"I have no sense from Edmonton that that pick is in play. I can tell you that. If someone is actively trying to get that pick it's not us."
- Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke on the No. 1 pick in the draft.
"I have no sense from Edmonton that that pick is in play. I can tell you that. If someone is actively trying to get that pick it's not us."
- Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke on the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Ken Hitchcock needs more from goaltender Jake Allen, saying the 26-year-old needs “to man up and get better” after he was pulled for the third time in five games.
After Jake Allen’s tough outing against the Boston Bruins on Tuesday, St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said it was up to everyone in the organization to either rally around the netminder or jump all over him. He voiced his support for the “tough go” Allen was having and said the team as a whole needed to be better.
Two days later, after surrendering three goals to the Los Angeles Kings on 15 shots, Allen again found himself yanked from a game in favor of backup Carter Hutton, and this time Hitchcock was much more direct with his criticism of his struggling starting netminder.
"This is really on the athlete," Hitchcock said. “There are times in your young career where you just have to say you've had enough and then you've got to go and turn it around the other way. So he's in a position where he's the guy that has to really take charge here. He's got to man up and get better, and we've got to get better in front of him.”
To Hitchcock’s credit in his management of Allen, he didn’t go so far as to absolutely pile on the 26-year-old netminder, continuing to point out that if the goaltending the Blues are getting at this point can’t keep them in games, it’s up to the entire team to ensure that they find some way to rely on something other than Allen or, in the instances he gets the call, Hutton.
As we pointed out Wednesday, though, goaltending continuing to be a sore spot in St. Louis has to have the Blues starting to get a bit concerned about what could come in the post-season if things don’t start to turn around. Though Allen will eventually have a good game or two, the fact that he’s been pulled three times in his past five outings, has a rapidly ballooning goals-against average and a save percentage that’s teetering perilously close to dipping below the .900 mark is concerning.
It’s not as if Hutton has been all that much better, either, despite the fact he keeps coming in as the relief netminder for Allen. Hutton has appeared in 16 games and played more than half the outing 12 times. Of those games, there has only been two occasions — Nov. 5 against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Tuesday’s game against the Bruins — in which Hutton has allowed one or fewer goals against. His 2.88 GAA and .894 SP are worse marks than Allen’s, but only by the narrowest of margins.
The Blues continue to have some of the best underlying numbers in the entire Western Conference, and with what we know about the correlation between strong advanced stats metrics and playoff success, it wouldn’t be beyond reason to pick St. Louis as a strong contender to go deep in the post-season.
That is if their goaltending can hold, and that hasn’t been the case as of late.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine
Gilles Meloche with the Seals. Image by: Denis Brodeur/Getty Images
As the Sharks get set to honor the 50th anniversary of hockey arriving in the Bay Area, the NHL's newest expansion team would be wise not to make the same mistakes as the Seals.
A bit of unsolicited advice for Bill Foley and George McPhee: take 95 minutes to watch the new documentary, The California Golden Seals Story, for valuable tips on how not to run an expansion team.
Fifty years before there were the Golden Knights, there were the Golden Seals, an NHL start-up trying to make a go of it in a Sun Belt city in the Pacific time zone. Technically, they weren’t the Golden Seals in the beginning, they were just the California Seals. Then they were the Oakland Seals, followed shortly thereafter by the California Golden Seals. Lesson No. 1: find an identity and stick to it.
The doc, written and produced by TV industry veteran Mark Greczmiel, traces the rise (if you can call it that) of the club from its inception in 1967 through its myriad follies, bad luck and occasional bright spots to its ill-fated relocation to Cleveland in 1976.
For Greczmiel, who grew up in the Bay Area, making the film was a labor of love, one he worked on during his spare time for more than two years.
“It’s a project I spent thousands of hours on, and I’ll never make my money back,” Greczmiel said, “but I really thought it was a story that should be told. I’m hoping this movie will shine a light on an era of hockey that a lot of people have forgotten.”
