Say What?!? - Nov. 5
Say What?!? - Nov. 5
"Enjoy the reception. Don't break anything."
- President Barack Obama to the Blackhawks, who visited the White House Monday.
"Enjoy the reception. Don't break anything."
- President Barack Obama to the Blackhawks, who visited the White House Monday.
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.
With their top two goalies hurt, the Kings could pursue the likes of Ondrej Pavelec or Steve Mason, but their are limited by their salary-cap space.
With Los Angeles Kings goaltenders Jonathan Quick and Jeff Zatkoff sidelined by lower-body injuries, there's growing speculation over how GM Dean Lombardi will address the situation. Jared Clinton notes there's talk of a trade, but points out the Kings' limited salary-cap space will hamper those efforts.
Winnipeg Jets former starting goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who's currently toiling in the minors, is seen as an obvious trade target for the Kings. However, Sportsnet's Nick Kypreos reports the 29-year-old might not be done with the Jets. He said the Jets remain unsure about their young tandem of Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson, preferring to hang onto Pavelec as insurance.
Kypreos' colleague Elliotte Friedman said the Kings looked into the availability of Pavelec, as well as Philadelphia's Steve Mason, Florida's Reto Berra and Pittsburgh's Mike Condon. He wonders if they'll consider contacting the Anaheim Ducks about former King Jonathan Bernier.
Friedman observes the Ducks must shed salary to make room for restricted free agent defenseman Hampus Lindholm's new contract. He also said Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford is a fan of Bernier's. For the time being, however, Friedman believes the Kings will attempt to make do with Peter Budaj and call-up Jack Campbell.
The New York Post's Brett Cyrgalis also weighs in, suggesting the New York Islanders as a potential trade partner. Noting they currently carry three goalies, Cyrgalis wonders if Lombardi could make a pitch for Jean-Francois Berube, whom the Islanders plucked off waivers from the Kings last year.
The Kings, however, only have $952,000 in cap space. That prevents them from acquiring Bernier, who's earning $4.15 million this season. Even if the Ducks agreed to pick up half of his salary-cap hit, it's still more than the Kings can afford. Same goes for Pavelec ($3.9 million) and Mason ($4.1 million). To land any of those goalies means shipping out additional salary to make room for their respective cap hits.
If necessary, Lombardi could place Quick on long-term injured reserve. That would allow him to exceed the $73 million cap ceiling to add a netminder. However, he'll have to become cap compliant when Quick returns to active duty later this season.
If Zatkoff is sidelined long-term and Budaj and Campbell struggle, Lombardi will need an affordable short-term option. Berra ($1.45 million), Berube ($675,000) or Condon ($575,000) could be his best bets.
The Kings goaltending injury woes created some trade chatter in Vancouver. The speculation suggests the Canucks ship them veteran Ryan Miller as a short-term replacement for Quick. The Province's Jason Botchford dismisses that notion, claiming Canucks GM Jim Benning doesn't want to trade the 36-year-old Miller.
Much of this Miller trade talk is based upon Jacob Markstrom's strong start to this season. Entering this week, the 26-year-old is 3-0-1 with a 1.94 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. Meanwhile, an abdominal strain sidelined Miller following the Canucks' season-opening 2-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Oct. 15. He returned to action Sunday, giving up four goals in a 4-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.
Botchford points out Miller's low trade value, his $6-million cap hit and the Canucks lack of a third goalie works against trading the veteran netminder. However, that hasn't stopped the local conspiracy theorists from insisting Miller will be dealt soon to the Kings.
As with Pavelec, Bernier and Mason, the Kings simply don't have the cap room to take on Miller's cap hit, even if the Canucks agreed to pick up half of it.
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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The Islanders at center ice of Barclays Center
The arena’s ice on Friday night was called “unplayable” and “bouncy,” and it has less to do with temperatures than it does the piping under the ice.
New York Islanders fans’ gripes about the Barclays Center have been plenty. There’s been complaints about the sight lines, the travel and the building design, in general, and it has left fans hoping for a return to Nassau Coliseum or for an all-new building for their Islanders to call home. The biggest objection to the arena, though, could be one that doesn’t really impact the fans.
Over the past few games, the center of attention for the Islanders hasn’t so much been the on-ice performance as it has been the ice conditions, which have been downright awful, according to the players.
