Tag Archives: Michel Therrien

DTFR Podcast #169- 2019-20 Season Preview: Metropolitan Division

Mitch Marner finally re-signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Boston Bruins announced a couple key extensions, more RFA deals were signed and the NHLPA decided not to re-open the current collective bargaining agreement as DTFR’s season previews continued with the Metropolitan Division.

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Philadelphia Flyers 2019-20 Season Preview

Philadelphia Flyers

37-37-8, 82 points, 6th in the Metropolitan Division

Only misses the postseason in odd years (2013, 2015, 2017, 2019)

Additions: F Andy Andreoff, F Kyle Criscuolo, F Kurtis Gabriel, F Kevin Hayes (acquired from WPG), F Tyler Pitlick (acquired from DAL), D Chris Bigras, D Justin Braun (acquired from SJS), D Matt Niskanen (acquired from WSH), D Nate Prosser, D Andy Welinski, D Tyler Wotherspoon, G Jean-Francois Berube

Subtractions: F Justin Bailey (signed with VAN), F Cole Bardreau (signed with NYI), F Greg Carey (signed with Lehigh Valley, AHL), F Byron Froese (signed with CGY), F Tyrell Goulbourne (signed with VGK), F Ryan Hartman (traded to DAL, signed with MIN), F Corban Knight (KHL), F Jori Lehtera (KHL), F Roman Lyubimov (KHL), F Phil Varone (signed with MTL), F Mike Vecchione (signed with STL), D Radko Gudas (traded to WSH), G Mike McKenna (retired), G Michal Neuvirth (signed a PTO with TOR), G Cam Talbot (signed with CGY)

Still Unsigned: F Travis Konecny, D Jacob Graves, D Ivan Provorov

Re-signed: F Nicolas Aube-Kubel, F Scott Laughton

Offseason Analysis: It’s the dawn of a new age for the Philadelphia Flyers. Gone are the days (hopefully) of the revolving door of goaltenders in a Flyers sweater as Carter Hart’s first full season is about to get underway– and with a stable defense in front of him too.

Last season, Philadelphia set an NHL record for the most goaltenders used in a season with seven different netminders.

This season, Philadelphia’s looking to set a record for the most current/former head coaches to be behind the bench at any given time as Alain Vigneault is the new head coach, while Mike Yeo and Michel Therrien are playing supporting roles as assistants.

General Manager, Chuck Fletcher, nabbed Kevin Hayes in June in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets– sending a 2019 5th round pick to the Jets in return.

Shortly after acquiring Hayes, the Flyers “re-signed” him to a seven-year, $50 million contract worth $7.143 million per season. He’s never scored more than 25 goals in a season and just had a career-high 55 points in 71 games with the New York Rangers and Winnipeg last season.

While Hayes certainly isn’t a standout superstar, he does solidify the top-six forward group and provides a long-term foundation for Philadelphia’s core with his seven-year deal.

Claude Giroux is only 31-years-old and signed through 2021-22 at $8.275 million per season and Jakub Voracek, 30, is signed through 2023-24 at $8.250 million per season.

Any contract with a cap hit under $9 million for your best players is considered a steal in today’s NHL, but not all “steals” are good contracts.

Regardless, Philadelphia has a versatile group of forwards and upgraded their defense over the offseason– something that was badly needed to help lessen the load on a high turnover of goaltenders over recent years.

Radko Gudas was traded to the Washington Capitals in a one-for-one deal that sent Matt Niskanen to the Flyers. Though Philadelphia retained 30% of Gudas’ salary ($1.005 million) in the deal, they did not keep any of his future suspensions in the transaction.

While Niskanen alone isn’t the most impressive thing in the world, adding Justin Braun to the mix that includes Niskanen, Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Robert Hagg and Samuel Morin certainly is.

Provorov is still an unsigned restricted free agent with training camp opening later this week.

Braun was acquired by Philadelphia in a trade with the San Jose Sharks in which Fletcher gave up a 2019 2nd round pick and a 2020 3rd round pick to get the top-four defender while the Sharks were looking to unload salary now that they’ve locked up Erik Karlsson to an eight-year, $92 million extension.

The Flyers have made themselves into serious playoff contenders on paper, but the hard part still remains in front of them– actually making it.

Luckily for them, Vigneault has been to the Stanley Cup Final more recently than Philadelphia has as an organization.

Vigneault made it to the Final behind the bench of the Vancouver Canucks in 2011 and New York Rangers in 2014. His team lost in seven games in 2011 and in five games in 2014.

The Flyers lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final.

To win the Cup– sometimes– it takes a couple of hardships first before the sweet taste of victory.

Philadelphia’s in “win now” mode. Future be damned.

They have $13.417 million in cap space with Travis Konecny and Provorov to re-sign, plus Nolan Patrick in the final year of his entry-level contract this season.

Offseason Grade: A-

Sure Hayes is overpaid and Vigneault, Yeo and Therrien are behind the bench, but Fletcher built a legitimate defense, a mix of youth and quality players in their prime, plus he has a dark horse in net.

How far can Philadelphia go? That remains to be seen, especially as some of the younger players don’t have a lot of playoff experience– if any at all. However, the Flyers are playoff contenders nonetheless and as long as you make the postseason, you have a chance of winning the Cup.

2019-20 Metropolitan Division Outlook

As the entire hockey world awaits training camp action next month, let’s make some (un)educated guesses about the upcoming season that will totally pan out because everything always goes as expected. (It doesn’t.)

The projected standings below are only a forecast.

They are based on recent indications– as well as the last few seasons of stats– and cannot account for variations in roster construction (a.k.a. trades and free agency moves).

There’s a lot of variables that will turn the tables upside down, including transactions, injuries and otherwise. Anything can happen.

