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Tom’s Daily: Expanded NHL/NHLPA Return; The Sad Story of Todd Ewen Cont’d

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Tom's Daily Vegas Golden Knights VGK

Tom’s Daily: Vegas Golden Knights holiday charity initiatives in full swing; NHL and NHLPA expand return to play committees; Todd Ewen’s widow Kelli fighting with NHL over iPhone content.

Vegas Golden Knights

The team announced plans around its holiday toy drive (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Tomorrow is also the last day for the team’s canned food drive. (VGK)

NHL

With pressure mounting on the NHL to announce plans for its return, the league and NHLPA have expanded the return to play committee for the upcoming season. (TSN)

The Seattle Kraken are still full speed ahead as they approach the team’s debut. It looks like several team facilities will be coming online ahead of schedule. (NHL.com)

Hockeyverse

The sad continuing story of the late Todd Ewen now includes his widow Kelli and the NHL fighting for control over text messages from his iPhone. The messages and data may play a key role in her lawsuit against the league. (TSN)

Interstate hockey has been suspended in New England and New Jersey until at least 2021. (WMUR)

That’s it for Tom’s Daily, but in case you missed it, Golden Knights prospect Lukas Cormier is off to a dominant start in the QMJHL.

Henderson Silver Knights

Why Hiring Joel Ward Is A Stellar Move for Henderson

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Joel Ward Henderson Silver Knights

The Henderson Silver Knights have rounded out the coaching staff for the team, hiring Joel Ward and Jamie Heward to serve as assistant coaches under Manny Viveiros.

Heward has a tremendous track record of coaching and development after a playing career that spanned over 1,200 games in both the NHL and minor leagues. He will be a tremendous part of the staff and really help the young Silver Knights players.

Ward is someone I know well from my time in Nashville, and one of the best people I’ve met in hockey. The fact that the undrafted Ward made his mark in the NHL for 726 games is remarkable, but no surprise to those who have met him. For a guy who didn’t get to sign his first pro deal until the age of 25, he’s an anomaly. For players who want to know what hard work and dedication can do for your career, he’s a beacon. And as someone who has overcome long odds to become a two-time 20-goal scorer in the NHL he’s an inspiration.

When Ward Finally Stuck

My first training camp in Nashville was Ward’s first with Nashville, in 2008. I was hired late in the fall, starting work one week into camp. Since I didn’t have much time to learn the team I leaned on my new colleagues and a very honest Barry Trotz who put up with my questions about players I’m sure everyone else knew far more about. Trotz surprised a few people towards the end of camp when he let slip that it looked like Joel Ward was going to make the team. As far as I could tell, he wasn’t really much on the radar headed into camp. Likely he was penciled in to the Milwaukee Admirals lineup, a potential call-up guy. But Ward came in to camp, busted his butt, and made the team with hustle and heart.

From that day on, Ward did not play in the AHL again. He would record ten straight seasons of NHL service. Twice he tore it up in the playoffs with seven goals – once with Nashville, once with San Jose. From time to time, Ward would flash a set of sweet, buttery mitts and score goals that made your jaw drop.

 

A Long, Strange Trip

Ward did all of this the long way. He played four years of Canadian junior hockey and wasn’t drafted. So after his fourth year with Owen Sound, he played eight playoff games for the WCHL’s Long Beach Ice Dogs recording no points or PIMs. Because he could still attend university in Canada and play, he did. Ward went to the University of Prince Edward Island and played four years, graduating with a degree in sociology.

It was only then, at the age of 25 that he signed a pro contract with the AHL’s Houston Aeros. His mom cheering him on. Sadly, Ward’s father passed away when he was just 14 years old. But Ward has said many times that his dad was there on his journey with him, too.

Any time the organization, a broadcaster like me, or a fan asked anything of Joel Ward, he would oblige. Autographs, appearances, interviews, all with a smile. You really got the sense that Ward appreciated where he was and what he was doing. You might not realize how rare that kind of player is, but trust me. They don’t come along very often.

