development is the only way you get comfortable going faster, and it’s how you learn ways to fall less and push past your current best.

For prospects, if they’re not in games where they’re pushing themselves to be more than their current bests, to get better, to rise higher, they just won’t get better. You’re going through the motions. Even if your management doesn’t sincerely want to win every game on the way in, the players damn well should.

By the way, fun fact: after Shea Weber’s year playing Junior B in Sicamous (I believe he was 15), he attended Edge of Excellence, and I was one of his instructors (which is funny, because I think I may have played in the same jr. league either that year or the year before as a 17 year old). He was already my size (and I wasn’t small), and he deeeeefinitely skated better than me. Still, you can’t watch your own golf swing, so hopefully I didn’t waste too much of his time.

3. I talked to general manager David Poile about Nashville’s need to build offence. The Predators have the lowest “one-goal game” winning percentage in the NHL and are the victim of eight shutouts, also 30th. I asked Poile if he’d consider trading Shea Weber once the post-offer sheet moratorium ends in July: “We have a franchise goaltender and the best defenceman in the NHL … We are building our team around them.”

The Nashville Predators are a pretty remarkable franchise in that they’ve never really had that star offensive player who becomes the face of the franchise. That’s pretty crazy 15 years in. Usually expansion teams will struggle for a good number of years as the Preds did, so they’ll get some high picks, and end up with a situation like Ilya Kovalchuk in Atlanta, Rick Nash in Columbus, or something. The all-time leading scorer in Preds history: David Legwand, with 501 points in 846 games. Man, could one of their prospects turn out to be an NHL stud please? Just one? For the fans there?

7. One player a few teams were disappointed they couldn’t get: Boyd Gordon. Phoenix Coyotes want to keep him.

No offense to Boyd Gordon, who’s a good depth center that can win draws and plug a roster hole in a respectable manner, but I really believe this speaks to how hard it is to add difference-making talent (which is why Pittsburgh’s deadline week haul was so impressive). There aren’t too many teams out there sinking their tee into the ground on the fourth tee box in the summer going “We had all the pieces, if only we’d had a Boyd Gordon.”

Again, no disrespect to Boyd, a quality NHL player, just pointing out how hard it is to get a guy who can truly alter the game without overpaying on deadline day or during the free agency frenzy.

9. For all of the craziness in Vancouver, here are two numbers to know about the Canucks. They have allowed 62 even-strength goals. That’s seventh best in the NHL. Of the last five Stanley Cup winners, only the Chicago Blackhawks were not in the Top 10 (Los Angeles Kings, Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings were second). Also, Canucks goaltender Cory Schneider is fourth among starters in even-strength save percentage. That’s where L.A.’s Jonathan Quick was last year. Tim Thomas ranked first for Boston in 2011. The Chris Higgins injury really hurts, but I’m curious to see how good this Canucks team is with Henrik Sedin, Kesler and Roy down the middle.

Lately I’ve been turning my attention to the Canucks too, because damned if they don’t just sort of keep ho-hum winning. I mean, I know their division isn’t exactly the Atlantic (ooo, 2013 is a bad year to use the Atlantic as a measuring stick, but you get the point), but they’re playing other teams in the West and just sort of…winning.

What’s scary about them in the playoffs is that they seem like a cat batting at a bug they’ve caught and intend to kill, but don’t seem in a rush to actually do it. Have you ever seen a cat do this? They’ll have a live insect or whatever under their paw, will be essentially sitting on it, but will still be looking around at other things. Ho-hum, I have this thing’s life in my hands. And then, homp, it’s over. If the Canucks get healthy enough come playoffs, they have great goaltending, a d-corp that can play hockey and a pretty darn decent group of forwards. Beyond your Sedins and Kesler, guys like Higgins and Booth and Raymond are solid players all over the ice. I could see the Canucks flipping the switch and *homp*, finishing off some playoff opponents instead of just toying with them.

11. Could Toronto and Vancouver still do a deal if they wanted? Several years ago, one GM was so angry at a compatriot that he promised never to do business with him again. Next season, the two sides made a trade. When I asked what happened, the answer: “Our assistants did it.” There you go.

I’m consistently floored by the dick-measuring contests that seem to go on behind the scenes in hockey (hell, all sports) when it comes to this stuff. I remember tweeting something to the affect of “GMs are pros, aren’t going to hold some petty grudge and try to screw over some opposing franchise if it isn’t the best thing for their group just because of something that happened in the past.” I forget why I felt qualified to make a comment like that, I’m guessing because I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Apparently, I’m too much of an idealist.

Patrick Burke responded fairly simply if I recall, saying something like “Actually, yes, they will.”

Oh.

12. NHL contracts cannot be renegotiated once signed, but there is a potential loophole. In 1998, months after Glenn and Suzie Healy welcomed their first child, Meagan, Toronto demoted Glenn to the Chicago Wolves of the AHL because Curtis Joseph and Felix Potvin were with the big club. Healy’s initial reaction was to go all Johnny Paycheck on Leafs executive Ken Dryden, but he received a phone call from then-NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow warning him there was precedence for a goalie’s contract to be voided for refusing to report. (Glenn wouldn’t say, but I believe it was Vincent Riendeau in Boston). This will get sorted out, but if Luongo was serious about walking away from $40 million, well, that’s the way to do it.

