A dynamic right-shot defenseman informs his employer he wants out. The defenseman’s only option, other than to sign the mythical creation known as an offer sheet, is to force his team into granting him his wish.
The Jets, unlike the Bruins in June of 2015, informed their defenseman he would not be getting his way unless another team agreed to their Everest-high trade demand. So on Monday, with his tail tucked firmly between his legs, Jacob Trouba accepted a two-year, $6 million contract.
The organization gets its player back. Trouba starts to see paychecks returning to his checking account. Life goes on, with the Jets getting what they always wanted, even during the time Trouba declined to put pen to paper: their young defenseman under contract and on their roster. Not on anyone else’s.
“We were interested in signing Jacob all summer,” general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said during a conference call following the agreement. “The statement we made during this process was that we’d continue to look at the opportunity to bring Jacob back into our fold. He’s a part of our future, a big part of our future.”
For good reason. The 22-year-old Trouba fits the profile of the progressive defenseman: sturdy, mobile, offensive-minded, surly, and quick to clear pucks. Right-shot defensemen of this profile are hard to find and even harder to acquire. The Blue Jackets had to give up No. 1 center Ryan Johansen to land Seth Jones from Nashville. Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, Dustin Byfuglien, and Justin Faulk are on long-term contracts because they are rare commodities. If Brandon Carlo continues to play this way, he will be seeing many more zeros on his paycheck.
This should have been the template the Bruins followed with Dougie Hamilton when the similarly skilled right-shot defenseman said he wasn’t interested in re-signing. Like Trouba, Hamilton was emerging from his entry-level contract. Like Trouba, Hamilton’s only credible out was an offer sheet. Although offer sheets rarely happen, the Bruins feared their former GM would extend one to Hamilton out of both need and spite.
Trouble was that Peter Chiarelli, settled by then in Edmonton, did not intend to sign Hamilton to an inflationary offseason deal just to give his ex-employer the middle finger. If Hamilton was in his crosshairs, Chiarelli would probably have waited until the regular season was about to open. The Bruins would then have had the opportunity to match the offer, which would have gotten Hamilton under contract at near or just above market price.
Even then, an offer sheet was no guarantee. It simply doesn’t happen. This year, nobody extended an offer sheet to Hampus Lindholm or Rasmus Ristolainen, two of the restricted free agents eligible to sign one. The more likely scenario would have been for the Bruins to start play in 2015-16 with an unsigned Hamilton sitting out the opener.
That’s when the advantage would have swung in their direction. No player wants to be out while his teammates go to battle. It’s not fun to go nearly a month without a paycheck when prior savings were via an entry-level contract. Without an offer sheet on hand, Hamilton would have had no choice but to go back to the Bruins and say, “My bad.”
Trouba tried to take a stand. Through agent Kurt Overhardt, Trouba said his reason for not signing was because he did not want to play the left side. This may be true. But Cheveldayoff did not consider it a good enough reason to accept less than he wanted on the trade market. As much as the Bruins wanted to acquire Trouba, the price was too high: Carlo, Ryan Spooner, and a first-round pick, according to Sportsnet.
Meanwhile, the Jets tried to manage without Trouba. Coach Paul Maurice gave Byfuglien and Tyler Myers heavy minutes. He trusted rookie Josh Morrissey. Maurice made the most of a sticky situation.
So Trouba waited. He worked out and skated at the University of Michigan, his alma mater. But Dec. 1 was approaching on his calendar. If Trouba did not sign by then, he would not be eligible to play for the rest of 2016-17. It was a risk he did not want to take.
“I took a stand in a way,” Trouba told Winnipeg reporters after his first day back with his team. “I stood up for how I felt. You can go with the flow and do what everybody else does and be part of everything. Or you can try to stand up for what you believe in and what I felt was best for my future. I did that. Things change over time. I want to be a hockey player. I’m extremely happy to be here.”
Trouba played hardball. He has bridges to fix in the room and in Winnipeg. Trouba’s contract does not prevent a trade from happening if Cheveldayoff is piqued by an offer, the likes of which he did not see during Trouba’s unsigned stretch.
“Everybody in this game knows there’s a business side to the game,” Cheveldayoff said. “There’s contracts, the CBA, all the things that make the game tick are there. But when the players are in the dressing room, that’s their family. That’s their team. That’s their bond. When someone is out for whatever reason, those are things teams should deal with. Within the room, I think he’d be welcomed back. It’s going to be an exciting time to continue our building process.”
