Philadelphia Flyers Tattoos
Bill Jezior, Philadelphia, Pa.
Philadelphia Flyers Tattoos
Bill Jezior, Philadelphia, Pa.
Coaches making their big league debuts and those taking over in new homes will be expected to impress in their first seasons, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be the ones facing the most pressure in 2016-17.
With pre-season action underway, it’s almost exactly two weeks until the NHL campaign begins, and with it a bevy of expectations.
From the past season’s standout rookies to struggling scorers, players are preparing to face the pressure of another season. After all, it’s their duty to perform when their number is called. But those partaking in the actual on-ice action aren’t the only ones who will have to perform in order to keep management — and fans — happy. In fact, some of those facing the highest expectations won’t be on the ice, but rather behind the bench.
New coaches, like Calgary Flames bench boss Glen Gulutzan and Colorado Avalanche coach Jared Bednar, will face the pressure of trying to turn around struggling clubs in the span of one short off-season, while veteran coaches in new locales, such as Bruce Boudreau with the Minnesota Wild and Randy Carlyle in his return to the Anaheim Ducks, will be attempting to take already competitive teams to the next level.
Those coaches entering their first season with their respective clubs won’t be the ones facing the toughest tests, however. Here are the five coaches who will be under the most pressure:
5. Darryl Sutter, Los Angeles Kings
Given that Sutter has produced a .608 points percentage in the regular season and .609 win percentage in the post-season, it may seem odd that he’s in the five-spot on this list, but the Kings’ championship window is slowly closing and in the past two seasons the team has won a grand total of one playoff game.
Yes, Sutter has helped bring two Stanley Cups to Los Angeles in the past five seasons and yes, Sutter is arguably one of the best coaches in the league. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t expectations for him to get a team as strong as the Kings deep into the post-season on a consistent basis.
Bruce Boudreau looked to have the Anaheim Ducks in line to contend for the Stanley Cup for years on end, and that resulted in his firing after consecutive playoff failures. Sutter is facing the pressure of another potential let down in the post-season.
4. Jeff Blashill, Detroit Red Wings
Some coaches may face grand expectations stemming from their own success — take Sutter, for instance — while others have the unenviable task of rescuing a team from its own ineptitude. Blashill, though, faces the unfortunate pressure that comes with the Red Wings being so incredibly successful in regular season play over the past quarter-century.
It has been “The Year” for the Red Wings to miss the post-season for what feels like a half-decade, yet somehow Detroit has managed to get into the playoffs using the savvy of its veteran players mixed with free agent spare parts and a bit of young talent. That’s the same recipe the team will need in 2016-17 to get back to the post-season.
Already, the Red Wings are dealing with an ailing Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall, and that’s not to mention the departure of long-time star Pavel Datsyuk. As such, young players are going to be what powers Detroit most this season, and Blashill no doubt wants to avoid his group being the first to miss the playoffs in 26 years.
3. Claude Julien, Boston Bruins
Julien is currently the longest-tenured coach in the league and he was behind the bench when the Bruins ended their 39-year Stanley Cup drought. That, paired with the fact he’s made the best of some mediocre rosters, has given Julien some rope after consecutive post-season misses. That said, missing the playoffs three years in a row — or even the threat of that happening — might be enough to send Julien packing.
The promising thing for Julien and the Bruins is that it’s not as if the playoff misses the past two seasons have been egregious. Boston missed the playoffs by a mere three points in 2014-15, which speaks to the importance of every single point over the course of a campaign, but 2015-16’s miss was even more heartbreaking. The Bruins finished the season tied with the Detroit Red Wings with 93 points, but were eliminated by way of the regulation-and-overtime wins tiebreaker rule.
Julien is undoubtedly one of the best coaches in the history of a storied Bruins franchise, but, like most veteran-laden teams, the championship window is closing in Boston. Julien’s every move will be under scrutiny, especially if the Bruins get off to a slow start and a playoff appearance looks to be in peril early.
2. Willie Desjardins, Vancouver Canucks
His first season was a success in Vancouver thanks to a post-season berth, but Desjardins’ second campaign behind the Canucks bench wasn’t nearly as pleasant. Not only did the Canucks miss the playoffs, but they finished as the third-worst team in the entire NHL. Only the lowly Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs were worse, and no playoff team from the year prior had a fall from grace quite like Desjardins’ Canucks.
Maybe under most circumstances, in most cities, last season’s playoff miss wouldn’t be the worst-case scenario. It hurts, sure, but sometimes a step backwards is needed for a step forward. But missing the post-season at this stage in the careers of Daniel and Henrik Sedin is a worst-case scenario for the Canucks.
