Get a place: NHL tradition holds value for young players
By STEPHEN WHYNO, AP Hockey Writer
ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — It may be the best phrase a young NHL player can hear, even better than being told he has made the team.
Get a place.
Making the opening night roster is certainly an accomplishment, though it can be fleeting. The time-honored tradition of a coach or general manager giving a player permission to check out of the hotel and find a place to live means he is sticking around for a long time, if not the entire season.
"When you're at the hotel for a couple months, you're always wondering, 'When are they going to tell me?'" former player and current Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said not long after giving goaltender Scott Wedgewood the green light to get a place in Arizona. "You're comfortable. You're not just in a hotel. It really helps you."
Some young players live with older teammates as a way to learn about the pro lifestyle. Even some who are called up from the minors or earn a roster spot out of training camp get a hotel room because nothing is certain.
The collective bargaining agreement requires teams to pay for 28 days of a player's hotel stay that can be extended up to 56, at which point he can get a permanent place without seeking permission.
There's value in getting that message from an organization well before the 28-day mark, as New York Islanders rookie Mathew Barzal found out.
"That kind of just made me comfortable, just knowing I have an opportunity to be here for a little while or they like what I've been doing so far," said Barzal, who has 14 points in his first 17 games of the season. "That's just a confidence thing. That's just nice having that kind of stress off, just another thing you can check off the list."
During his 15 seasons as coach of the Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals, Barry Trotz has gotten to tell plenty of players to get a place. Because of the CBA rules and how tenuous a player's grip on a job is, it's not always an easy call.
"In the past I've had it where we went the distance, we went the 28 days and then we have to make a decision," Trotz said. "Other times you knew that a player was going to be on your team and he had to be on your team and you said, 'Hey, go get a place,' right or wrong. ... Usually I check with management on that just because I don't want to be paying their rent."
After telling Barzal he can find a place to live, Islanders coach Doug Weight called it "a great reward."
"It means a lot: obviously that we have a confidence that he's an NHL player," Weight said. "The more confident, the more comfortable you are within the room, within the system, within the coaching staff, the better you're going to play."
Capitals veteran Brooks Orpik remembers his own experience in 2003-04 when he and several other Pittsburgh Penguins rookies played the waiting game.
"I think we had like eight guys in the hotel until like Thanksgiving," Orpik said. "I think there were like eight of us that were rookies, so we weren't going to dare complain. We were just happy to be there."
Barzal is happy about his status, but he knows nothing is truly permanent.
"Anything can really happen," Barzal said. "I'm a young guy. I've got to prove myself every night. Whether I have the housing letter or not, I've still got to prove myself every day."
Not long ago, the New York Rangers couldn't put the puck in the net, Henrik Lundqvist couldn't keep it out and many wondered if coach Alain Vigneault was in danger of losing his job. Now they've won six in a row, the longest streak in the league this season.
"I think we've played some pretty good hockey here for quite some time," Vigneault said. "We're working on our game. We're working on putting a complete game on the ice. There's no doubt this group is very resilient, very hard-working."
Tied for last in the Eastern Conference on the morning of Oct. 31, the Rangers are now on the edge of playoff position.
"It's important that we realize that we are happy with a six-game winning streak, but we're still not in a great spot," Lundqvist said. "We had to do this to get back in the race. I think now we just need to push ourselves."
The Edmonton Oilers had 97 reasons — OK, maybe just a big one in No. 97 Connor McDavid — to think they'd be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. They lost nine of their first 13 games but see signs of progress after picking up five of a possible eight points on their road trip through New Jersey, New York and Washington.
"We were down in a lot of these games by one goal and we never folded our hand," defenseman Darnell Nurse said. "We showed that we can defend against some really good offensive teams, and it needs to continue."
GAME OF THE WEEK
Two teams with Cup-winning pedigrees off to less-than-ideal starts meet Saturday night when the Chicago Blackhawks visit the Penguins.
LEADERS (THROUGH MONDAY)
Goals: Nikita Kucherov (Tampa Bay), 16; Assists: Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay), 23; Points: Stamkos, 31; Wins: Andrei Vasilevskiy (Tampa Bay), 13; Goals-against average: Martin Jones (San Jose), 2.13; Save percentage: Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles), .933.
Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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