E.J. Hradek and Bill Pidto preview the night ahead in the NHL.
E.J. Hradek and Bill Pidto preview the night ahead in the NHL.
The Florida Panthers fired Gerard Gallant Sunday, which should have come easy to them, given how many people they've fired lately.
If there’s anyone out there who can figure out exactly what the game plan is with the Florida Panthers these days, feel free to let us know. They apparently weren’t intending on deciding their head coach’s fate until after a six-game road trip that is scheduled to end next week, but a second-period collapse in which they were outshot 13-7 and outscored 3-0 Sunday sealed Gerard Gallant’s fate. One bad period, after the Panthers had gone 5-2-0 in their previous seven going into that game, was apparently the tipping point.
That makes sense. Well, almost as much sense as “promoting” your GM to president of hockey operations – effectively taking hockey decisions away from him – after having the best regular season in franchise history, then replacing him with a guy who has never held a GM post in his life. Then putting that same GM behind the bench and saying that your former GM is once again going to be a part of a three-headed brain trust that will be responsible for all player personnel decisions.
Panthers’ owners Vinnie Viola and Doug Cifu and their crew of military men running the Panthers have a reputation around the NHL as guys who think they’re smarter than everyone else. And hey, maybe they are. Panthers’ fans had better hope that’s the case, because when they literally kicked Gallant to the curb outside the arena in Raleigh Sunday night, they were making a bold statement. And it had less to do with the Panthers’ play than the fact that they want the world to know they’re going to run the Panthers the way they see fit.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’re going to purge your organization of solid, good hockey people, you’d better be pretty sure that you have a better way of doing things. So far, that better way of doing things is to install people with limited NHL experience on their resumes. Even Tom Rowe, whose meteoric rise from minor league coach to assistant GM to GM to interim head coach, is 60 years old and he’s never run an NHL bench as a head coach (although he has a lot of coaching experience in the minors and is a former NHL assistant). Of course, he had never been a GM either, but that didn’t stop the Panthers from giving him that role.
This had almost nothing to do with the fact that the Panthers had a terrible second period against the Carolina Hurricanes Sunday afternoon, or the fact that they had a rather disappointing 11-10-1 record, despite the fact they had injuries to a number of key players and were getting sub-par production from a number of others. Through the first quarter of the season, the Panthers were neither great nor terrible and there would have been a lot of time for Gallant to get things on the right track.
This had everything to do with philosophy. Rowe and ownership had one vision of building a team and Gallant wasn’t completely on board, something Rowe acknowledged in a conference call Monday afternoon. Rowe wanted a team built on speed and puck pursuit and Gallant wanted more size. “There was definitely a philosophical divide,” Rowe said. “Were we on the same page every day of the week? No, when it came to that. The philosophy was different and that did weigh into the decision.”
It was a decision that was apparently so heavily contemplated that Gallant’s luggage was taken off the team bus after the game, before he was picked up by a “car service” (that’s what the Panthers called it) that looked an awful lot like a run-of-the-mill taxi. We say this because the vehicle picking him up at the side of the road outside the PNC Arena in Raleigh was yellow with a checkerboard design on it and was emblazoned with the word ‘taxi’. He had help with his bags, of course, from an employee of the Hurricanes. Any way you look at it or try to justify it, the optics of that look horrendous. So much for no man left behind.
But, as we said, firing the coach and basically dismissing a team’s entire front office is an owner’s prerogative. (Let’s not forget, also, that a very good hockey man in Brian Skrudland left the Panthers as the director of player personnel in 2015.) And it’s also his prerogative to install people with a heavy background in analytics. And this is not, repeat not, a referendum on the state of analytics, any more than the terrible start by the Arizona Coyotes is. The Panthers struggles have a lot less to do with analytics than they do with the fact that Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad and Jussi Jokinen have been injured for all or part of this season and both Jaromir Jagr and Aaron Ekblad have struggled. Aleksander Barkov had a goal in each of his first two games this season and hasn’t scored once since then.
