Cross Checks: P.K. Subban
By then, you know that defenseman P.K. Subban is on one of those rushes up the ice. It’s one thing to watch on TV, but it’s a different sensory experience to be in the rink itself.
When it's one of the better rushes that electrifies the crowd, the chants of "P.K., P.K., P.K." come cascading down from the rafters of the Bell Centre.
The reigning Norris Trophy winner, who once again leads all NHL defensemen in scoring early this season with 11 points (2-9) in nine games, has tried to tone down some of the antics that aggravated traditional hockey people when he entered the league. But at the end of the day, he only knows how to play the game one way.
"But in terms of how I play my game, I haven't changed much. I've grown as a person, I think I've matured a little bit, and I still have more maturing to do just like most players, especially young players. But I still play the game like I always have."
He's a polarizing figure, to be sure. Bring up his name with hockey people around the league and you get two extremes in opinions. Some absolutely love his explosive game and the way he backs up opposing teams and impacts games, while some old-school folks don't appreciate what they believe is an over-the-top, "flamboyant" demeanor on the ice, as one scout put it to ESPN.com.
His Norris Trophy nod last season created mixed reactions around the league. There are people who believe Ryan Suter should have won, pointing out in particular that Subban didn't kill a lot of penalties last season and didn't have the kind of all-around season that Suter had in Minnesota.
On the other hand, it's hardly new territory that a blueliner with a big offensive season won the Norris; that's often been the case in the past. But there's no question the last thing Subban himself expected was a Norris Trophy so early in his career.
"You know what, I didn't [expect it], I have to be honest with you," 24-year-old Subban said. "Especially last year, the first game of the year comes and I'm sitting on my couch without a contract. The last thing on my mind was that I was going to come back and win the Norris. But when I look at it, and look at my preparation for last season, I believe I prepared better than most players.
"Even though I missed the first two weeks of the season, I was in tip-top shape," Subban continued. "I worked out twice a day, skating every day, throughout the whole lockout. I was in peak condition. When I hit the ice, I’m sure a lot of people thought I would be coming in out of shape because I was sitting at home waiting for my contract and that I wouldn't be sharp; they were wrong, I was sharp and I was ready and I was in good shape."
Subban tied for the NHL lead among defensemen with 38 points (11-27) in 42 games while sporting a plus-12 rating and playing 23:14 a game. He missed the first six games of the season because of a contract dispute with the Habs, one in which the dividing line was Subban wanting a long-term deal and general manager Marc Bergevin standing firm that Subban's second contract would be a short one, just like Carey Price and Max Pacioretty.
Both Price and Pacioretty signed two-year deals out of their entry-level years before getting longer-term security with their third contracts. In the end, Subban also submitted.
The flip side now is that Subban and powerful agent Don Meehan of Newport Sports will have a Norris Trophy under their belt when the two-year deal expires after this season. The Newport firm has negotiated long-term deals for other young blueliners such as Drew Doughty ($7 million per year), Erik Karlsson ($6.5 million) and Alex Pietrangelo ($6.5 million), so you can imagine where the conversation will begin when the two sides get serious in talks.
"But we've got lots of time for that. At the end of the day, my focus has to be on hockey. If Montreal comes to me with something, then we’ll sit and talk. As of right now, I'm just focused on hockey and I haven't heard much. And this is probably the most I've said about it all year. I'm just going to continue to play."
There’s another debate percolating around Subban, too, involving his potential place on Team Canada.
"Geez, he's an awful good player. I don't know how he’s not on that team," one Western Conference team executive said.
On one hand, how can you not want a player with his dynamic skating ability on the larger international ice? On the flip side, there's concern among some about Subban's high-risk style of play in a tournament where the smallest mistakes can be the difference between winning and losing.
At play as well is the ridiculous depth Team Canada has to choose from when it comes to right-handed defensemen: Dougthy, Pietrangelo and Shea Weber to start with, then Kris Letang, Dan Boyle, Brent Seabrook and Mike Green, among others.
Certainly, Subban fits right in that discussion near the top choices.
"It's a good problem to have if you're Team Canada," Subban said. "They have so many players to pick from. Obviously I want to be on the team, I've won gold medals while playing for my country before [world juniors], all I can do is hope for it. But there's a lot of great players to choose from."
All things being equal, it seems hard to imagine that if Subban is leading all NHL blueliners in scoring, or close to it, come mid-December, that he won't somehow be among the eight D-men in Sochi for Canada.
"At the end of the day, Steve Yzerman has played a long time in the NHL, he's one of the most respected players to play the game, he's had a great career, and he's a very smart and intelligent individual," Subban said. "All I can do is play my game, do the best that I can, and hope that I get the opportunity to represent my country.
"A lot of people will say to me, 'Well, P.K., you won the Norris Trophy, there's no way you can't be on the team.' Well, at the end of the day, I don't make those decisions, I don't look into those things. All I can do is help my team win every night and hopefully I get noticed. I don't pick the team."
And Subban insists it won’t affect his play one iota.
"I don't have many distractions," Subban said. "Would there have been a bigger distraction last year than coming in six games late with our team 5-1 and I'm back from a contract negotiation? I'm sure you can imagine what the distractions would have been in Montreal at that point. But it never bothered me.
