Notes, Quotes and Summer Stories: Tales From the NHL’s Player Media Tour
- The offseason was full a weddings, friends and free agents. Here's what some of the NHL’s stars had to say about their summers and the upcoming season.
On the 15th floor of this midtown Manhattan skyscraper, past the glass-walled conference rooms and the fancy island countertop made with a strip of actual ice—mini-Zamboni included—is a display commemorating past Stanley Cup champions. Etched into panels around the alcove are names from each organization, owners to fourth-liners; they mirror the engravings on the Cup itself, down to the misspellings and crossed-out ones. In the middle is a life-size image of the trophy itself. A quick walk feels like fast-forwarding through history.
The 2016-17 Pittsburgh Penguins hadn’t yet joined the alcove wall as of last week, but perhaps a simple copy-and-paste job will suffice. By spoiling Nashville’s citywide celebration in six games, the Penguins became the first repeat winners in almost two decades. The expansion era has seen just one three-peater, though the Islanders’ dynasty of the 1980s evidently got bored with all that before steaming straight toward a fourth.
As for Pittsburgh’s chances, doubting Sidney Crosby rarely seems to pay off these days. The back-to-back Conn Smythe winner was already giddy about the next season while his team celebrated in 2016, and chances are he felt the same this June too. But the challenge is steep, the challengers many. Just look at those stars whisking through NHL headquarters for the annual player media tour, far too busy to check out the Stanley Cup display, preoccupied instead with getting up there themselves.
Actually, the event isn’t all that serious. USA Today brilliantly got players to draw their teams’ logos. (Assist to the league-branded water bottles stocked in every conference room fridge.) Roman Josi came styling a purple suit, equal parts Barney and blue-liner, while Ryan Getzlaf wore a white T-shirt. Calgary winger Johnny Gaudreau fell into a mid-interview giggle fit because Detroit’s Dylan Larkin started making goofy faces against the window. There were newsworthy topics to cover, sure: injury updates, reactions to an NHL-less Olympics, offseason additions and subtractions. On the other hand, here are 10 lighter takeaways from the car wash.
Next generation Tanks
Within 30 seconds of entering Sports Illustrated’s room, Vladimir Tarasenko was already breaking out the baby videos. He brought his stepson Mark, 10, for the media tour, but not 15-month-old Aleksandr. “Youngest is like hurricane,” says the St. Louis Blues sniper, whose 39 goals tied for fourth in the league last season. “Youngest will ruin everything here. He destroy this office, probably. Like, never tired.”
Sure enough, Aleksandr appears on the iPhone screen, bopping atop a plastic log at the playground, zipping around the slide. And him boogying to some music in the car. Growing up in Russia, before he developed one of hockey’s deadliest shots, Tarasenko was like that too. “No tired,” he says. “Running around. Crush everything.”
At first Tarasenko wanted to play goalie, until his father told him no. Mark plays goalie now. His youth team held its first practice last Thursday, but only forward and defensemen were required to attend. “I’m like, what a life you have,” Tarasenko jokes. “Optional Thursday, Friday-Sunday practice.” Fortunately this freed Mark to tag along in New York City, much like he did for the All-Star Game in Los Angeles last season. In the hallway on Thursday, he asked—and got—a picture with San Jose netminder Martin Jones. “He’s getting excited when he sees the NHL players,” Tarasenko says. “I think it makes him want to play more. I just want him to see this.”
Keep your enemies closer...
On free nights during the season, Patrick Kane usually flips to hockey. He likes watching Sabres games because he’s from Buffalo, and Sam Gagner’s games because they’re good friends. His other favorite views: “Pittsburgh, Toronto, Edmonton.”
As in...Crosby, Matthews and reigning Hart Trophy winner Connor McDavid?
Kane smiles. Pretty much. “You want to be a sponge,” he says. “You want to gather all this information, watch these guys, see what they’re doing out there, see why they’re being successful. Every player’s different. If you can take a little bit of some information here or there to help your game, I think it can be pretty important.”
Johnny Hockey, Not Jockey
Gaudreau attended his first Calgary Stampede this summer, at which he climbed onto a horse and slid his black Yeezys into the stirrups. Presumably that picture was taken early in the morning, before Gaudreau got bucked off.
