Wyshynski: Celebrating Ryan Hartman and other NHL ‘glue guys’


Ryan Hartman is many things to the Minnesota Wild: a physical, grinding forward; a 34-goal scorer last season; a favorite among fans, to the point where they raised money to help him pay an NHL fine; and according to his father Craig, the same “pain in the ass he was when he was 5 years old.”

The summation of those attributes: That Ryan Hartman is a “glue guy.” One of those guys who binds things together on and off the ice for a team. One of those players whose presence is celebrated and whose absence is lamented.

“I think he’s got a lot of that. It’s a tight-knit group and Hartsy’s one of the reasons for that. The players gravitate towards him,” Wild GM Bill Guerin told me, confirming Hartman’s glue guy status. “You know, I think Ryan’s got a good balance to his life. He plays hard. He works hard. He likes to have a good time. He’s not afraid to take the guys out for a couple of beers. I love that. He keeps the team together.”

My colleague Kevin Weekes once defined a glue guy like this: “Glue guys are the players who aren’t necessarily superstars, but are the veterans who can keep a team together by doing the little things that go unnoticed. There isn’t a more valuable guy you can have on your team than a glue guy who can still get it done on the ice.”

The glue guys typically share some attributes, which Hartman embodies:

Physicality. Back in 2013, the draft scouting reports on Hartman said things like “an in-your-face forward who never takes a shift off” with “the heart of a lion.” He hit. He fought. That tenacity earned him a trip to the stage on the first day of the NHL draft, as the Chicago Blackhawks took him 30th.

He played like that in Chicago, in brief stints with the Nashville Predators and Philadelphia Flyers, and now in four seasons with the Wild.

“I try to lead by example,” Hartman told me recently. “I maybe might not be the most vocal all the time in the room, but I try to play in a way that tries to rub off on people. If we’re having a bad game, try to bring us out of it.”

Guerin calls him a “throwback” player.

“I love that about him. There’s grit in everything he does,” said the GM. “He can be a real miserable guy to play against. You know sometimes when you’re watching a game and say to yourself, ‘Oh no, Hartsy’s in a mood.’ Sometimes that’s good. And sometimes it costs him a couple of minutes in the penalty box. But that’s what makes him the person he is. That’s what we like about him.”

Offensive relevance. The glue guy isn’t just there to pummel and pulverize. He’s there to pitch in offensively as well — some more than others, admittedly. Hartman had never broken 20 goals in a season until 2021-22, when copious amounts of ice time with Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello propelled him to a career-redefining 34 goals.

“I just tried to be open as much as possible,” Hartman said. “When the puck does come to you and it’s your spot to shoot, you try to put it in the net.”

His attempt at an encore performance this season was interrupted by a shoulder injury that kept him out 21 games. He likened his return on Dec. 18 to having a second training camp, without the benefit of a second exhibition season. He has five goals in 25 games this season.

Hartman said he didn’t think about the R-word — “regression” — before the season.

“I had zero thought of that. It’s not a measuring stick for me. The measuring stick is how our team does and playing for a playoff spot,” he said. “Scoring helps to achieve that goal, but the measuring stick is how the team does. If I go out there trying to score goals, then scoring them is going to be a lot harder than going out there and playing the right way.”

That philosophy is like a glue guy incantation.

Cult fandom. Local fans love the glue guys. Hartman noticed that specifically last season when fans literally took up a collection for him.

In an April 2022 game against the Edmonton Oilers, the linesmen wouldn’t allow Hartman and Evander Kane to fight, so Hartman chose to express his feelings to Kane by flipping him the bird. The NHL, generally frowning upon such misbehavior, fined Hartman $4,250 — the maximum allowable under the collective bargaining agreement.

A Wild fan found Hartman’s Venmo, donated to a “bird fund” and a social media movement soon boosted the donation total over $7,000, which Hartman donated to Children’s Minnesota.

“I think any time there’s an excuse to be charitable or give back, people are going to take advantage of it,” Hartman said. “It obviously started with helping to pay by fine, but then when it became a charity thing, it wasn’t just Minnesota fans but also hockey fans that jumped aboard.”

Offbeat weirdness. For whatever reason, the glue guys are also usually oddballs. What they do on the ice and quirks in their personality can be just a little off-kilter. Weird things happen to the glue guys. Hartman is no exception.

In 2019, the Flyers traded him to the Dallas Stars — except Hartman didn’t know it happened. An avid outdoorsman, he was on a hunting and fishing trip. No phone. No Internet.

“The owner of the outpost company got a phone call as he was leaving. So he kind of flew in the news,” Hartman said. “I thought we were negotiating with Philly on a new contract. When he said I was traded, I thought there was a lost in translation moment. But he said, “No, you got traded. You got to call your agent.'”