As always, it’s more important to remember 1) the spread and 2) the positioning.

Just how many points separate the projected division winner from the last wild card spot (the spread) and where a team is supposed to finish in the division standings (the position) can imply that things aren’t always what they seem.

A team that’s projected to win it all still has to play an 82-game regular season, qualify for the playoffs and go on to amass 16 wins in the postseason.

Projected Standings After ZERO Months

Metropolitan Division

  1. y-Washington Capitals, 107 points
  2. x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 102 points
  3. x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 93 points
  4. wc1-New York Islanders, 91 points
  5. wc2-Philadelphia Flyers, 91 points
  6. New York Rangers, 89 points
  7. Carolina Hurricanes, 87 points
  8. New Jersey Devils, 84 points

Washington Capitals: Pros and Cons

Year after year, Washington finds themselves at the top of the Metropolitan Division with or without any sort of logical explanation.

The last time the Capitals didn’t finish 1st in the division? It was the 2014-15 season when the New York Rangers followed up a 2014 Stanley Cup Final appearance with 113 points and the President’s Trophy.

Once again, the Caps will find a way to turn things on late into the season and manage the top spot in the Metropolitan Division, but they’ll be doing so without a long list of members from their 2018 Stanley Cup championship roster.

After matching his regular season goal scoring total in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Devante Smith-Pelly wasn’t able to get back to form and subsequently reassigned to the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears during the 2018-19 season.

Now, he’s an unrestricted free agent.

Also departing Washington this summer were the likes of Brett Connolly (signed with Florida), Andre Burakovsky (traded to Colorado for Scott Kosmachuk, a 2nd round pick in 2020 and a 3rd round pick in 2020), Nathan Walker (signed with St. Louis), Matt Niskanen (traded to Philadelphia in exchange for Radko Gudas) and Brooks Orpik (retired)

Madison Bowey was traded to Detroit in February. Jakub Jerabek left via free agency last season and is now playing in the KHL. Philipp Grubauer was traded to the Avalanche last June. Jay Beagle signed with the Vancouver Canucks last July. Alex Chiasson joined the Edmonton Oilers last October.

With such a quick turnover in the makeup of their lineup, the Capitals’ championship window may already be closing– and fast.

At least Garnet Hathaway, Richard Panik and Carl Hagelin all signed four-year contracts with cap hits under $3.000 million.

How would the Capitals fail?

Radko Gudas and Tom Wilson end up suspended for the entire season somehow and get the rest of the Capitals in trouble for something.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Pros and Cons

Phil Kessel is signed through 2021-22 at $6.800 million per season. Alex Galchenyuk is signed through 2019-20 with a cap hit of $4.900 million.

Using the money saved from trading Kessel to Arizona and hoping Galchenyuk will suddenly become a 30 or 40 goal scorer simply because he’s now on the same roster as Sidney Crosby, Penguins General Manager, Jim Rutherford, figured it’d be a smart move to lock up Brandon Tanev in free agency with a six-year contract at $3.500 million per season and a modified no-trade clause one offseason removed from signing Jack Johnson.

If there’s any positives for Pittsburgh, it’s that Crosby still exists and Mike Sullivan remains the head coach. Oh and Evgeni Malkin exists too, though some would find it hard to believe, since he wasn’t included in the top-100 players of the last century list.

As long as Matt Murray and Casey DeSmith can weather the storm of an insufficient defense, injuries and inadequacy from last season, then there’s a good chance the current longest active playoff appearance streak remains alive.

If not, well, just look for Rutherford to continue to move chairs around on the Titanic.

This team is starting to spring a leak. If they’re not careful, they’ll sink in the standings.

But since the season really doesn’t start until January anyway for the Pens, they’ll work their way into a playoff berth as they’ve done for the last dozen years or so.

How would the Penguins fail?

Rutherford trades another goal scorer for a “glue guy” and clones Tanev and/or Johnson. Realistically, Murray continues to cool down from his meteoric rise a couple of seasons ago and won’t cost too much as a pending-RFA.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Pros and Cons

All my ex’s live in… everywhere but Columbus.

The Blue Jackets lost Artemi Panarin to the New York Rangers, Sergei Bobrovsky to the Florida Panthers, Matt Duchene to the Nashville Predators and Ryan Dzingel to the Carolina Hurricanes, but they brought in Gustav Nyquist and brought back Marko Dano via free agency.

Yeah, ok, so it wasn’t a great summer for Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen and Blue Jackets fans– even if they knew at least one of their big names (Bobrovsky) was never going to re-sign.

But while a lot of armchair GMs think the Blue Jackets are destined for a rebuild, there’s a glimmer of optimism if Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins can carry the weight of the crease, while younger players like Alexandre Texier, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Josh Anderson continue to emerge.

Making it as far as they did into the Second Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs was vital to the experience gained by Columbus’ core.

Though they’re likely not going to a be a dominant force in 2019-20, they should be in contention for what would be a fifth playoff berth in seven years under Kekalainen’s reign.

And if they turn heads again like they did when they swept the President’s Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning in the First Round, then there’s sure to be some interest in lacing up the skates for the Blue Jackets in the future.

Then again, it could be tank city until Korpisalo or Merzlikins becomes a legitimate starter and somebody becomes an 80-point scorer again.

It just takes some time… Oh and someone should probably re-sign Zach Werenski while you’re at it.

How would the Blue Jackets fail?

The Union doesn’t lose. Ok, if everybody leaves, then it might.

New York Islanders: Pros and Cons

Having Lou Lamoriello as your General Manager means some players are going to love him (if they’ve already been with him for many years before) and some players are going to be chased out of the city when they are told they are going in a different direction, but then don’t quite land who they think they’re getting, only to leave you once again for… well, Semyon Varlamov isn’t really an upgrade at this point.

