7 fascinating things about Elliotte Friedman’s Jamie Benn offer sheet anecdote

Photo Credit: Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports

Late last week Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman appeared on the Oilers Now radio show with Bob Stauffer and shared a scintillating anecdote about the Mike Gillis-era Vancouver Canucks considering an aggressive offer sheet on reigning Art Ross winner and current Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn, a local kid, and former BCHL standout, during the summer of 2012.

It’s an explosive story and for a variety of reasons. Let’s unpack Freidman’s comments and some of the context that makes it so interesting after the jump.

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Here is the transcription of Friedman’s relevant quotes courtesy Chris Nichols, the hockey blogosphere’s version of Varys, of todaysslapshot.com:

But here’s a story I will tell you. Right before the last lockout in 2013, the Vancouver Canucks were considering putting an offer sheet on for Jamie Benn. And this is a story I worked on for a long time, trying to find out exactly what they were trying to do. I’ve never proven it, but my guesstimate is it’s this – that they were looking at a one-year deal in the $7-7.5 million range.

And what that meant is that Dallas was going to have to match it for like three years. They were simply going to have to go out and until he became an unrestricted free agent, they were going to have to match it every year. And that was going to be about three years.

At the end of the day, the Canucks didn’t do it for two reasons. No. 1, they didn’t know what the new rules were going to be in the CBA, so that was one. And the second reason was they also thought they would match it – Dallas would. And all of the sudden, you’d be looking at every guy and every guy was going to be going up. And you’re not going to make that effort unless you’re getting the player.

So I look at the situation and I say, ‘What kind of offer sheet are they going to be able to make where you actually might look at it and say Boston won’t match.’ I don’t think teams are really going to do it unless they think Boston isn’t going to match.

Here are seven things about this anecdote that are fun to think about.

1. Peak Gillis

Though the notion of tendering Benn a one-year, $7 million-plus offer sheet was apparently only discussed and bandied about by the Canucks – obviously the club ultimately opted against actually making such a maneuver before the Stars locked up Benn with a long-term extension in September of 2012 – this story, if true, is still a classic example of how the Gillis-era Canucks operated. 

Gillis was never afraid to use the Canucks’ relatively deeper pockets to his advantage during his Vancouver tenure, whether it was taking on Brad Lukowich’s expensive NHL contract as the price of acquiring Christian Ehrhoff, or taking back significant term (unwisely) in order to gamble on pieces like David Booth and Keith Ballard. It was something of a hallmark of Gillis’ player acquisition strategy. 

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Obviously Gillis wasn’t shy about tendering offer sheets to restricted players either. In his early years as a general manager you may recall that the Canucks signed David Backes to a lucrative, three-year offer sheet and did so during the five day window between July 1 and the deadline for teams to file for team-elected salary arbitration. He’s the only general manager to attempt a move like this since the introduction of the NHL salary cap.

As the years went on, the former player agent seemed to abandon the offer sheet as a realistic player acquisition tool (more on this in a moment). Even Friedman’s story doesn’t change that characterization. What Friedman is describing – a one-year offer sheet – would represent a highly self-conscious maneuver, one that’s fully aware of how rare it is for an offer sheet tendered to a star-caliber player to prove effective at actually landing that star player.

That the Gillis-era Canucks were playing around with creative ways to use an offer sheet – essentially taking a weapon in the arsenal of the collective bargaining agreement, and stretching it to it’s most ruthless, logical conclusion – is fun and very much in character.

2. Luongo Context

Though it’s unsaid by Friedman, we’re left to wonder what impact Roberto Luongo’s status may have had on the club’s internal calculations regarding a Benn offer sheet.

You’ll recall that the Canucks were widely expected to trade a goaltender at the 2012 NHL entry draft, but Gillis and company instead opted to hang on to both Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo. It obviously didn’t work out for them.

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This is the context in which the summer of 2012 unfolds. 

Even as Gillis was optimistically predicting that a trade market for his star goaltender would congeal late in the summer (he wasn’t totally incorrect about late-summer trades, seeing as how Rick Nash moved in the dog days of the off-season, but he was wrong about interest in Luongo), he was apparently considering multiple offer sheet options. 

We have to wonder though, whether or not the club’s reluctance to make additional enemies – particularly when they were already between a rock and a hard place in goal – had an impact on the club’s decision not to mess with the Stars’ books.

3. Shea Weber Context

Benn wasn’t the only player the Canucks were considering an offer sheet for during the summer of 2013. In fact the club seemed to really want to tender Shea Weber an offer sheet, and may have, but the player wanted to sign a long-term deal under the rules of the previous CBA.

The Jason Botchford article in which he reports that the Canucks wanted to tender Weber a 1-year, $14 million offer sheet no longer exists on the Vancouver Province webpage, but I found it in an old Philadelphia Flyers press clippings package. Here’s the relevant passage:

The Canucks discussed with Weber the idea of a one-year, $14-million
deal. It included a $1-million salary and a $13-million signing bonus. It was
a risky plan but the Canucks believed it was the only contract that could
potentially land the player. If Weber were to ever have signed such a deal,
and the Predators didn’t match, the Canucks would have given up four firstround
draft choices. If the Predators did match, Weber was scheduled to
become an unrestricted free agent in one year.

But that was a non-starter from Weber’s side, because if he signed a oneyear
offer sheet he wouldn’t be able to sign an extension until Jan. 1, long
after the current CBA expires on Sept. 15.

“I got the sense he wanted to take advantage of the current rules in place
financially and he did that. And he’s entitled to do that,” Gillis said.

4. The One-Year Offer Sheet

What does Botchford’s report about the Canucks’ offer sheet plan for Weber have in common with Friedman’s anecdote about their offer sheet plan for Benn? The length, obviously.

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Taken together, these two stories imply several very interesting assumptions that the Gillis-era Canucks made about the efficacy of offer sheets and the value of young, star players. 

Essentially it would seem that the Backes/Steve Bernier experience taught the Canucks that offer sheets don’t really work, particularly if they’re of the multi-year variety. It’s why Gillis was never going to make a long-term offer to Weber like the Philadelphia Flyers ultimately did: he didn’t think he could land the player that way.

Here’s what Gillis said during a radio appearance BEFORE the Predators matched the massive offer Weber received from the Flyers, again courtesy that Philadelphia press clippings package:

“We felt strongly right from the outset anything that had term attached,
they’d match,” Gillis said. “I think with the loss of Ryan Suter and that they
were in on (Suter) right to the end, trying to sign him for numbers that
resembled what we’re seeing here, that this was their opportunity to match
and get a star player for term.

“When you added everything up, it did not look like it was a real opportunity
(to get the player).

“I do suspect (Nashville) will match. I think they need to protect their team
and protect their marketplace in Nashville and this guy is the face of their

What the Benn story implies then is that perhaps Gillis didn’t conclude that offer sheets for star players were wholly toothless. We might imply that he concluded instead that long-term offer sheets don’t work, but maybe something shorter term would be worth trying. 

5. The Value of a Star

Friedman’s story also implies that for the Gillis-era Canucks, it was seen as worthwhile to give up four 1st-round picks for one year of Shea Weber and two firsts, a second- and a third-round pick for one year of Jamie Benn (and his restricted rights). 

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In the salary cap era it’s nearly impossible to add star-level talent to your roster, particularly in the prime years of said star player’s career. Obviously the Canucks believed that, once in the fold, they could ink Weber and Benn to extensions (otherwise they wouldn’t have been considering these offer sheets), but they were still willing to compensate teams at a high level to add these types of top-of-the-roster pieces. 

Following the 2012-13 lockout, the NHL salary cap artificially dipped. The biggest free agent the Canucks could afford to sign in the summer of 2013 was Brad Richardson. Gillis never had another opportunity to wield cap space and really flex his implied one-year offer sheet theory. It might’ve been very interesting to see how it would’ve played out if he had. 

6. CBA Uncertainty

In listing reasons the Canucks opted against making a one-year offer sheet to Benn, Friedman mentions that the club was worried about what the new CBA would look like in making such a gamble. 

We won’t dwell on this at great length, but it’s extraordinarily interesting that the club was so cautious in this case, but in deciding to hang on to Luongo past the 2012 NHL draft, never seemed to anticipate the impact that the introduction of the salary cap benefit recapture clause might have on Luongo’s trade value…

7. The Dallas Connection

Finally this is a fascinating story because of the long-standing rivalry between the Canucks’ ownership group – the Aquilini family – and Stars owner Tom Gagliardi.

