Steven Stamkos on the subway and other bizarre phone interviews

Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos is on the cover of the latest issue of The Hockey News. I was tasked with getting ‘Stammer’ on the phone for the article, which also included interviews with teammates, family and others who know the captain.

And as it happens, Stamkos has impeccable timing that stretches far beyond his goal-scoring prowess. The day Stamkos was supposed to call me, he was given my office number and my cell phone number, since I would be commuting home at one point. In Toronto, the subway line is almost entirely underground, with only a handful of stops offering daylight – and therefore, cell phone signal. Just as my train pulled into one such stop, my phone rang. I pulled one earbud out and with my iPod still blaring into the other side of my head, answered the phone as I jumped onto the station platform. It was Stamkos.

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The top 10 goalies most likely to have a down year

Winnipeg's Ondrej Pavelec (Photo by Lance Thomson/NHLI via Getty Images)

No one has ever understood goaltenders. From Hall of Fame puker Glenn Hall to wall-kicking Josh Harding, they’re a breed apart and considering the dangerous occupation they chose, perhaps they can be forgiven for their eccentricities. Recently, it’s been very difficult to figure out who will dominate the Vezina Trophy race. But with some help from Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract, here’s a look at 10 goalies who might have down years. Quality Starts percentage refers to games in which a goalie had a .917 save percentage when facing more than 20 shots (.885 when facing 20 shots or less). Vollman averaged out the past three seasons to get his results.

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Maple Leafs assistant calls out Phil Kessel – will Toronto overreact?

Rory Boylen
Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Steve Spott hasn’t been behind the Toronto Maple Leafs bench for even one game yet and his relationship with star player Phil Kessel is already the subject of an article in the Toronto Star.

On Wednesday, the Star’s Dave Feschuk wrote about Spott working with Kessel on a new defensive zone breakout strategy where he wanted the winger to come across the blueline to force the defenseman back, instead of staying on his own side of the ice. Spott was talking about the exchange he had with the Leafs’ top player to a group of minor hockey coaches who were attending a coach’s clinic where Spott was a guest.

Some of those minor hockey coaches told Feschuk about Spott’s anecdotes – and how Kessel didn’t agree with Spott’s play design.

From the Star:

“Spotter said that when he went to Phil (with the breakout play), Phil said, I’m not doing it,” said one of the attendees, a former professional player.

Said another: “Spott was saying (that) these are the things I’ve got to deal with now that I’ve never had to deal with. In the AHL (where Spott coached last season with the Toronto Marlies), when you’re the coach what you say goes. Whereas now that I’m here (in the NHL), I’ve got a guy telling me: No. I’m not going to do that.” Read more

10 RFAs who missed training camp and how their disputes were resolved

Jamie Benn (Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

Ryan Johansen’s contract negotiations with the Columbus Blue Jackets are…contentious. Yesterday started with Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen drawing a line in the sand by insinuating the start of training camp as a cut off point. Later on, team president John Davidson took aim at Johansen’s agent Kurt Overhardt by saying the numbers he was throwing out made no sense and were embarrassing.

This sounds like it could be one of the bigger RFA battles the NHL has had in recent years, but there’s still a little time before training camps open. And it’s not like it would be the first time a player has missed the start of training camp with a contract dispute.

It actually used to happen a lot more in the NHL. In the 1990s, it was a regular, yearly thing most teams would have to deal with at one point or another. The only great leverage an RFA without arbitration rights has is to stay home and make the team sweat. It maybe doesn’t happen as often as it used to, but the Johansen situation is hardly unique to the NHL today. Heck, Torey Krug, Jaden Schwartz, Reilly Smith, Darcy Kuemper and Cody Eakin are going through their own, less-publicized negotiations right now too.

We take a look at some of the more recent RFAs who missed all or a portion of training camp over a contract dispute and what the outcome was. We didn’t want to look too far back at every situation because market conditions have changed, especially when looking back past the 2004-05 lockout. Anything before then is basically no influence on Johansen’s situation. Just don’t call these guys holdouts.