But Robin Lehner’s gone after winning the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy with the Rangers Islanders last season after having a remarkable career-year in the face of addiction and other struggles.

New York’s only getting older and Anders Lee took a “hometown discount” to stay on Long Island.

Speaking of Long Island, is it too early to start construction on the Belmont Park arena yet?

Something has to distract everyone from the undercutting of several prospect’s development– whether they’ve rightfully had a chance to prove themselves at the NHL level or not.

Barry Trotz is a great head coach, but how much more can he do with a middle of the road team that gives up on prospects too early?

Get them back to the Second Round only to be crushed by a team that’s mixing youth, speed, skill, grit and actually playing 21st century hockey?

It’s almost as though the Islanders learned nothing from 1995-2006.

How would the Islanders fail?

It’s [the] trap!

Philadelphia Flyers: Pros and Cons

Flyers General Manager, Chuck Fletcher, actually hasn’t had that bad of an offseason– at least when it comes to tweaking his roster.

Sure Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun are both 32-years-old, but they’re decent top-4 defenders that should be able to lead from the back end with Shayne Gostisbehere as Travis Sanheim and Ivan Provorov come into their own.

Speaking of Provorov, he’s still an unsigned-RFA and Philadelphia has more than enough money (about $13.400 million in cap space) to get some sort of a deal done right now. Why wait until the last minute? What’s that? Travis Konecny needs a contract right now too? Oh never mind. Let’s make things complicated!

Besides giving Kevin Hayes a seven-year contract worth $7.143 million per season with a no-movement clause, the Flyers should have– a lot of explaining to do when their experiment doesn’t work out.

The Hayes contract is bad, but just how bad can things get with Hayes back on a team that’s coached by… Alain Vigneault!?!

Vigneault’s the real wild card here as the jury is still out on whether or not his style still fits the game or if the Rangers were just that bad in his final year with New York.

All things considered, Philadelphia should be back into playoff contention. Just not Cup contention in 2019-20.

How much more of this can Claude Giroux take?

How would the Flyers fail?

Alain Vigneault, Mike Yeo and Michel Therrien can’t figure out who is actually the head coach on a night-to-night basis even though Vigneault technically owns the job (Yeo and Therrien are assistant coaches for the Flyers, if you haven’t heard). Oh and goaltending if Carter Hart gets injured.

New York Rangers: Pros and Cons

The Rangers landed the biggest prize in free agency, signing Artemi Panarin to a seven-year contract worth $11.643 million per season.

Though they are still in a rebuild, Panarin’s addition to the roster helps make New York more of an attractive destination and speeds things up in the overall plan.

It doesn’t hurt that GM Jeff Gorton had the 2nd overall pick in this year’s draft too. Kaapo Kakko is ready for the limelight in Manhattan as Henrik Lundqvist’s reign is in its twilight days.

Lundqvist is under contract through the 2020-21 season and at 37-years-old– it’d take a miracle for the Rangers to win him a Cup at this point.

The Rangers only have one forward over the age of 30 (Matt Beleskey’s 31) and two defenders 30 or older as well (Brendan Smith, 30, and Marc Staal, 32).

Beleskey is likely to bounce around the organization between New York and Hartford (AHL), while there’s a good chance Smith could be buried as well.

But their “veteran presence” is valuable to time on ice management among the younger skaters that might not be quite as NHL ready as Kakko and friends.

Jacob Trouba is new to the Rangers and destined to anchor their new-age defense from the top pairing, while Kevin Shattenkirk joins the long list of buyouts in recent years by New York.

The Rangers are short almost $5.400 million in dead cap space thanks to Shattenkirk, Dan Girardi and Ryan Spooner’s buyouts around the league (Shattenkirk and Girardi were Rangers buyouts, but Spooner had retained salary and was bought out by the Vancouver Canucks this offseason).

Next year, New York faces almost $7.500 million in cap penalties from the trio of buyouts before Spooner comes off the books entirely and the number dips down to about $2.544 million from 2021-22 to 2022-23.

Also another Harvard product– Adam Fox– is the new Jimmy Vesey experiment, but on the blue line. And Vesey? He was traded to Buffalo.

Panarin and Kakko are worth watching this season, while the rest of the team remains to be seen.

How would the Rangers fail?

Henrik Lundqvist stops looking so good all of a sudden. That man is stunning.

Carolina Hurricanes: Pros and Cons

Though the forecast says otherwise, Carolina should actually be closer to playoff contention than you may think coming off their 2019 Eastern Conference Final appearance.

Hurricanes General Manager, Don Waddell, has weathered the storm this offseason. Actually, his job was made pretty easy when the Montreal Canadiens signed Sebastian Aho to a five-year offer sheet worth $8.454 million per season.

Considering the value Aho brings and the potential that’s still there– that’s a steal.

Though a little more than $21 million in signing bonuses through the first two years is considered a “hefty” price for an owner to pay, let’s remember that we’re talking about professional sports.

If Montreal really wanted to make things difficult for Canes owner, Tom Dundon, then they should’ve offered something with a larger cap hit, but that would’ve meant a steeper price to pay in compensation had Carolina not matched the deal. #AdvantageCarolina

Aho will be 27 by the time his new contract runs out, which means he’ll be a pending-UFA in 2024, but there’s plenty of time to worry about the next contract when the time comes.

Right now, the Hurricanes have added some much needed top-six/top-nine forward depth in Erik Haula (acquired from Vegas) and Ryan Dzingel (signed via free agency), while adding a 1st round pick in 2020 (or 2021 if Toronto’s 2020 1st rounder is a top-10 overall selection) and swapping Calvin de Haan with the Chicago Blackhawks for Gustav Forsling (there were other pieces involved, like Anton Forsberg going to Carolina too).

