Say What?!? - July 7
Say What?!? - July 7
"I think it's really time to move on."
- Roberto Luongo on the possiblity of staying in Vancouver
"I think it's really time to move on."
- Roberto Luongo on the possiblity of staying in Vancouver
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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Europe could pack it in after its best effort couldn't trump Canada's weakest in Game 1 of the World Cup final. But Ralph Krueger's troops aren't quitting.
TORONTO – Is Team Europe the master of its own fate in the World Cup final? It's debatable.
On one hand, it's tough to dictate how you fare when you're up against the monolith that is Canada, a hockey power that, even by its lofty standards, may be in its most dominant stretch of all-time. Tuesday night's 3-1 victory marked Canada's 15th straight victory in best-on-best tournament play. In a way, Canada's uncharacteristically uneven effort is especially demoralizing for Europe given Canada seemed to flick a switch whenever it needed to. The Euros opened the game with an aggressive shift and a power play, and Canada countered with two goals off turnovers. The Euros peppered Carey Price with 23 shots in less than 30 minutes, then Canada didn't allow a shot for more than six minutes. It seemed Canada dictated how the game would go by deciding when it felt like playing.
On the other hand, Europe can look at Tuesday's result and say, sheesh, we were pretty close. We outplayed the Canucks for extended stretches. All three of their goals came off takeaways. Those are correctable mistakes. We had distinct territorial advantages for much of the game. Carey Price helped maintain Canada's lead. We weren't that far from forcing overtime.
Can you guess which stance Team Europe takes? Well, yeah, obviously.
“We definitely felt we had a chance out here tonight," center Frans Nielsen told reporters after the game. "It was a tough loss, but we can take a lot of good from it, too. Everyone in there really believes now that we can go out and win this next one and make it a one-game series.”
Anze Kopitar called Game 1 Europe's best game of the tournament. Nielsen said Canada's weakness, if it had one, was defensive play, and that Europe did a good job forcing Canada to defend. Coach Ralph Krueger suggested the opportunities were even "if you cut the goals out of the videos."
Wow. It sure feels like the Europeans are lying to themselves. But good on them. Faced with a seemingly unbeatable opponent, the choices are (a) accept that they have no hope and mail in their next effort or (b) choose to believe even if they have no business believing. Not only has Europe chosen the latter route, but the team is downright angry about Game 1, as if it deserved a victory as much as Canada did.
"We're proud of that effort, and the creation of it, but we're very frustrated, of course, with what and how we gave up the goals we did," Krueger said. "Just a little bit too much risk at the wrong times, and the power of Canada is that: to take opportunities and jam them into the net.
"What we can take out of this is a lot of courage that we played a strong game, that we had a lot of opportunity that we didn't make enough out of. We could have tested Price a lot more with the chances we had, and some of them just died on our own sticks."
Kopitar pointed out that Europe dictated the pace for much of Game 1, and even though that might've been just because Canada sat back, the statement is true. He, like Krueger, said Canada's goals were the result of Europe's mistakes.
See a theme here? Krueger's troops aren't bowing down to Canada in admiration. It's not "we couldn't stop them" or "they're such a great team." It's "we made mistakes" and "we dictated play." The Euros are taking ownership, implying they have the ability to dictate what happens in Game 2 and beyond. Even though that probably isn't true – uh, it's Canada, you guys – it's a sign of good coaching that the Euros speak with such conviction.
That's all well and good, but they still weren't nearly good enough to beat Canada. What must they specifically do besides believe in themselves if they want to force Game 3? When I asked Krueger about that second period lull after they opened with 23 shots, he said Europe got hemmed in with some tired defensemen on long shifts, so they have to try and manage their minutes better going forward. He was pleased with the fact his team had so many takeaways and thinks his forwards' dogged forechecking will continue to create transition opportunities. The offense comes from conscientious defense.
“Ralph said from day 1 that the team with the best defense usually comes out on top of these kinds of tournaments," Nielsen said. "We’ve been focusing on a lot of that, being a frustrating team to play against and feeding off turnovers. We’ve got so many good players on the team and we’ve got speed, so when we get those turnovers we’re good enough to make teams pay.”
