The Great One's second season as an NHL coach has gotten off to a rocky start as his Phoenix Coyotes had just two wins in their first 10 games this season following Tuesday's 6-1 loss to Calgary. "In professional hockey, if you win you are on top of the mountain and if you lose, you're in the bottom of the valley and right now we're in the bottom of the valley," Gretzky said prior to the game at the Pengrowth Saddledome.
As a player, Gretzky had the routine of practice and game preparation to help erase the memory of a previous loss. He's found that he holds onto a loss longer as a coach.
"It's much worse," he said. "As a coach, you dwell on it for hours and hours before the next game starts. There's no way to really relieve that disbelief of losing a hockey game."
Gretzky, also a part-owner of the club, signed a five-year contract extension in May to stand behind the Coyotes' bench.
While Phoenix got off to a 1-4-1 start in Gretzky's coaching debut last season, the Coyotes turned a corner. Starting with his first road win as a coach in Calgary, Phoenix climbed to 10-10-2 by mid-November and finish with a 38-39-5 record in the toughest division in the NHL.
Looking to reach the post-season after a four-year absence, the club acquired five veterans over the summer, led by three-time all-star defenceman Ed Jovanovski.
Georges Laraque, one of the NHL's best enforcers, forward Owen Nolan and defenceman Nick Boynton also joined the fold, as well as wily veteran Jeremy Roenick, a nine-time all-star centre whose recklessness made him a fan favourite when he played for the Coyotes from 1996-2001.
Expectations were high and have not yet been met.
"We're not Stanley Cup champions right now, but we're a much better hockey club that our record indicates," Gretzky said. "From that point of view, it's horrible.
"We're searching for answers, trying to turn over every stone. The reality is, it's not much fun at this level if you are not winning."
While it's easy to think that he faces less pressure to win in a non-traditional hockey market like Phoenix, Gretzky says there's a different kind of pressure.
He acknowledged teams like Phoenix, L.A., Dallas and Tampa Bay don't have the same full-on media exposure of Calgary and Edmonton, but pointed out the NFL and the NBA can draw fans away if the NHL team isn't winning.
"It becomes difficult to sell your seats," he said.
The NHL's all-time scoring champion says his learning curve as a coach hasn't been in the tactics of the game, because that hasn't changed from his rookie season.
It's dealing with the different personalities and needs of his players on a daily basis and knowing the difference between hectoring and helping.
"It's a fine line between being hard on players internally, yet still being positive and reinforcing what you believe in and what you believe they can do as individuals to help a hockey team," Gretzky said. "At the end of the day, I know everybody is trying."
Gretzky felt for Ken Hitchcock when his friend and brother in the coaching fraternity was fired by the Flyers on Sunday, after Hitchcock's demanding ways did not yield a championship in Philadelphia.
"As I said to Hitch, it's no more public knowledge now than it was years ago, Glen Sather was the hardest coach I ever played for," Gretzky said. "He pushed his best players to levels he thought they could go through and maybe even levels they couldn't go to. It worked for him."
What has changed from Gretzky's playing heyday is the parity in the NHL, and while the Coyotes search for their identity, they are falling behind in the standings.
"I remember when I was on the Oilers and we'd go on a five-game road trip and we knew we'd win four of the games without even trying," Gretzky explained. "We were just too good for the other teams.
"Now, no matter where you go, each and every team is going to give you a battle."
Coyotes goaltender Curtis Joseph can see the Coyotes' poor start is eating away at their coach.
"There's always pressure on Gretz no matter what he does," Joseph said. "Everyone expects it to be perfection.
"I think he demands perfection and greatness from himself also."
A “hockey trade” to help St. Louis compete for a playoff berth would’ve been nice, but it wasn’t available. The Blues did the next best thing: trade Shattenkirk without losing him for nothing.
The Kevin Shattenkirk trade obviously signalled a massive Stanley Cup push for the team acquiring him, the Washington Capitals. And it felt like a white flag wave for the team sending him away, the St. Louis Blues.
