All posts by John Matisz

NHL podcast: Roenick on Panarin and Stone, Dangle on becoming a media star

Welcome to Puck Pursuit, a weekly NHL podcast hosted by John Matisz, theScore's National Hockey Writer.

Subscribe to the show on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, Google Play, and Spotify.

In this episode, Jeremy Roenick, an NBC Sports analyst and former NHL star, joins John. Steve Dangle, a professional YouTuber and Sportsnet blogger, is also featured. Topics include:

  • Panarin, Bobrovsky situations in Columbus
  • Stone, Duchene, Dzingel situations in Ottawa
  • How to turn a harmless hobby into a career
  • Why you should never take yourself too seriously

... and more!

Copyright © 2019 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

NHL podcast: Ducks ditch Carlyle, Canucks rebuild, Coyotes in neutral

Welcome to Puck Pursuit, a weekly NHL podcast hosted by John Matisz, theScore's National Hockey Writer.

Subscribe to the show on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, Google Play, and Spotify.

In this episode, John's joined by Scott Cullen and Ian Tulloch, both of The Athletic, to discuss a variety of topics:

  • Timing/fallout of Ducks firing Randy Carlyle
  • The Elias Pettersson effect in Vancouver
  • How Edmonton should approach the trade deadline
  • What's gone right, wrong in Coyotes' rebuild

... and more!

Copyright © 2019 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

NHL podcast: Habs bounce back, Kotkaniemi, Bruins depth issues

Welcome to Puck Pursuit, a weekly NHL podcast hosted by John Matisz, theScore's National Hockey Writer.

Subscribe to the show on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, Google Play, and Spotify.

In this episode, John's joined by Eric Engels of Sportsnet and the Boston Globe's Matt Porter to discuss a variety of Atlantic Division topics:

  • Marc Bergevin's revival in Montreal
  • Bounce-backs galore: Domi, Drouin, Price
  • Kotkaniemi tracking towards 1C status
  • Should Boston break up their top line?
  • Covering Zdeno Chara day to day

... and more!

Copyright © 2019 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

Leafs’ Matthews forges own path with all-smiles contract

TORONTO - Leave it to the hockey player from the desert - the kid who blazed a trail by spending his NHL draft year schooling seasoned pros in Switzerland - to drift ever so slightly off the beaten path.

By signing a five-year, bonus-heavy $58.2-million extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday, Auston Matthews expanded the scope for star players exiting their entry-level contracts. You can have your cake and eat it too, apparently. The guy who’s scoring goals at a remarkable pace through 182 NHL games, challenging the traditional profile of a No. 1 center, managed to find the sweet spot between his best interests and needs of his salary cap-strapped team.

Mark Blinch / Getty Images

Matthews is far from the first franchise player in pro sports to concede a little bit of cash for the greater good, and he'll be paid handsomely starting next year and through the 2023-24 season at an average annual value of $11.6 million. But the new Matthews contract format - medium term and a big but not record-breaking chunk of the cap - is his own cozy space for now. The dream of an inflated Connor McDavid special (eight years, $100 million) is officially dead, and that's OK.

“We understand the cap restraints we have,” Matthews said at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday, with general manager Kyle Dubas within earshot. “We went through everything from three to eight (years) and settled on five. I think both sides are obviously happy and happy to get this over with and move on.”

“In the end," added the potential future captain, sticking with the team-friendly theme, "you’re measured on championships.”

Consider this: There will be 30 NHLers with cap hits of $8 million or greater during the 2019-20 season, including Matthews and teammate John Tavares. From that group, only Matthews and Blake Wheeler (five years, $8.3 million per season) signed deals shorter than seven years. And Wheeler’s contract is the winger's fourth deal, making Matthews unique in the current landscape. Second contracts simply aren't structured this way in the salary-cap era.

"We’re very thankful that they were willing to move from their desired term," Dubas said of Matthews and his representatives. "Obviously everyone wants to be here for as long as possible, and we were able to find an AAV that works for everybody."

