SAGINAW, Mich. - Detroit Red Wings defenceman Jiri Fischer has returned to the ice for the first time since he collapsed during a game more than two years ago.
Fischer played in a charity hockey game Saturday in Saginaw. Proceeds helped raise money for automatic external defibrillators - the device that revived Fischer when his heart stopped beating as he sat on the bench during a game against Nashville in November 2005.
Fischer told the Saginaw News it felt great to be back on the ice and "I was just enjoying the moment."
The 27-year-old Czech Republic native played 15:24 of the 45-minute game.
The event was expected to raise US$15,000 to $20,000 for Fischer's Healthy Hope Foundation.
Fischer remains a member of the Red Wings, though he hasn't played since his collapse.
The usual suspects -- Bergeron, Kopitar, and Toews -- appear to be out of the discussion for the Selke Trophy. Here are five names that seem to have the best chance at stepping in.
When it comes to handing out hardware at the NHL Awards, the Selke hasn't been all that tough to figure out in recent seasons. For the last five years, the same three players have dominated the voting. Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews have accounted for all five wins, as well as eleven of the fifteen finalist spots.
But this year is shaping up like it could be different, with all three players slumping offensively. Maybe that shouldn't matter, since the Selke is supposed to be a defensive award. But over the years, it's morphed into a trophy that recognizes two-way play, which means you need to be scoring to get much consideration. If you pro-rate the lockout year, nobody has won the Selke with fewer than 55 points in the salary cap era. None of the Big Three are on pace to get there this year.
With half a season left to play, that could still change. And it's always possible that in the absence of a slam dunk candidate emerging somewhere else, voters could opt to play it safe and go back to one of the old familiars. But for the first time in years, the Selke really does seem up for grabs.
So who has a shot? Assuming that Bergeron, Toews or Kopitar don't take the trophy home this time, here are the five names that seem to have the best chance at stepping in.
Ryan Kesler, Ducks
The case for: The veteran is having his best season since 2011, and is on pace for about 65 points while playing tough minutes for a first-place Ducks team. His advanced stats won't blow anyone away, but they're good enough that the analytics guys shouldn't push back too hard, and everyone loves a good comeback narrative.
The case against: While it wouldn't be held against him by voters, Kesler doesn't really fit our "new blood" theme; he was the last player to win the award before the Bergeron/Toews/Kopitar trinity took over, and he finished third in the voting last year.
More importantly, there's at least an argument to be made that linemate Andrew Cogliano deserves the award, too. If that line of thinking catches on, the two could end up splitting votes and knocking each other out of the running.
Mikko Koivu, Wild
The case for: While it's meant as a single-season award, voters tend to like to treat the Selke as more of a career achievement; it's rare for somebody to win the award without having built up a resume over the years. That works in Koivu's favor, as he's been considered a strong defensive forward for a decade now, finishing as high as fourth in the Selke voting back in 2009. He hasn't come especially close since, but he's had votes every year.
New coach Bruce Boudreau has leaned heavily on Koivu in the defensive zone, and his ability to handle the duties has been a big part of Minnesota's unexpected success. With the Wild emerging as one of the one of the year's best surprises, voters will be paying attention.
The case against: Koivu's all-around numbers are good but not great, and he's benefitting from a sky-high on-ice save percentage and PDO that's unlikely to continue. With Devan Dubnyk looking like the Vezina favorite and Boudreau having a shot at the Jack Adams, voters might figure that their ballots are already getting crowded with Wild names.
The case for: Backlund seems to have emerged as a trendy dark horse pick in recent weeks. It's well-deserved: his numbers are excellent, and he's posting them in tough minutes for a young Flames team that asks a lot of him. His offensive numbers aren't jaw-dropping, but he's leading the team in scoring, and that should be enough to satisfy those "two-way" demands if he can keep it up.
The case against: While Backlund's been an underrated defensive player for a while now, he's never received a Selke vote. Again, you can argue that that shouldn't matter, but history has shown that it does. That could make it tough for him to get enough votes to win outright.
