Movements in the world of hockey Monday:
National Hockey League
NHL-Fined Chicago coach Joel Quenneville US$10,000 for public comments critical of League officiating made following the May 24 game against Detroit.
Movements in the world of hockey Monday:
National Hockey League
NHL-Fined Chicago coach Joel Quenneville US$10,000 for public comments critical of League officiating made following the May 24 game against Detroit.
Lindy Ruff’s contract in Dallas is up at season’s end and with the Stars struggling, change could be coming behind the bench. The Stars will have plenty of coaches to choose from, too.
It’s hard not to feel bad for Lindy Ruff.
The Dallas Stars have two dozen games left on their schedule before the season is up, and there Ruff is with a team that’s sunken rather unexpectedly to the bottom of the standings. This was supposed to be a year in which a threatening Stars lineup took another step forward, pushed deep into the post-season and maybe even flirted with winning the franchise’s second Stanley Cup. Instead, Ruff’s Stars have plummeted to the bottom of the standings. Only the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche — both real, honest to goodness bad teams — have fared worse.
We’ve touched on it before, but this isn’t exactly Ruff’s fault. Given the injuries his roster has sustained, the changes his lineup has seen and the fact the duo of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi still aren’t getting the job done between the pipes, Ruff hasn’t had all that much help. Losing Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers seems to have had a bigger impact than anyone could have suspected, and making matters worse is that while the pure firepower that was Dallas’ calling card before isn’t exactly gone, it’s not succeeding at the same rate as past seasons, so outscoring opponents on a nightly basis hasn’t quite worked, either.
Put that all together and you’ve got a Stars team that’s right near the bottom of the standings, and that has to be tough enough on Ruff. Somehow, though, that isn’t even really the worst of it.
The most difficult part about Ruff’s position has to be that he’s a sitting duck. Throughout this season, Gerard Gallant, Jack Capuano, Michel Therrien and Claude Julien have been fired. The blindsided nature of those firings, especially for Gallant and Therrien, had to be tough, no doubt, but Ruff may be able to literally count the days until he’s gone. His contract, a four-year deal he inked back in 2013, is up after this season, and with the Stars looking like a lock to miss the post-season, it seems more likely than not that Dallas will be moving on.
If Ruff is indeed gone at season’s end, it then becomes a question of who steps in to take over the position. Before the Canadiens swooped in a picked up Julien, he would have been the perfect candidate for the Stars job. Problem is, he was also the perfect candidate for the job in Montreal. And he also would have worked well in Florida or Brooklyn or Vegas. Even if the Stars wanted Julien, he was going to have options, and now that option is completely off the table.
One intriguing scenario would be if the move by the Canadiens to bring back Julien, who coached in Montreal from 2002 to 2006, has somehow inspired the Stars to look to their own past. There are two bench bosses available who fit the bill of a former Dallas coach who could be in line for the gig, Marc Crawford and Ken Hitchcock. The likelihood either return to Dallas might be slim, but they’re options nevertheless.
Crawford held the Stars job on his way out of the NHL back in 2011, but his two-year stint with the franchise was fruitless. Despite turning in two consecutive winning seasons, the team finished outside of the post-season both years, even if was by only a slight margin. His candidacy for the job would be interesting in that he’s coming off of several years coaching overseas and won two championships in the Swiss league. Now an associate with the Ottawa Senators, he could take what he’s learned over the past few years and apply it to a team with more firepower.
The more interesting of the two former coaches, however, is Hitchcock. Crawford’s had his own success, but only a select few can match what Hitchcock has done throughout his career, and fans in Dallas will certainly remember him fondly. He joined the franchise in 1995-96 and over the next four seasons the Stars gradually built to a Stanley Cup championship in 1998-99. The next season, Hitchcock again led the Stars to the final, but they came up just shy of back-to-back titles. Even when he was let go, Dallas was above .500. A tough coach? Maybe. They don’t come much better, though.
And what of the other three recently relieved bench bosses? Therrien, Gallant and Capuano will all have their suitors, and Dallas could be among them.
