• An intense week upcoming for Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin
• Trade rumours continue to swirl around Avalanche
• Tampa’s Brian Boyle a UFA to watch at deadline
It was a long, slow drive for the DiMaio family on Sunday. A snowstorm reduced traffic to a standstill along Highway 401, extending their trip from Montreal to Toronto well beyond the expected five hours.
Rob DiMaio retired in 2006 after an 18-year, 894-game NHL career that went through Long Island, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Boston, Manhattan, Carolina, Dallas and Tampa for a second time. One of the great stories in his career: he was moments away from buying a house in New York when the Rangers traded him to the Hurricanes.
“Never mind,” he told the realtor.
Now director of player personnel for the St. Louis Blues, DiMaio was scheduled to be in Montreal last weekend for the game against the Canadiens. Since no one wants to miss a trip to that city, he made it a family affair with wife Laura, twin daughters Natalie and Julia.
It’s not uncommon for the children of elite athletes to carry the gene. Bobby Hull’s son followed his father into the Hall of Fame. Chris Bourque won’t join Ray in that building, but he’s a 12-year pro and one of the best players in the American Hockey League. New York Rangers assistant coach Jeff Beukeboom’s daughter, Tyson, competes for Canada in rugby. There are so many examples.
Natalie and Julia found their path, too.
“When they were four years old, we put them in soccer,” their father said Monday. “My wife played basketball, and they took to it. We tried different things…skating lessons, but they never really got into it. Any team sport is good for kids. To be around a group, work together — that was important to me. Basketball was always a constant.”
DiMaio said he never played hoops much, but Laura did. Good player? “I go by what she tells me,” he replied. “She tells me she was pretty good.”
A couple of years ago, DiMaio was watching his daughters when a coach walked up and asked about Natalie and Julia playing at the university level.
“My daughters aren’t big for basketball. I asked, ‘Do you think this is actually a possibility?’ It seemed so far away in the future. They are still kids in my eyes.”
Julia, at five-foot-eight, is three inches taller than Natalie. They are both guards and play for a club team, the North Toronto Huskies. They are proud a charity initiative they created last fall, Hoops for Hope, raised $1,600 for the Terry Fox Foundation. Their trainer is Pete Renzetti, who worked with both the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.
“They are very competitive, especially at their size. They go the extra mile to do whatever they need to do. Training with hockey players in the summertime, being around competitive guys, helps them. The good thing is I know nothing about basketball. My wife is more involved. I can enjoy just watching them.”
That brings us back to Sunday night. The DiMaios had options. Canada, the United States, east and west. Schools asked if they were a “package deal,” or if the twins would consider splitting up.
On a drive that was longer than normal, the twins had time to think. They made a call to Dave Wilson, who has coached at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., for 35 years. That conversation brought a verbal commitment — from both of them.
“The way that coach spoke to our daughters was something I will never forget,” DiMaio said. “He was as happy to have them as we were to accept the offer.”
“I’m not taking credit for any of this. They did it on their own.”
1. I would like to stress this is my opinion: In what is going to be an intense week for Montreal GM Marc Bergevin, my sense is his biggest looming decision concerns Alex Galchenyuk.
The shuffling between centre and wing show a player and an organization still struggling to find the right fit. Galchenyuk’s contract is up. He is two years away from unrestricted free agency and eligible for arbitration. Many of his peers are getting long-term deals in the $6-$7 million range. With 30 goals last season and 29 points in 37 games this year, he is going to get paid.
Bergevin could wait until the end of the season to address this, but more than one NHL exec says the Canadiens “have a lot of moving pieces” right now. Undoubtedly, he’s trying to move money (David Desharnais/Tomas Plekanec), but there’s certainly a chance something bigger happens. Matt Duchene may be older, but is under contract for two more seasons at $6 million per year. Bergevin is trying to sign Alexander Radulov, with Carey Price and Max Pacioretty to come. If you think you can have a more established Duchene at a potentially lower number for the next two years than Galchenyuk, does Montreal do it?
2. As observed by Canadiens broadcaster John Bartlett, Carey Price switched back to his older style of goalie skates in the last couple of weeks. Like several of his netminding brethren, Price dropped the white cowling in favour of a newer one-piece model in 2015-16. Trying to bust out of this rare slump, he went old school. Opponents say two things about Price: they’ve never seen him so rattled, and they’re convinced it can’t last.
3. Is it really true that goalies are sitting on/putting weight on their new, rounded tight-fitting pants in order to flatten them?
4. Anaheim GM Bob Murray has told interested teams he’s in no hurry to move a defenceman and that it’s very possible he waits until after the playoffs. And, teams that were hoping Cam Fowler would be available either in a trade (this summer) or as a free agent (next summer) now say they expect the Ducks to make a huge run at re-signing him on July 1 — the earliest he is able to extend.
5. Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford on the Penguins: “We’ve played pretty well, and we’ll be even better when everyone gets healthy. We’ve got another gear or two.”
Does he worry about where they finish in the brutal Metropolitan Division?
“I don’t think it’s fair to ask Mike Sullivan to squeeze a group that had so little time off in the summer, like San Jose. We’ll see where we finish and take our chances.”
6. During Saturday’s Headlines, Nick Kypreos brought up the possibility of Pittsburgh getting Duchene. Prior to that, Rutherford shrugged off the idea the club could not add anyone with term. “I’ll do anything to win,” he said Friday. “If we have to fix our cap situation, we can do it after the season.”
I could see Gabriel Landeskog being a fit here, too. The organization does have Trevor Daley, Patric Hornqvist and Chris Kunitz — all of whom make at least $3.3 million — coming off the books in the next two summers. Nick mentioned Derrick Pouliot as bait for a Colorado trade, but if this does happen, a more likely suspect would be Olli Maatta. Rutherford added it is his “preference to keep Marc-Andre Fleury as insurance for Matt Murray. But I recognize he wants to play.”
7. A couple of weeks ago, we had a quote from AHL Binghamton coach Kurt Kleinendorst indicating how much he liked Pittsburgh prospect Jake Guentzel. Suffice it to say Rutherford likes Guentzel as much as Kleinendorst does. The forward “will be a Penguin for the rest of the season,” unless something weird happens. “All of our guys like playing with him.”
8. Finally, Rutherford was asked if Pittsburgh, like Washington, has told Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (among others) they will be free to go the Olympics even if the NHL doesn’t go. “No, we haven’t had that conversation. It’s not necessary until we know for sure what is happening.”
9. On the Duchene front, here's the thing I wonder about Ottawa's involvement: If the Senators pull it off, how do they pay Kyle Turris after next season?
10. Chicago’s Stan Bowman laughed when I told him other GMs don’t believe he won’t add anything. He knows they doubt him. “We traded for Andrew Ladd last year because we needed a bigger piece. I don’t think we need to do that this year.”
For example, all 13 of Ryan Hartman’s goals are at even strength. Only Artem Anisimov (16), Kane and Marian Hossa (15) have more. “Hartman, Nick Schmaltz, Vinnie Hinostroza, Tanner Kero…maybe they have to go the AHL here and there, but we see them as part of our team now.” (The latter three were sent to Rockford during Chicago’s bye week for salary-cap reasons.) “We’re going to see what happens over the next couple of weeks before the trade deadline, but we are much more comfortable with our younger players.”
At the very least, Bowman said none of them are getting traded. He added he likes the nether regions of his blue line, too. “From one to eight, this is the best depth we’ve had.”
11. Like Rutherford, Bowman isn’t overly concerned with where his team finishes. “We have a no-BS group,” he said.
It’s funny, you see Corey Crawford, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews at the All-Star Game. They carry themselves with the same demeanour as when you see them during the season. Not much rattles them. “They’ve seen everything,” Bowman said. “They know what it takes.”
12. Watching Scott Darling beat Edmonton last weekend, I couldn’t help but wonder if he is this year’s Cam Talbot — ready to move on from being an understudy on a good team to being a No. 1 somewhere else.
“We’d love to keep him,” Bowman said. “And he’s told us he’d love to stay. He’s come a long way. We’ll see where we are after the season.” He’s certainly as ready as Talbot was for the Edmonton challenge.
13. Bowman, like a number of other GMs, scouts and executives, was at the Sweden Games. It’s a four-team tournament won by Russia, which went undefeated in beating the Czech Republic (4-2), Sweden (4-2) and Finland (2-1).
Minnesota prospect Kirill Kaprizov — who led his country to bronze at the world juniors — was Russia’s top scorer with three goals and one assist. Anatoly Golyshev, an intriguing, but smallish prospect taken 95th in 2016 by the Islanders, also had four points in three games. The Russians made a point of bringing younger players, including 19-year-old defenceman Igor Rykov, a New Jersey pick.
14. Buffalo’s Brian Gionta has told the Sabres he would like to stay with the organization and not be traded. He is unrestricted after this season. As per his contract, there are five teams he can be traded to. (No, he was not sharing the names.)
15. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of interest comes GM Tim Murray’s way for Dmitry Kulikov. The defenceman has had a nightmare year since suffering a back injury when pushed into an open bench door during the pre-season.
“I’ve never been through anything like this,” Kulikov said last weekend. “But I really don’t want to talk much about it.” Are you healthy now? “Yes,” he answered, although coach Dan Bylsma says Kulikov won’t practice every day. He’s also a free agent, but teams don’t really have a handle on where his game is.