Aleksander Barkov, Panthers
The case for: At 21, Barkov would fit the new blood narrative perfectly. And he's already on voters' radars after finishing sixth in last year's balloting. He checks most of the boxes that voters tend to look for, posting solid offensive stats and strong possession numbers. And in a season where the biggest story has been the emergence of the next generation of star players, you could see the voters turning to one of the best young two-way forwards in the game.
The case against: Barkov is hurt right now and has already missed two weeks, so if he's not back soon he probably falls out of the running. He's also been playing a more offensive role this year under new coach Tom Rowe, which may be good for the Panthers, but probably not for his Selke chances. And given how things are turning out in Florida this year, voters may not be interested in having many Panther names on their ballot.
Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals
The case for: If building up enough support to win the award is a long-term process, this could be your guy. Backstrom generated plenty of Selke buzz last year, but finished just outside the top ten for the second straight year. It helps that he's putting up the sort of big offensive number that voters like to see. And after years of largely playing in Alex Ovechkin's shadow, he seems to be settling in as one of those guys that everyone in the hockey world decides has been underrated for too long. What better way to make it up to him than with some awards ballot love?
The case against: In terms of pure numbers, you could make a good case that Backstrom's defensive game was better last year than it is now. That won't necessarily hurt him with voters who feel like he's finally due, but it could keep him from getting the kind of widespread groundswell of support that would help push him past a strong candidate like Kesler.
Honorable mentions (and why they won't win):
- Brad Marchand (Bruins): He's getting some buzz, and has earned votes in the past. But has he really become a better option than Bergeron right now? And if not, how can you win the Selke when you're not the best defensive forward on your own team?
- Nazem Kadri (Maple Leafs): He's a relatively new candidate who'll face the same uphill climb as Backlund, with the added disadvantage that plenty of people don't seem to like him.
- Sidney Crosby (Penguins): He's been underrated in his own end for years, and you could see him getting some consolation ballots if voters decided to break for Connor McDavid for the Hart. But right now, the Crosby focus is still on the MVP race.
- Joe Thornton (Sharks): He gets votes every year and finally had his first top five finish last season, so the timing seems right. But his offensive numbers are down this year.
- Ryan O'Reilly (Sabres): He's been in the mix before. But the Sabres' disappointing season may doom him; there's never been a first-time Selke winner from a team that didn't make the playoffs.
- Jordan Staal (Hurricanes): He'd face the same hurdle as O'Reilly if the Hurricanes miss the playoffs, although these days that seem less and less likely. He may have the best case of anyone in this section.
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.
John Tortorella became the first American-born coach to reach the 500-win mark, but Peter Laviolette managed the feat in fewer games and the numbers point to him being the best American NHL coach of all-time.
John Tortorella is used to making headlines, but when he did so as the first American-born coach to win 500 games in NHL history, it was reason to consider Tortorella among the greatest American-born big league coaches of all time. He has the Stanley Cup, the Jack Adams Award, the milestone 500th win and he’s climbing the all-time wins list with each passing victory.
But it’s hard to argue that Tortorella is the greatest American coach the NHL has seen with Peter Laviolette hot on his heels.
On Sunday, Laviolette did what Tortorella had done one month earlier: he became a 500-game winner, the second American-born NHL bench boss to hit the half-grand mark. The thing is, though, Laviolette’s climb to win No. 500 has been more impressive than Tortorella’s and it would seem as though it’s only a matter of time before Laviolette finds his way back on par or above Tortorella on the all-time wins list. And purely statistically speaking, it’s hard to argue with Laviolette being not just the better of the two bench bosses, but the best American-born NHL coach in history.
For some, putting Laviolette in the same conversation as Bob Johnson or Herb Brooks is akin to hockey heresy. There’s reason for that. The accomplishments of Johnson and Brooks are legendary. Johnson is arguably the greatest coach the NCAA has ever seen, a Hall of Famer twice over and a Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990-91. Johnson had his NHL tenure cut short, tragically passing away in November 1991 to brain cancer. Brooks was likewise a standout coach in the NCAA, a Hall of Famer three times over and most famous for leading the United States to gold at the 1980 Olympics. Sadly, Brooks passed away in August 2003 as the result of a car accident.
