Tag Archives: Ken Hitchcock

The Customer Is Always Right—Sports Fans Should Not Be Silent

Just over six years ago, on January 28, 2012, approximately 300 Blue Jackets fans braved bitter cold to hold a protest as a Blue Jackets season that held great promise spiraled into chaos.  Earlier in the month, the team had fired Head Coach Scott Arniel ending a tenure that was probably most notable for Arniel’s infamous quip after a question from Lori Schmidt in a press conference (“so just keep piling on”).  Days later it would come out that the team’s superstar and captain, Rick Nash, had demanded a trade.

The preceding offseason looked good on paper.  A team that had only made the playoffs once seemed to have finally acquired the center it had needed for so long when an offseason trade landed them Jeff Carter.  They had also attempted to address their problems on defense by adding free agent James Wisniewski.  The Nikita Filatov era ended as the former first round pick was shipped to Ottawa for the Sens’ third round pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

However, there was also a conspicuous failure to address concerns about the goaltending situation.  Mark Dekanich was signed to backup Steve Mason with Curtis Sanford, out of the NHL for two years at that point, signed as the primary goaltender for the AHL affiliate in Springfield.  Sadly, Dekanich would never see a game with the Jackets due to injury.

Things quickly went off the rails and never recovered.  Wisniewski would be suspended as a “repeat offender” for a preseason incident with Cal Clutterbuck in a preseason game that meant he didn’t start his first game for the Jackets until Game 9 of the season, which was, coincidentally, the team’s first win of the season.  Carter would get injured and be out for 10 games.  Steve Mason struggled.  Management, desperate to turn things around, made trades for Mark Letestu and Nikita Nikitin.  Rumors started to surface that, grasping at straws, the Jackets might bring back Ken Hitchcock as head coach. Fortunately for Hitchcock, he instead took a job with St. Louis.  Ownership seemed to be questioning management when they brought in former Pens GM, Craig Patrick as a “special advisor.”

Just six months after they enacted one plan to right the ship, they were about to enact a new plan—blow it all up.  And, to that point, it looked like they would let the architects of the prior failed plan—GM Scott Howson and President Mike Priest—carry out the new plan.

With the All-Star Break approaching, on January 23, 2012, the Jackets played a seemingly meaningless game against the Predators in Nashville and got shellacked, 4-1.  In many ways, it was a typical Blue Jackets loss for that era.  The Preds always seemed to have the Jackets’ number.  Mike Fisher had two goals in the game, bringing his total goals that season against the Jackets to six.  Over half of his goals to that point in the season were against Columbus, to which he responded after the game: “It’s kind of a funny stat. I know I’ve got to make sure I keep going and see if I can score against some other teams.”  The Jackets were 13-29-6 after that game. One loss shouldn’t have been any different than the 28 that preceded it.

But the fact that the loss was so typical, so ordinary, was probably what set me off.  It was a Monday night.  With the All-Star Break coming up, the team wouldn’t be in town on Saturday, but, as luck would have it, I would.  I had moved to the West Coast, but I was back visiting family.  That night I was in Northeast Ohio when I went on HFBoards and posted that we needed to have a fan protest to make it known that casual losses and being dead last in the league weren’t acceptable for a team that had been in the league as long as the Jackets had.  I didn’t really expect much to come out of it, but it struck a nerve and soon it was like a snowball rolling downhill.

I was driving south to Columbus the next afternoon when a fellow HFBoards member called me on my cellphone.  One of the local radio stations wanted to talk to the “organizers.”  To this point, no one was really organizing anything.  Suddenly there was a level of expectation.  Suddenly we had to think about things like permits, PA equipment, some sort of riser for speakers, a podium, speeches, etc., on a Tuesday afternoon, for something that was now, apparently, really going to take place on Saturday morning.  In the next 48 hours, somehow a core group of six of us came together to coordinate these things.

I had never met any of these guys in person before.  One of them was a guy I had sparred with over the years on HFBoards.  One was a musician and Day 1 season ticket holder.  One was a fan who traveled up to games from Kentucky.  One was an Iraq war vet and another was a father who brought his kids to games.  Other people volunteered to help in various ways including lending us PA equipment, picking things up where we couldn’t, etc. It was the first experience I really had of how quickly you could organize something with social media and with crowd-sourcing.  The protest would have never happened without the contributions of a number of people, and I cannot thank them enough.

Meanwhile, people debated the protest online, particularly at HFBoards.  Some thought it was a joke or an embarrassment. When national hockey media started to cover it, I think some started to fear that this would make the Jackets and, by extension, Columbus, a punchline.

The Jackets, for their part, were concerned about how this would play and, allegedly, hired a PR firm out of Chicago to address the situation.  On the eve of the protest, owner John P. McConnell wrote a letter to the fans and via the press let protesters know that they would be welcomed with a cup of hot coffee on what was expected to be a blustery day as a way of the organization showing its appreciation to the fans.  A nice gesture by McConnell which pretty much wrote my speech for me since I had a 2/3 replica Stanley Cup at my disposal.  (“You offered us a cup of coffee, but that’s not the Cup we want!”)