The average age of Carolina’s skaters? 25.

Considering how far the core went in 2018-19, that’s beyond impressive and it’s a testament to head coach, Rod Brind’Amour.

In July, Petr Mrazek re-signed with the Hurricanes on a two-year deal and James Reimer was acquired in a trade with the Florida Panthers as Curtis McElhinney signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Though Alex Nedeljkovic might be another year out from competing for the starting job, the crease is Mrazek’s to lose once again with Reimer looking to rebound from a dismal time in Florida.

Carolina is poised for another deep run, but how soon will it be given the fact that their emergence as a contender means that every other team wants to beat them that much more from night-to-night?

How would the Hurricanes fail?

The Canes have a strong analytics department, so the only thing that could naturally disrupt their plans? Regression (and no WiFi).

New Jersey Devils: Pros and Cons

The Devils won the draft lottery and procured Jack Hughes with the 1st overall pick in June.

New Jersey was third-to-last in overall standings last season.

Though they added P.K. Subban in a trade with the Nashville Predators in June, drafted Hughes and have Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier and Will Butcher on their roster, the Devils still need a lot of pieces to improve.

Hall’s a pending-UFA at season’s end. His next deal– whether it’s with New Jersey or not– determines the fate of this team.

Cory Schneider’s still under contract through 2021-22 and Mackenzie Blackwood is only 22-years-old.

Goaltenders are rarely superstars when they’re that young, so while Blackwood may be the starter heading into the season and goalie of the future for the organization– it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some ups and downs before the dust settles.

Now for the good news.

Nikita Gusev was acquired in a trade with the Golden Knights and Ray Shero doesn’t have a lot of no-trade clauses to deal with if the Devils look to sell at the trade deadline.

How would the Devils fail?

If they somehow lose the Taylor Hall trade a few years after winning it.

DTFR Podcast #164- The Free Agency Mega-Hour

Nick, Cap’n and Pete recap the last two weeks of trades and first few days of free agency 2K19.

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DTFR Podcast #163- Cap’n Crunch

The salary cap isn’t going up as much as everyone hoped. Also, there were plenty of trades, buyouts and extensions handed out in the last week. Nick, Colby, Cap’n and Pete examine each move and pick 2019 NHL Awards winners.

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DTFR Podcast #157- Play Gloria, You Jerks

Nick, Cap’n and Pete mourn the Columbus Blue Jackets, review the Vegas Golden Knights front office moves, Ken Holland to the Edmonton Oilers and the Philadelphia Flyers new assistant coaches. Finally, the guys preview the 2019 Eastern Conference Final matchup between the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes, as well as the 2019 Western Conference Final matchup between the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues.

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Rangers, Vigneault will bounce back

Shortly after their last game of the season on Saturday, the New York Rangers relieved Alain Vigneault of his head coaching duties. In his fifth year with the organization, the Rangers went 34-39-9 (77 points) and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

It was Vigneault’s worst year in the Big Apple. It was a transition year for a team retooling on the fly– trading away Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller and others for centerpieces in Ryan Spooner and Vladislav Namestnikov (among other assets).

Now it’s time for someone else to take the reins behind the bench of King Henrik’s team.

The clock is ticking in goaltender Henrik Lundqvist‘s quest for his first Stanley Cup. Vigneault was almost the man to do it having brought the Rangers all the way to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final in his first season with New York.

That was the closest Lundqvist has ever been– just three wins away– but the Los Angeles Kings had other plans, given it only took them five games to beat New York for the Los Angeles’s second Stanley Cup championship in three years.

It was the closest the Rangers had come to winning its first Cup since defeating the Vancouver Canucks in 1994.

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The 2014-15 season witnessed a franchise record 113 points in the regular season– good enough to notch the President’s Trophy as the NHL’s best record that year. Vigneault’s team knocked out Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games in the First Round in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Then New York got behind in the Second Round series with the Washington Capitals, 3-1. Chris Kreider tied Game 5, McDonagh scored the game winner in overtime and the Rangers rallied back in the series to force the first Game 7 at Madison Square Garden since Game 7 in the 1994 Stanley Cup Final against the Canucks.

For the first time in Stanley Cup Playoff history, the Rangers were to battle the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Prince of Wales Trophy in the 2015 Eastern Conference Final.

Despite a decisive 7-3 victory in Game 6 on the road at Amalie Arena, New York was shutout, 2-0, in Game 7 on home ice.

They wouldn’t get another chance to come that close to the Stanley Cup Final with Vigneault behind the bench.

The 2015-16 Rangers finished third in the Metropolitan Division with 101 points and battled Mike Sullivan‘s Penguins in the First Round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It only took five games for the Rangers to be eliminated in Pittsburgh’s tear through the playoffs to their first Cup since 2009.

In 2016-17, New York regrouped with a 102-point season, but was cursed by the NHL’s current playoff format.

The Rangers were relegated to the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference since three teams finished ahead of them in the Metropolitan Division with at least 108 points or more.

New York had four more points in the regular season than the Ottawa Senators (98 points)– who finished second in the Atlantic Division– and seven more points than the Boston Bruins (95 points, 3rd in the Atlantic) and Toronto Maple Leafs (95 points, second wild card in the Eastern Conference by virtue of having three fewer regulation-plus-overtime wins than Boston).

Vigneault’s team got by Michel Therrien’s Montreal Canadiens in six games of the First Round in what was touted as a rematch of the 2014 Eastern Conference Final.

Then they ran into the streaking Senators who had beaten the Bruins in their own six game series.

Ottawa jumped out to a 2-0 series lead with home ice advantage– despite having the worse of the two teams’s regular season records, but the Rangers seemed unfazed having won Games 3 and 4 at Madison Square Garden 4-1 and 4-1, respectively.