Greczmiel conducted 30-plus interviews, tapping into a variety of voices to weave his narrative, including former team employees and more than a dozen Seals players. Going in, he had a wish list of three men he most wanted to chat with: Carol Vadnais, Gilles Meloche and Wayne Gretzky. All three graciously accepted, but Vadnais, the face of the Seals early in their existence, passed away in the summer of 2014.
Gretzky, it turns out, has a soft spot for the defunct franchise. The first NHL game he attended was with his grandma at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens, featuring the Seals. His memories of the club are mostly fond. Mostly.
“I remember seeing the white skates and thinking, ‘Boy, if I play in the NHL, I hope I don’t have to wear white skates,’ ” Gretzky says in the film.
Ah, the infamous white skates. The franchise’s eccentric second owner, Charlie Finley, ordered that all players wear boots that resembled figure skates. The players understandably hated them, as did the club’s trainer. The boots were easily marked by pucks and sticks, so Finley mandated the equipment guys had to paint them regularly, sometimes between periods, to ensure they remained white.
“By the time the skate was thrown out, it would weigh 10 times what it normally would,” said ex-Seal Stan Weir. “It was tough picking up your feet to skate.”
Finley was a legendary promoter and tried all sorts of gimmicks to attract fans. On one occasion, the team paraded a real seal to center ice where the creature promptly fell asleep. They tried “Barber Night,” granting free admission to hair-cutters in the hopes they’d spread the hockey gospel to their customers. Then there was the streaker stunt in which the team paid a young woman to zoom across the ice wearing nothing but skates and the word “Seals” painted across her naked torso. Apparently, it generated some buzz.
Finley also tried to convince the NHL to use orange pucks, he bought all his players garish Kelly green blazers to wear as a “uniform on the road” and gave them matching patent leather green suitcases, with the team logo emblazoned on the side. Former Seal Ernie Hicke told Greczmiel the players, “felt like a traveling circus.”
Some of Finley’s innovations had staying power. Most notably, the Seals were the first team to have player names stitched on to the backs of their jerseys. And while Finley was notoriously cheap when it came to paying employees, he insisted the team fly first class during long road trips, which, as just one of two teams west of Minnesota, were frequent.
One thing he didn’t do was watch his team much. At the beginning of his first press conference after purchasing the club, he took the microphone and informed those in attendance, “I wanna be the first to tell you that I know nothing about the game of hockey.” And his visits to the Coliseum were rare.
“Our practices were a joke,” Walt McKechnie recalled. “For us, it was drop the puck, shots on goal, then scrimmage.”
At the end of one campaign, the PA announcer at the Coliseum bid the fans farewell, promising the next season things would get better. “Then he added, ‘They can’t get any worse.’ ” Greczmiel chronicles.
Finley scared off good hockey men such as Bill Torrey and Frank Selke, Jr., the Seals lost more players to the WHA than any other NHL club because Finley refused to pony up, and they traded away first-round draft picks like hockey cards, including the one in 1971 that became Guy Lafleur.
There was a small handful of gold dust in a mountain of dirt, including Meloche, a superb reflex netminder who had MVP skills in a DOA environment.
“I remember thinking it wasn’t a very good team,” said Gretzky, “but maybe for a two- or three-year span the best player in hockey was their goaltender, Gilles Meloche…how dominant he was, how many saves he made, how miraculous he was every night.”
And the club would go on runs or produce stunning upsets that offered hope. But every time a glimmer of optimism appeared, an anvil fell from the sky. Eventually, co-owners Mel Swig and brothers George and Gordon Gund relocated them to Ohio for two painful, slow-death seasons. At the time of the departure, the Seals had just come off their best season in terms of attendance, and it was widely believed they’d be staying put. But a deal to build a new rink in San Francisco fell through, and the bottom dropped out on the Seals’ golden era. A couple years later, the Gunds purchased the Minnesota North Stars and merged the Barons with their new club. The Barons own the distinction of being the last franchise in the four major North American pro sports to fold.
