• Are healthy scratches for “trade-related reasons” a problem?
• Where is Patrick Kane willing to go?
• The Remington Group’s interesting NHL history as they bid for Senators
Scariest time of the year to write. So much can change with one phone call, and I come across looking even dumber than usual.
With that in mind, here goes:
Everyone’s wondering about Jakob Chychrun. It’s now four days since Arizona scratched him for “trade-related reasons.” We’ve seen players leave teams while waiting to be moved (Jonathan Drouin from Tampa Bay in 2016; Felix Potvin from Toronto in 1998). But it’s extremely rare to have an organization announce something is coming, then hold on to a player this long.
Fitting for planet Earth in 2023, there are wild conspiracy theories:
• That, initially, Chychrun was not sat in advance of a trade, he was benched for being victimized on Caleb Jones’ overtime winner last Friday night in Chicago’s 4-3 win over Arizona. (I’m not buying this one.)
• That Chychrun was not sat for an immediate deal, but “bubble-wrapped” because he suffered a (very minor) twinge and Arizona doesn’t want to risk it. Several clubs believe this to be the case, and you can see how it is possible.
Chychrun’s done his job. He’s 11th among defencemen in points per game and is plus-10 at five-on-five for a team that is minus-25. His trade value will never be higher, and he’d like this saga to end. Both player and team benefit from this kind of a decision.
A lot of the focus is on Los Angeles, and for good reason. The Kings and Coyotes have danced around Chychrun for quite some time, with talks heating and cooling at different points. In addition to everything else, Los Angeles likes that Chychrun has term — preferring that to an unsigned rental.
Several sources warned last weekend not to proclaim a trade to Los Angeles as close to completion, and they were right. Where the information breaks down is why the two sides haven’t been able to close. One theory is simple: that the Kings have a standing offer, and the Coyotes don’t like it enough to accept. Another is more complicated: that some contracts needed to be moved, and the two sides couldn’t make it work. Whatever the case, too late to make a Valentine’s Day match.
The Kings have made it clear — both internally and externally — that Quinton Byfield and Brandt Clarke will not be traded.
So if not the Kings, then who? Boston’s considered the idea, but I don’t know how likely that is. Other clubs that make sense, but appear to be out, include Edmonton, Florida and Toronto. I’ve wondered about Winnipeg. But, as you may have seen on Twitter, Columbus makes a lot of sense.
The Blue Jackets pulled Vladislav Gavrikov from the lineup — also for trade-related reasons. We’re now more than 24 hours since that happened, and I spend waaaaaay too much time on social media to believe in coincidences. Columbus absolutely can pay the price Arizona covets (not including its 2023 first-rounder, of course) and would have even more asset power should Gavrikov be traded first.
The issue: I don’t think Chychrun would be happy. At all. That’s an enormous sell job for the Blue Jackets, especially because he was promised a trade to a contender. Columbus wants to send a message to its fans that this season was unacceptable, but it’s a long road back.
So, we wait. So does Chychrun, and every second must be excruciating.
1. A couple people have asked if this trade included Karel Vejmelka. As you would expect, I believe his name came up. We’ll see what happens, but early indications are that it made the move much too complex.
2. Gavrikov doesn’t fit the Kings, unless he agrees to an extension. But he’s gotten interest from Boston, Edmonton and Toronto to some degree. (Always assume there are others I don’t think of, or uncover.) The other rental lefty I wonder about for this group is Seattle’s Carson Soucy. The Kraken aren’t Krazy about simply letting him walk.
3. From a competitive standpoint, where does this take us? Because Chychrun seems comfortable with Arizona’s move, the NHLPA probably wouldn’t interfere. Commissioner Gary Bettman has brushed aside questions about players sitting out, but those were occasions where the trade came quickly. This is uncharted territory. Some executives and coaches pointed out that both the Blue Jackets (Minnesota twice, Winnipeg, Dallas, Edmonton, Buffalo) and Coyotes (Tampa Bay, Los Angeles, Calgary, Nashville, Dallas) are playing teams either battling for the playoffs or jostling for seeding/home-ice advantage. One, maaaaaaybe two games would be understood. But we go longer, and there is a legitimate discomfort. Coach Andre Tourigny has the Coyotes playing hard, though.