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The night before the core group of six of us and my always patient wife met up at a bar in the Arena District to make our final arrangements as to order of speakers and what we wanted to cover.  Who happened to walk into the same bar?  John P. McConnell’s son!  You really can’t make this stuff up. We finalized our plans in hushed tones about 10 feet away from him.

The next morning, the rumors about the Jackets being awarded an All-Star Game were everywhere.  I showed up at Nationwide at least an hour before the start time for our protest.  The Arena District was dead quiet.  It was bitterly cold.  I wasn’t sure if, after all of this, anyone would actually show up.  It didn’t look good 15 minutes before start time.  Then, suddenly, people started spilling out of the various bars and restaurants in the Arena District.  Probably 10-20 people at first.  With minutes to go before the start time the courtyard was nearly filled.  With only a few days’ notice, approximately 250-300 people had showed up on a cold day.  They showed up with signs supporting the team, but questioning management.

As we kicked things off with Bush’s “Machinehead,” the Jumbotron across the street carried the news that the Blue Jackets had been awarded an All-Star Game.  It was a bittersweet moment given the state of the team, but it was the first sign that maybe things would get better.  Over the next year, Rick Nash would be traded to the Rangers in a blockbuster deal, Mike Priest would be “promoted” and replaced by John Davidson, Scott Howson would be fired, and current GM Jarmo Kekalainen would be hired to replace him.  I don’t know if we influenced any of those decisions, but I’m glad the decisions were made.

In the aftermath, a lot of people who had been skeptical about the protest felt that it was well done and that it wasn’t the embarrassment they feared it would be.  At All-Star Weekend, Gary Bettman was forced to address the protest, doing so in the way you’d expect Gary Bettman to respond to such a question:

I saw that somebody was trying to organize a pep rally. But that’s a good sign.  It’s kind of like when you get booed when you go out on the ice, it’s better than when it’s quiet. I know about that firsthand.”

It was interesting to see the Browns Perfect Season Parade last month.  I heard a lot of the same things I remember hearing when we were planning the protest about whether it should be done, whether it would be an embarrassment.  You had another element that we didn’t have—players taking to social media to voice their anger over the parade.  In the end, Chris McNeil and the organizers deserve a lot of credit.  They raised over $15,000 for a good cause–wish we would have had the time and forethought to do this.  McNeil and his fellow organizers should be very proud in what they did, bringing out over 3,000 fans on another cold Ohio day.  Hopefully the Browns ownership and management takes the frustration of their fans to heart.  Bettman was right:  having 3,000 fans show up to voice their anger beats having 30,000 empty seats in your stadium.

That is the challenge for fans of dysfunctional sports franchises.  Some would propose boycotts as a way motivate teams, but boycotts can backfire.  Sometimes a boycott isn’t an option.  Witness the situation with the Columbus Crew where, once again, a dedicated fan base is speaking up.  In the case of the Crew, the issue isn’t as much the team’s performance as it is ownership’s desire to move the team and mischaracterize the fan base in the process.  Columbus was the first team to have a soccer-specific stadium, but the old house is starting to show its age.  Instead of sitting down in good faith with officials of the City of Columbus, team owner, Anthony Precourt, is more focused on moving the team to Austin and is doing everything he can to paint a picture of a franchise that no longer has local support from fans or businesses.  While John P. McConnell did all he could to show that he heard the fans concerns, Anthony Precourt is content to thumb his nose at Crew supporters, area businesses and local government officials.

Morgan Hughes and others behind the #SaveTheCrew effort have done a brilliant job of attempting to disprove Precourt’s anti-Columbus narrative by getting support not just from fans, but from businesses in Columbus.  They’ve put up billboards and have developed a “community kit” complete with a corporate sponsor.  We still don’t know how the story will end with the Crew, but I applaud the creative efforts of all of those behind #SaveTheCrew and I hope it shows other fans of troubled franchises in other cities that they don’t have to be hopeless, that they can attempt to do something about it instead of just accepting the loss of their franchise.  Show them some support in their efforts even if it is a little thing like sending them a few bucks.

I don’t know what the future will hold for fan advocacy, but I think fans are better off speaking up than being silent.  For years, fans of teams were the one group without a voice.  Fans have been used as pawns in disputes between players and owners over labor matters and in disputes between owners and government officials over financing matters.  At the end of the day, the fans are a team’s consumer base and they shouldn’t be silent about an investment of hundreds or thousands of dollars any more than they would be silent if they went to a restaurant and were given the wrong food, much less if they got the wrong food every time they went to that same restaurant.  Remember the words of Gary Bettman—it is better for owners to hear your “boos” than silence. Sometimes that means you need to hold a “pep rally.”

Down the Frozen River Podcast #89- The Return

Nick ventures down to Charlotte to hang out with Connor and record the first podcast in person with another member of the DTFR crew in over a year. We tried to stay on topic, but eventually delved into some Charlotte Hornets talk after discussing Willie O’Ree, Rene Rancourt, the Boston Bruins and more.

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Down the Frozen River Podcast #86- Best Misnomers of 2017

Nick and Connor pick apart the Central Division, provide injury updates, preview the 2018 Winter Classic and discuss the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship so far.

