Ken Campbell

Ken Campbell, The Hockey News' senior writer, is in his second tour with the brand after an eight-year stint as a beat reporter for the Maple Leafs for the Toronto Star. The Sudbury native once tried out for the Ontario League's Wolves as a 30-year-old. Needless to say, it didn't work out.

Turns out, money will be an object in Babcock negotiations

Ken Campbell
Ken Holland and Mike Babcock (middle).  (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – The most intriguing off-ice story of this season will be Mike Babcock’s future with the Detroit Red Wings. Until Babcock re-signs with the Detroit, the questions will continue to follow this team.

And here’s one to ponder: If John Tortorella is worth $2 million a year sitting in his barcalounger, what is the man many consider to be the best coach in the NHL worth? Will Babcock be the first to break the bank and be paid like his NFL counterparts?

The first assumption is that money will not be an object, that the Red Wings will give Babcock all the money and all the term he wants and that if Babcock leaves, it will be for a better situation. There is no salary cap on what coaches can be paid, so that begs the question, why would a superstar coach such as Babcock not make $5 million a year? Joel Quenneville, who has won two Stanley Cups in the past four years, is believed to be the highest-paid coach in the NHL at about $2.5 million, which is ridiculously low because it’s less than the average player salary.

Babcock will almost certainly become the game’s highest paid coach, whether it’s with Detroit or someone else, but Red Wings GM Ken Holland doesn’t seem to be eager to be the one to set a precedent.

“That’s not the way I negotiate,” Holland said. “I use the word fair, but fair is different for lots of people. Otherwise you’d have coaches making $20 million. This is a business and I’m in charge of making business decisions and we all have responsibilities. That’s how the business runs. In the industry, when you’re charged with the responsibility of managing an operation, you try to make sure everyone is treated fair in the industry, fair in the organization.”

Holland said he and Babcock have actually not had much time to talk about a contract extension. When they discussed one in earnest in June, Babcock didn’t feel comfortable discussing an extension until the Red Wings determined the future of Holland, something that was resolved with Holland signed a four-year extension a month ago. Like Babcock, if he becomes a free agent, Holland has had the opportunity to go elsewhere in the past and has remained faithful to the Red Wings. Babcock has been working with Holland for a decade and the two have a good working relationship. But there has not been constant communication between the two.

“We’ve had some conversations, but they didn’t go into a lot of depth because I was going into my last year of my contract,” Holland said. “And I’m happy. But that’s me.”

There are times when I’m convinced that Holland and Babcock are giggling to themselves behind the scenes and having fun watching people speculate about the situation and there are times when it doesn’t look like a slam-dunk, that perhaps Babcock is itching for another challenge with another team. These situations present themselves to coaches even less frequently than they do for players and Babcock is truly in a unique situation. He has already insisted he will not let this linger into the season and if nothing is done by the start of the season, he will wait until after the season to decide his future. He also insists it will not be a distraction for himself or the team. Good luck with that one. Every time the Red Wings visit a major hockey market, the questions will be asked. And the longer Babcock goes through the season without a deal, the more his future could become a factor in dressing room dynamics.

I assumed money would be no object for Babcock and the Red Wings would give him whatever money and term he wanted. That is clearly not the case. But Holland is convinced Babcock knows exactly what he’s getting with the Red Wings. That’s why it seems there will not be some enormous sell job on the part of the Red Wings to prove to him that his best situation will be in Detroit.

“He knows the Red Wing organization as well as I do,” Holland said. “He knows our prospects, he knows our future. He knows our team, he knows the city. He knows we’re building a brand new rink that we’re going to be in in 2017. When the question comes, ‘What do you have to show him?’ I don’t think we have to show him anything. He’s seen it all. I don’t know what there is to show that he hasn’t seen.”

Traverse City: Sonny Milano hurt, but it could have been worse

Ken Campbell
Sonny Milano (Photo by Ken Campbell)

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – Sonny Milano has already had his ‘Welcome to the NHL’ moment despite the fact he hasn’t played a game in the best league in the world yet. And thanks to what could have been a devastating injury in a prospects tournament, it will be a while before he plays in a game of any kind.