It’s not like the Blues received a high-impact roster player in exchange for their prized pending unrestricted free agent defenseman. St. Louis got Zach Sanford, Brad Malone, a 2017 first-round pick and a conditional 2019 second-rounder for Shattenkirk. That’s a classic sell-off package. St. Louis knew it couldn’t afford to retain Shattenkirk this summer as a UFA given he’d command something in the range of $7 million annually at a seven-or eight-year term. Defenseman Colton Parayko is a restricted free agent this summer, Robby Fabbri next summer, and the Blues just extended center Patrik Berglund last week for five seasons at a $3.85-milllion cap hit. Per capfriendly.com, GM Doug Armstrong has 20 players signed for next season already and only about $7 million in cap space remaining, with Parayko left to re-sign. Even if the expansion draft plucks away a piece, it likely won’t be an expensive one – say, Nail Yakupov or Dmitrij Jaskin – so there just wasn’t going to be money left to extend Parayko and re-up Shattenkirk.
We all knew it, as did Shattenkirk’s suitors, which likely hurt Armstrong’s leverage. The package he received from the Capitals is thus respectable. Still, it’s not like Sanford and Malone project as major difference makers for this franchise. Sanford, 22, possesses great size and flashed some scoring potential with Boston College and in the USHL. Malone, 27, is AHL depth and nothing more. At the very least, it’s clear nothing St. Louis received will help much now.
That would be fine if the trade followed typical seller parameters, with the Blues mining the depths of the standings hoping for a lottery pick. But, geez, they currently occupy a playoff position. They hold down the second Western Conference wild-card spot at 67 points and have a game in hand on the L.A. Kings, who sit two points back. St. Louis won seven of eight games after Mike Yeo assumed head coaching duties with Ken Hitchcock let go, but they’ve now lost three straight. Did that mini skid cause Armstrong to declare his team’s Cup hopes dead?
The Capitals are tired of playoff disappointments. Already the best team in the league, they decided overkill was the smart strategy. That's why they went out and got the best player on the trade market.
It’s more complicated than that. Ideally, the Blues would’ve found a “hockey trade” for Shattenkirk, one that would’ve helped them stay competitive, but it was likely difficult to achieve. What team would surrender an important roster player, especially one with term left on his deal, to rent Shattenkirk? An extension would’ve had to be worked out between Shattenkirk and his new team for that to work, and it may have proven too tall of an order.
That left Armstrong with the decision to either keep his asset for the playoffs knowing he’d lose him in the summer – or seek the type of return typically reserved for a team with no playoff hopes. The guess here is the organization decided the fan base could not stomach losing another prized UFA for nothing. David Backes and Troy Brouwer walked in the summer, and the Blues are not nearly as good a team as they were a year ago. Having Shattenkirk depart would’ve been a public relations disaster, especially if the Blues ended up missing the playoffs with him in the lineup. Hey, it was possible. They occupied the lowest seed with an outstanding player like Shattenkirk.
The trade Monday night, then, was about saving face. It wasn’t the sexy return Blues fans likely hoped they’d get for Shattenkirk. The first-round pick could well be 31st overall if the Caps win the Stanley Cup. But the one thing we know about what St. Louis acquired for Shattenkirk and goalie Pheonix Copley: it was not nothing. That’s what St. Louis needed to ensure after losing Backes and Brouwer.
The NHL trade deadline is Wednesday, though there's already been lots of activity. Here's a look at the latest rumors surrounding some of the notable players still believed available in the trade market.
Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche reportedly seek a good, young NHL-ready defenseman or goaltender, a first-round pick and a top prospect as part of the return for either forward. TSN's Darren Dreger notes Duchene's been linked to the New York Islanders. He wonders if defenseman Travis Hamonic as part of the return might tempt the Avs.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports the Avs told interested clubs they have no intention of lowering that asking price at the deadline. That could ensure the pair remain in Colorado for the remainder of this season.
