May 07, 2010
It's become a running joke in hockey circles: Allan Walsh, player agent for Octagon Hockey, pimping his players' exploits on Twitter with a familiar title before their names:
"'Client' Jaro Halak with the most epic Mtl goaltending performance since Patrick Roy in 86 and Ken Dryden in 71. Good company!"
(Walsh, of course, is infamous for his opinionated use of social media, like when Martin Havlat split with the Chicago Blackhawks last summer.)
Walsh has had plenty to tweet about in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Montreal Canadiens goalie Client Jaroslav Halak(notes) has been one of the league's postseason MVPs, backstopping the Habs to an enormous first-round upset of the Washington Capitals and continuing his mastery in the second round.
Client Marc-Andre Fleury(notes), Halak's semifinals counterpart on the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, has quieted critics with some strong postseason moments in goal. Then there's the revival of Client Miroslav Satan's(notes) career for the Boston Bruins, as the veteran winger is one of the postseason's surprise offensive stars.
In the end, it's a business. Satan is an unrestricted free agent. Halak is a restricted free agent. Dupuis is entering his walk year. How heavily does a strong postseason performance weigh on negotiations?
Walsh said it depends on who's on the other side of the table.
"Some GMs will value it more than others," he said. "If you have a poor regular season and a great playoffs, that'll carry you further than someone who had a great regular season and an awful playoffs."
We spoke with Walsh on Thursday to find out why Satan is succeeding in Boston, why Fleury will always have his detractors and whether an agent whose controversial backing of Jaroslav Halak as Montreal's best goaltender months ago feels vindicated now.
At the start of last season, Satan wasn't on an NHL roster. The Boston Bruins became interested, and Walsh spoke in candid terms with Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli leading up to the deal -- telling him that signing Satan and relegating him to a third or fourth line would be a "waste of a roster spot and a waste of money" for Boston.
Chiarelli assured the player and agent that Satan would play a prominent role on the team as a top-six forward. But Walsh had heard this before: Please recall Petr Sykora's(notes) disastrous experience with the Minnesota Wild. After having the backing of GM Chuck Fletcher and earning the scorn of head coach Todd Richards (and little ice time), Sykora was placed on waivers.
In Boston, both Chiarelli and Coach Claude Julien assured Satan and Walsh that they were "100 percent on board" about the free-agent forward's role; with that, Satan came to Beantown.
The deal with the Bruins was agreed to on December 28 but announced January 2, to steer clear of Winter Classic hype. His contract gave the Bruins a paltry $363,000 cap hit.
Was Miro Satan literally rescued from the scrap heap?
"That's a little crude," said Walsh. "I think that Miro's accomplished a lot in this career. He was one of the dominant offensive guys compensation-wise and production-wise up until last year. Before that, no active player had scored more goals than Miro Satan in the previous 10 years."
To hear Walsh explain it, Satan is simply a different kind of hockey player.
"He's always been a little bit of an enigma. He was perceived as being a little bit aloof, and it was misconstrued. When you get to know him, he's a relatively shy guy. His shyness was misconstrued as aloofness," he said.
"I find him to be highly intelligent. He reads Greek philosophy. His wife is a trained opera singer. He's not the kind of guy to go out with the boys, kick back a couple of beers and rah-rah. It's difficult for the multitudes to relate to."
So what's worked in Boston for Satan, to the tune of 10 points in nine playoff games?
"Everybody's different. The talent of a coach is being able to bring out the best in each player. Miro plays his best, and Miro is Miro on the ice, when he believes the coach has faith in him," he said.
"There was a feeling-out period between him and Claude Julien. It eventually got to the point where Claude said, 'Miro, I see the kind of player you are. I am going to let you run with your talents. You're going to get time as a top six forward, and I don't want you to be afraid of turning the puck over or making a mistake. You go be Miro Satan, and don't worry about being benched. As long as you're producing, don't worry about any negatives.'"
Quietly during the regular season, Dupuis had his best campaign since 2003 with 18 goals and 20 assists in 81 games. He's been anything but quiet in the postseason: Seven points in nine games, with the elimination-goal against the Ottawa Senators in Game 6 of that series.
