24/7 - Episode 3
Wednesday, August 9th
"It's a long season. I think the length of the season plays in on how guys at the GM level function. You get guys who are involved at the beginning and then at significant points in the season when life allows. The rest you just hope to see an e-mail response from in a day or two. You know?"
The Trade Deadline has come and gone. For the Tampa Bay Lightning and their General Manager Terry Porter the haul from here until the off-season will be a long one. The team is mathematically still alive but has almost no chance of a post-season berth. Their MSHL affiliate the Wheeling Nailers might make some noise down the stretch and go on a post-season run, but GM Porter isn't overly hopeful.
"Yeah the Nailers might surprise some people and make a bit of a run. I'm not expecting big things this year to be up front and honest. We've just sold off what we could and will let our rated guys join the team next year on the cheap. Things better turn around from there - I'm running out of options."
One of the routes GM Porter has taken this season to try and force a change of pace is a relocation. The team put in formal notice with the league before the All-Star Classic that it wanted to relocate - the Tampa Bay Lightning were planning to become the Ottawa Senators for the 17th NSHL season.
"Even that can't go smoothly for f*ck sakes!" According to the team, the politics in Ottawa are making things extremely difficult to get an NSHL franchise there. "I can honestly see why its never really worked out long-term for the league in Ottawa. What a f*cking nightmare. The parking situation is a mess. The tax on food and drink. It's all adding up and quite frankly might break the bank before we even open the door for opening night."
While management attempts to deal with the issues in Ottawa, GM Porter has a duty to fulfill on the league's Board of Directors. He lets us listen in on a call they're having to introduce one of their newest members.
"Did Darryl say why he's out?" Terry says into the speakerphone on his desk.
"Just that he doesn't have the time. I think he's still a bit sad at the thought of Jamie leaving to be honest." the Commissioner's comments make Terry and a few others laugh. "Anyways thanks to some feedback from you lot and a stamp of approval -sort of- from Miller, Rangers' GM Corey Gosselin will be his replacement."
The five member Board meets on occasion to discuss league matters both present and planning for the future. Today's addition of Corey Gosselin gives the Board a new voice for feedback.
Terry tells us he thinks that's an area the Board will struggle with in Chicago GM Darryl Miller's absence.
"Miller was typically the anti-whatever we were doing or thinking. Not just to be a dick either. He'd often push back on our ideas and we'd somehow have to sell him on things or tweak until he agreed. It's important to have those contrasting views in a group like this - it really helps improve the league."
"Just so we're clear the rest of the GMs might find it a bit suspicious that there's two members of the Gosselin family involved." the Commissioner started.
"We never agree outside of this - it'll be no problem." Detroit General Manager and long-time NSHL Player Agent Eric Gosselin offered.
"Aie." Newest member Corey Gosselin agreed.
Aside from GM Corey's introduction, todays meeting kicks off some discussion on pivotal rule changes that will come into play either in time for the playoffs or to start the off-season. According to the Lightning GM these types of talks are always interesting.
"It's hard to decide on a rule mid-season that guys won't have any say on and cannot adjust for. One of the things we try and avoid is not giving everyone enough notice to adapt. With the Trade Deadline past it's even trickier to make changes because all the GMs hands are tied and that goes for me too."
One decision the Board agrees to rather quickly involves Waivers.
"So just to be clear.." Detroit GM Eric Gosselin begins "if I claim a guy between now and the final day, no matter what he can't play for me in the post-season.. if I get there?"
The newest member asks for some clarification. "But if I am going down the stretch drive here and come across a bunch of injuries and I claim P-C Labrie off waivers and he does well for me, why can't he play for me in the Playoffs? It's my roster."
"Being a long-standing playoff avoider.. Corey.. kidding! It'd be easy for a team down the stretch to dump soon-to-be UFA contracts on the waiver wire to get something, even if it's just the fee, for nothing. Those guys get picked up by the lowest priority teams or the lower seeds and suddenly the post-season shapes up differently. A point-per-game player could get claimed with a day to go and now the 6th seeded team has a key cog." the Commissioner explains.
"Yeah sometimes we go back and forth for what seems like weeks on ideas and never really get anywhere. Sometimes we can all be around and in the same half an hour stretch iron out a whole new system for something. It's up and down like the season I guess you could say."
The call eventually ends and GM Terry Porter grabs his Blackberry from his holster.
"Those f*ckers." he says out loud.
"What now?" we ask.
"Ottawa. We have a sponsorship option with.. heh... Porter Airlines to rename the arena. Would land us a plane, make it easier on travel for sure and would give us some great giveaway prizes for season ticket holders. Nope. The city shut it down, Canadian Tire or nothing they say. To be honest with you, at this point, I'm leaning a lot closer to nothing."