4. Before we get back to more deadline considerations, wanted to address a continuing story. On Wednesday, Diamond Sports Group announced it would skip a $140-million payment, thereby entering a 30-day grace period that most likely leads to a bankruptcy filing. It’s not the most front-facing sports story, but it is a monumental business development.
Many of our great U.S.-based fans watch regional NHL games on Bally’s, which is owned by Diamond. This collapse is being felt across hockey, MLB and the NBA with more than 40 teams and almost $1.8 billion in rights fees at risk. The NHL had a Board of Governors meeting hours after the announcement. Best I can gather, there is still no absolute clarity where this is going. The good news is teams are expecting to be paid for the time being, the bad news is, apparently, some teams have been warned it will not be the full amount.
The worst-case scenario is that a bankruptcy allows Bally’s (or whoever ends up controlling it) to walk away from everything, but the more likely outcome seems to be that it will pick and choose what it wants to keep and what it may drop or try to restructure. So, if you’re a valuable regional property, you feel as good as you can. If not, you’re sweating unless these leagues come up with a good backup plan.
And, we also worry about a potential effect on the cap. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, speaking in Phoenix, said, “Obviously, our first choice would be that Diamond pay the clubs what they’re contractually obligated to pay them, but because I guess I’m a contingency planner by nature, we are prepared no matter what happens to make sure that games are available to fans in their local markets.” He added that MLB could sell games to other providers, but admitted it would be very difficult to equal rights fees that would be lost.
5. Spent a lot of time watching Patrick Kane the last few games. There’s a few things I think here. First and foremost, I think reality setting in has been an enormous shock. No matter what was pitched to him, or what he was told, it sure seems like there was hope/desire to stay at least another season. Barring that, the Rangers were his first choice. Now, we’re not looking at either option, so he’s stunned.
People who know Kane are convinced he’s still got plenty to offer and badly desires to show it somewhere else. Wednesday in Toronto was a perfect opportunity to make a splash on a massive stage, but it was an ugly 5-2 loss. I understand how much losing sucks, and he’s reeling from what’s happening. But he’s got to do two things: let everyone know where he’s willing to go (if anywhere) and put on a show in the meantime. Kane clearly is annoyed about the speculation surrounding his hip, but he’s got to show it’s not an issue.
I think Edmonton’s interested, and has reached out. I think Dallas has considered it. I’ve wondered about Vegas, and my belief is Toronto wants to know whether or not it’s actually in the mix before considering anything. As one GM said Wednesday, “If Patrick Kane is interested in you, you have to think about it.” This is a complicated deal, and I’m not sure how much longer anyone is willing to wait. You don’t want to be the abandoned bride at the altar.
6. It’s quiet on Jonathan Toews until he’s back with the team. There continues to be a lot of discussion around Chicago’s defencemen (aside from Seth Jones), and a bit quieter around the forwards. One team indicated the Blackhawks “swung for the fences” with their ask for Sam Lafferty, which is the right thing to do, although it didn’t go anywhere for now. There’s definitely a belief Max Domi desires to stay.
7. Cole Guttman made his NHL debut for the Blackhawks in Wednesday’s loss. From California, he was selected 180th by Tampa Bay in 2017, won an NCAA title with Denver last season and signed with Chicago in August. But it was fitting he made his debut in Toronto. The Guttman family came to Canada from a German Displaced Persons Camp in 1951. Cole’s paternal grandfather, Joe, was one of nine brothers and sisters who survived the Second World War, along with their parents. Joe married Cole’s grandmother, Fran, and moved west. Cole’s parents took a red-eye to see his debut. The Guttmans ran a golf tournament — Links for Learning — that raised more than $4 million for special-needs children. Great moment for all of them.
8. Toronto GM Kyle Dubas is doing his best to hide his intentions, but I believe he’s looking at a forward. The fourth line has been a mishmash, and whether he adds someone for that spot or aims higher and pushes down another forward to strengthen the overall group — he’s going to address it. That doesn’t mean he won’t consider adding to the blue line, but he’s deeper there than up front.
