Drew Doughty

NHL agent poll hits many topics, shows optimism about avoiding 2022 lockout

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For a long time, agents in the NHL and other sports were demonized, often to the advantage of ownership. As many fans have started to realize a little bit more about what goes on behind the scenes, such viewpoints have become more nuanced. It doesn’t hurt that agents can express their message — and their clients’ perspectives — more freely over social media.

Then again, for every outspoken agent like Allan Walsh, there are plenty we don’t hear a whole lot from. That’s part of what makes Puck Pedia’s NHL agent poll so fascinating.

While the full post is worth your time, here are some of the highlights from Puck Pedia’s NHL agent poll.

NHL agent poll provides optimism about avoiding 2022 lockout

Puck Pedia polled 25 top NHL agents in late January to early February, so COVID-19 issues aren’t really touched upon. As they mentioned, it’s possible that the pandemic might push certain opinions a bit, but for the most part, I’d agree that these results are still worth mulling over.

Maybe the most important one is that 80 percent of NHL agents polled believe that there won’t be a 2022 lockout.

Reports indicate that the NHL and NHLPA underwent some CBA extension/new CBA talks amid the pause. So, to some extent, this shouldn’t be surprising.

Still, I think I speak for most hockey fans when I say that any positive lockout-avoidance talk remains good news. It probably always will be after 2004-05 was scuttled, and 2012-13 was shortened.

Other issues the poll covers

  • When it came to viewpoints on specific GMs, one former and one current Toronto Maple Leafs GM represented polar opposites.

Thirty three percent of NHL agents in the poll chose Lou Lamoriello as the most difficult GM to work with. Meanwhile, when asked about a GM you’d want to work with to get a great deal for a client, Kyle Dubas received 29 percent of votes. The closest GM behind Lamoriello was Bob Murray at 14 percent, while Dubas topped the other list by an even more dramatic margin (no other GM exceeded six percent).

As Puck Pedia notes, recency bias likely inflates Dubas. Recency bias surfaces in plenty of polls like these, including for players. (Though you won’t see players changing their minds about, say, Carey Price or Drew Doughty too quickly, either.)

But I wouldn’t be surprised if a few Maple Leafs fans will grit their teeth at this. After all, you can spin that in a pretty negative way.

  • Some of the best contract votes (Nathan MacKinnon as team-friendly) and worst (Milan Lucic, Brent Seabrook) ended up being far from surprising. Others were a little bit unexpected, though.
  • On the negative side, it was surprising to see Erik Karlsson garner more votes than, say, Sergei Bobrovsky. From a recency bias perspective, maybe absence made hearts grow fonder about David Clarkson? (I’m guessing absence made at least an NHL agent or 20 straight-up forget about Clarkson.)
  • The positives inspired some interesting choices, too. I’m not sure many people would rank Calle Jarnkrok alongside David Pastrnak, but they were tied at 14 percent. Jarnkrok’s deal being more team-friendly than Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Brad Marchand? You do you, 14 percent of those NHL agents.

NHL agent poll ends up reasonable — for the most part

For the most part, this NHL agent poll seemed to produce some understandable results. They certainly seem to have more grounded expectations than the sometimes-audacious things NHL executives want to change about the CBA, at least.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Roundtable: Which non-playoff team has the brightest future?

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Which non-playoff team’s future do you feel most confident about?

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: The Senators’ future could be real bright if they’re allowed the resources to develop their prospect pool and manage to keep them in Ottawa.

What the Senators have been able to do over the last few years is build up a prospect cupboard that could form an extremely talented core down the line. Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, and Colin White have established themselves as roster regulars under age 22. Drake Batherson, Erik Brannstrom, and Logan Brown were given decent looks this season, but there’s more coming.

Alex Formenton and Josh Norris were named to the AHL’s 2019-20 All-Rookie Team and were First (Norris) and Second (Formenton) Team All-Stars with Belleville. Vitaly Abramov also had a strong year with the Baby Sens, while Jacob Bernard-Docker could be an offensive weapon from the blue line in the future.