"I highly doubt that the selection of Team Canada will bother me, either."
Subban does know for sure that there's nowhere else he'd rather be.
"It's a very special place playing in Montreal," he said. "It doesn't matter how my day went or how I felt coming to the rink. The moment we come out to start the game, it's like you're in a different world. It's unbelievable. It's a feeling you can only experience playing in Montreal. Every time I step on that ice it gives me energy."
It was my TSN colleague and former NHL winger Mike Johnson who summed it up best on Thursday when discussing P.K. Subban, saying he’s one of the most polarizing players in the NHL.
The latest debate about Subban surfaced after his late-game penalty Wednesday night in Calgary cost the Montreal Canadiens a realistic chance to try and tie the game.
And yet, in that same game, Subban was electric, easily the best player on the ice for either team, his end-to-end rushes and rocket of a goal a reminder of how dynamic he is as a player.
But in a nutshell, that evening’s game was what you get sometimes with Subban: sensational play with a sprinkle of a bad penalty or two.
If Subban can learn to control his emotions, there’s no telling how good this guy can be. His name will find its way on the Norris Trophy more than once if he can channel that passion.
And to me, it’s a no-brainer: Subban has to be on the Canadian Olympic team going to Sochi. You have to be able to live with the odd penalty or defensive mistake when you’re weighing the kind of impact Subban would bring offensively on the big ice.
Subban felt bad for his late-game penalty in Calgary. He responded the best way he could, with a three-assist performance Thursday night in Edmonton in a 4-1 victory. That’s the Subban the Habs want to see every night.
BURNSIDE: Well, my friend, thanks to the lockout the annual NHL awards extravaganza in Las Vegas has been revamped and spread over two days during the Stanley Cup finals, with the first batch of winners unveiled Friday afternoon. The balance of the major awards will be revealed Saturday before Game 2 of the finals. Let’s take a look at the three significant awards handed out Friday.
For me, the Selke was the most compelling because it was really a two-man race between Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and defending Selke winner Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins. Toews and Bergeron are the heart-and-soul leaders of their teams, and Toews edged Bergeron for his first-ever Selke by a scant 10 voting points. I know you thought Toews should have been a finalist for the Hart Trophy (as league MVP), but he’s certainly deserving of the Selke, which some folks consider one of the most prestigious awards in the game given that it recognizes a player's complete game. Now, what will be interesting is which of these two great forwards ends up wearing a Stanley Cup ring in the next couple of weeks. What was your take on the Selke voting?
BURNSIDE: I fear you and I might come to blows when the Hart Trophy winner --and the NHLPA companion, the Ted Lindsay Award -- are announced, but I can certainly understand the Hart Trophy discussion as it relates to Toews. That’s how important he is to the Blackhawks. And I agree entirely on MacLean. This is the second year in a row he was on the final ballot for coach of the year, and he easily outdistanced the second-place finisher, Joel Quenneville of the Chicago Blackhawks. Bruce Boudreau of the Washington Capitals was third.
The Jack Adams is a tough one because often it goes to a coach who gets his team to overachieve or does more with less, but there’s no question MacLean's job in keeping his team on track without Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza and Craig Anderson for long stretches of time reinforces that he is one of the keenest coaching minds in the league.
The other award of note announced Friday was the GM of the Year, and the Pittsburgh Penguins' Ray Shero earned that honor. I’m sure he’d rather his Pens were still engaged in playoff hockey, but he is full value for the honor given the moves he has made dating back to last June’s blockbuster trade of Jordan Staal to Carolina, and continuing through his trade deadline acquisitions of Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray and Jussi Jokinen, even if those deals didn't quite pay off the way Shero had imagined.
LEBRUN: People no doubt will question Shero winning given how the Pens were dominated in being swept by Boston in the Eastern Conference finals, but you have to understand that these are regular-season awards. To me, Shero is absolutely deserving and one of the very top GMs in the game. What I found curious, though, is that Scott Howson, fired as GM in Columbus early in the season, received two third-place votes, while Greg Sherman in Colorado also got a third-place vote. Um, are the GMs not taking their voting duties seriously? Honestly.
BURNSIDE: I will point out that Martin St. Louis won the Lady Byng Trophy as the league’s most gentlemanly player for the third time in the past four years. I know you were anxious about how that award voting was going to go. Saturday will be interesting, though, as there are rumors that P.K. Subban is going to win the Norris Trophy, which boggles my mind more than a little given the season Ryan Suter had in Minnesota. And I know there’s going to be lots of debate if Ovechkin does walk away with the Hart, but we'll have plenty of time to kick that around on Saturday.
LEBRUN: In defense of voters, I will say it was a challenging ballot for many voters given that the Eastern Conference and Western Conference did not play each other during the lockout-shortened season. So voters were limited somewhat in what they were able to witness firsthand from night to night. That's why I reached out to a bunch of scouts, who travel the most, to help form my opinion on the awards I voted on.
And we shall indeed see what Saturday brings, my friend.
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- In the middle of a hotly contested playoff series and with a crucial game in the offing, individual awards may seem relatively inconsequential.