24/7 - Episode 2
Monday, July 24th
"The Rebuild That Isn't"
"OK, but I asked you what are we doing? I'm really f*cking glad you think he's a good hockey player but I know that already. We all f*cking know that already. Jesus Christ answer the f*cking question Tommy."
Tampa Bay Lightning GM Terry Porter is on a conference call with his entire team of assistant managers, coaches and scouts. A league announcement has been made regarding this weekend's Trade Deadline and the league has been sent scrambling.
"Yeah so the Commissioner announced an incentive for making deals on the Friday and Saturday leading up to the deadline. Now all of the cash-strapped GMs - and I'm sure the not so cash-strapped GMs are trying to put some framework together to see what happens. We sure could use the cash I tell ya.." Porter tells us about the announcement.
The Lightning aren't sure if the league's announcement will mean any big deals will go through and their best guess is that teams will scramble at smaller, easier deals with such a short amount of time before Saturday's deadline. For Tampa Bay it's a real good time to continue the tear down.
"Don't call it a tear down. Please. Tear down. Rebuild. I can't sell that to fans. Tear down. We're a few months removed from closing the books on this place but I still have to sell tickets next year. Whatever you do sell us in a good light alright??"
This may not be Anaheim, but the situation in Tampa Bay has the walk and the sounds of a duck. Safe to assume it's a duck?
Before them is an interesting if not surprising offer from the Toronto Maple Leafs for 23 year-old centre Nick Bjugstad. The team says they've been shopping him around to see if anyone's interested and have had a few bites already.
The room in Tampa is divided. Half of them believe he's a solid talent you can't pass up, while the other half feel like the team is too deep down the middle already so why bother.
Tampa's top scout offers his two cents "I really like him and I think he jumps right into Wheeling and pushes us into a solid playoff run. The Leafs love picks and we've got picks to move that won't hurt us this year - I think we package something up with Nick (Cousins) and put it to bed."
The Tampa Bay Lightning as a pro team know their fate and although they won't admit it to their fans, the top brass has to be hoping for losses at this point to get them a better lottery slot. Their MSHL affiliate however are still in the mix and fighting for a playoff spot.
"We've got Filip Forsberg down there tearing it up and I think if we can just make the post-season we can make some noise. Leighton's been a beast for us too - f*ck I'd like to get that guy a good run and a title let me tell you. Does everything we ask of him and stands on his head some nights." GM Porter is heavily involved in the day-to-day operations in the minors as well as the pros.
The phone rings and one of the assistant managers answers it. He looks over to Terry and gives a thumbs up.
"Miller's in? What about JJ is that done? Yeah? Great. Two done boys we're almost home." for once the Lightning GM seems pleased about the progress being made.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have just agreed to deals with the Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks to add some depth to their Wheeling Nailers club. 26 year-old defenseman Matt Donovan is coming from the Canucks and 30 year-old "rental" forward Teddy Purcell has been acquired from Chicago. Neither are guaranteed a spot on the team's everyday roster, but at this point in the season having quality depth is important.
"I don't know that these two guys make us any better or worse to be quite frank about it. Hopefully a change of scenery lights a fire, y'know?" one of the Nailers' assistant coaches adds his two cents.
As the afternoon progresses names as thrown around the room and ideas are discussed. A dozen "what if" scenarios pop up, mostly to do with the results of the impending draft lottery. Tampa doesn't seem likely to move the pick before Saturday's deadline given how much emphasis they're putting on gauging the room's ideas on who to take.
According to their GM, the pick most certainly can be moved, it just may not happen before this deadline.
"The pick likely becomes more valuable after the lottery."
"Well yeah. I mean knowing my f*cking luck we hang onto it and fall to like 9th or something. Then, yeah we should've traded it before Saturday."
"Can you actually fall to 9th?"
"Probably not. But where there's a will there's a way.. and with this cursed f*cking team.."
A decision is reached. The Tampa Bay Lightning will not be acquiring Nick Bjugstad from the Toronto Maple Leafs. This one's not their call to make either, based on the TV in the background.
"SPORTSNET's Nick Kypreos is reporting that Nick Bjugstad will become a member of the Detroit Red Wings when Friday's mini incentivized trade window opens up."
There seems to be some relief around the room. Half of the eyes in the room return to they computer or phone screens, seemingly uninterested in hearing the speculation on the return.