16. Another UFA to watch is Tampa Bay’s Brian Boyle. You can see why playoff teams would be interested. Edmonton’s Peter Chiarelli went to see him in Minnesota last Friday. Columbus and Toronto are believed to be among other potential suitors. (The Maple Leafs tried to sign him as a free agent in 2014, although it was a different regime.)
Some tweeters were surprised I said during a radio interview he may fetch a first-rounder in return. It comes down to how much of a demand there is, but teams are not married to those picks in 2017. If one executive ever hears me getting wishy-washy on the topic, he texts a reminder: “How many times do I have to tell you that teams are going to trade their firsts? This draft is terrible!” I hope someone does so he stops yelling at me.
17. The exception might be Edmonton. The Oilers must give up their second-rounder to Boston as compensation for hiring Chiarelli. They may not want to go into the third round without a selection.
18. Two weeks ago, it was considered a five-star lock Patrik Berglund would not be in St. Louis next season, with the Blues looking to move him at the deadline. He’s got six goals in his last five games, including a hat trick in Montreal. They still have a couple of weeks to figure out what they are going to do, but, at this rate, Berglund’s value shoots up, for both them and any potential trade partner.
19. On-ice, St. Louis made changes. The Blues average 14 blocked shots per game, but it’s up to 19 since Mike Yeo took over. Does Jake Allen like this tactic? Some goalies hate it. “Players are expected to do it,” he answered. “And you can never get angry at a teammate sacrificing his body.”
Defensively, they have moved from man-to-man coverage to zone, and Yeo has asked that a defenceman be in front of the net “95 per cent of the time.” With so little practice time, is it hard to make these adjustments? “Not really,” according to Kevin Shattenkirk. “At this level, everyone knows how to play that way.”
20. Was talking with Colton Parayko about the challenges Shayne Gostisbehere and John Klingberg face with teams trying to take away their strengths. Has he noticed it? “Yes,” he replied. “One-timer on the power play for sure.”
21. One year ago, NHL GMs considered changing the offside rule, making it so that “breaking the plane” above the blue line was the deciding factor — like with an NFL touchdown — as opposed to getting your skate down on the ice. They decided to wait and see how this year went. There’s momentum to go ahead, make the change at next month’s meetings, feeling the number of reviews could drop by half if the rule is amended. Anything that speeds up the process and adds goals is a win.
22. Always check in on potential NCAA signings at this time of year. There are a few teams hoping John Hayden, a 2013 Chicago Blackhawks pick who is finishing his fourth year at Yale, will go the Jimmy Vesey route — not sign, choosing free agency instead. But two NHL clubs who were looking into it say they are losing hope it will happen.
The Blackhawks are now making room for young players, showing there is a route available. The Bulldogs need a big run to qualify for the NCAAs, so the opportunity is there to play in the NHL this season, which burns a year of his entry-level contract.
23. There isn’t one particular jewel. But, there are some who intrigue, although most will need AHL seasoning. There’s a wide variety of opinion; players some teams really liked and others didn’t. Union College gets scouted a bit, because the Dutchmen have at least three on the radar.
Their top two scorers are Michael Vecchione and Spencer Foo. Vecchione is a senior, so he’s ready to come out. Foo, from Edmonton, has another year, and his younger brother Parker is committed to join. So teams wonder if he wants to wait. Union has a defenceman named Nick DiSimone a few teams grudgingly admitted they were watching, but he also has another year remaining and the school wants him to stay. He may need a year or two in the AHL, but there is definitely interest.
24. One of the first to go pro is expected to be New Hampshire’s Tyler Kelleher. He’s five-foot-six, but a talented player, and, barring upsets, the Wildcats are not going far in the post-season. He’s similar to several of the other forwards NHL teams are watching. They put up good numbers but aren’t physically imposing. Others to watch: Zach Aston-Reese (Northeastern); Alex Iafallo (Minnesota-Duluth); Griffen Molino (Western Michigan); Nicholas Schilkey (Ohio State); C.J. Smith (Lowell); John Stevens (Northeastern). He is the son of Los Angeles associate coach John Stevens. Brother Nolan, a St. Louis pick, is also on the team.
25. On defence, in addition to DiSimone, there’s Daniel Brickley of Minnesota State. (Every time I hear “Minnesota State” I think of Hayden Fox coaching them in the Pineapple Bowl.) Brinkley got hurt early in the year, but has 24 points in 22 games. He doesn’t have to come out, but teams will try to get him to do it.
Add: Kristofers Bindulis (a Latvian who plays at Lake Superior State); Josh Healey (Ohio State); Michael Kapla (Lowell).
