Calgary Flames Tattoos
Wes Dominique, Windsor, Ont.
Calgary Flames Tattoos
Wes Dominique, Windsor, Ont.
The Dallas Stars are banged up to an almost unbelievable extent. Six regular forwards are already out of the lineup, and top-six center Jason Spezza appears as though he’ll be added to that list.
The season isn’t even two weeks old and already the Dallas Stars have been decimated by injury.
Already dealing with the absences of Patrick Sharp, Mattias Janmark, Jiri Hudler, Ales Hemsky, Patrick Eaves and Cody Eakin — also known as half of their regular forwards — the Stars found out Monday that they could also be without Jason Spezza for a period of time. How long exactly is unknown, but Spezza, 33, is questionable for Tuesday’s game due to an injury he suffered Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“(Spezza) left practice with something he irritated last game," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said, per the team’s website.
There were no specifics about Spezza’s injury, but him being sidelined for any length of time, even just one or two games, would be an absolute headache for a Dallas team that cannot wait to get healthy.
Spezza remained one of the only entirely healthy members of the Stars’ top six at this point in the season, and he had been leaned on heavily by Ruff. After averaging 17:13 and 16:31 over his first two seasons in Dallas, Spezza had started this campaign on the top unit and was playing nearly 19 minutes per game. In five games, he had notched two goals and three points, too, and that makes his questionable status a serious blow.
Were Spezza the only Stars player on the shelf, the impact would likely be significantly less, but it’s the timing of the injury that makes his ailment so troublesome.
The injury issues for the Stars began before the training camp had even started. Over the course of the off-season, captain Jamie Benn was sidelined with a core muscle injury, sniper Tyler Seguin was forced out of the World Cup due to a foot injury and Cody Eakin found himself on the shelf long-term due to a knee injury. The injuries continued to roll in as the season approached, and it wasn’t just slight knocks.
Janmark, for example, will be out at least five months with a knee injury. Hemsky has been placed on injured reserve with a groin injury. Sharp is dealing with a concussion and has yet to return to the ice since taking a jolt from Los Angeles Kings defenseman Brayden McNabb on Oct. 20.
Thankfully Benn and Seguin are back healthy and in the lineup, but if Stars players keep dropping like this, expect Dallas’ top six to look a lot more like its bottom six by next week. That would be about the worst possible news for a team as reliant on scoring ability as the Stars.
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Marc Bergevin and Kevin Cheveldayoff.
NHL GMs usually have a longer leash than the coaches they hire. But eventually every GM ends up on the hot seat himself. Here are five who could use a strong season to take some of the heat off.
We're a week into the NHL season, which is nowhere near enough time for any reasonable person to start talking about anyone's job being on the line. Luckily, we're hockey fans and reasonable has nothing to do with it, so let's get to the speculation.
Usually when we talk about hot seats, we look at the league's coaches. After all, as the old saying goes, they're hired to be fired, and as Todd Richards found out last year, it doesn't take too many losses at the start of the season to cost a coach his job. But today, let's aim a level higher. NHL GMs tend to have a little more job security, and most get at least a few years to show progress before they come under fire. And when things get bad, they can often offer up their coach as a scapegoat first. But through all that, at some point, the buck stops with the boss.
Plenty of GMs around the league are probably safe no matter what happens. Guys like Jeff Gorton and Peter Chiarelli have only been on the job for a little over a year. Dean Lombardi and Stan Bowman both have a handful of Stanley Cup rings to ward off any criticism. And John Chayka can't legally be fired due to child labor laws. But others are facing more uncertainty.
I've already singled out on GM for hot seat honors – in Sportsnet's preseason predictions, I chose Chuck Fletcher as being on the shakiest ground, given that the Wild were old, expensive, hadn't made a conference final under his watch and had already fired their coach. I won't pick on him again today, so here are five more GMs who could use a strong season to take some of the heat off.
Jarmo Kekalainen, Blue Jackets
On the one hand, you could argue that Kekalainen hasn't been given enough time in Columbus. He's only been on the job since February 2013, and while that actually puts him in the upper half of the league's GMs in terms of seniority, it's still less time than you'd ideally give a GM.
On the other hand… well, how much time have you got? The Blue Jackets haven't won a playoff round under Kekalainen (or anyone else), and they missed the playoffs in each of the last two years. The roster is clogged with bad contracts. Kekalainen made a controversial decision at the draft, grabbing Pierre-Luc Dubois instead of Jesse Puljujarvi. And he's already played his coaching card, having replaced Todd Richards with John Tortorella around this time last year.