Two periods into his first game at the Traverse City prospects tournament over the weekend, the Columbus Blue Jackets prospect was hit into the boards face-first. His face went into the dasher, fracturing both his left orbital bone and cheekbone. While it was originally thought he could be out eight weeks, the expectation is now that he will miss two, which means he still might be able to get into some action for the Blue Jackets main camp.

“Right now it feels pretty good,” said Milano, whose only battle scar from the incident is a shiner under his left eye. “I feel like if it was a playoff game, I’d be on the ice right now.”

Milano said when the incident first happened, “my nose just started bleeding like crazy,” and he thought it was going to be far more serious. “I thought it was kind of dirty,” Milano said. Read more

Why the NHL should get rid of the shootout

Ken Campbell
Ryan Strome (left) and Martin Brodeur. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

At some point early in this coming season, the NHL will record its 10,000th shot in the shootout. We can predict with a high degree of certainty two things that will not happen on that shot. First, it will not be a spin-o-rama. Second, the guy taking it probably won’t score.

The NHL guaranteed the former by banning the spin-o-rama on the shootout when it passed a flurry of new rules for the 2014-15 season. The latter is backed up by statistics that prove the shootout is anything but a skills competition. As Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman once told me, it has become a goaltending competition. With an all-time success rate of just 32.8 percent, shooters aren’t exactly forcing goaltenders to reach to the back of the net for the puck. Read more

Big, bad pointy heads may force change the hockey establishment has refused

Ken Campbell
Derek Dorsett and Brandon Prust.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Few things bother died-in-the-wool hockey people more than when busybodies such as governments and courts start meddling in the game. For the most part, old-time hockey guys think the game does just a marvelous job of policing itself, so the pointy-heads really don’t need to be sticking their noses into the business of hockey.

That’s why the alarm bells must be sounding fairly loudly these days. The concussion lawsuits, or the potential for them, are piling up. And a report by TSN that the state of Washington is looking into the way junior hockey players are treated cannot be good news for the hockey establishment. Read more

Do you really have had to bled on a sweater to mete out discipline in the NHL?

Ken Campbell
David Branch (left). (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Those of you looking for a fresh, new approach to discipline under new director of player safety Stephane Quintal are going to be disappointed. Quintal has made it clear that he has no intention of deviating from his predecessor, Brendan Shanahan, when it comes to filling the role as NHL sheriff and hanging judge.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, depending on how you evaluate Shanahan’s performance during his three years on the job. There was no way Shanahan was going to please everyone when it came to handing out suspensions and there were some head-scratchers to be sure, but Shanahan did an outstanding job of communicating his methodology and reasoning behind each of his suspensions. Even if you disagreed with his decision, you could at least appreciate his reasoning behind it. Shanahan streamlined the process and spearheaded its evolution into a pretty well-oiled machine.

The fact that Quintal wants that to continue is good. The fact that he seems to truly want to keep players safe is even better. Just don’t expect Quintal to usher in a new era of discipline in the NHL. Chances are, he’ll be hamstrung by the same pressures and the same culture Shanahan was.

For example, Quintal was a guest on Bob McCown’s Prime Time Sports radio program Tuesday and made it clear that those who are not former NHL players need not apply for a position in the NHL’s department of player safety. “I think you need to for sure have played in the NHL to do this job,” Quintal said. That means Quintal’s replacements for Rob Blake and Brian Leetch as his assistants will come from the ranks of former players only.

Well, doesn’t that feed into an avalanche of stereotypes? First, it reinforces the ridiculous notion that in order to have any feel for the game or make any educated decision about the way it is played you have to have bled on an NHL sweater at some point. Second, it brings only a player’s perspective to NHL discipline. Which would be fine if those who are charged with policing the game – usually the players themselves – weren’t doing such a farcical job of it themselves at times. How can a player be expected to be 100 percent objective in these situations?

And third, it maintains that the NHL will forever be an old boys’ network that will continue to be controlled and administered by those who played the game. How provincial.