The Jets are in a good spot. They have their up-and-coming defenseman on lockdown through 2018 at a reasonable price. Their window of winning remains present instead of deferred to the future, which was how the Bruins opted to proceed with Hamilton by trading him to Calgary for picks used on Zach Senyshyn, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, and Jeremy Lauzon.
Last year, Hamilton scored 12 goals and 31 assists while averaging 19:46 of ice time under ex-coach Bob Hartley. This season, under new coach Glen Gulutzan, Hamilton had two goals and four assists through 14 games. Hamilton was averaging 19:02 of ice time, less than teammates Mark Giordano, TJ Brodie, Dennis Wideman, and Deryk Engelland.
Calgary GM Brad Treliving did not acquire Hamilton and sign him to a six-year, $34.5 million extension to be a No. 5 defenseman. The Flames projected Hamilton to be a top-pairing defenseman, just like he was on pace to becoming in Boston alongside Zdeno Chara and under Claude Julien.
In retrospect, Hamilton might have been better off staying in Boston. The Bruins would not be so desperate to acquire a three-zone defenseman. All around, it was a regrettable situation.
Kadri’s hit bad, but within rules
Nazem Kadri skated for his blindside hit of Daniel Sedin on Nov. 5. Which he should have. The Department of Player Safety declined to reprimand Kadri because he didn’t make Sedin’s head the principal point of contact. As bad as the video looked with an unsuspecting Sedin getting dropped and smashing his head into the ice, Kadri didn’t violate any rules.
That said, Kadri had to answer Jannik Hansen’s challenge after he cleaned Sedin’s clock because of the nature of the Toronto forward’s hit: legal but disrespectful.
These incidents, while less common than before, still happen. They add nothing to the game save for putting players at risk. Nobody likes them, especially when one of their own is on the receiving end.
Kadri’s hit cleared every sentence of the NHL rule book save for charging, which was the initial call. But the hit did not pass the smell test. The Maple Leafs would have been similarly outraged had a Canuck taken out Auston Matthews in a similar fashion. There was no need for Kadri to flatten Sedin like he did.
The rematch is Dec. 3 in Vancouver. Kadri might have to accept one more challenge for the roiling blood to settle down. It would be the right thing for Kadri to do, unlike the wrong thing he did to Sedin.
Here’s a great tip for goal scorers
David Backes scored three goals in his first nine games as a Bruin. One came off a deflection of a David Pastrnak one-timer in the season opener against Columbus. Backes set up in front of Sergei Bobrovsky, put his stick on the ice, and gained position on Seth Jones. The Columbus defenseman tried to lift Backes’s stick. But the forward held his ground, tipped Pastrnak’s shot with his blade, and turned just in time to see the puck go in the net.
A play that looked so easy to execute requires a career’s worth of work.
After most morning skates and practices, Backes employs the help of assistant coach Jay Pandolfo. While Backes sets up in front of the boards, Pandolfo flips puck after puck for him to tip on both backhand and forehand.
“It’s activating your hand-eye coordination and some of those muscle-memory things as a net-front guy on the power play being able to tip those shots coming in,” Backes said. “Goalies, if it’s typically a straight shot, they’re going to be able to save it if they’re not screened real well. It’s just an opportunity to cue all those things in. It’s kind of a routine I’ve developed over my time in the league and continuing with Jay.”
The routine doesn’t end with Backes tipping each puck and waiting for the next to arrive. After each attempted deflection, Backes turns to face the boards, just like he would in a game.
Part of the net-front job description is to find loose pucks after they’ve ticked off a stick or bumped off a body. It’s not easy to turn, spot the puck, and jam it home in traffic. It demands players such as Backes to identify the puck’s location, be strong enough to withstand cross-checks, and keep the stick down instead of letting an opponent lift it out of harm’s way.
Thus, the practice.
“You’ve got to turn and try to find the rebound, and you’ve probably got somebody that’s trying to knock you out of the front of the net,” Backes said. “It’s technique. Some of it’s luck. Some of it’s just being strong on your skates and giving yourself the opportunity so that over time, you’re probably going to have 30-40 percent of those pucks that are there and you’ll have the opportunity to whack it home. You don’t want to miss out on any of those opportunities by being in the wrong spot, being on your knees, or facing the wrong direction.”