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Merkle’s Christmas Bumblings

I will now attempt to write a coherent article as I lay near-comatose full of grilled chicken, hamloaf, turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, biscuits, rolls and whatever else I might have eaten that my holiday-overloaded mind can’t recall. Thumbs up, let’s do this.

Skater of the Week: Mathew Barzal

I told myself I wouldn’t pick Josh Bailey again, so this time I picked his teammate. I promise you I’m not actually an Islanders fan.

The Isles continue to score at a torrid pace, and while John Tavares and Bailey both matched Barzal’s six-point output in this week’s three games, I’m giving the nod to the rookie. A bit of a dark horse to even make the squad at the beginning of the year, I did make note of Barzal in my preseason preview article about the Isles, and he’s making me look smarter than I actually am.

With 35 points in 36 games so far this season, the 20-year-old from Coquitlam, B.C. has really come into his own in recent weeks. Currently riding a four-game point streak, Barzal chipped in four goals and two assists in three contests this week, including a hat trick Saturday night at Winnipeg.

If guys like Barzal and Bailey (not to mention Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle) continue to produce the way they are, the Isles look to be very dangerous, as they finally possess the complimentary firepower to free up some space for Tavares.

Tendy of the Week: James Reimer

Chill, Bruins fans (looking at you, Lanciani), I know Tuukka Rask had a crazy good week himself. But, considering their major stats were nearly identical, I’m giving the nod to Reimer based on him grabbing a shutout when Rask didn’t, and the fact that he faced 23 more shots than the Boston netminder.

Smilin’ Reimer was truly on it this week. Winning all three games, he allowed just four total goals, scooping up a 1.33 GAA and a .964 save percentage across the contests. With Roberto Luongo still on the shelf, the Panthers desperately need Reimer to continue playing at a high level for them to have any real shot at keeping pace in the Atlantic. At least for the time being, he’s doing just that.

Game of the Week: Basically the entire night of Thursday, December 21st

10 games. Seven of them needed OT or the shootout to decide them. Even the three regulation games were at least weird if nothing else. The Hurricanes toppled the Predators, the Stars blanked the Blackhawks, and the Oilers upset the juggernaut Blues.

Among the games decided in extra time, you had everything from defensive struggles (Bruins over Jets 2-1 in the shootout, Kings over the Avs 2-1 in OT), offensive showcases (Ducks over Isles and Sharks over Canucks, both 5-4 contests), and a couple rivalry showcases (Devils take out the Rangers 4-3, and Penguins edge the Jackets 3-2 in an extremely heated affair, both in shootouts).

Just one of those strange nights where the hockey gods decide that everything gets an extra sprinkling of awesome.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Radko Gudas got suspended for about 137 games for a slash, because at this point he has to be doing stupid stuff on purpose.

Boone Jenner had a game misconduct penalty retroactively rescinded (because that’s apparently worth something) by the league after being kicked from the CBJ/PIT game by possibly the softest game misconduct ever issued.

Alexander Burmistrov has ‘retired’ from the NHL to return to his native Russia and play in the KHL. A once-promising prospect of the Atlanta/Winnipeg organization, Burmistrov left the NHL for the KHL back in 2013 before returning in 2015. His NHL career never really blossomed into what was hoped, and it sounds like the 26-year-old simply enjoys playing at home much more than playing in North America.

Zac Rinaldo again finds himself amid controversy, staring a likely-lengthy suspension in the face. After laying a hard (though seemingly clean) hit on Nathan MacKinnon, Rinaldo sucker punched Avs rookie Samuel Girard who had come over to confront him after the hit. Erik Johnson then stepped in and used the fact that he is the size of a Chevrolet Silverado to his advantage, but by this point things had already entered into the category of line brawl. Girard never dropped his gloves, or even looked as though he had any intention of actually fighting Rinaldo, so it’s easy to see where the impending punishment has grounds to stand on (particularly in the case of oft-suspended Rinaldo), but counter-points have been made by more than a few people, most notably former NHL tough guy Paul Bissonnette, most to the tune of ‘Girard probably shouldn’t have gone after someone he didn’t intend to fight’. Regardless, expect to see a lot less of Rinaldo over at least the next few games.

Ken Hitchcock reached the 800-win plateau as a head coach when his Dallas Stars beat the Blackhawks in the aforementioned Thursday night 4-0 blanking. Hitch is only the 3rd coach in NHL history to reach the milestone, with just that night’s opposing coach Joel Quenneville and Scotty Bowman ahead of him.

Editor’s note: The common thread between those coaches? All three have coached the St. Louis Blues, yet none could lead the Notes to the Stanley Cup.

November 13 – Day 41 – Lookin’ for the Promised Land

Everybody makes a big deal about Fridays that are the 13th day of a month. Since Monday is everybody’s most-dreaded day of the week, shouldn’t Monday the 13th be the unluckiest day of the year?

Think about it and get back to me.

With two games on tonight’s schedule, there’s four teams hoping I’m wrong in my assessment. The first of those – Dallas at Carolina (TVAS) – is scheduled for 7 p.m., followed by St. Louis at Calgary two hours later. All times Eastern.

