NHL Trade Deadline should spark interest in ‘glue guys’

NHL Trade Deadline should spark interest in 'glue guys' thumbnail

With the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline on March 21 at 3 p.m. ET approaching, the clock is ticking for teams who believe they are Stanley Cup contenders to address their needs.

Some will seek scoring, a more reliable checker, or a player who is strong on face-offs. Other teams may look to add a depth defenseman or goaltending.

One thing they would all happily add is a character player, someone who will strengthen team chemistry for the stretch run and beyond.

“We’re all looking for glue guys,” Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland said. “They’re hard to find. It’s a hard league to play in. There’s not a glue guy in every corner, just like there’s not a superstar in every corner, just like there’s not a No. 1 goalie in every corner.”

Two years ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning acquired two such players in Blake Coleman from the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 16, 2020, and Barclay Goodrow eight days later at the deadline from the San Jose Sharks.

[RELATED: More 2022 NHL Trade Deadline coverage]

They built impressive resumes in with linemate Yanni Gourde, including playing integral roles in Tampa Bay’s run the Stanley Cup in 2020 and 2021.

“When the [Edmonton] Oilers were winning their Cups, they had a lot of glue guys,” Dallas Stars coach Rick Bowness said. “Now Tampa Bay, the last two years, look at that third line [of Coleman, Goodrow and Gourde], that’s a glue line. Look at who scored the goals in the last games, that answers your question.”

In the Lightning’s final six playoff games last season — including Gourde scoring the lone goal in a 1-0 win in the Eastern Conference Final’s Game 7 against the New York Islanders – the three combined for five goals (Gourde two, Coleman two, Goodrow one). 

Each are no longer with the Lightning, and though goals and points were important, the intangibles they brought are difficult to measure, so interpretation and vision are required.

“I’m not sure everyone out there understands it and I’m not sure if you can truly appreciate how important it is in the locker room unless you’ve been in it,” Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said. “A glue guy is someone who can bring people together. When you go to make a trade or you trade someone off your team, you pause and think for a minute what it’s going to do to your room. Is it going to help or hurt? Does this player give us more on and off the ice?

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“It’s something unique to a team setting. There are 20-some different characters, and everybody’s got their own way to do things. Inevitably on teams that become very close, there’s always that one guy that just kind of brings everybody together, makes you laugh, makes you serious, holds you accountable. But it’s not a category when you go scouting where check that box for glue guy.”

Holland, though, said he has a list of attributes, most of which are musts and fall under “heavy lifting,” such as: going to the hard areas of the ice; checking and finishing checks; blocking shots; killing penalties; an aggressive forecheck; providing energy on the ice, on the bench and in the locker room.

He said it often also includes a social aspect, things like organizing team get-togethers or running pools for the Masters golf tournament, the NCAA basketball tournament and the NFL. 

“Instead of the word leader, I’d say it’s about respect,” Holland said. “But they do lead. And the glue guy has to be on every day. If you don’t score a lot and all of a sudden you start letting your check go or you can’t chip it out, you’re not going to be a glue guy very long. If the glue guys aren’t doing their job, they aren’t glue guys and the team has leaks. They keep the leaks out.”

Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Niedermayer says he played with a number of such players over the course of his 18 NHL seasons that included winning the Stanley Cup four times, three with the New Jersey Devils (1995, 2000, 2003) and once with the Anaheim Ducks (2007).

“That’s why I was lucky enough to win because I was teammates with a ton of those guys, that enjoyed the challenge of the hard parts of the game,” he said. “They enjoyed their teammates. They had your back. You knew someone was going to bail you out every chance they could. 

“Looking to some of those teams, a guy like Ken Daneyko pops to mind pretty quick. A fun guy in the room, do-anything-for-you teammate. If someone’s trying to take liberties or get too physical, he’s always going to be right there for you.”

Daneyko said he was flattered by Niedermayer’s praise. Now a television analyst for the Devils, Daneyko was a hard-nosed defenseman who played 20 seasons with the team, scoring 178 points (36 goals, 142 assists) in 1,283 regular-season games and winning the Stanley Cup three times.

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It’s been more than 18 years since he’s retired but Daneyko has gained an even better understanding of how glue guys add to the dressing-room equation. He looks back to his first Cup win with the Devils in 1995 and the “Crash Line” of Bobby Holik, Mike Peluso and Randy McKay as a prime example.

“They were glue guys, guys you just knew when you needed something, a change in momentum, in tempo or from a big hit or a blocked shot … they all brought an element,” he said. “When you’ve got a collective group of guys that the coaches don’t have to worry about, you see other guys follow along, too. They see how bad you want to win, so that’s a glue guy, too. It can rub off.”

Like Bowness, Daneyko said the Lightning also proved the past two seasons how important those type of players can be.

“You need the stars, don’t get me wrong,” Daneyko said. “I respect Tampa Bay for first banging their head against the wall with all those stars and then getting swept by Columbus [Blue Jackets] in [2019] in that record year. Then they went, ‘What are we missing?’ and it turned out to be a Barclay Goodrow, a Blake Coleman. … Guys who can step in during a physical series and add that physical element, add that hunger or abrasiveness. It’s subtle but it’s big.”

As GM (1997-2019) and assistant GM (1994-97) of the Red Wings, Holland said Kris Draper was one of the best glue guys he’s seen.

Draper, now the Red Wings director of amateur scouting, retired in 2011 after playing 20 NHL seasons and winning the Stanley Cup four times with Detroit (1997, 1998, 2002, 2008).

For the 1998 and 2002 Cup wins, Draper centered Detroit’s “Grind Line” with Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty, and said it was his line’s mindset to take a little pressure off the team’s stars.

“When games are on the line, when things are important, [glue guys] know how to play hockey, how to play it the right way,” he said. “They might not be the fanciest or highest-skill goals [scored] but they score goals the right way. They get around the net and are competitive around the net and willing to take hits to make a play, willing to go get pucks first, things that coming into April, May and June for playoff teams – those characteristics are something I lived by my entire career and appreciate watching young prospects play that way and do it the same.”

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Bowness has been part of the NHL since he was a forward selected in the second round (No. 26) by the Atlanta Flames in the 1975 NHL Draft and made his debut for the Flames against the Philadelphia Flyers on Dec. 23, 1975.

Over 46 seasons as an NHL player or coach, Bowness said he’s certain that no team wins with talent alone, or without glue guys.

“You just don’t,” Bowness said. “Into the playoffs, your glue guys are going to make as much of an impact, scoring big goals, as your elite players. Your elite players aren’t going to score every game because everybody’s focused on them. You need those third- and fourth-line guys who have carried the team in terms of work ethic and consistency, you need those guys to come up big. And really good glue guys find a way to do it.

“They know they’re not the most skilled guys on the team, so they have to make up for it with conditioning, hard work and preparation. And from that comes the respect in the room. You’re sitting in the room and looking around, thinking, ‘OK, is he ready? Is he ready?’ Then you look at the glue guys and you don’t even have to look at them because you know they’re ready and you know exactly what they’re going to do every shift, every period, every game.”

There are those intangibles.

“You just gave me chills,” Draper said after hearing Bowness’s words. “That’s an amazing description of exactly what a glue guy is.”

“Rick nailed it,” Daneyko said. “I love that. That’s the will to win.”

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