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Gagliardi and the Aquilini family were embroiled in extensive litigation during the aughts over the way in which the Aquilini’s became majority owners of the Canucks franchise, allegedly cutting out Gagliardi and a few other ‘partners’ in the process (the Aquilinis won the case decisively).

The question of how involved Canucks ownership became during the waning years of the Gillis era is a contentious, thorny topic. Ownership pushed back hard at the suggestion, for example, that John Tortorella was “their” hire.

We don’t know the extent to which ownership may have been involved in shaping the club’s posture regarding a Jamie Benn offer sheet and there’s good reason to believe that it was simply a hockey decision, made independently by Gillis and the Canucks’ hockey operations department. This context certainly adds an interesting additional element to Friedman’s anecdote though…

Overall the Benn saga illustrates that it’s nearly impossible to land star players, unless you can select them at the NHL entry draft. It’s why the draft is the single most important day on the NHL calendar.

If you want a chance to witness this year’s draft in person, the Virtual League of Hockey will be flying two lucky virtual GMs down to Sunrise Florida to watch it all unfold from June 25th to June 28th. By registering for a free account you will automatically be entered for your chance to win. The VLH lets you create your own team, develop players and challenge a community of hockey fans from around the world. Now you also have the chance to learn from the world’s best GMs at the entry draft! Join today for your shot at the grand prize.

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  • peterl

    One thing that I think could be added to this is the “Bernier rebound signing”. It is mentioned a little bit in #4, it doesn’t get its own separate mention.

    After the Backes signing, St. Louis countered and signed Bernier to an RFA tender which the Canucks quickly matched. It was obvious that STL was upset about the Backes offer sheet. MG confirmed as much in a radio interview.

    Teams that have used RFA signing sheets or the threat of them have not really suffered consequences from said action. I.e. team that has had to match offer sheet has not tried similar actions against the other team. Philly/Shea Weber and Kesler, Edmonton/Penner and Vanek, and maybe others (Phil Kessel sort of falls into this category).

    Even after the Backes/Bernier challenges, Gillis was undeterred from using RFA as a way of adding to his team. This MG aggressiveness and lack of fear of the possible repercussions among the other GMs was also fascinating.

  • Pay a player $14M for one year, give up four 1st rounders and then see that player leave at the end of the year. Yup, sounds like a Mike Gillis plan to me.

    That’s even worse than what he normally does: where a bucket on his head and run around in circles while reminding people how he was GM of the Year.

    • peterl

      Obviously the goal was to re-sign the player long term. No team has ever given up that much to only let a player leave via UFA after 1 year. There would have been a “no-negotiation” period until January when the player/team can re-engage long term contract negotiations.

      Few high end players in their prime reach UFA status. Unlikely if not impossible that the MG regime would have let that happen. Canucks would have undoubtedly given Weber the money he wanted that perhaps Nashville was unwilling to commit.

  • Regardless of this story, i still think Gillis was the best gm canucks had. he (or maybe gilman) maneuvered the CBA landscape masterfully until the NHL decided to punish the luongo contract. brought in key guys that sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t, but nevertheless they were bets that had logic and calculated risks.

    this regime on the other hand, i don’t quite comprehend their moves yet.

    • The difference between the gillis regime and the current one as best I can tell so far is the difference between a small cap stock day trader and warren buffet. One is seeking instant gratification on high risk potentially high reward plays while the other is building a well balanced portfolio that will deliver long term returns based on sound time tested principles. Not saying gillis wasn’t interesting to watch for awhile but glad to have a different approach going forward and interested to see the results on a 5 year horizon.

    • pheenster

      I think Gillis was one of the worst GMs in Canuck history. He may have made an OK president but had no business being a GM.

      Gillis could not evaluate talent. His drafts were not good (may be a bit of redemption from his last couple drafts but only time will tell). How many players did Gillis go out and get that were actual top 6 talents that were key players for the team?

      Gillis was fleeced in a couple of trades and never really flat-out won a trade (I will admit the Erhoff was good).

