Photo shoot with Mei from Fully Loaded Autumn 2012
A.J. Messier Photography
A.J. Messier Photography
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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Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty.
Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty.
With the return of Carey Price in goal, and an improving forward group led by Alex Galchenyuk and the addition of Alexander Radulov, the Canadiens should make it back to the playoffs.
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season. Today, the Montreal Canadiens.
THN's Prediction: 3rd in Atlantic
Stanley Cup odds: 22-1
Key additions: Shea Weber, D; Andrew Shaw, LW; Alexander Radulov, RW; Al Montoya, G; Mikhail Sergachev, D
Key departures: P.K. Subban, D; Lars Eller, C; Tom Gilbert, D; Victor Bartley, D; Ben Scrivens, G
-Is Alex Galchenyuk a No. 1 center? Sweet lord, yes. It took the Habs long enough to figure out, but they got there eventually. Galchenyuk was one of the few bright spots in last year’s cratering, and a combination of skill and vision led the youngster to his first 30-goal NHL campaign. Galchenyuk still needs to improve on his faceoffs, but with a win percentage of 47.9 percent last season, he’s not that far off the mark. Should coach Michel Therrien attempt to claw back Galchenyuk’s development, the Habs would regress to being a team with three second-line centers, and that’s just not going to cut it.
-Will the Habs regret the Subban-Weber trade? Maybe not immediately, but eventually they will. Weber is older and appears to be declining in effectiveness. He’ll still be a No. 1 defenseman short term, but there will be diminishing returns from there. Plus, trading the charismatic Subban did nothing to change the image of the Canadiens as a cold, personality-killing franchise. In the meantime, enjoy Weber’s bomb point shots and surly corner work, Habs fans.
-What kind of impact can Alexander Radulov have? Based on his reputation, Radulov is probably a little underhyped right now. The mystifying veteran says he has matured since his curfew antics got him benched in Nashville a few years ago, and his numbers in the KHL haven’t tailed off one bit. At 30, he’s no youngster, but he knows how to put the puck in the net and how to operate on the NHL’s smaller ice surface, so there won’t be much of an adjustment period – assuming he stays in line discipline-wise.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
The Montreal Canadiens looked like the best team in hockey last October. Then Carey Price went down and suddenly they weren’t. They were a train-wreck, and it proved every doubter of the previous season right; the team was nothing without Price.
What was interesting though was that their underlying numbers were actually decent despite the tumble. The team got incredibly awful goaltending that consistently held them back, but the team in front wasn’t playing that bad, they just weren’t getting the results.
This year they’ve got Price back and that alone adds about seven points back to this team putting them right back into the playoff mix. They’ve still got two stars up front, Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher, a lethal duo that rivals almost any in the league.
The latter may not seem like a star-calibre player, but he’s been quietly putting up elite numbers for the Habs the last few seasons. He’s bred from the same cloth as super-pest Brad Marchand, who finally got noticed last season for the actual talent he has. Expect Gallagher to have a similar breakout this year into the public conscious.
The team made two big additions up front that should provide a spark to the rest of the forward group. Andrew Shaw is a moderate upgrade over Lars Eller and the addition of Alexander Radulov provides a big boost to the top six (if his talent translates well to the NHL and meshes with the team that is). Montreal actually has a decent ensemble of talent at forward, especially if Daniel Carr and Sven Andrighetto can get a bigger role.
The back-end on the other hand is mostly unremarkable and the big trade didn’t help. P.K. Subban is an all-world D-man in his prime while Shea Weber is a former all-world D-man no longer in his prime. He’s still good, but he’s lost a step over the past few seasons and isn’t the same player he once was. His influence on shot attempts continues to decrease and while he’s usually been good at getting the most out of those attempts, even his goals percentage is trending down.
The trade was a large misstep, especially with the age discrepancies, but Montreal definitely still has the talent to compete right now. They’ve got a very good shot at making it back to the playoffs this season, although if Price gets injured again or Weber declines any further that obviously changes.
Up next: Colorado Avalanche
Clarke MacArthur isn’t giving up after his latest concussion and said that he intends to try to make a comeback to the Ottawa Senators as soon as he can.
Clarke MacArthur’s concussion symptoms in November and December of 2015 were such that the 31-year-old admitted he thought he could be forced into retirement, and that made the most recent concussion MacArthur suffered during a Senators training camp scrimmage feel as though it could be devastating news for the 31-year-old winger.