Add it all up, and the Blue Jackets are under plenty of pressure to get off to a good start this year. Instead, Tortorella is telling the media that they're not even close. That's not a good combination, and you have to wonder how long it might be before president of hockey ops John Davidson gets the urge to clean house and start all over again.
Garth Snow, Islanders
Remember when Islanders' owner Charles Wang shocked everyone by firing Neil Smith after less than six weeks on the job, then replaced him by promoting the team's backup goaltender to the GM's job? It was one of the most bizarre front office moves in NHL history, and we all had a good laugh while wondering how long Snow would last before Wang replaced him with a popcorn vendor.
As hard as it is to believe, that all happened over ten years ago, and Snow is now the fifth longest serving GM in the league. And he's done a good job, building around John Tavares and putting together a decent young team while weathering off-ice distractions like changes in the ownership ranks and a move to Brooklyn.
But while the Islanders have been good under Snow, they've yet to be great, winning just one playoff round and heading into this season well back of the Penguins and Capitals in most Metro power rankings. Most GMs who get a decade at the helm are expected to accomplish a bit more than that, and even given the limitations Snow's had to deal with, you wonder how long he can last before expectations will climb. Remember, Wang isn't calling the shots anymore, and the new owners have talked about wanting a championship.
Snow hasn't changed coaches since 2010, so he may have that option available if things go bad. But at some point, you'd think he'll need his Islanders to look like true Cup contenders at least once.
Jim Benning, Canucks
Hey, you knew we couldn't have an early-season doom-and-gloom post without finding room for the Canucks.
Strong start aside, the Canucks were widely picked to be one of the league's worst teams, even though they don't seem to think they're rebuilding. That puts Benning in a rough spot if things go bad, especially given his previous comments about how quickly things could be turned around. Signing a veteran free agent to a long-term deal and trading picks and a top prospect for immediate blueline help only cemented the idea that Benning believes he has a contender right now.
That doesn't seem completely fair – you get the sense that the "win now" attitude in Vancouver could be driven from ownership more than the front office – but that's life in the NHL. It's possible that the Canucks surprise us all with a playoff season, at which point Benning can laugh at all the doubters. But if they miss the postseason, or even end up scraping the cellar, then that rebuild will need to come eventually. And the history of GMs of bad teams being allowed to stick around for the cleanup process isn't a very long one.
Ken Holland, Red Wings
Wait, that can't be right.
Ask any fan outside Detroit to put together a list of the five best GMs in the league, and there's a good chance that Holland's on it. Since taking over the Red Wings' job in 1997, he's won three Cup rings and led the team to the playoffs each and every season. He's a fixture in Detroit, and the idea of him being on any sort of shaky ground seems unfathomable.
And yet, here we are. This year's Red Wings aren't expected to be all that good; they have a shot at extending their playoff streak, sure, but nobody is calling them Cup contenders. Several key players are nearing the end of the line, and while the team has some decent young talent ready to play bigger roles, there's not enough there for a full-scale youth movement. The franchise no longer seems to be the destination it once was for big-name talent, and there's a realistic chance that they'll head into a new arena next year with the worst team they've had in decades.
Is all of that Holland's fault? Hardly, although he hasn't helped matters by continually throwing big contracts at questionable veteran free agents every summer. But at some point you wonder if the Red Wings don't decide that it's time for a change in direction, much as they did a year ago when they walked away from Mike Babcock after he'd spent 10 years behind their bench.
All that said, the idea of Holland actually being fired still seems far-fetched. But could there be pressure for him to step aside, perhaps into a more senior or advisory role, while allowing the organization to transition to some new blood? For the first time in nearly two decades, a change could start to make sense.
Marc Bergevin, Canadiens
There are different kinds of hot seats. There's the kind where you've lost the confidence of your ownership, at which point it's really only a matter of time until you're packing up your office. That doesn't seem to be the case in Montreal, where Geoff Molson has always had Bergevin's back, at least publicly.
But then there's the kind of hot seat where the team's fans lose faith and start to turn on you. Sometimes, you can ride that out, but at some point the calls for your head can get tough to ignore. Perception matters, and if it looks like the customers aren't happy with the direction the product is going in, management can eventually be left with no choice but to make a change.