We could feature a game between two teams that are already in decent position in the league table, but I’m actually more interested in the Stars-Hurricanes game if for no other reason than to say we’ve finally featured Carolina in the DtFR Game of the Day series.

 

It’s time for me to back up the heaps of praise I poured on the Hurricanes this offseason.

As ridiculous as it sounds, the real reason for my confidence in Raleigh’s 2017-’18 team goes way back to the 2015-’16 season. In March of that year, the Canes went on a quietly solid 6-2-6 run that actually ranked 10th-best in the league. Whether by F Jordan Staal‘s gritty physical play (he averaged 2.4 hits-per-game that month) or D Jaccob Slavin‘s 1.8 blocks-per-game in March, that squad played solid team defense to keep shots off G Cam Ward and earn points in six-straight games.

The Canes pulled within four points of the then-second wild card Bruins (Philadelphia eventually qualified as the eighth seed), but that momentum died and they could not improve from 10th-place in the Eastern Conference. While surely disappointing at the time, the young Hurricanes showed promise for the future.

If that comeback story sounds familiar, it’s because the Hurricanes did almost the exact same thing last year. During March of the 2016-’17 campaign, Carolina was even better than it was the previous campaign, going an incredible 10-2-5 to lay claim to the best record of the month.

What makes this surge different than the one the year before is that it was absolutely driven by the offense. The Canes scored 54 goals in the month of March, six more than both Chicago and Pittsburgh (for those wondering, doing anything offensively better than the Blackhawks or Penguins – much less both – is a very good sign). F Jeff Skinner was the primary impetus behind that attack, as he registered 12-5-17 totals – and not a one of them occurred on the power play.

Once again, the playoffs were not in the cards for Carolina. Even though they climbed into 10th-place in the Eastern Conference and trailed – who would have guessed it – the Bruins by only four points for the second wild card, the Hurricanes could not find any success in April and ended the 2016-’17 season the same way they have since 2009-’10: watching the first round on TV.

The optimism remained as strong as ever though. This still young team has now performed brilliantly in crunch time of the NHL season two years in a row, showcasing both ends of the ice. Add in the fact that Skinner, Slavin, Staal and even Ward  are all still members of this year’s club (Ward and RW Justin Williams are the only two Canes still remaining on the team from their 2006 Stanley Cup season), and Carolina seemed poised to take the next step as a franchise and return to the postseason.

That’s what inspired General Manager Ron Francis to acquire talents like G Scott Darling, D Trevor van Riemsdyk and Williams this offseason. Surely adding these solid players – who between them have five Stanley Cup rings and a Conn Smythe Trophy – would lead Carolina to the Promised Land!

As it turns out, the 6-5-4 Hurricanes have done just what they’ve done in previous seasons: get off to a slow start that necessitates those late-season pushes. For a season of excitement, 13th-place in the Eastern Conference was not exactly in the Canes’ plan.

It certainly has not been a lack of effort on the defensive end that has held Carolina back. Staal (2.3 hits-per-game) and Slavin (2.3 blocks-per-game) are still as busy as ever, and have led the Hurricanes to allowing only 29.2 shots against-per-game, the best effort in the conference and third-best in the NHL.

Instead, it’s Head Coach Bill Peters’ offense that is holding the Hurricanes back from glory. Even with Williams (2-11-13 totals) and Skinner (8-2-10) leading the way, Carolina has managed only 2.67 goals-per-game, the ninth-fewest in the league.

That all being said, perhaps the Canes are starting to turn a corner. After a rough October, Carolina is 2-1-2 in the month of November and has earned points in its last four games, including a 3-1 victory in Columbus Friday and a 4-3 overtime loss to the Blackhawks Saturday. LW Brock McGinn in particular has been on fire during this run, as he’s supplied four of the Canes’ 10 goals since November 4 from the third line.

Another team looking to make a return to the playoffs this season is the 9-7-0 Stars, and they’re off to a much better start in achieving their goal considering they occupy seventh in the Western Conference after 16 games played.

I know I say it every time we talk about Dallas, but it still feels so weird to think about: the Stars are winning on the efforts of their defense.

*shivers*

Told you it’s weird.

The Stars have allowed only 28.8 shots to reach 7-4-0 G Ben Bishop, which is tied for the fewest in the entire league. Though his play has not indicated it’s necessary, keeping a solid netminder with a .914 season save percentage under-worked sounds like an excellent way to earn two points most nights you strap on the skates.

Whether it’s been the work of fourth-liner RW Brett Ritchie and his 2.6 hits-per-game or D John Klingberg‘s 1.8 blocks-per-game, that work in the defensive zone may prove important tonight. After the completion of tonight’s game, the Stars board a plane for Sunrise, Fla. (ok, they’re probably going to fly into Miami) for a Tuesday night tilt with the Panthers.

What that means for tonight’s game is Head Coach Ken Hitchcock has to choose which game to start backup G Kari Lehtonen, who has a 2-3-0 record on a .914 save percentage and 2.4 GAA. Considering the Panthers’ offense scores a solid 3.31 goals-per-game, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lehtonen take on the Canes tonight, especially since he beat Carolina in both meetings last season.