Rene Johnston / Getty Images

Matthews will occupy 14 percent of the Leafs' 2019-20 expected cap space and trails just McDavid for the highest cap hit. He's now slated to become an unrestricted free agent at 26 years old, only a year behind schedule. The 2017 Calder Trophy winner is tracking toward another significant pay raise in his prime, as his third deal could easily hit triple digits.

If the two sides had agreed on an eight-year deal - the chosen route for many of Matthews’ peers, including McDavid and Jack Eichel, and a path the forward and his team discussed - he would have hit the open market at 29 and, at least theoretically, missed out on a boatload of money while under team control.

"These things are complicated," Dubas said of contract negotiations, referencing the lengthy negotiation period with Matthews' camp. "They’re not as simple as people want them to be at times."

Overall, at the time of the deal, Matthews looks like the victor, if a winner needs to be declared. Dubas and the Leafs gained short-term flexibility, assuming the team uses the extra cap space to its advantage, while Matthews gained long-term flexibility if he stays on his current career trajectory. There's inherent reward and risk for both parties, with Matthews taking on less of the latter, but it'll be smiles all around in Toronto for the foreseeable future.

From a league-wide perspective, who's to say Brayden Point of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets, Sebastian Aho of the Carolina Hurricanes, or Mikko Rantanen of the Colorado Avalanche can't replicate Matthews' contract structure (albeit on a smaller scale) and satisfy both player and team? The possibility of a fat third contract should make those youngsters drool.

The hockey world loves comparables, and the Matthews deal provides another. Have at it, restricted free agent class of 2019.

What about Marner and the rest of the Leafs?

With William Nylander inking an extension in December following a long standoff, and Matthews now locked in, everyone's attention immediately turns to Mitch Marner, the club's final big-ticket RFA.

Conventional wisdom suggests Marner, the play-driving winger who has recorded 63 points in 52 games this season, is due to earn $9-11M annually on his next contract. Since salary is always linked to length, the Leafs probably want to stagger the deals. Matthews has provided a nice template, making six years at $10M per season a logical fit in the Marner negotiations.

Marner, who leads Toronto forwards while averaging 19:39 of ice time per game in 2018-19, is on a 99-point pace. An all-situations player who's found hot chemistry with Tavares, he's arguably been the team's MVP through 52 games. If he cracks 100 points, good luck convincing the Markham, Ont., product to take a hometown discount.

Marner's representatives, led by outspoken agent Darren Ferris and fiery father Paul Marner, have stated publicly they'd prefer to postpone talks until the offseason. The Leafs have no issue honoring that timeline, Dubas says.

Despite the possibility of a July offer sheet hanging over his head, the GM is confident the two sides will eventually find common ground. “He’s going to be a Toronto Maple Leaf for a long time," Dubas said, "regardless of how we have to come to that."

Mark Blinch / Getty Images

As for the rest of the team, the 2019-20 Leafs have roughly $72 million of the projected $83 million salary cap committed to eight forwards, five defensemen, and one goalie, according to CapFriendly.com. Placing Nathan Horton’s contract on long-term injured reserve after training camp could give the club up to $5.3 million in additional cap space, and $16.3 million total to work with.

Translation: There isn't much of the pie left for Marner, three other forwards, one defensemen, and a goalie.

Budding wingers Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson, 22 and 24 years old, respectively, are among those looking to get paid. “We’ll continue to let the season play out and let the sample size grow," Dubas said of the lower-profile RFAs. "We’ll begin having discussions with their people probably after the trade deadline.”

Impressively, Dubas continues to project confidence when he speaks about his team's long-term core. It's a group featuring a handful of bargains - Travis Dermott, Morgan Rielly, Nazem Kadri, and Frederik Andersen. And it may also include recent acquisition Jake Muzzin, $2.3M winger Zach Hyman, and $2.1M winger Connor Brown.

The core likely won't include Jake Gardiner, whose potential earnings on the open market don't align with the Leafs' cap situation. If Dubas can make Nikita Zaitsev's contract disappear, however, there's a fighting chance.