Derek Stepan, New York Rangers
Prior to last season, Stepan missed 16 days of training camp before settling on a bridge deal with the Rangers. Stepan ended up signing a two-year deal that has a $3.075 million salary cap charge. Read more

Rumor Roundup: Is this Marc-Andre Fleury’s last season in Pittsburgh?

Marc-Andre Fleury needs a stellar performance in his walk year if he wants to remain a Pittsburgh Penguin.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury enters this season facing an uncertain future. He’s an unrestricted free agent in July, and new Penguins GM Jim Rutherford didn’t believe this summer was the right time to discuss a contract extension.

Fleury told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Josh Yohe he pondered what life would be like playing elsewhere, but that he prefers staying with the Penguins. Since signing a seven-year, $35-million deal with the Penguins in July 2008, Fleury backstopped them to a Stanley Cup championship in 2009. In recent years he struggled in the playoffs, but he rebounded last season with a solid effort under goalie coach Mike Bales.

It’s apparent, however, Rutherford intends to take a wait-and-see approach with Fleury, who turns 30 in November. The former Carolina Hurricanes GM has no contract history with Fleury and seems reluctant to offer another lengthy, expensive contract to an inconsistent netminder. It’s up to Fleury to prove his worth this season as a reliable starting goaltender.

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Five non-playoff NHL teams that could make it this season

Pekka Rinne (Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

Five of the the 14 teams that missed the NHL playoffs in 2012-13 (Colorado, Dallas, Columbus, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay) qualified for a playoff berth last season. Here are five teams on the outside looking in during the 2014 playoffs that – in this writer’s opinion – have the best chance at making the post-season this year:

5. Arizona Coyotes. The Yotes missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year last season – the first time that’s happened since 2007-09 – and that organization is famous for making the most out of a budget-conscious blueprint for success. They finished only two points behind the eighth-place Stars, and with new No. 1 center Sam Gagner in town, captain Shane Doan fully healthy and stellar young blueliner Oliver Ekman-Larsson continuing to blossom, they could have just enough in the tank to make it back into the post-season. Read more

Top 10 trade candidates for 2014-15

Cody Franson. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

Martin St-Louis, Marian Gaborik, Ales Hemsky, Ryan Miller and Roberto Luongo: these were some of the big names who were traded during the 2013-14 season. Who is in the cross-hairs this season? We look at 10 trade candidates who could move because of their contract situation, or because their team decides it’s time to go in a different direction.

Cody Franson
Franson has signed three consecutive one-year extensions with the Maple Leafs, but this time he’ll be a UFA when his contract expires at the end of this season and, at 27, he’s in prime position to score a big deal. The 6-foot-5, 213-pound blueliner will surely be looking for a real commitment from the team this time and if he doesn’t get it, the Maple Leafs will have to trade him by the deadline. He’s an important part of Toronto’s (bad) defense and an extension would likely make him the second-highest paid player on Toronto’s blueline. But does management believe he’s worth that long-term investment when they’ve already put down on Dion Phaneuf and Jake Gardiner? If not, they’ll be looking to get something for him. Read more

THN’s 2014-15 NHL season preview: Toronto Maple Leafs

The Hockey News
Dion Phaneuf and Morgan Rielly. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

2013-14 record: 38-36-8.

Acquisitions: Daniel Winnik, David Booth, Petri Kontiola, Mike Santorelli, Matt Frattin, Stephane Robidas, Roman Polak, Leo Komarov.

Departures: Tim Gleason, Jay McClement, Nikolai Kulemin, Drew MacIntyre, Mason Raymond, Dave Bolland, Jerry D’Amigo, T.J. Brennan, Carl Gunnarsson.

Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: The Maple Leafs’ monumental collapse in the final quarter of last season came in part because coach Randy Carlyle had overworked his best players – barely using a fourth line at all – and Toronto was one of the NHL’s worst puck-possession teams. So when new president Brendan Shanahan took over in mid-April, he and GM Dave Nonis prioritized strengthening the on-ice product from the bottom up, and the Leafs eschewed marquee free agent signings in favor of improving their depth and competitiveness. Read more