One of the perks of being a professional hockey player is living out your childhood dreams. For Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk, he’s getting to play out a scenario he didn’t even think was possible when he was a little kid; seeing himself in EA Sports’ line of NHL video games.
The most daunting challenge when it comes to forming a list of people on The Hot Seat™ for 2014-15 is keeping the list to just 10. Heck, you could have 30 just by placing every coach in the league on there. Because as your trusty correspondent recently pointed out, coaches and GMs are getting whacked at a dizzying rate these days.
But some, obviously, are feeling the heat a little more than others. You wouldn’t think the Los Angeles Kings would be too concerned about Darryl Sutter if they don’t get off to a great start this season. And during football season, is anyone going to notice if Bill Peters can’t turn the moribund Carolina Hurricanes around?
With that in mind, we’ve kept our list to 10, evenly divided between coaches and players. These are people who will be under pressure to produce results or face either (a) the prospect of being fired, in the case of coaches; or (b) the prospect of feeling shame, in the case of players.
So, here we go:
10. Ken Hitchcock: The St. Louis Blues coach has done everything right with this team, with the exception of win a playoff series. Since he took over in 2011-12, the Blues have won just one playoff series and compiled an 8-13 record in the post-season. There were rumbles that Hitchcock was in jeopardy after the Blues lost in the first round to Chicago, but they were quelled by GM Doug Armstrong. But if Hitchcock can’t find a way to get his team over the Chicago/Los Angeles hump, there might be no choice but to make a change.
9. Ryan Johansen: Even though they appear to be playing hardball with him, the Columbus Blue Jackets will sign Johansen at some point. But after an acrimonious summer in which Johansen felt his team’s offer was a “slap in the face,” there will be pressure on Johansen to prove he was worth all the off-season angst, particularly if he misses training camp or some of the regular season. Johansen is at a critical point in his development as a player and he has every right to sit until he gets what he feels is a fair deal. But with that comes the pressure of living up to it.
8. Bruce Boudreau: The Anaheim Ducks coach is quickly becoming known as The Man Who Can’t Win Game 7. The Ducks won the Western Conference regular season title last season, but the fact they didn’t take their foot off the pedal in the regular season cost them in the playoffs. Boudreau will have to do the delicate dance between being good enough to compete in the west, while not burning his team out for the time when the games get really important.
7. Alex Ovechkin: How does a 50-goal scorer end up on the list of players on the hot seat? By piling up points on the power play, being an uninspired player 5-on-5 and not leading his team to the playoffs, that’s how. Ovechkin might be one of the least-feared 50-goal scorers in the history of the game, primarily because he does precious little other than feast when the Capitals are on the man advantage. He’ll also have to adjust to a new coach in Barry Trotz who will demand more defensive accountability. For real.
6. Todd McLellan: There were rumors the Sharks coach was on his way out of San Jose and to Toronto after last season, but GM Doug Wilson opted to keep him after his team blew a 3-0 lead in the first round to the Kings. Instead of firing the coach, which would have been the convenient thing to do, the Sharks instead emasculated Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. If the Sharks stumble out of the gate, McLellan might be an easy target.
5. P.K. Subban: The Montreal Canadiens defenseman became the first player in NHL history to reach a contract agreement after an arbitration hearing and before a decision was rendered. And what an agreement! Subban will undoubtedly face pressure to justify his $9 million-per-season cap hit, but he will be courting trouble if he internalizes it and tries to do so every time he touches the puck.
4. Paul MacLean: There were rumblings that MacLean lost his golden touch last season with his players and mismanaged his players last season. Not surprisingly, he was not able to coax the results out of his team that he got in 2013. Even though the Senators are closer to being a lottery winner than a playoff team, expectations are always high in Canadian markets. And if the Senators get off to a disastrous start, the only guy at the Canadian Tire Centre with a bushy moustache will be MacLean’s doppelganger in the first row.
3. David Clarkson: The Toronto Maple Leafs winger is a classic example of expectations gone awry because of a huge contract. Clarkson was never going to be able to live up to the deal he signed with the Maple Leafs, but even by those standards, his 2013-14 season was an unmitigated disaster. Clarkson’s best course of action would be to forget the contract and resist the temptation to be something he’s not.
2. Randy Carlyle: Clarkson’s coach with the Maple Leafs is undoubtedly on the shortest leash of any coach in the NHL right now. With analytics gaining more prominence in the game, the Leafs cannot afford to continue getting Corsi-ed to death on a regular basis. The Leafs have significantly improved their bottom six, but if they don’t tighten up defensively, Carlyle will likely become the first coach looking for work this season.