The Stars didn’t qualify him as a restricted free agent. A week later, he signed with the Wild, where this glue guy has stuck through a second contract in Minnesota.

He’s far from the only player keeping things together for his team in the NHL this season. In conversations with insiders and players from teams around the league, here are 10 other glue guy all-stars, in no particular order:

Pat Maroon, Tampa Bay Lightning

I thought maybe Alex Killorn was the glue guy for the Lightning. But for the total package of glue-ness, I’ve been told it has to be Pat Maroon.

Even though his offensive contributions and ice time are down, he does a lot of little things right and remains the mayor of the Lightning locker room. As ex-Bolt Ryan McDonagh told me last season, “It’s his ability to keep the room loose at times or be serious and get the focus back. It’s a unique trait. Not a lot of guys can do it and seem natural.”

Nathan Bastian, New Jersey Devils

The 25-year-old physical winger has been a sneakily important ingredient in New Jersey’s breakout season. The Devils are 20-3-1 with Bastian in the lineup; without him, like when he missed about 1½ months to injury, they are 11-9-3.

“I’ve worked up to be wanted in the lineup. The skill set I bring isn’t necessarily the most glamourous, but often these guys appreciate that,” Bastian told me on Tuesday, after dropping the mitts with Vegas’ Brett Howden.

Andrew Cogliano, Colorado Avalanche

There was some support for defenseman Erik Johnson or forward Darren Helm as the glue guy for the Stanley Cup champs, but Cogliano is that guy and has been for multiple teams. He plays in a variety of situations and with a variety of teammates — currently serving as the elder statesman on a line with Alex Newhook and Logan O’Connor — while kicking in the occasional offense.

“He battled back from various injuries throughout the playoffs and played key minutes for us when we needed it the most,” Avs president of hockey operations Joe Sakic said when they resigned the 35-year-old forward last summer.

T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals

An obvious choice — and not just because there was a 2017 feature in The Hockey News that literally called him a glue guy in the headline.

He’s one of those players whose absence is felt when he’s not in the lineup, as the team misses his steadying presence and tempo-setting hustle. At 36, he’s still a valuable contributor offensively. Again, when he’s healthy, which has been the tricky part for the Olympic hero in recent seasons.

Brandon Tanev, Seattle Kraken

I asked former NHL glue guy and current ESPN commentator Ryan Callahan for his favorite current player in that category. Without hesitation, he said Brandon Tanev. The 31-year-old has found a home in Seattle after stints with the Winnipeg Jets and Pittsburgh Penguins, bringing his tenacity and underrated offensive pop to the second-year franchise.

Also he’s a certified weirdo, which as we’ve indicated is essential for the title of glue guy.

Zach Hyman, Edmonton Oilers

Hyman’s an interesting glue guy. He’s a bit like a character actor who gets cast in blockbuster movies because the directors knows he can hang with and benefit the marquee star. Like putting Simon Pegg in the “Mission: Impossible” films, for example.

Hyman showed he could hang with Auston Matthews in Toronto and was signed by Edmonton to play with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. He goes to the net, does the little things right and is like a beacon of positivity on a team that frankly needs that.

Brayden Schenn, St. Louis Blues

He’s a player who does a bit of everything well while being an essential part of the locker room. The 30-year-old forward can play all over the lineup, and has been another player whose absence is felt when he has missed time. As Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo told The Athletic:

“He’s a true glue guy. … I’m sure anywhere he’s played, he’s kind of brought that to the locker room, just a character and a personality that you want to be around. He takes a lot of pride in being a good friend and a good teammate.”

Nick Foligno, Boston Bruins

Trying to be the most blue-collar guy on the Bruins isn’t exactly an easy standard to achieve. Yet Foligno embodies everything we’re talking about here. He’ll play any role, make any sacrifice and say the right thing when necessary — like between periods at the Winter Classic, for example — for the best team in the NHL. By all accounts, he’s also one of the NHL’s best human beings.

Mark Stone, Vegas Golden Knights

I’ve tried to stay away from using star players or borderline stars in this list, but facts are facts: Stone is the glue that holds the Golden Knights together, because you can see how they crumble without him there. They don’t have that guy who can make a key offensive play or a key defensive stop. Their power play looks rudderless.

You could argue that this is more of an MVP type than a traditional glue guy, and you’d probably be correct. But Mark Stone is like a tendon that connects the disparate parts of the Knights in motion. Cut it, and they fall to the ground.

Joe Pavelski, Dallas Stars

Another “glue guy or MVP?” debate for someone who many feel is a star player. But again, for what we’re talking about here, Joe Pavelski defines it.

He was a Swiss Army knife in San Jose for 13 years, playing a variety of roles. In 2013-14, he finished in the top eight for the Hart Trophy and the Selke Trophy, for example. In Dallas, he has clearly been more than a glue guy as the veteran fulcrum of the league’s top offensive line. Jamie Benn is the most important voice behind the scenes for the Stars, but as veteran Stars reporter Mike Heika noted, “Pavelski leads by example and gets it done on the ice.”

