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Execs talk future of the game with NHL.com

Tuesday, 09.23.2008 / 3:10 PM / NHL Insider

NHL.com

What do you do when you are surrounded by a potpourri of NHL executives with unlimited access to all of them? Well, if you're NHL.com's Dan Rosen, you manage to pull some of them aside for a roundtable discussion regarding the state of the League.

While in Traverse City, Mich., covering the 2008 Prospects Tournament, Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland, Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell and St. Louis Blues President of Hockey Operations John Davidson sat down with NHL.com – literally at a round table – to do a podcast on all things relevant to the NHL today.

What follows is a transcript of the roundtable.  NHL.com Roundtable 

Dan Rosen -- This is an NHL.com podcast and we're lucky enough to have Ken Holland from the Detroit Red Wings, John Davidson from the St. Louis Blues and Don Waddell from the Atlanta Thrashers. Guys I want you to have fun with this. This is going to be you guys talking about the State of the League.

Ken, we'll start off with you. The overall health of the NHL right now, where do you see it from the lockout to now? How do you view it, and where do you think it can go?

Ken Holland -- Well, one of the first things you'd look at is the salary cap obviously was around $39 million coming out of the work stoppage, and it's going up to 57. The first thing that tells you is that the revenues are gaining and the cap is going up. I think the rules from Colie Campbell and his people have made the game way more exciting and a lot more fun for the fans and the players. Obviously, I think there are some things from a business standpoint that they'd like to do. J.D. can talk about the TV, that's the one thing they probably ... you know, VERSUS has done a tremendous job in covering our game, but obviously we'd like to grow the game on TV because that's where the revenue is going to be.

Dan Rosen -- Can you touch on the TV stuff, J.D.?

John Davidson -- I think what Ken is talking about is for us to generate more revenue makes it very important for teams that are in mid- to smaller markets. That's the revenue we're looking for and that's going to be something that will become a necessity for us if this cap number keeps going up and up and up. With smaller cities and the prices of tickets, it's not easy to generate the revenue as cities such as Toronto and New York and Philadelphia and others, probably Detroit in some ways, I guess Ken.

But, on the ice I don't think the game has ever been better. It's fast. It's hard. Last year our team missed the playoffs in St. Louis, but we were in most games and there wasn't an easy game of the 82 we played. Not one. Not too many years ago, there were some 6-1 games and 7-1 games. You knew that was going to happen. Not anymore. They're good games.

Off the ice, I don't know Don what you think, but I'm a little nervous with that cap number going up to where it's going. It's gotten there in a hurry and that's tough on some cities.

Don Waddell -- As you said, some of our markets, our increases during the year are going to be 4 to 5 percent, not the League going up 7 to 8 percent. Trying to keep up with that, as you said, we have to find some national money and the obvious thing is TV. I know the League has worked hard at it and continues to work hard. It's certainly an aspect of the business that we have room to grow in.

Dan Rosen -- One of the things we're doing here (in Traverse City) is obviously watching prospects. Everybody has some different views on prospect development. Don, what are some of your views on prospect development?

Don Waddell -- Well, this tournament I think is really set up well for young players because I always believe when young players come to your camp, they are intimidated and this gives them an opportunity to showcase their talent against their peers. Then, by the time they come to your camp, they have a weekend under their belt. The other thing is we have always brought our top players here. Ilya Kovalchuk played here. Dany Heatley played here. Kari Lehtonen and our first pick this year, Zach Bogosian. So, I think it's a tournament that is set up for your development players to get a showcase for how we view them against the other teams' best players also.

Dan Rosen -- Ken, for you guys, you have had this tournament in Traverse City for a long time, but your NHL roster looks like a veteran roster and it is set. How do you look at prospect development?

Ken Holland -- Well, I think in the cap world, obviously the back half of your roster is going to have to be young, cheap players. When you look at the salaries and the terms players are signing now, you know, six, seven or eight million dollars, you can only have three, four, five of those players and then you have to have young cheap players. So, we all need to draft and we all need to develop, I don't care where you're team is at. Like Donnie said, coming to this tournament is a chance to No. 1, we can evaluate our kids and No. 2, we want to get their comfort level to a place to where the next week when they go out with the veterans you hope they're a little more ready to show you what they can do because it's so important, especially for kids that are really close.

(Patrik) Berglund is a really good player for John. He's a guy that looks like he can play in the NHL. That one week here allows these kids to really be comfortable.

John Davidson -- I think it's really multi-layered, this whole thing. There are scouts here from teams that don't even have a team in this tournament. They can come here and get a really good look at eight different teams. And, Detroit, led by commissioner Kenny here, they do a great job here. This thing is well run. It's almost to perfection. The volunteer work is awesome. I was mentioning when we landed here at the airport the other day and went to get our baggage and equipment off, there was a small army of volunteers to help out. It's awesome.

And, when you look at the players, it's obvious your better young future stars are playing against the other teams' better young future stars. You get a chance to analyze that. There are also some surprises. You can find some kids here. It's multi-layered just the way they run the tournament. We bring our scouts here and assign them to teams. Go and watch this team and go and watch that team, fill your reports in. Let's watch these kids. It's terrific for everybody.