At the very least, following Tuesday's development, the smiling GM has secured Matthews, Tavares, and Nylander for the next five seasons beyond this one. Two cornerstone centers forming a Crosby-Malkin combo of sorts, and a highly skilled winger. Marner will be along for the entirety of that six-year Stanley Cup window, too, right? Maybe, but maybe not. The money is tight.

The Leafs want to be the next Chicago Blackhawks or Pittsburgh Penguins or Los Angeles Kings - a dynasty, or at worst a pseudo-dynasty. Not a one-off.

“We’re trying to build a team that can have sustained success, not just contend once," Dubas said, giving a vague nod to pro sports dynasties.

"I think a lot of that is luck related and luck based," he continued, "and I think we want to give ourselves the maximum number of chances we can to make a real good go at it."

John Matisz is theScore's National Hockey Writer. You can find him on Twitter @matiszjohn.

Copyright © 2019 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

NHL podcast: Why and how Finnish hockey is peaking in 2019

Welcome to Puck Pursuit, a weekly NHL podcast hosted by John Matisz, theScore's National Hockey Writer.

Subscribe to the show on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, Google Play, and Spotify.

In this episode, John's joined by Sami Hoffren, NHL correspondent for Finnish publications Ilta-Sanomat and Urheilulehti, to discuss the rise of Finnish hockey.

Topics include:

  • Why, how Finland is peaking in 2019
  • Rantanen vs. Aho: who's better?
  • Teemu Selanne still in tier of his own
  • National team's changing mentality

... and more!

Copyright © 2019 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

NHL podcast: Panarin dilemma, Muzzin trade, catching up with Cody Hodgson

Welcome to Puck Pursuit, a weekly NHL podcast hosted by John Matisz, theScore's National Hockey Writer.

Subscribe to the show on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, Google Play, and Spotify.

In this episode, John is joined by two guests - Matthew Coller of ESPN, and former NHL forward Cody Hodgson.

Topics of discussion include:

  • The possible Artemi Panarin-CBJ split
  • Toronto's acquisition of Jake Muzzin
  • Coller's recent Fun Index article
  • Hodgson's malignant hyperthermia
  • Hodgson on Steven Stamkos, Ryan Miller

Copyright © 2019 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

Trade takeaways: Leafs’ D gets facelift by acquiring Muzzin from Kings

It took a couple of weeks of trade talk, according to general managers Rob Blake and Kyle Dubas, but on Monday, the Los Angeles Kings and Toronto Maple Leafs finally agreed on the first big trade of 2019.

Impact defenseman Jake Muzzin is off to Toronto in exchange for AHL forward Carl Grundstrom, the rights to prospect Sean Durzi, and the Leafs' first-round pick in the 2019 draft.

"When he joined Los Angeles coming out of junior, they were at the same stage that we’re at now," Dubas said of Muzzin and the Leafs during a conference call. "He had that experience of seeing a team mature from being a team that wanted to contend, to contending, and then ultimately winning."

Sitting at opposite ends of the standings, Dubas and Blake made a straightforward deal that - as anti-climactic as it sounds - could be a win-win for both franchises.

What this means for the Leafs

The Leafs' top pairing of Morgan Rielly and Ron Hainsey, locked in all season long, appears to be toast.

Dubas wouldn't confirm it, saying head coach Mike Babcock would need to speak with the affected players first. However, it's safe to assume the left-handed Muzzin, who'll turn 30 on Feb. 22, will slide into Hainsey's spot on Rielly's right side Friday when the Leafs come off their bye week for a road game against the Detroit Red Wings.

Muzzin, an all-around defender who won the 2014 Stanley Cup alongside Drew Doughty, is a gigantic upgrade on the 37-year-old Hainsey, whose rapid decline in 2018-19 frustrated Leafs fans to no end.