The Sedins can still be solid contributors, but the years of 80-plus points are behind them. If there’s one team that has to worry about their opportunity slipping away, it’s the Canucks, and it’s Desjardins’ job to give Vancouver — and the Sedins — the chance to make playoff magic.
1. Michel Therrien, Montreal Canadiens
No coach in the league will be under a bigger microscope than Therrien, especially after the Canadiens shipped fan favorite and Norris Trophy winning defenseman P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators. While Therrien wasn’t the one who pulled the trigger on the deal, Subban’s playing style didn’t fit Therrien’s system and any struggles the team has — any maybe more specifically any struggles Shea Weber has under his new coach — will put Therrien in the spotlight.
Even though Therrien is facing the most pressure, though, he may be the coach on this list who ends up having the most success, all thanks to the return of all-world goaltender Carey Price. As the old adage goes: “Show me a good goaltender, and I’ll show you a good coach.” That rings true in Montreal. If the 2015-16 campaign proved anything, it’s that with Price, the Canadiens are a Stanley Cup contender. Without him? Well, not so much.
Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has given Therrien a vote of confidence a few times and didn’t blame him for Montreal’s struggles this past season, but the pressure is on Therrien this coming season. For Therrien’s sake, the Canadiens need to show vast improvement this season, especially because he’ll be the one bearing the brunt of the blame for any failure.
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The way Sidney Crosby and Brad Marchand are meshing at the World Cup, it's easy to envision Marchand in a Penguins' sweater. One problem. It'll probably never happen.
There's no doubt that Sidney Crosby and Brad Marchand have talked about it. They skate together in the summer and are making magic in the World Cup of Hockey. Lots of it. And with just 263 shopping days left until Marchand stands to become an unrestricted free agent, it’s never too early to start envisioning Marchand playing alongside Crosby with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
After all, Marchand is the winger Crosby has never had. Throughout his international career, the challenge has been finding a winger that meshes with Crosby and that search has often been a challenging one. But here at the World Cup, Crosby, with some help from Marchand, delivered on the big stage and was the biggest reason Canada won its 14th straight best-on-best game dating back to 2010 in Vancouver and will advance to the final against either Sweden or Team Europe starting Tuesday night. There were a lot of contributors to Canada's 5-3 win over Russia in the semifinal, but it was Crosby and Marchand who provided the spark.
“That’s a long ways away,” Marchand acknowledged when asked last night about the possibility of playing with Crosby. “There’s championship games here, we got to think about that first. But we’ll deal with whatever needs to be dealt with down the road. But it’s a lot of fun playing with Sid, there’s no question about that. But for now we’ll keep that to here.”
He kept that open-ended enough, didn’t he? So let the Brad Marchand Free Agent Watch officially begin. It makes so much sense on so many levels.
Except there’s almost no chance it’s going to happen. The Boston Bruins, who must be growing weary of losing star players as salary cap casualties, seem to finally have their financial house in order. There has been an ongoing dialogue between the Bruins and Marchand all summer and all signs point toward him signing a long-term deal in Boston, likely for eight years and somewhere in the range of $6 million per season. In fact, don’t be surprised if something gets done with Marchand before the start of next season.
And that’s a good thing for the Bruins. Smart call on their part. Because Marchand’s play in the World Cup has been nothing short of brilliant with Crosby. And if he has another season in 2016-17 like he did in 2015-16, the price would continue to rise. Marchand is on a very team-friendly deal in Boston and deserves a raise of at least $1.5 million on a long-term deal. In fact, the first couple of years of that deal might be a bargain for the Bruins still.
So we’ll have to be content with Crosby, Marchand and Patrice Bergeron being a marvel for Canada. And while both Marchand and Bergeron have been terrific, Crosby has been otherworldly. When asked why Crosby has been so good in the World Cup, Canadian defenseman Shea Weber mused, “Because he’s only had a month-and-a-half off? I don’t know. It looks like he just kept skating.”
Indeed. In fact, it looks as though, at the age of 29, Crosby might actually be getting better. The 2016 playoffs will be remembered as the point in his career when Crosby channeled his inner Steve Yzerman. His impressive two-way play was the main reason he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP last spring. But when you watch him strip the puck off Dmitry Kulikov, drive to the front of the net and make a poised 1-on-1 play the way he did on Canada’s first goal of the game, it sure looks as though he may not have actually hit his ceiling. When Crosby struggled through Vancouver, and to a lesser extent Sochi, he might not have scored a goal like that one. Add to the fact that he went 12-5 in the faceoff circle and you may be seeing a player who is actually approaching his apex. It’s little wonder that Crosby and Marchand are running 1-2 in tournament scoring at the moment.
