Facing Off is a weekly column debating five of hockey’s hottest topics each and every Monday. From current events like trades and hat tricks to bigger-picture stuff like scandals and expansion — you name it, we’re debating it. Albeit, not always with a serious tone. We’re keeping this column light, so keep that in mind when reading, and feel free to join in on the fun by leaving a comment. Follow us on Twitter (@FacingOff_THW) and get in on the debate there too.
First, a moment of silence for my journalistic idol Elliotte Friedman, whose 30 Thoughts column is a must read every single time and was a big inspiration behind Facing Off.
In case you missed it, poor Elliotte endured one of those ‘oh no’ moments while serving as CBC’s lead swimming commentator at the Rio Olympics. Arguably the most connected hockey insider was a little out of his element in that role but otherwise did a bang-up job calling the action. Unfortunately, his blunder — mixing up the lanes and declaring Ryan Lochte a gold-medal winner over American icon Michael Phelps — will live on infamy. It was an easy mistake to make, with the compatriots swimming side-by-side, but you could hear Friedman’s heart sink to the pool floor when he realized Phelps had actually won, in convincing fashion no less. That little bit of ‘dead air’ in between was gut-wrenching to say the least.
Friedman tried to regroup for a women’s race moments later but was clearly still rattled in referring to Canadian sensation Penny Oleksiak — the younger sister of Dallas Stars defenceman Jamie Oleksiak — as Emily Overholt, another Canuck who wasn’t competing in that particular race. In that case, Friedman recovered just before Oleksiak touched the wall in a tie for gold and he held it together the rest of the way.
Talk about a rough day at the office. And talk about it, Friedman did — facing the music the very next day in a candid interview for Sports Illustrated. He handled the entire situation incredibly well and although some were quick to kick him while he was down — comparing Friedman’s error to Steve Harvey’s Miss Universe mishap — it was good to see the majority of hockey people on Twitter had Friedman’s back and were equally quick to pick him up with words of encouragement.
To @FriedgeHNIC, hang in. Great at your job, even better person. Sometimes $#!+ just happens. Could happen to anyone. Onward & upward, pal.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) August 12, 2016
Watching that all play out in real time, I must say I gained — not lost — a ton of respect for Friedman, and I look forward to him getting back to doing what he does best. Hopefully he got the stiff drink he desired after the fact too.
It was a harsh reminder that nobody is perfect and also of the high-risk nature of live television or radio. As we prepare to launch the Facing Off podcast — which could debut as early as next week — and as I plan on doing live hits on Periscope this coming season, Friedman’s reality is the greatest fear for those of us putting ourselves out there in a public forum. When mistakes inevitably happen, here’s hoping we’re able to emulate Friedman’s humility, class and all-around professionalism. He really did take it like a champ.
After all, the show must go on . . . and getting on with this week’s Facing Off, I’m joined by Félix Sicard, one of our regular contributors who covers the Anaheim Ducks for THW.
The Ducks haven’t exactly been making headlines lately — at least not to the degree of Patrick Roy, Jimmy Vesey or the Las Vegas expansion franchise that remains nameless. I’ll admit the Nighthawks are growing on me, but time will tell how that turns out, with the official announcement still upwards of a month away.
There wasn’t much in the way of player transactions last week, though free-agent defenceman James Wisniewski did commit to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a training-camp tryout.
Antoine Vermette apparently has a handful of contract offers and will be choosing his new team any minute now after getting bought out by the Coyotes. Oddly, Arizona is apparently close to bringing back Radim Vrbata, who would seem to be a downgrade on Vermette, albeit a winger versus a centre.
However, all eyes are on Vesey — the Hobey Baker winner as college hockey’s most valuable player, who spurned the Nashville Predators and has thus far rebuffed the Buffalo Sabres to become a free agent as of today. Well, technically tomorrow, and he’s not expected to sign until Thursday or Friday of this week.
— The Hockey Writers (@TheHockeyWriter) August 15, 2016
Before we get too carried away with Vesey, we can’t overlook Roy . . .
Let’s start with the big news from last week . . . were you surprised by Roy’s resignation? Are the Avs doomed without him or destined for greatness? Who would you hire as Roy’s replacement? Who would be on your shortlist of candidates?
SICARD: I was actually pretty shocked at first. The news was so out of the blue, especially in a month where getting exciting hockey news is like trying to find video evidence of Jared Boll scoring goals (read: very difficult).
