"Without trying to sound cocky or arrogant, we knew we were going to win."
- The Blackhawks' Patrick Sharp on letting a 2-0 lead slip away before winning 3-2 against the Canadiens Friday night.
"Without trying to sound cocky or arrogant, we knew we were going to win."
- The Blackhawks' Patrick Sharp on letting a 2-0 lead slip away before winning 3-2 against the Canadiens Friday night.
John Tortorella's antics have made headlines more than his coaching ability, but the veteran bench boss is showing again this season that he's still got the chops to be a top NHL coach.
Hidden behind all the nonsense is the fact John Tortorella can be a very good coach.
The 58-year-old veteran bench boss has proved it time and time again, particularly in 2003-04 when he led the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup championship; allowing his players to show offence and creativity in a league that had become bogged down with clutching and grabbing.
Safe is death was Tortorella’s mantra back then and he convinced his players to embrace his adventurous coaching style. He was named the NHL’s Coach of the Year in 2004.
Too often since then, Tortorella has allowed himself to become a sideshow. His antics often took away from the good job he was doing managing questionable talent.
In New York, where he guided the Rangers to a 171-118-30 record in 319 games, Tortorella became better known for his daily run-ins with respected New York Post veteran beat writer Larry Brooks than coaching the team. Brooks calls ’em as he sees ’em – as a good journalist should – and that didn’t always sit well with the coach who would often lapse into verbal sparring matches with the reporter that would gain international attention.
There was also an incident during Game 5 of the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2009 when Tortorella responded to being heckled by fans of the Washington Capitals by throwing a water bottle and trying to spear a fan between two panes of glass with a stick he grabbed from one of his players. He was not ejected from the game, but was suspended by the NHL the following day.
In his one season behind the bench of the Vancouver Canucks, with which he was 36-35-11, Tortorella was involved in an infamous altercation on Jan. 18, 2014 when he entered the Calgary Flames dressing room area in an effort to engage with Flames coach Bob Hartley between periods following a first period line brawl. Tortorella was restrained by players and coaches and was suspended by the NHL for 15 days without pay.
Despite all the shenanigans, I have always believed in Tortorella’s ability to be an effective coach. I have a theory about him, though.
In an effort to prove to his players he wants to win as desperately – if not more so – than them, he comes across as trying to be one of them. That is when things tend to spin out of control. Long before his beard became a permanent fixture, he – like the players – would grow a playoff beard. Silly.
When things get out of control during games, Tortorella wants to show his players he is willing to fight for them. Even sillier.
After Tortorella was fired by the Canucks, many wondered if he had painted himself into a corner. Had his volatile reputation made him untouchable? Perhaps to some, yes, but not to Blue Jackets president John Davidson who got to know him when Tortorella was coaching the New York Rangers. Davidson knows all about Tortorella’s ability to be an effective coach when he is focused.
So when the Blue Jackets lost their first seven games in 2015-16, Todd Richards was fired and replaced by Tortorella who guided the team to a respectable 34-33-8 record. Not everyone believed in his ability, however.
After making headlines by saying he would bench any player who elected to sit on the bench during the playing of the National Anthem while coaching the United States to a disappointing 0-3 record at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, some wondered if Tortorella wasn’t losing his focus…again.
In its pre-season commentary entitled ‘31 Bold Predictions for The 2016-17 Season’ TSN.ca proclaimed Tortorella would not survive the first month of the season as the Blue Jackets spiral toward last place in the East.
Well, not only did Tortorella make it out of the first month, he currently has his Blue Jackets sitting in sixth place overall and riding a four-game winning streak. Not only was he still behind their bench, Tortorella was a legitimate contender through the first quarter of the season to win his second Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s best coach.
There is still plenty of time remaining in the season and things could certainly go south, but it seems like Tortorella has a good grasp on what he needs to do to remain a successful NHL coach.
“I think he’s maybe been a little more relaxed and perhaps a little bit different with the scheduling of days off,” said Blue Jackets forward Brandon Saad. “For the most part, though, he is who he is and he demands the most out of his players.”
For those who only know Tortorella through the viral YouTube videos that paint him as a madman, you might think he’s an incurable crackpot. For those of us who have the pleasure of knowing him on a more personable level, we know a good person lurks under the craziness. He just needs to control that craziness.