“I just think he knows how good he is and he’s more patient with what he’s doing,” Team Canada coach Mike Babcock said of Crosby. “When things don’t go well, he doesn’t get frustrated. When people crosscheck him he doesn’t get riled up. He just knows he’s going to have success over time. The other thing that happens when he plays with Toews and not on the same line, but Toews does a lot of stuff so he can do what he does. So to me that's a pretty good one-two punch.”
Crosby is part of a core group – Bergeron, Weber, Jonathan Toews, Drew Doughty, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are the others – who have been together through both the Vancouver and Sochi Games and on this team. That certainly helped Canada when it went down 2-1 in the second period and things were looking dicey for, oh, about five minutes there. Seventy-two seconds after Evgeny Kuznetsov put the Russians ahead 2-1 late in the second period, Crosby dug out a loose puck and sent it to Marchand for the easy goal.
And that Crosby vs. Ovechkin thing? Well, that’s becoming as big a rout as Canada vs. Russia, isn’t it? Crosby has bettered Alex Ovechkin in two playoff series and in international competition, his Canada teams are 4-0-0 and have outscored Russia by a 25-8 margin. “I don’t think it’s over,” Crosby said when asked whether Canada-Russia as a compelling game has run its course. “If you look at their team, they have some pretty special players, a lot of talent, a lot of skill, exciting guys to watch and it’s great hockey.”
Particularly when Crosby is playing in it.
Team Canada played arguably its worst best-on-best game since the 2006 Olympics and still came out on top by a comfortable margin. It won't happen again.
The stark contrast between Team Canada and Team Europe was not reflected in the flow of the play or in the score of Game 1 of the World Cup of Hockey final. It was, however, on full display after the game ended.
At one gathering in the media room, Team Europe captain Anze Kopitar had this to say after his team’s 3-1 loss to Canada: “I thought this was our best game so far in this tournament.”
Contrast that with Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty right at the next pod. If you hadn’t seen the scoreboard, you would have sworn that they were on the losing end of the equation. “It wasn’t our best,” Stamkos said. “I think we all realize that. At this time of the tournament, a win is a win, so that’s a good thing.”
So there you have it. Team Canada played a terrible game, probably its worst best-on-best effort since the seldom-spoken-of disaster at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino. And it won. Team Europe, played the absolute best game of its very short, but illustrious history. And it lost. Which is pretty much what everyone expected before the drop of the puck.
These two teams clearly were not playing to sell tickets, as evidenced by the shocking number of empty seats in the Air Canada Centre, the bargain basement prices for ducats on the secondary ticket market and the almost as shocking dearth of people gathered in Maple Leaf Square outside the arena. And they weren’t playing to entertain, as evidenced by the fact that this gave the Sweden vs. North America semifinal a very spirited run for its money as the most turgid game of the tournament. (It also, by the way, affirmed this columnist’s long-held notion that the better the players, the worse the game from an entertainment standpoint.)
So here Canada sits, one win away from capturing the World Cup, which is essentially where things figured to be at this point in the proceedings. Canada displayed, more than any other time in this tournament, that it is simply too good for all the other countries - and in some cases combination of countries – in the world. There is no expecting Canada to let up here. So now it’s up to the other countries to start getting better. Dynasties usually inspire those chasing them to be better. We’ll see in coming years whether that is indeed the case on the world stage. It certainly hasn’t been the case in women’s hockey, so it’s hardly a given that Canada is going to relinquish its stranglehold on the hockey world anytime soon.
(As an aside, it would be really nice to see a country like Sweden realize that it is producing some outstanding and creative players and start playing like it, instead of relying on the passive style they played in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s when they had almost no hope of defeating the Soviets.)
Team Canada coach Mike Babcock had to be pleased with the victory, but not the way it was chalked up. His team looked uninterested in competing through large swaths of the second period. There were uncharacteristic turnovers all over the ice surface and on the first shift, Team Canada was caught watching the game while Team Europe blew by, drawing a penalty on the first shift. By the same token, when Team Canada made the decision to dial in – usually when Sidney Crosby’s line was on the ice – the game was not even close from a possession standpoint. As bad as Team Canada at times, Team Europe was even worse on turnovers that led to goals. The problem is that Team Europe needs about five 10-bell chances to get a goal, while Team Canada only needs one or two.