Kyle Turris ended Game 5 almost six-and-a-half minutes into overtime at Canadian Tire Centre and the Rangers found themselves in a 3-2 series hole heading home for Game 6.

Senators captain, Erik Karlsson, had a goal and an assist in Ottawa’s decisive 4-2 victory on road ice and New York hit the golf course after just two rounds of the 2017 postseason.

Time kept ticking. Lundqvist got older.

Management grew more frustrated with the lack of a direction.

Dead last in the Metropolitan Division after all 82 games this season and under .500 for the first time since the 2003-04 season, Vigneault’s dismissal comes as no surprise.

It’s what is expected of any organization that expects to finish first, but fails in a rather large fashion.

Even more so with the league getting younger, skaters getting faster and teams placing more of an emphasis on a constant attack, a constant barrage of offense.

Lias Andersson, Pavel Buchnevich, Spooner, Namestnikov and crew have already showcased a new face of the game in “The World’s Most Famous Arena”, while Vigneault’s systems might have been the only thing slowing them down in the waning days of the season.

It was time to shake things up and head in that new face of the game’s direction.

For the first time since the 1967-68 season only one coach was fired in-season (thanks to Mother Nature having played a part in extending the season by a day due to Boston’s rescheduled matchup from January with the Florida Panthers).

Unfortunately for Vigneault, he was that coach.

New York will be just fine.

They’re stockpiled with prospects and have already integrated youth, skill and speed into their lineup.

Now general manager Jeff Gorton will look to patch the blue line and give Lundqvist a high-caliber backup goaltender to ease the workload of the grueling regular season schedule.

It might not be the quickest turnaround, but it shouldn’t turn out to become an annual groan-fest watching the Blueshirts next season.

For Vigneault, there will be other opportunities.

He led Vancouver to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in the midst of President’s Trophy seasons. He led New York back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in a generation. He’ll be studying hard, but he’s still in demand.

Somewhere there’s a team looking for his veteran coaching presence– like Buffalo– or a team that just missed the cut this season, but is on the brinks of a breakout year that very well might end up with their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1970– like St. Louis.

But alas, this is all merely speculation.

More coaches will be fired for their team’s shortcomings (of their own fault or otherwise) this offseason upon diligent review in front office’s league-wide.

Rangers fans may be glad and it should be a mutual feeling of respect and good luck. They had a good run that lasted a while, but ultimately came up empty handed. Times have changed, players moved on and the game evolved.

Somewhere, Vigneault is that missing piece a franchise is looking for and it won’t just be a team finally getting over that mountain, but a head coach too.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 2

Player of the Week: Jaden Schwartz

Calm down, Lightning fans, you’ll get your turn.

I could have easily chosen either of the dynamic duo of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov in Tampa, who have been going Harlem Globetrotters on every team they’ve come into contact with, but I think Schwartz deserves some props. The diminutive Blues winger has always been a very good under-the-radar guy, usually playing 2nd fiddle to his linemate Vladimir Tarasenko. But Schwartz made the headlines this week, with a hat trick against the Blackhawks on Wednesday, followed up the next night with another goal against Colorado, and finished off with an assist against Vegas Saturday night (more on that game later). All in all, a 4-goal, 5-point week in 3 games is more than enough to earn Schwartz this completely meaningless nomination.

Team of the Week: Tampa Bay Lightning

Alright, we good, Bolts fans? We square? Cool.

The Lightning have looked borderline immortal so far this season, with a 7-1-1 record bolstered by this week’s 3-0-1 stretch. But it’s not just that near-flawless week putting them here, it’s how they did it. Tampa’s 3 victories came by a combined score of 12-3 (granted, a big part of that percentage was the 7-1 sha-lacking they put on Pittsburgh), and if not for a sweet little backhand move by Kyle Palmieri in the 3rd round of the shootout in New Jersey (oh, more on that game later, too), the Bolts could have walked away with a perfect week.

Game(s) of the Week: Tampa Bay Lightning 4 @ New Jersey Devils 5 (SO), Tuesday October 17th & St. Louis Blues 2 @ Vegas Golden Knights 3 (OT), Saturday October 21st

It simply wasn’t possible to leave either of these games out.

First up, we had the current Team of the Week squaring off with the former Team of the Week, in a battle of two of the league’s hottest clubs. What we got was 72 total shots on goal, 35 hits, 9 power plays (resulting in 3 goals), and a whole mess of fun. The game started with Cory Schneider making a terrific paddle-down save on Brayden Point just moments into the action, and just a few minutes later Drew Stafford let a seemingly harmless wrister go from the right wing boards that eluded a rusty Peter Budaj (his first game action since the preseason) and gave the Devils the 1-0 lead. Budaj would settle down a bit in the next few minutes making a few quality stops, eventually leading to his team tying the game, and taking the lead just minutes later, on the strength of goals from Vladislav Namestnikov and Ondrej Palat. It would be short-lived, though, as just 4 minutes later a top shelf power play rocket from Palmieri would even the score, and Brian Gibbons would follow suit in the final minute of the period to send New Jersey to the room with the lead.

Things settled down on the scoreboard for most of the 2nd period, although both goaltenders were still busy. Finally with just under 6 minutes to play Kucherov would fire a rocket directly from Russia with love and even the score, before linemate Stamkos would give the Lightning the 4-3 lead in the closing minutes of the 2nd. Tampa did their best to lock the game down the rest of the way, but finally with just over 4 minutes remaining Stafford would bury his own rebound to cap off a gorgeous passing play, score his 2nd of the night, and send it to overtime. A relatively tame 3-on-3 period would send it to the shootout, where Palmieri’s nifty mitts would deposit the only biscuit of the frame and send the Jersey faithful home happy.