Max Domi of the Arizona Coyotes and Garnet Hathaway of the Calgary Flames tangle during the second period at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona.
Domi did not play another shift following his fight during the second period of Thursday night's overtime loss to the Calgary Flames.
The Arizona Coyotes have placed Max Domi on injured reserve with an upper body injury, according to Sarah McLellan of The Arizona Republic. The forward is listed as week-to-week.
Domi fought Flames forward Garnet Hathway in the final minute of the second period of Arizona’s 2-1 overtime loss to Calgary on Thursday night. He did not play another shift in the game.
It was the sixth career regular season fight for the 21-year-old, per HockeyFights.com.
Domi has five goals and ranks second amongst Coyotes with 16 points while averaging 17:16 a night in ice time in 26 games this season.
Regarding Domi, Tippett emphasized week-to-week timeline. Domi has to be on IR only a week but thinks it'll take longer than that.— Sarah McLellan (@azc_mclellan) December 10, 2016
With Domi on IR, the Coyotes recalled center Laurent Dauphin and defenseman Anthony DeAngelo from the American Hockey League’s Tucson Roadrunners. According to McLellan, the Coyotes were able to make two recalls as Peter Holland, who was acquired in a trade with the Maple Leafs on Friday, continues to sort out his visa issues.
Dauphin and DeAngelo are expected to be in the Coyotes lineup on Saturday night when Arizona plays host to the Nashville Predators.
Cal Clutterbuck and John Tavares
Cal Clutterbuck’s five-year extension won’t bite the Islanders for a couple of seasons, but when it does, it could cost the Islanders more than just money and cap flexibility.
Cal Clutterbuck is on pace to have his highest scoring season as a New York Islander, he’s averaging more ice time than he has in any other year with the club and he was given an alternate captaincy ahead of the campaign.
And even with all that, it’s hard to understand how exactly the Islanders saw fit to have the 29-year-old winger a five-year, $17.5-million extension.
Clutterbuck is undoubtedly one of the best at playing the specific role he plays, which is to say that if you’re looking for a hard-nosed player who’s going to put his body on the line, he’s your guy. Fans love him, teammates assuredly do, too, and he’s exactly the kind of bottom-six player that most GMs around the league would love to have on their team at the right price.
Problem is that it’s really tough to call $3.5 million per season the right price, and that’s exactly what Clutterbuck will be earning come the start of the 2017-18 campaign. That’s roughly the same cap hit as others such as Kyle Turris, Cam Atkinson, Joel Ward and Matt Read will be carrying next season, and that’s only to name a few.
Another worrisome part about the deal is that it’s hard to see how even the biggest fitness freak could maintain their ability to play Clutterbuck’s style into their mid-30s. The wear and tear on Clutterbuck’s body by the time he reaches the back-end of the contract could be substantial. Despite him playing up the lineup right now, he’s better suited to a bottom-six role and definitely will be later in his career. If he loses a step, $3.5 million will be a lot to fork over for a fourth-line winger and it’ll be a deal that’s near impossible to move.
But it goes beyond simply the signing of Clutterbuck, because there has now been a trio of deals handed out by Islanders GM Garth Snow that have been puzzling — and, truthfully, concerning — when it comes to the future of the team.
Ahead of free agency, there was the signing of Casey Cizikas to a five-year, $16.75-million deal. Then came the monster seven-year, $38.5-million contract inked by free agent Andrew Ladd. The Clutterbuck signing is No. 3.
It should be noted that the deals for Clutterbuck, Cizikas and Ladd don’t actually prevent the Islanders from doing all that much in the next two seasons. In fact, as of next season, every single current Islander forward will be locked up to a contract. Come 2018-19, when John Tavares becomes a free agent, the slate is wiped rather clean with the team able to operate with more than $40 million in cap space. Beyond Tavares, the Islanders’ UFAs come 2018-19 will include Josh Bailey, Nikolai Kulemin, Jason Chimera, Mikhail Grabovski and Thomas Hickey.
