DeKeyser to Detroit: Soooo… what took so long?

Hockey super agent Don Meehan

Newport Sports is the top hockey player agency in the world, and its office in Mississauga, Ontario, has been the scene of many FBI-like free agent standoffs in recent years.

Brad Richards ran negotiations out of Newport’s office two summers ago.

Last summer, reporters crowded the sidewalk as GMs and other executives filed in to woo Zach Parise.

This week, it was Danny DeKeyser’s turn to bunker down and let his agents work over some of the most esteemed men in hockey and, in the process, commence a week of foreplay that climaxed Friday with the announcement that DeKeyser – as everyone expected – has signed a two-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings.

Which begs many questions:

- Why let the Maple Leafs wine and dine him at the Air Canada Centre earlier this week?
- Why force Nashville head coach Barry Trotz to skip practice with 15 games left and his team struggling for a playoff berth to fly north with Predators brass?
- Why take the calls from Edmonton’s owner, head coach and brightest young defenseman?
- Why allow Flyers owner Ed Snider and his closest hockey advisors to charter a jet to Ontario for a face-to-face meeting?
- Why do any of that if, all along, DeKeyser knew he wanted to be a Red Wing?

Trades and free agent deals are like live coverage of murders the way they play out in the media these days. There’s the initial call or hint something is up. There’s the confirmation that something has happened or is in the works. Then the people who are actually involved shut up while the media stands outside and swirls rumors and analysis while it waits for the blinds to raise and the player to walk out the front door, new contract in pocket.

It’s kind of comical, really.

Still, what took DeKeyser so long?

Like these crime sprees, we likely won’t find out the blow-by-blow recap for a while, if ever. Agents and GMs and players will only talk so much, even after a deal is consummated. After all, they’re always working with the next deal in mind.

Which, to me, probably explains why this took so long.

Don Meehan and Ed Ward and the entire Newport team works for Danny DeKeyser. But they also work for Zach Parise. And dozens of other hockey players at varying stages of their careers and in various contract situations.

There wasn’t much they could negotiate for DeKeyser – the money was the same wherever he signed. And while they could likely negotiate for other things (spot on the roster, depth in the organization, playing time, perhaps even other intangibles), it’s likely DeKeyser’s agents used their fresh faced client for the air time it got them with Ken Holland and Kevin Lowe and Doug Armstrong and a slew of other big fish execs.

“Hey, Doug, while I have you … about that other deal…”

This is not to imply that Meehan or Ward or any other Newport reps acted without integrity. That’s how this business works. And, sure, it’s possible an entirely different reason held this up.

Maybe DeKeyser really wasn’t sure about Detroit. Maybe the nice guy in him wanted to give each of these teams a fair shot. Maybe the fear in him warned to slow down and be cautious with every offer, regardless of how airtight it seemed.

Maybe.

But you can bet this entire thing was orchestrated and played out exactly as the men who represent DeKeyser wanted it. Like a real estate deal or any other negotiation, silence, due diligence and a little gamesmanship – for sport – trump time.

Even if it drives the Twittersphere nuts.

In motion

The sleek, sterile chairs of a corporate Toronto office.

Men in tailored suits flanking a boy in his, the collar loose.

Across the table, Sharks and Predators.

Wings and Hawks.

With promises of brightest tomorrow, they stalk.

KO’d: Broncos go bust in CCHA quarterfinals

Welcome to this blog’s first ever video post.

So many story lines came to mind following the Wolverines’ weekend waylay that a regular post would’ve taken forever to write (and read).

Thus… this.

(Yes, I’m wearing sweat shorts with the dress shirt. It’s Sunday.)

Tip your cap: These RedHawks are good

We in sports love to overanalyze.

It’s fun.

It makes us feel like we’re part of the action.

Sometimes, though, sports are as simple as the air we breathe and the water we drink.

Miami was better than Western Michigan on Saturday night.

And the sun will come up tomorrow.

Plain and simple.

There’s no reason to speak of panic or concern.  The No. 3 team in the country beat the No. 6 team in the country.  The night before, the reverse was true.  And given the shot total in Friday’s game (32-23 Miami), one could argue the RedHawks should have won that game, too, had it not been for the other-worldly play by WMU goalie Frank Slubowski in the 2-0 win.

Could the Bronco power play, which went 0-for-5 Saturday, have been better?  Absolutely. (By the way, the stat about Western winning when it scores a power play goal and losing when it doesn’t bore itself out again this weekend). But an accurate postmortem of Saturday’s game shouldn’t include exaggerated observations of what Western did wrong. To pin Saturday’s defeat on the power play would be shortsighted and, frankly, unfair to the RedHawks.