This seems like a fun excuse to tell a fun story about my Dad’s early days in the NHL. Apologies if I get some fine details wrong here, Pops:

Dad’s first deal with the Islanders was a three year deal worth $17, $19 and $21 thousand dollars, I believe spanning 1974-77. As Elliot mentioned, you aren’t supposed to renegotiate deals up or down, and actually, these days you probably couldn’t do it if you wanted to. But then it wasn’t quite so tight, and the Islanders were impressed enough with Dad that they came to him after the first year and bumped him up to $21 and $23 thousand over the last two years of his contract. Just, willingly. Could you imagine that happening now? “Great work, here’s more money despite you not asking for it.”

15. There was some surprise Murray would trade Bishop to one of next season’s divisional opponents. It sounds like he did it for three reasons: first, Tampa made the best offer. Second, Murray knew Bishop and Yzerman had a bit of a relationship. When he traded Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly, it was to places he knew they’d be happy. If you treat the organization right, Murray believes the organization should treat you right. Finally, when you believe you have two better goalies, you should be fine in the long-term, even though Bishop beat Ottawa Tuesday night.

Barring a very special, unique situation where you’re clearly one of the two best teams in your division or conference and dealing with the other one, I can’t fathom ever accepting a lesser deal in a trade based on who the other team is. It basically ends at “Tampa made the best offer” for me. Your job is take care of one thing: make your team the best it can be. If you’re better on Day B than you were on Day A, you’re better, cut and dried. You’re more likely to beat other teams around the league and climb the standings. It’s the most sports thing ever: all you can do is take care of yourself, and there’s rarely any use in worrying about your opponent’s situation.

17. When I asked the same question to Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen, he said: “Credit to Scott Howson for giving us pieces we could trade for Marian Gaborik.” Remember when Pat Burns and Barry Melrose feuded during the 1993 playoffs? Burns didn’t like it, saying that coaching was a small fraternity and they had to look out for each other. I thought of those comments when Kekalainen graciously said that.

From what I can tell, Kekalainen seems to Kek-a-lot-of-ass as a guy. The hockey community is craaaazy small. I know you’re reading that and thinking “30 teams, leagues around the world, minor leagues, college, junior, blah blah blah,” but dude: tiny. If you play in a few leagues on a few teams, somehow you end up with at least a handshake relationship with half the guys on half the teams, with one or two degrees of separation from the rest. And when you get out and into management, it only makes sense to be respectful of others, because like in high school, word travels fast, people like to gossip, and apparently people hold grudges. If I’m hiring a guy to run my team, I want someone gracious enough to make comments like Kekalainen.

19. The New York Rangers rushed someone to Gaborik’s apartment so he could sign the waiver allowing a trade to Columbus. It had to be physically done before the 3 p.m. ET trade deadline.

I’d sure love to hear more about what went on behind the scenes in New York. I mean, I know John Tortorella can be abrasive and was constantly sending Gaborik “SCORE MORE FOR US” messages via his in-game use, but you’d have to think a lot was happening for a guy to say “sure I’ll pass up living in one of the greatest cities on earth with a pretty solid roster and shot to win” to go to a place like Columbus. And I don’t mean that as a shot at the Jackets or their city, but I think even their fans would acknowledge it’s a pretty crazy lifestyle change, and that CBJ’s NHL history doesn’t exactly shine bright like a diamond.

29. A few tweeters asked about post-game comments I made regarding PK Subban and the Norris Trophy for top defenceman. Here is the issue. Through Tuesday, Subban is playing 17:18 minutes per night at even strength. That’s 89th in the NHL. Among recent Norris winners, Duncan Keith was second, Erik Karlsson fifth and Zdeno Chara sixth. Since 2005, Nicklas Lidstrom finished 16th, 17th, 20th, and, in his final victory at age 41, 105th, which, incidentally, was Subban’s ranking last Saturday. If Subban continues to move up the chart, it will increase his candidacy. He’s improving and is going to be a great player, but recent history (the great Lidstrom’s last season aside) says you’ve got to play the toughest minutes to win.

If there’s one thing that traditional hockey fans and fans of advanced analytics agree on, it’s that time-on-ice is a telling indicator of a player’s value. The best defensemen in the league are the guys that their team can’t afford to not have on the ice. They’re on the powerplay, get ‘em out there. On the kill, “can you go?” They’re the guys the coach is constantly looking down the bench at, using as a crutch because when they’re out there, it’s one less thing to worry about. PK Subban is not that guy right now, playing 17-18 minutes a night.

He is, however, a fantastic player and worthy of much praise, but I just can’t see the Norris going to a guy who isn’t more important to his team’s success. We’ll have more on Subban later this morning, from Cam Charron.