1. Rick Nash: The New York Rangers winger led the team in goals with 26 last season, but Nash simply can’t produce when his team needs him most. Including all his NHL playoff games and the two Olympics in which he has participated, Nash has seven goals in 54 games. There was a time when Nash seemed to be able to carry players on his back on his way to the opposing net. It seems now he can’t even get himself to the net, which is why he finds himself on the periphery so much.
On the first weekend in September, here are a few medium-sized hockey thoughts for your consideration:
• Lightning star Steven Stamkos addressed the media in Tampa Bay Thursday and talked in greater detail about his adventures on social media this summer. Stamkos said he mistakenly pressed the favorite button on a Tweet from THN’s account linking to my story on him potentially coming to his hometown Maple Leafs when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2016.
“You press the favorite button by accident and an hour later Twitter blew up,” Stamkos said. “But you live and learn and I’ll be more careful on the favorite button the next time around.
Sounds reasonable, right? Who among us hasn’t made a similar slip? And here’s the thing – if it was only one tweet, I’d be inclined to take Stamkos at face value. But Stamkos didn’t just favor one tweet. He subsequently favorited a second tweet linking him to the Leafs.
Now, one mistaken favorite, I understand. Two? And both just happen to be about the same topic? Sorry, but I’ve yet to hear a satisfactory explanation of how that happened. Read more
Even the best players in the world can have slumps and it’s not fun when it happens to your favorite. But with every fresh campaign there is hope for renewal and as we approach the 2014-15 installment of NHL hockey, some players may be a little more eager than others, since last season was such a downer.
Here’s a look at 10 players who are primed for bounce-back seasons:
As the beginning of NHL training camps draws closer, it’s natural for fans to debate and discuss which teams had the most productive off-season. And although the answer to that question won’t be confirmed for months, if not years, that won’t stop us from ranking the 10 best off-season unrestricted free agent signings:
10. Thomas Vanek, Wild (3 years, $19.5 million). Granted, Vanek didn’t help his contract negotiating stance with a poor playoff showing for the Canadiens, but his regular-season production has been dependably above-average – and given that Minnesota struggled to put pucks in nets last season (their 207 goals-for was third-worst in the Western Conference), he’ll help a great deal and isn’t locked up to a contract with an onerous term.
9. Ales Hemsky, Stars (3 years, $12 million). The 31-year-old Hemsky hasn’t reached the 20-goal mark since he had 23 for Edmonton in 2008-09, but he’ll play on Dallas’ second line – alongside former Senators teammate Jason Spezza, with whom he enjoyed some solid chemistry in his 20-game stint in Ottawa last year – and should perform well playing in a non-fishbowl market with increased minutes.
8. Radim Vrbata, Canucks (2 years, $10 million). Vrbata has been under most people’s radar playing in Phoenix, but the 33-year-old has proven himself to be a reliable 20-30-goal-scorer. On the rejigged Canucks, he’ll see time on the same line as the Sedin twins and will get first-unit power play minutes. The term of this deal also makes this a win for new Vancouver GM Jim Benning. Read more
Status: NHL defenseman from 1973-83 with Toronto, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.
DOB: Dec. 22, 1953 In: Montreal
Residence: Los Angeles
First Hockey Memory: ”Getting my first hockey stick at age five, started skating at three.”
Hockey Inspirations: “Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, Andy Bathgate, Doug Harvey, Bobby Orr.” Read more
Around this time of year when we all get antsy for hockey to get going, one of the most popular topics of conversation centers around which coach will be the first to get fired. Randy Carlyle and Paul MacLean look to be the early frontrunners in that department.
And with the average lifespan of a coach running at about 2.4 years, why wouldn’t they be in peril? Carlyle is approaching that with the Toronto Maple Leafs and MacLean has already exceeded that in Ottawa, having been there for the past three seasons. After two seasons in which he could do no wrong, MacLean was blamed for everything from his handling of the Senators goaltenders to how clueless his team was in its own end last season. Read more
If Scott Gomez and/or Tomas Kaberle make the New Jersey Devils this season and contribute in a meaningful way, GM Lou Lamoriello will be able to claim another feather for a cap that is already bursting with plumage. The veterans are reclamation projects, looking to revive careers that are ever-so-gently flickering.
Barring the spectacularly unforeseen, however, those potential additions won’t be able to match the magic Lamoriello performed 23 years ago.
In this edition of Throwback Thursday, we remember the incredible summer of 1991, when the Devils acquired Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer via a series of head-scratching events.