The deadline would come and go that Saturday with a couple more minor moves confirmed by the Lightning - certainly nothing game breaking. Tampa has done enough to earn themselves the $5 million cash incentive and will look to use it to do some damage in the off-season during free agency.
"Let's make it really simple here guys. Anyone in their final year of their contract can walk. Let's talk to (Thomas) Hickey and see what he's asking for - he hasn't been horrible but I'm not f*cking breaking the bank on Thomas f*cking Hickey I can assure you. Everyone else, see ya."
Following the trade deadline the Tampa Bay Lightning top execs get to work on a gameplan for the off-season. They've already shipped out the valuable expiring contracts in the weeks leading up to the deadline for whatever return they thought best. Now the focus on how to rebuild (!!) it through free agency, the draft and the rest of the off-season.
"Everyone's sort of on edge waiting for the shoe to drop on Florida. We don't know what to make of Florida. If I'm honest - I don't see Jamie (Mitchell) coming back - I think he's checked out. But I also don't think the league just hands over the keys to a new guy."
In addition to his work with the Lightning and future Senators organization, Terry also serves as an active member on the league's often ridiculed Board of Directors.
"Yeah I have a bit of an inside track on what's going on behind the scenes. Guys always joke around that the Board stuff is BS and meaningless. It can be pretty interesting some times. Of course everyone only sees the finished product - if it ever makes it out. The best stuff is seeing how stuff starts to where it ends up - or better still seeing the stuff that never makes it public. That's the stuff no one sees."
When asked what he can share, the Lightning GM gives a short answer.
"I can't say much about it so don't ask but in his own time I understand Jamie (Mitchell) will step aside and let the Panthers go. The gameplan then will be for the league to find a new GM who will run the team from the ground up - contraction, expansion, the whole works. But you didn't hear that from me, ok?"
24/7 - Episode 1
Saturday, July 1st
"Trade Deadline Looming"
"He's Anze f*cking Kopitar man, he's worth it. I know you're looking to win. I'm looking to re-build. This is a win-win." Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Terry Porter is on the phone in his office in southeast Tampa talking with another GM about potentially moving 28 year-old Slovakian centre Anze Kopitar.
The NSHL's Trade Deadline is less than three weeks away and the Tampa Bay Lightning's fate has already been decided, at least for this season. Porter's job now is to turn his assets this season into assets for next season, and hopefully many more that follow.
"I'm not parting with Cousins for what you're offering. I'm not. Kopitar for the 1st and the year 19 3rd and I'll send the 3rd back to you if the 1st is a top 5 pick - and it won't be. He's only 28 so you can retain him or take compensation."
The Lightning are hoping to move Kopitar well in advance of the June 24th deadline. At least a few teams are interested.
"The market's really picking up for him. He's a solid contributor and if the situation were different for us right now, we'd look to keep him long-term." Porter tells us following to phone call.
"After so many years of stinking up the joint, we're finally ready to cash in on our prospect pool next season. Mitch Marner, Philip Danault and Jack Eichel have performed really well in the NHL and are ready to make the jump. Our fans will see that when the league releases the ratings for next year."
What hadn't yet been made official to fans in west Florida at that point in time was that the franchise had no intention of returning in NSHL17 and GM Porter had already booked flights out of town.
"We'll be going to Ottawa at the end of the year. The paperwork is signed. Our core guys are aware, our staff are aware and the information will be made public in due time. It just.. it doesn't feel right just yet."
The phone rings and Porter excuses himself. It's the Buffalo Sabres' GM Jeff Perlis.
"Yep. Kopitar. OK. And? OK. Alright. Sounds good, send it in." Porter shuts off his Blackberry and rejoins our conversation.
We ask "is that a trade done?"
"Yes it is."
"Forsbacka-Karlsson and a pick. A 3rd. This year."
GM Terry Porter had just moved a player many around the league believe is their biggest commodity heading down the stretch towards the deadline. At least, the one they're most willing to move.
"Yeah, we've had calls on just about every one of our assets. Seattle won't stop calling about Gaudreau. Toronto has tried to land our 1st. Gaudreau will be very good. Very very good. *laughs* for that matter so will our 1st. We're terrible."
That they are.
The recording devices are shut down as the team asks for some privacy as they make a very difficult phone call to Anze Kopitar to tell him to pack his bags. For Kopitar the trade won't come as a surprise as his name has been on the rumour mill for the entire season. What makes it even easier? He's returning to the Buffalo Sabres, an organization he knows very well.
"I'm sad to be leaving the Lightning organization. They have been great to me and my family. But yes, I'm very excited to head to Buffalo where I know Jeff (Perlis) and some of the guys there. I'm really excited to help the team and try and win the Cup."
