Let’s Review The Harvesting Of NHL Coaches

5 NHL coaches were fired during the regular season and as soon as the season ended, other teams wasted no time in shoving the head coaches out the door. And as usual, most were unfair. So far, four more coaches paid the price.

1.            Dallas Stars – Lindy Ruff
Ruff is a good coach, but he has never won the big one. Last year, perhaps he got the Dallas Stars to over-achieve and that led management and fans to expect big things this season. But Dallas – with many notable big names and star players – did not show anything this year. Instead of building on or at least matching last year’s progress, Dallas regressed back to their old position of two years ago, so Ruff’s dismissal could have been predicted. Dallas has a lot of big salaries for underachieving players so many of them could be next and Dallas has made that clear by imitating Anaheim and bringing back their only Stanley Cup winning coach, Ken Hitchcock whom St. Louis fired earlier.

2.        Florida Panthers – Tom Rowe
Florida is in the unique position of firing their coach during the regular season and then firing his successor in the off-season. Gerard Gallant had taken the Panthers to a seldom-realized division title last year and actually had a winning record this year too when Florida without any warning became the first team to fire a coach and replace him with General Manager, Tom Rowe. But of the 5 teams that fired their coaches during the regular season, the Panthers were the only team not to respond to the new coach and improve. Now Rowe has been removed as both coach and general manager, but at least retains a job as special adviser. Dale Tallon is back in the General Manager’s harness. All this is done by an organization that seldom makes the playoffs, ensuring consistent bad attendance, and is a leading candidate to be shifted to Quebec, Hartford, or elsewhere. Florida is a laughingstock and these coaching changes show why. Unlike Tampa Bay where hockey is popular, the ownership and management are a major reason why hockey remains unpopular in the southern part of the state. Gallant was a leading candidate to be hired in the off season and the new Las Vegas Golden Knights showed their savvy by making him their first-ever coach, something that might have been predicted.

3.       Vancouver Canucks – Willie Desjardins
If any coaching change was the most unfair during this season, this has to rank near the top. Desjardins was placed in charge of a team on the way down, with its two top stars, the Sedin brothers over the hill and near retirement. Somehow he was expected to turn this team that has no top young draft choices on its roster into winners. Even in this downward spiral, Desjardins had approximately a .500 record over three seasons. Vancouver needed to rebuild with young stars as early as back then. Who is the Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews on this team? No one. Not even the best of coaches can do anything if the team’s top players are aging and in decline and no good young talent for the future has been added. How good a coach was Desjardins? We’ll never know, at least in Vancouver.

4.        Los Angeles – Darryl Sutter and Dean Lombardi
This ranks near the top as the most controversial change of the season, Los Angeles getting rid of the coach and general manager who gave them their only two championships. Admittedly, Lombardi might have slipped. Since the last championship, the Los Angeles attack has consistently declined and Lombardi has failed to find the right replacements either by draft, trade, or free agent signing. Trading for Ben Bishop when the team needed more offense was extremely questionable. But do you take such an extreme step as firing him only three years after winning it all for the second time? And the decline of attacking personnel is hardly Darryl Sutter’s fault. He still has this team playing well defensively. Lombardi and Sutter will immediately become leading candidates to be hired again sometime and somewhere in the future.

Chemistry Gone From The Los Angeles Kings

It’s over. With the St. Louis Blues victory over the Colorado Avalanche last night, the Western Conference playoff teams have been determined. It will be combinations of Chicago, Minnesota, San Jose, Edmonton, Anaheim, Calgary, St. Louis, and Nashville. Realistically the Los Angeles Kings, the only team currently out of a playoff spot that has any remaining hope of making the post-season will not make up the eight point difference that stands between them and St. Louis and Nashville with only ten games left. Los Angeles is not going to suddenly right the ship and go on the long winning streak necessary, nor are the teams they are trying to catch going into a prolonged slump.

It is quite a fall for the Kings who were Stanley Cup champions only three years ago in 2014, after winning their first Cup in 2012. Somehow the winning chemistry has been lost and the Kings will be out in the cold despite almost being handed a playoff position on a silver platter during this final quarter of the season. What is revealing is that at the trade deadline, the Kings added goaltender Ben Bishop from the Tampa Bay Lightning and then Jerome Iginla from the Colorado Avalanche, while the St. Louis Blues obligingly traded their best defenseman, Kevin Shattenkirk to Washington and the Kings fell while the Blues rose.

Only a year ago, Los Angeles and Chicago were trading Stanley Cups, each winning on alternative years. Last year it was supposed to be Los Angeles turn to win but one of the teams favored to win it all was instead eliminated in the very first round in only five games by the supposedly over-the-hill San Jose Sharks. The Kings had brought in Vincent Lecavalier and Milan Lucic to bring them back to the top but the chemistry obviously did not click.

