National Hockey League
ANAHEIM DUCKS-Assigned D Brett Festerling to Iowa (AHL).
WASHINGTON CAPITALS-Recalled D Brian Pothier and G Simeon Varlamov from Hershey (AHL). Assigned G Michal Neuvirth to Hershey.
National Hockey League
ANAHEIM DUCKS-Assigned D Brett Festerling to Iowa (AHL).
WASHINGTON CAPITALS-Recalled D Brian Pothier and G Simeon Varlamov from Hershey (AHL). Assigned G Michal Neuvirth to Hershey.
Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene
Avalanche GM Joe Sakic has been chatting with Bruins GM Don Sweeney, but is also following his team on an Eastern road trip as he looks to rebuild his roster.
Since early-December, the Colorado Avalanche have been a fixture in the NHL trade-rumor mill. Mired at the bottom of the overall standings, they need a roster shake-up. GM Joe Sakic could attempt to trade a core player, such as center Matt Duchene or left winger Gabriel Landeskog, in hopes of landing a young, skilled defenseman.
Trade chatter over the past month linked the 24-year-old Landeskog to the Boston Bruins, who need scoring depth at left wing. One rumor had Bruins GM Don Sweeney rejecting Sakic's asking price of a package with promising defenseman Brandon Carlo as the centerpiece.
On Sunday, the Landeskog-to-Boston chatter flared back to life. Fluto Shinzawa of The Boston Globe reports Sakic was spotted chatting with Sweeney in the TD Garden press box during the Bruins 4-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens.
If the Bruins want Landeskog, Shinzawa believes the price tag is a player, a draft pick and a prospect. Shinzawa thinks Sakic could still insist on Carlo as part of the return.
Terry Frei of The Denver Post reports Sakic was also expected to watch Monday's Beanpot final between Boston University and Harvard. Four Bruins prospects, including promising defenseman Charlie McAvoy, took part in that game.
The Bruins aren't the only team Sakic will follow this week. Frei reports the Avs GM will remain with his club as they swing through Buffalo to meet the Sabres and Carolina to play the Hurricanes. He notes the Hurricanes have considerable depth in young defensemen, including Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Ryan Murphy.
While the Anaheim Ducks aren't on Sakic's current scouting list, they could be another trade possibility for the Avalanche. Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register suggests Landeskog could be a good fit for the Ducks, who lack scoring punch at left wing. Like the Hurricanes, the Ducks are loaded with young blueliners.
While Cam Fowler was the subject of trade rumors earlier this season, Stephens considers him too valuable to the Ducks playoff hopes. Other options include Shea Theodore, Brandon Montour or Josh Manson.
Duchene, meanwhile, might interest the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. On Saturday, Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos reported there's talk Penguins GM Jim Rutherford could take a run at acquiring the 26-year-old center, who can also skate on the wing. Kypreos' colleague Elliotte Friedman said Rutherford told him he's willing to do whatever it takes to win.
Rutherford's made blockbuster moves before, including his acquisition of winger Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2015. That deal, however, took place in the offseason, when he had more salary cap space to work with. With Duchene carrying a $6-million annual cap hit through 2018-19, the Penguins pressed for cap space and the Avs' high asking price, that deal could be almost impossible to pull off by the trade deadline.
Kypreos said the Hurricanes could also be in play for Duchene. Sitting 20th in goals-for per game (2.60) and power-play percentage (17.2), they would benefit from adding a proven 30-goal scorer. Along with their depth in good young defensemen, they also have plenty of cap room to take on Duchene's cap hit.
The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch also speculates the Hurricanes could pursue Duchene. He also thinks the Nashville Predators could make a push. Like the Hurricanes and Ducks, they have depth in young defensemen to tempt Sakic.
Garrioch reported Senators GM Pierre Dorion admitted having trade discussions with Sakic. While Dorion didn't say if they talked about Duchene or Landeskog, he said a deal wasn't realistic between the two clubs because the Avs sought too much in return.