But when it was revealed Tuesday morning that Ryan Suter was a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman, it was a form of vindication for both the player who made the heartbreaking decision to leave the only team he'd known in the Nashville Predators for the franchise that wagered $98 million in salary and 13 years of term that Suter was the kind of player who could help transform an organization.
After a brief period of transition at the start of the lockout-shortened season, the Minnesota Wild's Suter has been the league's best defenseman. He led the NHL in total ice time per game at 27:16, was second among defensemen in assists and third in points.
With all due respect to Kris Letang and P.K. Subban, the other finalists for the Norris, if Suter does not win the award it will be a major surprise.
If you talk with Suter's coaches, teammates and opponents, you find a universal respect for his skill set. He is not a bruising force like Shea Weber, his former partner in Nashville, or Niklas Kronwall in Detroit. He may not be the game's swiftest skater -- both Subban and Letang possess explosive speed. But Suter is the complete package in a way both understated and impressive and reminiscent of former Detroit Red Wings great Nicklas Lidstrom.
One Western Conference GM spoke recently about the ease with which Suter plays as much as he does, almost always against opposing teams' top players. Earlier in the postseason, players in another series were marveling at Suter's performance in Game 1 of the Wild's series against the Chicago Blackhawks, when he played 41:08.
Wild coach Mike Yeo said it's a shame most Norris voters don't get to see Suter up close and appreciate how important he is to the Wild.
"You don't realize what a good person this is," Yeo said. "You don't realize what a tremendous leader he is, the character that he has. He's been a huge part obviously with his play, but as much with his attitude, his character and his personality in really helping our organization take a big step."
Suter and Zach Parise shocked the hockey world last summer when they signed identical 13-year deals with the Wild worth $98 million apiece. In making the move, Suter left the team that drafted and nurtured him and Weber, his longtime defense partner and a former Norris Trophy finalist himself. There were questions about whether Suter could assume the kind of leadership role that he did not necessarily have to play in Nashville given the large shadow cast by Weber.
Yet, as the season wore on, the Wild asked more and more of Suter, including partnering him with rookie Jonas Brodin. While he was not a finalist for the Calder Trophy, Brodin's evolution has been dramatic and much of it can be traced to his proximity to Suter.
Although Suter has yet to record a point in the series, he has been playing shift for shift against the Blackhawks' top line of Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and rookie-of-the-year nominee Brandon Saad and has helped stifled its point-production.
"When you play against him for a few years, you kind of see everything that he brings to the table," teammate Kyle Brodziak said. "He's strong, a good skater and very smart. He pretty much has all the elements you need to be a good hockey player. Can't say that he exceeded expectations, but they were pretty high coming in."
"He's very calm. It's good to have in the locker room," Brodziak added. "He's definitely a guy that doesn't get rattled, and that's important in a game where the emotions get so high. To have a guy that is able to stay composed in those types of scenarios, it's very important for your hockey team."
Not surprisingly, the low-key Suter was more interested in talking about Tuesday's Game 4 than individual honors.
"I'm really honored, I really am. But my focus isn't on that," Suter said. "Maybe someday looking back I say, 'Wow.' But it's preparing for tonight. It's going to be more intense than last game and the game before. Keeping my mind focused on the game is the most important thing."
It was an exciting time, the club with one of its strongest regular seasons in history and GM David Poile adding parts before the trade deadline to help the cause.
A disappointing second-round exit to Phoenix left a sour taste for the Predators, but no one at that time could even pretend to predict what the landscape would look like just a year later.
Completely out of the playoffs?
"Without a doubt, it’s been a tough year for us, especially with some of our top guys going down," Predators captain Shea Weber told ESPN.com Wednesday. "We battled hard but in the end we obviously couldn’t pull it together and get in."
These have to be soul-searching moments for Weber, who last summer saw his star defense partner, Ryan Suter, leave for Minnesota, then almost exited himself after signing a $110 million, 14-year offer sheet with the Philadelphia Flyers only to see the Predators match.
As of Wednesday morning, Weber was 16th among NHL defensemen with 23 points (eight goals) while ranking sixth in ice time at 26 minute per game. It’s not a bad season at all, but under the specter of the contract he signed, it's likely not enough for some.
"Obviously, we didn’t get into the playoffs, that means it didn’t go well for anyone," Weber responded when asked to talk about his own performance. "You can say that guys did well personally all you want, but if you’re not in the playoffs, if you’re not playing for the Stanley Cup, then things didn’t go as well as they should have."
Hard to ignore what old pal Suter is up to in Minnesota, where his 32 points (4-28) are second only to P.K. Subban among NHL defensemen, and there’s much talk about Suter for the Norris Trophy.
Which further illustrates how much the Predators lost when he walked as a free agent last summer. But it’s a stretch to pin Suter’s loss entirely on why the Predators missed the playoffs.
"Losing him is obviously going to affect the team, I don’t think it’s the reason we didn’t make the playoffs," said Weber. "He’s obviously a very good player and he’s done well this year. But I think there’s obviously a lot of other reasons you can attribute to why we’re sitting on the outside looking in."
Reason No. 1: offense, or lack thereof. The Predators are dead last in the NHL in goals per game (2.23) just a season after placing eighth overall at 2.83.
