Playoff Photo Gallery - Day 37
Jordan Staal of the Penguins celebrates his second goal with teammate Maxime Talbot. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Playoff Photo Gallery - Day 37
A selection of the best images from May 15..
Jordan Staal of the Penguins celebrates his second goal with teammate Maxime Talbot. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
A selection of the best images from May 15..
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.
Ryan Murray has missed more than 80 games over the past three seasons, and it looks like he could be sidelined once again after suffering an upper-body injury Friday.
The Blue Jackets had high hopes for defenseman Ryan Murray when he was selected second overall in the 2012 draft, and Columbus still believes he can be an integral part of the organization. That’s why the Blue Jackets inked Murray to a two-year, $5.65-million extension in February.
The thing is, it’s hard for Murray to prove his worth when he’s injured. He was forced to miss the second game of the season with a lower-body injury, and now the oft-injured 23-year-old rearguard looks like he may be back on the shelf once again.
Murray was forced to leave Friday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks after he got tangled up with Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook behind the Chicago net. Murray headed to the Blue Jackets’ bench shortly after the collision, and he did not return to the contest with what the team was calling an upper-body injury.
Any injury that forces Murray to miss time — be it short-term or long-term — would be a seriously disappointing turn of events for the young blueliner, as he’s been forced to spend much of his short career on the shelf. The 2015-16 season saw Murray play all 82 games, but he wasn’t so lucky during the first two years of his career.
In 2014-15, Murray missed all but 12 games due to various lower-body injuries. It started with a knee injury in October, continued with an ankle injury in February and his season ended with yet another unspecified lower-body injury. And while the 2013-14 season wasn’t as bad, he still missed 16 games with lower-body ailments.
When Murray has been healthy, he has proven he can be every bit the offensive blueliner the team had hoped he would become when they selected him second overall. In 161 games, he has nine goals and 49 points and he posted a healthy four goals and 25 points while averaging nearly 23 minutes of ice time per game in 2015-16.
As for what Murray’s potential absence could do to the Blue Jackets, it could simply signal a bigger role for Zach Werenski earlier than coach John Tortorella had planned, and Cody Goloubef, who was sent down just recently, could already be heading back to the big club.
If there’s any positive spin, at least it isn’t another lower-body injury this time? Whichever way you slice it, though, the last thing the Blue Jackets wanted to deal with was another injury to a once promising prospect such as Murray.
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Teams that don't want to lose a goalie for nothing in the expansion draft will try to make some big moves this season.
The NHL expansion draft slated for June 21 is generating speculation over which goaltenders could hit the trade block. As per the draft rules, teams can only protect one goalie. That could prompt some GMs to move a netminder via trade rather than risk losing him for nothing in the draft.
The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch reports some teams are already having discussions among each other about moving goalies. He notes Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins are already considered possible trade candidates. He expects there could be more.
The draft rules also state players carrying no-movement clauses must be protected unless they agree to waive them. Bishop, 29, and Fleury, 31, have those clauses in their respective contracts.
Bishop is also eligible for unrestricted free agency following the expansion draft on July 1. Currently earning $5.95 million this season, the cost of re-signing him could prove too expensive for the Lightning. It's also assumed they prefer to protect promising (and more affordable) Andrei Vasilevskiy, who begins a three-year contract in 2017-18.
Despite Bishop's clause, he could be willing to waive it for the right team. On Sept. 2, he told Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times he thought a trade to the Calgary Flames last June was close, but the Flames opted instead to acquire Brian Elliott from the St. Louis Blues.
After losing the starter's job to Matt Murray in the 2016 playoffs, Fleury was also the subject of trade chatter in June linking him to the Flames. His no-movement clause covers him against demotion to the minors and provides him with expansion draft protection. However, he also carries a modified no-trade clause listing 18 preferred destinations. That could provide the Pens an opportunity to trade him and protect Murray in the expansion draft.
The Detroit Red Wings, Dallas Stars, New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Flyers Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets could also consider trading a goalie before the March 1 trade deadline, or prior to the expansion draft in June.
With Petr Mrazek considered the Wings' starter, veteran Jimmy Howard could be available. His $5.91 million annual cap hit, however, could prove difficult to move. The Stars, meanwhile, could try to move Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi.