With two teams playing some of the best defense around, this game is going to boil down to who has the better offense. Since that is the case, I’m going to bet on forwards Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin every time. Dallas should win tonight.


With two goals in the third period, the San Jose Sharks pulled off the 2-1 comeback victory against the Los Angeles Kings in the Staples Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

If not for D Tim Heed‘s hooking penalty against F Tyler Toffoli at the 7:49 mark of the first period, perhaps the Kings never would have found their lone goal. Instead, W Dustin Brown (C Anze Kopitar and D Drew Doughty) took advantage of the man-advantage only 41 seconds later to give Los Angeles a lead it would hold for nearly 40 minutes.

Though the Sharks fired 19 shots at Second Star G Jonathan Quick through the first two periods, they didn’t find their first goal of the game until the 5:42 mark of the third period. F Melker Karlsson (F Tomas Hertl and F Logan Couture) took credit for breaking through Quick’s defenses with a wrist shot to level the game at one-all.

With 7:10 remaining in regulation, fourth-liner RW Joel Ward (F Barclay Goodrow and D Joakim Ryan) scored the third-and-final goal of the night with his left skate. Caught in the corner by Doughty and F Brooks Laich, Ward shoved a pass up the far boards to Ryan at the point that he returned back down the boards to Goodrow, who was near the left face-off circle. The forward than tried to snap a pass to W Timo Meier on the opposite side of Quick’s crease, but it was intercepted by Ward’s skate and redirected right into the net.

First Star G Martin Jones earned the victory after saving 26-of-27 shots faced (.963 save percentage), leaving the loss to Quick, who saved 31-of-33 (.939).

The Sharks’ road win is a big one in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as it pulls the 21-17-3 road teams even with the 20-16-5 hosts.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #76- A Coach’s Stance (feat. Craig Custance)

NHL Insider for The Athletic and Editor-In-Chief for The Athletic Detroit, Craig Custance joined the show this week to discuss his new book Behind the Bench: Inside the Minds of Hockey’s Greatest Coaches available on Amazon or wherever books are still sold. Custance and the Original Trio discussed his book, the Detroit Red Wings and who they’d pick as head coach of Team USA.

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Down the Frozen River Podcast #74- Participation Trophies After One Game (Part II)

Jaromir Jagr signed with the Calgary Flames this week, the regular season started (though the Pittsburgh Penguins might not have been told yet that the games matter now) and former players tend to be GMs in the NHL, the Original Trio confirms. Also, we gave participation trophies without even watching the rest of the season for the second year in a row.

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February 2 – Day 106 – Can Yeo save the Blues?

It’s a busy day in the NHL, so let’s jump right into tonight’s schedule. Montréal at Philadelphia (RDS) gets the action started at 7 p.m., followed half an hour later by two more contests (the New York Rangers at Buffalo [NBCSN/TVAS] and Ottawa at Tampa Bay [RDS2]). 8 p.m. marks the start of Edmonton at Nashville, with Winnipeg at Dallas waiting 30 minutes before dropping the puck. Two games (Chicago at Arizona and Toronto at St. Louis) drop the puck at 9 p.m., followed an hour later by tonight’s nightcap: San Jose at Vancouver.

Tonight’s game in St. Louis is the first for Mike Yeo in charge of the Blues. Let’s see if he can get the severely under-performing club back in shape.

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After taking the 2010-’11 season off, Ken Hitchcock took command of the Notes on November 6, 2011. Since then, St. Louis has done nothing but succeed, finishing no worse than second place in the division over the past five years and qualifying for the Western Semifinals twice.

Unfortunately for Hitch, the Blues aren’t on the right track towards making that a six-season streak. Even with one of the best scorers in the game, they haven’t found anywhere near the success they did a season ago. Nothing makes that point clearer than looking back at February 2 a year ago when they were featured in the DtFR Game of the Day series.

And that’s not even bringing up the goaltending situation. In fact, that’s almost certainly what cost Hitchcock his job yesterday, as Jim Corsi was also relieved of his duties.

While it’s not the way Doug Armstrong envisioned it happening, Hitchcock was never going to coach the Blues beyond this season. That’s what is making this transition so easy. Yeo was hired last summer as a coach-in-waiting, effectively securing him from the other 29 30 other teams (don’t forget, somebody has to lead Vegas!) that might have been interested in his talents.

Even the goaltending coaching change was easy. Corsi is being replaced by Martin Brodeur and Ty Conklin, two former NHL netminders that were already employed by the club, with 787 wins, 1481 games and three Stanley Cups between them. Conklin was already working with the netminders as a goalie development coach, and is now joined by Assistant GM Brodeur, one of the greatest netminders of all-time.

It’s Yeo’s second stint as a head coach. He was last seen leading the Wild, and he certainly found his share of success. After his first season when Minnesota finished fourth in the five-team Northwest Division, he qualified the Wild for the Stanley Cup playoffs three-straight times. Unfortunately for him, his club managed to run into Chicago each of those postseasons.