Here's an educated guess at Toronto's revamped defense pairings, assuming everybody is healthy - Jake Gardiner is out with back spasms at the moment. Hainsey would slide down the depth chart but not out of the lineup:

LD (shoots) RD (shoots)
Morgan Rielly (L) Jake Muzzin (L)
Jake Gardiner (L) Nikita Zaitsev (R)
Travis Dermott (L) Ron Hainsey (L)
Martin Marincin (L) Igor Ozhiganov (R)

A penalty killer, minute muncher, and puck mover with strong possession numbers, Muzzin is exactly the type of defenseman the Leafs - who own the league's fourth-best offense, but can sometimes leak scoring chances - needed.

Goalie Frederik Andersen may be the greatest beneficiary of this trade, given Muzzin's defensive ability. On second thought, perhaps this is Rielly's big break. It's amazing, really, that he's having a Norris Trophy-caliber season and is about to start skating with a legitimate running mate.

"I think he's an elite defenseman," Blake said of Muzzin moving to the Eastern Conference. "He's going to bring the physical aspect, but he has poise and patience to make plays. I think the adjustment will come naturally for him because he's a top defenseman."

Rene Johnston / Getty Images

The cost for Muzzin isn't negligible, so Dubas doesn't look like a thief by any means. Still, considering his track record and contract - Muzzin's signed through next season at $4 million per year - and the fact that the draft pick will most likely be in the mid-to-late 20s, it's a smart, cap-friendly bet.

Muzzin, a 2007 fifth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins, has 51 goals and 162 assists for 213 points in 496 career games, all in a Kings uniform. He was born two hours west of Toronto in Woodstock, Ontario.

What this means for the Kings

Speaking of term, Blake wouldn't budge when a reporter asked if the Kings are shopping or taking calls on players under contract past this year.

Los Angeles' record through 50 games (20-26-4, rivaling only the woeful Ottawa Senators), and Blake's willingness to ship out useful players months ago, suggests most - if not all - the names on the roster may be on the table.

But neither of the players acquired from the Leafs will join the NHL club immediately. "We’re at the bottom of the league," Blake said. "We made this deal for the future of the organization."

Graig Abel / Getty Images Sport / Getty

In Grundstrom, the Kings are receiving a first-year Marlies winger with top-nine NHL potential. "His compete, his effort, and work have been mainstays," Blake said of the 21-year-old Swede. "His sense and his poise is above average and (he’s) a strong skater."

Meanwhile, Durzi is an unsigned late bloomer still playing in the OHL for the Guelph Storm. The 6-foot, 196-pound defenseman was drafted in the second round by the Leafs in 2018, his second year of eligibility. Blake likes the 20-year-old's hockey IQ and skating ability.

The Kings, who won two titles in three years to start the decade, have fallen on tough times after failing to adapt to a faster style of play. Blake has been able to get his team nine selections in the 2019 draft - one pick per round, plus the Leafs' first and a fifth-rounder from the Arizona Coyotes.

The main takeaway

By pulling the trigger on a deal of this magnitude four weeks away from the trade deadline, Dubas made life difficult for rival GMs looking to bolster their blue lines in the leadup to Feb. 25.

All of a sudden, Dougie Hamilton, the other prized defenseman said to be available, is a white-hot commodity. Some would argue the Carolina Hurricanes should command a hefty return regardless. But now, with Muzzin off the market, the price for Hamilton will be steeper.

In the same breath, the pressure is completely off Dubas and the Leafs. Barring a major injury or a last-minute desire to go all-in on the 2018-19 season, the Muzzin trade may be the only significant move necessary. Expect improvements around the edges of the roster, not more fireworks.

On Monday, Dubas alluded to the organization's multi-year contention plan, reiterating what he's noted in the past about the type of players his club desires. "Our preference was to acquire players who did have some term on their deals," he said.

Muzzin certainly accomplishes that. And, based on Blake's tone during his conference with the media, the rebuilding Kings will miss his play and presence - and potentially other key pieces of their Cup-winning core as they move to restock the cupboard.

"Terrific player, terrific person," Blake said. "(Muzzin) took a huge step in leadership over the last few years here. Very difficult day here for us to move players that have brought so much to this organization."

John Matisz is theScore's National Hockey Writer. You can find him on Twitter @matiszjohn.