Roy’s resignation can only be seen as a positive for a franchise that was in dire need of a change behind the bench. The Avalanche have been the very worst possession team in the NHL since Roy came on board in 2013, despite a roster laden with some good young talent. The Hall-of-Fame goaltender simply couldn’t instill a system that was anything close to functional.
On top of that, it often felt as if Roy was becoming a distraction off the ice. His post-game pressers were anything but predictable, taking jabs at anything from analytics to Matt Duchene’s goal celebrations (often without even being asked about the subject itself). Duchene might have subtly fist-pumped upon hearing the news.
The move comes at an awkward time for Colorado though, and may very well leave the Avs scrambling. Big names like Bruce Boudreau and Guy Boucher are off the market, so they’ll have to get creative with their hiring process. If anything, I’d just like to see them get creative instead of going for the low-hanging fruit that is Bob Hartley. Perhaps a progressive coach like Dallas Eakins could really drive that roster forward.
FISHER: The timing was surprising for sure. Nobody saw that one coming, not even Joe Sakic — who had to cut his holiday short — and presumably not the Avs’ players. It’s true, Roy wasn’t a great coach in terms of possession and his passion probably willed the team to a playoff berth in his first season — and him to a Jack Adams Trophy as coach of the year. It was all, predictably, downhill from there and Roy stepping down was deemed good news for the Avs throughout hockey circles. He would have been a tough fire for Sakic, given their relationship and what Roy meant to that franchise from his playing career. At the end of the day, some guys are just better players than coaches and I think Roy falls into that category — much like Wayne Gretzky — although Roy was innovative in other ways, such as pulling the goalie sooner than later.
The Avs won’t necessarily miss Roy behind the bench, but there will be growing pains with an outside hire coming in this late in the offseason. Especially with Roy’s coaching style and systems being so chaotic as opposed to systematic. It’ll be a big adjustment for Colorado’s players regardless of who takes over. They will have less than two months to get on the same page before the season starts, and that could result in some early struggles.
As for who I’d hire, I’ve given it quite a bit of thought. I do see Hartley as a favourite to land this job, considering his history in Colorado — he coached that team, including Sakic and others still in the organization, to a Stanley Cup in 2001 — and the fact Hartley was a head coach in the Western Conference last season. He’d be a quick study based on his experience, both in Colorado and in Calgary.
However, like Félix, I’d rather see the Avs go in a new-and-different direction. I’d also like to see more of a progressive coach. In fact, I’d even like to see a former Edmonton Oilers coach get the job too. Unlike Félix, I’m not referring to Eakins, who was a disaster in implementing his swarm defence that spelled the end of Devan Dubnyk in Edmonton.
My replacement would be Ralph Krueger. He didn’t get a fair shake in Edmonton but did get more out of Nail Yakupov as a rookie than anybody has since. Krueger is already coming back to North America next month as the head coach of Team Europe at the World Cup in Toronto. He’d definitely warrant consideration for Colorado and, heck, I’d rather hire Todd Nelson than Eakins too if it’s going to be an ex-Oiler. Nelson was impressive in his AHL call-up to Edmonton and has continued his minor-league success with Detroit’s farm team.
Eakins was on my list of candidates to mention, but he was still below the likes of Ron Wilson and Kevin Dineen among guys who have been around the block, plus Travis Green and Sheldon Keefe as top coaching prospects out of the AHL. I’m a big fan of Green and still think he should have got the Anaheim gig. If Sakic wanted to be really bold, he could go with a rookie pro like Steve Konowalchuk (WHL, Seattle) or Kris Knoblauch (OHL, Erie) who have enjoyed substantial success in the junior ranks. Or maybe just maybe, the Avs would stay closer to home and take a chance on Denver University coach Jim Montgomery.
Boudreau and Boucher may be long gone, but there are still some quality options available this summer — and the Avs might be better off without Roy regardless of who they end up hiring.
— Facing Off (@FacingOff_THW) August 11, 2016
Now for the anticipated big news of this week . . . it’s time to handicap the Vesey sweepstakes. Rank the top-five destinations. Who do you consider the frontrunners? Any dark-horses worth mentioning? Where do you see him signing?
SICARD: With the most recent reports, it seems that Chicago and New Jersey have emerged as frontrunners. The Devils should be the frontrunners, at least in his mind, since they seem to offer the best shot at a top-six spot right away. If he can deliver on his potential, he could really round out an offense that already got a gigantic boost in acquiring Taylor Hall. Is New Jersey a darkhorse playoff team in the East?