9. Edmonton is dollar-in and dollar-out. That’s not news. GM Ken Holland is prepared to wait to see the sellers sweat. He’s been doing this since before cavemen invented fire, so he won’t panic. Look at how we’ve been preparing for big Oilers waivers news, and he’s delayed almost a week. (The Lamoriello rule: “If you have time, use it.”) I do think he’s checked on Patrick Kane. They’ve looked into Erik Karlsson, although there is real scepticism San Jose would be willing to eat 40 per cent of that contract until it’s over. Shayne Gostisbehere interests them, although there are other options.
10. Holland has said he’s wary of players who tend to have injury issues, which is why I think he’d hesitate on Joel Edmundson. No doubt Edmundson would cherish that kind of a playoff opportunity, though.
11. Same goes for Tyler Bertuzzi, who Holland drafted in Detroit. As Jeff Marek reported, Dallas and Tampa Bay are there, as well. The Stars are searching for another scorer.
12. At least two teams — Carolina and New Jersey — are pushing on Timo Meier. Undoubtedly, there are more. Toronto has checked-in, everyone’s wondering about Vegas, and one coach said Peter DeBoer’s knowledge from San Jose makes Dallas a factor, although I’ve got no idea if the Stars could do it. (I wonder about Boston. It’s an all-in year for the Bruins, but how much do you want to toy with such a special mix?)
13. Calgary is being careful, realizing this could end up being a summer where the Flames have to redefine who they are. One thing they are looking for: a winger who can open up space for Jonathan Huberdeau to create — like Anthony Duclair did in Florida.
14. One exec on Vladimir Tarasenko: “He’s smiled more in New York than he did all season in St. Louis.” That was the worry on the talented winger, that he was so unhappy it affected his play. The Rangers are so energized by his arrival, that it reminds you how a trade can elevate your team. Your players know ownership and management believe in them; it’s like emotional steroids. During the 2019 Stanley Cup run, Tarasenko played through painful injuries and had moments where he was an absolute bull on ice. He’s happy and playing for a contract. The Rangers are going to benefit.
15. The Blues are 2-0 since that trade, and 11-4 without Tarasenko this season. Still more pieces that interest many — from Ryan O’Reilly to Ivan Barbashev to Noel Acciari.
16. It’s believed the Rangers are looking for as high a draft pick as possible for Vitali Kravtsov.
17. The Remington Group, which got a commitment from Ryan Reynolds to join its ownership bid for the Ottawa Senators, has an interesting history with the NHL. In 2013, a plan of theirs to build a 20,000-seat arena in Markham, Ont. — in hopes of bringing a second team to Toronto — was crushed by city council after residents made it clear public funding for the project would not be well-received at election time. Then, Remington entered into serious discussions to purchase the Arizona Coyotes, but abruptly backed away when unhappy with the real estate potential.
So, immediately there are questions about its interest here — coveting the real estate much more than the team. That’s why it probably made Reynolds a pitch and purchase options other groups weren’t prepared to, knowing the power his public persona has over the process. Our family used to be in the construction business, and everyone knew Remington’s patriarch, Rudy Bratty, was not to be underestimated or trifled with. His children run it now, and they are still formidable. A lot of this comes down to how much everyone’s willing to bid, but one thing the NHL will want to know is: will this ownership be as passionate about the team as some of the other potential buyers?
18. One individual in the running to buy the team said the franchise’s books look “better than (he) expected.” He was sceptical this would be an $800 million purchase, but doesn’t feel that way anymore.
19. The Senators have told teams they won’t trade Alex DeBrincat at the deadline. New ownership will get a run at this, but if there isn’t some degree of certainty at the draft, then we’ll see. I don’t think MacKenzie Weegar is an option now, but we will see how everyone (including the Flames) feel later. Lots of time between then and now, lots of things for both franchises to sort out.
20. I do think Washington is trying to sign Dmitry Orlov.
21. James van Riemsdyk’s interest appears to include Dallas, Minnesota, Vegas and Winnipeg. I don’t believe Philadelphia has any real desire to move Travis Konecny unless it’s a whopper of an offer. The Flyers are looking, however, for centres.