Copyright © 2019 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

Crosby’s case for Selke and other All-Star weekend takeaways

SAN JOSE - At its core, the NHL's All-Star weekend is designed to remind.

It reminds us that hockey is a sport worth celebrating and that there's nobody better to celebrate with than thousands of young fans. It reminds us that the players in attendance - oftentimes cliche-spouting robots - are actually human. In vacation mode at the midseason showcase, their guards are down. The result: tales of cheetah bites, videos of former teammates riding scooters, and revelations of totally-unrelatable-slash-awesome bets.

Brian Babineau / Getty Images

And this year, although not by design, per se, the weekend also reminded us of the brilliance of Sidney Crosby, Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne, Blake Wheeler, and Brent Burns. The old dudes - which in the modern NHL includes anybody 30-plus - might count as the minority group nowadays, having already handed over the keys to millennials and Generation Z'ers. But they're still kicking.

Especially Crosby, whose eight points in two three-on-three games earned him MVP honors in the main event. He reminded us that, hey, this 31-year-old three-time Stanley Cup winner, currently overshadowed by Connor McDavid's generational talent, is building a case for yet another piece of hardware. There's no defending during All-Star weekend, yet Crosby's mere presence brought the Selke Trophy debate to the forefront.

Adding a Selke to his robust award collection - two Harts, two Rocket Richards, two Conn Smythes, two Art Rosses, three Lester B. Pearsons/Ted Lindsays - is not beyond the realm of possibility for Crosby. The #Sid4Selke campaign is officially underway.

"I'd like to be in the conversation, for sure," Crosby said of the annual honor for the league's top defensive forward. "I mean, I think your play has to earn that. Anyone can say that, but I think I definitely want to be known as a player who's responsible defensively. I want to be good offensively, but do it the right way. And I think for the most part this year that's been the case."

A lengthy breakdown of Selke candidates is a task for another day (spoiler: the list would include usual suspects Aleksander Barkov and Patrice Bergeron). In the meantime, here's a quick snapshot of Crosby's 2018-19 season through 48 games:

In his 700-plus minutes at 5-on-5, the Penguins have owned 70 percent of the goals, 58 percent of the scoring chances, and 56 percent of the shot attempts, according to NaturalStatTrick.com. In all situations, he's won 52 percent of his faceoffs and is a plus-four in penalty differential. All this while producing 57 points in 20:42 of ice time a night.

In passing, that sounds Selke-worthy.

Tension following Oilers everywhere

On one hand, the All-Star break couldn't have come at a better time for Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Less than a week after polarizing general manager Peter Chiarelli received his pink slip, the Oilers' best players escaped the Edmonton bubble for a few days with the team now on its bye week.

On the other hand, the timing of Chiarelli's dismissal wasn't ideal for Edmonton's stars, given all the media responsibilities and public appearances associated with the All-Star festivities. Though questions tended to focus on levity, there was no avoiding the debacle back home.

"It is what it is," Draisaitl told theScore following the Pacific Division's elimination from Saturday's three-on-three tournament. "We're responsible for what's going on there, no one else. We've got to find ways to win hockey games. That's all we have to do."

Dave Sandford / Getty Images

McDavid - who rarely cracks a smile when the cameras are on, regardless of circumstance or his team's performance - squirmed in his seat during media day. "Oh. My God," he said Thursday as Edmonton-related questions eased into lighter topics. "I was gonna get off the seat, it was so hot. I love the three-on-three."

The Oilers are off until Feb. 2, when they visit Philadelphia to face the Flyers and begin a stretch of five games in eight days. Based on the jammed-up Western Conference standings, the season could quickly get away from Edmonton if it stumbles in the early going of the post-break schedule. But nothing's been decided yet.

"We're three points out of a playoff spot," McDavid noted a day before winning the Fastest Skater competition. "I think that gets lost. I think that really is lost. We're going through a lot of different changes, but we're three points out and have a chance to make the playoffs."

Players not caught up in tracking buzz

It turns out the league's new toy, the player and puck tracking system unveiled over the weekend, isn't at the forefront of players' thoughts.