Therrien’s the most successful with 406 wins to his name and his .563 points percentage is the highest of any of the trio of recently removed coaches. Therrien also has 71 post-season games under his belt with a .535 winning percentage, including an Eastern Conference title with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2007-08. Playoff success can be alluring, especially for a team that appears a piece or two away from a deep run, and that alone could be enough for the Stars to take a long hard look at Therrien.
But Gallant and Capuano are also worth taking a look at if Dallas is in the market. Gallant’s work with the Panthers was admirable. He was given a young roster with loads of potential and turned them into a playoff team, and many had the Panthers pegged for another successful season before his shocking firing. As for Capuano, he had a lengthy tenure with the Islanders and one could argue had Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen stuck around Capuano might still be around.
Of course, hiring Crawford, Hitchcock, Therrien, Gallant or Capuano is contingent on their availability. There’s a job to be had with the Vegas Golden Knights and questions about the future behind the bench for the three interim coaches, Bruce Cassidy in Boston, Tom Rowe in Florida and Doug Weight in New York. If the interims give up the job, that’s three more openings. None of this is to mention Crawford inked a three-year deal with the Senators, so he might be sticking in Ottawa for a while.
Dallas could look anywhere, though. The talk of Utica Comets coach Travis Green taking over an NHL bench has grown consistently and Sheldon Keefe’s success with the Toronto Marlies could see him draw some interest. Even Texas Stars coach Derek Laxdal could be in the conversation. Then there’s current NHL assists like Kirk Muller and Kevin Dineen among others, which is to say the options are near limitless.
The most unexpected move of all, though, would be giving Ruff one more shot and it wouldn’t be an unprecedented move. After a disappointing end to the 2014-15 season, a third-straight first-round exit, St. Louis gave Hitchcock another shot on a one-year deal. He subsequently took the Blues to the Western Conference final in 2015-16, beating the Stars along the way, and earned another one-year deal before his eventual firing when the Blues ran into some mid-season difficulties.
The situation isn’t all that similar for Ruff and the Stars, but the down year doesn’t necessarily represent what he’s been able to manage in Dallas. Ruff led the team to one of the franchise’s best regular season performances in 2015-16, and each of the past three seasons the Stars earned 90-plus points. Does he come back? That’s for Dallas’ front office to decide. One would guess Ruff lands on his feet either way.
The Stars’ decision for the future behind the bench will be one of the most important the franchise makes in the coming months. There are plenty of options available, be it Ruff or otherwise, and choosing the right coach for the job could very well be the difference between Dallas taking the next step or a few years where the playoffs aren’t quite a certainty.
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Matt Walilko had a playoff game to remember, recording six goals and five assists. It wasn't exactly a once-in-a-lifetime game since he had a 10-point game earlier this year.
In the dying minutes of his Jr. C playoff game Tuesday night, Matt Walilko of the Midland Flyers had his stick broken in two by a slash. A dastardly deed to be sure, but you can kind of see his opponent’s reasoning. It was the probably same thought process Bobby Clarke had when he broke Valeri Kharlamov’s ankle during the 1972 Summit Series.
“The guy was telling me that my stick was way too hot and he had to break it,” Walilko said. “He just axed the stick right in half and said it had too many points in it. We were laughing about it after the game.”
Considering that stick – along with the 17-year-old using it - was responsible for six goals and five assists in a 12-3 rout over the Huntsville Otters, you can understand why the opponent would rather see that one propping up tomato plants than demolishing his team’s playoff hopes. So when his team hits the ice for Game 6 of their playoff series Friday night, Walilko will be using new lumber, but riding the confidence of a once-in-a-lifetime game.
Or was it? Earlier this season, the Grade 12 high school student registered a 10-point game with five goals and five assists en route to scoring 80 points in 39 games and being named rookie of the year in Ontario's Provincial Junior Hockey League. Walilko is just 17, playing in a league where there are players as old as 22. He was easily the youngest player among the league’s top 10 scorers this season and one of only two teenagers. In what should come as no surprise, Walilko’s night vaulted him into the league’s playoff scoring lead with 10 goals and 20 points in five games. “It makes it look like I’ve been lighting it up every night,” Walilko said, “but I only had nine points in four games before that one.”