This year, Lecavalier retired and Lucic was allowed to go to Edmonton, but the Kings have been mediocre at best. Star goaltender, Jonathan Quick got injured but backup Peter Budaj did a credible job until he was traded for Bishop who has not been what Los Angeles expected. It was a strange trade anyway with the Kings just getting back Quick after a serious injury and who would obviously be doing most of the goaltending. The Kings needed help elsewhere and the aging Iginla, well past his prime was not enough. It has to admitted that huge sums of money have been wasted where they could have been spent more wisely.

Still it is a mystery why the Kings, once so formidable have fallen so far so fast. Jonathan Quick is still here and so is star defenseman Drew Doughty. Up front there is still Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar and coach Darryl Sutter is still behind the bench. The goal differential is a bad -6 but that does not tell the story. The Kings are actually a good defensive team but they are not scoring goals. It would have been better to have made a trade for forwards and defensemen who would have boosted the attack, not Ben Bishop. A top forward or an attacking defenseman are the obvious choices in this year’s draft.

It is still possible for the Kings to make the playoffs but it is highly unlikely. The forwards who were making a difference with Kopitar and Carter have been allowed to leave and the wrong players have taken their place. The Los Angeles attack has to be rebuilt. The winning chemistry that brought two recent Stanley Cups has vanished. The Kings, so recently one the envied teams in the NHL are in a real muddle.

Analyzing The Few NHL Trades

There were not many NHL trades this time around. Reading why, most general managers blame the salary cap and the admission of Las Vegas and its expansion draft. I will not analyze every trade but some of the more significant ones.

1. Kevin Shattenkirk to Washington by St. Louis

This was the big blockbuster trade. I have read that Alexander Ovechkin had been pressuring General Manager Brian MacLellan to do something significant and he obliged but Ovechkin may be signing his own death warrant and that of coach Barry Trotz in Washington if this does not work. Ovechkin has never been able to lift ANY of his teams (no matter who coaches them), Washington or Russia to the championship level in significant tournaments. The latest flop was Russia making the semi-finals in the World Cup where Canada fired 47 shots at overworked, heroic goaltender Sergi Bobrovsky.

Washington has yet to make the Eastern Conference Final during the Ovechkin era, never mind winning the Stanley Cup. Last year they added T J Oshie and ran away with the President’s Trophy but still flopped in the playoffs. Now they have added Shattenkirk but is it enough? There are formidable opponents who know how to win it all, Pittsburgh and Chicago lurking, plus the danger of any improved teams. It was a bold and brave trade for MacLellan to make, a firm commitment that Washington wants to be a champion. The heat is off MacLellan. He has done his best at the trade deadline. But now the heat is really on Ovechkin and Trotz. If there were few excuses last year, there are none now. Washington MUST win at least two playoff rounds. And if they do not, it may be time to recognize that Ovechkin is not what he has been billed to be, keep Shattenkirk, and the next blockbuster Washington trade will involve him.

As for St. Louis, it seemed that last year they had finally made the breakthrough that Washington had failed to do by making the Western Conference Final. Now all they needed to do was add one or two more significant players to get them over the final hump. Instead they lost significant talent in the off season, fired coach Ken Hitchcock, and have now traded Shattenkirk in the prime of his career. They have gone back to where they were, in a rebuilding situation. Obviously they did not have much faith in the team they built last year that did so well. How committed are they to building a championship team?

2. Johnny Oduya from Dallas to Chicago

If the pattern remains true, Chicago wins the Stanley Cup every other year. Chicago is currently on a five game winning streak including a decisive victory over defending champion Pittsburgh. By reacquiring Oduya from Dallas, one of the most disappointing teams this season, Chicago has added significant depth to its defense and has served notice that it intends win the Stanley Cup again this season. Despite Minnesota’s improvement, Chicago is still the team to beat in the Western Conference.

It is not much of a trade for Dallas, which still has to pay part of Oduya’s salary and only gets small financial relief. It is an admission that the team has to be rebuilt and that more changes will be coming in the off season.

3. Ben Bishop from Tampa Bay to Los Angeles

A swap of goaltenders, Ben Bishop for Peter Budaj. I rate this as a clear win for Tampa Bay and secondarily for Budaj. Tampa Bay has Andrei Vasilevskiy whom the Lightning believes will be their goaltender of the future and now Budaj who had done an admirable job filling in for Jonathan Quick. Bishop was a number one goaltender but had an unfortunate knack of getting injured at key moments when Tampa Bay needed him most. And when Steve Stamkos got injured earlier this year, the team failed to rally and Bishop’s goaltending has proved to be insufficient to keep Tampa Bay in a playoff spot. Now they have got rid of his large salary and are giving Budaj a chance to battle Vasilevkiy to become Tampa Bay’s number one goaltender.