NHL practices caution with Raanta
With a little more than four minutes gone in the third period of Tuesday’s game between the Rangers and Canucks, Mikael Granlund drove into goalie Antti Raanta with help from Ryan McDonagh. The force of Granlund’s shoulder into Raanta’s chin sent the goalie backward, prompting him to crack the back of his head on the ice. Raanta stayed down for several seconds under the watch of trainer Jim Ramsay, but shook off the collision and stayed on the ice for New York’s tying power-play goal. But at 11:33 of the third, exactly four minutes of playing time after the collision, Raanta exited the game to undergo concussion protocol. This year, the NHL expanded the use of spotters at each rink. They have been instructed to monitor players for suspected concussions and give the mandate to pull them for testing. So as Raanta departed, Henrik Lundqvist came in for 6:19 of relief work and allowed go-ahead goals to Alex Burrows and Sven Baertschi. By the time Raanta cleared the protocol and returned to the net, the damage was done. The Rangers suffered the unfortunate consequences of the new procedure. But it’s a worthy price to pay to keep a better watch on head injuries.
Iginla starts at his usual pace
From the duh department: Jarome Iginla had just two goals and no assists in his first 12 games. The ex-Bruin always has been a wretched starter, even dating to his days in Calgary. Of late, Iginla has been riding with Gabriel Landeskog and Carl Soderberg on a misfiring Colorado club. The Avalanche were averaging a league-worst 2.00 goals through their first dozen games, partly because of Iginla’s on-schedule slow starts. The broad-shouldered right wing could be in the last season of his career. If Colorado continues its pace, Iginla could be a deadline acquisition. By then, the 39-year-old should have found his touch.
Slow adjustment for Eriksson
Three years ago, following his arrival from Dallas in the Tyler Seguin trade, Loui Eriksson had a tough time adjusting in Boston. It’s looking like Eriksson is experiencing a similar break-in period in Vancouver. The cerebral wing had scored just once in his first 15 games. Eriksson had two goals in his first eight games in Boston before John Scott knocked him out with a concussion. That year, Eriksson posted an 8.7 percent shooting percentage, second lowest of his career following his rookie season (7.7 percent). This season, Eriksson is burying pucks at just a 4.2 percent clip, well off his career rate of 13.7 percent. Eriksson’s other numbers, however, are doing just fine. He has been his regular puck-possession self, recording a team-high 56.0 Corsi For percentage. He is leading Vancouver forwards by averaging 19:03 of ice time, indicating the trust he’s earned from his coaches. Bad luck doesn’t last forever. Eriksson’s production is due for a spike.
Howard may be a good gamble
Jimmy Howard has come to accept that long term, Petr Mrazek is Detroit’s ace. But Howard also has accepted that if he continues his current pace of play, Las Vegas will be sure to spend one of its expansion picks on the ex-University of Maine netminder. Through seven appearances, Howard was 4-2-0 with a 1.22 goals-against average and .961 save percentage. Howard’s deeper numbers are also excellent: a .969 even-strength save percentage (just shy of Carey Price’s .971 standard) and a .938 mark during opposing power plays (Price was .880). Howard’s done all this behind a team that has chased the puck more than it’s controlled it. Howard was formerly an aggressive goalie. He’s playing a quieter game this season, settling back in his crease and waiting for plays to approach. Howard is signed through 2019 at $5,291,667 annually.
One of Zach Werenski’s many impressive qualities is his ability to park his mistakes. On the opening shift against the Bruins on Thursday, Werenski made a lazy pass to the middle in the defensive zone that Brad Marchand intercepted. Bobrovsky bailed out Werenski with a pad stop on Marchand. Instead of letting the mistake stay in his head, Werenski quickly flushed it and played a team-high 21:57 for the Blue Jackets. The smooth 19-year-old has been the NHL’s best rookie defenseman so far . . . There aren’t many forward combinations playing better than Alex Galchenyuk and Alexander Radulov. Galchenyuk, now a full-time center, is comfortable both setting up and taking dishes from Radulov, the monstrous wing with soft hands. Teams have to defend against both left-shot forwards instead of expecting Radulov to be Galchenyuk’s triggerman. So far, Montreal’s one-year, $5.75 million gamble on Radulov is paying off. Florida was also interested in the big wing . . . Arlington native Peter Axtman is aiming to launch Barn Magazine, a quarterly hockey print publication. Axtman is seeking donations via a Kickstarter campaign. For more information, visit www.barnmagazine.com . . . Reports had ornery post-election Americans ready to flood over the Canadian border at Highgate Springs, Vt. Instead of a wall, they were turned back by Carey Price.
According to hockey-reference.com, the Canadiens’ Al Montoya is just the 10th goalie on a non-expansion team in the last 25 seasons to allow double-digit goals in one game. It’s worth noting that seven of the 10 occurrences happened before December, showing that goalies can start the reason rusty, too.