Back to the game, Walilko attributed his good fortune to being in the right place at the right time. He said a couple of key players were out with injuries and school commitments, so he knew he would have to step up. One of his linemates had seven points in the game and the other linemate had six. Walilko said that, as was the case in his 10-point night earlier this season, he went into the game knowing he was facing the opponent’s backup goalie.
“You kind of do your research, right?” Walilko said. “You see the backup is starting and you try to put a lot of pucks on net.”
What makes the feat even more impressive is that it gave Walilko’s team a 3-2 series lead with a chance to win it in Game 6. The Flyers had dug themselves into a 2-0 hole in the series, but have stormed back and clearly have some momentum on their side, not to mention a confident young man leading the attack.
Which begs the question: What is a young man this good doing playing this far down the junior hockey ladder? Well, Walilko played AAA midget last season in Barrie and rather than play on the third or fourth line for a Jr. B or Jr. A team this season, he thought it would be better for his development if he were a prime time player at a lower level. He has his sights set on earning a scholarship, something he hopes to do in a year or so. Walilko plans to take next season off school and hopes to play next season for the Pembroke Lumber Kings. He plans to write his SATs in the hope of attracting interest from U.S. schools.
Flyers president and GM Gerry Asselin said Walilko is so focused on getting a scholarship that he turned down a chance to practice, and perhaps even play, with the struggling Barrie Colts this season. The Flyers are affiliated with the Colts, who are struggling and in last place this season. Asselin said he recently had a conversation with Colts GM Jason Ford, in which Ford asked him to suggest a couple of players the Colts might have a look at down the stretch. Asselin said when he approached Walilko, he was flatly turned down.
“He’s a smart kid,” Asselin said. “He has his head screwed on right.”
A student at a Catholic high school in Barrie, Walilko said he can’t take all the credit for his success. His personal motto comes from the Bible passage Philippians 4:13, which says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
“I’ve put it on every stick I’ve bought since I was a young kid,” Walilko said. “I grew up in a religious family and every time I’m on the ice and having a tough time, I’ll just look down at that and kind of re-motivate myself. It kind of applies to me in everything I do, not just hockey.”
Walilko will be looking to continue making a big contribution in the playoffs, but is another double-digit performance in the future?
“I don’t know if any of my backup sticks have that many points in them, but I’ll try.”
MORE FROM THE HOCKEY NEWS:
Claude Julien. Image by: Getty Images
Any late season surge in Boston won’t be because of a new coach, it’ll be because a good team finally started getting some bounces.
When a team fires a coach mid-season and the guy barely lasts a week on the unemployment block, they’ve probably just made a huge mistake.
Back in 2011, the Capitals made that mistake. They fired Bruce Boudreau after the team hit a rough patch, and he was subsequently hired just two days later by Anaheim. It took two other coaches and three seasons for the team to find themselves another coach of his calibre, a waste of the their best players’s prime years.
Last week, the Boston Bruins made that same mistake firing Claude Julien. He lasted exactly one week on the market before another team scooped him up. The fact it was the division leading Montreal Canadiens makes matters even worse as it points to how clear of an upgrade they thought Julien was over the guy who led them to the top.
Boston’s decision came down to results and expectations. From that standpoint, it’s clear why they did what they did. After making the Cup final in 2012-13 and winning the President’s Trophy in 2013-14, the Bruins missed the playoffs twice and were sure looking like they would make it three with a 26-23-6 record under Julien. Someone had to take the fall and with this being Julien’s 10th season as bench boss, maybe his voice was getting a bit stale.
I’m not sure I buy that though and it all comes down to what the Bruins are doing under the hood this year. The year after the President’s Trophy win, the team took a step back dropping from third in score-and-venue adjusted Corsi to 12th and then dropped to 17th the year after. This year, they’ve shot all the way back up to first, ahead of the perennial kings of this stat, the Kings. Their mark of 56 percent is the ninth best mark of any team since 2007-08. Ahead of them are two Detroit teams, three Chicago teams, and three Los Angeles teams – and also three Stanley Cups. No fired coaches either.