St. Louis Blue defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk also remains a hot topic of discussion as the March 1 trade deadline approaches.
Earlier rumors about the 28-year-old rearguard claimed he preferred to be dealt to an Eastern Conference team, preferably in the American Northeast. However, Kypreos said Shattenkirk is open to being dealt to an Eastern Canadian team such the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens.
Garrioch reports the Leafs, Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning have all made pitches for Shattenkirk. He believes the Bruins are the only club with the ability to sign the blueliner to a long-term deal.
Mark Zwolinski of the Toronto Star, however, doubts the Leafs will get into the Shattenkirk sweepstakes. He cites the cost of re-signing him (at least $6-million annually), the Leafs unwillingness to part with one of their prized young players, and the eventual cost of re-signing young stars such as Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.
Shinzawa notes the Bruins had interest in Shattenkirk at the 2016 NHL draft. Given their depth in promising young defenders, however, they might not be as keen on him as they once were. The cost of re-signing Shattenkirk could also be a sticking point.
Teams with interest in Shattenkirk apparently prefer a “sign-and-trade” scenario, rather than acquire him as a postseason rental. They don't want to part with assets at the trade deadline for a player who could depart in July for free agency.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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Lindy Ruff’s contract in Dallas is up at season’s end and with the Stars struggling, change could be coming behind the bench. The Stars will have plenty of coaches to choose from, too.
It’s hard not to feel bad for Lindy Ruff.
The Dallas Stars have two dozen games left on their schedule before the season is up, and there Ruff is with a team that’s sunken rather unexpectedly to the bottom of the standings. This was supposed to be a year in which a threatening Stars lineup took another step forward, pushed deep into the post-season and maybe even flirted with winning the franchise’s second Stanley Cup. Instead, Ruff’s Stars have plummeted to the bottom of the standings. Only the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche — both real, honest to goodness bad teams — have fared worse.
We’ve touched on it before, but this isn’t exactly Ruff’s fault. Given the injuries his roster has sustained, the changes his lineup has seen and the fact the duo of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi still aren’t getting the job done between the pipes, Ruff hasn’t had all that much help. Losing Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers seems to have had a bigger impact than anyone could have suspected, and making matters worse is that while the pure firepower that was Dallas’ calling card before isn’t exactly gone, it’s not succeeding at the same rate as past seasons, so outscoring opponents on a nightly basis hasn’t quite worked, either.
Put that all together and you’ve got a Stars team that’s right near the bottom of the standings, and that has to be tough enough on Ruff. Somehow, though, that isn’t even really the worst of it.
The most difficult part about Ruff’s position has to be that he’s a sitting duck. Throughout this season, Gerard Gallant, Jack Capuano, Michel Therrien and Claude Julien have been fired. The blindsided nature of those firings, especially for Gallant and Therrien, had to be tough, no doubt, but Ruff may be able to literally count the days until he’s gone. His contract, a four-year deal he inked back in 2013, is up after this season, and with the Stars looking like a lock to miss the post-season, it seems more likely than not that Dallas will be moving on.
If Ruff is indeed gone at season’s end, it then becomes a question of who steps in to take over the position. Before the Canadiens swooped in a picked up Julien, he would have been the perfect candidate for the Stars job. Problem is, he was also the perfect candidate for the job in Montreal. And he also would have worked well in Florida or Brooklyn or Vegas. Even if the Stars wanted Julien, he was going to have options, and now that option is completely off the table.
One intriguing scenario would be if the move by the Canadiens to bring back Julien, who coached in Montreal from 2002 to 2006, has somehow inspired the Stars to look to their own past. There are two bench bosses available who fit the bill of a former Dallas coach who could be in line for the gig, Marc Crawford and Ken Hitchcock. The likelihood either return to Dallas might be slim, but they’re options nevertheless.