And $40-plus million can buy you a lot, and certainly it will allow the Islanders to hang on to Tavares, if he chooses to remain with the team. (Not to say he won’t, but a lot can happen between now and July 2018.) All the UFAs, save maybe Bailey and Hickey, will be allowed to head elsewhere, as well. A restricted free agent deal for Brock Nelson could be pricey, but the Islanders should realistically be able to lock him up. As of right now, the Islanders will also be without an NHL goaltender under contract, but there will be stop-gap options available. So, yes, the Islanders should be fine in 2017-18 and 2018-19.
However, things could get dicey after that.
Come 2019-20, the Islanders will watch Travis Hamonic become a UFA, see the end of entry-level deals for Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, Joshua Ho-Sang and Michael Dal Colle and still have more than $12.3 million locked up in Ladd, Cizikas and Clutterbuck. Finding the money to lock up those five players, as well as any others who could be seeking new contracts around that time, will be incredibly difficult.
The cost of those trio of deals goes beyond money and cap space, though, because there’s a serious possibility the Islanders could waste some of the best years of Tavares’ career. If the Islanders can only afford to hang on to the pieces they have without being able to add any veteran or prime-aged players, it gets hard to see how this franchise takes the next step forward, even with Tavares in his prime.
They’ll need a few adds on defense, a few forwards who can contribute and the goaltending situation will need to be figured out. Ilya Sorokin should give Islanders fans hope, but even the best goaltending prospects sometimes don’t pan out in the big league. If the Islanders need to improve in goal when their prospects are hitting their stride, the money spent in the past seven months could very well prevent that from becoming a reality.
It’s big-money, head-scratcher deals like Clutterbuck’s that teams have had to buy their way out of in the past, and it’s scary to think the Islanders could have set themselves up for the same fate three times over. The Islanders' post-season performance was reason for excitement, but now it seems, more than anything, there's cause for concern about what the future could hold.
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From big off-season acquisitions struggling to oft-maligned players proving their worth, the NHL has its fair share of players who are hard to figure out.
I'm still confused.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the NHL's five most confusing teams, at least from my perspective. These were the teams that I just couldn't figure out. Were they good? Bad? Somewhere in the middle? I'd spent the season trying to work it out, and come up empty.
As it turned out, I wasn't alone. More than a few readers confessed to being confused by those teams too, not to mention several others. It was like having a support group. A support group of confused hockey fans, all watching the games unfold with their heads tilted like a puppy seeing a toilet flush for the first time.
Well, today I'm going to call another meeting of the confused hockey fan network. But this time, we're not looking at teams. No, today we're going to dive into some specific players that have me perplexed. In most of these cases, I thought I had a handle on things. But now I'm not so sure.
Maybe you can help me out. Or maybe you're just as confused as I am. Either way, I think it will be good for my soul to admit that I just can't figure these guys out.
What I thought I knew: After an up-and-down start to this NHL career, Elliott had settled in to a predictable pattern with the Blues. He'd play well. He'd post strong numbers, sometimes even league-leading ones. And then, just when push came to shove, the Blues would lose faith in him and hand the starter's job to someone else. Maybe it was the backup. Maybe it was a pricey trade acquisition. Maybe it was even a semi-retired legend, in a move we'd all agree to just pretend never happened. But time and time again, the Blues had no faith in Elliott.
And I was convinced that they were wrong. This was the classic case of a team over-thinking things, or maybe letting dressing room politics or a faith in intangibles override basic logic. The numbers didn't lie: Elliott was one of the best goalies in the league. And when the Flames nabbed him at a discount in the offseason, I was sure that they'd found their starter.
Where I'm at now: Sitting around wondering what happened. Which is also where Elliott finds himself most games these days.
Chad Johnson has been a great story, and you can't blame the Flames for riding the hot hand. Elliott got off to a bad start, and when you're a young team that hasn't earned a ton of self-confidence quite yet, you can't let yourself fall too far out of the race. The Flames are being smart here.
But… Elliott is still good, right? Every goalie has the occasional slump, so we can't panic over 13 games. Then again, Elliott's never really done much outside of Ken Hitchcock's goalie factory, and the Blues still didn't believe in him. Did they know something that the rest of us, including the Flames, somehow missed?
