HENDERSON, Nev. — It was an eventful offseason for NHL players, with high-profile trades and surprising free-agent signings.
Not to mention those weddings, bucket list golf outings and scooter rides along the Amalfi Coast.
ESPN reporters Ryan Clark, Kristen Shilton and Greg Wyshynski caught up with over a dozen stars at the NHL Player Media Tour near Las Vegas last week to find out what offseason moves shocked them the most; preview which teams and players they’re most looking forward to watching in the 2022-23 season; discover what NHL rules they’d change or eliminate; and what their personal summer highlights were before camps begin.
What’s the best thing you did this summer?
Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks: “We were in Michigan. We golfed a lot. We went to Hawai’i for a bit. We went to New York for a bit. It was fun. … My brother, my dad, Zegras was there. Cole Caufield, [Dylan] Larkin. It was good. I’d say Larks is the best golfer, then Z, then the rest of us funnel in after that.”
Mark Stone, Vegas Golden Knights: “I had back surgery, so I was doing a lot of rehab. I traveled quite a bit. I was in Winnipeg seeing family and that was awesome. I got back to Ottawa where my wife’s from to go see her family as well. It was a nice change to get back to Canada.”
Jack Eichel, Vegas Golden Knights: “I went to Hawai’i at the beginning of the summer. That was really cool. It has always been a bucket list thing for me. We went snorkeling, got on the water. We did the road to Hana. It’s like a full-day excursion through waterfalls, different beaches — black sand beach, red sand beach. It’s a lot less touristy and more cultured Hawai’i. I thought that was really cool.”
Jonathan Huberdeau, Calgary Flames: “Obviously, I moved to another country. But, my country. I moved to Canada where I am from. There were a lot of things emotionally going on, but it was obviously a summer I will remember.”
Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders: “I was in Paris for five days. Loved Paris; fashion, food, lifestyle. Then the Amalfi Coast for like nine days. Just beach clubs and so relaxing. The Mediterranean Sea is so relaxing and beautiful. But the coolest thing that I did? I rented a Vespa and went scootering around the side of the Amalfi Coast. Super cool.”
Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks: “I took a couple of trips. I went to Mykonos in Greece, which was amazing. I was in Austria, too. But every year, I take my brother and my two cousins on a trip. I surprise them, and they don’t know where we’re going. This time, we flew to Manchester to watch Manchester United against Liverpool. We’re all die-hard Manchester United fans and they won 2-1. We had great seats and Old Trafford was sold out.”
Robert Thomas, St. Louis Blues: “It was my first big summer of weddings. I’m getting to the age now where you go to weddings. Went to a couple of teammates’ weddings. There might be some pressure; I think they want to make sure their wedding is one that gets talked about for a while.”
Jordan Staal, Carolina Hurricanes: “For my 1,000th game, the guys got me a trip to Pebble Beach with my brothers. I hadn’t been out there before so this was something special. Really a lot of fun. Eric and Jared couldn’t make it up to the lake anyway this summer, so this was our one chance to see them. All of our families went to Eric’s house. So that’s 11 kids under his roof. All the dads went flying away and the moms somehow figured it out with 11 kids.
“I didn’t hit ’em great. I didn’t get to play as much [before the trip]. I got there and was hoping I was going to get lucky, and I didn’t.”
What offseason NHL trade or signing surprised you the most?
Zegras: “Matthew Tkachuk and Jonathan Huberdeau. That was a big one.”
Huberdeau: “Oh, this is a good question! It was probably me, and Tkachuk, and Weegs and all these guys. I think Calgary won that trade.”
Quinn Hughes: “You gotta go with [Johnny] Gaudreau going to Columbus. I just feel like you were hearing Philly, New Jersey or Calgary. Then, he went there. It was kind of surprising.”
Oettinger: “John Klingberg to Anaheim. It’s hard to see him leave, obviously, We’re pretty close. You knew the situation, but it was hard to see him go for sure. Taking his money at cards. I’m going to miss that a lot.”
Barzal: “The Nazem Kadri speculation was all over the place, so that was fun to follow. We were involved. When you’re involved, it makes it more fun too — ‘Is this going to happen or not?'”