"Yes, that’s one of the biggest things, compared to how many goals we scored last year," said Weber. "I have trouble comprehending why we couldn’t [score this season]. We didn’t really have a big roster turnover. The goal drop is tough to put a finger on."
Injuries up front to the likes of Colin Wilson, Gabriel Bourque and Patric Hornqvist certainly explain part of the offensive drop, but not all of it. More was expected from the likes of Craig Smith and Sergei Kostitsyn, too.
In the end, like many of the teams that won’t make the playoffs, there’s also the danger of overreacting to a lockout-shortened season, where strange things have happened.
"You don’t want to overreact, but you want to be realistic and sit back at the end of the year to see if maybe a thing or two could have made the difference in getting into the playoffs," said Weber. "Obviously, if there’s things that need to change and be fixed, then I think that’s when you make those decisions."
After the trade deadline, I was doing a hit on a Nashville radio station and got blindsided by a question when the host asked me if Martin Erat’s trade request was reflective of team disharmony in the dressing room.
I had no clue, I said.
But I shared that with Weber, who said the Erat situation was isolated and not representative of anything bigger.
"A lot of guys didn’t even know about that," Weber said of Erat, who was dealt to Washington for highly prized prospect Filip Forsberg. "He went about his business and obviously had a conversation with David Poile, he decided he wanted to go. If he doesn’t want to be here, then he has to move on. I don’t think there’s any issue in this locker room. You can talk to any of the guys, everyone likes each other here, it’s like a family. We come to play every night but obviously things didn’t go as well as we wanted this year."
CROSBY, SUBBAN AND BOBROVSKY NAMED NHL ‘THREE STARS’ FOR MARCH
NEW YORK (April 1, 2013) – Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby, Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban and Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky have been named the NHL’s “Three Stars” for the month of March.
FIRST STAR – SIDNEY CROSBY, C, PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
Crosby led the League with 19 assists and 25 points as the Penguins became the first team in NHL history to post a perfect calendar month (minimum, 10 games). He also tied linemate Pascal Dupuis for first in the League with a +19 rating. Crosby recorded points in 12 of 15 games, including eight multi-point efforts, and had two point streaks of five or more games. He also matched a career high with five assists against the New York Islanders March 10, becoming the only active player with more than one five-assist game in his career (his other such game was 12/13/06 vs.
Philadelphia). The 25-year-old Cole Harbour, N.S., native leads the NHL with 41 assists and 56 points in 36 games this season. He also ranks second in the League with a +26 rating and 14 power-play assists.
SECOND STAR – P.K. SUBBAN, D, MONTREAL CANADIENS
Subban led all defensemen with 18 points (7-11—18) in 14 games and paced all skaters with 11 power-play points (4-7—11). He collected points in nine of 14 games, including seven multi-point outings, and recorded a career-high three assists at the Florida Panthers March 10 – a number he then matched against the New York Rangers March 30. Subban’s seven goals were the most in one month by a Canadiens defenseman since Mathieu Schneider had seven in February 1994. The 23-year-old Toronto, Ont., native leads all NHL blueliners with 10 goals and ranks third among defensemen with 27 points in 28 games this season. His six power-play goals are tied for first among defensemen, while his 18 power-play points rank third in the League overall.
THIRD STAR – SERGEI BOBROVSKY, G, COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Bobrovsky led the NHL with three shutouts and also ranked second in wins (nine), goals-against average (1.49) and save percentage (.950) as Columbus posted its most successful month in franchise history (10-2-4). He allowed one goal or fewer in 10 of his 14 appearances, recording his first career shutout against the Detroit Red Wings March 9. Bobrovsky made 30 or more saves on seven occasions and tied his season high with 39 stops in consecutive games – a 2-1 shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks March 14 and a 1-0 shootout victory over the Phoenix Coyotes March 16. The 24-year-old Novokuznetsk, Russia, native is 12-8-6 in 26 games this season, ranking second in the League with a .927 save percentage and eighth with a
2.13 goals-against average.
BURNSIDE: And just like that, P.K. Subban is back in the Montreal Canadiens’ fold after signing a two-year deal worth $5.75 million. That’s not $5.75 million a year, that’s a total over the two years. In today’s NHL, that’s downright bargain basement and in the short term it’s hard not to figure that rookie Montreal GM Marc Bergevin, faced with his first personnel crisis, held firm on an important asset and didn’t commit to a term he didn’t want and didn’t commit to a salary cap he didn’t want. Of course, getting Subban under contract and back on the ice is just the first shoe dropping in what promises to be an ongoing saga with Subban. How does this deal, one that Subban clearly wasn’t anticipating at the outset of negotiations, affect future negotiations? What are the chances Bergevin can lock Subban up long-term before Subban becomes an unrestricted free agent? Will it matter if the Habs win their first Stanley Cup since 1993? OK, I threw in the Stanley Cup win question just for fun. So, what’s your take, my friend?
LEBRUN: Scotty, the way the deal is broken down, it’s $2 million for this season (prorated over 44 games) and $3.75 million next season. And that’s key for Subban, who gets the bulk of his cash in a full 82-game season next season. It’s also important because it makes his qualifying offer higher than his average salary. In the end, though, no other way to look at this than Bergevin showing incredible resiliency in his first real test as a young GM in a pressure cooker of a town. With the Habs starting strong at 3-1-0, most notably their power play going really well at 27.3 percent, it gave Bergevin leverage. Subban knew he wasn’t going to be able to outwait Bergevin.