In return the Lightning have acquired Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and the Buffalo Sabres' 3rd this coming off-season. Tampa scouts love Forsbacka-Karlsson and have been following his progress for some time, even before Kopitar trade talks picked up.
"He's a young Swede coming over from the NHL. He may or may not make the team next season, we'll have to see what his ratings are like this off-season. He may benefit from another year on the prospect list before signing on, considering how many guys we project coming off the list this year. We'll see. Definitely an asset." the Lightning's chief scout told us during his interview.
Wheeling Nailer John McFarland gets called up to fill the roster spot vacated from the Kopitar deal. Make no mistake though, McFarland knows the promotion isn't a result of any production in the MSHL so far this season.
At 24, promoting McFarland limits the risk of Tampa Bay losing a player via waivers should they make another move where they need to demote someone.
"I'm ok with it. It'll be a great experience." McFarland tells us. "I haven't seen a lot of ice-time with the Nailers so any opportunity right now I need to make the most of."
John is in the first year of his three year entry level deal and likely will spend the bulk of the term with the Nailers or whoever it is the Lightning use as their MSHL affiliate next year. His ratings don't provide him with much in the way of value and when he turns 25 this off-season he's not someone they can easily call-up and demote.
Then again, he still isn't likely a serious waiver threat and as a matter of fact is already on the "expected ODW" list for GM Porter for next year.
A day later McFarland is joined by Wheeling teammate Joey Hishon in the pros. Another player who has failed to live up to expectations in Tampa's system.
"You can see why we need a fresh start?" Porter asks. "We need to put this stuff behind us. I strongly believe Ottawa gives us that opportunity."
As news of the re-location circulates "behind-the-scenes" over the course of June, calls filter in asking if its true, in addition of course to trade inquiries.
An interesting call comes from Vancouver Canucks' GM JJ.
"Yeah JJ, we're going to Ottawa next year.. to be closer to Emile I guess haha.." Porter says on a phone-call both he and JJ are aware we're listening in on.
"Wow. I'm shocked T. That sure does change things for me too you know.." JJ says.
As the phone call goes on, JJ fills us in on some problems he has been facing with the re-location of his Canucks who have been planning to move to New Jersey next year. An announcement already confirmed by league officials in mid-May.
"It's a nightmare dealing with the city and local authorities. I can see why New Jersey has never worked out in the NSHL for an extended period of time. I tell ya, if I could get a mulligan on this decision.."
"That's too bad JJ, I'll talk to the Commish for you. Tampa's been great to me. You could certainly use the sunshine.." Porter tells the long-time Canucks GM before hanging up the phone a couple of minutes later.
Porter returns to our interview. "It's funny. I really -really- hope JJ takes my place here in Tampa instead of going to New Jersey. This place is cursed, I swear. That and you've got that loud-mouth in your division. Man, I won't miss that. Will. Not."
There used to be a constant concern in Tampa about their financial situation. While that's subsided a bit, it's still too close for comfort and another reason a trade like the Kopitar move had to be made. A cash injection from weekly 1st and 2nd stars Jordan Eberle and Johnny Gaudreau certainly helps.
With extra cash in hand, Tampa turns their attention to the waiver-wire and an unlikely point of interest: Tom Kostopoulos.
A discussion between GM Porter and his coaching staff emerges.
"Emile praises him. Says he's still got something left in the tank. I don't know, I don't want to stumble into a weird win streak that takes us out of the running for 1st overall in the lottery. Do we think he's good for the kids? I don't trust Emile's sh!t I assure you.. but what do we think?"
A discussion goes on leading into the cut-off time for a claim to be made on the 37 year-old veteran. He's not a game-breaker and never has been, but his experience and affordable contract make him a reasonable pick-up heading into the Trade Deadline where a team may left needing bodies in case of trade or injury.
Tampa Bay makes the claim and given their place in the standings, they land Kostopoulos.
"Tom. Yeah, Terry. Hey man, listen. We're thrilled to have you. No BS. We need some experience and think down the stretch here were can get you some minutes. Might be able to get you another deal this off-season and for us it helps with our kids. You'll love it here."
The addition strikes a bit of fear into the hearts of John McFarland and Joey Hishon who are concerned they're on the first bus back to Wheeling.
Tom Kostopoulos never dresses for Tampa Bay and ends up back on the waiver wire before being claimed by the team Tampa is fighting for the first overall pick: the Edmonton Oilers.
"They say you win some, you lose some. You know, we lose a lot. Needs to change. I'm so f*cking tired of this place." Porter throws his TBL hat across the room and ends the interview.