The movie, available for download on iTunes, is replete with colorful stories told by some of the key figures of the day and quirky appearances by Krazy George, the one-time school teacher whom the Seals hired as a cheerleader after hearing him rile up the crowd one night. ‘The Krazy One’ was known for banging a drum and hollering to incite passion. One time it backfired, when he got into the kitchen of Bruins’ rugged winger Terry O’Reilly, who apparently jumped out of the penalty box and into the stands to chase old George. Good times.
Forty years after the extinction of the Seals, the Bay Area has proven it can support an NHL franchise and then some. The San Jose Sharks (owned originally by the Gunds, coincidentally) are thriving, having done things the right way and benefitting from the impact Gretzky’s trade to Los Angeles had on hockey in California. San Jose has drafted well, marketed with savvy and, wisely, has opted not to bring in any live sharks or bare-naked ladies.
Shane Doan has spent his entire career with the same organization, but he would reportedly consider a trade if the right opportunity presented itself. Even if he does leave, though, don’t rule out a Doan return to Arizona by next season.
The best years of Shane Doan’s career are behind him, there’s no doubt about that, but the veteran winger can still chip in as a bottom-six player, and that could make him enticing come the trade deadline. And according to a report, Doan might actually be willing to accept a trade if the Coyotes can find a good fit.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Saturday evening that Doan, 40, could very well acquiesce to Arizona’s request for him to waive his no-trade clause if the team approaches him with a deal that would be a fit for both the Coyotes going forward and give the franchise’s longtime captain a shot at chasing a championship at the tail end of his career.
Said Friedman: “(The Coyotes are) looking at it like, ‘He’s not going to be here forever, we have to see who else can be the leaders of the team, maybe we might have to move on, but we want to put Shane Doan in a situation where he’d be happy.’ ”
The difficult thing for the Coyotes is that moving Doan isn’t likely to fetch the team all that much in return, so dealing him may be more as a service to Doan than anything.
Through 42 games this season, Doan has just four goals and 12 points and his ice time has diminished by more than two minutes per game. That’s part and parcel with being the veteran leader on a team that’s getting younger — Doan is simply fading into the background while the young players take over the bigger minutes — but it means that any team acquiring Doan will be likely to look at him as a bottom-six piece and nothing more. His name value might be enough to upgrade the return, but it shouldn’t be by any significant measure.
That’s not the only difficulty for Arizona GM John Chayka when it comes to dealing Doan, either. There’s also the matter of finding a team that would offer a suitable situation for Doan and has the cap space to acquire him. Despite the fact he’s no longer a key contributor, Doan’s cap hit is close to $4 million. The deadline offers teams a bit more wiggle room given they’re acquiring only part of the contract, but even still, there aren’t many top contenders who will have the want, need or space to bring in Doan without Arizona potentially retaining some salary. On the plus side, retained salary could mean a bigger return for the Coyotes.
If Doan does move on at or before the trade deadline, it will be intriguing to see if the change of scenery or chance at a title gives him a boost in the back half of the year. However, it is somewhat disappointing that one of the few times it has really seemed like Doan could move on comes at a point in his career where he’s not the same player he was even three or four seasons earlier.
Doan has for years been in a position where he could have possibly moved on from the Coyotes, and while there’s no knowing exactly how close some trade talks may have come at past deadlines and what have you, Doan had a real opportunity to head elsewhere back during the off-season ahead of the 2012-13 campaign. Doan, then 35, remained a free agent through the entire summer and into September ahead of the lockout-shortened campaign, but eventually inked a four-year, $21.2-million deal to remain in Arizona.
And no matter what happens with Doan at or before the trade deadline, don’t rule out the possibility of him suiting up for the Coyotes come the start of the 2017-18 season. Chayka said the Coyotes and Doan are taking a year-to-year approach and the door would remain open for Doan to return if he decided he wanted to. So even if Doan does wave goodbye to Arizona, his absence might only be temporary.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.
The Jets were a popular breakout pick for 2016-17 thanks to all their young talent. They instead remain mired in mediocrity. How can they save their season?