"I think at this point it was the right decision for me to make," Subban said on a conference call with media Monday night.
And I would also give a lot of credit to veteran agent Don Meehan of Newport Sports. He’s a deal-maker; he knows from his years and years in the business when it’s time to end a contract stalemate. He senses the right time to fight and the right time to negotiate. My guess is Meehan’s input/advice for Subban -- along with that of Mark Guy, Subban's other agent -- was to take the two-year deal and realize that he’ll make more money with more term next time around. Which he will.
BURNSIDE: I think it’s going to be fascinating to watch Subban’s progression through the rest of this lockout-shortened season and then through next season. The assumption is that Subban’s payday is coming, just a little later than he’d hoped for. But with Andrei Markov back and playing like the Andrei Markov of old (his four goals lead all NHL defensemen) and with Raphael Diaz proving himself to be an NHL-caliber puck mover on the blue line, Subban is going to have to earn top-four minutes. He has the tools but he also has shown himself to be a little immature. We saw Drew Doughty miss training camp last season as he waited to come to terms with the L.A. Kings and it took him a long time to get into a groove, mostly because he was trying to do too much. Subban will have to resist that temptation as he begins the process of proving he’s an elite defenseman worthy of the big payday he thought he was going to get this time around.
LEBRUN: At the end of the day, even though Subban would not admit it Monday on the call with media, he has to be bitter at some level. No question, he would have wanted another NHL team to step up with an offer sheet. Subban wanted a long-term deal but Bergevin never deviated from two years. And I think the reason for that is that while Subban is a polarizing figure with that team, and Bergevin has heard all the stories both positive and negative with regard to Subban, this is about the new Habs GM wanting to make up his own mind on the talented defenseman. He’s got about a year and a half now to do just that, see him up close every day and decide once and for all next time around if the Habs want him around long-term. Of course, the Canadiens have to also hope Subban himself will want to stick around.
It has been a week since the NHL returned from its self-imposed lockout exile. It’s far too early to draw lasting conclusions but certainly enough to gather initial impressions, now that we’re detailing power-play success over HRR and back-diving contract control.
So much for boycotts and fan apathy. The NHL reports that average per-game announced attendance is up 6.6 percent, or more than 1,000 fans per game, through the first 49 games of this season compared to the first 49 last season.
Not only have the fans come back with a vengeance, filling almost every NHL rink to capacity, but they’re watching on television in record numbers as well. NBC’s opening-weekend games (Chicago in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh in Philadelphia) were the most-watched regular-season games, outside the Winter Classics, in 14 years. Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Chicago reported record local ratings. NBC Sports Network’s offering of the Boston-New York Rangers tilt on Wednesday drew 956,000 viewers, the biggest single regular-season-game audience in the network’s history and the most-watched regular-season game on cable since 2002. An incredible 27 percent of the Canadian population tuned in to the Montreal-Toronto season opener. Boston, St. Louis, Minnesota, Dallas and Florida also reported significant spikes in viewership for their local broadcasts.
It’s not all roses and cherries, though. Phoenix drew an announced crowd of just 8,355 Wednesday night, and this for a team that went to the Western Conference finals last spring. While the Blue Jackets are clearly not a big draw in Denver, the Avs announced 14,325 Thursday night, well short of a sellout at the Pepsi Center. The Panthers and Blues were also short of sellouts in home games Thursday night.
A better indication of whether fans and sponsors are prepared to forgive and forget when it comes to the lockout will come in a month or two, especially if teams like Florida or Columbus or Carolina have fallen out of the playoff race. What will the numbers look like then? Maybe the short season will keep eyes on the game and butts in the arena seats in record numbers right through to the end. Maybe not.
Not many would have predicted that the Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, Los Angeles Kings and Detroit Red Wings would start a combined 3-13-1. Throw in a 1-3 start for the Phoenix Coyotes, who won the Pacific Division last season and advanced to the Western Conference finals, and a 1-3 start for the defending Southeast Division champs from Florida, and you’ve got a lot of teams with high expectations and standards that are wallowing near the bottom of the standings. Worth noting is that the 1994-95 New Jersey Devils started 0-3-1 and went on to win the Cup during that 48-game, lockout-shortened season. Is there a similar rags-to-glory story among these slow starters? Maybe the better story is which of this group of well-heeled bottom-dwellers can turn things around enough to make it to the playoffs in late April. Our guess is no more than three.
Markov Is Back
Yes, the absence of unsigned restricted free-agent defenseman P.K. Subban has been a problem for the Canadiens, but the return to form of Andrei Markov and the emergence of young Swiss defender Raphael Diaz means Subban’s absence is felt less keenly. Before the start of the 2013 season, Markov had played in just 65 NHL regular-season games since 2009-10 because of a series of mostly knee-related injuries. But Markov has three goals and an assist while averaging 23:47 of ice time to help bolster a power play that must produce if the Canadiens are to make it back to the playoffs. Diaz has also been a revelation after a strong lockout spent playing with Damien Brunner and Henrik Zetterberg in Switzerland. He has five assists in three games for the Habs, who won two in a row after an opening-night loss to Toronto.