Jack Hughes: “Oh definitely the Matt Tkachuk one. It was like 11 o’clock on a random day. A crazy deal.”
Atkinson: “Johnny Gaudreau. Johnny Hockey going to Columbus. It’s awesome. I can’t say anything bad about the organization. It’s where I live in the offseason. It’s where I’m going to live when I’m done playing hockey. It’s great for the team. It’s better for the city. It’s unfortunate we never got someone like that [when I was in Columbus].
“I remember my wife and I were driving and they announced the Blue Jackets were a dark horse for him and I’m like ‘there’s no way.’ But I’ve talked to him a bunch and I vouch for the city wherever I go.”
Hertl: “Gaudreau to Columbus. We would all hear rumors about how much he might sign for and that he could get even more money from other teams. He got to Columbus, which I don’t think anyone expected.”
Thomas: “The biggest trade was the Tkachuk and Huberdeau trade. That was a pretty big blockbuster. As a hockey fan, it was pretty exciting to see. I think [Tkachuk] is going to love it down there, that’s for sure [laughs].”
Danault: “I’ll go with my team: Kevin Fiala. I was surprised by that trade, to be honest, and then we gave him seven years on a big contract. It’s clear that [GM Rob Blake] wants to win. And Fiala is one of those pieces that you need to win.”
Staal: “The Huberdeau one. You just don’t see big names like that, with the cap and all of that fun stuff, get moved. So it was very unique.”
What team — other than your own — are you most excited to watch this season?
Quinn Hughes: “I have a lot of fun watching the Devils because my brother’s there!”
Stone: “Probably Florida. I’m close with Brady and the Tkachuk family and with Matthew going there, it’s a whole new look for that team. I’m fascinated to see how they react.”
Huberdeau: “I don’t really like to follow any teams.”
Suzuki: “Probably Calgary, actually. Losing Gaudreau and Tkachuk. I think they made a bunch of good moves and there are a lot of good players there.”
Oettinger: “Ottawa. I know Brady [Tkachuk] from Boston University. I’ve never gotten a chance to play against him, so I’m excited. They’ve got a lot of good young talent. It’ll be fun. Maybe not run-and-gun, but a high-powered offense.”
Barzal: “Ottawa’s pretty enticing to watch. New guys and a high-powered offense. We’ll see.”
Jack Hughes: “I’m excited to watch Vancouver. I think they had a good offseason. And obviously I always follow Quinn. They’ll be good this year.”
Atkinson: “The Ottawa Senators and Calgary Flames. In Calgary, you get rid of some of the best players in the world and then you bring in a couple of the best players. So it’s going to be interesting to see the dynamic in Calgary. And then in Ottawa, bringing in [Claude Giroux] and Alex DeBrincat, it’s good for the game.”
Hertl: “I’m excited to play against Nashville in Prague.”
Thomas: “Ottawa. They added some good pieces and they have a ton of good young players. They’re going to be an exciting team to watch.”
Danault: “I think Montreal, my old team. Just because of some of the moves that they’ve made. Curious to see what they’re going to have and what direction they’re going in.”
McCann: “I always watch Pittsburgh play. Sid and Geno and those guys. I wasn’t surprised the band stayed together. They’ve done so many amazing things for that organization that they deserve to stay together and finish their careers there if they choose to.”
Trouba: “The Calgary and Florida trade was such a big one, so it’s gotta be Calgary. They were a good team last year and made some pretty big changes.”
Which player are you most looking forward to seeing on the ice this year?
Kuemper: “Probably Connor McDavid. He’s the most exciting guy to watch in the league. Whenever [Edmonton] is on, it’s kind of must-watch TV.”
Matthew Tkachuk: “I’m excited to watch Johnny Gaudreau.”
Jeremy Swayman, Boston Bruins: “McDavid. He’s a fun guy to watch. He’s just so fast. He sees the game so well, and you just understand when he has the puck, there is a high likelihood of an offensive chance coming. So it’s cool to have that mindset knowing every time he’s on the ice, you’re going to be ready to face a shot. That goes for every player, right? But especially with him.”