“We got two points, we had a good third and we scored timely goals on their turnovers,” Babcock said. “I thought they were better than (we were) for large stretches of the game at times. I thought they executed and played fast. I didn’t think we moved the puck at all at times. They looked quicker than they probably were and we looked slower than we probably were. We need more guys on deck than we had tonight. We just weren’t as good as we have been and we’ll be a lot better next game.”
And that’s what’s so scary about this. Babcock is exactly right. Team Canada will almost certainly be better in Game 2 than it was in Game 1. And that is terrible, terrible news for a Team Europe that might have just inadvertently poked the bear a little too much.
Jacob Trouba’s agent, Kurt Overhardt, says there has been no contract negotiations at all over the past several months and it sounds as though nothing can be done to keep Trouba in Winnipeg.
Winnipeg Jets training camp is well underway and the club will suit up for its first pre-season game of the year Tuesday night, but hanging over the start of a brand new campaign for the franchise is the trade request of 22-year-old restricted free agent Jacob Trouba.
Trouba’s trade request became public Saturday in a statement from Trouba’s agent, Kurt Overhardt, and the statement listed opportunity and the chance to play on his forehand side as the biggest issues with remaining in Winnipeg.
Overhardt reiterated those points Monday when speaking with TSN 1290’s Gary Lawless and Andrew Paterson, and Overhardt said that even though the trade request and discussions have been ongoing since May, the public announcement of the request needed to be made in order to offer an explanation for Trouba’s absence from training camp following Trouba’s and Team North America’s elimination from the World Cup of Hockey.
“It’s a private matter,” Overhardt told TSN 1290. “But coming all the way to camp, and especially now that the World Cup’s over for Jacob with the North American team, we just thought it was necessary to be transparent and explain why he is not at camp.”
Beyond explaining the reason for the public nature of the request, Overhardt shed some light on what has gone on behind the scenes when it comes to Trouba’s contract situation with Winnipeg. For the past several months, speculation has been that the defenseman and the Jets have been far apart in contract discussions in about every way — be it term, money or playing time — but Overhardt said that’s not quite the case.
Overhardt told TSN 1290 that since May, when Trouba made his initial trade request, there hasn’t been any contract negotiations. No debates about term, no debates about money and no debates about playing time. Rather, the two sides haven’t talked about a deal.
“Like I said in the press release,” Overhardt told TSN 1290. “Over the past several months we have not negotiated a contract.”
Overhardt told Lawless and Paterson that there’s also “a lot more to the picture.” Overhardt said hockey-related issues, decisions and conversations have all been taken into account with regard to Trouba’s request, but most interesting was Overhardt’s comment about Trouba’s playing time in his second and third seasons in the NHL.
“If my client had the opportunity to grow off of what he did his first year of entry-level contract three years ago…we wouldn’t be having the conversation,” Overhardt told TSN 1290. “But the organization made some personnel decisions, made some trades, brought in some great players, secured a great player, and because of that that’s why we’re at where we’re at it.”
Asked if Trouba would reconsider his stance were one of the Jets’ top-four defensemen — more specifically Dustin Byfuglien or Tyler Myers, the two right-handed shots blocking Trouba on the depth chart — Overhardt said he wasn’t about to deal in “hyperbole,” and that he “might as well ask…if the moon was orange.” Overhardt continued by saying the question was without merit, and the fact of the matter is there isn’t “two spots currently in the top-four on the right side.”
As this Trouba saga drags on, though, Lawless pointed out that there will be one key date to watch out for: Dec. 1.
Restricted free agents who haven’t signed contracts by Dec. 1 become ineligible to play for the remainder of the campaign, and as it stands, that date is roughly two months away. The original trade request was made in May, according to Trouba’s statement, which means roughly five months have passed without a deal being made to ship the rearguard elsewhere.
If the Jets are staunch in their asking price and won’t budge unless they get a return for Trouba they see fit, it could end up that the Dec. 1 deadline comes and goes without Trouba landing elsewhere or signing a deal. Overhardt told TSN 1290 that’s something he and Trouba will deal with if it comes to pass, though, and it sure sounds as if Trouba has played his final game in Winnipeg.
“I think we’ve made our statement, I think our statement is clear, I don’t think there’s any ambiguity in what our statement was,” Overhardt told TSN 1290. “This is not a negotiating ploy. I’ve been asked that several times. The rest of our conversations with the club will be private.”
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