It is hard to see what Los Angeles gains by this trade. They have got Jonathan Quick back and will undoubtably use him for most of the games during the rest of the season and probably all the playoff games if they make it. Why do you want to pay a large salary to a number one goaltender like Bishop to sit on the bench? The Kings must think that Quick is brittle and will get injured again so they needed some insurance. Right now they are battling the St. Louis Blues for the last playoff spot. But the Blues did Los Angeles far more of a favor by trading Kevin Shattenkirk and admitting they were in rebuilding mode than Los Angeles did by getting Bishop. All this to get the last playoff position in the Western Conference. If teams have money to throw around, Los Angeles is doing it.

4. Jerome Iginla from Colorado to Los Angeles

Again I have to give Colorado the edge over Los Angeles. Iginla is a great player but he is 39 and well past his prime. In the long term Colorado is happy to be rid of his large salary. This is merely a short term deal for Los Angeles to get that last playoff position based on the logic that Iginla played so well for coach Darryl Sutter when they were together in Calgary. He can probably help Los Angeles make the playoffs but again it comes across like a deal made by a franchise with money to burn. For both the Bishop and Iginla deals, Los Angeles had better make the playoffs and get its money back in playoff revenue or else they have wasted a lot of money for nothing.

 
In other trades:

Detroit after being successful for so long began dumping salaries to clear the way to build a new successful era. So did Dallas and New Jersey. Toronto and Columbus added some experienced players to help them either make a playoff run or cope with the pressures of the playoffs. Florida still believes they can make the playoffs by acquiring Thomas Vanek. So does Boston which got Drew Stafford from Winnipeg. The Flyers got Valtteri Filppula from Tampa Bay. Something has to give between Toronto, Florida, Philadelphia, and Boston. Add in Ottawa, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay who are all battling for the last three playoff spots and some of these teams are going to be disappointed with the trades they made. But now these are the final rosters that are going to be competing for the playoffs. The outcome and the verdict begins this evening.

No-Brainer Choice For Stanley Cup Bettors

Since the NHL playoffs are fast approaching, many fans want to know who to place their money on to win the Stanley Cup. And the soundest advice is to go with a proven winner until somebody else proves that they can take it away from them. So it is not very hard to give advice about betting based on recent NHL history. You put your money on either the Chicago Blackhawks or Los Angeles Kings.

The current edition of each team has won the Stanley Cup each of the past four years with the Blackhawks winning another one in 2010. They are the current dynasties of the NHL. There is something different about a team once it gets over the hump and wins the big one. It is an intangible, a spiritual thing. Perhaps it is best described as knowing how to win. Somehow when these teams win, they get the key goal or save when they need it. They get players who rise to the occasion and sometimes carry the team on their backs. They do not panic when adversity strikes. They refuse to lose.

It happens in all sports, the key touchdown, interception, or quarterback sack in football. The timely hit or the great catch in baseball. The key bucket in basketball. Once you win, it is your crown to lose until somebody proves they can take it from you.

In the NHL, both the Kings and the Blackhawks still have that key core of players who have carried them to the top the last four years. It is going to be very difficult for any new team to dethrone them.

The Kings are anchored by all star goalie Jonathan Quick with Drew Doughty protecting him on defense. Up front the Kings rely on Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, and Dustin Brown. They have also picked up former Stanley Cup Champions Vincent Lecavalier from the Tampa Bay Lightning and Milan Lucic from the Boston Bruins. They have the experience to win.

The defending champion Blackhawks are just as formidable. Corey Crawford is a proven winner in goal and he has two all star defensemen, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook to rely on. And there is that offence led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Marian Hossa.

Neither team has to worry about finishing first in their conference. As long as either one is in the playoffs, they are a threat to win it all. There is a good chance they will meet each other in the conference final or an earlier round and that will be the series that decides who will win it all.

So who should win it? History has also shown that neither team, no matter how good it is has been able to win back-to-back championships. And the Blackhawks let one of their key core players, Patrick Sharp, go to Dallas which not surprisingly has shown marked improvement. Is that too significant a loss for the Blackhawks to overcome? So based on recent history and Jonathan Quick possibly winning another Conn Smythe trophy, the best choice seems to be the Los Angeles Kings. But if the defending champions were to repeat, it would not be an upset.