Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Coaching Carousel

After Tom Renney was fired Tuesday and replaced with John Tortorella, all of the coaches who took their teams to start the season in Europe have all been fired. Renney, Michel Terrien, Barry Melrose and Craig Hartsburg were all fired and along with Dennis Savard who was ousted 5 games into the season in Chicago, five coaches have been fired before the season is even finished.

Tom Renney: He was canned mostly because of Glen Sather’s continued poor draft performance and his reliance on signing over-rated or past their prime free agents. Wade Redden(6.5 million cap hit for another 4 seasons), Chris Drury(6.8 million cap hit for another 3 seasons), Markus Naslund(4 million cap hit for another season), Scott Gomez(7.8 million cap hit for 5 more seasons) and Micheal Rozival(5 million cap hit for 3 more seasons) were all grossly overpaid and are therefore underachieving compared to what they’re being paid. Frankly Sather’s mistakes are the biggest problem in NYC although Renney’s trap style didn’t help. He was replaced by Tortorella who won a Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay, and while Renney was known as a lenient players coach Torts is a hard ass who won’t hesitate to call out his players; also he’ll be employing a harder forechecking style that may suit the Rangers a little better.

Michel Terrien: This was a firing that was coming for a few months. Terrien had lost the dressing room through various actions including multiple public beratings and trying to barge into a players only meeting. He’s coaching style eventually grates on players. GM Rey Shero’s offseason moves didn’t help either. He put all his eggs into the Marian Hossa basket and lost players like Ryan Malone and Colby Armstrong because of it. Dan Bylsma took over a few weeks ago but unfortunately some of the same inconsistencies continue to plague the Penguins: no secondary scoring, iffy goaltending at best and weak defence. I’m not sure Bylsma will be back next season, especially if the Pens don’t make the playoffs.

Barry Melrose: What a colossal screw up this was. Melrose hadn’t coached in 13 years and was completely out of touch with the game, had a bad relationship with the management that hired him, he alienated his best players and treated 1rst overall pick Steven Stamkos with distain and had no time for this young player. All this culminated with his firing back in November. Rick Tocchet replaced him behind the bench and has done a good job with the team he has. Their #1 goaltender is out with a concussion, they traded away one of the best defenseman in the league in Dan Boyle and replaced him with Matt Carle(traded to Philly a couple months after) and Andrej Meszaros and that really blew up in their faces as they can’t move the puck up the ice. And a lack of secondary scoring beyond Lecavalier, St.Louis and Malone is also a factor.

Craig Hartsburg: I feel bad for Hartsburg. He inherited a shallow team with only three forwards who can score but who also happen to make all the money. They didn’t have any defensemen who could make a pass out of their own end and once again bad goaltending was a bane to this team. Once again management’s mistakes cost the coach. Cory Clouston has since taken over and while the team had a brief surge but have since come back down to earth. Brian Murray has since made a deal to get Mike Comrie(who’s expressed an interest in re-singing long term) and Chris Campoli, a young puck moving defensemen they lost with Meszaros. I have no clue what erratic, meddling owner Eugene Melnyk will do this offseason.

Dennis Savard: More of a motivator then an X’s and O’s guy, the new ownership and management group weren’t big fans of his and he rubbed some of his veterans the wrong way. So they brought in an experienced and very good coach in Joel Quenneville and the Blackhawks haven’t looked back, becoming one of the elite four teams in the western conference. While I believe that Savard got a raw deal you can’t argue with results which Quenneville has gotten from his charges.

Other coach’s that may be on the chopping block after this season:

-Craig McTavish(Edmonton): If they don’t make the playoffs they may at least consider it for a change.
-Andy Murray(St.Louis): Injuries have decimated this team but they haven’t achieved what they thought they would this season and usually the coach get’s the blame.
-Alain Vigneault(Vancouver): Isn’t Mike Gillis’s hire and if they don’t make the playoffs he becomes a probable fire.
-Wayne Gretzky(Phoenix): While I don’t think he’ll get fired, he may resign given the sad state of the Coyotes.
-Also Craig Anderson(Atlanta), Tony Granato(Colorado) and Scott Gordon(NYI) are all possibilities just because these teams just suck, and in the case of Gordon and Anderson their franchises are just plain sad.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Oilers deadline possibilities