Now onto a Saturday night in Vegas, where the upstart Golden Knights would look to make history by being the first franchise to ever start its inaugural season with 6 wins in 7 games.

Things weren’t looking great for the Golden Knights early on, as the Blues peppered young Malcolm Subban mercilessly in the opening frame, St. Louis eventually holding an 18-4 shot advantage when the period came to a close. But Subban managed to limit the damage to only a lone Magnus Paajarvi tally and get his team into the dressing room only down 1-0. Vegas would feed off of the strong play of their goaltender, and reward him in the 2nd period with power play tallies from both Reilly Smith and Colin Miller, and they’d take a 2-1 lead into the 3rd period.

Unfortunately for Vegas, just past the midway point of the 3rd period Subban would appear to strain his groin kicking out his right pad for a save, and would have to be helped from the ice, leaving the task of surviving the continued St. Louis onslaught to another youngster, former Blue Jackets prospect Oscar Dansk. Unfortunately for the young Swede, the first shot he faced would be an Alex Pietrangelo one-time bomb from the high slot with just over 5 minutes to play, drawing the game even once again on a shot that no goaltender could be expected to do anything about. The Blues would do everything in their power to get the winning goal past Dansk in the closing minutes, including a Schwartz tip that got behind the Vegas netminder but went wide of the net with just 8 seconds on the clock, but the youngster held the fort and took the game to extra time.

Overtime brought another golden opportunity for Schwartz, who found himself with all alone in the slot with a clear lane to shoot, only to be bested by the right leg of Dansk. Then Brendan Leipsic would jump on a turnover to break in all alone, but Jake Allen met his backhand with a flash of the leather to keep the game going. But just over a minute later, and with less than 30 seconds left, Smith would jump on a loose puck, glide into the St. Louis zone, and float a beautiful pass to a streaking William ‘Wild Bill’ Karlsson who ripped a one-timer over the two-pad stack of Allen to send the building into bedlam and the Golden Knights into the history books.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

Despite their apparent ability to win with anyone wearing goalie pads in net (I could see a Twitter campaign for this being a hit), Vegas’ injury situation is no laughing matter. Marc-Andre Fleury is still dealing with the effects of a concussion (which as we know really doesn’t have a set recovery time), and Subban is out for at least a month. The goaltending duties now fall on Dansk and Maxime Lagace for the foreseeable future. If there’s any consolation to be found in this for the Golden Knights, it’s that they’ve had tremendous success with injury replacements so far. Subban played very well in Fleury’s absence, and Alex Tuch (who was called up to replace the injured Jon Marchessault) has 2 goals and 3 points in his first 3 games with the club.

Roman Polak has signed a 1 year deal with the Maple Leafs, in what was almost certainly just a plot to further shorten the useful lifespan of Steve Dangle’s heart.

Potential big-money bet: Does Montreal fire Claude Julien and replace him with Michel Therrien?

Side bet: Does Therrien walk into that press conference to Eric Bischoff’s “I’m Back” entrance music?

Side-side bet: Over/under on amount of sticks Carey Price destroys before Montreal’s next victory.

If you haven’t seen/heard/read any of Ed Olczyk‘s comments from his return to broadcasting (both on Wednesday in St. Louis for the NBCSN broadcast or Thursday in Chicago to call the Hawks/Oilers game) while in between chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer, please do yourself a favor and go find them. Truly inspiring stuff from one of the best in the business, and the standing ovations he received at both games are enough to give anyone chills.

On a somewhat related topic, Brian Boyle also made his return to action, this time on ice in a full-contact practice on Sunday. Boyle has been battling a form of cancer that attacks bone marrow, but cleared the final ‘hurdle’ in his treatment regimen to be able to get back on the ice with his teammates. Once he and his coaches feel he is fully into game shape, we should see the big man out of Boston College going back to work.

February 18 – Day 122 – No, he’s your friend now!

The best day of the week – at least for hockey – is finally upon us! 11 games are taking place today, starting with St. Louis at Buffalo at 1 p.m. The final matinees of the day drop the puck an hour later (Washington at Detroit [NHLN] and Winnipeg at Montréal [CBC/SN/TVAS]), followed by three (Edmonton at Chicago [NHLN/SN], the New York Islanders at New Jersey and Ottawa at Toronto [CBC/TVAS]) at the usual 7 p.m. starting time. 8 p.m. marks the beginning of a trio of contests (San Jose at Arizona, Tampa Bay at Dallas and Nashville at Minnesota), with the co-nightcaps – Florida at Los Angeles and Calgary at Vancouver (CBC/SN) – dropping the puck at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Winnipeg at Montréal: Wait, wasn’t Claude Julien just coaching against the Canadiens on Sunday? Yes, yes he was.
  • New York at New Jersey: If he’s active tonight, this will be Stephen Gionta‘s first game in the Prudential Center wearing white after six seasons with the Devils.
  • Ottawa at Toronto: Have you checked the standings recently? This isn’t just a rivalry game, it’s a scrap for Atlantic Division positioning!
  • Calgary at Vancouver: Matt Bartkowski was a member of the rival-Canucks last season, but he could make his Flames debut tonight against them.

I’m very disappointed today is Julien’s first game back as the Habs‘ coach, as the Battle for Ontario should be spectacular. Nonetheless, we always feature a coach’s first game with his new squad after a mid-season change, so we’re off to the Bell Centre.

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Ah, the twists and turns of Julien’s career. 11 years removed from an uninspiring playing career from an NHL standpoint, Julien began his NHL coaching career with none other than the Montréal Canadiens. Hired midway through the 2002-’03 season to replace Michel Therrien (yes, seriously. Therrien) in the midst of a campaign that ended with a 30-35-8-9 record, he managed to qualify the Habs to the Eastern Conference Semifinals only a year later.

