Photos of the Week - Nov. 19
Aaron Ward #44 of the Boston Bruins checks Roman Hamrlik #44 of the Montreal Canadiens from behind November 17. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)
Aaron Ward #44 of the Boston Bruins checks Roman Hamrlik #44 of the Montreal Canadiens from behind November 17. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)
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 Ottawa Senators drew family and friends for a game against Arizona Tuesday night. Even though the number was dismal, empty seats are nothing new in Ottawa.
When the members of the Arizona Coyotes looked up into the stands during their 7-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators Tuesday night, they could have been forgiven for being a little confused. They would have been excused if they had thought for a moment they were actually playing at home instead of the Canadian Tire Centre, or whatever it is they’re calling the rink in Ottawa this week.
That’s because the game drew an announced crowd of just 11,061. It was a number that was, by some accounts, a generous one. It was also a low-water mark for the arena and it was believed to be the lowest attendance figure recorded for a game in Canada since late in the 1995-96 season, just before the Winnipeg Jets left town.
What does this prove? Well, a cynic might suggest it shows the Coyotes are just as popular on the road as they are at home. But it’s much more troubling than that. Low attendance in Ottawa is not a novel concept. In fact, it is following a trend that has been established over the past couple of seasons. So, 11,061 for a Tuesday night against Arizona is troubling in a Canadian market. But just as troubling was the fact the Senators came almost 1,000 short of a sellout for their season opener, which just happened to be against their most hated rival. Then they came almost 400 short of a sellout for home game No. 2 against the Montreal Canadiens.
Since the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season, attendance has been robust in every market but one. Generally speaking, almost every game since then has been sold out in every market with the exception of the nation’s capital. So we have to wonder whether or not fans in Ottawa have reached their breaking point here. The Senators have what they refer to as a Dynamic Pricing Structure for single game tickets, so it’s fair to assume the games against Toronto and Montreal were probably the most expensive of the season.
There’s a good chance that if there is a breaking point for fans, it has been reached in Ottawa. Ticket prices and an arduous journey out to a suburban arena are usually cited as the two most prominent factors when it comes to the Senators trouble filling the arena. (The resurrected Canadian Football League team, meanwhile, has sold out 25 of its 27 home games so far.) And tickets for hockey games are just like anything else when it comes to a free market economy. In reality, there is absolutely no connection between the fact that Bobby Ryan will make $7.25 million this season and Senators’ ticket prices. The cost of tickets to the consumer is the function of one principle – supply and demand. Hockey tickets cost as much or as little as the market will bear. And in this case, the market has quite obviously sent a message with its feet. And part of the problem then becomes perception. If there is low attendance, then fans who might otherwise feel a need to get their tickets early will realize they can probably get their ducats on the secondary market or by simply going to the box office on game night. So if the weather is bad, traffic is nasty or you’re just not feeling it, you don’t go to the game. And that kills demand.
But Ottawa is not the only market in Canada that seems to be softening. The NHL and NHL Players’ Association claims the World Cup was sold out, but there were swaths of empty seats, right up to Canada’s two-game final against Team Europe. The luxury boxes at the Air Canada Centre were a barren wasteland. The secondary market was flooded with inventory, which drove down the cost to a small fraction of the face value.
And consider that there are reports of soft ticket sales for the World Junior Championship in both Toronto and Montreal. The latter is of particular concern, largely because it was so dismally attended when the event was split between the two cities two years ago. The same fans who haven’t seen their team win a Stanley Cup for a quarter of a century are still not willing to pay top dollar to watch teenagers play for world supremacy. With Canada not playing any games in the preliminary round in Montreal, expect to see enormous swaths of empty seats prior to the medal round.
Canadians love hockey. A lot. But there comes a point where it doesn’t seem reasonable to continue it as an open-my-wallet-and-take-all-my-money unconditional love. The Senators appear to have reached that point. And it should be a cautionary tale for other teams who think occupied seats are a given just because people are watching NHL hockey.
Hovering over the Jacob Trouba situation with the Jets is the Dec.1 deadline for re-signing restricted free agents.
The standoff between the Winnipeg Jets and defenseman Jacob Trouba shows no sign of a quick resolution. A restricted free agent, the 22-year-old Trouba continues to withhold his services and is home in Michigan awaiting a trade. Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, however, isn't in any hurry to honor the blueliner's request.
Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun reports the Buffalo Sabres, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contacted the Jets expressing interest in Trouba. The New York Post's Larry Brooks believes the New York Rangers could use him, speculating GM Jeff Gorton has likely done his due diligence.
The problem, however, is Cheveldayoff reportedly set a high asking price. It's believed he seeks a left-handed defenseman comparable to Trouba in age, skills and experience. A return of high draft picks and promising prospects won't cut it. Brooks suggests it could take a package of promising rearguard Brady Skjei and a forward such as Chris Kreider or J.T. Miller for the Rangers to land Trouba.
Trouba's new contract is another stumbling block. It could cost over $5-million annually on a long-term deal to re-sign him. The Coyotes, Red Wings, Sabres, Bruins and Rangers lack sufficient cap space, so the Jets must take back some salary as part of the return. The Panthers already addressed their blueline needs this summer by signing Keith Yandle and Jason Demers, so they're unlikely to get into any serious bidding for Trouba.
Cheveldayoff, meanwhile, maintains his decision on Trouba will be one that meets the best interests of the Jets. His club's performance in the coming weeks, however, will have an effect on this standoff. If the Jets are playing well, Cheveldayoff can remain patient. If they struggle, he'll feel the pressure to use Trouba as a trade chip to bolster the roster.
