With a 54-19-9 record, the Boston Bruins were the best regular-season team in the NHL last season. But one year later, and with one game to go in the 2014-15 campaign, they’re on the brink of elimination: if they win their final game in Tampa Bay Saturday, the Bruins still need the Senators to lose in regulation or the Penguins to lose their final two games (against the Islanders on the road Friday and in Buffalo Saturday) to avoid the ignominy of being eliminated from the post-season tournament.
If the Bruins fail to make the playoffs, there’s an overwhelming sense a good deal of change will take place within the organization, and not just in terms of the roster. There have been persistent rumors all season that the job security of GM Peter Chiarelli and head coach Claude Julien would be jeopardized, with current team president Cam Neely perhaps replacing the former and choosing a new face to take over for the latter. And given that star defenseman Zdeno Chara just turned 38 years old, it’s difficult to not conclude the window with this current group of players is in the midst of closing.
But is widespread change the best move in this particular situation? It’s not as if we haven’t seen strong NHL teams fall off the map one season, and rebound the next. The Philadelphia Flyers made it to the second round in 2011-12, missed the playoffs by a hair in 2012-13, and were right back in the post-season mix last season. The New Jersey Devils made the playoffs 13 straight years, missed out on them in 2010-11, and then went to the Stanley Cup Final the following year. There’s not always a need to tear things down when you don’t have this minimal level of success as an organization.
However, the more you put this team under a microscope, the more it’s clear: cosmetic changes aren’t going to cut it. It doesn’t have to be a full-on rebuild involving every facet of the franchise, but in an Atlantic Division that now includes the up-and-coming Florida Panthers, the newly-energized Senators, and the already formidable Canadiens and Lightning, Boston cannot afford complacency and second chances for everyone. Read more
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ playoff chances look grimmer by the day. They took a massive hit over the weekend with deflating losses to the Columbus Blue Jackets and Philadelphia Flyers.
A thought that has crossed my mind, watching Pittsburgh’s top-heavy squad take bad penalties and struggle to convert chances in recent weeks: these guys miss Jordan Staal. They were a different team with him as their third-line center. He was a big, strong, two-way presence who could break open a game with a shorthanded rush. Few teams in the league had that caliber of player that far down the depth chart.
The Pens had to move Staal in 2012 after he rejected Ray Shero’s 10-year offer, and they did well to land Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin and the pick that yielded Derrick Pouliot. But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t use Staal’s skill set right about now.
Interestingly, though, the Hurricanes would be far better off with Sutter, Dumoulin and Pouliot, wouldn’t they? Staal has been a disaster. He has 30 goals in 173 games as a Cane. He had 29 in his rookie season with the Pens alone. He only has, oh, eight years left on a 10-year deal carrying a $6-million cap hit. Woof. Is this a rare trade both GMs involved would admit they want reversed, if we gave them truth serum injections? Oddly enough, that would involve Jim Rutherford trading Staal again. He acquired Staal as Hurricanes GM and now serves as Penguins GM.
In being defeated 4-1 by the Blackhawks Monday in Chicago, the Los Angeles Kings missed out on a golden opportunity to insert themselves back into the Western Conference’s final wild card slot. Had they won, L.A. would have pushed Winnipeg out of that slot (by virtue of their tiebreaker advantage over the Jets) and kept pace with the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames in the race for second and third place in the Pacific Division. Instead, they’re now: two points behind Winnipeg with no games in hand; three points behind Calgary (the Flames have played one more game, but will hold the tiebreaker over the Kings if it comes to that); and five points behind the Canucks with the same amount of games (six) remaining.
For weeks now – to be specific, since February, when they reeled off eight straight wins after an abysmal January – many have been talking as if the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings were going to be a low-seeded team potential playoff opponents needed to respect, if not fear. And who can blame them? The incredible manner in which L.A. won its second championship in the past three seasons, the team’s collective spine that showed astonishing bend and no break, represent sufficient evidence on which to base a healthy trepidation of squaring off against them at the most important time of the year.
But that charge back to the playoff race has obscured a question that was being asked of the Kings as they stumbled out to a 21-18-12 record, and that question should be asked again now: what happens to Los Angeles’ roster if they fail to make the post-season? Read more
Before any Pittsburgh fans go and get their jerseys in a jumble, just pause for a second, take a deep breath and think about it: if the Penguins fail to get back to the Stanley Cup final for the sixth straight season, what else is left for the franchise to do but blow up the core?
After an off-season of upheaval in which Pittsburgh brought in a new coach, a new GM and a new supporting cast for Sidney Crosby, there would be few options left but to raze the roster to the ground and begin anew. Sure, the Penguins could use Marc-Andre Fleury as a scapegoat and try using the same roster again next season with a different goalie, but that would only be putting off the inevitable. (Just ask the San Jose Sharks, who are years behind on the rebuilding schedule after sticking with their core despite perennial playoff failures, including their first-round faceplant last year.)
The best thing for the Penguins to do would be to try to trade Crosby for the next Crosby.
In early October, Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider told THN he was more than happy to allow GM Ron Hextall to build the team slowly and not engage in blockbuster trades, as has been the franchise’s custom as often as not under his stewardship.
“Ron Hextall has come in and preached patience,” Snider said at the time. “Ron said, ‘We’re not going to rush guys along. We’re going to develop our kids and really work on that phase of the game.’ That was my philosophy when I started the team.”
That was five months ago. Now, talking to Philly.com, Snider sounds as if he’s not quite so certain about the whole patience thing. Read more
In a new interview with NHL.com, Wild winger Thomas Vanek says the New York Islanders’ pending move to Brooklyn played a part in his decision to leave that franchise as an unrestricted free agent and sign with Minnesota.
“It was close in February  and I thought about it long and hard,” Vanek said. “There was two factors; I made a choice that I really wanted to go to free agency. But after being here for a while I loved it here. The one thing I didn’t like was the move to Brooklyn. I think if the rink would have been built here, it should be here on the island. There was probably a good chance I still would be here.”
There are Islanders fans who no doubt read those words and began stretching their hate muscles in preparation for booing Vanek at Nassau Coliseum when the Wild come to visit. But given the way things have turned out, that’s the wrong approach. Isles fans should be thankful the team moved to Brooklyn, because if Vanek had stuck around and accepted the reported seven-year, $49-million contract offer GM Garth Snow put before him last season (before dealing the then-30-year-old to Montreal last March), the organization would have come to rue the decision. Read more
After their 5-2 loss to Winnipeg Tuesday, the San Jose Sharks fell six points behind the Jets for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference. And with just 12 regular-season games left to play, San Jose could make a last desperate run into the second wild card position, but could just as easily fall to 12th overall in the West. After their infamous playoff collapse last season, the Sharks are now looking like a group that could be on the downside of a fairly productive period.
But don’t cry for the Sharks just yet. Considering some of the young talent on the roster and the pieces GM Wilson potentially acquires in any major trades this summer, San Jose’s downturn could reverse course in very short order and they could be back in playoff contention as soon as the 2015-16 campaign. Read more
Only three games into his career as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets, hard-luck left winger David Clarkson was sidelined 4-to-6 weeks – in other words, more than likely the rest of the regular season – with a torn oblique muscle.
Acquired Feb. 26 from Toronto for severely injured winger Nathan Horton, the 30-year-old Clarkson suffered the injury during his debut game with Columbus two days later and had been playing through the injury until he couldn’t continue during the Jackets’ 5-3 loss to the Capitals Tuesday. Read more