If you like a good scrap, you might find yourself a bit under siege lately in the hockey world. Regulations are tightening up, though the powers-that-be still maintain that organic fights, rather than staged bouts, are still part of the game. And even though enforcers such as Paul Bissonnette and Colton Orr appear to have uphill battles in returning to the NHL this season, there are still plenty of scrappers to watch. With a shout-out to hockeyfights.com as a research tool, here are the best:
Essentially – and despite calling Boudreau a “nice man” – Selanne threw his former coach in Anaheim under the bus, drove over him with it, backed up, and repeated the process seven or eight times. In the most shocking statement, Selanne said he’d have returned to the NHL for a 22nd season if Boudreau wasn’t still the Ducks’ coach.
But he said much more than that. Here’s the now-retired Selanne describing his experience in the 2014 playoffs, when Boudreau made him a healthy scratch prior to Anaheim’s first round, Game 4 showdown against Dallas: Read more
Five of the the 14 teams that missed the NHL playoffs in 2012-13 (Colorado, Dallas, Columbus, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay) qualified for a playoff berth last season. Here are five teams on the outside looking in during the 2014 playoffs that – in this writer’s opinion – have the best chance at making the post-season this year:
5. Arizona Coyotes. The Yotes missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year last season – the first time that’s happened since 2007-09 – and that organization is famous for making the most out of a budget-conscious blueprint for success. They finished only two points behind the eighth-place Stars, and with new No. 1 center Sam Gagner in town, captain Shane Doan fully healthy and stellar young blueliner Oliver Ekman-Larsson continuing to blossom, they could have just enough in the tank to make it back into the post-season. Read more
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.
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:
We’re going to go on the assumption here that Teemu Selanne has retired from the NHL for good this time. Of course, you never know with Selanne, but we’re thinking he’s serious about it this time.
That leaves Jaromir Jagr as the oldest player in the NHL this season. And it also gives Jagr a career distinction that not many players can say they share.
When Jagr made his NHL debut with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990-91, he did so as the youngest player in the NHL that season. Born Feb. 15, 1972, Jagr beat out Owen Nolan of the Quebec Nordiques by just three days. Jagr actually had a bit of good fortune in this situation because the three players aside from Nolan who were taken before him in the 1990 draft – Petr Nedved, Mike Ricci and Keith Primeau – were all late birthdays in 1971 who missed the 1989 draft because they were too young.
Fast-forward 24 years later and Jagr is still playing, and playing very well, for the New Jersey Devils. By the time this season ends, Jagr will be 43 years and two months old, which will make him the 10th oldest player to ever play in the NHL. And it will also give him a distinction shared by the legendary Gordie Howe. When Howe played as a rookie for the Detroit Red Wings in 1946-47, he did so as the youngest player in the six-team NHL that season. And when he finished his NHL career with the Hartford Whalers in 1979-80, he did so as the oldest player in the league at 52.
Not sure how many players can say they were both the youngest and oldest player in the NHL during the course of their careers, but the fact that Jagr and Howe are two who can is a testament to both their prodigious talents as young men and their ability to maintain a high level of play throughout length careers. Some players have one or the other, but a precious few have both. And those who do tend to end up with a plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Jagr is on the verge of a couple of other milestones this season worth celebrating. With 705 career goals, he is sure to pass Mike Gartner and Phil Esposito on the all-time goals list. But here’s where it gets interesting. If he scores 27 this season – remember, he had 24 last year – he’ll pass Marcel Dionne at No. 4 and if he has a wildly successful season and gets 37, he’ll usurp Brett Hull at No. 3.
With 44 points this season – entirely achievable since he had 67 in 2013-14 – Jagr will pass Ron Francis for fourth on the all-time points list. If he takes 210 shots this season – he had 231 with the Devils last season – he’ll be No. 2 behind Ray Bourque on the all-time career list for shots.
Kind of makes you wonder where Jagr would be if he had decided to stay in the NHL instead of playing in Russia for three years and if he hadn’t been robbed of a season-and-a-half with lockouts. But the same could be said for Howe, who retired for two years and played six more in the World Hockey Association before returning to the NHL. Bobby Hull, with 610 career goals, played six-plus seasons in the WHA before returning for a nine-game stint with the Whalers in 1979-80.
And who knows? Jagr hasn’t hinted at retirement and with his level of play so high, it’s not inconceivable that he could play a couple more seasons in the NHL. Regardless of how long he plays, three years after he decides to hang up his skates there will be a place waiting for him in the Hall of Fame.
Until it happens, the notion of Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin departing the NHL in the prime of their careers and returning to their native Russia to play in the KHL should be considered a significant long shot. However, you shouldn’t take that to mean there’s no chance it takes place. As we saw this weekend when Russian president Alexander Medvedev commented cryptically on the possibility of Malkin and Ovechkin playing for a KHL team next season, there are many who would love nothing more than to convince the two superstars to shock the hockey world and head home.
First thing’s first: ultra-sensitive Caps and Penguins fans who read the above paragraph must be reminded to do some deep-breathing relaxation exercises before falling on their backs and squealing as if they’d been kneed in a soft personal place. If Malkin and/or Ovechkin chose to leave hockey’s top league, it wouldn’t be an indictment of their respective franchises or the NHL itself. Rather, they would be moving back to: the warm comforts of their own culture; a Kontinental League that would treat them like Faberge Eggs with legs; and friends and family who are an ocean away for three-quarters of every year. If the shoe were on the other foot and North American players had to ply their trade in Europe each and every season, North American fans would treat any prodigal son as a hero for choosing to leave a more prominent situation to play at home instead.
There’s also a whole lot of tax-free money that would be thrown at Ovechkin and Malkin, but – and this is where your trusty correspondent wishes there was a sarcasm font – we all know these decisions aren’t about money. It wasn’t about money when Ilya Kovalchuk dropped jaws in 2013 by leaving the New Jersey Devils just three years into a 15-year, $100-million contract, right? He just wanted to go home, and no financial payday could keep him in North America. (And make no mistake – anyone who would try to argue people expected Kovalchuk to leave the NHL that quickly after signing a contract extension is as disingenuous as they come.) Read more
Six months ago, Nicklas Backstrom was gearing up for the gold medal game at the Olympics. Sweden was about to take on Canada for all the marbles in Sochi. Heading into the final, Backstrom had four points – all assists – in five games.
But a few hours before the puck dropped, the IOC announced Backstrom was ineligible to play. They said the 26-year-old had tested positive for pseudoephedrine in a drug test he took a week earlier. The positive was believed to come from the allergy medication that Backstrom had been taking for seven years and prescribed by team doctors. Needless to say, the Swedes weren’t pleased with the way it was handled.
Canada won the game 3-0, but because of his suspension, Backstrom didn’t receive his silver medal with the rest of the Swedish team afterwards. It wasn’t until early March that the IOC decided the one-game suspension was punishment enough and that he could receive his medal.
Today, he finally got it. Backstrom received his medal prior to a Swedish League game between Brynas and Djurgarden. Read more