In case you haven’t heard, Chicago is pretty darn good. The Blackhawks refused to allow the Wild to advance any further in those three campaigns – winning the Stanley Cup twice in that span – which makes assessing Yeo’s playoff coaching abilities harder than it seems on the surface.

Yeo takes command of a 24-21-5 Blues team that currently sits in fourth place in the Central Division and ninth in the Western Conference. As stated earlier, the blame rests almost entirely on the Blues‘ goaltending, which has allowed 156 goals  and ties for fourth-most in the NHL.

17-13-3 Jake Allen has been the man between the pipes more often than not for St. Louis. His record doesn’t show that he’s been struggling, but his .895 save percentage and 2.87 GAA, which rank 43rd and 35th-worst, respectively, against the other 45 netminders with at least 18 appearances, tells the entire story.

Those who like stats a lot know that a horrendous save percentage with a slightly better GAA can usually be attributed to the defense. That remains the case in St. Louis, where the blueline allows only 27.6 shots-per-game to reach Allen’s net – tying for the fifth-best effort in the league. Alex Pietrangelo deserves a lot of the credit, as his 96 shot blocks are not only tops on the team, but also 19th-best in the entire league.

Interestingly, it’s been Allen that elevates his game on the penalty kill, as his .887 save percentage is 15th-best in the league. That’s led the Blues to a 82.8% kill rate, which ties for 10th-best in the NHL. Defensively, Pietrangelo remains the leader with his 23 shorthanded shot blocks.

Another aspect of the game where the Blues are right on schedule is their power play. Successful on 22.1% of attempts, it ranks eighth-best in the NHL, thanks in large part to both Kevin Shattenkirk and Vladimir Tarasenko, who both have a team-leading 18 power play points. Surprisingly, it’s actually been Shattenkirk that has buried the most goals with the man-advantage, as his seven are one more than Tarasenko’s.

With eighth-place Calgary dormant for the night, St. Louis can get their comeback started and potentially finished all in one game. A victory tonight would pull them into a tie with the Flames at 55 points-apiece, but the Blues will have only 51 games played, two fewer than Calgary.

The Maple Leafs make their lone visit to St. Louis of the year with a 23-16-9 record, good enough for fourth place in the Atlantic Division and ninth in the Eastern Conference. Although they’re a solid team, the reason the Leafs haven’t cemented themselves into a playoff position is their defense, the weaker of the two facets of their game. Toronto has allowed 133 goals, which ties for 20th-most in the league.

21-10-8 Frederik Andersen has started all but eight games for the Leafs, and for good reason. His .919 save percentage and 2.61 GAA are (t)13th and 22nd-best in the NHL, respectively, among the 42 goalies with 20 or more appearances to their credit.

If he had a better defense playing in front of him, Andersen would probably be a lot better. Toronto‘s bluelines allow 32.1 shots against-per-game, the sixth-highest (read: worst) rate in the league. Nikita Zaitsev has tried his hardest to build a solid defensive corps with his team-leading 81 shot blocks to his credit, but only him, Roman Polak and the injured Morgan Rielly have more than 60 blocks on their season-resumes. If I’m Lou Lamoriello, I’m looking around for a solid top-four defenseman this month before the trade deadline for the playoff push.

Interestingly, Toronto‘s defensive deficiencies are nonexistent when they’re facing a power play. Led by Polak’s 24 shorthanded blocks, the Leafs have successfully nullified 84.9% of opposing man-advantages, the third-best rate in the NHL.

The Maple Leafs‘ own power play has also been daunting. It’s a two-headed beast, consisting of William Nylander and James van Riemsdyk who both lead the team with 15 power play points. Toronto is home to the second-best man-advantage in the league, successful on 23.6% of attempts. Although Nylander and van Riemsdyk have been impressive, the man scoring most of those extra-man goals has been Nazem Kadri, who has 10 power play goals to his credit.

Although they sit outside the playoff bubble right now, a single point in the standings paired with a Philadelphia regulation loss would earn the Leafs the second wildcard, if only for a night. Two points for Toronto and a Philly overtime or shootout loss would also do the trick.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include St. Louis‘ Tarasenko (49 points [tied for eighth-most in the NHL]) & Toronto‘s Andersen (three shutouts [tied for seventh-most in the league] among 21 wins [tied for ninth-most in the NHL]) and Auston Matthews (23 goals [tied for sixth-most in the league]).

The main issue with the Blues is their last line of defense; their goaltending. I don’t know a lot about being a goalie, but I get the vibe it’s a highly technical position that isn’t going to be resolved in 48 hours. Vegas has marked St. Louis a -120 favorite, but I don’t like those odds. If you’re a gambler, I recommend betting on the Leafs tonight.