Asked about the pros and cons of the investment in microchip technology, with a full rollout scheduled for the 2019-20 season, many All-Stars shrugged. Others admitted they were simply uneducated on the topic of tracking in general. The players' reactions are slightly surprising, considering it's their on-ice data being collected and shared with the world.

"To be completely honest, I haven't done much homework on the whole concept," Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos said. "I was around when ESPN or FOX used to do the puck tracker (in the 1990s), back when we had standard-definition TV and no one could see the puck. I think we've come a long way from that."

Len Redkoles / Getty Images

Like most of his peers, Stamkos sees the benefits of tracking from a fan engagement perspective and as a tool for broadcasters and media. But he added, "We don't know exactly how that information is going to be used yet." (The NHL and NHLPA have agreed that tracking data will be exempt from the contract negotiation process, including arbitration hearings, according to deputy commissioner Bill Daly.)

Florida Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle admitted not knowing a single thing about the matter. Even some of the game's most studious competitors, like Mark Scheifele of the Winnipeg Jets and the St. Louis Blues' Ryan O'Reilly, aren't jumping for joy. Despite the buzz, tracking seems very blah for players.

"I'm not a big fan of it," O'Reilly said. "As a player, there's so much feel involved in the game … there's certain reads you have that I don't think a device can assess. That's one of the things I love about the sport."

NBC incorporated tracking data into its broadcast for the three-on-three tournament. From the bench, Scheifele thought it looked too busy and drew attention away from the on-ice action.

"If I'm going to watch a game I like it to all be gone," he said of the name tags, zone time, skating speed, and other advanced stats. "Just because I'd rather see everything that's going on in (the game itself). When you start showing a bunch of random stats it might trick the eyes a little bit."

All-Star weekend brings out the best

To close the book on the weekend, here are 10 bests:

1. Best quote - Kendall Coyne Schofield on making history in the Fastest Skater event

"I would say, especially to young girls and to women, follow your dreams and believe in yourselves and there is nothing you can't accomplish. I think tonight was an example of that."

2. Best mess - Prize allocation following passing challenge

After challenging Draisaitl for the best time in the Premier Passer skills event, Brianna Decker ended up getting her prize - $25,000 from CCM and another $25K from the NHL earmarked for charity. But the process by which she received it (#PayDecker) was a little awkward. Social media took the NHL to task for a few hours there.

Chase Agnello-Dean / Getty Images

3. Best impression - King Henrik, of course

Lundqvist charms 'em all. As Yandle noted during a Saturday Q&A with fans at the All-Star fan festival, the Rangers netminder is seemingly perfect. An excellent puck-stopper, a musician, handsome as hell, and super nice. "When you look at him you think maybe he's a jerk," Yandle joked. Yet he's not.

4. Best projectile - Something fishy from the upper deck

Predators fans travel well. Case in point, the catfish that thumped onto the ice after Nashville captain Roman Josi netted a three-on-three goal.

5. Best throwback - Vancouver trip an eye-opener for Californian hockey

Striking up a conversation over morning coffee, a middle-aged Sharks fan from Sacramento, Calif., said he remembers going to Vancouver for a minor hockey tournament as a kid and being blown away by one particular thing. After he and his teammates showed up for their game and were unable to find their dressing room, someone told them they were in the wrong rink. They all stared at each other with puzzled looks and thought, 'There's another rink in Vancouver?!' Oh, how the times have changed for hockey in California, now home to three NHL teams, a handful of NHL players, and dozens of local arenas.

6. Best superstition - O'Reilly on the craziest ritual he's witnessed

"I remember a guy I played with at the international level ... every door he walked through he had to touch the left, the top and the right side of it. I remember watching and thinking that's got to be exhausting. Every door."

7. Best jersey - No. 36, Atlanta Thrashers

Spotted outside the SAP Center on Saturday afternoon among a sea of McDavids, Karlssons, and Crosbys: An Eric Boulton jersey. How incredibly random.