MacArthur’s concussion came Sunday when defenseman Patrick Sieloff crushed MacArthur along the boards during an inter-squad game, and the hit left MacArthur down on the ice for a short while before he was helped off the ice by teammates. Following the scrimmage, Senators GM Pierre Dorion announced MacArthur had suffered a concussion and had been driven home to rest. It appears the time away from the rink immediately following the concussion has helped MacArthur, too.
Less than a week after suffering the concussion, MacArthur announced via his Instagram that there are some positive signs so far in his recovery and that he’s going to be fighting to make it back into action in the near future.
“We have been encouraged by how my body has reacted in the days since the injury and the team has been great giving me all the time I need to rest and recover,” MacArthur wrote. “I will continue to consult with doctors and my entire support group, but I felt it was important to let everyone know that my intentions are to work towards returning to the ice soon.”
In addressing his health, MacArthur also took the time to write about the hit from Sieloff, one that resulted in fights between he and Bobby Ryan, and a second dustup with Chris Neil. The fallout from the hit saw Sieloff told to take part in a later practice in order to avoid any further fights between teammates. However, MacArthur called the entire incident a “hockey play.”
“To me, it was simply a hockey play that ended in a hit causing me to suffer a concussion,” MacArthur wrote. “A play that could happen at any point.”
It would be outstanding for the Senators — and even more so for MacArthur — if he was able to full recover and get back into action before the season begins. He was limited to just four games during the 2015-16 season due to concussions and related issues, and he’s an important part of the Senators’ roster when he’s able to suit up.
During his first two seasons in Ottawa, MacArthur scored 40 goals and 91 points in 141 games while averaging second-line minutes, and he signed a five-year, $23.25-million contract with the Senators in August 2014. The concussion issues this past season mean he has only played four games under the contract, though.
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As intimidating as Canada's forwards and defensemen are, opponents still have to beat the man in the crease – and that hasn't happened in a long time.
As we break down Canada’s dominance in international men’s hockey, many players deserve credit. Sidney Crosby, obviously. Fellow two-way demons Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Jonathan Toews are up there, too. There’s the shutdown prowess of Shea Weber and Marc-Edouard Vlasic on the defense. But if your team has enough elite skill and is somehow lucky enough to still possess the puck after all those barriers have been crossed, you will find yourself dishearteningly facing goaltender Carey Price. The best in the world.
Not only is Price a titan in the NHL, but he has now gone 16 international games without a loss.
“Everybody’s brought it up, yeah,” Price said. “I thought it might be over tonight, but we willed our way through it.”
Unflappable at his post-game podium, Price fielded questions while a pair of anti-beer goggles sat perched atop his ball cap.
“I might wear them all night,” he joked.
But Price was also quick to give credit to a Europe team that pushed Canada like no other squad in the tournament. Led by Anze Kopitar, Marian Hossa and Jaroslav Halak, the NATO squad had clearly picked up on some of Canada’s tendencies from their previous two meetings, interrupting passing lanes and refusing to sit back once they had the lead. And here’s the thing: Zdeno Chara’s early goal was a bit of a shocker (how did he get such a clear lane to the net?), but you can’t beat this version of Canada in a potential gold-medal game with just one tally. Problem is, you can’t beat Price often in general. Hossa had a golden opportunity late in the game, but Price stoned the awesome Slovakian.
“Unbelievable,” said coach Mike Babcock of Price’s save. “He just does what he does.”
And while Price had sympathy for his latest vanquished foe, he also revealed why Canada is such a machine.
“They deserved a better fate,” he said. “They brought everything they had and really pushed us to the limit. But there are a lot of players on our team who have won championships and know what it takes to win.”
Boy, did they. The only players on the team that had not won either a Stanley Cup, Olympic gold, world junior gold or World Championship gold were Logan Couture and Braden Holtby.
Price would surely like that Stanley Cup next and his healthy performance in this tournament is great news for the Montreal Canadiens. Without him last year, the Habs were lost at sea. But if they get 65-70 starts from him in the upcoming campaign, the playoffs are basically guaranteed. How far they go may depend on the ascent of center Alex Galchenyuk and the sturdiness of the defense, which of course subbed in Weber for P.K. Subban in a mega-trade this summer. Having Weber as a World Cup teammate has at least given Price a preview of his new protector.
“He’s a leader for sure,” Price said. “One of those big presence guys that played a lot of good minutes.”
As long as Price is given a goal or two to work with, he can win a game. He’s done it time and again with Canada and obviously the hope in Montreal is that he brings the Habs back to glory, too.