Marc-Andre Fleury, Pittsburgh Penguins. Jonathan Bombulie reports Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said last Friday he hadn't received a trade offer for Fleury, who lost the role of starting goaltender to Matt Murray. Still, Rutherford didn't rule out the possibility of moving the veteran netminder.
The combinations of Fleury's $5.75-million cap hit through 2018-19, his modified no-trade clause, and a soft market for goalies could make him difficult to move. Rutherford has also said he'd be content with keeping his tandem intact for the remainder of the season.
Tomas Vanek, Detroit Red Wings. TSN's Pierre LeBrun reports there hasn't been much interest in the 33-year-old. However, he expects that will pick up as the deadline draws near. With 38 points in 47 games, Vanek could be attractive to the Los Angeles Kings, Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers and San Jose Sharks. He also carries an affordable $2.6-million cap hit on an expiring contract.
Shane Doan, Arizona Coyotes. Sportsnet's Chris Johnston reports the 40-year-old Coyotes captain was unhappy about seeing long-time teammate Martin Hanzal dealt to the Minnesota Wild. That's increased speculation Doan could waive his no-movement clause, but GM John Chayka said the veteran winger hasn't requested a trade. Should Doan become available, the Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch believes the San Jose Sharks could come calling.
Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes. The Edmonton Sun's Jim Matheson cites scouts claiming the Hurricanes defenseman is in play. He believes their depth in young rearguards no longer makes Faulk their blueline mainstay. The Hurricanes need scoring depth, especially at center, and Faulk could land them a quality return.
Marian Gaborik, Los Angeles Kings. Friedman reports the Kings are looking into moving Gaborik. The 34-year-old winger's best years are behind him. His contract (four years remaining at $4.8-million annually) makes him almost impossible to move at the deadline.
Patrick Sharp, Dallas Stars. Having already shipped out one pending UFA winger in Patrick Eaves last week, the Stars could attempt to do the same with the 35-year-old Sharp. The Matheson speculates the Oilers could be watching the veteran winger
Jannik Hansen, Vancouver Canucks. Hansen recently submitted his list of preferred trade destinations as requested by Canucks management. LeBrun believes the winger is garnering lots of interest. The asking price could be a young player or top prospect.
Dennis Wideman, Calgary Flames. The recent additions of Michael Stone and Matt Bartkowski made Wideman the odd man out on the Flames' blueline. Wideman told the Calgary Sun's Wes Gilbertson he was open to waiving his no-movement clause. So far, he hasn't been asked to do so.
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.).
The Capitals are all-in and the acquisition of Kevin Shattenkirk put the rest of the Metropolitan on notice. Will the other top teams in the division answer back? And if so, how?
The Capitals seemed a long shot to land Kevin Shattenkirk at the deadline, so much so that Washington really wasn’t even all that much on the radar for the rearguard until mere hours before he was dealt to the Metropolitan Division leaders. And even when the rumor mill started to heat up speculating the Capitals could be in on Shattenkirk, it still seemed like there would be no way it actually came to pass.
But did the Capitals ever put the rest of the division on notice when they managed to pull the trigger on a deal that, in the eyes of many, could very well put them over the top. All it cost to pick up Shattenkirk at the cost of two drafts picks, Zach Sanford and Brad Malone. If that’s enough to put the Capitals into the winner’s circle come season’s end, it was more than worth the price.
Don’t go thinking the rest of the division will go without a response, however. The battle for Metropolitan supremacy has been the toughest in the league this season, and with four other teams from the group in the hunt for the playoffs, there’s no doubt going to be some moves made as a reaction to the Capitals’ splash with the trade deadline fast approaching.
The Capitals are tired of playoff disappointments. Already the best team in the league, they decided overkill was the smart strategy. That's why they went out and got the best player on the trade market.
The Penguins were actually the first squad in the division to make a move, but it was as much out of necessity as it was in effort to take top spot in the Metropolitan. With Olli Maatta hitting the shelf with a hand injury and Kris Letang sidelined day-to-day with an upper-body ailment, Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford looked to his old stomping grounds in Carolina and picked up Hurricanes blueliner Ron Hainsey. That likely isn’t everything the Penguins do with the deadline approaching, however.