One of the Senators’ biggest areas of need will be in net. Filip Gustavsson and Marcus Hogberg look to be next after Craig Anderson‘s time comes to an end.

That’s a decent amount of names we could be seeing in Ottawa over the next few seasons. But wait — there could be more! GM Pierre Dorion has managed to stock pile up to nine picks in the opening three rounds of the 2020 draft. Not to mention four in the first two rounds in 2021. Some of those picks could be used in trades to bulk up the roster, of course, which shows the Senators are pointed in the right direction. They just have to follow the correct route.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: When in doubt, go with youth, so I lean toward the Devils.

First and foremost, they already have two really good young forwards in fellow first overall picks Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. The Devils recently extended Hischier to a reasonable deal, while they get to enjoy the luxury of Hughes having two more years on his rookie contract.

Such saving means that P.K. Subban‘s $9M price tag doesn’t hurt quite as much.

Beyond that, the Devils also have a lot of ammo to improve. They currently own three first-round picks in the 2020 NHL Draft, and at least two of those figure to be pretty good choices. The Devils could either add to their crop of prospects, move those picks in creative deals to get better sooner, or do a bit of both. New Jersey has cap space to either seek free agents or trades, too.

Now, the Devils have a lot of work to do, including deciding if Tom Fitzgerald gets to take “interim” off of his GM title. Goaltending and defense remain massive problems, and they sure could use more scoring depth, as well.

But at least the Devils have some building blocks in place. Also, the Senators have similar opportunities, yet they also have Eugene Melnyk as their owner. I’ll take the Devils in that duel, even if I can’t help but wonder about their ownership situation, too.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: The pause couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Kings, for two reasons. First, they had won seven games in a row – the league’s longest active winning streak. Second, the streak had pushed them down a couple spots in the lottery race. So they lost the chance to build even more momentum heading into the offseason, while also hurting their chances to win the No. 1 overall pick.

All that said, there should be serious optimism about the direction of the team. At the NHL level, there appear to be prime years left for Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and yes, perhaps even Jonathan Quick (from November on, he posted a 2.38 GAA and .916 SV%). Unheralded younger players like Alex Iafallo (17 goals, 43 points) and Matt Roy (team-leading +16) are becoming legitimate contributors. A big question was answered when oft-injured former first-rounder Gabe Vilardi finally made his NHL debut, and looked like he belonged scoring 7 points in 10 games. In small sample sizes each of the past two seasons, Cal Petersen has showed starter-level talent between the pipes.

With no key players on expiring contracts, GM Rob Blake has plenty of cap space (north of $23M) to work with this offseason. Could Los Angeles be a darkhorse destination for Taylor Hall?

But the biggest reason for confidence: the loaded prospect pool. The Kings have arguably the best non-NHL talent of any organization. They sent nine players to the 2020 World Juniors – most of any team – and from that group came the tournament’s leading goal and point scorer Samuel Fagemo, as well as Canada’s golden goal scorer Akil Thomas. Plus, with 6 picks in the first 3 rounds this year, things only stand to improve.

The big question for Kings fans: can enough of these prospects develop into quality NHL players while Kopitar and Doughty remain top-end talents? If so, LA may have what it takes to contend for a Cup once again.

PREVIOUS PHT ROUNDTABLES:
Which classic NHL jerseys should make a comeback?

The multi-part hockey docs we’d love to see made
Our favorite hockey call of all-time
What is your favorite hockey photo of all-time?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL Power Rankings: Six best playoff series of the decade

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What things do you look for in choosing the best NHL playoff series of the past decade?

The nail-biting action of sudden-death overtime? Grudges that inspire handshake line death threats?

(Please don’t say “lots of neutral-zone trap.” Even Jacques Lemaire would probably rather go fishing or something than watch that.)

During the weekend, the NHL and NHLPA made some traction toward a possible return to play, according to Pierre LeBrun. Even so, it’s pretty clear that if the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs happen, it will require some juggling.

Would it all really be worth it? That’s an extremely fair question to ask. Even so, all of this free time and the possible resumption of play give us a chance to think about how great, baffling, and nerve-wracking playoff hockey can be.