Jeff Vinnick / Getty Images

8. Best stamina - Gritty never stops

The orange muppet of your nightmares is the meme that keeps on giving. Gritty was omnipresent in Silicon Valley; the wobbling bundle of energy was the subject of countless selfies and a star in the mascot hockey game.

9. Best imitation - NFL influences NHL

Upon entry to Thursday's main media availability, fans received a headset so they could listen to players' answers at their respective podiums. An idea borrowed from Super Bowl media day, it seemed to be a hit.

10. Best memory - Sharks fans don't forget

Among those booed mercilessly by the hometown crowd: John Tavares, for not signing with the Sharks as a free agent; divisional rivals John Gibson and Drew Doughty; and Crosby, whose Penguins won the 2016 Stanley Cup in San Jose.

John Matisz is theScore's National Hockey Writer. You can find him on Twitter @matiszjohn.

Copyright © 2019 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

Greatest act still to come? At 66, Bettman’s rounding out his legacy

SAN JOSE - Gary Bettman turned to face a gigantic TV screen inside a trendy restaurant on the Friday afternoon of All-Star weekend, and stared. Alone on stage, he watched the future and the past collide.

Playing was a presentation of the NHL's player and puck tracking system, the league's much-anticipated dive into the microchip technology realm. Tracking, which is being promoted heavily this month as the league's next big endeavor, will debut next season. Welcome to the future.

To demonstrate how far the NHL has come on the tech file, a clip of the famous Fox Sports glow puck ran as part of the video's intro. As if that nostalgic kick wasn't enough, a young Bettman flashed on the screen for a soundbite about the late-1990s broadcast experiment. A blast from the past.

In his 40s then, Bettman had the look of a pro sports executive who had the world in front of him. Contemporary Bettman's lost some hair, played a starring role in the second and third lockouts of his quarter-century tenure, and endured endless booing from fans everywhere. The pros far outweigh the cons, mind you. Now 66, he has a resume as diverse as it is long and, despite the eyebrow-raising timing, is a well-deserving Hockey Hall of Fame inductee.

Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

With the game in tremendous shape and his birth certificate hinting it might be time to consider the idea of retiring sooner than later, the question was asked: Will you be slowing down in the near future, Mr. Commissioner?

“I haven’t given it any thought,” Bettman said at the tail end of a Q&A with reporters following the tracking presentation, joined on stage by his longtime right-hand man Bill Daly, the deputy commissioner.

"Anybody who knows me knows I don’t operate on timeframes like that. I love what I do. I feel energized every day. The owners seem to be pleased with the way the organization functions, and I suppose if any of that changes I might have to re-evaluate. But you’re going to have to put up with me for a bunch more.”

Whether he ends up working two, five, 10, or 15 more years, Bettman’s most certainly in the legacy-building phase of his career. He may at times be self-deprecating (Exhibit A: His Hall of Fame speech) and generally tries to avoid the spotlight whenever possible, yet there's unfinished business to attend to.

Specifically, there's one task that would elevate his legacy to bulletproof status among most hockey fans, media, and colleagues. The task: Avoiding another lockout.

Oddly enough, given the history of testy labor relations between the NHL's contingent of franchise owners and the NHL Players’ Association, it’s entirely plausible. If the vibe in Silicon Valley this weekend is any indication, it’s looking more likely than not that, for the first time in the Bettman era, we'll have labor peace.

Bruce Bennett / Getty Images

While the current agreement doesn't expire until after the 2021-22 season, it can be terminated by either side this September, putting deadline pressure on the relationship. Usually, that means lockout - or, at this stage in the process, the icky feeling of a looming lockout. Not this time, apparently.

“We’re not looking for a fight,” is how Bettman framed the "cordial" ongoing collective bargaining. A few weeks earlier, during a visit to Seattle, he said something similar. “We’re exploring the possibility of whether we can bridge gaps early," Daly said, piggybacking on Bettman's message. "Earlier the better."