Now it's time to back up the talk. Team Europe still believes it has the talent and work ethic to beat Canada, but it'll have to find a way to solve Price if it does continue creating chances in transition. Otherwise, it'll be a short series.
And let's be honest. That's what we expect. Canada still looks like a team that can do what it wants out there. But bless the Europeans for refusing to accept that and keeping things interesting. They've proven us wrong time and again, so maybe they have one last miracle to unleash.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin
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.
The Predators are primed for a breakthrough but will bad goaltending prevent them from becoming true contenders in the Western Conference?
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season.
THN's Prediction: 2nd in Central
Stanley Cup odds: 17-1
Key additions: P.K. Subban, D; Yannick Weber, D
Key departures: Shea Weber, D; Carter Hutton, G
-Will P.K. Subban have a career year? The conditions appear just right for an explosive Subban campaign. He takes his freewheeling, creative scoring talents to coach Peter Laviolette, who favors an aggressive style and encourages his D-men to join the rush. Subban and Roman Josi already look like one of the league’s top tandems on paper.
Subban is smack in the middle of his prime at 27, and he will have plenty to prove after the Montreal Canadiens shipped him away for Shea Weber.
-Can any Predator score goals other than Filip Forsberg? Forsberg tied Jason Arnott’s franchise record with 33 goals last season. It was only Forsberg’s second full NHL campaign, so a leap to 40 goals and true star status is possible if not probable. But will the other Nashville forwards step up?
James Neal can be counted on for 25 or 30 snipes, but the rest of the group is suspect. If only Colin Wilson could score in the regular season like he does in the playoffs, Nashville’s forward corps would look far more dangerous.
-Is Pekka Rinne in decline? Rinne sparkled with a .923 save percentage two seasons ago, but his .908 mark last season placed him 34th in the NHL. Rinne has finished at .910 or lower three times in his past four seasons. That’s not good enough for a goalie making $7 million annually.
Rinne’s been average to below average more often than not of late and found himself benched in favor of Carter Hutton for consecutive games when healthy at one point last year. That had never happened before. Rinne, 33, needs to make a statement in 2016-17.
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 Nashville Predators made a huge splash in the off-season trading captain Shea Weber for P.K. Subban, and are a serious dark horse contender because of it. Weber is still very good, but Subban is younger, better, and more suited to the Predators up-tempo style.
Subban joins an already elite top-four that includes Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm. Nashville’s defense is the best in the league according to Game Score and it’s thanks in large part to the contributions from their top four, three of whom would be No. 1 D-men on any other team.
That defence needs to be strong as the guy they’re protecting has declined tremendously over the last few seasons. In Nashville’s 2015-16 season preview, I wrote that Rinne’s high standing was based mostly on reputation over actual performance as he’d been struggling over the last few seasons. He preceded to turn in an extremely lacklustre campaign with a .908 save percentage that was actually deceiving considering the quality of shots given up.
For all the talk about Nashville’s ascent into the West’s elite and their dark horse status, Rinne is the one thing holding the team back. They’re the 11th best team according to this model, but their skaters are actually sixth best in the league. This is an elite team that’s likely going to be undone in the first or second round by goaltending. With relative unknown Marek Mazanec as the backup, there isn’t much of a safety net behind Rinne either.
That means they’ll need to score some goals, and while they have a few guys who can get the job done, it’s a pretty average forward group overall. Filip Forsberg is a star in the making and should be good for another 30 goal season, while James Neal has the potential to do the same. Ryan Johansen is the No. 1 center that Nashville has searched for their entire existence and should take another step this season. That trio will shoulder most of the offensive burden, especially since there aren’t many other offensive catalysts further down the lineup.
The Predators have a very good team here that’s on the cusp of something great, but they need to figure out a better strategy in goal because pretending Rinne is still 27 likely won’t pan out.
Up next: Philadelphia Flyers
Previously: Toronto Maple Leafs | Edmonton Oilers | Vancouver Canucks | Columbus Blue Jackets | Calgary Flames | Winnipeg Jets | Arizona Coyotes | Buffalo Sabres | Montreal Canadiens | Colorado Avalanche | New Jersey Devils | Ottawa Senators | Carolina Hurricanes | Boston Bruins | Detroit Red Wings