If the NHL were truly concerned about the levels of violence in the game and the possible ramifications that can come from it, it would have hired Ontario League commissioner David Branch. But he never played the game, at least at the NHL level. The highest Branch made it as a player was at the U.S. college level with the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Branch, one of the game’s most progressive thinkers, has done an outstanding job preserving the physical integrity of the game while also coming down hard on miscreants who step beyond the bounds of the rulebook. Of course, Branch does not have a players’ association looking out for the interests of the perpetrators, at least not yet.

But by Quintal’s definition, Branch would not be qualified to work in the NHL’s department of player safety. Nor would any good lawyer or hockey observer who has not played in the NHL.

Since non-player Brian O’Neill handled this job for the NHL, it has been held by four different people – Brian Burke, Colin Campbell, Shanahan and now Quintal. The latter three combined for 5,101 career penalty minutes in the NHL and Burke was supposedly a tough guy in college and the minor pros and his views on the “pansification” of hockey are well documented.

This is not to say that former players are not good judges when it comes to discipline because it’s undeniable they have a feel for the game at the highest level that the vast majority does not possess. Much of the on-field discipline in the NFL is handled by Troy Vincent and Merton Hanks, both of whom had long careers as players, but non-player commissioner Roger Goodell is also heavily involved.

But the fact is, players are not the only ones with qualifications to make these kinds of judgments. In fact, opening the department up to those who haven’t played at the NHL level would enhance, not diminish its ability.

Bob Suter remembered as rock-solid force for Miracle on Ice team

Ken Campbell
Bob Suter (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

Bob Suter was remembered as the genuine article both on and off the ice, a Midwestern boy whose easy-going nature was contrasted on the ice by a physical presence that helped the U.S. Olympic team win the gold medal in 1980. Suter, 57, also the father of Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, died of an apparent heart attack in Wisconsin Tuesday afternoon.

Former Miracle on Ice teammate and four-time Stanley Cup winner Ken Morrow patrolled the blueline for the American team in 1980 along with Suter. On a team that was known for its speed and finesse, Suter was a physical presence who did the heavy lifting for the Americans.

“He was just rock-solid, on and off the ice,” said Morrow, who is now a pro scout for the Islanders. “We used to call him ‘Bam-Bam’. He loved to hit and he was probably one of the fiercest, most physical guys I ever played with.”

That intense and physical approach on the ice was belied by a folksy attitude away from the rink. Never terribly impressed with himself, Suter was seen by his teammates and friends as a down-to-earth guy who preferred to be in the background. Morrow recalled Suter never said much in the dressing room, but when he did, it had an enormous impact. After the win, Suter was about as far from a diva as you could expect. Ryan has told the story many times that his father’s gold medal from 1980 would often be sitting on a coffee table in their home in Wisconsin instead of in a safety deposit box and he and his siblings were always encouraged to show it to visitors and even take it to school for Show and Tell.

“He was just a simple, straightforward guy who was a great teammate,” Morrow said. “He was one of the most honest guys you’ll ever meet. I don’t think I played with a guy who was more down-to-earth than Bob was.”

Although Suter played most of the time on a pairing with Jack O’Callahan, Morrow said he did find himself on the ice with Suter occasionally. He remembers a player with an incredible work ethic and a teammate that was willing to play a physical game while his teammates took the glory for their offensive exploits.

Suter never did play a game in the NHL. He was drafted 120th overall by the Los Angeles Kings in 1977 and signed as a free agent with the Minnesota North Stars in 1981, but did not appear in a game for either team. He was also drafted 58th overall by the Birmingham Bulls of the World Hockey Association, but played just one season of pro hockey, with the Nashville South Stars of the Central League in 1981-82.

Post-hockey, Suter was heavily involved in youth hockey in the Madison area and was part owner of the Capitol Ice Arena, where he was working when he suffered his fatal heart attack Tuesday afternoon. He was also involved with the Madison Capitols of the USHL and owned a hockey retail store called Gold Medal Sports. He was instrumental in helping Ryan reach the NHL and was also the older brother of Gary Suter, who played 17 seasons in the NHL and won a Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989.