Injuries Hitting Hard
Everyone assumed injuries were going to be a major theme in a shortened season. But whether it's the compressed schedule (it actually just seems busier than a normal 82-game slate) or the lack of a training camp or the disparity between those who played during the lockout and those who didn’t, the injury bug has bitten and bitten hard. The Flyers are without Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell, and their defensive depth at the AHL level has been ravaged by injury. The Red Wings have been nicked up, testing their defensive depth. Steve Downie is gone for the season for the Avs. Joffrey Lupul suffered a broken forearm after being hit by a shot from Maple Leafs teammate Dion Phaneuf and will be gone for a couple of months. Mike Smith left the Coyotes’ net midway through the first period this week, although his injury isn’t believe to be serious. Still, don’t expect the bug to be stopping its bite anytime soon. With that in mind, look for the teams with the greatest organizational depth to rise above these injuries and stay in the hunt for playoff berths and/or top seeds.
Rookies On A Roll
Maybe it’s no surprise that a handful of youngsters are having an immediate impact in this young NHL season. Whether it’s Vladimir Tarasenko in St. Louis, who had four goals and six points to lead all rookies as of Friday, or Detroit's Brunner, who scored one of the prettiest shootout goals you’ll ever see, or Dougie Hamilton, who looks as if he has been patrolling the Boston blue line for years and not just days, the lockout has given way to a serious youth movement. Justin Schultz and Nail Yakupov in Edmonton, Cory Conacher in Tampa and Jonathan Huberdeau in Florida are other noteworthy first-year players making a name for themselves. Usually coaches and GMs worry about the final third of a normal season for rookies, the travel and the physicality of a full schedule often taking the bloom off the rookie rose by the last 25 or 30 games. But with a 48-game slate, these rookies might keep lighting it up from beginning to end.
Good for the league and the players to get together and adjust the buyout process to allow Montreal and the Rangers to part company with unwanted players Scott Gomez and Wade Redden, respectively. We understand the logic that led to both teams initially planning to park both players for this season with the intent of buying them out next summer. Teams can’t buy out injured players, and it made more sense business-wise not to have them play. But there was something inherently wrong about it and the two sides agreed to alter the language and allow the Rangers and Habs to buy out those players. That has allowed Redden to resume his NHL career with the St. Louis Blues and Scott Gomez to sign a one-year deal with the San Jose Sharks. Both have much to prove, although wouldn’t that be an interesting storyline if either were to end up holding up the Stanley Cup in the spring? Bottom line, it was the right thing to do. If only the two sides had been able to summon up that spirit of cooperation last summer.
Sharks Have Bite
San Jose head coach Todd McLellan told us before the start of the season about the challenges of putting together a lineup with players who were at varying degrees of readiness, some having played extensively in Europe or the AHL, some having played a bit and others not at all. Whatever McLellan is doing, it’s working: The Sharks were one of two undefeated teams in the Western Conference through Thursday's games (Chicago was the other). Patrick Marleau, who did not play during the lockout, had three straight two-goal games to lead the league in goals; linemate Joe Thornton, who played in Switzerland during the labor impasse, leads the NHL with nine points. Will the Sharks, off the Stanley Cup radar for the first time in years, make skeptics pay with their first championship, regardless of who played where and how much during the lockout?
You Get The Power
It’s interesting to see which teams have been able to take advantage on the power play early on and how important it has been. The Blues and Sharks led the NHL with seven power-play goals each. The Blues were clicking at a shocking 53.8 percent rate while Chicago was third with six man-advantage goals. The three teams were a combined 10-1-0 to start the season. At the other end of the ladder, the Kings and Red Wings were the only teams without a power-play goal at week’s end. They were a combined 0-for-34 with a man advantage and had combined for a 1-4-1 record.
Of the three RFAs, my gut feeling says Benn will be the first of the three to sign. But that’s not sure thing.
I just don’t think they’re that far apart.
Look no further than the obvious comparables to see which deals are influencing this negotiation:
• John Tavares, six years, $33 million ($5.5 million average)
• Evander Kane, six years, $31.5 million ($5.25 million cap hit)
• Phil Kessel, five years, $27 million ($5.4 million cap hit)
Those are good comparisons because Benn is also coming off an entry-level contract and is a key offensive force on his team, just like those three players.
First off, the Benn camp won’t do six years. So there’s that. Benn has moved though from wanting three years to now being willing do to five years.
My guess is if the Stars were willing to sign off on something just north financially of the Kessel deal, then a deal will be done.
Also keep in mind, Benn's entry-level deal didn’t have any bonus money. So you can understand his desire to get paid now.
Meanwhile, the Subban and O’Reilly fronts are still very much in stalemate.
Colorado, I believe, has offered a two-year, $7 million deal to O’Reilly, which is the same deal teammate Matt Duchene signed. But O’Reilly led the team in scoring last season and that offer won’t cut it. He remains in the KHL, where he’s making good money, tax-free, so he’s got that leverage.
In Montreal, meanwhile, status quo on the Subban situation. There has been nothing there for a while between both sides. The offensive blue-liner wants a long-term deal while the Habs want to do a two-year contract. So until that philosophical divide is overcome, this thing isn’t going anywhere.
