LONDON, CANADA - MAY 13: Head coach Dale Hunter of the London Knights calls a timeout against the Barrie Colts in Game Seven in the 2013 OHL Championship Final on May 13, 2013 at the Budweiser Gardens in London, Ontario, Canada. The Knights defeated the Colts 3-2. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Author: The Hockey News
The former NHL center needed just 906 games to become the sixth coach to win 600 in the OHL.
Dale Hunter’s name is now etched alongside the OHL’s most venerable bench bosses.
The London Knights coach earned his 600th win on Saturday night in a 7-0 road win over the Saginaw Spirit, becoming just the sixth person to accomplish the feat.
Hunter joins Brian Kilrea, Bert Templeton, Larry Mavety, Stan Butler and George Burnett in the esteemed club.
Hunter reached the plateau faster than the others, requiring just 906 games. He entered the season with 590 wins on his resume and needed just 14 games to get to 600. His Knights are 10-2-1-1, which is only good for third behind the Erie Otters and Kitchener Rangers in the ultra-competitive Midwest Division.
Hunter has co-owned and coached the Knights almost exclusively since 2000. His 2004-05 Knights set an OHL record with 59 regular season wins before winning the league championship and Memorial Cup. That team featured the likes of Anaheim Ducks right winger Corey Perry, Florida Panthers center Dave Bolland, Ottawa Senators defenseman Marc Methot, Vancouver Canucks left winger Brandon Prust and New York Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi.
Hunter’s Knights also won OHL titles in 2011-12 and 2012-13. However, the first of those championships saw Hunter’s brother, Mark, take over behind the bench early in the season after the Washington Capitals hired him to replace Bruce Boudreau. The Caps went 30-23-7 under Hunter and lost in the Eastern Conference semifinal to the Rangers. Hunter returned to the Knights after the off-season, giving away to Adam Oates.
Before his days as a coach, Hunter recorded 323 goals, 1,020 points and 3,563 penalty minutes in 1,407 NHL games as a feisty center for Quebec, Washington and Colorado. He retired 12 games into the 1998-99 season.
The Blues regret getting to a point where coach Ken Hitchcock was fired, but everything they have faced has galvanized the players and they've turned the corner.
The St. Louis Blues aren’t used to being in this position in the regular season. Sure, there have been playoff letdowns, but the grind they have experienced this year, particularly the stretch that led to the firing of coach Ken Hitchcock, was new.
“It’s been a tough year,” said defenseman Carl Gunnarsson. “We’ve played some really good games, then played some really bad ones. No one wants to see the coach fired because it comes down on us – we didn’t do our jobs. It’s kind of embarrassing someone had to take the blame for it.”
Like several other squads of late, the Blues did rebound with Mike Yeo officially taking over head coaching duties, something he was ordained to do next season already. St. Louis won six of seven after Hitchcock was turfed and the one loss came against the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
“At this point, we’re kinda past it,” said blueliner Jay Bouwmeester. “We were spinning our tires and something had to happen. (Yeo) relates to some guys a little differently. Communication has been good, practices have been up-tempo…little subtle changes, nothing huge. But it’s been good.”
The other most obvious change? Goaltender Jake Allen got his groove back. The starter has struggled this season, with December going poorly and January being an unmitigated disaster. Allen even took some time off to reset and it seems to have worked. The 26-year-old has surrendered a grand total of seven goals in five games since Hitchcock was fired and all of a sudden looks like the guy St. Louis chose over Brian Elliott.
“He went through a tough time, but everybody does,” Bouwmeester said. “The problem when you’re a goalie is that it’s magnified; there’s nowhere to hide. He’s had a couple really strong games since the all-star break. He’s feeling good, we’re feeling good with him, so away we go.”
Perhaps what should be most heartening for Blues fans is that the players actually seem a little pumped about the adversity they faced. The firing of Hitchcock? To a man, they all regretted it. But it seems to have been the wake-up call necessary.
“You get some extra energy with a change like that and right now we’re rolling,” said center Patrik Berglund. “But we’re not just having luck; we’re playing the right way and that’s why we’re racking up points.”
The funny thing is, the Blues were never in serious trouble; they were still a wild card team when Hitchcock was fired. But this franchise has become used to life at the top of the Central and things were getting uncomfortable. For a team still waiting to hoist its first Stanley Cup, being pushed out of their comfort zone may end up paying dividends.
“Now you have to keep track of the standings,” Berglund said. “In the past few years we didn’t have to worry. But it’s also a good challenge to have to dig in every single game. Every game is very important and we have to stay focused and keep going.”