Ward’s Value

With Henderson, I expect Ward will be able to teach directly from his experience. Young players and veterans alike can appreciate his story. There’s no secret in the sauce, it comes from hard work and dedication. Those are core principles any player who hopes to make the NHL one day should learn. Ward has seen it all. He’s ridden the busses, played to empty houses and escaped notice. But he’s also flown on the charters, put on the uniform, and scored a playoff Game 7 game-winning-goal.

Ward is also someone who can speak to the character it takes to make it. He can talk to a young player not only about the highs but about the lows and how to manage them. He will be able to contribute not only to the physical development of a player but the mental side as well. And he will do it all with a smile and as a valued member of the organization and community.

Kudos to Henderson on a tremendous hire. Well done, Wardo.

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NHL

How Long Will Fleury Remain Happy Behind Lehner?

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Marc-Andre Fleury Vegas Golden Knights

It’s happened to him before. Marc-Andre Fleury has been cast aside in favor of a younger goaltender, this time Robin Lehner. Last time in Pittsburgh, it was Matt Murray. But the Penguins knew Fleury was going to be an attractive target in the upcoming expansion draft and held onto him, leading to his selection by the Vegas Golden Knights. Will the Knights now do the same? Can they actually play the entire 2020-21 season with Fleury and Lehner wedged into the goal crease?

In short – how long will Marc-Andre Fleury remain happy behind Robin Lehner?

Rumblings

We know there’s discontent here. Your agent doesn’t tweet out a photo of you with a sword running through your back bearing the name of your head coach without your knowledge and/or consent.

DeBoer Sword Marc-Andre Fleury

Want proof? If your agent were to issue that type of statement and it really upset you, you’d change agents. Plus Fleury has been with Allan Walsh for so long it’s hard to imagine those two not being in lockstep on messaging. But as much as Fleury is going to say and do the right things, that’s why you have an agent. He or she is able to deliver messages to management without it being personal. It also allows what the law calls plausible deniability.

Just reading between the lines, it appears Fleury has not been happy with the coaching change as it pertains to his playing time. What athlete is ever happy about losing a starting gig? But politics aren’t the only thing at play here.

Money

Let’s start with the most obvious and most talked-about elephant in the room. Marc-Andre Fleury is slated to be the backup this season. That wouldn’t be an issue if Fleury didn’t make a whopping $7M a year for the next two years. But that salary could easily net you three more players (or more) of an NHL caliber. Probably even one really good one and a couple of depth guys.

Heck, you could even get an NHL-caliber backup in that role behind Lehner if you’re not comfortable with Oscar Dansk yet. Given that Dansk was the player they chose to introduce the new Henderson Silver Knights jerseys, that tells me they see him as a Henderson fixture in year one.

But wait, didn’t VGK GM Kelly McCrimmon already say the team’s goaltenders moving forward are Fleury and Lehner? And isn’t Lehner having shoulder surgery?

Yes to both. But there’s also more to both.

There’s Only One Net… and More Money

It appears that Vegas is hedging its bets here. Clearly Lehner is the favored son over Fleury for head coach Pete DeBoer. But while McCrimmon said that Lehner should be ready for the start of training camp off his shoulder surgery, what happens if he’s not? Having Marc-Andre Fleury on the roster solves the problem. He’s a capable starter and fan favorite. Stashing Lehner on LTIR saves you $5M in cap room and allows you to start the season with a cushion. It also gives you time to shop Fleury. Teams will find that the solution they signed isn’t working, or an injury derails a team’s plans. Things happen, and if Fleury could end up in a situation where a team needs a starter and could flip another asset back to the VGK so much the better.