Miami was just better. Better out of the gate in the first period. Better in its own end. Better along the boards.  Better in puck battles.  Remember, this is a program that’s made the NCAA tournament the last seven years in a row, has the nation’s top-ranked defense (allowing just 45 goals in 30 games) and has won five of its last six contests.

The RedHawks — who looked more like a red wave — didn’t budge Saturday.  Their freshman goaltender, Ryan McKay, was stellar in his third shutout of the season.  Their defense prevented Western from doing anything of significance around the net.  And their forwards buzzed and pestered Bronco defensemen who’ve grown used to otherwise timid opponents giving them room to operate in their own zone.

Miami wasn’t scared.

And Western shouldn’t be ashamed.

Fans who have gotten used to basking in the glow of WMU’s 13-2-1 record at home this season just aren’t used to seeing the Broncos “take it on the chin,” as defenseman Danny DeKeyser described it Saturday night.

Alas, this is what happens sometimes when two heavyweights collide.

ALONG THE RAIL …

  • Speaking of heavy, Kenney Morrison has a monstrous slap shot.  When the Broncos are on the power play, everyone in the building knows where the puck is going: to number 7 at the left point so he can wind up and crank it.  Morrison is quite capable of torching goalies from 60 feet away, but the next step in the freshman’s evolution will be the ability to judge when to let it rip and when to pump fake the oncoming defender and pass or pedal, find a clear lane, then shoot.  Right now, it appears his only setting is SHOOT. He tried multiple times Saturday to blast the puck through the approaching defender’s shin pads (hey, if anybody could do it…) and it resulted in the puck skittering onto a Miami stick or ricocheting out of the zone.
  • Coach Andy Murray said after the game that the insertion of backup goaltender Lukas Hafner to begin the third period was the result of Slubowski not feeling well.  “Frank just wasn’t well,” Murray said. “It had nothing to do with his play or special motivational tactics. He was getting worse so it was just time to take him out.”  Mind you, that was only the fourth appearance for Hafner this season. Slubowski has started all 30 games.
  • Which begs the question: does Slubowski and his career .918 save percentage have a shot at the NHL? Your comments welcome below.

Loss to Duluth partly stars, mostly stripes

To complain about the referee is the diehard’s reality, the player’s duty and the coach’s in-game therapy.

It’s also cliche, which is why coaches or players don’t often rant about that night’s officials during post-game interviews.  Well, mostly because they’ll get fined.  But also because they realize there were 300 other things that impacted the outcome.

But, damn it, sometimes the referees do matter.  And to deny their influence on a game is unfair to the events as they actually happened.  Yes, the Broncos lost to top-ranked Minnesota-Duluth, 4-1, on Friday mostly because they struggled with the Bulldogs’ speed and three-man forecheck, but the mark that referees Stephen McInchak and Barry Pochmara and linesmen Bruce Vida and Charles Elder left on the game was painfully evident.

If you were there, you saw it.  Missed calls.  Blown calls.  The choosing of just one player to serve a penalty after a goalmouth battle during which arms and legs and sticks flew everywhere.  How do you pick just one?  You know it’s bad when a pseudo hockey fan says to you, “Boy, it seems like they’re getting in the way of the puck a lot.”  If players can have poor performances and be criticized for it, so, too, can referees.

And Friday was a bad night, which Western coach Andy Murray told the Kalamazoo Gazette:

“I don’t disagree with the penalties, but Ian Slater goes to clear a puck on our penalty kill in the third period and they (UMD) hook him so he can’t clear it out and the puck goes to the other side and Luke (Witkowski) takes a penalty and they get a five-on-three and score. We have to have those calls.”

That 5-on-3 power play goal, a low-angle snipe by Travis Oleksuk with just under 12 minutes left, was the game-winner and mood-killer on an otherwise electric, packed-house night that deserved to evolve to its finish untouched by whistles, arms and — in the case of Vida and Elder — legs, asses and ankles.

So what about the actual game?

Hey, Duluth is really good.  No doubt.  The Bulldogs are more undersized than you might imagine the number-one team in the country would be, but they are ferocious along the boards and in the defensive zone.  They skate, they hit and they wore Western down until a few power plays afforded them an opportunity to take control late in the game.  In a way, they play like the Broncos.  They just played the Broncos’ game better.