Dan Rosen -- There are a couple of days on the calendar now that fans look forward to: Trade deadline and July 1. What do you guys think of July 1?

"The trade deadline, it's a crazy world because you can make those trades a week earlier, but for some reason they don't happen until the trade deadline. Nobody wants to make a decision until they're forced to make a decision, and that's the part I can't hardly figure out." -- Thrashers GM Don Waddell

Don Waddell -- Well it doesn't mean a lot to us because we don't shop until July 7. We let all the big teams shop on July 1 (laughter). Certainly, as you said, I always feel in this League everything happens for a deadline. The trade deadline, it's a crazy world because you can make those trades a week earlier, but for some reason they don't happen until the trade deadline. Nobody wants to make a decision until they're forced to make a decision, and that's the part I can't hardly figure out. I had Marian Hossa last year and a week before I couldn't get a third-round pick probably for him at that point, and two hours before the trade deadline it really heats up. So, it's interesting how we operate with deadlines, but obviously it's two key dates for building your franchise. You have three ways to build your team: Through the draft, through free agency and through the trade deadline.

Dan Rosen -- What about you, J.D.?

John Davidson: -- I'm starting to get nervous about July 1.

Dan Rosen -- Already?

John Davidson -- Well, you know, a lot of guys are signing their players to long-term contracts so that means there are fewer of those guys available. When the good guys come out there are not a lot of them, and there are 30 teams out there. So they're in a good position to sit there and say, 'Oh, maybe I'm going to hit the lottery here.' And with our club in St. Louis, we're in a real rebuild. We have a lot of young players that will become good players for us, and we won't get into that heavy marketplace unless it really makes a lot of sense or our team is ready. Detroit, with the Hossa signing, that was great for their hockey club. They were in a position to do that. So, once you get closer I think you're in a better position to go to your ownership and say, "By the way, you got an extra $100 million sitting there, maybe we can sign somebody." (laughter)

Dan Rosen -- Well, you can be like Detroit, where Marian Hossa just falls smack right into your lap. What is that position like, Ken? What does it feel like from the top?

Ken Holland -- Oh, I worry everyday just like we all do. You know, we had a great record last year, but we won lots of games by a goal. Even in the rookie tournament we're talking about here, it's 3-2 every night. Goaltending is really important and structure. Obviously you have to have that guy or two up front that can be a difference maker, but there is parity in the league. I'm scared to death about making the playoffs this year. You know, last year we had two or three injuries in February and I think we won one game out of 11. I look at the Vancouver Canucks, who were in real good shape with about two months to six weeks to go in the season and they lose almost their top four defense and it knocked them out of the playoffs. It's a real fine line between winning and losing.

Talking about the trade deadline, I just think more and more teams, we're all signing our players. We're stepping up and giving long-term (contracts). There are still players that are going to be out there on July 1, but I think as we go forward less teams are going to be able to get active. We got (Henrik) Zetterberg and (Marian) Hossa and (Mikael) Samuelsson and (Johan) Franzen. We have a few guys that will be unrestricted free agents. We're going to sign a couple of them, and then we're going to be capped out. We're probably going to lose a couple of players and we're going to sit on the sidelines. It's somebody else's opportunity to get some players. It's an exciting day for teams around the League, but again, it's tons of money.

Dan Rosen -- Hey, J.D. is smiling over here.

 
 
John Davidson -- Oh, all I'm hoping is that the American dollar keeps getting strong and the Canadian dollar slips so those numbers don't go as high as they have been. (laughter)

Dan Rosen -- Another growing concern that a lot of people are looking at is the new Russian league now. I'm curious, do you guys look at it as a legitimate concern, a legitimate threat, or is it another blip on the radar?

John Davidson -- We have the best league. I can tell you that. By a hundred miles we have the best league and those better players know that. It may be interesting for the marginal player or a player that thinks he's better than what he is, and he may go over there and make a lot of money as opposed to not making near that amount here. So be it.

Dan Rosen -- But doesn't the NHL need the marginal players?

Don Waddell -- Well, I think there are enough players to go around at that level. If you start losing a lot of stars after a while you'd be a little concerned, but the players we've lost this year with maybe one exception are all players we can replace on our roster. And, J.D. hit it on the nose, this is the best league in the world. If a player wants to go to Europe to make money, you know it's happened before. Guys have gone to different countries for whatever reason, and you're almost better off to move on. It's something that I don't worry about at all. We have enough things to worry about. I'm a big believer of worrying about the things you can control. If we can't control it, don't fret too much about it.

John Davidson -- When I say best in the world, we're talking about on the ice. How about off the ice? The way we live in North America, the way we travel, the doctors, the way the wives are taken care of and families are taken care of. It's A to Z. It's not just on ice. It's quality of life over here.