Realistically, the Penguins could still do with adding another depth blueliner, even if he doesn’t see the ice all that often. Security on the back end would be a nice thing to have going into the playoffs, especially with the Capitals loading up. It’s clear that’s of interest to the Penguins, too, as they were reportedly in on Shattenkirk, as well.
It wouldn’t be out of the question for Pittsburgh to also look to see if there’s a way to add another depth scorer to the roster, either. One of the most important facets of the Penguins’ run to the Cup in 2015-16 was their depth scoring. Players such as Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl and Conor Sheary stepped up at the right time. Jake Guentzel has been playing lights out of late, but maybe there’s another cheap piece to be added somewhere. A cheap scorer, maybe Radim Vrbata or P-A Parenteau, could fit the bill.
The Penguins have all the top-end skill a team needs to compete in the post-season, but the make or break factor could be ensuring there’s not even the slightest hole in their lineup. That’s what it’s going to take to win the Metropolitan, too.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets are having what projects to be the most successful regular season in franchise history. The shame is, though, the 16-game win streak has been followed by a 12-10-1 stretch. Columbus is above .500 since their outstanding run, sure, but few would put them in the same conversation as the Capitals or the Penguins. The question then has to be what the Blue Jackets can do to put them into true contention for the Metropolitan crown.
Up until Tuesday, the Blue Jackets had stood pat, and the only move the team has made to potentially improve leading up to the deadline was Tuesday’s signing of Marc-Andre Bergeron. The 36-year-old blueliner isn’t exactly the kind of player who’s about to come aboard and make all that much of a difference, though, and there’s no telling if he even gets any NHL games under his belt this season. This is to say the Bergeron signing, while nice for the veteran rearguard, doesn’t move the needle for Columbus.
The Blue Jackets could use another defender, though. It’d be tough to make any of the high-priced defensemen work, but one option could be New Jersey Devils defender Kyle Quincey. He’s not carrying a massive cap hit — $1.25 million and a UFA at the end of the season — and could easily skate middle- or bottom-pairing minutes for Columbus. He has playoff experience and he’s got some offense to his game, providing four goals and 12 points this season.
However, it wouldn’t be all that shocking if the Blue Jackets stand pat, for the most part. This is a growing team with a lot of talented, young pieces. Their window isn’t all the way open yet, and there’s no reason to go all-in yet. Building off this strong season would be as good as trading away assets in a division they’re unfortunately unlikely to win.
New York Rangers
The Rangers might just have to wait for the off-season to get Shattenkirk, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to add the blueliner they’re after. New York was reportedly interested in Detroit’s Brendan Smith even before Shattenkirk came off the board, and the Rangers carried out the deal with the Red Wings Tuesday afternoon by sending a pair of draft picks the other way.
Smith isn’t Shattenkirk, that much is clear. The Capitals pulled in an 11-goal, 42-point rearguard, and the Rangers answered back with one who has two goals and five points. What Smith can do, however, is play significant minutes somewhere in the Rangers’ bottom two pairings. They desperately needed someone to do so, too. And even with Smith, it wouldn’t be the worst idea for the Rangers to keep looking at defensemen, even if it means sacrificing some offense in a trade. New York has 203 goals for, which is the second-best mark in both the league and division. Their 162 goals against are 11th in the league, though, and the back end doesn’t exactly strike one as the most fierce in the division.
What the Rangers need most is someone who can reliably share the top-pairing minutes with Ryan McDonagh. Right now, there’s a nearly four-minute gap between McDonagh’s average ice time and that of Nick Holden, who’s second on the club with 20:37 per game. Smith probably doesn’t skate alongside McDonagh or average near the same ice time. Quincey could be an option, or maybe the Rangers consider someone along the lines of Johnny Oduya.
Finding a top-two guy is almost impossible, especially with Shattenkirk off the board, but having someone to help share the top minutes with McDonagh would be a boon for the Rangers.