The legacies of both Johnson and Brooks are untouchable and their importance to the game as coaches in the United States will never be matched. For both, though, their greatest work and most lasting mark was made outside the NHL — Johnson at University of Wisconsin, Brooks for his part in the ‘Miracle On Ice.’
It’s hard to know where Johnson’s career would have gone had he been able to continue coaching. The 1991-92 Stanley Cup seemed a given, at the very least, but beyond that it’s impossible to say. He finished with 234 wins in 480 games behind the bench, and went 41-35 in the post-season. As for Brooks, he coached 506 games and has a perfect .500 points percentage — 219 wins, 219 losses, 66 ties and two defeats in extra time. In the playoffs, Brooks went 19-21. From a purely statistical point of view, neither matched what Laviolette or Tortorella has accomplished in the NHL.
So if Johnson and Brooks are removed from the discussion, the debate comes down to Laviolette and Tortorella, with a handful of present-day coaches sprinkled in. Despite who’s added to the mix, though, it’s hard to choose anyone but Laviolette as the best American-born coach the league has seen.
While Tortorella was the first to 500 wins, it took him 1,028 games to pick up the milestone victory. By comparison, Laviolette added win No. 500 to his resume in game 970. The 58-game difference in coaching tenures is significant, too, because Laviolette is only 12 games back of Tortorella for the title of winningest American-born coach in league history. Tortorella has a career points percentage of .544, and Laviolette bests that with a mark of .577. And when it comes to the post-season, Laviolette has a decided edge.
Over the course of their respective careers, both Laviolette and Tortorella have seen the playoffs eight times. Over that span, Tortorella has been one-and-done on four separate occasions, while Laviolette has advanced to the second round five of eight times. Both have two post-season runs that went beyond two rounds under their belt and both have a Stanley Cup victory — bookending the lockout with Tortorella winning in 2003-04 with Tampa Bay, Laviolette in 2005-06 in Carolina — but Laviolette has the edge with a second trip to the final. He led Philadelphia to an Eastern Conference championship in 2009-10 and came two wins shy of adding a second Cup to his trophy case.
From a win percentage standpoint, Laviolette holds the edge, too. In 102 playoff games, his teams have won 52. Tortorella’s squads, by comparison, are below .500 in post-season action, dropping 43 of 89 games.
As far as accolades go, the only thing separating the two is a Jack Adams Award. Tortorella won coach of the year for his job in Tampa Bay during the Lightning’s title-winning season, and there’s a fair chance he’s adding a second Jack Adams this season for the job he’s done in turning around the Blue Jackets. Laviolette, on the other hand, is a two-time finalist, coming a single vote shy of the award in 2005-06. Tortorella can have the individual awards, though, because there’s a good chance it’s Laviolette who holds the edge in victories when both coaches call it a career.
The debate about who is a better bench boss — Laviolette or Tortorella — is likely to continue until their careers are done, and it’s only going to get more crowded at the top. In just eight seasons, Dan Bylsma is already at the 300-win mark at the helm of a young Sabres team that is building for the future, Mike Sullivan’s Penguins have won 63 of 100 games under his direction and recently fired Jack Capuano is knocking on the door of his 235th win, which would put him one ahead of Johnson.
But right now, if you had one game to win and needed to choose one American-born coach, Laviolette’s numbers have shown that he’s the best bet to get the job done.
The Bruins have dropped back-to-back games to non-playoff teams, resulting in calls for coach Claude Julien’s job. But Julien has continuously put the Bruins in a position to win, and firing him now could be a big mistake.
Claude Julien has been here before. When the Bruins missed the post-season in 2014-15, there were calls for his job. Again, narrowly missing the playoffs in 2015-16, it was believed he was on the hot seat. And now, with Boston dropping back-to-back games to opponents who are deeper in the lottery hunt than they are in the mix for post-season play, the talk of the Bruins showing Julien the door has started to heat up again.
It’s not hard to understand the argument from a pure wins and losses standpoint, which is what the game boils down to at its very core. The Bruins are 48 games into their season and only barely holding on to the second spot in the Atlantic Division. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators are nipping at Boston’s heels and faring better than the Bruins when it comes to points percentage.