“So we’re on a declining hill,” he says. “There’s 150 horses around there before the parade starts, and they’re all s------ around everywhere. We’re at the top of the hill and the horse’s legs give out, and as he stands up he bucks me off and I’m rolling down the hill in all this crap. And then I had to ride on the horse. It was a long day. It was disgusting. I got a new shirt.”
Eichel campaigns for fun
Entering his third NHL season and his first contract year, Buffalo’s Jack Eichel has proven himself a vocal advocate of players showing more personality. To wit:
He then continued: “I’m not thinking about it all the time. It’s something that’s in the back of your head. Obviously you’re only playing hockey for so long. You want to, one, make as much money as you can to support your family and your kids when they’re older, and you obviously want to set yourself up for life after hockey in whatever way you can do it. If people know your personality and like it, you’re more likely to fall somewhere.
“You look at the way some of the endorsement deals work, how much money guys are making to wear a pair of sneakers, it’s crazy. It seems like every superstar has their own signature sneaker. Guys are like, I want to wear the LeBron sneaker because of LeBron. I think the NBA does a good job of it. I don't know if our sport generates enough revenue for that right now. I don't know if there’s enough revenue in the brands themselves. But you never know what could happen down the line.”
At this point, SI videographer—and diehard Islanders fan—David Seperson showed Eichel a picture of Joshua Ho-Sang’s customized skates. Eichel looked impressed. “Exactly,” he said.
Shayne Gostisbehere’s Unedited Bullet Points of Advice for Rookies
• Don’t get on the massage table.
• Don’t be an idiot.
• Be a rookie.
• Be smart.
• Respect your veterans.
• Respect guys who have put in their work in the NHL.
• Last on the bus.
• Sit down.
• Don’t be an a-------.
• Don’t be a cocky little kid.
Getting the band back together
The irony of Jordan Eberle’s summer wedding in downtown Calgary was that guests were asked to avoid posting videos on social media. “And obviously they didn’t,” Eberle says. After all, everyone from NHL.com to Sportsnet posted the group-wide rendition of “Wagon Wheel,” and blogged that picture of Connor McDavid attempting shots on the dance floor against Taylor Hall, who squatted into a goalie stance with a guitar for a stick.
On the other hand, like often happens in the salary cap world, the ceremony brought old teammates together. It was one month after Edmonton traded Eberle to the Islanders, and 13 after Hall was shipped away to New Jersey. “There’s a lot of pressure throughout the season that you have to go through,” says Eberle, 27, a five-time 20-goal scorer seeking a fresh start beside John Tavares in Brooklyn. “People don’t understand that. You lose a lot of friends. Especially playing in Edmonton, I’ve played with a lot of teammates. It’s nice in the summertime when stuff like that happens, you’re all able to get back to that together.”
“I hadn’t seen Ebs since he got traded,” McDavid says. “It was a nice way to say bye and celebrate with him. I think he’s going to do great. He’s a great player. He’s always someone who’s been successful in the league, and I don't think it’s going to be any different for him over here. He’s going to get chance to play with some real good players, Tavares especially, and I think they’re both going to enjoy playing with each other.”
Lest you think the reunions were localized to ex-Oilers, consider that the Rangers’ Mika Zibanejad hopped onto the turntables when former Ottawa teammate Erik Karlsson got married and spun some house music tracks. “Still paid a regular deejay,” Karlsson says. “Didn’t have to do that. Should’ve just had him do it.”
Rollercoaster in the desert
Despite having a new coach for two months as training camp lurks around the corner, Coyotes forward Max Domi somehow still hadn’t seen the YouTube video of Rick Tocchet cooking spaghetti. So we fixed that. “That is unbelievable,” Domi says. “That is f---ing amazing. Oh my god. That’s honestly amazing.”
Indeed, first impressions have been solid between Arizona and Tocchet, who arrives after spending three seasons as an assistant on Pittsburgh’s bench. “I’m really excited to have him as a coach and the guy driving the ship,” Domi says. “The winning pedigree he has with coaching, playing, he’s coached and played with some of the best players in the world, and he’s won. I think you can just talk to other players who have played for him, and they all love him. I’m really, really excited.”