Crawford held the Stars job on his way out of the NHL back in 2011, but his two-year stint with the franchise was fruitless. Despite turning in two consecutive winning seasons, the team finished outside of the post-season both years, even if was by only a slight margin. His candidacy for the job would be interesting in that he’s coming off of several years coaching overseas and won two championships in the Swiss league. Now an associate with the Ottawa Senators, he could take what he’s learned over the past few years and apply it to a team with more firepower.
The more interesting of the two former coaches, however, is Hitchcock. Crawford’s had his own success, but only a select few can match what Hitchcock has done throughout his career, and fans in Dallas will certainly remember him fondly. He joined the franchise in 1995-96 and over the next four seasons the Stars gradually built to a Stanley Cup championship in 1998-99. The next season, Hitchcock again led the Stars to the final, but they came up just shy of back-to-back titles. Even when he was let go, Dallas was above .500. A tough coach? Maybe. They don’t come much better, though.
And what of the other three recently relieved bench bosses? Therrien, Gallant and Capuano will all have their suitors, and Dallas could be among them.
Therrien’s the most successful with 406 wins to his name and his .563 points percentage is the highest of any of the trio of recently removed coaches. Therrien also has 71 post-season games under his belt with a .535 winning percentage, including an Eastern Conference title with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2007-08. Playoff success can be alluring, especially for a team that appears a piece or two away from a deep run, and that alone could be enough for the Stars to take a long hard look at Therrien.
But Gallant and Capuano are also worth taking a look at if Dallas is in the market. Gallant’s work with the Panthers was admirable. He was given a young roster with loads of potential and turned them into a playoff team, and many had the Panthers pegged for another successful season before his shocking firing. As for Capuano, he had a lengthy tenure with the Islanders and one could argue had Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen stuck around Capuano might still be around.
Of course, hiring Crawford, Hitchcock, Therrien, Gallant or Capuano is contingent on their availability. There’s a job to be had with the Vegas Golden Knights and questions about the future behind the bench for the three interim coaches, Bruce Cassidy in Boston, Tom Rowe in Florida and Doug Weight in New York. If the interims give up the job, that’s three more openings. None of this is to mention Crawford inked a three-year deal with the Senators, so he might be sticking in Ottawa for a while.
Dallas could look anywhere, though. The talk of Utica Comets coach Travis Green taking over an NHL bench has grown consistently and Sheldon Keefe’s success with the Toronto Marlies could see him draw some interest. Even Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal could be in the conversation. Then there’s current NHL assists like Kirk Muller and Kevin Dineen among others, which is to say the options are near limitless.
The most unexpected move of all, though, would be giving Ruff one more shot and it wouldn’t be an unprecedented move. After a disappointing end to the 2014-15 season, a third-straight first-round exit, St. Louis gave Hitchcock another shot on a one-year deal. He subsequently took the Blues to the Western Conference final in 2015-16, beating the Stars along the way, and earned another one-year deal before his eventual firing when the Blues ran into some mid-season difficulties.
The situation isn’t all that similar for Ruff and the Stars, but the down year doesn’t necessarily represent what he’s been able to manage in Dallas. Ruff led the team to one of the franchise’s best regular season performances in 2015-16, and each of the past three seasons the Stars earned 90-plus points. Does he come back? That’s for Dallas’ front office to decide. One would guess Ruff lands on his feet either way.
The Stars’ decision for the future behind the bench will be one of the most important the franchise makes in the coming months. There are plenty of options available, be it Ruff or otherwise, and choosing the right coach for the job could very well be the difference between Dallas taking the next step or a few years where the playoffs aren’t quite a certainty.
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Illustration by Ben Shannon.
In the war to secure talent, agents are going after kids before they even hit their teens. Is it time to curb the chase?
There is a boy playing minor hockey in Toronto you haven’t heard about yet but probably will before too long. Then again, he could be out of hockey in three years or become a marginal player in junior or college hockey. We have chosen to not publish his name. But he’s very, very good. He’s attending an elite hockey academy in Toronto and is thriving a year above his age bracket for one of the top Triple-A organizations in the Greater Toronto Hockey League. He’s big and he’s skilled and he has lots of promise.