      How was he masterful at navigating the CBA? The Luongo deal was idiotic even if we had the last CBA’s rules. Then Gillis decided to hand out NTCs like they were candy (how the hell do Higgins and Hansen get modified NTCs?! How does Burrows get that money and full NTC?! The Sedins were given top dollar and a no movement clause…it just goes on). Gillis, essentially, handcuffed the organization so they couldn’t even flip their aging players for younger ones, picks and/or prospects.

      Yeah, I think you’re doing too many drugs if you think Gillis was a good GM. Drugs are bad.

      I could go on about that idiot Gillis but why bother. I am happy he’s gone. Benning has done some good things but I don’t know about the money given to Sbisa and Miller.

      • andyg

        I am not particularly fond of Gillis but at least be fair in your assessment. We have had some spectacularly pathetic GMs in the past — Gillis is hardly the first GM to draft poorly, develop poorly, and make bad gambles. On balance he ended up with a pretty strong winning record in the teams he put out there — he and AV combined to be a far better front office than any I can recall other than (parts of) the Quinn years. I have a hard time saying he was worse than the GMs that gave up Neely or Vaive. Even Pat Quinn picked Stojanov and Antoski.

        Gillis made some very good moves as a GM, including running the organization in a much more professional and rational manner. Some of the calculations he made were flat wrong — his drafting strategy suffered from too many miscalculations on overagers and a lack of consistency (size/skill). If Benning is the “scouting” GM then Gillis was the “pro GM”. I hate it when people whine about the NTCs — the reality is it’s part of the currency/game of enticing free agents. You either give huge money or you give control over player’s lives or something. Gillis got most of these players on reasonably good contracts (including the Sedins) and the price was the player control. You can say in hindsight that he should have anticipated the NHL being totally vindictive in their cap recapture policy but there were other teams caught by it.

        Gillis is an arrogant prick. But he did a good job of taking an inherited core and surrounding it with decent talent. He had little plan for transitioning to the next phase of the Canucks trajectory but that doesn’t mean he was wholly terrible. Between Gillis’ signings of Miller, Hansen, Higgins and Burrows and Benning’s signings of Dorsett, Miller and Sbisa, I’ll take the former any day.

        • pheenster

          I would argue that Gillis did little to enhance the core that he inherited and sacrificed a lot of the Canucks future in the process. Trades like Ballard, Pahlsson, and Hodgson were horrible right off the bat. Other trades like Booth and Bernier didn’t end out well either, but we can partially excuse those because they seemed good at the time. How about the Mats Sundin fiasco? Let’s put one player ahead of the rest of the team, ugh, it was like Mark Messier part 2.

          This is not to say that I agree with Benning’s decisions on Dorsett, Miller or Sbisa but you have to put it in context and realize that Benning was partially put in this position because of the mess that Gillis left. Gillis drove out Kesler and that’s why we ended up with Sbisa and Dorsett. Our current goaltender SHOULD be Cory Schneider but Gillis practically gave away both Schneider and Luongo…that’s too generous, Luongo’s agent engineered that trade, Gillis was too incompetent to enough get that Florida trade done. Benning has also made some horrible decisions but look at what he has to work with and you can easily trace it back to Gillis.

          • pheenster

            I think if you’re going to use those examples to construct a narrative (Ballard, Hogson, Pahlsson, Scheider) you need to consider them both in the context they occurred and the eventual result.

            Ballard was traded for at a time when Hamhuis had not signed, Mitchell had question marks over whether he would ever be able to play again, and Bieksa had a significant injury and had not yet become the 2010 Bieksa. Quinton Howden is in the AHL. The Ballard trade was near universally lauded among Canucks fans at the time.

            Hodgson was not, including very vociferously by myself, but we’re now in a situation where he is a buyout candidate on the worst team in the league.

            Pahlsson was a gamble but didn’t cost much and frankly we needed to do something that year.

            Schneider, well. We could have kept him. But I would suggest in a couple of years we might all be saying ‘thank god we traded Schneider, because otherwise Bo Horvat would be a Devil’.

            The gist i’m getting with regards to futures as well, is that you would prefer Gillis not to have traded picks and players during the cup run years? Not to have added guys like Higgins and Lapierre in 10-11? Not to have tried to get another C in 12-13?