What I thought I knew: Remember when Ryan was left off of Team USA in 2014, partly because Brian Burke didn't think he could spell "intense"? What a ridiculous snub that was. Hey guys, 30-goal scorers in their prime don't exactly grow on trees.
Where I'm at now: Has anyone noticed that Bobby Ryan doesn't score 30 goals anymore?
Well, sure, I imagine Senator fans were already in the loop on this one. But it feels like the rest of us have been slow to realize that Ryan just hasn't been the same player in Ottawa that he was in Anaheim. His best year since the 2013 trade was only 23 goals, and that was back in 2013-14. This year, he has just three goals through 21 games.
In hindsight, maybe we should have seen that coming. Ryan was 26 when the trade went down, and in today's NHL, that's already past the peak of many forwards. But the Senators clearly thought they were getting an elite player with some big seasons left in him – remember, we're just two years removed from them handing him a $50-million contract.
Ryan's had to overcome some tough hurdles in his life, including the loss of his mother this summer. It still feels like he could rebound and reclaim his status as a first-line player. But if not, the budget-conscious Senators may be stuck with an ugly-looking contract that they can't really afford.
What I thought I knew: Any Leaf fan who was paying attention was in on this one. Sure, Bozak had put up some decent stats over the years, but he'd done it as Phil Kessel's sidekick, inexplicably getting all the playing time with Toronto's best player and reaping the rewards. And even then, his numbers had been just OK, never topping 50 points in a season and struggling in his own end.
It was a classic case of a superstar propping up an also-ran. And once Kessel was shipped out of town, we'd see the real Tyler Bozak.
Where I'm at now: Hey, it turns out the real Tyler Bozak is pretty good.
Not "first line center" good. Certainly not "team MVP" good, despite some of the sillier hype from the Kessel era. But his production hasn't cratered without his superstar wingman. In fact, it's improved slightly, and he's on pace for the most productive season of his career this year.
Maybe he's benefitting from the Leafs finally having some depth at center. Maybe he's embracing his role as the "dad figure" on one of the league's youngest rosters. Or maybe he was just better than I thought he was all along.
What I thought I knew: He's easily one of the best young offensive defensemen in the league.
Where I'm at now: Pretty much the same place. Which is why what's going on in Dallas right now is so hard to figure out.
Last month, Lindy Ruff made Klingberg a healthy scratch, and everyone went "What?" Then we found out that Klingberg had missed a team meeting, so fair enough — the rules apply to everyone. But then last week he was scratched again, this time for performance reasons.
And sure enough, he hasn't been great this year. He's on pace for the worst offensive totals of his career, and he's getting creamed on possession, where he'd previously been very solid. Sure, maybe nobody would look good in front of that Dallas goaltending. And Ruff is carrying eight defenseman, which makes his decisions tougher. But Klingberg really has looked off this year, and with a 98.5 PDO, this isn't all about bad luck and shaky percentages. Something's wrong.
We're talking about a guy who finished sixth in the Norris voting last year, in just his second NHL season. It looked like the Stars had themselves a poor man's Erik Karlsson in the making. Maybe they still do. But this season has turned a sure thing into a major question mark.
What I thought I knew: No clue. None. He seems like a good guy. Smallish, and without any especially flashy numbers, but he always seemed like a nice underdog story who'd overachieved over the years on a long path towards earning some respect. I usually like those kind of stories.
But over the last few years, Russell has somehow morphed into the poster child for the debate between analytics and old school. And you're not allowed to stake out a middle ground. You have to either think he's the second coming of Scott Stevens, willing his team to victory by sheer force of heart, or you have to think he's hot garbage. Those are your only two options. And you better choose quickly, because as soon as his name get mentioned, everybody is going to start yelling.
Where I'm at now: SO MUCH YELLING!
Honestly, I have no idea. When Russell hit free agency this summer, I thought the big numbers being thrown around were a little ridiculous. So did the league, apparently, since he had to settle for a one-year deal with the Oilers. That seemed like a good fit, and you figured Russell could settle in, put together a decent season, and take another shot at a big UFA payday next year.
No such luck. No, apparently we all have to keep fighting the Great Kris Russell Battle until the end of time. Is he good? Bad? What position does he even play? Nobody remembers.
We have always been at war with Kris Russell. Now pick a side and go yell at somebody about it.
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.