It's fair to say that Bergevin fits firmly into that second category. Granted, this is Montreal, where everyone's seat is already lukewarm on the day they're hired. But after a bizarre offseason that included the controversial P.K. Subban trade and Bergevin's continued insistence on sticking by Michel Therrien, the GM might not fare especially well in a vote of no-confidence among the fan base.
Of course, Carey Price can fix all of this by getting healthy and playing like a Hart candidate again. But if the Habs struggle at any point this season, calls for change are going to come in loudly. You'd have to think that Therrien would be the first on the block, and Bergevin might have no choice but to make a coaching change. But either way, he'll be under a spotlight all season long – even more than usual in Montreal.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
The 2017 draft prospect was unstoppable for the Boston University Terriers. Meet him and learn about more prospects on the fast-track to the NHL
The CHL-Russia series is just around the corner and rosters are already out for the WHL and OHL games. This series has typically been a nice primer for the world juniors, though more so on the Canadian side. Nonetheless, it has also historically been a nice showcase for top draft-eligible players. Nolan Patrick and Cal Foote get the nod out west, while Gabe Vilardi, Nic Hague and Markus Phillips will play for the OHL. I'll have more on the series as it unfolds, but until then let's get to the rest of the prospect world and see who is making noise.
Jake Oettinger, G – Boston University Terriers (Hockey East): As a 17-year-old freshman in one of college hockey's hardest conferences, Oettinger came into the season confident that with hard work, he could become the Terriers' starter. Five games into the campaign, he's already there. Oettinger has started every game for B.U. and is coming off back-to-back shutouts on the weekend. After blanking Sacred Heart and Quinnipiac, the Minnesota native now sits atop the Hockey East goalie board with a .947 save percentage and 1.42 goals-against average. Naturally there were high expectations for the 6-foot-4 netminder coming from USA Hockey's National Team Development Program, but the kid is getting as much out of college as he is giving.
“When I came out to the NTDP, one of the key things my dad and I talked about was the opportunity to go to schools like B.U.," Oettinger said. "When I went on my visit, I fell in love. The coaches are all the kind of coaches I want to play for and B.U., where you can get an education and also live in Boston, is just the complete package.”
The same could probably be said for Oettinger, whose size and athleticism make him an ideal NHL goalie prospect. Despite his young age, he has a very mature approach to his development and has good insight into his position.
“Every goalie in the NHL, with maybe the exception of Carey Price, could become a better skater," he said. "If you’re on your feet as long as you possibly can be, you give yourself a better chance to make a save. That’s what I’ve been working on. That, and tracking the puck. That’s so big in the game now. Shots and releases are so fast; you gotta be good at tracking the puck if you’re going to make saves.”
While starter's minutes on a high-octane Terriers squad comes with pressure, that's something Oettinger has seen in the past. Back in Minnesota, he took his Lakeville North high school team to the state final at the Xcel Energy Center. Though they fell to powerhouse Edina, the campaign was full of memories for Oettinger.
“I look back at that now and I wish I would have known that was my only season with Lakeville North," he said. "Those guys are still my best friends and playing them was really special, but something I took for granted a bit. Playing in the state tournament is one of my favorite hockey memories. It was everything I could ask for in one year.”
Oettinger followed his team remotely the next year, as he played for the NTDP and they went undefeated to win it all. He's more than happy for his mates and given how bright his future is, it's hard to knock his decision to leave. And it won't be surprising if he guides the Terriers to a national title in the next couple seasons.
In the Pipeline
Kale Clague, D (Los Angeles): The WHL player of the week with six points in two games, Clague made his mark as soon as he returned from a leg injury sustained at Kings camp. The Brandon Wheat Kings are happy to have the two-way defenseman back, as his smarts and mobility can really make a shift hum.
Max Jones, RW (Anaheim): London may have lost a ton of talent over the summer, but Jones is making sure the offense is still there. The OHL player of the week racked up seven points in two games for the Knights, but the power forward has been hot for awhile.
Michael McNiven, G (Montreal): Signed as a free agent by the Habs, McNiven has been excellent for the OHL's Owen Sound Attack. The kid's got a pretty sick glove hand and when he's in the net, Owen Sound has been winning a lot. The 2.24 goals-against average helps.
Filip Chlapik, C (Ottawa): The Charlottetown Islanders pivot has been hot all season, but it's good to see him continue his torrid pace now that everyone is back from NHL camps. Chlapik has 12 goals and 19 points in 10 games and has also been a demon in the faceoff circle on many nights.