If Lehner is healthy enough to start the season and Fleury is second fiddle, regardless of what McCrimmon says it’s not a good situation for the team to have $12M tied up in its goaltenders. In fact, that $7M cap hit ties Fleury for the fourth-highest hit in the league with Tuukka Rask. Lehner’s $5M hit ties for 13th overall in the league. While it’s not quite the Montreal Canadiens $14.85M cap hit between Carey Price and Jake Allen, the Habs also have only one player making more than $5.5M on his cap hit (Shea Weber).

Without getting into the weeds here, it’s too much money in goalies. Especially considering Fleury makes more than every starting goalie in the league not named Price, Rask, Andrei Vasilevskiy or Sergei Bobrovsky.

Back In The Day

If we look back at the situation when Fleury was in Pittsburgh, he sat behind Murray for over a year. Make no mistake, Fleury will put the team first and be a good citizen. He says and does the right things. Fleury only had two appearances (one start) in the 2016 Playoffs when Murray became a household name and led the Pens to victory out of nowhere. Yet when he was called upon to take the reins back from Murray in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he did an incredible job until Murray’s return in the middle of the Eastern Conference Final against the Ottawa Senators.

In fact, if you go back and read this article from the start of the 2017 playoffs without context, you could be forgiven if you imagined it was written recently. Familiar themes from last year: a rough start to the season, losing his starting job, teammates still love him, people say they never lost confidence in his ability.

From the article:

“In the month of March, we played 16 games in 31 days,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “We relied on both of them through that process. The fact we were able to share [goaltending] duties really helped our team in that condensed schedule down the stretch. Marc was a big part of that. He’s a great goaltender. He’s a terrific kid, he’s a great competitor, he’s a good pro. He’s a great teammate.”

Replace Sullivan with Pete DeBoer. Or McCrimmon. Or anyone on the Golden Knights staff.

Fleury played 15 games, won nine, and ended up earning his third Stanley Cup – but was a spectator for the Final against Nashville.

They couldn’t have done it without him.

What Now?

Now Vegas finds itself in fantastic-yet-terrible situation of having two top shelf starters. The contract given to Lehner clearly indicates he’s the man for the VGK going forward. Will the financial gap be a cause of friction? How much of an issue will playing time become?

We know that Fleury is the man while Lehner recovers from shoulder surgery, however long that may be. It doesn’t make sense to move Fleury when you might need him to carry the load initially. And as the 2017 Penguins found, he can be an invaluable insurance policy. So it makes sense the Golden Knights will say they want to keep both players. Plus, the Seattle Kraken will be making selections in the expansion draft and if Vegas can somehow afford to keep him all season Fleury might once again be starting a new franchise.

But Fleury will be 36 when this season begins. His contract has two seasons left on it, and after that he’s clearly due for a salary reduction. This off-season hasn’t been kind to older goalies, with names like Jimmy Howard, Craig Anderson and Ryan Miller wondering if they’ll play another NHL game. Expect that trend to continue in the cap crunched world. Fleury does have a leg up in that he has more Cups than those three put together. And he seems to be finding ways to defy everyone just when it appears his game is going to drop off for good. Finally, Fleury sits on 466 career wins and if he’s going to get to 500 he has to play games.

History tells us Fleury will go along with things and put on a happy face regardless of how he feels personally. The real question is how long it lasts.

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Site Stuff

Vegas Tweet Shows Reverse Retro Details

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Vegas Golden Knights reverse retro jersey

A tweet from the Vegas Golden Knights has shows details from the Adidas reverse retro jersey coming next week.

What We Know

The jersey will feature a red body with gold and black striping. The primary logo is on the shoulder and the secondary logo will be the main crest for the jersey. The striping on the body of the jersey is expected to replicate that of the 1995 Las Vegas Thunder from the old International Hockey League.

I know that the original leaks of the jersey didn’t meet with much enthusiasm – especially right after the launch of the gold VGK sweater. But I really believe this is going to be a stunner in person and a very popular seller for the Golden Knights.

Reverse retro jerseys are expected to be available for sale this coming Monday, November 16.

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