Suter is the first player on the Miracle on Ice team to die. Coincidentally, coach and gold medal architect Herb Brooks died 11 years ago this Thursday in a car accident.

“I’m just kind of numb,” Morrow said. “I feel kind of the same way I felt when Herbie died. I’ve played with a lot of guys on that Olympic team, with the Islanders and in college and you know it’s going to happen someday, but you’re never really prepared for it. It’s a real body blow.”

It’s time for hockey to ban the term ‘holdout’

Ryan Johansen (left).  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

With no signs of progress and the two sides still light years apart, the possibility of Ryan Johansen sitting out training camp, and possibly even part of this NHL season, is becoming more real with every passing day.

And as that day draws nearer, you can expect an avalanche of reports that will indicate Johansen is “holding out” on the Columbus Blue Jackets. Should they fail to reach contract terms with their respective teams, the same will go for Nino Niederreiter and Darcy Kuemper of the Minnesota Wild, Danny DeKeyser of the Detroit Red Wings, Torey Krug of the Boston Bruins and Jaden Schwartz of the St. Louis Blues.

But the fact is, not a single one of them is a holdout. In fact, the term “holdout” is antiquated and should be banned from the hockey lexicon altogether. Not a single player has held out since the collective bargaining agreement of 2005.

But that doesn’t prevent people from using it. It’s a common mistake. Heck, even THN talked about players holding out recently in this very blog. Just the other day, I heard a prominent agent use it when he was talking about Johansen.

But Johansen is a restricted free agent without a contract at the moment. There’s an enormous difference between being that and being a holdout. Keith Tkachuk and Alexei Yashin? They were holdouts. In fact, if you want to get all technical about it, even all-round good guy Scott Niedermayer was a holdout in 2007-08 when he took a couple months off from the Anaheim Ducks to decide whether he wanted to retire or not. If you want to go back even further, Ken Dryden held out on the Montreal Canadiens in 1973 when he went to article for a year after the Canadiens refused to renegotiate his contract.

But players who don’t have contracts in the first place can’t very well hold out on them, can they? And as the NHL deals with more and more players coming off entry-level deals and looking for long-term contracts instead of bridge deals, this situation is going to come up more often. (As a side note, look to the NHL to go after these guys in the next round of CBA negotiations. It’s the last frontier to be conquered. The league isn’t concerned about unrestricted free agents and it has entry-level salaries capped, which leaves the young players coming off entry level.)

And the reason why holdouts should be banned is that they’ve been collectively bargained out of existence. Since the 2005 CBA, renegotiating existing contracts is forbidden, so there is nothing to be gained by holding out. (The only exception to this is if a player with a contract refuses to report and demands a trade. That would be a holdout.) Players can have their deals extended before they expire, which was a concession the league was willing to make after originally not allowing any early extensions on entry-level deals in the 2005 CBA.

Of course, much of this is the league’s doing. For whatever reason, the league seems spooked by the process of arbitration, despite the fact it has proved to be the best impetus for serious contract negotiations that either side has. The problem is players coming off their entry-level deals, generally speaking, don’t have arbitration rights for two years. Now if either Johansen or the Blue Jackets had been able to take the other to arbitration, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation about him right now. A deal would have been done, or one would have been forced upon them, about a month ago.

Until then, we all wait for Johansen to sign. In the meantime, just don’t refer to him as a holdout.

Top 10 players/coaches on The Hot Seat

Rick Nash (Photo by Rebecca Taylor/NHLI via Getty Images)

The most daunting challenge when it comes to forming a list of people on The Hot Seat™ for 2014-15 is keeping the list to just 10. Heck, you could have 30 just by placing every coach in the league on there. Because as your trusty correspondent recently pointed out, coaches and GMs are getting whacked at a dizzying rate these days.

But some, obviously, are feeling the heat a little more than others. You wouldn’t think the Los Angeles Kings would be too concerned about Darryl Sutter if they don’t get off to a great start this season. And during football season, is anyone going to notice if Bill Peters can’t turn the moribund Carolina Hurricanes around?

With that in mind, we’ve kept our list to 10, evenly divided between coaches and players. These are people who will be under pressure to produce results or face either (a) the prospect of being fired, in the case of coaches; or (b) the prospect of feeling shame, in the case of players.