We really didn’t see this coming, Jets fans. We swear.
We oozed optimism last summer while forecasting Winnipeg’s 2016-17 finish in the Central Division standings. We saw the Jets rising into a Western Conference wild-card playoff position. They’d landed one of the game’s most dynamic young talents in Patrik Laine. Mark Scheifele had blossomed into a true No. 1 center after a torrid finish to 2016-17. Dustin Byfuglien was inked long term to be the franchise’s horse on defense. New captain Blake Wheeler was fresh off a top-10 finish in scoring.
Two seasons earlier, in our 2015 edition of THN Future Watch, we dubbed the Jets "2019 Stanley Cup champions." We felt confident making that call because they had the game’s best youth brigade. Jacob Trouba flashed all-star potential on the blueline. Josh Morrissey had potential as a rushing defenseman. Nikolaj Ehlers had oodles of speed and offensive creativity. Connor Hellebuyck was a star goaltender in the making and only needed his chance. And, heck, in the two years since that magazine printed, the Jets padded their elite farm system even more. They traded for Marko Dano, drafted Kyle Connor and Jack Roslovic in 2015 and, of course, landed Laine last June at the draft. Plus they still had veterans like Mathieu Perreault and Bryan Little up front and Tyler Myers and Tobias Enstrom on defense.
We absolutely thought the Jets would ascend past the Minnesota Wild and swipe a playoff seed. It hasn’t happened. Last night, the Jets suffered their 11th loss by three or more goals this season and, as you’ve likely seen already, coach Paul Maurice blew a gasket. Three wins into a four-game stretch suddenly became two losses in a three-game stretch, Wednesday’s by an ugly 7-4 margin. It was a boiling point for a team hovering just below .500 at 20-21-3, technically one point out of a playoff berth but having played three more games than the L.A. Kings, the team they’re chasing. With Laine out an indefinite amount of time with a concussion, the Jets’ playoff hopes look grimmer by the day.
What on earth went wrong with this promising squad? And what solutions might rescue its season?
Any fan who rejoiced Ondrej Pavelec’s demotion was justified. That’s not meant as an insult to Pavelec. But, statistically, he’s had a devil of a time stopping the puck over the past half decade. Forty-two goaltenders have appeared in 100 or more games over the past five seasons. Among them, Pavelec ranks 41st in save percentage over that time at .906. So yes, it was a godsend when the Jets settled on a young battery of Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson to start 2016-17.
Their performance, however? Uninspired. Among the 47 goalies with enough game action to qualify for the league leaders, Hutchinson’s .890 SP across 17 appearances ranks 46th. Hellebuyck sits at a pedestrian .910 over 33 appearances, placing him 30th. The supposedly improved Jets goaltending has looked positively Pavelecian thus far. What’s the solution? Do the Jets have to promote Pavelec? Explore the trade market? Stay the course?
SOLUTION: Stay the course. One thing Winnipeg has done right this season is give Hellebuyck, a top-notch netminding prospect, the chance to establish himself as the unquestioned bellcow. He’s started 31 games to Hutchinson’s 13. Hellebuyck hasn’t performed nearly as well as advertised, but it’s far too early to write him off. I interviewed him for the first time in fall 2015, and the attribute of his that blew me away the most wasn’t his size, athleticism or accomplishments for his age, all of which were impressive. It was Hellebuyck’s swagger that stood out most. He’s breezy in his demeanor, a gamer who believes in himself wholeheartedly. Mental toughness in goalies goes a long way – the same trait foreshadowed Matt Murray’s rise last season – and Hellebuyck has what it takes to get hot in the second half.
It was already happening before he coughed up three goals in 14 minutes Wednesday and got pulled for Hutchinson. Hellebuyck was 6-3-0 with a .924 SP in his previous nine appearances.
He ranks near the top of the NHL in low-danger SP among goalies with 1,000 or more minutes played but sits near the bottom in medium- and high-danger SP. That obviously means Hellebuyck needs to be better, but his 5-on-5 SP is better than what the Jets are used to so far in his career, and his sample size remains small. Check out this study from Garret Hohl for a good breakdown.