Eichel: “I always like watching [Nikita] Kucherov. I just love his skill. The way he thinks about the game. You never know what you are going to get out of him, but in a good way. He can do so many things that just amaze you. I really like watching him. Connor is probably a pretty cliché answer, but what he does on a night-to-night basis is pretty incredible. So I really enjoy watching him play as well.”
Huberdeau: “I would probably say Ovechkin. He’s getting to 800 goals. I think it will be exciting to follow him and see how long it takes him.”
Suzuki: “I’ll say my buddy Sean Durzi in L.A. I think he is going to have a really good year.”
Oettinger: “Mason Marchment. He’s looked good in our skates so far, and he’s a good guy. Loves golf. Fits right in with the boys. I think he’s going to have a really good year.”
Jack Hughes: “Probably Matty Beniers [of Seattle]. I’m good buddies with him. Skate with him all the time this summer. I watched him have a great summer. He’s a great guy and I think he’s going to have a great year.”
Hertl: “It’s always exciting to watch the very best players. The last two years, I’ve loved watching Cale Makar play back on the D. It’s not easy to play against him, but it’s always fun to see him on the ice.”
Thomas: “Jordan Kyrou. He’s such a dynamic player. He can beat players one-on-one. He’s so creative out there. I expect him to keep getting better and better.”
McCann: “I always love watching McDavid. He’s special. When he gets the puck you can see how he finds open ice. He’s just an amazing skater. You can learn a lot from him by watching him on video and the way he skates. But some things you can’t teach.”
If you could remove or change one rule in the NHL, what would it be?
Kuemper: “Get rid of the trapezoid, so I can play the puck everywhere.”
Matthew Tkachuk: “I think 3-on-3 should go until somebody scores, no shootout.”
Brady Tkachuk: “The instigator rule.”
Swayman: “Get rid of a rule? I don’t know. They have a pretty good rule set to be honest. Yeah, I don’t mind it. I just stop the puck! That’s all I care about!”
Quinn Hughes: “Line changes. Like when there is a whistle and the home team gets the last pick [to change their lines]. I feel like a lot of times, it gets complicated and it gets mixed up. Just go play and if there’s a mismatch, there’s a mismatch.”
Stone: “I know it is a logistical nightmare, but it would be to keep playing 3-on-3 [until one team scores]. I’d get rid of shootouts as well. The reason I say that is we lost three shootouts last year and missed the playoffs! I think we would have had a better chance in 3-on-3.”
Eichel: “Probably getting kicked out of faceoffs because I get kicked out of a lot of faceoffs.”
Huberdeau: “Probably offside. You can be wherever you want in the zone so you don’t need to backcheck.”
Suzuki: “Maybe delay of game for shooting the puck over the glass. I just don’t really like it. It’s like no one really tries to shoot it over the glass during a game to stop the play. Maybe if the rule wasn’t there, then guys might do it. I just feel like it’s something you don’t want to do anyway.”
Keller: “Probably the offside review. Just let it happen.”
Oettinger: “More definitive goalie interference rules. Make it more cut-and-dry. Every play is different but you never know. They can be tough, controversial calls.”
Barzal: [When asked this question, Barzal took out his phone and began searching for a document.] “You know what I did? I made a list of rules that I would change. Here it is: ‘Ideas for The Game.’ Here’s what the league needs to do: The league needs to find a way to only have two refs on the ice. The refs are in the way all the time. There needs to be a way to have the game controlled without officials being in the way. It’s always happening.”
Jack Hughes: “I hate the coaches’ challenges actually. They’ve taken a few goals and points away from me. But at the same time, it helps us on the other end. It’s somewhat annoying, but it helps us win games.”
Thomas: “Traveling dress code. I know it’s dependent on teams, but it would be nice to just wear a nice pair of jeans and a hoodie. That would be amazing.”
McCann: “Please let us change on icings. There were some times last year when we were on a two-minute shift and we iced the puck and it was really close but it was an icing. It would just be nice to get off the ice after that.”
Trouba: “Goalie interference. It’s a hard one. Don’t get rid of it, but there’s just too many times when you see something that you know is a goal or not a goal and then it goes the other way, and you just don’t get it. Which isn’t good. It can’t be black and white. I get that. But people should come to the same conclusion.”