FISHER: How strange does Hall look in the No. 9? Oh right, this is about Vesey. My bad. If I were Vesey, I’d want nothing to do with the Devils and I’m surprised New Jersey is even in the running. With or without Vesey, I see the Devils finishing closer to the draft lottery — as in bottom-three overall — than to the playoffs. I ranked them dead-last in the East in my offseason predictions and, correct me if I’m wrong, but New Jersey isn’t the most desirable place to live? It’s not like he’d be playing on a line with Hall anyway — they are both left-wingers and Hall will likely line up alongside Adam Henrique, his junior teammate, and 30-goal man Kyle Palmieri. So that would leave Vesey to play with Mike Cammalleri — another left-winger who’s capable of shifting to the right side — and Travis Zajac or fellow rookie Pavel Zacha? No thanks.
It’s believed Vesey would prefer to play in the East — Chicago is the only West team getting any mentions in the media — but the opportunity to join the Blackhawks would be tough to pass up. Unlike New Jersey, Chicago actually has a prime top-line spot to offer Vesey, next to Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. That seems, to me, like the best fit for Vesey.
— The Hockey Writers (@TheHockeyWriter) August 14, 2016
Personally, I’d also rank Buffalo, Toronto, the Rangers and perhaps Boston ahead of New Jersey. The Sabres currently own Vesey’s rights and haven’t given up on signing him yet. Vesey has been working out with Jack Eichel this offseason and they could be a dynamic duo, especially with Sam Reinhart rounding out that young potent line — playing behind the veteran trio of Ryan O’Reilly between Evander Kane and Kyle Okposo. That would be quite the top six for Buffalo and another better landing spot for Vesey, though Buffalo is far from tropical too.
I’m a bit surprised that neither of the Florida teams are on his radar, though a rumour did surface that Steve Yzerman and the Tampa Bay Lightning could have an offer up their sleeve.
Vesey’s dad is employed by the Maple Leafs and Toronto drafted his brother, but that team is already rich in forward prospects. Maybe if top left-winger James van Riemsdyk won’t be healthy to start the season or if the Leafs have a trade in place for him, then adding Vesey would make more sense.
Vesey is from Boston, that’s his hometown team, but even he realizes the Bruins are going nowhere fast and that seems to be scaring Vesey off.
The Rangers always have an iron in these college free-agent fires, and they did lure Kevin Hayes to the Big Apple two years ago under the same circumstances.
Don’t be shocked if a couple new teams enter the conversation in the coming days, with Vesey’s agents likely to hear from more than half the league — especially if they are willing to entertain additional interest from the Western Conference.
Right now, my money is on Chicago, with Buffalo a close second and Toronto third, but anything is possible.
— Facing Off (@FacingOff_THW) August 11, 2016
What’s your opinion of Vesey? Is he being overhyped or is he the real deal? What kind of expectations do you have for his rookie season? Do those expectations change depending on where he signs? Which current NHLer(s) would you compare him to?
SICARD: Seeing how college free agents have panned out in recent years, it’s very hit or miss. Early reports always make the player sound like they’re the next big thing. I’m betting he doesn’t make much of an impact in his rookie season — the transition from NCAA hockey to the NHL can be a brutal one. Generational talents like Toews did it out of North Dakota, but that’s essentially a major-junior program in its own right.
I’m highly skeptical of Vesey, and the fact that this story is in the headlines speaks more to the fact that we’ve truly hit the dog days of summer more than anything else.
FISHER: I tend to agree here, and these college free agents have actually been more miss than hit in recent years. There seems to be one big name every summer and rarely do they become big difference-makers as rookies. In saying that, any team would love to add a more mature prospect ready to step right in on a relatively cheap entry-level contract. That’s why there is such a commotion over Vesey and those before him. Vesey is a hot commodity right now, but he’ll have a lot to live up to — not only as a rookie but throughout his NHL career however long it lasts.
I think Vesey will be a player. I could see him being fairly effective right from the get-go because of his size and skill-set as a shoot-first winger with some power elements to his game and a bit of grit for good measure.
Comparatively, I see a lot of Chris Kreider in Vesey, though Vesey seems to possess a better shot. He’s that type of player from what I’ve seen and heard. Vesey is coming into the league as a 23-year-old, the same age that Kreider cracked the Rangers’ roster as a full-time player. That season, Kreider scored 17 goals and 37 points in 66 games — prorated to 21 goals and 46 points over 82 games. I can’t really see Vesey outperforming Kreider’s rookie season, and I’d consider 20 goals and 40 points a reasonable expectation for a successful debut. Based on that stat-line, I highly doubt that Vesey will become a Calder candidate this season, but stranger things have happened over the years.