Winger Cal Clutterbuck’s words rang out the loudest after the Islanders’ 3-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes. According to Newsday’s Arthur Staple, Clutterbuck called the surface “unplayable” on Friday night, and rearguard Johnny Boychuk added that pucks wouldn’t settle down, meaning players couldn’t do much more than “throw it on net.”
But complaints about the ice can be normal over the course of a season. Combine a string of unseasonable temperatures with a spectator-filled contest and there’s an almost perfect storm for bad, bouncy ice. Trouble is that it hasn’t been a one night issue.
Players were much less outspoken about the conditions following Sunday’s 6-3 win over the Minnesota Wild, but not exactly silent on the ice issue. Captain John Tavares told the New York Daily News’ Peter Botte that he didn’t want to talk about the ice but said it was “a little better” Sunday, while coach Jack Capuano said it was simply something both teams had to deal with.
“We don’t want any excuses,” Capuano said, according to Botte. “Whether the ice is good or bad, both teams have to play on it. I’m sure they’re trying to do the best they can here, and I’ll leave it at that.”
But the issue with the ice goes well beyond the temperature. According to Staple, the team has ice engineer and dehumidifiers that work to keep the rink in its best possible shape, but the biggest issue is literally an underlying one.
Staple reported that the Islanders are currently using plastic pipes below their ice surface instead of steel, and Chris Botta added that “all other NHL rinks have steel pipes.” Botta said that arena management knows of the issue, as do the Islanders, but it wasn’t fixed during the summer because it would have required a complete shutdown of the building.
When temperatures drop, the issue of warm weather impacting the playing surface will most likely fade away — or at least lessen, given that the sheet should stay much cooler in the winter — but as the season nears its culmination, the temperature could again be an issue and the team’s annoyance with the ice could again come to the fore.
Rumblings about the Islanders’ unhappiness with Barclays Center have been ongoing nearly since the day the puck was dropped to start the 2015-16 season, and they persist to this day. And if bad ice conditions continue without any fix in sight, you can almost guarantee the talk of the Islanders looking for a new home is going to continue.
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Jonah Imoo and Dusty Imoo.
The AHL's Ontario Reign needed two goalies on short notice so turned to 22 year old Jonah Imoo to start between the pipes, while his 46-year-old father Dusty was his backup.
The Los Angeles Kings' goaltending woes resulted in some interesting hockey history on Saturday night.
When goalie Jeff Zatkoff was injured during practice and Jack Campbell needed to be recalled to the NHL, it created not one but two openings between the pipes for their AHL team, the Ontario Reign.
The Reign handed the starter's job to 22-year-old goalie Jonah Imoo on an emergency basis for their game Saturday night against the San Jose Barracuda. Imoo's backup goalie for the evening? His father, Dusty.
Dusty Imoo, 46, is a goalie development coach in the Kings' organization, and got to watch his son's AHL debut up close and personal, in full uniform, on the Reign bench. Jonah Imoo spent four seasons playing in the BCHL and had split last season in the Federal Hockey League and Southern Professional Hockey League before a finger injury and surgery ended his season after just three games.
Imoo stopped 26-of-31 shots and the Reign lost 5-4 in overtime but it didn't diminish the special moment for father and son.
"Old man crying, even as I think about it I kind of well up," Dusty told NHL.com. "It's emotional. It's weird. I watched him play exhibition games with us this season, the rookie games. I saw him put on a NHL jersey and it was all heartwarming to see, but this is different. . . I walked into the dressing room before anyone was there and I see the two jerseys and our nameplates."
Jonah & Dusty Imoo Take the Ice and Father and Son Goalie Duo
Earlier tonight, Jonah Imoo and Dusty Imoo took the ice as a father and son goaltending duo!Posted by Ontario Reign on Saturday, October 22, 2016
Dusty Imoo had a long career playing in professional leagues in Asia, including suiting up for the Japanese national team at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano. His son's career is just beginning but got off to a memorable start.
"I found out I was starting after morning skate," Jonah said. "As I was getting undressed, one of the trainers said, 'Guess who is backing you up tonight?' And he put in another Imoo nametag in the stall next to me. I couldn't believe it. It was pretty surreal."
The Kings, of course, lost Jonathan Quick to an injury in their opening game of the season. With Zatkoff hurt, that mean both Reign goalies -- Peter Budaj and Campbell -- were recalled to the NHL. It means the younger Imoo might be sticking around a little while longer. Though that's probably not the case for dad.
“I don’t think they want a 46-year-old backup for too long," Dusty told Jim Alexander of the Press Enterprise.