22. As mentioned on the pod, I’ve heard there’s been some talk around Nick Seeler. I can see it: nice contract for another year; low-maintenance guy who plays hard on your third pair. But I don’t believe the Flyers are in a hurry to do that, either.
23. Whether now or at the draft, Minnesota is looking to see what’s out there for Jordan Greenway.
24. Also from Marek: Keep an eye on Valtteri Pulli, a six-foot-six undrafted defenceman from Finland. He’s getting a lot of interest. Can’t sign until after his season, a lot of suspicion Sharks are circling around him.
25. Saturday is the Rangers-Flames rematch from their entertaining, nasty affair at Madison Square Garden. Mark Giordano said he texted Milan Lucic about it post-game. Did you ask him why he let Sammy Blais knock him over? “Oh, he was pretty upset about that,” Giordano said, laughing, and then he paused. “Yeah, he was pretty upset, that’s all I’ll say about that one.” Blais is gone now, but Lucic is going to be wired.
26. In case you missed it: Last week’s Hockey Night in Canada pre-game featured a hilarious moment with Columbus’s Erik Gudbranson. His wife, Sarah, is an excellent athlete, and there was video of her skating prowess. Gudbranson said it’s an old joke at team Christmas skating parties that GMs tell him, “We should have signed her instead.”
27. Toronto was a minus-600 favourite over Chicago for Wednesday’s game. The Action Network’s Michael Leboff said that made the Maple Leafs the fourth-biggest NHL favourite since 2006. The biggest was Colorado on Jan. 21, 2002 — a minus-702 against Montreal. (The Avalanche won, 3-2.) Worst losses: Carolina to Pittsburgh on Feb. 9, 2006, and Dallas to Arizona on April 26, 2022. Both were minus-500.
28. Another friend of the blog, John Davis, sends this one: Since 2018-19, teams playing their first game after the All-Star break are 13-31 if facing someone that had already played. It was 10-31 until St. Louis, Winnipeg and Los Angeles won the last three.
29. Weekly NHLPA update: We appear to be getting close to the Marty Walsh announcement as executive director. During his interviews with the selection committee, Walsh nailed a major rule of public speaking — make an immediate impression. Within a very short time, he rallied the players behind his vision.
30. You probably saw the incredible footage from the special ALS charity game played last week in Gavle, Sweden. In honour of Borje Salming, the event raised more than $1 million for his foundation. One person who was there called it “the most competitive alumni game” he’s ever seen. Players were going hard in Salming’s honour.
31. Monday was the Maple Leafs’ annual Blue and White Gala, and if you’re hosting a charity event, I’d recommend stealing one of the ideas. Several of the players did live “table reads” of famous movie scenes. Michael Bunting (Jack Dawson) and Mark Giordano (Rose DeWitt Bukater) performed the climactic scene in Titanic; Mitch Marner (Duke Calhoun) and John Tavares (Allie Hamilton), an argument from The Notebook; Auston Matthews (Jerry Maguire) and William Nylander (Dorothy Boyd) the “You had me at hello” scene from Jerry Maguire; Justin Holl and Alex Kerfoot, the “Did we just become best friends?” section from Stepbrothers; and T.J. Brodie soloed Liam Neeson’s famous phone call from Taken. (It’s probably the most emotion I’ve ever seen from Brodie.) Nylander, Morgan Rielly and Wayne Simmonds also played a game of Jeopardy. A lot of credit to the players, who embraced the ideas. I include it because the audience loved it, and a happy audience at a charity event is critical.
32. Watching this weekend for the digital release of the movie Drinkwater. Originally made in 1980 by Graham Feaser (who played on the Grimsby Peach Kings about 15 years before Kevin Bieksa did), it was re-written by Graham’s son Luke and released at the 2021 Calgary Film Festival. Starring Eric McCormack, Daniel Doheny and Louriza Tronco, it features cameos by Duncan Keith and Scott Niedermayer as coaches of the Penticton Vees and Vernon Vipers. I’ve heard good things, looking forward to enjoying it.