At the peak of his career, I could see Vesey scoring 30 goals and 60 points once or twice — perhaps a few times — but I don’t see him ever cracking the league’s top-20 point-getters even in his prime. I guess best-case scenario, Vesey is the second-coming of Jamie Benn or Jarome Iginla — that type of player — but I’m not nearly that high on him.
The whole college free-agent loophole is controversial. Lest we forget, your Ducks lost Justin Schultz in the same manner. Does the NHL need to nix this for the next CBA? Should it be addressed sooner than later? Or are you fine with the current system going forward?
SICARD: I think it’s fine. Look at it this way: it gives guys like us something to talk about in mid-August when there’s absolutely nothing else to discuss. On a more serious note though, I’m more of the mind that players should have the most agency possible. The draft itself is completely arbitrary and limits a players’ ability to choose his workplace, so I’m in favor of anything that empowers the players. I mean, how weird would it be if when you turned 18 someone just decided for you that you were going to work in some city you had never even been to? Wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense, right?
FISHER: That’s a good point, but if that someone was offering me the kind of signing bonus these teenagers get nowadays, I’d be on the next plane, train or automobile to whatever city that might be. The potential to be a millionaire playing a sport for a living makes the draft process in determining one’s fate much more tolerable. I mean, I’d gladly rewind the clock a decade and take their place right now if anybody is complaining. I hear crickets . . .
As for this loophole, I don’t like it. I anticipated Félix having more hard feelings over the Schultz situation too. In my opinion, if a team drafts you and wants to sign you, then you shouldn’t be able to say ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ You should be obligated to start your career with that team — in Vesey’s case, Nashville — or that team should retain your playing rights for at least a couple extra years after you’re done with college.
I'm starting to wonder if NCAA commits might slip like "the russian factor" in the draft due to Hayes/Vesey loophole for NCAA players.
— Matt G (@Jayslightning79) June 20, 2016
If you’d rather go play in Europe and the KHL — and waste away — that’s your prerogative. But I don’t like the sense of entitlement we’re seeing from these NCAA holdouts, and I don’t think it’s fair to those teams that drafted and helped develop them into professionals.
Nashville isn’t getting any return on its investment into Vesey, and I don’t believe the Predators will be recouping a compensation draft pick for losing him either. To me, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and should be revisited for the next CBA — especially with how frequently this loophole is being exploited lately.
Your Ducks are one of the only teams with open roster spots for forwards. What, or who, are they waiting for? Which remaining free agents should they sign? Any trade targets in mind? Or do they go the PTO route with a bunch of training-camp invites competing for a couple contracts during preseason games? If Bob Murray stands pat and doesn’t add anybody, is Anaheim still a playoff team in 2017?
SICARD: Even with the atrocious moves they’ve made this summer, the Ducks are still a playoff team in my eyes thanks to their depth on the blue line. The likes of Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen provide dynamic play from the back end, and will help shore up their lack of depth up front.
Adding a forward will have to come through a trade, as Anaheim doesn’t have the cap room to absorb another contract. Their remaining space will be used on Lindholm and Rickard Rakell’s extensions, which will probably leave them with under $2 million in space. The organization seems to be banking that one of Nick Ritchie or Stefan Noesen can really take a step forward and play a major role up front. Knowing how patient Murray can be, it wouldn’t shock me if he waits to see how those two young forwards perform in training camp before pulling the trigger on a trade. Uncertain times await the Ducks, to say the least.
FISHER: In the spirit of Facing Off, I’ll beg to differ. If this is Anaheim’s roster going into training camp and into the regular season, I don’t like the Ducks’ chances of making the playoffs. I made that point in my offseason predictions by leaving Anaheim on the outside looking in. Based on current rosters, I think the competition — such as the Alberta teams — has improved enough this summer to overtake the Ducks.
I don’t think Murray can afford to be patient. I think he needs to be proactive immediately and give Randy Carlyle more to work with if this team is going to continue to contend in the Western Conference. The Ducks lost David Perron, Jamie McGinn and Chris Stewart to free agency and strangely chose not to extend Brandon Pirri, who is just as strangely still available on the open market. Aside from the aforementioned plug that is Boll, Mason Raymond was Anaheim’s only other forward addition and he’s coming off a buyout. The Ducks have holes on the wings and hoping for rookies to fill them adequately isn’t a wise approach. Ritchie should be able to play down the depth chart, but the jury is still out on Noesen, who could easily be outplayed in camp by 2016 first-rounder Max Jones.