He’s also just 12 years old. And his family has been getting calls from player agents. The same agents who represent multimillionaires playing in the NHL have been contacting the parents of a 12-year-old kid. And he’s not the only one. Players, particularly in Canada’s biggest city, have become accustomed to being contacted by agents during their bantam years, (ages 13 and 14) and some of them already have representatives.
“He’s the one people think is ‘The Next One,’” said Anton Thun, a longtime player agent of M-Five Sports, of the player in question. “People think he might be the next Connor McDavid or John Tavares. Numerous agencies have spoken with the family and, quite honestly, we have spoken with the family. We’ve gotten information into his hands to let him know we exist. We’re not going to let other agencies come into our backyard and take the best player.”
Said another agent who requested anonymity, “It’s brutal and it’s getting out of hand. I don’t want to do it, but if I don’t, I’m going to be out of business. Now it’s not about who wins the battle, but who gets there first.”
Whether the NHL Players’ Association, which certifies and regulates player agents, is prepared to do something about it remains to be seen. Setting age restrictions was a hot topic at the NHLPA’s meeting with agents in the summer, and the union has since sent out a missive to agents to determine whether it’s an issue that needs to be addressed. And as the self-appointed pseudo-governing body for agents, it appears the NHLPA is the only institution that can save the agents from themselves on this one.
“The matter of the age restriction regarding recruiting is something that is somewhat on hold while the Hockey Summit discussions regarding draft age, development are ongoing,” said an NHLPA spokesman in an email, referring to the Hockey SENSE meetings that took place this summer, the second of which spent a good chunk of time focused on youth hockey.
As a group, the agents want to have age limits put on them when it comes to contacting prospects. For one, it levels the playing field for everyone. And it also means they can spend their time doing more productive things than chasing bantam players around cold local arenas. And lastly, the agents want this for the same reason Pat LaFontaine and his group are looking into a 19-year-old draft. The longer they give players to develop, the less chance there is for a mistake to be made by everyone involved.
“Back in the 1980s, we recruited 18-year-old kids,” Thun said, “but now I’m being asked to go watch a hockey game where there’s a 13- or 14-year-old kid.”
The only problem is that if one or two rogue agents chase after kids barely in their teens, everyone is forced to do it or risk missing out on the best players. It’s pretty much the same principle that guides the salary cap in the NHL. There’s no age limit on when U.S. college teams can recruit players, and there have been examples of kids barely in their teens committing to programs – albeit making commitments that are not binding when it comes to choosing between major junior hockey and the NCAA. The WHL has a bantam draft, and there is always talk the OHL might follow suit. So young kids are being expected to make monumental decisions, including whether they need an agent or family advisor.
But like so many other things it does well when it comes to dealing with young players, Sweden appears to have come up with a great way of dealing with this problem. There are about 50 agents/recruiters in Sweden, and they have an agreement with the Swedish players’ association that they cannot approach or be approached by any player prior to Jan. 1 of the year he turns 16. That coincides with the first time they have an opportunity to be selected for a national team. Every fall, the country holds its annual TV Puck tournament featuring the best 15-and-under players. That’s basically the first time elite players are identified, and by January, they can make contact with an agent. Agents who directly or indirectly contact players prior to the set date are first warned, then fined, then risk having their licenses revoked.
And the agents are also working with the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation to try to put sanctions in place that penalize players whose (often overaggressive) parents reach out to agents or sign an agreement with one.
“If I get a call from a parent looking for an agent, the first thing I ask, ‘So, you don’t have an agent?’ ”said longtime Sweden-based agent Claes Elefalk of CAA. “The second question is, ‘How old is he?’ And if it’s before Jan. 1 of the year he turns 16, I have to say, ‘Oh, we have a rule that means I need to hang up the phone immediately and you can only call me back the first of January.’ I’m not allowed to even speak for five minutes or send an email or anything. I must say it has been working really well in Sweden.”