That apparently wasn’t enough to keep him his job, as he was released at the halfway point of the 2005-’06 season even though he laid the groundwork of a team that qualified for the playoffs in its second-straight campaign.

His next stop was with the Devils the following season, but it was a short one. Even though he led New Jersey to a 47-24-8 record, he was cut three games before the playoffs.

That was just fine for the Bruins, who signed Julien almost three months later. Of course,  that’s both his most noteworthy and longest-tenured assignment. He was Boston’s bench boss for over nine-and-a-half seasons, leading them to four division titles, a Presidents’ Trophy, two Stanley Cup Finals appearances and, of course, the franchise’s sixth Stanley Cup.

It seems to be in Julien’s best interest to not have a winning record, because after leading the Bruins to a 26-23-6 record, the league’s then-longest-tenured coach was released on February 7.

The irony of the whole situation is that not only was Julien hired once again by the Canadiens mid-season, but that he once again replaced Therrien. Even more bizarre, Therrien had the Habs rolling this season, notching a 31-19-8 record before being released this Valentine’s Day.

Of course, part of the reason for this change must be that Therrien was also in charge of last year’s Canadiens team that started their campaign 9-0-0 yet failed to end the season within 10 points of playoff position. That, and the Habs are currently riding a two-game losing skid and are 3-6-1 in their last 10 contests.

Regardless of the reason he’s back in The City of Saints, Julien takes over a club that plays sound defense with good great goaltending to boot, as the Habs have allowed only 148 goals against in 58 games, the eighth-best rate in the league.

Of course, the man that deserves the most credit is goaltender Carey Price, who has earned every bit of his 24-14-5 record. With a .917 season save percentage and 2.46 GAA, he is not only the best netminder in Montréal, but also the 14th and 13th-best in the NHL in those regards, respectively.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have an above-average defense playing in front of him. Led by Shea Weber and his 120 shot blocks, the Habs allow only 29.9 shots-per-game to reach Price’s crease, the 12th-best effort in the league.

Surprisingly, that overall effort does not carry over to the penalty kill, as the Canadiens are eighth-worst in the NHL at only a 79.4% success rate. With his 33 shorthanded shot blocks (tied for second-most in the league), Weber has kept up his spectacular play when a man down, but the rest of the squad needs to help limit the opposition’s scoring chances for Price, who has faced the fourth-most power play shots in the league.

Fortunately for the Canadiens, they’re able to earn back those goals allowed on the penalty kill with a powerful power play of their own. Successful on 21.4% of attempts, Montréal is eighth-best in the league with a man-advantage. The leader of that effort is special teams ace Weber, who has 18 power play points to his credit, including a team-high 10 extra-man tallies.

26-29-5 Winnipeg just seems to have the worst luck of late. Thursday night they were in victim and fell prey to Sidney Crosby, a man intent on earning his 1000th point in front of his home crowd. Two days later, they have to go up against a coach making his debut with his new club – a circumstance in which four other men have found victory. If the Jets want to win this game, they’ll have to shore up their defense, which has allowed 190 goals this season – the most on the league.

As far as goaltending is concerned, 18-15-2 Connor Hellebuyck takes most of the fall for the Jets. Although he has a winning record and is the best Winnipeg netminder, he has a .91 season save percentage and 2.8 GAA to his credit – only the (t)29th and (t)34th-best efforts, respectively, among the 47 goalies with at least 19 appearances.

Unfortunately for the Jets, it gets worse before it gets better. Even with Dustin Byfuglien‘s team-leading 99 shot blocks, Winnipeg still allows 31 shots-per-game to reach Hellebuyck’s crease, which ties for the 10th-highest rate in the league.

Pair two deficiencies on the same end of the ice together, and you yield a poor special teams unit. That’s the situation the Jets face, as they’re third-worst in the NHL on the penalty kill, successful on only 76.7% of attempts. Even though he’s injured, Toby Enstrom still tops the team with his 23 shorthanded shot blocks. Instead, Jacob Trouba will be called upon to rally the troops to keep as many pucks as possible out of Hellebuyck’s crease, as his 18 shorthanded blocks are second-most on the team.

The Canadiens have already made their yearly trip to Winnipeg, and it was a successful one for them. Led by Artturi Lehkonen‘s two-goal, three-point performance, the Habs claimed a 7-4 victory on January 11.

Some players to keep an eye on this afternoon include Montréal‘s Max Pacioretty (28 goals [third-most in the league]) and Price (24 wins [ninth-most in the NHL]) & Winnipeg‘s Patrik Laine (27 goals [tied for fourth-most in the league]) and Mark Scheifele (58 points [tied for sixth-most in the NHL]).

It’s hard to argue with Vegas on this one: Montréal is favored to beat the Jets at -165. Although both teams struggle on the penalty kill, only the Habs can be counted on to take advantage. Pair that with their overall solid defense, and it should be a Julien winner. Hopefully Montrealers have a short memory are forgiving of him coaching their rivals.

Hockey Birthday

  • Andy Moog (1960-) – Just because you’re a seventh-rounder doesn’t mean you’re not a good player. Selected by Edmonton in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft, this goaltender proved just that, as he earned the 1990 Jennings Trophy to go with his four All-Star selections and three Stanley Cups.
  • Alexander Mogilny (1969-) – Buffalo selected this right wing 89th-overall in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, so that’s the number he wore throughout his career. The Russian was named to four All-Star teams, and also won the 2003 Byng Trophy to go with his Stanley Cup in 2000.
  • Nik Antropov (1980-) – Another Russian, this center was the 10th-overall selection in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft by Toronto. He spent most of his 13 seasons with the Leafs and notched 465 points before hanging up his skates for good in 2013.
  • Cody Hodgson (1990-) – Another center selected 10th-overall pick, this Canadian was drafted by Vancouver in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. That being said, he’s spent a majority of his career in the Sabres‘ system.