And looking at recent results, the argument stands. Boston has lost to the New Jersey Devils, Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators, New York Islanders and Detroit Red Wings — five non-playoff teams — in their past 10 games. Winnable games are turning into head-shaking losses and none have been quite as confounding as the Bruins squandering a three-goal lead heading into the second period against the Red Wings on Wednesday.
Despite back-to-back defeats, which have been paired with poor performances, the Bruins would do well to take a deep breath, look at the bigger picture and keep moving forward with Julien at the helm.
While the results have left much to be desired, Boston has been anything but poor in terms of putting themselves in the best position to win games. The hockey world has come to learn over the past few seasons the importance of controlling play and grinding teams down with puck possession, and it’s by those metrics that the Bruins have been almost inarguably one of the league’s strongest teams.
Consider that this season, no team has been as outright dominant in the possession game at 5-on-5 as the Bruins. They currently boast a 55.3 percent Corsi For percentage, sitting even ahead of the same Los Angeles Kings who have built a reputation of being the league’s most savvy possession team. When breaking it down game by game, too, the Bruins have been incredible in terms of winning the possession battle. In 39 of the team’s 48 outings, Bruins have completed the game with a possession rate over 50 percent at 5-on-5. They’ve been remarkably strong at owning play at even strength.
So, what’s gone wrong? Well, you can start with the team’s shooting percentage, which is downright atrocious. As of Thursday, Boston sits 29th in the league with an abysmal 6.17 shooting percentage at 5-on-5 through 48 games. The only team who’s fared worse is the Florida Panthers, and that’s by a mere seven-hundredths of a percent. To put that into context, when it comes to shooting percentage, only five teams in the past five seasons have finished with a shooting percentage lower than the Bruins’ current rate.
One need look no further than Patrice Bergeron for an idea of how poorly things have gone in Boston when it comes to actually finding the back of the net. Bergeron, a 10 percent shooter throughout his career, is on pace to fire more shots on goal this season than in any campaign prior. At his average shooting percentage, one would expect him to net close to 30 goals. Instead, he’s 45 games through his season with 10 markers to his name and is shooting at 6 percent. Bergeron’s struggle has been indicative of the roster’s trouble as a whole.
Julien’s detractors may posit that possession doesn’t exactly mean the team is getting scoring chances, and that a number of these pucks could be fired from the outside or low-scoring areas. And while that’s somewhat true — Boston is averaging only 7.4 scoring chances per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, good for 22nd in the league — it’s not as though they’re allowing enough chances against that it should be coming back to bite them as hard as it has. The Bruins are allowing 6.62 scoring chances against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, and the only team with a better mark is the Minnesota Wild. The difference between the Wild and Bruins in scoring chances for? Little more than half a chance per 60 minutes, yet Minnesota has nine more points in the standings with five games in hand.
Patience is often difficult to have in situations such as the one facing Boston, but there’s no reason to believe this won’t right itself over the back half of the season. There’s even recent evidence to suggest the Bruins are playing in a way that still makes them as much a Stanley Cup contender as any other club. Both the 2011-12 and 2013-14 Kings had great possession numbers — 54.7 and 56.8, respectively — with 5-on-5 shooting percentages that either were the league-worst mark or close to it. Both seasons, the Kings turned things around come playoff time and proceeded to win the whole thing. The same went for scoring chances, too, as the Kings were among the leaders in scoring chance percentage at 5-on-5 in both of their Stanley Cup years. That’s the same company the Bruins are keeping, sitting seventh in the league at 52.8 percent.
Of course, there’s no guarantee the Bruins’ fortunes are going to change. The Kings have continued to remain near the top of the league in underlying numbers only to narrowly miss the post-season in 2014-15 before getting ousted in the first round this past season. In a game where a single bounce can decide who wins and who loses, sometimes all you can do is put yourself in the best position to have that bounce go your way. Right now, though, those bounces aren’t happening for Boston.