And that’s what glue guys do.

Jersey Foul of the week

From the return of Johnny Gaudreau to Calgary as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets:

This is a classic Protest Jersey Foul, as a Flames fan applied some tape and a Sharpie to transform his Gaudreau jersey into one celebrating the player that ostensibly replaced him, Jonathan Huberdeau. But we have to deduct points for not taking the art project to its logical end, which would also transforming Johnny Hockey’s No. 13 into Huby’s No. 10.

Video of the week

That moment when Gritty referenced DVD screen savers, in what we imagine was a heartfelt tribute to the glory days of physical media; and, in the process, captured the essence of what it’s like to watch the 2022-23 Philadelphia Flyers on most nights.

Winners and losers of the week

Winner: Johnny Gaudreau

Hey, that wasn’t so bad, was it Johnny? First, your Blue Jackets teammates mockingly booed you in practice to prepare you for the bitter homecoming in Calgary. Then in the game itself … sure, there were jeers, but there was also a standing ovation during your tribute video. Heck, you even had two assists, even if that penalty shot could have gone better.

This wasn’t bad. I’ve seen bad. I went to John Tavares return night at Nassau Coliseum. As far as I can tell, no one used your jersey as a speed bump in the parking lot or threw rubber snakes at you.

Loser: Jakob Pelletier

Nothing like making your NHL debut and having your coach have no idea what number you even wore. I know it’s all part of the Darryl Sutter schtick, but what a bummer.

Winner: Bruce Boudreau

Out of that entire coaching mess in Vancouver, no one came out of it looking better than Bruce Boudreau. He took the high road in the face of public criticism. He waddled like the lame duck he was for a few weeks while Canucks fans showered him with appreciation, knowing the end was near. He’s a good coach and a good man who will get another stint behind someone’s bench. It’s just a shame it all worked out this way.

Loser: Vancouver Canucks

Look, in the long run, the switch to Rick Tocchet could pay off. At the very least, management has its coach, someone born from the same Pittsburgh Penguins champion culture they helped foster. But just to underscore how the relationship between the team and its fans has been damaged through losing seasons, roster mismanagement and the public debacle that was the coaching change, a Canucks fan threw their jersey on the ice in protest during Tocchet’s first game. When do you ever see that kind of protest after a coaching change?

Winner: Comebacks

One of the wonderful byproducts of the NHL’s scoring explosion is that no lead is safe. According to ESPN Stats & Info, through Tuesday night’s games 42.8% of games have featured a comeback win, which is on track to be the second-highest rate in any one year since the NHL’s Modern Era began in 1943-44. There have been 91 multi-goal comebacks this season, too. Remember when your team would be down after two periods and you could just shut off the game? Thankfully, those days are done.

Loser: Campaigns

Don’t get me wrong, I think the NHL All-Star Game rosters are stacked and this is going be an outstanding event. But as someone who had a hand in a fan vote campaign back in the day, I was a little bummed none of the fan campaigns were able to get K’Andre Miller or Martin Necas into the game. One player I wish was given the fan campaign treatment: Buffalo Sabres goalie Craig Anderson, the 41-year-old who has posted a .918 save percentage in 17 games. The old guy has still got it!

Puck headlines

  • This Gary Bettman quote on tanking caused a stir and I’m not sure why. He’s partially right: Players don’t tank. Coaches don’t tank either; heck, the decision to play young players as a losing season continues is a possible ancillary benefit of tanking. That said: General managers tank. Owners sign off on tanking. They design a roster that won’t compete for a playoff berth, from rice-paper thin depth to goaltending that’s 20,000 leagues under replacement level. And the lottery being weighted does nothing to deter them.

  • Should NHL players take part in gambling ads? “In Canada there might be a pathway to more stringent regulation.”

  • Making the argument for more rivalry games on the NHL schedule. “The idea of every team playing the other 31 at least twice makes sense in theory, but when you only get three or four matchups against your favorite team’s most hated rival as a result, it becomes a problem that needs to be addressed soon.”

  • Enjoyed Hailey Salvian’s feature on 14-year-old hockey phenom Nela Lopušanová, who was inspired by Elias Pettersson and Connor Bedard.

  • Ranking the five-year windows for NHL teams. The Colorado Avalanche, they’re in good shape!

  • Finally, a shoutout to all the SB Nation blogs and bloggers who lost their gigs. As I explained here, these sites had a huge influence on digital hockey media, the analytics movement and created vibrant fan communities. They’ll be missed.

From your friends at ESPN

We’re following all of the Boston Bruins‘ record-breaking exploits in a daily tracker. Great stuff here.

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