So now the Panthers will be coached by a 60-year-old who has never been a head coach in the NHL before. And their personnel decisions will be made by Eric Joyce, who has a degree in systems engineering from West Point and a master’s from Harvard; Steve Werier, who until this summer was the Panthers’ vice-president in charge of legal affairs; and, Tallon.
What could possibly go wrong with that set-up? With all their military acumen, you’d think the Panthers would know that it’s important to have one person with his hand on the tiller for the most important decisions. But these guys apparently know what they’re doing. Undoubtedly it’s all part of a grand plan that will come to wonderful fruition one day soon. Or not.
Injuries to Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais have the Canadiens in need of help down the middle, but making a move at this point in the season could be tough. Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs won’t be alone in keeping an eye on Karri Ramo in the AHL.
The loss of centers Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais to knee injuries is a serious blow to the Montreal Canadiens' scoring depth. With both on the shelf six-to-eight weeks, GM Marc Bergevin could be scrambling to find replacements.
Galchenyuk's absence hurts the most. At the time of his injury, he led the Habs with 23 points in 25 games and was on track for a career-high 70 points. Finding a suitable replacement in the trade market at this point in the season is almost impossible. Still, Bergevin must find some suitable depth down the middle until Galchenyuk and Desharnais return.
TSN's Darren Dreger believes Arizona Coyotes center (and pending free agent) Martin Hanzal would be a good fit. However, he said here's no indication the two sides have discussed a Hanzal deal. He believes the Coyotes' asking price would be a good young prospect.
Boston Bruins forward Ryan Spooner is reportedly available. A versatile forward who can play center or wing, the 23-year-old is struggling offensively after a promising 49-point effort last season. It's unlikely, however, that the Bruins trade him to a hated rival in the same division.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman observes the Winnipeg Jets have a lot of young centers, suggesting Alex Burmistrov as an emergency fix for the Habs. Like Spooner, the 25-year-old Burmistrov can play center or on the wing. He's struggled to establish himself with the Jets and might benefit from a change of scenery. His $1.55-million cap hit, however, could be a tight fit for the Canadiens.
MAPLE LEAFS NOT ONLY TEAM WATCHING RAMO
Speaking of the Toronto Maple Leafs, changes appear to be afoot for their backup goaltending. Earlier this week, Jhonas Enroth was demoted to the AHL's Toronto Marlies after clearing waivers. Antoine Bibeau is Enroth's replacement, but only on a short-term basis.
Unrestricted free agent goalie Karri Ramo signed a professional tryout offer with the Marlies. If he plays well for them, the Leafs could sign him.
Ramo, however, is not the Leafs property yet. He's still free to sign with any NHL club. TSN's Pierre LeBrun reports the Los Angeles Kings are keeping an eye on Ramo, but the Leafs are considered to have the inside track.
HENDRICKS’ TIME UP AS AN OILER
It appears checking-line left wing Matt Hendricks doesn't have a future with the Edmonton Oilers. Having miss the opening month of the season to a lower-body injury, the 35-year-old's been a healthy scratch in recent games. An unrestricted free agent next summer, the Oilers could look at moving him.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman believes Hendricks might be a good fit with the Minnesota Wild. He said the Wild are seeking fourth-line help and Hendricks is a favourite of Wild coach Bruce Boudreau.
The Wild, however, only have $392K in salary-cap space. Hendricks' annual salary is $1.85 million. Even if the Oilers picked up half of his cap hit, it won't be enough. The Wild would have to move salary elsewhere to make that work.
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.). For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.
ECHL defenseman Anthony Calabrese is “lucky to be alive” after a “careless, reckless” hit, and Tyler Murovich, who delivered the blow, has been given a 12-game suspension as a first-time offender.
There are few plays scarier than seeing a player hit from behind and sent headfirst into the boards. That kind of play is made that much harder to watch when knowing the severity of the injury suffered.
During an ECHL contest on Nov. 24 between the Norfolk Admirals and Atlanta Gladiators, ECHL veteran Tyler Murovich delivered an incredibly dangerous shove to the back of Anthony Calabrese, a 24-year-old defenseman who’s only 12 games into his ECHL career.
