Give Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis credit for trying to stoke the Roberto Luongo trade winds. Ten days ago, he claimed there was a mystery team in the bidding for his goaltender along with the suspected bidders, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers.
Then Gillis and Canucks assistant GM Laurence Gilman just happened to make a high-profile appearance at Sunday’s internationally-televised Washington Capitals-Pittsburgh Penguins game. That fired up speculation about the Capitals being the mystery team. The Caps have two young goaltenders, Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth, neither of whom seems able to seize the No. 1 job.
Next thing you know, NBC’s television cameras were all over Gillis in the Capitals’ press box amid talk of who the Caps might give up for him. Gillis coyly declined to discuss the matter before he left at the end of the second period.
Caps GM George McPhee was not so reticent. “We have not had one conversation about goaltending,” he said of Gillis. “And on TV they’re talking about what prospect I’m going to give up. Well, I could never take [Luongo’s] contract.”
KHL STARS STALL IN NHL
One post-lockout phenomenon is the slow start by players who were starring in Russia’s Continental Hockey League (KHL). Until his two assists Sunday boosted him several spots in the NHL scoring race, Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins held the lead among ex-KHL players along with Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings at a rather pedestrian 10 points.
Before Sunday’s games they were the only two players from the KHL in the NHL’s top 20, despite the advantages of staying in game-shape and keeping their skills sharp. Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals, for example, have four and six points, respectively.
Ovechkin said he is surprised at the development and his four points are “kind of embarrassing.” He said he talked to Backstrom about it and both think the problem is the adjustment from the larger European ice surface to the cosier confines of the NHL. “In Russian when you had the puck in a corner you knew you had room to make something; behind the net the same. Here, everything is smaller and faster. It’s kind of different.”
KINSHIP OF COACHES
Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Adam Oates of the Washington Capitals are now the head coaches of bitter rivals but 10 years ago they picked each other’s brains as teammates for one season with the Anaheim Ducks.
Oates, selected for The Hockey Hall of Fame last November, said they talked a lot as the Ducks went to the 2003 Stanley Cup final and even then it was obvious Bylsma, never more than a marginal NHL player, was destined for greater things.
“Dan and I got along really well,” Oates said. “He was a real smart guy. He was writing children’s books with his father, he was diversified, a very smart guy.”
Oates played five and a half seasons with the Caps in the 1990s and said even then there was a fierce rivalry with the Penguins, whose superstar was Mario Lemieux. Oates spotted former Penguin plugger Phil Bourque, now a Penguins broadcaster, in the media scrum and said, “I’ve still got a couple of charleyhorses from Phil Bourque.”