That adversity has also had a galvanizing effect on the players. St. Louis experienced a great deal of turnover in the summer with vets such as David Backes, Troy Brouwer and Steve Ott moving on (many of my peers have already pointed out that such players were known as Hitchcock buffers who could take heat in the right way from the coach), but those who remained aren’t ready to leave the city, despite the mid-season chaos.
“Everyone knows the trade deadline is coming up,” Gunnarsson said. “No one wants to move. We all want to be here, to play our hearts out every night. That’s been the biggest change, so that’s a good feeling in the group, coming from something bad.”
With Minnesota and Chicago so far up in the stratosphere, St. Louis can’t do any better than third in the Central at this point. And slipping behind Nashville into a wild card spot is definitely a possibility.
St. Louis slayed their Blackhawks playoff demon in the first round last year and made the conference final for the first time since 2001. But the Blues have gone through their own version of hell this season and who knows? It may have been the best thing to ever happen to this group.
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.
Eric Staal on life in the NHL before the 2004-05 lockout, and which human body parts he has autographed.
What was your favorite NHL team growing up?
The Leafs. I grew up in Thunder Bay, and it’s mostly Leaf Nation up there, too.
Who did you model your game after?
One of my favorite players was Joe Sakic, because of his clutch ability and because he played at both ends of the rink really well. He’s a good all-around player but was clutch.
Your ‘welcome to the NHL’ moment?
My first year was before the 2004-05 lockout, so any time I got near the net I took about eight cross-checks and slashes. I had a lot of those moments my first year at 18. It was a lot more physical before they changed the rules after that lockout.
First splurge purchase after signing an NHL contract?
I bought a Cadillac Escalade my first year once I knew I was staying and signing in Carolina. I needed a car, and my parents helped me, and I went and got one of those. It didn’t have spinning rims or anything like that, but it was nice.
What’s your favorite way to score?
I like to score from anywhere, but the fun ways to score are the one-timers or a sweet play. But most likely for me scoring, it’s going to be a quick-release shot. It’s going to be five-hole or low blocker. Those are my go-to.
What’s your craziest fan interaction?
I’ve signed people’s body parts. This one guy in Carolina, the whole team that won the Stanley Cup, he had everybody’s name tattooed to him. So he went around and basically got everybody that was on the team to sign, I think it was his leg or his calf or something, and he ended up tattooing everyone’s signature to his body. Hey, whatever you want to do. That was interesting.
Best thing about being an NHLer?
The fact I get to play a game for a living. How many people get to say they play a sport for a job? If I didn’t have this for a job, I would love playing beer-league pickup hockey with my buddies, because I love the game. I get to do that and get paid to do it, so there’s nothing better than that.
Worst thing about being an NHLer?
Travel. When you have a wife and kids, it’s hard being away. It’s hard for your wife when you’re busy and the kids are in school and hockey and everything else. It’s no fun being away. You always want to be around and be a part of everything, but the reality is we play 41 games on the road. That’s the hardest part.
The Capitals acquisition of defenseman Tom Gilbert is a classic depth move by an elite team preparing themselves for the playoff grind.
The fact that the Washington Capitals made a minor move Wednesday is proof they’re priming themselves for a long playoff run. It might not seem like much that they acquired defenseman Tom Gilbert from the Los Angeles Kings for a fifth-round pick, particularly since Gilbert will start his tenure in the Capitals organization in the minors.
But this is a classic depth move that elite teams make, one that has the potential to pay dividends in the playoffs. It’s basically an insurance policy against injury, giving the Capitals a useful defenseman they can put in their rotation if they’re hit with any injuries before or during the playoffs.
The Capitals, like a bunch of other teams, are currently on their NHL-mandated bye week and don’t return to action until Saturday. While they kick up their heels, they can do so knowing they’re firmly entrenched atop THN.com’s Power Rankings once again. (Last week’s rankings in parentheses.):
THE CREAM OF THE CROP
1. Washington Capitals (1) 2. New York Rangers (5) 3. Chicago Blackhawks (6) 4. Minnesota Wild (2) 5. Pittsburgh Penguins (3) 6. St. Louis Blues (10) 7. Boston Bruins (25) 8. San Jose Sharks (4) 9. Anaheim Ducks (14) 10. Edmonton Oilers (11)
With their 6-4 win over Anaheim on the weekend, the Capitals became the second team in NHL history to score five or more goals in 11 straight home games…With his 400th win, Henrik Lundqvist is one behind Chris Osgood for 11th on the all-time list. He’ll be in the top 10 by the end of the season…By the time the Blackhawks host Edmonton Friday night, the will have gone 23 days between games at the United Center…The Wild’s next victory will give them 38 on the season, which would equal their total of 2015-16…Sidney Crosby’s next point will be the 1,000th of his career…Paul Stastny, who left a game last Thursday with a lower-body injury, was put on the injured list and will be out at least two more games…The Bruins are 3-0-0 under new coach Bruce Cassidy and have scored 14 goals, more than any other three-game stretch under Claude Julien this season…With Tomas Hertl moving back to center, the Sharks have Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Hertl and Chris Tierney down the middle. That’s good…Antoine Vermette could be in a world of trouble for slashing a linesman in the Ducks’ 1-0 win over Minnesota Tuesday night…Oilers’ GM Peter Chiarelli doesn’t think he’ll be active at the deadline and is not looking at a rental. “I don’t think we’re quite ready to contend for the Cup,” he said.