Hovering over this situation is the Dec.1 deadline for re-signing restricted free agents. If unsigned by that point, Trouba becomes ineligible to play the remainder of this season. His agent, Kurt Overhardt, told the Winnipeg Free Press it's not a pressing issue right now, noting plenty of time remains to work out a transaction that mutually benefits both sides.
TRADE SPECULATION AROUND WIDEMAN
Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman was a healthy scratch during the club's recent games against the Vancouver Canucks and Buffalo Sabres. This will provide fodder for the trade rumors dogging the 33-year-old blueliner.
Wideman is eligible next July for unrestricted free agency. Since last season, he's struggled against faster opponents while his playing time and production declined.
Prior to Wideman's late-season suspension for hitting linesman Don Henderson, there was talk the Flames were shopping him before the trade deadline. The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch reports the Flames also tried moving Wideman in the off-season.
Wideman's $5.25-million cap hit and a full no-movement clause also make it difficult to trade him. However, there is a market among NHL teams for right-handed blueliners. A rival club could take a chance on him, though they could ask the Flames to pick up part of his remaining salary or take back a toxic contract in return.
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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Patrik Laine didn't have much to say about a rivalry with Auston Matthews. Instead he let his stick do the talking in a huge win for Winnipeg.
Shortly after Alexandre Daigle was taken first overall by the Ottawa Senators in 1993, he uttered a line that would haunt him for the entirety of his mediocre NHL career. “I’m glad I got drafted first because no one remembers No. 2,” Daigle said at the time. Chris Pronger - with his Hart and Norris Trophies, Stanley Cup ring, plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame an gap-toothed grin – never let him, or anyone else for that matter, ever forget who went second overall that year. In fact, Pronger had so much fun with it that he brought it up once at the draft a couple of years ago. “Guess who’s eating the sh-- sandwich on that one?” he gloated.
There was no such bravado, either on the draft floor or prior to their first meeting, between the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the 2016 NHL draft. The modern player is far different in character and comportment that Daigle and Pronger were, which probably explains why Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs is as dull as dishwater and Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets, after showing some real promise in the personality department, has been kidnapped and brainwashed into not saying anything substantive by the secret NHL department that handles such matters.
Oh well, we’ll just have to be content with watching their brilliance on the ice, something that was in full display in the Jets' 5-4 overtime win over the Maple Leafs Wednesday night. Matthews was terrific. Laine, though, was otherworldly. Not only did he singlehandedly deliver two points to the Jets with a hat trick that brought them back from the dead, but he also drilled his stake into the ground in the 2016-17 Calder Trophy race.
It was incredible. One week after Matthews opened his career with the greatest offensive display ever by a player making his NHL debut, Laine came right back with a three-goal performance, including the game-winner with 2:20 remaining in overtime. And just to prove you can’t script these things, the goal came exactly six seconds after Matthews was stopped cold on a breakaway by Jets goalie Michael Hutchinson. (The chink in Matthews’ armor so far? Well, the extra frame. He lost his man Kyle Turris on the OT goal in Ottawa last week and his failure to score provided the swing the Jets needed to pot their own overtime winner.)
It wasn’t just that Laine scored three goals in his fourth NHL game, it was how he scored them. All three of them were goalscorer goals, not a cheapie among them. His first was brilliant, corralling a shot from the blueline on the power play, then keeping control of it, spinning around and putting a perfect shot past Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen.
Then on his second, Laine read the fake by teammate Nikolaj Ehlers brilliantly on the power play and, set up along the left side, fired a one-timer that looked an awful lot like Alex Ovechkin or Brett Hull. Take your pick. The Jets had their goaltender pulled and were on a 6-on-4 power play when Laine scored with just 55 seconds left in the game.
And as soon as he gathered up the puck along the boards on the overtime winner, there was no way he was passing it. He knew it, the Leafs knew it and the 15,296 in attendance at the MTS Centre knew it, but no one had the wherewithal to stop it. Laine went high on Andersen and even Laine himself seemed impressed with himself. "I'm kind of bad on two-against-ones from (the other side), so I just decided to shoot and it was a good shot," Laine told Scott Oake of Rogers Sportsnet after the game.
Try as he might, Oake was unable to get Laine to bite on the rivarly after the game. First overall pick gets stopped and the second pick scores at the other end to win the game. Even though he wouldn't say it, there had to be some of Laine that was taking some satisfaction in bettering the guy who was taken one spot ahead of him. "Obviously I'm proud of my team and myself that I scored those important goals and I scored the winning goal," Laine told Oake. "It's just amazing. He played a good game and he couldn't score, so I scored. It goes like that sometimes." Pressed to address the matchup, Laine said: "It was Winnipeg against Toronto, like I've said a couple of times now and it was just awesome to get the two points."
So it's fair to say that from the standpoint of young talent, the NHL is off to a rather promising start this season. Connor McDavid is producing, Matthews had a signature game in his first game in the league and now Laine has made his presence known in dramatic fashion. On a night when the Jets honored their past with Hall of Fame induction banners for Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson - Hull, curiously, declined to participate - they also found out that the future doesn't look too bad as well. If this is a portent of what is to come from these young men, we can hardly wait to see what's next. And that's without Jack Eichel in the picture. And in case you're wondering, the Leafs and Jets play for the second and final time this season Feb. 21 in Toronto. Mark it down on your calendar if you haven't already.