Mathieu Joseph, RW (Tampa Bay): Quick and hard to play against, it's not hard to see Joseph having a Brad Marchand type of career, where agitating opens the door for a scoring role. The Saint John Sea Dogs winger can certainly put up points, with 12 goals and 16 points in 11 Quebec League games so far.
Wade Allison, RW (Philadelphia): Fast and powerful, Allison has hit the ground running in college, posting up five points in four games for Western Michigan. It seems like the momentum he gained in the USHL playoffs last year has carried over to the NCAA.
Kyle Wood, D (Arizona): Acquired from Colorado in the Mikkel Boedker deal, Wood is proving himself quite valuable. In three games with the AHL's Tucson Roadrunners, the big defenseman has amassed six points to lead the league in offense from the blueline.
2017 Draft Stars
Mason Shaw, C - Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL): Look way, way up at the WHL scoring leaders and you'll find the 5-foot-9 Shaw. An excellent playmaker with a knack for setting up goals on a tee, Shaw leads the league with 23 points in 12 games. He'll also drop the gloves when he needs to.
Shane Bowers, C - Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL): A serious offensive threat thanks to his skating, skills and smarts, Bowers is a point-per-game player in the United States League so far. That's a marked leap from his rookie production, which was pretty solid itself, but the kid is hot with six points in his past four games.
2018 Draft Star
Rasmus Dahlin, D - Frolunda (SHL): A great skater and incredibly efficient blueliner, Dahlin made his SHL debut on Friday and notched an assist. Back in the under-20 circuit, he was lighting it up with 11 points in nine games from the back end.
The Islanders at center ice of Barclays Center
The arena’s ice on Friday night was called “unplayable” and “bouncy,” and it has less to do with temperatures than it does the piping under the ice.
New York Islanders fans’ gripes about the Barclays Center have been plenty. There’s been complaints about the sight lines, the travel and the building design, in general, and it has left fans hoping for a return to Nassau Coliseum or for an all-new building for their Islanders to call home. The biggest objection to the arena, though, could be one that doesn’t really impact the fans.
Over the past few games, the center of attention for the Islanders hasn’t so much been the on-ice performance as it has been the ice conditions, which have been downright awful, according to the players.
Winger Cal Clutterbuck’s words rang out the loudest after the Islanders’ 3-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes. According to Newsday’s Arthur Staple, Clutterbuck called the surface “unplayable” on Friday night, and rearguard Johnny Boychuk added that pucks wouldn’t settle down, meaning players couldn’t do much more than “throw it on net.”
But complaints about the ice can be normal over the course of a season. Combine a string of unseasonable temperatures with a spectator-filled contest and there’s an almost perfect storm for bad, bouncy ice. Trouble is that it hasn’t been a one night issue.
Players were much less outspoken about the conditions following Sunday’s 6-3 win over the Minnesota Wild, but not exactly silent on the ice issue. Captain John Tavares told the New York Daily News’ Peter Botte that he didn’t want to talk about the ice but said it was “a little better” Sunday, while coach Jack Capuano said it was simply something both teams had to deal with.
“We don’t want any excuses,” Capuano said, according to Botte. “Whether the ice is good or bad, both teams have to play on it. I’m sure they’re trying to do the best they can here, and I’ll leave it at that.”
But the issue with the ice goes well beyond the temperature. According to Staple, the team has ice engineer and dehumidifiers that work to keep the rink in its best possible shape, but the biggest issue is literally an underlying one.
Staple reported that the Islanders are currently using plastic pipes below their ice surface instead of steel, and Chris Botta added that “all other NHL rinks have steel pipes.” Botta said that arena management knows of the issue, as do the Islanders, but it wasn’t fixed during the summer because it would have required a complete shutdown of the building.
When temperatures drop, the issue of warm weather impacting the playing surface will most likely fade away — or at least lessen, given that the sheet should stay much cooler in the winter — but as the season nears its culmination, the temperature could again be an issue and the team’s annoyance with the ice could again come to the fore.
Rumblings about the Islanders’ unhappiness with Barclays Center have been ongoing nearly since the day the puck was dropped to start the 2015-16 season, and they persist to this day. And if bad ice conditions continue without any fix in sight, you can almost guarantee the talk of the Islanders looking for a new home is going to continue.
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