Regardless, I think the Ducks need to bring in some veterans to offset those losses. Fortunately, there are still a handful of quality free-agent wingers available. Jiri Hudler would top that list for me, followed by Tomas Fleischmann, Brad Boyes, Alex Tanguay and Vrbata if the Coyotes don’t end up inking the latter. I’d stop messing around and sign two of them, or at least invite a few to training camp.
Pirri would have been a good guy to hold onto, and how good with Vesey look in that vacant left-wing spot alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry? That’s been a revolving door in recent years and if Carlyle’s plan is to pair his top guns again, I’d be begging Murray to gift-wrap that opportunity for Vesey. It’d be almost as tempting as playing with Toews and Hossa.
If the Ducks do have to resort to trading a defenceman for a forward, Cam Fowler would likely be the odd-man out. If Vesey circles back to sign with the Sabres, then Kane could be on his way out of Buffalo. Building a deal around Fowler for Kane seems fair enough and could be a win-win for both teams.
Vancouver would still like to add a top-six forward too. Who makes the most sense for the Canucks? Or should Jim Benning just embrace the rebuild and tank for Nolan Patrick?
SICARD: Benning should absolutely embrace the rebuild. As much as I enjoyed watching the Sedins and company make deep playoff runs, that era is long gone. However, that run was built on smart drafting and shrewd trading, something that the Canucks could definitely learn from and deploy moving forward.
This Vancouver roster isn’t even good enough to make the playoffs right now in a weaker Pacific Division, so I’m not really sure what one more top-six forward will do. All sights should be set on the draft and Patrick.
FISHER: Félix is right here, and have the Canucks right there with the Devils in terms of being destined for the draft lottery. But ownership in Vancouver refuses to take ‘no (playoffs)’ for an answer and is determined to put butts in the seats even if means remaining marred in mediocrity for the foreseeable future. That is just their modus operandi.
So Benning is on a mission to find another top-six winger. Kane’s name is coming up, considering he’s from Vancouver and was a popular junior player there — thus would be a good draw for fans. The Canucks had hoped to sign Milan Lucic for the same reasons but had to settle for Loui Eriksson to flank the Sedins. Chris Tanev for Kane has been rumoured, but I have no clue if there’s any truth to that or whether the offer was ever on the table from either side.
I would imagine the Canucks are still very much in the mix for Hudler too. They might actually be the frontrunners if the Ducks are limited by their internal cap. According to GeneralFanager.com, Anaheim is currently 26th out of 30 teams in committed salary with more than $9 million to spend, so I assume the Ducks could find a way to open the wallet for a Hudler type. First things first, Anaheim will want to take care of its RFAs — Lindholm and Rakell — but if I’m Murray, I don’t let the Canucks land Hudler on the cheap.
Any advice for rookie podcasters?
SICARD: My biggest piece of advice for newcomers to the podcast scene is to not be afraid to spend a little extra cash on equipment. It’s a worthy investment, especially since you’ll probably end up having to upgrade somewhere down the line. And most importantly: make sure you’re talking about something that genuinely interests you. It really goes a long way in keeping things fresh. Enjoy!
Is Jonathan Toews overrated? Where will the Ducks finish?That + more answered in Ep. 1 of the Garage Hockey Podcast: https://t.co/Ocj1fbDUf9
— Felix Sicard (@Felix_Sicard) July 31, 2016
FISHER: Will do, and duly noted with our Facing Off podcast embarking on its maiden voyage very soon, with Andrew Forbes — who covers the Toronto Maple Leafs and serves as fantasy hockey editor for THW — pencilled in as our first guest with Félix to follow in the not-too-distant future. Fun times ahead!
Who won this round of Facing Off? Feel free to weigh-in with your opinions in the comments below. We will be checking in periodically to both defend and expand on our initial answers. If you want to see us face-off over a topic, we’re open to suggestions as well.
Larry Fisher is a senior writer and head scout for The Hockey Writers, having been an at-large contributor for THW since August 2014. Fisher covers both the NHL and the WHL, specializing in prospects and NHL draft content, including his annual mock drafts that date back to 2012. Fisher has also been a beat writer for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets since 2008, formerly working as a sports reporter/editor for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada from 2008-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.