The Senators could part ways with Craig Anderson or Andrew Hammond. The Flyers must decide between Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth. The Canucks could peddle Ryan Miller if Jacob Markstrom proves ready this season for full-time starter duty.
The Islanders are currently carrying Jaroslav Halak, Tomas Greiss and J-F Berube. The Jets have two promising youngsters between the pipes in Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson, plus veteran Ondrej Pavelec is now in the minors.
Some of these clubs could also attempt to swing a deal with Las Vegas to ensure their unprotected goaltenders aren't selected. A trade offering up another player, a prospect or a draft pick could prove enticing to Vegas GM George McPhee.
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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We should really start to seriously savor these head-to-head meetings between Jaromir Jagr and Alex Ovechkin, because we don’t know how many more there will be left. Barring an injury to either player we’ll get at least two more – including the last day of the 2016-17 season – but with the 43-year-old Jagr, you just never know. He goes year by year when it comes to signing contracts and he seems pretty comfortable with that.
But we have to come to grips with the fact that someday, Jagr’s scoring touch will leave him permanently. Wayne Gretzky had nine goals in his final NHL season, which put him 38 behind league leader Teemu Selanne and tied for 226th in the NHL along with, among others, the likes of Bob Corkum, Mike Stapleton and Alexandre Daigle.
So the day is coming at some point. Let’s just hope it’s not too soon. Thursday night in the Panthers 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals, Jagr and Ovechkin hooked up once again. And once again, Jagr scored. Also once again, Ovechkin stuck a stake in the Panthers’ heart with a goal of his own, which turned out to be the game-winner. Jagr’s goal was his first of the year and the 750th of his career, Ovechkin’s was just his second and the 527th of his career.
The goals were scored back-to-back, which is fitting since they were scored by the two best goal scorers in the history of the game. Yeah, I said it. Depending upon how productive he is and whether he plays beyond this season, Jagr could sit second on the NHL’s all-time scoring list. Ovechkin, on the other hand, would need at least eight more 50-goal seasons to think of unseating Gretzky for No. 1 of all-time.
But Jagr and Ovechkin are the best. First, the obvious. They’ve both piled up hundreds of goals in eras when scoring has been at near historic lows. If you adjust their totals to reflect the eras in which they played – something a website called www.hockeyreference.com does by putting all players on equal ground – it provides some perspective. According to that site’s adjusted goals, Gordie Howe would lead the all-time leader board with 925 goals, followed by Jagr at 842, a significant margin ahead of Gretzky’s 758. Ovechkin, according to his adjusted goals, would be at 642 and counting.
But even without the adjustments, Jagr is worth considering. In fact, if not for lockouts and the three years he spent in the KHL, Jagr would probably nipping at Gretzky’s heels for the all-time lead as we speak. Let’s start with the 1994-95 lockout that limited the NHL to 48 games. Jagr was in his prime then, scoring 32 goals, which prorates to 55 goals that season. Gretzky had 11 goals, which prorates to 19.
So that puts Jagr at 773 goals and Gretzky at 902. Now, let’s look at the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season. It’s hard to put a goal total on Jagr, since he put up 31 the season before the lockout and 54 after the game was opened up to create more scoring. So let’s put him at 35 for that season. That now puts him at 808. Then we go to the three seasons he spent in the KHL and judging by his scoring pattern, he probably would have been good for somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 a year, but let’s give him a total of 70. That would put him at 878 goals, just 24 behind Gretzky for the all-time crown. If Jagr does play beyond this season, he’ll probably score at least that many in his sleep.
Now to Ovechkin. He’ll need a whole whack of otherworldly seasons to even think of penetrating the upper tier of scorers in the NHL. But does anyone believe he doesn’t have at least one more Rocket Richard Trophy in him? If he does manage to do that, it will give him seven and eclipse the only other man who led the league in goals six times during his career, Phil Esposito. Gretzky, Howe Rocket Richard and Charlie Conacher each did it five times.
So, you see, it’s certainly not a stretch to suggest that last night we got to see the top two goalscorers ever placed on Earth go head-to-head last night. How much longer it continues is anyone’s guess. That’s why Nov. 5 and April 9 of this season could end up being very special days.