New York Islanders
Unlike the Penguins, Blue Jackets and Rangers, the Islanders aren’t in the conversation to win the Metropolitan. However, they stand a chance of competing against their divisional rivals if they sneak into the post-season in the second wild-card spot. That would mean a date with the Capitals, and if the Islanders want to be able to put up a fight, they’re going to need to make some additions.
The Islanders aren’t in the same position as the other teams within the division in that they’re quite set on the back end. Having a top three of Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk and Travis Hamonic, when he returns from injury, makes for quite the blueline, and while the bottom three of Dennis Seidenberg, Calvin De Haan and Thomas Hickey aren’t without their flaws, it’s not a bad way to round out the defense. Adding another piece back there could help, absolutely, but it’s not a big-time must.
Adding some scoring to the lineup is, however. The Islanders rank 10th in the league in scoring with 179 goals, but that’s almost entirely because of John Tavares and Anders Lee. More than a quarter of the team’s goals have come from those two players, both of whom have 23 markers this season, and a top three scorers that consist of Tavares, Lee and Josh Bailey isn’t exactly Murderers’ Row.
Making the money work wouldn’t be easy, but wouldn’t it be interesting to see Duchene land with the Islanders? Giving Tavares a speedy, 30-goal player to work alongside could give New York a solid 1-2 punch on offense. But if the Islanders want a short-term fix to try and get into the playoffs and make some noise, they wouldn’t go wrong with Vrbata or Parenteau. Maybe they even try bringing Thomas Vanek back. Just three seasons ago, he scored 17 goals and 44 points in 47 games while playing primarily with Tavares as his center.
Defenseman Brendan Smith is an upgrade for the Rangers, a team that is very much in win-now mode, but it again cost them a piece of their future.
The New York Rangers are fighting a war; a war they cannot win. But the Blueshirts must try anyway and in acquiring defenseman Brendan Smith from Detroit for a 2017 third-rounder and 2018 second-rounder, New York at least has a chance of making another run at the Stanley Cup.
The Rangers have been one of the best playoff teams in the East in the past five years, in a league with Tampa Bay and behind Pittsburgh. But the core is aging and there’s no reason to believe stalwarts such as Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash and Marc Staal will be better next season. So this is the window to win…but it’s only open a crack.
If the Rangers can finish fourth in the Metropolitan Division, they’ll cross over to the Atlantic playoff bracket as a wild card, thus avoiding Pittsburgh, Washington and Columbus, at least for two rounds. That’s a big advantage and one that must be taken.
New York still has to win those series however and with Smith, they get a puck-moving defender who was having a down year offensively on a bashed-in Red Wings squad. Smith is certainly an upgrade on the now-injured Dan Girardi and since only picks were traded away, New York comes out deeper here. Will it be enough to actually grasp that Cup for King Henrik and his court? The odds aren’t great, but with Kevin Shattenkirk already snapped up by Washington, Smith represents a needed consolation prize for New York.
The tough part to swallow here if you’re a Rangers fan is that once again New York mortgaged its future. Barring more deals, the Rangers will pick just once in the top-75 of the draft this summer. Last year, their first selection came at No. 81 when they landed controversial defenseman Sean Day.
With this year’s second-rounder already given up (last year’s ill-fated Eric Staal trade), the Rangers had to part with their 2018 pick. At the least, New York had an extra second-rounder thanks to the Derick Brassard trade with Ottawa, so the Rangers still have seven picks for 2018…for now.
The bigger problem is that New York already has one of the worst prospect pools in the NHL (Future Watch spoiler alert). Years of going for the Cup have seen the franchise shed picks and prospects at an alarming speed and there will be a gap very soon.
The team’s Manhattan address and recent run of solid play has helped entice young free agents (Jimmy Vesey and Kevin Hayes being prime examples), but that’s a stop-gap at best. Eventually, this organization will have to go back to drafting and developing talent. If the Rangers win the Cup this season, that restocking won’t be painful. If they don’t, the Smith trade will be remembered as another get-Cup-quick scheme gone wrong.