None of this is to mention that Julien has done an admirable job with a roster that boasts a mixture of high-end talent and questionable depth. Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and David Krejci are a stellar group of top forwards, but a bottom-six that consists of Riley Nash, Jimmy Hayes, Austin Czarnik and Tim Schaller isn’t all that inspiring. Defensively, the team is still working to get back from the loss of Dougie Hamilton, even with Brandon Carlo looking increasingly like a future top-pairing guy. And it’s hard to fault Julien for being stuck with backups who have won one of 11 games when Tuukka Rask has gotten the night off. That’s simply not his fault.
All this is to say that firing Julien isn’t the answer. It wasn’t in 2014-15, wasn’t in 2015-16 and it’s not now. If there’s a change to be made and the Bruins are set on getting a new voice behind the bench, let that come in the off-season, because Julien’s coaching chops have earned him the right to see this one through given the job he’s done with a roster that could be much worse off without him. If the Bruins are going to get out of this hole, it will be Julien who leads them out of it, and if this Boston team wants to make noise going forward, keeping Julien at the helm is the way to do it.
Some teams we thought were going to be good are currently sitting outside the playoff picture. These are our picks for teams that will rebound in the second half.
With the all-star break this weekend, we're officially at the mid-way point of the season. Every NHL team has played between 44 and 50 games, and it's certainly time to start scoreboard and standings watching. Thanks to the NHL's artificial parity there are a lot of teams right on the playoff bubble.
That means some teams we thought were going to be good are currently sitting outside the playoff picture. With that in mind, here are our picks for teams currently on the outside that will sneak in come April.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa simply has too much talent not to pick things up in the second half and sneak back in (its possession numbers put them in the top half of the league). Steven Stamkos has the league’s second-best points-per-game average, and he’ll be a huge boost when he returns from injury. They also have a nice trade chip in Ben Bishop that they can use to shore up the blueline (Kevin Shattenkirk, anyone?). This team very much reminds me of the Kings, one that knows there’s no need to blow it out in the regular season when playoff seeding is meaningless. Not only will the Lightning make the playoffs, they’ll make a strong push for the Cup. (Edward Fraser)
Los Angeles Kings
About this time five years ago, the Los Angeles Kings were mucking around the Western Conference, losing almost as many games as they were winning and flirting with both a playoff spot and disaster. And we all know how that turned out. After 46 games this season, the Kings are once again mucking around the west, winning a couple more games than they’ve lost, not able to score much and not looking like much of a contender. That will change. First of all, Jonathan Quick has to come back at some point and March seems to be the target date. So the Kings will win the trade deadline when a rested and motivated Quick gets back into the net. Second, the Kings are too good, too experienced and too pedigreed for this to continue. Look for the Kings to make a second-half surge, aided by a healthy Quick in the last quarter, and squeak into the playoffs. Just like they did five years ago. (Ken Campbell)
The Dallas Stars will have to pass four teams if they expect to make the post-season, but they have two of the best offensive horses in the league in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin to lead the charge. I expect the Stars to do something about their goaltending before the trade deadline and when they do squeak in, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them favored if they matched up against Minnesota in the first round. (Brian Costello)
One could have been predicted the Lighting would take a step back this season, but not even the most bold prognosticator would have picked the Bolts to be last in the Eastern Conference with the all-star break in the offing. The injury to Steven Stamkos has hurt in a big way, but Tampa Bay still has an incredibly talented roster that is simply underperforming right now. That hasn’t been helped by the lack of consistency from either of their goaltenders. The good news is that with 34 games remaining, the Lightning are only five points out of the final Atlantic Division playoff berth and five points back of the final wild-card spot. That is far from insurmountable for a team that boasts Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Drouin and Victor Hedman. Stringing together a couple wins could have Tampa Bay right back in the mix. (Jared Clinton)
The Kings are hovering around a playoff spot right now and have been doing it without star goalie Jonathan Quick. Once he returns (a timeline would be nice, but what can you do?), Los Angeles gets a huge boost. Even though Peter Budaj has pretty good stats, I think the Kings will just play bigger with Quick back, because he can be that security blanket. Also, Anze Kopitar has four goals right now and there’s no way his pace stays that low. The big man is shooting at five percent right now, down from 14 percent the year prior. If he even moderately gets on track, the Kings will be back in the post-season, no problem. (Ryan Kennedy)