So, here we go:

10. Ken Hitchcock: The St. Louis Blues coach has done everything right with this team, with the exception of win a playoff series. Since he took over in 2011-12, the Blues have won just one playoff series and compiled an 8-13 record in the post-season. There were rumbles that Hitchcock was in jeopardy after the Blues lost in the first round to Chicago, but they were quelled by GM Doug Armstrong. But if Hitchcock can’t find a way to get his team over the Chicago/Los Angeles hump, there might be no choice but to make a change.

9. Ryan Johansen: Even though they appear to be playing hardball with him, the Columbus Blue Jackets will sign Johansen at some point. But after an acrimonious summer in which Johansen felt his team’s offer was a “slap in the face,” there will be pressure on Johansen to prove he was worth all the off-season angst, particularly if he misses training camp or some of the regular season. Johansen is at a critical point in his development as a player and he has every right to sit until he gets what he feels is a fair deal. But with that comes the pressure of living up to it.

8. Bruce Boudreau: The Anaheim Ducks coach is quickly becoming known as The Man Who Can’t Win Game 7. The Ducks won the Western Conference regular season title last season, but the fact they didn’t take their foot off the pedal in the regular season cost them in the playoffs. Boudreau will have to do the delicate dance between being good enough to compete in the west, while not burning his team out for the time when the games get really important.

7. Alex Ovechkin: How does a 50-goal scorer end up on the list of players on the hot seat? By piling up points on the power play, being an uninspired player 5-on-5 and not leading his team to the playoffs, that’s how. Ovechkin might be one of the least-feared 50-goal scorers in the history of the game, primarily because he does precious little other than feast when the Capitals are on the man advantage. He’ll also have to adjust to a new coach in Barry Trotz who will demand more defensive accountability. For real.

6. Todd McLellan: There were rumors the Sharks coach was on his way out of San Jose and to Toronto after last season, but GM Doug Wilson opted to keep him after his team blew a 3-0 lead in the first round to the Kings. Instead of firing the coach, which would have been the convenient thing to do, the Sharks instead emasculated Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. If the Sharks stumble out of the gate, McLellan might be an easy target.

5. P.K. Subban: The Montreal Canadiens defenseman became the first player in NHL history to reach a contract agreement after an arbitration hearing and before a decision was rendered. And what an agreement! Subban will undoubtedly face pressure to justify his $9 million-per-season cap hit, but he will be courting trouble if he internalizes it and tries to do so every time he touches the puck.

4. Paul MacLean: There were rumblings that MacLean lost his golden touch last season with his players and mismanaged his players last season. Not surprisingly, he was not able to coax the results out of his team that he got in 2013. Even though the Senators are closer to being a lottery winner than a playoff team, expectations are always high in Canadian markets. And if the Senators get off to a disastrous start, the only guy at the Canadian Tire Centre with a bushy moustache will be MacLean’s doppelganger in the first row.

3. David Clarkson: The Toronto Maple Leafs winger is a classic example of expectations gone awry because of a huge contract. Clarkson was never going to be able to live up to the deal he signed with the Maple Leafs, but even by those standards, his 2013-14 season was an unmitigated disaster. Clarkson’s best course of action would be to forget the contract and resist the temptation to be something he’s not.

2. Randy Carlyle: Clarkson’s coach with the Maple Leafs is undoubtedly on the shortest leash of any coach in the NHL right now. With analytics gaining more prominence in the game, the Leafs cannot afford to continue getting Corsi-ed to death on a regular basis. The Leafs have significantly improved their bottom six, but if they don’t tighten up defensively, Carlyle will likely become the first coach looking for work this season.

1. Rick Nash: The New York Rangers winger led the team in goals with 26 last season, but Nash simply can’t produce when his team needs him most. Including all his NHL playoff games and the two Olympics in which he has participated, Nash has seven goals in 54 games. There was a time when Nash seemed to be able to carry players on his back on his way to the opposing net. It seems now he can’t even get himself to the net, which is why he finds himself on the periphery so much.