To Domi, 22, the downside of adding talent like defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and center Derek Stepan came in seeing friends like Anthony DeAngelo and Connor Murphy depart in trades. “It was my first time really experiencing it,” Domi says. “That wasn’t fun at all. But they’re both going to situations that will be great for them. We’re happy for them. And we made some moves that definitely made us a better team.”
One more reason to be excited
The only thing missing was the eye emoji.
As the Stars emerged from the early days of July with a big-bodied defenseman (Marc Methot, via Vegas), a starting goalie (Ben Bishop) and a top-nine center (Martin Hanzal), Tyler Seguin was already happy with how the roster looked following disappointing playoff absence last season. Then he noticed that Alexander Radulov followed him on Instagram. “Then we started talking in the DMs,” Seguin jokes. “I was real excited about our team, then all of a sudden we get Radulov too. It’s like eating a big cake and then throwing a velvet cherry on top.”
A five-year deal annually worth $6.25 million—adorned with a full no-move clause, according to CapFriendly—means that Seguin and Radulov will have plenty of time to get acquainted. Early returns are positive, at least from a quick YouTube search on Seguin’s end. “Most of it was him in the KHL,” Seguin says. “But you can tell he’s a guy who possesses the puck a lot, good setup man....I think he was the best player on Montreal [last year]. There were times when he controlled the whole game.”
Dallas captain Jamie Benn, meanwhile, played his part in the recruitment too, calling Radulov during the open interview period. “I sold him a bit, yeah. I gave my pitch and told him how great Dallas is and why he would look good in a Stars uniform, why the city of Dallas would be good for him,” Benn says. Just to be safe, he also beat brother and Canadiens defenseman Jordie Benn in bubble hockey at his house.
Seguin hits the road
Among the many perks of his growing profile and celebrity, Seguin loves meeting athletes from other sports. Two summers ago, the Dallas forward geeked out upon seeing Derek Jeter at a private rooftop shindig before the ESPYs. This summer, he found himself working out alongside Minnesota Timberwolves small forward Andrew Wiggins in Toronto. “He’s a funny dude,” Seguin says. “We didn’t talk too much sports. I couldn’t believe how much he likes video games.”
Their training regimens were wildly different, but Seguin still took away something from seeing Wiggins up close. “It’s pretty incredible how big and quick you can still be, for a powerful and explosive guy,” he says. “I like changing sports up, interacting, just how they live their life, what their things are, superstitions. General talk. Nothing that’s going to make your article go boom.”
Seguin also spent six nights in Beijing, traveling with representatives from the sports drink company Biosteel, holding some poor kid upside down for a GQ China shoot. He had never been that far away from home before. “It was definitely a culture shock,” he says. What surprised him? “Everything. Even looking at my phone, seeing that it was going to be sunny, and didn’t see the sun once because of the pollution and smog. It just blew me away. And walking out to the mall, seeing the nuclear power plant right there. Right in front of us. It was surreal.”
Quotes of the Day(s)
Defenseman Seth Jones on Columbus’ first-round exit against Pittsburgh: “Frustrating. You’re frustrated, right? That’s not what you want, but it is what it is, and you’ve got to respect your opponent. It hurt, obviously. We didn’t think we deserved to be out in five games. You have to let it sink in and marinate and let it hurt, because you don’t want to have that feeling again. I think we still have a bitter taste as a team in our mouth from it, so it’s going to fuel us this year.”
Gostisbehere on aging: “I ran into the assistant GM and he goes, ‘You’re one of the older guys now.’ I’m like, ‘Shut up. I’m 24, man. Don’t tell me that.’”
Capitals goalie Braden Holtby on his summer: “I went back home for a couple months. A couple little trips. Nothing too exciting. I’m not a fisherman, which is weird. I’m from Saskatchewan. I’m not a big fisherman and I’ve never hunted in my life. I don’t fit in very well out there. I just hibernate and do landscaping. I’ve been trying to landscape my yard back home. It’s an endless project of retaining walls and paving stones. It’s fun, though, to actually do some actual labor with your hands, because you never get to during the season. I’m telling my wife it’s a 10-year plan. She’s not happy about that. I’m on year, like, four.”
Seguin on questions for Benn: “Just say, ‘I heard you put the most gel in your hair in warmups and look the longest in the mirror, how do you feel about that?’ He’ll know it’s from me.”