The team made a remarkable year-to-year jump, the results just weren’t there. The team has the lowest shooting and save percentage among those top teams, and that’s led to a dastardly low 46.3 percent goals ratio, a full 10 percent lower than their shot share and six percent lower than the worst of the eight juggernaut teams above them.
While goaltending is a concern, some of that is a result of how terrible their back-up goalies have been. You’d also figure that a world class goalie like Tuukka Rask will get his groove back. The real big issue is on offense where the team ranks 21st in goals per 60 at 5-on-5. While they may have the ninth best shot attempt rate since 2007-08, they’re also posting the sixth worst shooting percentage since 2007-08.
The obvious answer from most pundits is that the Bruins aren’t actually a good team due to their massive shot advantage because a majority of those shots are coming from the outside. It turns out they have a point. Take a look at this heat map from HockeyViz.com of all the shots the Bruins are taking this year to see for yourself. It might be a lot to take in, but basically, red means “hot spots” where the team shoots more than league average, while blue represents “cold spots” where the team is getting fewer chances.
Just as expected, a lot of red on the outside and a huge blue zone right in front of the –– wait, wrong picture. That’s actually the Bruins 2010-11 season where they won the Cup and had the second highest goal scoring rate at 5-on-5. My bad. Here’s this year.
Yep, there we go. A little better than 2010-11, but still, they’re not really getting to the front of the –– wait, that’s not it. That’s actually the Bruins 2012-13 season where they made it to the Cup final and had the ninth highest goal scoring rate at 5-on-5. My bad. Here’s this year.
Hmm, a lot fewer shots overall, but again, their biggest cold spot is right in front of the –– wait, I did it again. That’s actually the 2013-14 season where the Bruins won the President’s Trophy and had the third highest goal scoring rate at 5-on-5. My bad. Okay, here’s 2016-17, for real this time.
Remember that this offense is the 21st rated offence at 5-on-5. If anyone could point out how it differs from any time the Bruins had a top five or 10 offense the past few years, I’m all ears. There is a bit of a deeper contour in front of the net than other seasons, but not by much, and the red zone in front of the slot is a deeper red and much closer to the front of the net. That should all cancel out, and it does. By expected goals for, here’s how every season under Julien ranks.
This year, the Bruins should be having one of the most prolific offenses they’ve had in years, instead, they’re struggling. The idea they’re “not getting to the front of the net” is a bad excuse because it’s clear they either never really have, it’s never really mattered, or there’s a systemic bias in Boston to record fewer shots there. Whatever the case, it doesn’t hold water.
The Bruins offense hasn’t changed much, but the results have and Julien lost his job because of it. Some might say the Bruins Corsi doesn’t tell the whole story here, but even by expected goals they’re the league’s top team, and those teams rarely struggle to convert like this team has. I normally hesitate to use “luck” as a crutch to describe a team with poor results, but it’s hard to point the finger anywhere else.
If you’re still not convinced, here’s another way to look at it. I plotted every player’s personal shooting percentage (at 5-on-5) this season compared to the the three seasons prior. Unsurprisingly, nearly everyone is having a down year.
There’s a fair number of players here who were reliable scorers in the past that suddenly can’t put it in. These 19 players have 86 goals this year, but if they were as efficient as they were before this season, they’d be at 111 collectively. If you look at expected shooting percentage that number drops a little to 104, but their expected shooting percentage is actually higher than it was in the previous three seasons. It’s hard to imagine all these guys suddenly forgot how to score, but that’s the reality if you think these results have nothing to do with luck.
Eventually, things should revert back to normal and they’ll start scoring at their normal rates again. With the way the Bruins control play, that’ll likely mean more wins down the stretch and it may be enough for a playoff spot (we think they’ve got a 70 percent shot at the moment). If they make it, they’re a dark horse team in the East, especially in a weak Atlantic. That is, if they keep playing as well as they did under Julien.