The NHLPA hasn’t exactly barked back with anything to discredit the league's message. "We’re able to have these discussions now without that tension," said Mathieu Schneider, special assistant to NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, "without any walls being build up." That doesn't mean walls won't be erected in the coming months, of course. However, it's an encouraging sign and a pleasant development for the hockey world.

The long and short of CBA talks moving forward: the ball appears to be in the players' court because the status quo is working just fine for the owners, who are turning record profits. Therefore, the union's plan of attack will set the tone. It's up to Fehr and the membership to determine if hot-button issues like escrow, hockey-related revenue, and Olympic participation are hills to die on (to steal a Daly phrase from the last lockout), medium-sized bones of contention, or mere annoyances.

Christopher Morris / Getty Images

Bettman, who assumed his position in 1993 after 12 years helping run the NBA, loves to brag about how the sport of hockey, and by extension the NHL, has never been better, more entertaining, more profitable. To be fair, he's not wrong. Skill is probably at an all-time high, goal-scoring is on the uptick, the sport is growing exponentially at the grassroots level in markets deemed "non-traditional" a decade or two ago, and franchise fees are skyrocketing.

When Bettman came on board, the 24-team league was worth roughly $400 million. Twenty-five years and eight teams (including Seattle) later, it's a $5-billion business. And though, as Schneider notes, "there's no question that the players have given back billions of dollars over the course of the past two negotiations," they still get a nice slice of the pie. Salaries are up, too.

The NHL also has a seemingly endless list of grow-the-game projects on the go, including: preseason and regular season games overseas, in both Europe and Asia; an environmental sustainability initiative called NHL Green, which is highlighted this week by the eco-friendly All-Star jerseys; a dedicated esports push, headlined by the NHL Gaming World Championship; a sports betting partnership with MGM Resorts; and real-time data collection and analysis a la the aforementioned player and puck tracking system.

To varying degrees, all of those areas of exploration will be attached to Bettman's legacy when he loses his fire for the gig and decides to step aside. He may not be the lead on every project, but the buck stops at the commissioner. It's the same dynamic for issues that have haunted the NHL. Bettman's the face of several franchise relocations, the withdrawal of NHL talent from the 2018 Olympics, the denial of CTE's link to hockey in the wake of a concussion settlement with former players, the lockouts of 1994-95, 2004-05, and 2012-13, and more.

Brian Babineau / National Hockey League / Getty

Bettman's not terribly old by industry standards, with old boss David Stern, the former NBA commissioner, retiring at 71, and ex-MLB commissioner Bud Selig calling it quits at 80. But he won't be a spring chicken come 2022. If all goes according to script between now and September, and Bettman stays on long term, the union will be sitting across from a 69-year-old commissioner to negotiate a new CBA. Based on track record, there's no telling what the dynamic between the two sides might be then.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today if we didn’t have a system that corrected some of the ills in the past," Bettman said of previous lockouts. "We have stability, we have competitive balance and the game is able to grow. That’s good for everyone involved with the game.”

That's why this next stretch of talks could be Bettman's CBA swan song, the icing on the cake of a highly controversial yet highly successful run as the most powerful suit in hockey. He'll get booed no matter what - it's a time-tested tradition, after all - but the respect level might be raised and the narrative might change.

It could be a legacy sealer like no other, a way to go out on a high note, even if the retirement papers aren't filed immediately.

John Matisz is theScore's National Hockey Writer. You can find him on Twitter @matiszjohn.

Copyright © 2019 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

NHL podcast: What it’s like to come out as gay in the hockey world

Welcome to Puck Pursuit, a weekly NHL podcast hosted by John Matisz, theScore's National Hockey Writer.

Subscribe to the show on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, Google Play, and Spotify.

In this episode, John's joined by Brock McGillis, the first pro hockey player to come out as gay, and Rachel Doerrie, a former analyst for the New Jersey Devils, to discuss a variety of topics, namely:

  • Homophobia in hockey and Brock's coming-out story
  • Diversity in hockey and Rachel's experience of climbing the ranks
  • The importance of mental health education/support

Jan. 30 is Bell Let'sTalk Day and February is Hockey is for Everyone month.

Copyright © 2019 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.