Ken Holland -- To me the only ones you worry about maybe a little bit are the Russian players because it's their home. It's like a Canadian kid getting a chance to play in the League back home. I'm like J.D. and Don here, the best league in the world, the quality of life, and I think most people want to play against the best players. Look at the salaries. They're all well paid. They're going to make a lot of money. If you got people that are competitive, they want to play with and against the best players in the world.

Dan Rosen -- Another topic this summer is Columbus had a case of burnout with Stefan Legion, their prospect. A lot of people will say, 'How can a 19-year-old kid be burned out?' But are we treating the kids the right way? Are the kids playing too much?

John Davidson -- The only thing I'd address that with is when the young kids have a chance to play hockey or any other sport, have fun playing it. Don't be too structured as a youngster. Just enjoy life, enjoy sports. Get out and play golf, play baseball, play soccer, have fun with it.

As far as burnout goes, that's one of hardly any. You hear his name with burnout, but we don't even know the real story. I don't anyway. To me, I see kids showing up and writing us letters and sending us tapes. As the other kids that get drafted, they train and work hard. This is their life's passion. I don't think we have an issue with that at all.

Don Waddell -- None. I think this is one case. If it's a complete burnout situation, it's one case of the million players that are playing out there. It's not a factor at all.

Dan Rosen -- There is the Winter Classic, which the Red Wings are involved in, and the NHL is opening the season in Europe, which they did last year and again this year. Just touch on that. What do you think the League is doing there and trying to promote? The Winter Classic was a great success and hopes to be again this year. Just talk about that, Ken?

Ken Holland -- The Winter Classic, I was in Europe last year at the World Junior so I saw a little bit of Buffalo and Pittsburgh in the Buffalo game, but I didn't watch it live. But everything I read and saw the highlights, it looked surreal with the snow coming down. As we were doing our schedule in March or April, the League asked us if we had some interest. We said we had some interest. I know they were debating whether it would be Chicago or New York. In the end, we thought it would be great for our team to be involved. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity to play hockey like it started 50, 60, 70, 80 years ago. I know our coaches and everybody in our organization is really excited to be involved in a unique game.

Dan Rosen -- People talk about the NHL as a global League. What about opening in Europe?

John Davidson -- It's great. It's awesome. You know, you look at basketball right now and how good the in-roads are that they're making in China. With our game, we've got people coming to camps and playing in our League from Switzerland, from Germany. There was a goaltender that played in Los Angeles from Japan. There is Finland. There is Sweden. There are all parts of Russia. It's going on and on and on. It's a great game. Spread the gospel. We know how great the game is. Others are starting to figure it out, too. I think it's flat-out awesome that we do these things, and I like the fact that the players are holding up their end of the bargain because I think they realize, at least I hope they do, how important this is for the growth of the game. We all want the game to grow, so why not let the rest of the world see what we do.

Don Waddell -- The one thing I should point out here is that even though this is a podcast, Kenny Holland's hands are still moving as he's talking. (laughter) There is no camera to pick it up, but they are still moving in the famous Kenny Holland way. (more laughter).

Dan Rosen -- Well, we're almost done, but we have two goalies sitting here and obviously a topic of conversation at the GM meetings earlier this year and now this summer, the changes to goalie equipment. J.D., Ken, can you just touch on what they are?

John Davidson -- Well, I don't go to those meetings. (Blues GM) Larry Pleau represents us. I've seen what it is going to look like and I think it's good. As long as the goaltenders feel comfortable that they're protected it's good. It got out of control. People seemed to find a way, whether it's goalie equipment or a coach, how to find a way to take advantage of every opportunity they can to win, period. And, we've got to police. With Kay Whitmore, a former goaltender, being involved with it, he's working hard at it. And, I respect that.
 
Kenny, I don't know about you, but right to today with this catching glove with this cheater above the thumb, I still don't know what it's there for other than to knock the puck away. I don't understand it. I don't know where it came from. I don't know why it's still there. I don't get it. I just don't.

Ken Holland -- The one thing is there has been some talk of making the nets bigger. Me, personally, I'm dead set against increasing the size of the nets. I just think you're going somewhere where you don't know what the outcome is going to be. We need to protect our goalies, but we need to make sure the equipment is there to protect them, not just to cheat. To me, I think the biggest difference in our game from today to 20 years ago is the goaltending. The goaltenders are unbelievable. The style they play, I call it the Patrick Roy style, the butterfly. They cover so much area so we have to make sure there is some area for the pucks to go in. We want to have 4-3 games.

John Davidson -- I tell you what, if the guys would have blocked shots back when we played, we might have looked that good, too. (laughter)

Ken Holland -- That's the other thing.

John Davidson -- I've never seen anything like it. Holy crow.
 
Don Waddell -- I'd like to also remind you the goalies are more athletic today. (laughter)

NHL.com moderator -- And, we'll end on that note.

I've been getting frustrated lately, and the only thing keeping me sane was the team winning and other people stepping up and scoring. Then you just kind of let it go and realize you can end the series with one shot, that frustration goes away for a brief moment, and that's what happened.

— Montreal forward Max Pacioretty after scoring the series-winner in Game 4 -- his first career playoff goal -- to eliminate the Lightning and send the Canadiens into the second round