With the Montreal Canadiens trading for Mathieu Schneider this week the trading season has kicked off and the Edmonton Oilers are in the interesting position of being one of those bubble teams that will have to decide whether to be a buyer, a seller or a hybrid of both. If I was Steve Tambellini, or the man who may very well be pulling the puppet strings Kevin Lowe, I would attempt to be the latter. However that’s not really their style as the Oilers usually go all in with one strategy. Obviously the most talked about player on the Oilers roster the last few months when it comes to being traded has been Erik Cole. The power forward who will be UFA on July first was acquired this past summer for Joni Pitkanen and has turned out to be the major return for Chris Pronger if you follow the trail(Lupul to Pitkanen to Cole) but hasn’t really fit in playing with the Copper and Blue. Some believe that the Oilers want to re-sign Cole while some believe that they don’t. However I really don’t get the impression that Cole wants to stay. Bob McKenzie of TSN claims that the Oilers have some interest in mr.enigma Alex Kovalev with Cole and a draft pick or prospect going Montreal’s way. I think both players would do better with a change of scenery and Kovy could be the winger Ales Hemsky has been looking for his whole career. If the Oil could find any takers for Dustin Penner or Shaun Horcoff and their massively overinflated KLowe contracts they’d be all over that. The Oilers will be looking for some defensive depth and of course a winger to play with Ales Hemsky at the deadline. Nik Antropov might be a guy the Oilers look at to ride shotgun with Hemsky or if they’re looking to make a big splash Olli Jokinen is apparently available for the right price so a package headlined by Horcoff and a 1rst round pick might do it. Defensemen like Derrick Morris and Niclas Havelid would be the type of depth dmen the Oil would be looking at, nothing big. And please Oiler fan, even though TSN is reporting that Ryan Smyth is available ( please don’t scream about wanting him back. He’s not even close to the player he was, and even then he was a glorified second line winger.

Friday, February 13, 2009

My Top Five Most Dissapointing NHL Teams this season, plus 4 more

Montreal Canadiens: The Habs are the victims of a few things. One would be through the roof expectations as this is the centennial season and since they aren’t in first place so it’s already bad. Carey Price has mentally crumbled under the pressure of this season and the expectations put on him; the kid needs some time off. The team’s best player, Alex Kovalev, plays extremely uninterested and even their recent opponents have said that they’re arguably the softest team in the league. For this team to turn things around they really need to man up and start playing with a little sandpaper. A deadline deal for an offensive point man should also be in order to help their brutally bad powerplay.

Carolina Hurricanes: While some aren’t surprised I really thought this would be their year to get back to Eastern Conference prominence for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006. However they’re the same inconsistent ‘Canes. Both Cam Ward and Eric Staal have never reached the heights they did during the cup year as they have both somewhat regressed and stay very inconsistent. Age has finally caught up with team leader Rod Brind’Amour and he has started a steep and rapid decline on his way towards retirement. Their defence remains soft and inconsistent. They need Ward and Staal to take some initiative and leadership and become leaders on this team while taking the next step towards becoming the stars they should be.

Pittsburgh Penguins: A lot of problems with this Stanley Cup finalist. They have nothing beyond Malkin and Crosby(besides Sykora on a good day). Jordan Staal’s development has “Staaled” so to speak as the team refuses to do anything with him besides slot him into the #3 centre spot where he plays with linemates that aren’t exactly up to par with his skill level. Ryan Whitney and Sergei Gonchar have been injured all year so their PP has suffered drastically along with the play in their own end. Marc-Andre Fleury has reverted back to his inconsistent ways. Quite frankly until one of their big two get’s dealt this team will be hamstrong by paying 1/3 of their cap room to two guys. And since Crosby is the face of the franchise, it’s going to have to be Malkin that get’s dealt.

Ottawa Senators: While I didn’t think they’d be that good this year, I didn’t foresee them as being this bad either. Just like the Penguins and Tampa Bay before them, they have too much money locked up in too few and it’s cost them dearly. They have no secondary scoring, no defence and they’ve never really had elite goaltending minus one year of Ray Emery. They have nothing coming up the pipe in the way of prospect except Swedish dman Erik Karlsson so they’re going to have to somewhat blow this up and trade one of their big three to get at least a good goaltending prospect in return.

Edmonton Oilers: Call me nuts but I somewhat bought into the Oiler hoopla from the offseason, my only question about them was their goaltending as Mathieu Garon had done the one year on/one year off act before. However Shaun Horcoff and Dustin Penner, those of the brutally awful contracts, have been worse then I anticipated. While they finally slayed the 3 headed goaltending monster it took too long and they suffered for it. Ales Hemsky unfortunately still has no trigger man to bury his fantastic passes and the kids have hit the dreaded sophomore slump. Craig McTavish’s unoriginal coaching remains a problem. A new coach would help along with KLowe stepping away from the organization. The kids bouncing back would be huge and finding some sucker to eventually take Penner and Horcoff’s contracts would be huge, but that won’t happen unfortunately.

Honorable Mention: New York Rangers(Without Lundqvist they'd be screwed. Avery=answer?)

Tampa Bay Lightning(Unlike most I thought this team would suck and it does)

Nashville Predators(Eventually the cost cutting would hurt them big time)

Colorado Avalanche(injuries, age and poor drafting have contributed)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Darth Avery returns

But does anyone want Dallas's Sloppy seconds?