Leverage points: the Habs power play on opening night was brutal, which helped P.K.’s case.
However, the recent two-year deals signed by offensive blue-liners, also RFAs, Michael Del Zotto and Dmitry Kulikov help GM Marc Bergevin’s case.
Bergevin insists he’s not going to trade Subban but one can’t help but wonder if this thing drags on too long if he’ll have to reconsider.
One thing is clear, Montreal’s insistence on doing a short-term deal signals that the Habs just aren’t sure about what they have in Subban just quite yet.
As Luongo Waits
Eyebrows were raised Tuesday when veteran Vancouver Sun columnist Cam Cole quoted Canucks GM Mike Gillis saying there’s essentially a trade that could happen with an unidentified NHL team, but it depends on that team being able to move a player first.
Gillis confirmed the same in an email to ESPN.com Tuesday.
All I know is that that team is not Toronto, which remains the most logical destination, no matter what anybody says, given Toronto’s goalie issues. The Leafs and Canucks have had on-again, off-again dialogue since last June, although there’s been a detente in talks of late as both teams wait out the other early in this season, hoping wins and losses will change the leverage in that conversation.
And what of Philadelphia? My guess is that the Flyers’ only interest in Luongo would come in the summer and that’s only if A) Luongo is still in Vancouver and B) Ilya Bryzgalov had another brutal season. If Bryzgalov hasn’t rebounded, it wouldn’t shock me to see Philly use a compliance buyout on the goalie (which doesn’t count vs. the cap) and then try to trade for Luongo. A lot of ifs there and we’re talking about months from now. So much can happen in between, not the least of which is Bryzgalov having a good season and staying in Philadelphia, and Vancouver moving Luongo elsewhere during the season.
In the meantime, Luongo has been the ultimate pro about it all, waiting patiently for this to figure itself out.
For the Canucks, they are trying to get something in return that helps further their cause as a contender right now. And Canucks management shared that sentiment with Luongo last weekend, explaining that they’re trying to get something in return for him that will help his teammates in Vancouver take another run at the Cup.
So far, the Canucks have been offered good pieces, just not the right ones.
And so the waiting continues. This is a deal that could honestly get done this week, next week, next month or next summer. Be ready for anything.
Team Canada For Sochi
I traded emails with Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman on Tuesday, wondering about when he would announce his coaching staff for the Sochi Games.
Yzerman said he would wait until the NHL commits players to Sochi 2014 before announcing his coaching staff. Makes sense, of course.
Another source told ESPN.com that the Team Canada management staff hasn’t decided yet who for sure would be part of the staff. There has been internal discussion but no final decisions made.
Certainly, reigning Olympic gold medal coach Mike Babcock remains the favorite.
But there are certainly a lot of names you can throw in the mix as you figure out who could be part of the staff.
Dave Tippett, Claude Julien, Barry Trotz, Alain Vigneault, Todd McLellan, Ken Hitchcock and the list goes on an on, Canada has no shortage of quality coaches to choose from.
Senators Still Looking
Off to a quick 2-0 start, the Senators still feel they need more depth on the blue-line despite the solid play of rookie defensemen Patrick Wiercioch and Andre Benoit, who have dressed as the third pairing.
The broken finger to Mike Lundin and the season-ending hip surgery to Jared Cowen opened the door for the two AHL grads to make Ottawa’s roster.
But veteran GM Bryan Murray says he’ll continue to make phone calls, even if so far those calls have produced very little.
"Not much has presented itself. I’ve talked to a number of teams and I hear the same story from a number of general managers -- everybody is looking for depth on the blue-line," Murray told ESPN.com Tuesday. "I don’t know that there will be many quick deals made at this point. But that’s not to say we’re not talking. We’ll look and if we can find somebody that upgrades us, we will. We’d got Lundin coming back at some point, so we’re not in a panic, but if we can get a more experienced guy, we’re certainly going to pursue it."
Lundin is getting the pins removed from his finger later this week.
"And he needs a couple of weeks after that, I think," said Murray.
Out in Los Angeles, the Kings are also one of the many teams on the lookout for help on defense and that was even before losing Matt Greene to a long-term injury.
L.A. was among the teams that pressed hard in an effort to land Wade Redden last week but lost out to St. Louis.
If the Kings ever trade Jonathan Bernier, and there’s no guarantee they will, they’ll be getting a defenseman as part of the deal.
Two early-season contract extensions tell you that some agents are wisely weary of what next season might have in store for players in the form of escrow payments.
Each of the new extensions for Alexander Edler and Travis Zajac have compensation in the first season of the deal (2013-14), the lowest of any in the contract. This is because there’s fear escrow might be at its highest next season as the salary cap drops to $64.3 million, down from the $70.2 million teams can spend this season.
Edler’s new deal is worth an average of $5 million per season but his actual compensation next season is $3.25 million. It jumps to $6 million from 2015-16 through 2017-18 before dropping to $4.5 million in the last season.
Zajac, as I wrote last week, begins at $3.5 million next season in a deal that pays him an average of $5.75 million per season.
Smart moves by the agents in question, Kurt Overhardt (Zajac) and Mark Stowe (Edler).