With Second Star of the Game Brandon Dubinsky‘s overtime winner, Columbus retained it’s undefeated record when hosting the Penguins this season, winning yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day 2-1.

Both regulation goals were struck within five minutes of each other. Ryan Murray (William Karlsson and Josh Anderson) takes credit for the Jackets‘ tally, burying his backhand only 1:33 after resuming play after the first intermission. Ian Cole tied the contest 4:40 later, set up by Evgeni Malkin‘s face-off win.

Dubinsky (Cam Atkinson and Seth Jones) needed only 64 seconds of three-on-three overtime before registering the Jackets‘ only shot, a pure snap shot that found the back of Third Star Matthew Murray‘s net.

First Star Sergei Bobrovsky earns the victory after saving 38-of-39 shots faced (97.4%), leaving the overtime loss to Murray, who saved 37-of-39 (94.9%).

Columbus‘ victory is the second-straight by a home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series and improves the hosts’ record to 64-42-18, five points better than the visitors.

November 4 – Day 23 – Friday nights have to improve soon… right?

It’s Friday!

Everybody’s getting off work, including most of the hockey players as there’s only six games going on this evening. The limited action finds its start at the usual time of 7 p.m. with Montréal visiting Columbus (RDS), followed half an hour later by Winnipeg at Detroit (NHLN/TVAS). When those games are complete, you can flip over to Arizona at Anaheim, which drops the puck at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

If the standings are any indicator, the most competitive game of the night should be taking place in Orange County, so we’ll head there.

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While it is not  major, one aspect of this game that does make it a touch more intriguing is the presence of Jamie McGinn. The left wing started last season in Buffalo, but was traded at the deadline to the Ducks to bolster their forward situation. He scored 39 total points all last season – the best season of his career – but only two in the postseason as Anaheim fell in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

This off-season, he tested free agency to eventually sign with Arizona. Already this season McGinn has found the back of the net twice en route to a three-point campaign so far.

The addition of McGinn does not appear to be a major solution for the Coyotes, as they are the proud owners of a 4-6-0 record. In fact, goal scoring really hasn’t been the issue for the Coyotes as much as it has been their defense and goaltending.

Already this season in only 10 games played, Arizona has given up 37 goals, a total that exceeds the league average by 10 scores. That responsibility starts with the man between the pipes: Louis Domingue. Before last night’s shootout victory over Nashville, the 24-year-old goaltender had saved only 88.7% of the shots he’d faced for a 3.95 GAA – not numbers becoming an NHL starting goaltender, or at least one that will keep his job for long.

But he is far from the only one to take credit for the Coyotes‘ struggles. Before last night’s game, Arizona‘s goaltenders have been tasked with blocking 312 shots – approximately 35 per game. When the league average is a touch under 29, that’s a lot. Connor Murphy‘s 18 blocks have been good, but more skaters than him and Alex Goligoski need to contribute defensively.

Based on last year’s efforts, the team they’re facing tonight, the 4-5-2 Ducks, would be the perfect team to emulate, as Anaheim‘s 188 goals allowed last season was best in the NHL.

That was last year though. They’ve regressed to the mean so far this campaign, allowing 28 tallies after 11 games. John Gibson has a .911 save percentage to his credit, good for a 2.58 GAA. Gibson does have the luxury of Sami Vatanen playing in front of him, whose 26 blocks are tied for ninth-most in the league, but it could be argued that the top-two blockers for Arizona are doing better than Vatanen and Cam Fowler (13).

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Anaheim‘s Gibson (one shutout [tied for sixth-most in the league]) and Arizona‘s Oliver Ekman-Larsson (five goals [leads the team]).

The Ducks are a solid favorite coming into this game with an impressive -208 associated with their name. With a line like that, it is probably unwise to pick against them.

Hockey Birthday

  • Howie Meeker (1923-) – Although he is the lone surviving member of Toronto‘s 1947 Stanley Cup-winning team, playing hockey was just the beginning for the nine-year right winger. After a stint as the Leafs‘ coach, the right wing transitioned to the broadcast booth, announcing for Hockey Night in Canada for almost 30 years.
  • Michel Therrien (1963-) – This is Therrien’s 11th season coaching in the NHL, and seventh with Montréal. He spent four seasons with Pittsburgh, including leading the Penguins to the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals. His replacement the following season, Dan Bylsma, finished the work Therrien started and led the Pens to their third title.
  • Dustin Brown (1984-) – Drafted 13th overall by Los Angeles in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Brown has spent his entire career with the Kings, already winning two Stanley Cups. Interestingly, although he was signed in 2013 to an eight-year contract, Brown was relieved of all captaincy duties this season after leading the team since 2008.

The Battle of the QEW usually favors the home team, but that was not the case in yesterday’s Game of the Day when Toronto beat Buffalo 2-1.

The Maple Leafs waited only 4:08 before scoring their first goal of the night. Second Star of the Game Mitchell Marner (Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk) takes credit for the tally with a solid wrister. The lone score of the frame, Toronto took the 1-0 lead into the dressing room.

1:50 after returning to the ice, Marner struck again with an unassisted wrister to notch the eventual game-winner. It took that winning status only 4:08 later when Third Star Marcus Foligno (Johan Larsson and Sam Reinhart) buried a backhander to set the score at 2-1, the same score that held the remaining 34:02.

First Star Frederik Andersen saved 42-of-43 (97.7%) shots faced to earn the victory, while Robin Lehner falls after saving 27-of-29 (93.1%).

Toronto‘s first win in the DtFR Game of the Day series pulls the road squads within two points of the hosts, but the home team still has a winning 13-9-3 record.