Trouba ended his holdout in early November and played his first game of 2016-17 Nov. 11. Myers sustained a lower-body injury that same game and hasn’t suited up since. He recently left the team due to a personal matter. That one fateful game Nov. 11, Winnipeg iced Trouba, Myers, Byfuglien, Enstrom and Morrissey simultaneously. Interestingly, the Jets are one of the NHL’s best this season at suppressing shot attempts, ranking fourth in the NHL at 5-on-5 Corsi Against per 60, but when their depth is tested because of injuries, they’re subbing in stopgap players like Ben Chiarot and Paul Postma, who grade out poorly in shot suppression.
SOLUTION: Get healthy. Hopefully Myers rejoins the lineup soon and we can finally see this group at full strength. It’s been especially encouraging to see Morrissey post strong possession numbers. His offense hasn’t arrived yet, but he’s been sneaky effective.
Oh, the irony! The Jets missed the playoffs in 2013-14 and 2015-16 largely because they couldn’t beat their Central neighbors during the regular season, going 9-15-5 and 11-16-2, respectively. In 2014-15, a playoff year, they went 16-8-5 against Central opponents. This year the Jets are a sparkling 9-4-1 in divisional play…and 7-12-2 against the Eastern Conference. Ouch.
SOLUTION: Here’s one we know the Jets can accomplish: play the East less. Winnipeg is 2-7-1 against the powerhouse Metro Division. Every team gets pummelled by the Metro, so that’s forgivable. Winnipeg has faced the East in 47.7 percent of its games so far. It only plays cross-conference 11 more times, or 28.9 percent of its remaining schedule. The Jets also face the Metro just six more times, thank goodness.
The Jets would never be confused with a “shallow” team in terms of forward depth but, in today’s NHL, every line counts. Look no further than the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have gotten tremendous mileage out of Scott Hartnell and Sam Gagner as high-skill fourth liners. The Jets’ fourth line has been somewhat of a bugaboo. Brandon Tanev and Chris Thorburn have each posted ugly possession numbers, the worst on the team 5-on-5, when slotted in there.
THE SOLUTION: Winnipeg needs Marko Dano back. He can play a rambunctious game in the bottom six but with a nice dose of skill. Unfortunately, he’s out until March with a lower-body injury. At least he’ll be the equivalent of a trade-deadline upgrade when he comes back.
Finally, we get to Maurice. All the problems above suggest we can’t blame the Jets’ underwhelming 2016-17 entirely on coaching, but most bench bosses eventually pay for their teams’ sins. Winnipeg ranks 19th in power play efficiency, 26th in penalty killing and 24th in shots on goal per game. It’s the NHL’s second-worst faceoff team. Only the Calgary Flames have taken more minor penalties. This team is struggling to master far too many small details.
And why does Maurice always seem to get a pass? He’s long been a media pet, a likable straight shooter, easy to root for. But how much more mileage can a coach get from being a good guy? Maurice has coached in the Stanley Cup playoffs five times in 18 completed seasons. His teams have missed the playoffs in nine of his past 11 seasons. Even if we subtract 2013-14, when he replaced Claude Noel in Winnipeg mid-season, that’s eight misses in 10 seasons. Maurice’s 2014-15 playoff run with the Jets was his only one in his past five seasons.
Maurice hasn't typically enjoyed a stacked roster to work with, rarely in his Hartford and Carolina days, never in his Leafs days and not for much of his Jets days. But he also hasn’t been saddled with laughing-stock franchises many times. And he has more talent in Winnipeg right now than he’s ever had, albeit some of it is young and raw.
SOLUTION: It’s doubtful anything happens to Maurice this season barring a major team slump, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable for Jets management to start paying close attention to how well this team responds to its coach over the rest of the season. We know Noel lost the room in three years ago. It happens. Sooner or later, Maurice has to start winning.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to thn.com. 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