For the past two months, the NHL has been a happy place for everyone. Gum drops and rainbows, smiles and sunshine. However it appears that the quite before the storm is about the turn into a possible media hurricane once again as it appears that the NHL’s greatest villain of the last decade will ride again. Sean Avery looks to be on his way back after the Dallas Stars placed him on waivers this past Saturday. He’ll clear waivers on Monday and be sent to an AHL team that’s willing to take him on and it looks like the New York Rangers AHL affiliate the Hartford Wolfpack will be the only one. Also the Rangers are the only NHL team that’s rumoured to be interested in picking him up off of re-entry waivers once he’s re-established himself down there. However on some (including Al Strachan and Pierre LeBrun of Hockey Night In Canada’s Satellite Hotstove) believe that if Avery shows that he has indeed rehabilitated himself into a normal human being instead of the loner with obvious emotional issues then some other NHL teams may snap him up before New York can to try and give their own teams a boost. These teams would include Pittsburgh, Edmonton and Anaheim.

Now according to LeBrun people close to Avery are claiming that he is indeed a changed man and that this whole experience has scared him straight as he does not wish to lose his main mode of income. Whether he actually has or not I can’t claim to have any inside sources on the matter so I won’t take a guess. However if he has then the New York Rangers or any other team have gotten themselves a potential 20 goal 50 point player with a boat load of grit. Sean Avery is a very talented hockey player who has always just let his own personal issues get in the way of his play. This leads us to wonder what would happen if he hasn’t changed but is just putting on an act? Well in LA and Dallas we’ve seen that he can make the atmosphere inside of a dressing room toxic and while claiming that Dallas’s resurgence is solely based on Sean Avery being kicked off the team would be a little bit of a stretch it certainly has been a big part of it. Personally I’m kinda excited to see how this unravels because no matter which way Sean Avery goes, I’m going to get my popcorn ready because it’ll be a show!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Flames vs. Oilers 2009 quarterfinals

Game 1: The Calgary Flames, your Northwest division winners, host the Edmonton Oilers in a playoff series for the first time in about 2 decades and the excitement level is off the hook. So much so that the Flames are too worried about making an impression that the Oilers squeak out a 3-2 after Sheldon Souray scores a late third period PP winner.

Game 2: After Mike Keenan scares the living bejesus out of the Calgary Flames and threatens to send Mikka Kiprusoff to Atlanta in the offseason, the tender shuts the door and Jarome Iginla takes over the game and the Flames roll 4-1.

Game 3: This will be the first playoff game in Edmonton since game 6 of the 2006 Stanley Cup finals. The electricity inside Rexall Place will be palpable. We might even have a Darryl Katz sighting! The Oilers will come out absolutely flying with Ales Hemsky leading the way with 2 goals and 1 assist and Dion Phaneuf launches himself face first into the boards, injuring himself, trying to kill Kyle Brodziak after Phaneuf thinks he hears him mutter something to do with sloppy seconds.

Game 4: The Oilers and Flames carry a hotly contested game into the third period tied 2 goals apiece when Todd Bertuzzi takes a roughing penalty at 1:40 left after the image of Steve Moore’s lawyer’s face suddenly seems to look a lot like Steve Staios. Unfortunately for the Oilers their coach happens to be Craig MacTavish who plays a 1 forward 4 back trap system during the PP so that way they’re guaranteed to go to OT as he forgets that they won’t be getting a point and that there’s no shootout. Bertuzzi steps out of the box and gets the breakaway pass and buries it :25 seconds into overtime.

Game 5: Still stunned by the overtime loss and perplexed at MacT’s postgame rant about how the loss was all Robbie Shremp’s fault the Oilers crawl out of the gate and the moral boost of the return of Dion Phaneuf guides the Flames to an easy 5-1 victory.

Game 6: All seems lost for the Oilers as they are completely outplayed by the Flames through 60 minutes but Dewayne Roloson plays out of this world and keeps the game at 0-0 till late in the 3rd period when MacT’s trusty 4th line grinders come through in the last minute and obvious hero Zack Stortini scores the winner with less then 30 seconds to go.

Game 7: I’ve come up with two alternate endings to this story just like any good modern day DVD, and as a promising member of the Canadian hockey media I must uphold the great tradition of fence sitting and not choose a decisive winner. In version one Jarome Iginla destroys the Oilers with a hat trick and Kiprusoff completely shuts them down for the series win. In version two, the hockey gods great senses of humor, irony and evening things out as Robyn Regehr’s ill-advised outlet pass from behind the net ends up bouncing off Mikka Kiprusoff’s skate and in as the Oilers celebrate their series win in the Saddledome.

Anyway that’s how I see an Oilers/Calgary playoff series going in my imagination.