The Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators are less than 10 games into the regular season, but the early returns are pretty clear: both sides came out winners from their big off-season swap.
The coaching business in the NHL is about to get crazier thanks to the pending free agency of Red Wings bench boss Mike Babcock, who almost assuredly will set a new record for a coach’s salary whether he stays in Detroit or moves on to a new place of employment. So, that has to mean better times are ahead for all coaches, right? A whole, “rising-tide-lifts-all-boats” thing, right?
Not so fast. Because although Babcock’s pending spike in pay may very well result in higher salaries for more members of the coaching fraternity, there’s other forces at play here: the increasingly rapid turnover of coaches at the NHL level – and this year, the early success of most off-season coaching changes.
There were six such changes in hockey’s best league this summer. Let’s take a brief look at how they’re working out: In Nashville, Peter Laviolette has the Predators off to a 5-0-2 start (including a big 3-2 win over Chicago Thursday) that makes them the last team in the league without a loss in regulation. In Washington, former Predators coach Barry Trotz has steered the Capitals to a strong showing out of the gate (just one loss in regulation in six games) and his relationship with star winger Alex Ovechkin is beginning on the right foot. In Pittsburgh, Mike Johnston is working with a significantly rejigged roster, but the Penguins have points in four of their first six games and should be fine. In Vancouver, Willie Desjardins has reinvigorated a Canucks squad that had been wholly deinvigorated under John Tortorella.
Things aren’t working out that well for all the new coaches. Read more
In somewhat of a surprising move, Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford told ESPN.com Tuesday that Marc-Andre Fleury’s future as goaltender for the Pittsburgh Penguins is secure:
“As long as I’m GM here, he’s my goalie,” Rutherford said. “My plan is to re-sign him when the time is right. When that is, I don’t know, if it’s during the year or after the year, but I do want to re-sign him. I believe in him.”
It’s tempting to file this under the “What Do You Expect Him To Say?” category, but let’s assume Rutherford isn’t just making this bold statement as a confidence-booster for Fleury as he enters this especially pressure-packed year and may actually re-sign the 29-year-old before his contract expires. Then let’s ask the question that would be begged by such a move:
Why? Why would you recommit to a goaltender who, since he won a Stanley Cup with the team in 2009, had four straight seasons of sub-.900 save percentages in the playoffs? Last year, Fleury’s SP improved to .915, but even then, that number is deceiving: a pair of shutouts against the Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinal inflated his SP, but out of 13 games he played for the Pens in two rounds, Fleury posted a SP at or below the modest .900 level seven times.
And you’re telling me this is the kind of asset who deserves a vote of approval in the form of a contract extension before the playoffs even roll around? Sorry, but I don’t get it. Read more
The appearance of Toronto Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis at Rexall Place for Friday’s game between the Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers raised eyebrows among NHL followers. Sportsnet’s Mark Spector wondered if Ben Scrivens performance in that game could affect the whereabouts of Leafs goalie James Reimer.
Evidently, the game’s outcome (a 2-0 win for the Canucks) had no effect on Reimer, who remains the Maple Leafs backup. Still, with the Oilers off to a franchise-worst start (0-4-1 in their opening five games) and the Leafs lurching from the gate with a 2-3-1 record, it’s only natural that Nonis’ appearance at that game would generate trade speculation.
Nonis could be doing some advanced scouting, but as The Score’s Thomas Drance observes, the Leafs don’t play the Oilers or Canucks until December, so an early-October scouting trip seems unusual. If Nonis’ Western swing is to pursue a trade, the Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons believes it’ll be a small deal, not a significant one. Read more
With NCAA hockey officially in full swing, there is action aplenty to watch for in the prospect world. Boston University’s Jack Eichel and Erie’s Connor McDavid already seem to have a fantastic game of anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better going on, but who else should you be watching this season? Here are some of the other names making noise right now.
The American Hockey League came down hard on Adirondack Flames forward Trevor Gillies Monday, suspending him 12 games for viciously assaulting Rochester forward William Carrier Friday. But some would argue they didn’t come down hard enough, and that hockey as a whole still has a ways to go to give real teeth to their punishments and truly dissuade players from becoming repeat offenders like Gillies, who was suspended twice (for a total of 19 games) in his justifiably brief NHL career (57 games from 2009-11). But that doesn’t make it any less stomach churning to watch him snap and smash Carrier’s head into the ice. See for yourself:
We’ll let some marketing genius or anthropological intellectual explain to us the phenomenon that is the Toronto Maple Leafs. But somehow, a business that has consistently produced an inferior product for the better part of four decades, continues to succeed wildly at the cash register and in popularity polls.
The Leafs are the No. 1 NHL outfit in terms of franchise value as calculated by Forbes, they have the NHL’s highest ticket prices (average of $373 at resale), and it was announced by Twitter on the opening day of the 2014-15 season they rank first in number of followers on the social media platform.
No need to play the 2014-15 season, National Hockey League. Yes, that may cut into the $4 billion in revenues you’re expected to generate, but think of the cost savings for teams that lose money.
Really, why actually play a season when a simulated NHL season has already been played, the Stanley Cup has been awarded and all the awards winners have already been determined? That’s what EA Sports, creators of the NHL 15 video game, have done. And they’ve determined that the Los Angeles Kings will become the first back-to-back Stanley Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and ’98. Read more