THE MUSHY MIDDLE
11. Columbus Blue Jackets (7) 12. Florida Panthers (9) 13. Toronto Maple Leafs (15) 14. Nashville Predators (13) 15. New Jersey Devils (12) 16. New York Islanders (8) 17. Philadelphia Flyers (21) 18. Los Angeles Kings (24) 19. Montreal Canadiens (16) 20. Ottawa Senators (20)
Remember the team that put together a 16-game winning streak? Well, the Blue Jackets have won two in a row only once since then, a span of 19 games…The Panthers are in the midst of a stretch of nine straight against Western Conference competition, with five of those games on the road…The Leafs adopted a new dressing room slogan, “Play Right. Play Fast” then went out and beat the Islanders 7-1 Tuesday night…The Predators are nothing if not confounding. They overcame a three-goal deficit to Dallas in a 5-3 win Sunday before their bye week, which should be a sign they’ve turned the corner, right? Well, the last time they overcame a three-goal deficit, they went out and lost eight of their next 12 games… Stefan Noesen joined the Devils Jan. 25 and was immediately placed on the third line with Pavel Zacha and Jacob Josefson. In the seven games since then, Zacha has three goals and six points, Josefson a goal and five points and Noesen two goals and three points…With a chance to take over a playoff spot, the Islanders did a face plant with a 7-1 loss against Toronto Tuesday night that coach Doug Weight called, “an ass kicking.”…The Flyers play eight of their next 11 on the road, where they’re 10-13-3 this season. They kick it off with a three-game trip through western Canada, where they’re 0-2-4 the past two seasons…The Kings salvaged a pre-bye week road trip with a 6-3 win in Florida Sunday. Prior to that, they had gone three-plus games without scoring a goal in regulation time…Prior to firing Michel Therrien, the Canadiens had not scored a 5-on-5 goal in seven games where either Max Pacioretty or Alexander Radulov was not involved…Curtis Lazar sat out his fourth straight game as a healthy scratch Tuesday night amid speculation that he could be dealt before the trade deadline.
VYING FOR THE PARTICIPATION BADGE
21. Tampa Bay Lightning (19) 22. Buffalo Sabres (23) 23. Arizona Coyotes (27) 24. Calgary Flames (17) 25. Winnipeg Jets (28) 26. Vancouver Canucks (30) 27. Carolina Hurricanes (18) 28. Dallas Stars (29) 29. Detroit Red Wings (26) 30. Colorado Avalanche (22)
The Lightning have won three of their last four, something they haven’t done in almost two months…The Sabres’ 3-2 win over Ottawa Tuesday night marked the seventh time they’ve won a game when trailing after two periods. That’s tied for best in the NHL with Montreal and Pittsburgh…Despite a 5-2 loss to Edmonton Tuesday night, the Coyotes are 6-3-1 in their past 10, the best 10-game stretch they’ve had all season…Johnny Gaudreau was briefly demoted to the fourth line after a turnover that led to a goal in a 5-0 loss to Arizona Monday night...Jets coach Paul Maurice had this to say about Patrik Laine after the rookie notched his third (third!) hat trick of the season in a 5-2 win over Dallas Tuesday night: “If he didn’t score the three goals, I could have still come out and said that was his best game of the season.”…With both Bo Horvat and Brandon Sutter out day-to-day with minor injuries, the Canucks had major pieces out of their lineup in a 4-0 loss to Pittsburgh Tuesday night…If the Hurricanes fail to make the playoffs, they can point to what will almost certainly be a dismal road record. They’re 7-16-6 on the road, worst in the Eastern Conference…Jamie Benn is heating up even as the Stars stumble around. He has eight goals and 15 points in his past 11 games…Thomas Vanek has been dealt at the deadline before and knows the drill. “Wait and see, wait for a phone call and I guess for someone to let me know if I’m staying or going,” he said...After more than 300 games and almost seven seasons in the minors, Jeremy Smith made his NHL debut in Colorado’s 3-2 loss to New Jersey Tuesday night. “He was our best player by a country mile,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said after the game.