Fools! The whole lot of you! Hockey does not rest – in fact, outside of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the week or two leading up to the trading deadline, the start of the NHL offseason is wrought with drama.
First of all, some coaches are finding homes while others are righteously being shown the door. There are rumors abounding that Barry Melrose will return to coaching in Tampa Bay after being away from it for nearly 15 years after being let go by the Los Angeles Kings, just go visit ESPN.com’s NHL section to see evidence of that.
One guy I’m keeping my eye on, and for purely selfish reasons, is John Tortorella. Back in late September of 2001, I was able to cover a pre-season matchup between the Lightning and Blue Jackets in Syracuse, NY and one of the guys we were able to get an interview with was Coach Tortorella. My partner in crime on this broadcast, Dom, and I were thrilled to get this opportunity and Torts was a guy that we were excited to talk to.
At the time, Vinny Lecavalier was mired in a contract squabble with the front office and it was looking like he was going to miss the beginning of the season. Not good if you’re a young and ready to move team like the Lightning. They’d just acquired Nikolai Khabibulin and Martin St. Louis was just about to break out after coming to Tampa from Calgary.
What transpires during our pre-game interview goes down in the annals of time as being perhaps the most uncomfortable couple of minutes ever. As you know, Tortorella is intense – in a big way – just ask anyone who’s played goal for him. After a couple of light introductory questions, I fire away asking about their first round draft pick. After all, it’s pre-season and this is the place where you would see a highly-touted kid. Problem was, the highly-touted kid they picked was Russian centerman Alexander Svitov…who was still in Russia. Torts set me straight and said he’d only seen the kid on tape but they’re high on him and hope to see him next season.
Dom, being the ever diligent friend, ends up bailing me out by asking Torts about Lecavalier and his holdout. Visibly bothered by the question, Torts gruffly answers stating that he’s not in camp where he should be and that he only cares about the guys that bothered to come to camp in the first place.
Suffice to say, the interview was wrapped up quickly after that doubleheader of d’oh. Dom and I tag-teamed to put John Tortorella in a bad mood before the game even started. Awesome.
I’ve been a Tortorella fan before getting to talk to him and I greatly enjoyed seeing him win the Stanley Cup in 2004 as well as getting the nod to coach Team USA this year for the World Championships. He’ll get another job, he’ll go somewhere where there’s no questions about goaltending. He’ll go somewhere with a wily pack of veterans with a ton of talent. There’s only one team that fits that bill right now – and that is San Jose.
The convenience of the Internet and being able to tack onto what you’ve already written allows me to link you to a story out of Tampa and Vinny Lecavalier reflecting upon his years under John Tortorella and speaking a lot about that tumultuous start to the 2001-2002 season to which Dom and I paid witness to firsthand. Who doesn’t love the Internet?!
Elsewhere, older players are hanging it up.
Among them, Dominik Hasek, Mattias Norstrom and apparently Trevor Linden as well. One guy not hanging them up is Mats Sundin – and you better believe that with the Toronto Maple Leafs at the center of any action around him, especially with Mats as an unrestricted free agent, that all the cameras will be trained on what Sundin decides to do.
Of course, the early rumors surround Team Sweden of North America in Detroit lurking waiting to give Mats the shot at a Cup he so desires. While Sundin would no doubt fit in goldenly with the Red Wings, the big question is what kind of deal will Sundin ask for and how bad does he want to win. He could surely command a fat contract out of someone with the space, but a team like Detroit will not dump a ton of money on Sundin for a year or two.
Toronto will be hot on his case and expect a public relations fiasco if Sundin signs elsewhere. After all, it was Sundin who asked to not be traded at the deadline last year and most of the Maple Leafs fans lauded him endlessly for sticking with the team. Trick now is that if Sundin bolts elsewhere now, Toronto gets nothing in return for him whereas at the deadline, a lofty sum could’ve been brought in return. Either Mats ends up an idiotic saint or he’ll be the pariah of Toronto (wrongly) for going somewhere else – especially if it ends up being Detroit.
We’re also just a week or two away from the NHL Entry Draft where Steven Stamkos will be the top pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Lightning GM Jay Feaster dealt away Brad Richards to Dallas at the trade deadline this past season, and by winning the NHL Draft Lottery, he gets to draft his replacement in Stamkos. Stamkos is the real deal and he’ll get to score a ton in the NHL when he arrives – and given the situation the Lightning find themselves in, crippled by bad cap management and huge contracts, Stamkos may get the opportunity to jump into the lineup right away. He’ll make a great addition to a team starving for scoring talent beyond their first line.
The Los Angeles Kings pick second, and they really ought to feel a sense of relief that they’re not in the position to pick Stamkos or not because this team is loaded with young forward talent already and have goaltending on the way in Stephen Bernier but their defensive corps are severely lacking and after Stamkos, this is a defensemen draft.
The Kings and GM Dean Lombardi will have their choice of any of these Canadian junior defensemen: Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Tyler Myers, Luke Schenn and Alex Pietrangelo who happens to be the son of former Whalers and Penguins goaltender Frank Pietrangelo. All of these guys rank out high on the NHL Central Scouting Board and all of them would be welcome in Los Angeles. Remember, the Kings were starting retreads like Jon Klemm for better parts of the season – and they desperately need other defensemen to surround young blue-chip stud Jack Johnson.
There’s so much going on and so much left to happen – it’s just funny to think that some people actually put hockey out of sight and out of mind once summer is underway.