Matt Walilko had a playoff game to remember, recording six goals and five assists. It wasn't exactly a once-in-a-lifetime game since he had a 10-point game earlier this year.
In the dying minutes of his Jr. C playoff game Tuesday night, Matt Walilko of the Midland Flyers had his stick broken in two by a slash. A dastardly deed to be sure, but you can kind of see his opponent’s reasoning. It was the probably same thought process Bobby Clarke had when he broke Valeri Kharlamov’s ankle during the 1972 Summit Series.
“The guy was telling me that my stick was way too hot and he had to break it,” Walilko said. “He just axed the stick right in half and said it had too many points in it. We were laughing about it after the game.”
Considering that stick – along with the 17-year-old using it - was responsible for six goals and five assists in a 12-3 rout over the Huntsville Otters, you can understand why the opponent would rather see that one propping up tomato plants than demolishing his team’s playoff hopes. So when his team hits the ice for Game 6 of their playoff series Friday night, Walilko will be using new lumber, but riding the confidence of a once-in-a-lifetime game.
Or was it? Earlier this season, the Grade 12 high school student registered a 10-point game with five goals and five assists en route to scoring 80 points in 39 games and being named rookie of the year in Ontario's Provincial Junior Hockey League. Walilko is just 17, playing in a league where there are players as old as 22. He was easily the youngest player among the league’s top 10 scorers this season and one of only two teenagers. In what should come as no surprise, Walilko’s night vaulted him into the league’s playoff scoring lead with 10 goals and 20 points in five games. “It makes it look like I’ve been lighting it up every night,” Walilko said, “but I only had nine points in four games before that one.”
Back to the game, Walilko attributed his good fortune to being in the right place at the right time. He said a couple of key players were out with injuries and school commitments, so he knew he would have to step up. One of his linemates had seven points in the game and the other linemate had six. Walilko said that, as was the case in his 10-point night earlier this season, he went into the game knowing he was facing the opponent’s backup goalie.
“You kind of do your research, right?” Walilko said. “You see the backup is starting and you try to put a lot of pucks on net.”
What makes the feat even more impressive is that it gave Walilko’s team a 3-2 series lead with a chance to win it in Game 6. The Flyers had dug themselves into a 2-0 hole in the series, but have stormed back and clearly have some momentum on their side, not to mention a confident young man leading the attack.
Which begs the question: What is a young man this good doing playing this far down the junior hockey ladder? Well, Walilko played AAA midget last season in Barrie and rather than play on the third or fourth line for a Jr. B or Jr. A team this season, he thought it would be better for his development if he were a prime time player at a lower level. He has his sights set on earning a scholarship, something he hopes to do in a year or so. Walilko plans to take next season off school and hopes to play next season for the Pembroke Lumber Kings. He plans to write his SATs in the hope of attracting interest from U.S. schools.
Flyers president and GM Gerry Asselin said Walilko is so focused on getting a scholarship that he turned down a chance to practice, and perhaps even play, with the struggling Barrie Colts this season. The Flyers are affiliated with the Colts, who are struggling and in last place this season. Asselin said he recently had a conversation with Colts GM Jason Ford, in which Ford asked him to suggest a couple of players the Colts might have a look at down the stretch. Asselin said when he approached Walilko, he was flatly turned down.
“He’s a smart kid,” Asselin said. “He has his head screwed on right.”
A student at a Catholic high school in Barrie, Walilko said he can’t take all the credit for his success. His personal motto comes from the Bible passage Philippians 4:13, which says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
“I’ve put it on every stick I’ve bought since I was a young kid,” Walilko said. “I grew up in a religious family and every time I’m on the ice and having a tough time, I’ll just look down at that and kind of re-motivate myself. It kind of applies to me in everything I do, not just hockey.”
Walilko will be looking to continue making a big contribution in the playoffs, but is another double-digit performance in the future?
“I don’t know if any of my backup sticks have that many points in them, but I’ll try.”
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