"Pascal is a very misunderstood guy," said Walsh, harkening back to Dupuis's final days with the Minnesota Wild in 2007 as an example of how far he'd come as a player.
It was a bitter split with the team, as Dupuis earned scorn for taking up then-Coach Jacques Lemaire on an offer to leave practice and allegedly feuding with management. When he was traded to the New York Rangers for Adam Hall(notes), GM Doug Risebrough told the Star Tribune:
"Pascal was a good player for us, a good penalty killer," Risebrough added. " ... But size is something we were trying to get a little bit more of. Obviously Pascal isn't 6-foot-3 and wasn't a guy that was going to get in front of the net, a guy who was going to finish his checks, a guy who was going to pull the puck out. So, I can't ask Pascal to do something he can't do. This is a chance to get somebody who can do that."
Walsh said it was a moment of maturity for Dupuis, who didn't hit back to that criticism in public. Looking back on it and how Dupuis has played for Pittsburgh, the winger has also helped prove his former GM's scouting report incorrect.
Of course, the other asset Dupuis has provided Pittsburgh in the postseason: Beard awesomeness.
"The playoff beard is definitely one of the ages," said Walsh. "He could hide forks and knives in that beard."
"Interesting stat of the night ... Price is 10W, 32L in last 42 starts. Hmm."
He was accused of creating further tension and added friction in the locker room; Walsh, who deleted the tweet, said it was "a tongue in cheek comment."
Now, Halak is one of the starts of the playoffs, having carried the Montreal Canadiens to a first-round stunner over the Washington Capitals and continuing his stellar play in the second round.
Does Walsh feel validated or, at the very least, ahead of the curve on praising the goalie?
He declined to comment. "I get four or five messages a day, some on the hysterical level, from Montreal radio stations and newspapers. I have to be in Montreal and cornered by media, everyone who would love to engage me in those kinds of discussions. I believe there's a time and a place. Now is the time for Jaro to play," he said.
"Very valid question. I'm dying to answer it. I just don't think it's the right time."
Halak's performance against the Capitals was a little bittersweet for Walsh, as he represents players on Washington like Jason Chimera(notes). But there's no denying the thrill of seeing Halak do what he did in that now-classic Game 6 victory.
"You win as a team and you lose as a team. You never want to say a player won the game single-handedly, because that can be interpreted as disrespectful of his teammates. But it was a performance for the ages. It's going to go down in lore, and that's great for Jaro," he said.
Speaking of disrespect, the first round featured a back-and-forth between Halak and Alex Ovechkin(notes) about whether the goalie's hand was shaking during a Capitals goal-scoring spree, as an indication of weakness.
"You know what Ovechkin did? By saying that a goalie is nervous or that he's shaking, you're challenging his manhood. When you say a goalie is scared or afraid, that goes to the very essence of what they do. And Jaro responded as one would hope someone responds when their manhood is challenged. He answered the bell on the ice," said Walsh.
When Fleury's name was etched on the Stanley Cup, some believed that would end questions about this status as a big-game goaltender or his ability to excel in the postseason.
Not so: Fleury is still maligned by fans and media for less-than-dominating efforts in the playoffs and regular-season stats that can't be called elite.
Walsh didn't expect those critics would stay silent. "They're always going to be there, to some extent. And I think the reason why is that Pittsburgh plays as close to a run-and-gun style as any team in the NHL these days. Because of that, they're going to give up a lot of goals," he said.
"That's going to reflect on Marc-Andre's goals-against average and save percentage. It just will."
But Walsh disagrees with the critics in the depiction of Fleury as a goalie who underperforms in pressure situations.
"He's been there to answer the bell when the game is on the line. That's one of the best measures of a great goalie," he said. "There have been comparisons to Grant Fuhr [of the Gretzky Edmonton Oilers], who also never had a GAA or save percentage near the top of the League but was regarded as one of the best goaltenders of his era and played on one of the best offensive teams in the history of hockey."
Walsh believes Fleury plays well when it counts the most.
"At the end of the day, he's got the Stanley Cup ring."