ALONG THE RAIL …

  • So, that contest to win an all-expenses-paid trip to the Frozen Four?  Turns out it was a patsy.  The original “major announcement” WMU planned to make was that the National Collegiate Hockey Conference had struck a national TV deal with CBS Sports Network.  And Friday’s stage was set: center ice carpet, lights, cameras … hold on a second.  According to sources, the announcement hit a snag late in the week because the University of North Dakota hadn’t yet informed its current TV partner that it would jump ship to CBS when the NCHC begins play in 2013-14.  Kudos to WMU’s marketing department for pulling out the credit card to create a last-minute diversion, but how is every aspect of that deal not in the bag before you say anything?
  • And why does it seem like everything is a “major announcement” at WMU lately?  A television contract, although nice and certainly a sign that the hockey program has progressed, is not a major announcement (particularly when your games are going to be on channel 223).  A $100 million anonymous gift to a start a medical school?  Now that’s a major announcement.
  • Next time you’re at a game, listen to Danny DeKeyser and Luke Witkowski as they move the puck together on defense.  They have their own language.  It’ll probably sound like muffled yells, but if you pay close enough attention you can hear one player shout instructions to the other when he has the puck and the opponent is pressuring.  It’s like they’re each other’s side and rear-view mirrors.  For example, DeKeyser had the puck in the left corner facing the boards as two UMD defenders bore down.  Witkowski barked “HIGH! HIGH!” so DeKeyser new the safe play was to bank the puck high off the glass and out of the zone.
  • Edmonton Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini watched Friday’s game with a member of his staff.  The Oilers played in St. Louis on Thursday night and have a 2 pm EST start in Dallas today, which Tambellini said he would attend.  Such is life of the road for an NHL general manager — Kalamazoo really can be on the way from St. Louis to Dallas if you need it to be.
  • Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman will scout Saturday’s game from the Lawson Arena press box.  It’ll be Yzerman’s third time watching the Broncos this season, and apparently Tampa has sent at least one of its staff members to every WMU game this season.  Yzerman will be the sixth NHL general manager to watch a game in Kalamazoo this year.
  • The Lightning want DeKeyser bad, even though the Red Wings apparently have the inside track.  But a source said Friday night that Detroit wants DeKeyser to stay for another season at WMU — potentially a huge point of negotiation and a major source of temptation for the 21 year-old defenseman when no less than 29 other NHL teams will likely offer him a contract after this season.  If he wants to be a Red Wing, he’ll have to do it the Detroit way — and that means stay.
  • Former Michigan State coach Rick Comley now scouts for the Chicago Blackhawks and was in attendance Friday.  He sat near former Detroit Red Wings coach Barry Smith, he of the bright white hair and square jaw.  Pat Verbeek, the former Red Wing who now scouts for the Dallas Stars, also watched Friday’s game from the concourse.  In all, 11 NHL clubs were represented Friday night.
  • Here’s a blast from Kalamazoo’s hockey past: former K-Wings Jason Herter and Derek Plante are Minnesota-Duluth’s assistant coaches.  Herter played in Kalamazoo from 1993-95, when the Wings were International Hockey League affiliates of the Dallas Stars and Ken Hitchcock was head coach.  Plante played 13 games with the K-Wings in 1999-2000 and finished his career with 450 NHL games played.  Herter played one.

Spartan sweep a lesson in pest control

Brett Beier/Kalamazoo Gazette

Have you ever watched an ant buzz along the baseboard of your bathroom? Down the stretch it goes, its little legs scrambling freely until the
bathtub closes in on the left to form a sudden dead end.  The ant
pauses, backs up, circles, and tries again.  Nothing.  Trapped.
It could go left — back out into the open –
but that’s dangerous and clogged with
foot traffic.
 So it tries the perimeter
again.  And the bathtub steers
it right again 
until there’s
no more room
 to run.

(DUMP IN)

Anyone looking for an answer for why Michigan State swept the soon-to-be-lower-than-fifth-ranked Broncos this weekend need look no further than the neutral zone,
which the Spartans remodeled to their specifications again during a 4-2 victory
Saturday that brought BroncoLand back
to reality.

(BODYCHECK, TURNOVER)

State drywalled a diagonal line of defense from blue line to blue line that forced the Broncos along the perimeter 
and pinched
them off at the far blue-line point of attack. Like the
mighty ants that could, WMU’s forwards 
scrambled
up the boards with the puck over and over, trying
to out-skate the green tidal wave.  But on the
rare occasion a Bronco beat it, he was left
stranded as the Spartans flooded
the zone around him, swallowed
possession of the puck and spit
it back out.
 And when the
Broncos managed decent
scoring chances, 
that big
lug of a Spartan goalie
Will Yanakeff 
guarded
the net like a
drain plug.

(NEXT!)

Now, I don’t know enough about coaching to say Tom Anastos out-coached Andy Murray, but damn Anastos had a pretty rockin’ system.  And his players executed it to perfection.

“We are a team that has to be at 100 percent to have a chance, especially in this league, and this weekend – tonight, especially – we weren’t,” Murray said on WKZO afterwards.