            I don’t see how you can have a discussion about Benning’s moves being excused by the context in which he operates without considering the same for Gillis’ moves.

        • andyg

          Yup, he made some good moves but most of them did not involve obtaining good players. How many guys did he acquire that are legit top 6 players?

          I didn’t say he was the worst but he is up there. The Canucks had some great success under his watch but he did not acquire any of the key players. He was handed a very good team and he added a key piece of two but no brilliant moves. Not a one.

          I could care less if you’re tired of the complaints over NTC’s. There is no way I could care less. Your argument holds no water at all. He got deals out of Kesler and Burrows (and a few others)but at what cost? Are you seriously trying to tell me the Sedins gave the Canucks a discount at 7 million and no movement clauses?? I really doubt they got that deal if they were allowed to hit the open market after the way they finished that contract year.

          Gillis has left the franchise pretty bare in regards to prospects. Linden has said, more than once, he inherited a mess. Linden is being polite. Gillis may get some redemption if Horvat, Shinkaruk, Subban, Cassels, Grenier and so on turn into legit players. Until they do, he gets a VERY low grade as GM.

          • Ted, could you please show me one NHL team that doesn’t give out NTCs? Why is this all on Gillis?

            Daniel and Henrik Sedin at $7million per were in the top 20 of scoring last year.

            Clarkson is an overpay. The Sedins are not.

          • The Sedins signed their contracts a couple years ago. They did not have a great year but got top dollar AND the no move clause.

            Name me a team that has as many NTCs and a team where they handed them out as foolishly as Gillis. Higgins and Hansen have them for God’s sake!

            I don’t know when it’ll dawn on you but the NTC route is not a great idea. Maybe partial NTCs work but a full one is just a bad idea. We got pennies on the dollar on Kesler – a prime example.

            The Canucks are going to go a LONG time before they get near the Cup again. Gillis was handed a team where the cupboards were full; he left the team with not much in the cupboard. Hopefully some of his recent draft picks work out. Regardless, the Canucks won’t being doing any contending for years.

          • pheenster

            Boston has 9, Anaheim has 8, Chicago has 11, Florida has 8, Minnesota has 8, Flyers have 9, Penguins have 10.

            Vancouver has 10.

            My point is not that Gillis was awesome. It’s just that harping on the NTC thing is to miss the actual contract environment in which ALL NHL teams operate. I don’t know when it will dawn on you that this was not Gillis’ invention nor has it gone away since he was fired. Two of Benning’s signature signings (Vrbata and Miller) also have them. And you can go on about not giving NTCs to Higgins and Hansen all you want, but when players like Troy Brouwer, Raffi Torres, Luke Schenn and Dave Bolland again this is an industry thing not a Mike Gillis thing.

            Gillis inherited a team with generational talents drafted at the top end of the draft (Sedins, arguably Luongo) plus some excellent players as a supporting cast. Where were the cupboards full? Who did Nonis and Burke draft that were amazing beyond those few? Even in the sainted 2003 draft we got ONE player who played an NHL game, albeit a good one (Kesler). 2007 produced zero NHLers, 2005 and 2006 one each — only 2004 was any good.

            I hate being in the position of defending Gillis because I think he was deeply flawed and I’m glad we moved on from him. But your irrational rants demonstrate little to no knowledge of what the landscape of actual contract negotiations in the NHL

          • pheenster

            I’m not solely concerned about the NTCs but they are a key part. Again, not my lone issue with Gillis.

            I also adde how he could not evaluate talent (and was fleeced on trades) and he did not add any top 6 players during his entire time with the Canucks.

            It’s interesting how you twist things in regards to my comments about the cupboard being full. Very interesting. I will maintain Gillis was given a very good, young team. He did nothing to add to the youth and stockpile talent. I think you need to look at the roster and prospects around the time Gillis took over. He had the Sedins, Kesler, Edler, Bieksa, Raymond, Hansen etc. He had a very good team given to him and he couldn’t make many key additions.