Hockey Birthday

  • Kjell Dahlin (1963-) – Drafted in the fourth round of the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing played only three seasons with Montréal, the club that picked him. It was an incredible rookie season, as he notched 71 points en route to the 1986 Stanley Cup. Due to injuries, he was never able to replicate that success and was out of the league after the 1987-’88 season.
  • Arturs Irbe (1967-) – This goalie might have only been drafted in the 10th round of the 1989 NHL Entry Draft by the North Stars, but he was able to turn that selection into a 13-year career. The two-time All Star spent most of his career in Carolina.
  • Todd Bertuzzi (1975-) – The Islanders picked this right wing 23rd-overall in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his career in Vancouver. By the time he retired, the two-time All Star notched 770 points to go with his 1478 penalty minutes.
  • Jordin Tootoo (1983-) – A fourth-round pick by Nashville in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, this right wing has appeared in almost every season since 2003. He’s currently a member of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Just like I predicted, Calgary was able to best the Wild 5-1 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The two tallies in the first period both belonged to the Flames, meaning they were in possession of their winner for quite a while. Alex Chiasson (Sam Bennett and Kris Versteeg) takes credit for Calgary‘s first goal, a deflection 4:26 after the initial puck drop. 3:43 later, First Star of the Game Sean Monahan (Johnny Gaudreau and Troy Brouwer) provided the winner with a power play wrister.

Minnesota‘s lone goal of the game was struck in the second period, courtesy of Jason Zucker (Mikael Granlund) with 7:20 remaining in the frame.

Monahan (Dennis Wideman and T.J. Brodie), Third Star Deryk Engelland (Matt Stajan) and Michael Ferland (Engelland) take credit for the three insurance goals in the final period.

Second Star Brian Elliott earns the victory after saving 28-of-29 shots faced (96.6%), leaving the loss to Devan Dubnyk, who saved only 31-of-36 (86.1%).

Calgary‘s win is the third-straight for the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. It improves the hosts’ records to 57-35-16, nine points better than the roadies.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #49- Unedited

In a haste, Nick offers his view on the 2017 Honda NHL All Star Weekend, the current standings of the Atlantic Division and more on Wednesday’s first regular episode.

December 17 – Day 66 – Vesey vs. Nashville

A total of 10 games are on tap today, more than enough for us hockey addicts. The action starts at 2 p.m. with two matinees (Philadelphia at Dallas and Arizona at Minnesota), but the excitement really starts at 7 p.m. when five contests drop the puck (Pittsburgh at Toronto [CBC], New Jersey at Ottawa [SN360], Anaheim at Detroit, Montréal at Washington [CITY/NHLN/TVAS] and Buffalo at Carolina). Another pair get underway at 8 p.m. (Chicago at St. Louis and the New York Rangers at Nashville), with tonight’s nightcap – Tampa Bay at Edmonton (CBC/SN360) – getting green lit two hours later.

Short list:

  • Anaheim at Detroit: These days, Detroit fans probably need the reminder of the glory days, and this old rivalry might do the trick.
  • Chicago at St. Louis: In case it was ever in question, these towns don’t like each other.
  • New York at Nashville: Ah, the drama.

I know there’s some good rivalries on , but since this is the only trip the Blueshirts will take to the Music City, we’ll follow the Jimmy Vesey saga to its conclusion.

New York Rangers LogoUnknown

 

Vesey is just like you and me. He graduated from college (Harvard, so I guess he’s not exactly like you and me…) and was eager to look for a job. But, he had already been drafted by the Predators in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. Sounds like a great situation, right? Immediate employment out of school! It’s everyone’s dream!

It was actually better than that. David Poile, the Predators‘ general manager, did not want to send Vesey to Milwaukee to play in the AHL. His plan was to have Vesey participating with the Predators as soon as possible for their playoff run.

Turns out, Vesey wasn’t too interested in being told where to go. The Crimson graduate showed his smarts – like you do with an Ivy League education – and played the NHL’s CBA like a fiddle. Drafted in 2012 and not singing a contract by 2016, Vesey had the right to decline the contract and become a free agent.

As you might expect, that rubbed the Predators organization the wrong way, but they realized they had to get something out of the situation. Poile shipped Vesey off to Buffalo, where he again declined the Sabres‘ offers. As made evident by his eighth-most points by a forward in Madison Square Garden, the rookie has laid down roots with the Rangers.

Those Blueshirts have an impressive 21-10-1 record that is good enough for second in both the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference. Besides signing Vesey, New York added tons of offensive talent this offseason, and that has yielded 108 goals, the second-highest scoring average in the NHL.

It seems the points leader in Manhattan changes game by game. Going into tonight’s contest in Nashville, Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller co-lead the offense, each with 22 points to their credit. Of course, the most dangerous Ranger as far as a netminder is concerned is Michael Grabner, who has lit the lamp a team-leading 13 times.

As one might expect, that success has carried into the power play, where the Rangers‘ 21.9% success rate is tied for seventh-best in the league. An incredible six players top the Blueshirts with six power play points apiece, but once again a goalies’ biggest concern is the final goalscorer. Rick Nash, Brandon Pirri and Vesey all have four man-advantage goals to their credit to account for 57% of New York‘s extra-man tallies.

If the Predators were planning on taking advantage of New York‘s penalty kill they have another think coming. The Blueshirts refuse to yield a goal on 86.9% of opposing power plays, the third-best rate in the NHL. Kevin Klein gets this accolade, as his 13 shorthanded blocks are tops in Manhattan.