Certainly, Murray probably saw things about his team few others could.  But from an armchair perspective, the Broncos didn’t lack effort (always an easy-to-spot excuse for a loss).  If anything, they might have been too aggressive.  Perhaps they could have been more patient instead of repeatedly trying to ram the puck through the drywall like they were attached to Bubble Hockey skewers?  Then again, when they tried to play a cross-ice game, the Chinese handcuffs just got tighter.

Which begs a question: how the hell was Michigan State 4-4 heading into this weekend?

Parting shots

  • Murray inserted forward Kyle O’Kane into the lineup and he had a brilliant game, capped off by a third-period rebound goal to cut the Spartans’ lead to 3-2 with ten minutes left.
  • Credit freshman forward Justin Kovacs on the play — his ability to rag the puck behind the net with two Spartans draped all over him set up O’Kane’s finish.
  • Broncos goaltender Nick Pisellini made a pair of dazzling stops with the game close, but was wildly out of position on two goals that killed third-period momentum the Broncos built
  • Jake Chelios, the son of you-know-who, has his father’s swagger but not much else.  He was lucky that a holding penalty he committed as O’Kane scored didn’t cost his team, and while he fit into MSU’s system, he certainly didn’t stand out aside from his post-whistle antics.
  • Murray hosts a team dinner at his house today and the team has just a day of practice before traveling to South Bend for a rare Tuesday game against Notre Dame.
  • Former Bronco and current Chicago Blackhawks grinder Jamal Mayers was in attendance — and he’s a big fan of Andy Murray’s.  When WMU was in search of Jeff Blashill’s replacement, Mayers called athletic director Kathy Beauregard and told her if Murray belongs anywhere, it’s in the college game because of motivational tactics like leaving notes for players in their lockers — stuff that might not stick with an NHL ego but can really lift a college kid.

Burke among NHL GMs rumored to be in Kalamazoo Nov. 22

Toronto's Brian Burke is among the GMs hot on defenseman Danny DeKeyser's trail.

Update: Dallas Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk will be bird-doggin’ from the Lawson press box when WMU and Michigan State do battle tonight.

National Hockey League general managers meet next week in Toronto, where they will likely debate division re-alignment, head shots and that staring competition between Tampa and Philly the other night.

Really, though, GMs should hold their meeting at Lawson Arena on Nov. 22, since so many of them will be there for a rare Tuesday night tilt against Notre Dame.

Why?

Broncos’ sophomore defenseman Danny DeKeyser.

Courtesy: Western Herald

Word has it six to eight NHL GMs will be on the Lawson concourse that night, including Toronto’s Brian Burke and Calgary’s Jay Feaster.

It’s one thing for scouts or hockey operations personnel to follow a kid all over hell to places like Schenectady and Marquette.  That’s their job.  It’s entirely something else – in a word: serious – when the GM physically shows up.

Like the time, back in 2008, when Oilers GM Kevin Lowe popped up in Big Rapids on a Saturday night during a blizzard to watch a playoff game between the Broncos and Ferris State.

Aren’t you supposed to be on Hockey Night in Canada tonight? was one of my many questions for him.  (Out of respect, I did not ask who he was there to see.)

Anyway, DeKeyser is huge (6-3, but needs to add girth) and hockey smart with soft hands.  Watching him skate is a scrumptious experience – he’s smooth and covers a lot of ice with seemingly minimal effort.  He’s also gritty: he led the team in blocked shots last year.

So far this year, he’s plus-five with five points (two power-play goals) in nine games and logs a ton of ice time, most notably last Friday’s 3-2 victory in Ann Arbor when he was on the ice for what seemed like the entire third period as the Michigan Wolverines crashed ashore in waves.

DeKeyser is also 21 years-old, which means he’s not draft-eligible.  Which means it’s a lot easier for NHL clubs to haggle for his services.

It explains why Red Wings general manager Ken Holland invited DeKeyser to the team’s prospects camp in Traverse City this summer – and why Holland, Mike Babcock, Jeff Blashill and Kris Draper were in Ann Arbor last Friday night to watch him.

It also explains why Lightning GM Steve Yzerman took time out of his busy schedule as “Hockey’s new God” to watch practice, speak to the team and pose for Facebook gold photo ops in Kalamazoo a few weeks ago – and why he was in Ann Arbor again last Saturday.  (Let’s not also forget defenseman Luke Witkowski, pretty good in his own right, is also Tampa draft property.)

So Detroit and Tampa are angling hard for DeKeyser, with the Flames also having made multiple visits this season.

And this is where coach Andy Murray gets a taste of the college game.  How does he convince DeKeyser to stay for a third year?