            Gillis may have gotten discounts on his contracts due to the NTCs. I get it. However, how much of a bargain are they now? Canucks could be in a position to deal older, key players for assets but they are hamstrung by these NTCs (Bieksa, Hamhuis, Burrows etc). No, the NTCs aren’t the worse thing but one of many issues I had with Gillis.

            I think it’s best you read what you reply to and get off your imaginary high horse. I chose to detail one of my Gillis issues..not all of them.

  • That was Gillis all the way!

    A guy that jumped to the head of the line and was always looking for short cuts. Can’t blame him too much for giving up 2/3rd round picks at the deadline, but his fascination with Florida players was ridiculous. Good players on bad teams are usually bad players on good teams! Ballard and Booth sunk the Canucks more than anything….big numbers amall minutes.

    Add in terrible drafting , smaller guys, over age drafting.. It was a mess! Gillis failed to see the NHL go away from the “interference” league back to the big rough Bruins/Kings style. Seems like Benning got that one right.

    Speaking of, Benning and Willie did things the right way. They didn’t skip a rung on the ladder of success and I’m sure they won’t allow their players to do that. We all may not agree on the signings or draft picks, but we have to see them play out. Disappointing ending to a season, but 101 pts after that Torts disaster was a step forward.

  • andyg

    The irony about some of the statements on this site is that Gillis was all for finding and using anything that gave the team an advantage.

    Including advanced stats. He was probably using them for drafting and evaluating players to trade for.

  • First of all I want to say that Mike Gillis was an arrogant prick and I did not like his personality at all. Also by the end of his tenure I had lost confidence in his ability to make good trades. The Schneider, Luongo, kesler wanting out and Tortorella as coach all combined, added to the Booth and Ballard trades, that we had traded away Michal Grabner and his 35 goals and Cody Hodgson as well had left a bitter pill to swallow for alot of us fans, me included. That was then. I will not pretend I wasn’t happy to see Gillis fired.

    But now it is 2015. Now I can see that Gillis actually left us with quite afew promising assets. First what we got for Luongo in Shawn Matthias (who in my opinion no way should we be letting a player of his quality just walk away for nothing at all) he had an awesome season. And we got Jakob Markstrom who had an awesome season. For Cory Schneider we got Bo Horvat who is awesome and our future captain. Some of the players Gillis signed are Tanev, Lack, Ronnie Keinans, Hamhuis, Richardson, Weber, etc have a been useful players though we will likely be either losing as a UFA (Richardson, Matthias) or trading (Lack, or Markstrom) also Cody for Zack not looking too bad now as Cody may be a buyout by Buffalo this summer.

    But it’s in the draft that I think Gillis may get the worst rap. And it now appears he has left us with afew useful players when you consider he drafted Patrick McNally, Brendan Gaunce, Alex Friesen, Ben Hutton, Nicklas Jensen, Frank Corrado, Alex Grenier, Bo Horvat, Hunter Shinkaruk, Cole Cassels, Jordan Subban, Anton Cederholm I’m sure I forgot 1 or two. Mackenzie Stewart I think Gillis drafted too.

    Anyways I think Gillis left us with more good than bad, including how good he and Gilllman were at contract negotiations. With all this being said I am very happy with our current front office of Linden, Benning, and Weisbrod. I have toatl faith in them. We are only in summer two of their tenure. I think we need to give them 5 years at least before we can say whether they did a good or bad job in the first year of their jobs.

  • I stand corrected Mackenzie Stewart was a Jim Benning draft pick. But Miles Liberati, Ludwig Blomstrand, and Joseph Labate are still in the system as well as Peter Andersson ( who I read will likely not resign with the team). Also Gillis signed Evan McEneny, and Dane Fox.

  • Again, like the other day, why are we paying any attention to Friedman, he is wrong about 75% of the time and is constantly saying he has inside information from people. Pure BS, I believe the Botchford story, because even though it was a year they wanted to get him to Vancouver, figuring he would stay and Nashville was cash strapped (still is). Botchford is a credible analyst and reporter who knows this market. Friedman is a Toronto based hack, who has never understood the West Coast and always seems to want to dig up dirt on all the clubs except Toronto and Edmonton, his two pets. I don’t buy it, please quit wasting our time Drance quoting Friedman. He is a joke as a reporter and isn’t even respected on his network. The next Don Cherry.