Not a great year for goalies, but tortured scouts for some names. A couple suggested Cam Johnson of North Dakota, simply because that school tends to develop potential pros. Also: Brampton’s Hayden Lavigne (Michigan); Montreal’s Brett Magnus (Sacred Heart).
26. There isn’t as much action on CHL kids because most get drafted before free agency is reality. One who has captured attention if Zack MacEwen of QMJHL Gatineau. Ottawa, Tampa, Toronto and Vancouver are all believed to be among those interested. He was invited to Anaheim’s camp last September.
27. In 2013-14, a 15-year-old Auston Matthews was called up to the U.S. national under-18 team, which put him in the lineup with 16-year-old Jack Eichel. Danton Cole, who played 318 NHL games from 1989-90 to 1995-96, coached that team.
“The thing they had in common? They could both be driven,” he said last weekend. “They understood what it takes to be successful.” Eichel, asked about that, agreed. “I don’t mind being pushed. Neither did (Matthews).” Style-wise? “Similar,” Cole answered. “Eichel is more north-south, Matthews is more flamboyant. Both great players who wanted the puck and wanted to win.”
Cole added that Arizona’s Clayton Keller is another one unafraid of being pushed.
28. Eichel, a right-hand shot, likes to carry the puck in on the left side of the ice. He now works with Adam Oates, and Oates is trying to correct an Eichel habit of lifting his right hand on those plays, which obstructs his view. Once he gets that fixed, he will be even more dangerous, better equipped to pick up offensive-zone options.
29. The Maple Leafs host the Islanders on Tuesday night, eight days after losing to them 6-5 in overtime. In the aftermath of that one, Toronto’s defencemen were told their box-outs “were weak.” We’ll see how much they’ve learned.
30. Wrote last week about the Surrey Knights, who were 0-40-3, with one last chance to win a game in the Pacific Junior Hockey League. Unfortunately for them, it was against the No. 1 ranked Aldershot Kodiaks. That was last Thursday, and Surrey was outshot 64-18 in a 7-2 loss. The league has promised to “fix” the Knights, and those kids deserve it. The team has won four of 88 games the last two seasons.
31. A few years ago, I was wandering through Detroit Metropolitan Airport and bought What It Means to be a Red Wing: Detroit’s Greatest Players Talk About Detroit Hockey. Mike and Marian Ilitch authored the Introduction.
“It’s a shame Gordie Howe didn’t start and finish his career in a Red Wings uniform,” they wrote. “That’s why we feel honoured that we were able to watch Steve Yzerman start and finish his career wearing the winged wheel on his chest. Loyalty has always been important to us…When we became owners, our plan was not only to find great players, but to keep them.”
Everyone in hockey has a story about Mike Ilitch. What stands out in reading that book was the Red Wings the late 70s and early 80s realized how the organization slipped. It lost what was built in the 1950s. But those who came after the Ilitches bought the team rediscovered the passion.
Eddie Mio: “When you retire, you realize being a Red Wing alumnus may be even better than being a Red Wing.”
The late Shawn Burr: “Being a Red Wing is the proudest thing, other than being a dad, that I have.”
Paul MacLean: “You’re an elite team in the National Hockey League and you’re expected to win. That’s the situation you want to be in.”
Jiri Fischer: “Making my parents proud is the greatest accomplishment I have from being a Detroit Red Wing.”
Pavel Datsyuk: “My life as an NHL hockey player, and as a man, started in Detroit.”
That wasn’t there when the Ilitch family bought the team. It’s an incredible legacy, because they rebuilt something that should be important. The NHL is better when the Red Wings matter.
32. My high school years (1985-89) were a great time to be a fan of local basketball in Toronto. Almost a decade before the Raptors arrived, York Mills Collegiate was in a league against some very good players. Bathurst Heights had one of the greatest Canada produced, Phil Dixon.
In my last year, Dixon’s team was the best in the province with another local school, Fleming, right behind them. Our team was good, but those two schools were better. It was an incredible moment for my friends when they upset Fleming 83-79 on the road in the North York semifinals during their last season. Four years of frustration erased and rewarded. (The final against Dixon? Don’t ask.)
Fleming had a forward/centre named Roberto Feig, who was excellent. My memory isn’t 100 per cent certain, but I think I remember friends saying they had the game of their lives and barely controlled him. He played at Concordia and then at Humber, later representing Canada at the Maccabi Games. In the field, I worked alongside his brother, Claude, who was at CTV and TSN, but lost track of Roberto. I was shocked to hear he died suddenly last week at the age of 47. All the best to Claude and the rest of the family. I can still see him powering through high school peers.