Let’s look at the six best NHL playoff series of the decade. In no way am I combining certain ones and generally cheating, kind of making it more than six series. I would never do that.

6. Sharks, Golden Knights engage in one wild Game 7

Personally, I don’t think it’s out of place to put last year’s Golden Knights – Sharks series on this list. And, yes, it can make it on this list based on the strength of that bewildering Game 7 alone.

In a vacuum, that Game 7 already inspires wonder.

Cody Eakin got whistled for that controversial major penalty when he bloodied Joe Pavelski. In mere minutes, the Golden Knights’ 3-0 Game 7 lead vanished as the Sharks scored a ridiculous four power-play goals. Almost as remarkably, Jonathan Marchessault showed that Vegas wouldn’t just quit, sending it to overtime. Then barely-used Barclay Goodrow scored a tremendous series-winner:

Sprinkle in added context and that Game 7 gets spicier.

Both Eakin and Pavelski are now on other teams. The Golden Knights fired Gerard Gallant this season, replacing him with DeBoer, who Gallant called a “clown” during that series. Heck, even Goodrow is out of San Jose now.

5. Flyers complete “reverse” sweep against Bruins, Round 2 in 2009-10

It’s hard to believe it, but Pro Hockey Talk came into existence during the 2009-10 season, forming around the 2009-10 trade deadline. Let me tell you: the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs served as a playoff run that’s tough to top.

Beyond Patrick Kane‘s funky overtime goal becoming the first Stanley Cup-clincher for PHT, Jaroslav Halak and the Habs served up two stunning upsets to the Capitals and Penguins in respective seven-game series.

(The baffled face of Bruce Boudreau became quite the gift for meme enthusiasts.)

But the sheer chaos of the second-round series between the Bruins and Flyers takes the cake.

The Flyers became what was then the third (and now the fourth) NHL team to rage back from a 3-0 series deficit. Even according to those standards, Philly poured in extra drama.

It was almost a little too on-the-nose. Just like in the series, the Bruins took a jarring 3-0 lead in Game 7. Also like the series, the Flyers refused to roll over, eventually winning Game 7 4-3 in overtime thanks to a Simon Gagne goal.

4. Bruins torment Maple Leafs in Game 7’s, especially in 2012-13

Aside from a respectable first-round series loss to the Capitals in 2016-17, every Maple Leafs season since 2005-06 ended in one of two ways:

  • Missing the playoffs.
  • Or losing to the Bruins in a heartbreaking Game 7.

We didn’t know it yet, but the “it was 4-1” nightmare ended up being the most horrific part of a terrifying trilogy. After serving as the slasher movie villain who wouldn’t die in 2012-13, the Bruins kept hunting down the Maple Leafs in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

(Nazem Kadri definitely served as the horror movie character who investigates that strange noise. Or maybe he was the person who did something last summer? I can’t decide.)

That Game 7 on May 13, 2013 remains dizzying. The Maple Leafs were up 4-1 5:29 into the third period, yet that lead unraveled during a series of events that remains hard to believe. Ultimately, Patrice Bergeron ended the series at 5-4 with an overtime-winner.

Again, repeated Game 7 letdowns open up these old wounds, and create new ones for Maple Leafs fans. Ouch.

3. Another seven-game series between the Capitals and Penguins (2016-17)

How about we just cobble together all of the great series the Capitals and/or Penguins were in during the decade? When in doubt, go with Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin.

After all, they both faced the Lightning in seven-game series. For sheer brutality and inanity, you could absolutely argue that the Flyers beating the Penguins in six games in 2011-12 should be a top-five series. And, of course, it was epic when the Capitals finally slayed the Penguins dragon in 2017-18.

But in boiling down this list to a manageable size, let’s go with another series that went seven between these two teams.

A truly fantastic Capitals team seemed to “choke,” falling behind 3-1 in the series. It’s easy forget that they defiantly forced a Game 7, though, because the Penguins ended up winning 2-0. Some rare tough moments for Braden Holtby set the stage for that redemptive run to win the Stanley Cup in 2018.