Whatever happens though, any team success will come back to the coaching change as a turning point. Make no mistake though, they likely would’ve turned it around anyways. Any late season surge won’t be because of a new coach, it’ll be because a good team finally started getting some bounces. The Bruins won’t be a good team now because they fired Julien -- they already were one.
data via corsica.hockey
Jarome Iginla's best days are behind him, but he'd be willing to waive his no-movement clause to join a club that would give him one last shot at a Stanley Cup.
The constant trade speculation surrounding Colorado Avalanche forwards Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog pushed the trade status of veteran teammate Jarome Iginla to the sidelines. The Denver Post's Terry Frei reports Avalanche GM Joe Sakic won't reveal his intentions leading up of the March 1 trade deadline, but will continue listening to offers. That includes those that might come in from playoff contenders for Iginla.
Now 39 and reaching the end of his 20-year NHL career, Iginla is willing to waive his no-movement clause to join a club that gives him one last shot at winning the Stanley Cup. ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun cites a source claiming the Los Angeles Kings discussed the merits of acquiring the veteran right winger, who played his best seasons for Kings coach Darryl Sutter during their years with the Calgary Flames.
According to LeBrun, Iginla's $5.33-million salary-cap hit could be a sticking point for the Kings. For a possible deal to take place, he believes the Avalanche would have to pick up part of it.
LeBun doubts the Avs are getting many call for Iginla. While he remains a well-respected player and leader, his best days are well behind him. With only seven goals and 15 points in 55 games, he's on track for his worst performance in a non-lockout NHL season since his 13-goal, 32-point sophomore campaign in 1997-98.
A playoff-bound club seeking experienced depth and leadership at right wing could take a chance on Iginla. Perhaps getting away from the moribund Avalanche for one last shot at that long-elusive championship might improve his production. The Avs, however, shouldn't expect to get much in return. At this point, they could be fortunate to receive a third-round pick.
BRIAN BOYLE A SOLID ALTERNATIVE TO MARTIN HANZAL
Arizona Coyotes center Martin Hanzal is frequently mentioned as a possible target for clubs seeking size and two-way skills at center. A more affordable option, however, could be Tampa Bay Lightning left winger Brian Boyle.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports several playoff clubs are interested in the 6-foot-6, 244-pound Boyle. Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli scouted the 32-year-old during a recent Lightning game against the Minnesota Wild. Friedman also said the Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs could be among the suitors.
Like Hanzal, Boyle is eligible for UFA status in July. However, he has several advantages over the Coyotes' center.
A versatile checking-line forward, Boyle can play all three forward positions and can even skate on defense when needed. He's not a scorer but is on pace this season to reach 20 goals and he's had a healthier career than the oft-injured Hanzal.
Most importantly, Boyle has considerable recent playoff experience. He reached the Stanley Cup final with the New York Rangers in 2014, returned to the final the following season with the Lightning and helped them reach last year's Eastern Conference finals.
CURTIS LAZAR LIKELY LOOKING FOR TRADE
Trade speculation is growing over young Ottawa Senators center Curtis Lazar. A first-round selection by the Sens (17th overall) in the 2013 NHL draft, he was projected to become a quality two-way forward.
Now in his third NHL season, Lazar's career hasn't unfolded as expected. He tallied 15 points in 67 games as a rookie in 2014-15 and 20 points in 76 games as a sophomore in 2015-16. This season, the 22-year-old played in 30 games with only one assist to show for it.
Lazard was a healthy scratch in several recent contests, prompting some pundits to suggest he could become a trade candidate. The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch cites TSN's Darren Dreger saying he wouldn't be surprised if the unhappy young forward asked to be dealt.
Garrioch said the Lazar camp hasn't requested a trade, but will meet with Senators GM Pierre Dorion on Saturday to discuss options for his future. A trade will likely be among them. If Lazar is shopped before the deadline, Garrioch thinks Dorion could seek a high draft pick in return.
That might appear as an unrealistic asking price, but this year's draft isn't a deep one and some clubs could be willing to move their first rounders. Lazar could benefit from a change of scenery and a rival GM could take the gamble.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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