Two names to keep an eye on: Ryane Clowe and David Clarkson.
Both are valued power forwards in the NHL and both are slated to be UFAs July 5.
The Sharks, I hear, have had preliminary talks with Clowe. Nothing yet between Clarkson and the Devils.
- Wild goaltender Josh Harding, 28, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis but made it clear this will not end his career. (Star Tribune)
- Trevor Linden, who served as NHLPA player president during the previous lockout, did not have any comment about the status of the current lockout: “I hate what is happening to the game, just like every fan does. But I’m just a fan now; I can’t offer any insights. ... But nothing I can say is going to help the sides reach an agreement. It isn’t my fight any more.” (Vancouver Sun)
- The Jets and the NHL denied a report out of Boston that said Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs reprimanded a Winnipeg representative at a recent Board of Governors meeting. (Winnipeg Free Press)
- Daniel Alfredsson said he hasn’t looked into playing in Europe yet, but will start looking into it in a couple of weeks. He added that insurance “is not an issue at all,” and the decision would be about making memories with his family. (Ottawa Sun)
- P.K. Subban said he is better off being around his family and working on non-hockey life than playing in Europe and not having a Canadiens contract made it easier for him to stay home. (Montreal Gazette)
- Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson was suspended by the Panthers after suffering a dislocated shoulder while wakeboarding with friends. (Sun Sentinel)
- It is estimated that the Operation Hat Trick charity game organized by Scott Hartnell and Brad Richards raised more than $500,000. Richards also said "there's hope" that there will be another game. (NJ.com)
- Red Wings goalies Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson find it difficult to stay sharp while just practicing with a small group of players in Michigan. (mlive.com)
- Mathieu Darche is working to prepare for whenever the NHL season begins, but he realizes that his career might be over. (Montreal Gazette)
- Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban does not have a contract to play next season, but he says his top concern with a lockout looming is making sure the fans don't get hurt, according to The Canadian Press.
- Shea Weber's 14-year, $110 million offer sheet was formalized into a contract with the Nashville Predators, but the team did not add a no-trade or no-movement clause, Weber's agent told The Tennessean.
- Lubomir Visnovsky presented his case to an arbitrator on Tuesday as he tries to block his trade from the Anaheim Ducks to the New York Islanders, according to the New York Post. A decision is expected before Sept. 15, according to the report.
- Henrik Zetterberg said he would be "honored" to follow Nicklas Lidstrom as captain of the Detroit Red Wings, according to NHL.com. "It's something that you always hope you'd have a chance to do in your career, especially with a team like this in a city like this, with the past and the ownership and the history we have. It would be a true honor," Zetterberg said, according to the report.
- Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette skated on Wednesday with his son as he tries to stay ready for the season despite the Flyers' practice facility being much less crowded than usual, according to The Courier-Post.
- Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Mike Komisarek said he is considering going back to the University of Michigan to work toward finishing his degree if there is a lengthy lockout, according to the National Post.
- Detroit Red Wings prospect Damien Brunner will play for the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL if there is a lockout instead of returning to Switzerland so he can adjust to the North American game, according to mlive.com.
- The NHL has drafted guidelines and templates for letters for teams to deal with season-ticket holders if games are missed because of a lockout, but individual teams have been given latitude to enact their own policies, according to the Winnipeg Free Press.
- Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin does not appear to be antsy to re-sign P.K. Subban, referring to the negotiations as "an ongoing process," and "We’ll get around to it," according to The (Montreal) Gazette. Bergevin also did not mention Subban as being one of the team's core young players. “He’s a good young player,” Bergevin said, according to the report. “There’s a lot of things that come into play, (but) there’s potential there for sure.”
- Bergevin also confirmed the team has expressed interest in Shane Doan, but said the Phoenix captain has not visited the Habs this summer, according to TSN.
- Steve Begin required surgery to repair a torn labrum and remove bone spurs after playing one NHL game this past season, but the 34-year-old center is ready for another shot at the NHL, according to the Calgary Herald. Begin signed a tryout with the Flames after the operation was deemed a success this past weekend.
- P.K. Subban wants to have a long career in Montreal even though he doesn't have a contract to play next season, according to NHL.com. "There's no question that people know that I enjoy playing (in Montreal)," the restricted free agent told NHL.com. "I grew up a Montreal Canadiens fan. I love playing there and I want to play there for the rest of my career."
- The Edmonton Oilers have resumed talks with Taylor Hall's camp about signing the young forward to an extension, according to TSN.
- Red Wings GM Ken Holland told the Detroit Free Press he talked to Justin Abdelkader's agent last week and will do so again this week as the two sides work on a contract for the restricted free agent.
- Mattias Ohlund has made great strides in his recovery from surgery in which a thin layer of titanium was used to resurface his femur at the patellofemoral joint behind his kneecap, but there is no guarantee that he will be able to play hockey again, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
- Chris Tanev is trying to change his pass-first mentality so that he can be more effective for the Canucks, according to The (Vancouver) Province.
But a career isn't made with one good season. Can the stars of the 2010-11 rookie class follow up their first NHL season with another successful bid? Or will they fall prey to the sophomore slump?
You make the call ...
At 19 years old, Jeff Skinner won the Calder Trophy, but will he follow that up with another successful season?