2. A riotous 2011 Stanley Cup Final series between the Canucks and Bruins

For a long time, I thought this series should be number one. It tops the list if you weigh memorable moments most heavily.

No doubt, the riots in Vancouver after Game 7 were ugly. It was also hard to look away.

The messiness started before all of the property damage, though. Tim Thomas didn’t want to “pump Roberto Luongo’s tires.” Brad Marchand was, well, Brad Marchand to the Sedin twins. An Aaron Rome hit on Nathan Horton backfired for the Canucks.

There was just so much going on. And, going by my tiebreaker standards, the Canucks also finally beat the Blackhawks earlier in that postseason.

But the actual hockey was hit-or-miss, at least compared to the best-of-the-best. Just look at the anticlimactic Game 7 itself, which the Bruins won 4-0.

Still, that was some wild stuff.

1. Kings beat Blackhawks in best NHL playoff series of the decade (2013-14)

As tempted as I was to go with riots and deflated tires, the epic back-and-forth between two of the best teams of the decade ultimately swayed me.

From 2009-10 through 2014-15, the Blackhawks and Kings won five of the six Stanley Cups. That 2014 Western Conference Final ended up being the peak of that rivalry.

From a Game 5 that required double overtime, to a Game 7 that also stretched beyond regulation, the hockey was truly sublime.

No doubt, the Kings pulling off the fourth-ever “reverse sweep” helped sway me, too. Los Angeles didn’t just come back from a 3-0 deficit against the Sharks. They absolutely roared back, winning those last four games by a combined score of 19-5.

Drew Doughty claimed he saw fear in the eyes of his Sharks opponents. Can you blame him for saying that after such a rally?

It turned out that the Kings would not be denied that postseason, and I cannot deny that their battle with the Blackhawks was the best of a strong decade of playoff series for the NHL.

MORE POWER RANKINGS:
Teams with the best long-term outlook
Looking at the top 2020 free agents
Best 2019-20 free agent signings
The most underrated players
Our favorite classic Costacos Brothers hockey posters
How to spice up a possible virtual 2020 NHL Draft

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

If games resume, athletes will ‘need to know when to peak’

Making it safe for America’s professional sports teams to start playing games is one thing.

Making sure athletes are in game shape is another.

The coronavirus pandemic brought sports to a halt, but stay-at-home orders are starting to be eased and a handful of NBA teams are opening practice facilities.

For players, the difference between merely working out and playing games will be a significant jump, and experts say things shouldn’t be rushed. With athletes unable to simulate game or even practice activity at home, they will need time before resuming competition.

“Whatever the amount of time is, just know that players will have the input and say so because we’re the ones that’s playing, and that comes first,” said Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul, president of the National Basketball Players Association. “We don’t ever want to put guys in a situation where their injury risk is high. It varies from player to player. But it’s at least got to be three to four weeks.”

Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego said players could be at different points based on their access to equipment.

“There’s veterans out there that may have a court in their home, in their facility and they’re probably a little bit more ready to go than others,” he said. “I think we’re talking weeks. This isn’t something where after one week these guys are ready to go.”

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has said on multiple occasions he believes a two- to three-week training camp would be needed before the season resumes. Many hockey teams have had trainers send at-home workout routines to players, but few if any have been on the ice in months.

“As much as I could mentally be in game mode, your body’s not ready for it if you don’t get a full offseason of training and if you don’t get to play a long training camp with like seven exhibition games,” Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. “If you only get a week training camp with a couple exhibition games, you’re going to ruin your body.”

Edmonton Oilers forward Alex Chiasson said it is on the athlete to be ready.

“That’s going to be on us,” he said. “We’re professional athletes. We’ve got to make sure we prepare. It’s not easy, but it is what it is, and we’ve got to deal with the situation as best as we can.”

While basketball and hockey were nearing their playoffs, baseball was in spring training when sports were shut down. It created a particular wrinkle for pitchers, who tend to train methodically toward full games.

Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said he expects another period that resembles spring training before games are played.

“The most important part of any spring training is preparation for your pitchers, especially your starting pitchers,” Rizzo said. “Whenever you have to expedite a spring training, that’s probably the most impactful decision that you have to make: how to ramp them up.”

Baltimore Orioles GM Mike Elias agreed.

“When baseball does come back, you have to worry about guys going a very small number of innings,” he said. “I don’t know that we’ve come up with a solution to that. … The public health guidelines makes it tough to do it without a training staff and coaches. Some of the pitchers are throwing into nets in their backyards and hitters are hitting off the tee.”

Tampa Bay catcher Mike Zunino said the pitchers were his biggest concern.

“The biggest worry is injuries,” he said. “It’s one of those things, I think guys are staying in shape, they’re throwing now. Hopefully a few weeks is enough. I think we’ll have to be smart as the season opens to keep guys fresh.”

Dr. Mike Reinold, senior medical adviser for the Chicago White Sox, said the challenge for pitchers has been how to at least maintain what they gained from their previous spring training progression.

“It will take around three weeks to get a starting pitcher likely ramped up to five innings, but that assumes that they have done the work to maintain themselves and are ready to even start that progression,” he said.

Reinold said preparing is complicated because there is no return date set: “They need to know when to peak.”

“That’s a big, important concept when we’re trying to get our athletes ready for a competitive season that they’re building for,” he said. “This is the first time in my career that we’ve ever not had that.”

Pittsburgh Pirates manager Derek Shelton said assessing each player’s condition after the layoff will be a key part of getting things rolling again. He said those conversations are happening even now.

“We don’t need a soft-tissue (injury) because guys were a little bit behind,” he said. “That’s why the openness of the player and the conversations we’re having now are so important so we have a baseline coming in.”

Milwaukee Brewers general manager David Stearns said a second preseason probably wouldn’t need to be too long once it’s deemed safe.

“Once it’s safe, we can turn this thing on pretty quickly,” he said.

Elias agreed: “We will be ready, and baseball will be ready for America when America is ready for us.”

Kings’ Doughty pessimistic NHL can resume season

Two-time Stanley Cup champion and 2016 Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty is pessimistic about the chances of the NHL resuming play this season.

The star Los Angeles Kings defenseman said Monday it’s going to be difficult for hockey to get back this season, even just to hold the playoffs and hand out the Stanley Cup.

“Honestly, I don’t see how the season is going to return,” Doughty said. “I really don’t. We have no idea when this virus is going to be over.”

The 30-year-old known for his frank answers and commentary cast doubt on the validity of a 2020 Cup winner, especially given that there were 189 regular-season games left and not all teams had played the same number of games. Doughty is also concerned about how playing late into the summer might affect next season, which the league has maintained it wants to play in full.

“I know they so badly want to give out the Stanley Cup this year, but in all seriousness it’s not going to be like winning a real Stanley Cup because the (regular) season wasn’t finished,” Doughty said. “There’s teams that couldn’t get in the playoffs. And then I’m assuming they’d have to come up with a different playoff format. I don’t know. It’d be a little different. I’m not a huge fan of it, as much as I want to play. I just don’t want things to go into next season and affecting those (games).”

Doughty, who won the Cup with Los Angeles in 2012 and 2014, said “for sure” his opinion would be different if the Kings were in a different spot in the standings. They were 28th out of 31 teams and eliminated from playoff contention.

But he added that his view on the NHL season was more affected by the state of the world during the coronavirus pandemic than the logistics of holding sporting events.

“Everything just keeps getting delayed even more, like lockdowns and stuff like that,” Doughty said. “People are dying even more every day. So I just don’t see how or when we’re going to be able to make any type of decision to return to the season.”

In an interview Monday on CNN, Commissioner Gary Bettman continued to say the NHL hasn’t ruled anything in or out when it comes to the resumption of play.

“We’re exploring all options, but when we’ll have an opportunity to return depends on things that we have absolutely no control over because it all starts with everybody’s health and well-being,” Bettman said. “Until there’s a sense that people can get together, not just in our arenas but for our players to get together to work out, we don’t know when we can come back, but it’s something we’re monitoring on a daily basis.”