The Vesey-less Predators have had more bad than good happen to them this season (Vesey no doubt being one of the first line items), as their 13-12-4 record is good enough for only fifth place in the Central Division. On the ice, their biggest issue has been their goaltending that has allowed 84 goals already this year – at only 29 games played, that’s the 10th-highest rate in the league.

12-8-4 Pekka Rinne has started between the pipes for Nashville in all but five games, and has notched a .916 save percentage and 2.5 GAA in that time – the (t)18th and (t)20th best efforts, respectively, in the NHL among the 42 goaltenders with a dozen or more appearances.

The Preds are a defensive-minded team, made apparent by their 29.9 shots-against average that ranks 13th-lowest in the team. Mattias Ekholm takes most of the credit for that, as his 54 shot blocks are the most on the squad. That being said, a total of four skaters (Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi and P.K. Subban) have 40 or more blocks, so it has certainly been a team effort.

That defensive presence breaks down on the penalty kill though. Nashville ranks 10th-worst in the league at nullifying their penalties, successful only 80% of the time. This has been where Josi has shined, with a team-leading 13 shorthanded blocks to his name.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Nashville‘s Matt Irwin (+9 [leads the team]), Ryan Johansen (21 points [leads the team]) and James Neal (12 goals [leads the team]) & New York‘s Hayes (+15 [tied for seventh-best in the NHL]), Grabner (+18 [tied for second-best in the league]) and, should he play, Antti Raanta (1.67 GAA on a .941 save percentage [both second-best in the league]).

Since Nashville‘s defense and goaltending will not be good enough to handle the Rangers‘ offense, this boils down to the Predators‘ breaking though New York‘s tough defense and keeping up on the scoreboard. I don’t think it will happen, and Vesey will be able to laugh himself to back to Manhattan with another two points for his club.

Hockey Birthday

  • Ken Hitchcock (1951-) – Hitch got his first head coaching job in the NHL in 1996, and he’s been involved in almost every season since. This season marks his sixth and final with the St. Louis Blues, who he got to the Western Finals a season ago. The highlight of his career came in 1999, when his Dallas Stars hoisted the Stanley Cup.
  • Frantisek Musil (1964-) – More commonly known by Frank, this defenseman was the 38th-overall pick in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft by the Minnesota North Stars. That being said, he played 335 of his 797 games in Calgary and notched a +93 over his 14-season career.
  • Craig Berube (1965-) – After going undrafted, this left wing had a physical 17-season career, spending most of his days in Washington. By the time he hung up his skates, he notched 159 points to go with his 3149 penalty minutes. Currently, he spends his days in Chicago as the head coach of the AHL’s Wolves.
  • Vincent Damphousse (1967-) – Although drafted sixth-overall in the 1986 NHL Entry Draft by Toronto, this center played most of his 18-season careeer with the rival Canadiens. He hoisted the Stanley Cup in 1993, his first campaign playing in hometown Montréal.
  • Samuel Pahlsson (1977-) – Drafted by Colorado in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, this center played eight of his 11 seasons in Anaheim, where he won the Stanley Cup in 2007.  He finished his career with 199 points.
  • Matt Murley (1979-) – Some draft picks don’t pan out. Murley is one of those. Although a second-round pick by Pittsburgh in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, he only played 62 total games in the league.
  • Erik Christensen (1983-) – Another center, Christensen played seven NHL seasons after being drafted by Pittsburgh in the 2002 Entry Draft. By the time his NHL career was through, he’d notched 163 points after playing with five different clubs.

The 4-2 score is misleading, as the Sharks had control of yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day from the get-go, scoring three goals in the first period in Montréal.

Aided by a Paul Byron hooking penalty, the Sharks got on the board only 6:50 into the contest when Second Star of the Game David Schlemko (Mikkel Boedker and Joonas Donskoi) buried a power play wrist shot to give the Sharks an early lead with his first goal of the season. That lead doubled 3:10 later when Patrick Marleau (First Star Joe Thornton and Third Star Brent Burns) score another power play wrister. Finally San Jose scored in a five-on-five situation, as Timo Meier (Schlemko and Donskoi) scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game with 6:42 remaining in the first period, made only better by the fact that it was the eventual game-winner. The Sharks‘ 3-0 lead lasted them into intermission.

The only tally of the second period was the fourth-straight by San Jose. Melker Karlsson (Micheal Haley) takes credit with a backhanded shot at the 6:44 mark.

Montréal tried their hardest in the third period to stage a comeback. In the span of 3:20, Brian Flynn (Tomas Plekanec and Zach Redmond) and Jeff Petry (Michael McCarron and Daniel Carr) both lit the lamp once each to pull the Habs within two scores, but they were unable to do anymore damage.

Martin Jones earns another victory after saving 26-of-28 shots faced (92.9%), while Carey Price takes the loss, saving 14-of-18 (77.8%). He was replaced following Karlsson’s goal by Al Montoya, who saved all five shots he faced.

Just like the home sides did last week, the road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are on quite a little streak. They’ve won their last five contests to pull themselves within seven points of the hosts, who still have a 36-22-10 record.