The result of the hit was frightening. Calabrese was left laying face down on the ice, near motionless. The Admirals rearguard would eventually be placed on a stretcher, taken from the ice and transported to hospital.
Brutal check from behind leads to 12-game ban in the ECHL... pic.twitter.com/ytfd9AwKDd— Robert Söderlind (@HockeyWebCast) December 5, 2016
The ECHL took quick action when it came to the hit, handing down an immediate indefinite suspension and fining Murovich for his actions. And after days of deliberation, the league came to a conclusion on the exact length of Murovich’s ban, giving him a 12-game suspension for a “careless, reckless” hit. Murovich will be kept out of action until Jan. 5.
That may seem harsh to some given that Murovich is a first-time offender, but given the severity of Calabrese’s injury, it actually seems like a somewhat light punishment.
As a result of the hit, Calabrese suffered broken C7 and T1 vertebrae. In simpler terms, he broke both his neck and his back. Oh, and he also punctured his lung. In fact, Calabrese told The Virginian-Pilot’s Jim Hodges that doctors told the young center that he’s “lucky to be alive.”
“It was a miracle, and they say I’m going to make a full recovery,” Calabrese told Hodges. “It’s going to be a long road, but I’d rather be alive than be in a wheelchair the rest of my life.”
What helped Calabrese escape with his life, he told Hodges, was advice he had gotten early in his career from a high school coach. Calabrese was taught that if he was ever going into the boards head first to lift his chin and turn to the side in an attempt to avoid taking the brunt of the impact with the top of his head.
“That’s honestly the only thing that registered in my mind when I was going in: at the last minute, pick my head up,” Calabrese told Hodges. “I remember picking my head up and turning it to the right.”
Thankfully, doctors told Calabrese that he can eventually return to the ice and that the injuries suffered from the hit won’t cost him his career. His spinal cord, he told Hodges, wasn’t damaged due to the hit. And, as hard as it may be to believe, doctors said it was the “best possible break” in a situation such as Calabrese’s.
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Thatcher Demko warming up prior to an AHL game against the Toronto Marlies at Air Canada Centre. The 21-year-old is 7-5-1 with a 2.59 G.A.A. and a .909 save percentage in 14 AHL games this season.
The Canucks 2014 second-round pick is 7-5-1 with a 2.59 G.A.A. and a .909 save percentage in 14 American Hockey League games this season.
Vancouver's goaltending depth could get tested this weekend as the Canucks play back-to-back in Florida on Saturday night and then in Washington on Sunday.
Ryan Miller pulled himself during the third period of Thursday's 5-1 win in Tampa Bay due to what Iain MacIntyre of The Vancouver Sun reported is an ankle injury. With Miller hurting, the Canucks have recalled Thatcher Demko from the American Hockey League's Utica Comets.
Demko will serve as Jacob Markstrom's back-up in Florida. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound Boston College product was ranked No. 57 on THN's list of Top 100 prospects 21 and under in November.
The 21-year-old, in his first pro season, started slowly losing his first four starts while allowing 21 goals-against in his first six AHL starts with the Comets, but has since settled down going 5-1-0 in his last six starts with a 1.50 G.A.A. and a .945 save percentage entering Friday's game against the Binghamton Senators.
"Thatcher has been humbled more and more and he’s learning his way in Utica — and that’s what we’re looking for. He’s able to get past the bad and good performances really quickly, and that’s a good sign for No. 1 goalies," Canucks goaltending consultant Rollie Melanson told The Vancouver Sun. “He’s getting more and more quiet in the goal as he gets more experience. Between what we do on the ice and what we do in the video room, he’s really starting to understand where we need to go. He’s going to be a good pro."
It's uncertain whether the Canucks 2014 second-round pick will get into game action over the weekend. Following Sunday's game, Vancouver travels to Carolina to play the Hurricanes on Tuesday before returning home to open a four-game home stand against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday.