slow start

Underachieving NHL teams: Off to a slow start, eh?

It is typical at times for a perceived great team to get off to a surprisingly slow start. It’s tough to judge a team just 8-10 games in, but you would like to see positive signs moving forward.

Montreal, Edmonton and New York (Rangers) are three of the five bottom teams in the league at the moment. The only team with a worse record (as of Oct. 26) is the Arizona Coyotes (0-8-1). All three of these teams finished with over 100 points last season.

This is a small sample size. However, after a long offseason, teams are typically high on new energy at the start of the year. Moreover, the points you deposit in October are worth the same as the points put in the bank in March. Ask the Canadiens of last year. Montreal started the season 13-1-1, played .500 hockey the next 43 games (18-18-7), and still captured a division title finishing 47-26-9.

Every team hits a lull, or multiple lulls over the course of a season. A hot start isn’t 100 percent crucial to a successful season, but it is your first imprint on the year. It’s the first building block. Your season can be made or broken based off of how it starts. It’s very early again, but what’s going on with three of the league’s current bottom feeders?

off and walking habs

underachieving NHL teams

Photo: NHL.com

The Habs began their season with a 3-2 shootout win over the Sabres. They then proceeded to lose their next seven. Montreal ended that skid Tuesday night with a 5-1 win over a Roberto Luongo-less Florida squad. The team is giving up close to four goals a game and both net minders (Price and Montoya) have save percentages under .900.

The Canadiens are a team that depends on their goaltending heavily having arguably the best in the league in Carey Price. The 2015-16 season saw them skate to a 10-2-0 record with Price in the net and a 4-15-1 record the next 20 after his injury. Thirty-seven of their 47 victories last season came with Price manning the crease. The pressure on Price is huge because they only possess one player (Max Pacioretty) that had over 20 or more goals for them last season.

Montreal is scoring less than two goals a game. They are averaging over 38 shots a game lacking finish. The Habs have the eighth worst power play at just under 14 percent in a year where special teams is ruling with the amount of penalties being called. It’s just not clicking for the Canadiens nine games into their season.

We could see a flip of the script of last year where Montreal could trend upward after October instead. There are 73 games remaining. It’s simply a slow start for the Habs.

Not Much Fuel early For the Well-Oiled Machine

Underachieving NHL teams

Photo: NHL.com

The curious case of the not so well-oiled machine at the moment is concerning. Edmonton has won only two of their first eight games. Connor McDavid is still doing Connor McDavid things (nine points). However, the depth along with the stellar goaltending from Cam Talbot isn’t showing up currently.

Edmonton is giving up an even three goals a game after giving up 1.89 per game through eight games last season. They needed everything and more from their starter Cam Talbot last year. The 30-year old played in 73 of the 82 games. It started with him as the Oilers let up the eighth fewest goals of any team. They’re going to need Talbot to be who he was last year and maybe more if the offense doesn’t pick up.

The league MVP is obviously the catalyst for everything that goes on offensively for the Oilers. However, to be successful and a true contender, you need production from all four lines. The 2016-17 season saw Edmonton possess five 20+ goal scorers, four 50+ point getters and one fourth liner (Mark Letestu) net 16 goals. McDavid can turn this team around in a hurry as they have almost everyone from a year ago minus Jordan Eberle.

Great teams sometimes suffer when they are aware of the talent they have. This can be seen at times with the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers during the NBA regular season. They get bored occasionally. However, the Oilers have no excuse having just made the playoffs for the first time in 10 years despite having the second best preseason Cup odds at 10-1. They haven’t won or proven anything yet.

broadway at a standstill

Underachieving NHL teams

Photo: NHL.com

The Rangers have played in 10 games so far this season and have come away victorious twice. However, they have shown the most positive signs of improvement statistically of the other two teams. New York has been in three one-goal games, averaging 2.50 goals per game, and converting on close to 20 percent of their power plays.

The Blue Shirts’ defense is centered around Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan McDonagh after an offseason trade with Arizona and free agency. They traded Antti Raanta (backup goalie) and Derek Stepan (key bottom six depth player).

Their new backup (Ondrej Pavelec) is 0-2 and has given up six goals in 96 minutes of action. The penalty kill (manned by much of the bottom six) sits at 23rd in the league at 77.8 percent. The new defensive core is a combined -11.

New York finished ninth overall in the league last year with 102 points. They captured a series win over Montreal and took Ottawa to six games who was one goal away from reaching the Finals. The Rangers organization then presumed a few tweaks were needed to take the next step. Sometimes that’s valid and other times it isn’t the case at all.

This could be nothing like the previous two teams discussed. Hopefully (for the front office) this will be a footnote to the next 72 games for the Rangers.

No time to worry

There are new faces up and down a roster coming into the year. Chemistry and figuring out how to play with one another is crucial. Some teams learn faster than others and there is no way to project where these particular teams will be in the standings later on in the season.

The key is to have a short memory and always be in the right frame of mind. Each of these hockey clubs believe they can win with the personnel they possess.

The longest losing streak for the Stanley Cup winning Penguins last year was four. Therefore, the seven game losing streak by the Habs is alarming. The league worst 15 goals that the Oilers have registered in their eight games is concerning. The lack of cohesion from the new-look Rangers is also worrisome. However, they can’t look back.

Will these teams get it together sooner rather than later?

 

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NHL Awards predictions for the 2016-2017 season

It’s understandable to devote all the attention to tonight’s expansion draft. Lest we not forget, however, that the NHL Awards are happening too.

Perhaps it is mostly because the Vegas Golden Knights’ selections occur during the presentation, but this year’s awards are must-see as a hockey fan. From a heated Norris race to multiple options for the best coach and general manager, the finalists well deserve the recognition. These were tough decisions, but there are very few choices where the voters could err.

The postseason stat awards are already apparent: Connor McDavid collects the Art Ross trophy for the most points, Sidney Crosby the Maurice Richard award for the most goals and Braden Holtby the William Jennings nomination for allowing the fewest tallies.

Off the ice, Columbus’ Nick Foligno bagged two awards: the Mark Messier Leadership Award and the King Clancy Memorial Trophy. Travis Hamonic of the New York Islanders won the NHL Foundation Player Award.

Will these talented players receive more hardware than they already have? Find out below for the official predictions from The Game Haus.

Hart Trophy – Most Valuable Player

Connor McDavid is nominated for two NHL Awards.

Connor McDavid. Photo courtesy of NHL.com

Nominees:

Oilers C Connor McDavid

Penguins C Sidney Crosby

Blue Jackets G Sergei Bobrovsky

Crosby has history and hardware on his side in this race. The Pittsburgh star is a two-time Hart winner in 2007 and 2014 while collecting three Stanley Cups and two Conn Smythe Awards. McDavid and Bobrovsky are first-time nominees, with the latter reaching as high as fifth in the voting back in 2013.

The Columbus netminder had a phenomenal season, but this is a two-man race between McDavid and Crosby. McDavid bested Crosby in points even though he scored 14 less goals. The first 100-point season in Edmonton since 1995-96 is no small feat. Sid the Kid was still elite this season with 89 points.

In the end, the award is for the most valuable player. McDavid was absent on the score sheet for consecutive games just twice this year, registering points in 70 games. Patrick Maroon and Leon Draisaitl enjoyed banner years, while Milan Lucic and Jordan Eberle also performed well. McDavid’s 70 assists helped everyone’s cause, and his team reached the playoffs because of it.

Prediction: Connor McDavid

Ted Lindsay Award – NHLPA’s Most Outstanding Player

Nominees:

Oilers C Connor McDavid

Penguins C Sidney Crosby

Sharks D Brent Burns

This award seems redundant since it’s basically the MVP with a different voting pool. The only difference from the Hart is the addition of Burns, who had 76 points and 320 shots this season. Burns’ feats will be explained further in the Norris category, but he is undoubtedly worthy of a most outstanding player award. He makes this award tougher to choose.

As mentioned before, McDavid and Crosby each have worthy cases. Crosby is seeking his fourth Lindsay award, which would tie his fellow Penguin Mario Lemieux for second-most all-time. McDavid could be the third overall Oiler to win and the first since Mark Messier in 1990.

In the end, though, this is the same award as the Hart. It’s a difference of voter opinion, but it’s hard to say one clearly deserves one award while another does the other. With that in mind, this goes to the same player as the Hart, who overall was the best player this season.

Prediction: Connor McDavid

Norris Trophy – Best Defenseman

Nominees:

Lightning D Victor Hedman

Senators D Erik Karlsson

Sharks D Brent Burns

Finally, an award that McDavid can’t win! Instead, we get three players who were the backbone of their teams. Although the award technically is for the best defenseman, players over the years get more accolades for their offensive work as well. All three have played that part well this season.

Hedman has never made it to the top three in Norris voting. His 72 points this season and 53.4 percent Corsi rating have vaulted him there. Averaging 24:30 minutes of ice time is stellar. However, he’s not as talented offensively or defensively as Burns or Karlsson, so he likely won’t win.

From here’s it’s a matter of preference. Burns led the league in shots; Ray Bourque was the last defenseman to achieve that mark 22 years ago. Twenty-nine goals and almost 25 minutes of playing time per game are insane, too. He is an impressive shot blocker and a prime two-way talent.

If the award had voting through the postseason, Karlsson would win in a landslide. His postseason performance while injured was tremendous, and his 71 points, 26:50 TOI and 201 blocks are as well. However, the voting doesn’t include postseason performance. Therefore, based on a slightly better season, Karlsson will have to wait to grab his third Norris trophy.

Prediction: Brent Burns

Vezina Trophy – Best Goaltender

Nominees:

Canadiens G Carey Price

Captials G Braden Holtby

Blue Jackets G Sergei Bobrovsky

This category features the top two netminders across most of the basic statistics and another who had a 10-game winning streak this season. This is the hardest player award to predict based on how close two nominees are.

First off, Carey Price will likely not win. That winning streak is impressive, and a 2.23 GAA and .923 save percentage are too. However, they dwarf in comparison to Holtby and Bobrovsky. While he carried his team to an Atlantic Division title, Washington and Columbus had better seasons. Price was great, his competition is better.

As for that competition, it’s difficult to firmly say one was better than the other. Consider Holtby’s stats: league-leading 42 wins and nine shutouts alongside a 2.07 GAA and .925 save percentage. Now, match them with Bobrovsky’s numbers: 41 wins and seven shutouts, with a league-leading 2.06 GAA and .931 save percentage. How do you decide who was better when the stats are so close?

The deciding factor may come down to the Bob’s 14-game winning streak in December. He had another seven-game unbeaten stretch. Holtby’s best was a 14-game stretch without losing in regulation. This isn’t the best tiebreaker, but voters may have put more weight.

Prediction: Sergei Bobrovsky

Calder Trophy – Best Rookie

Auston Matthews can win the first of what could be many NHL Awards

Auston Matthews. Photo courtesy of NHL.com

Nominees:

Jets RW Patrik Laine

Maple Leafs C Auston Matthews

Blue Jackets D Zach Werenski

While the Hart and the Vezina are close, this one is more clear-cut. Matthews was the favorite the moment Toronto drafted him first overall in last year’s draft, but Laine and Werenski made it tougher for voters this season.

Laine scored 36 goals in his inaugural season with Winnipeg, leading the team and finishing second amongst rookies. He did it all at 18 years old. Werenski, meanwhile, was quietly the best rookie defenseman and a quality blue liner in general. He notched 47 points and was a +17 on the ice. He had more points his rookie season than Rick Nash. That’s insane to realize.

Unfortunately for both, Matthews had a special year in the NHL. This was apparent the moment he scored four times on Opening Night. He tallied 40 goals and 69 points on the season, leading the Leafs into the playoffs this season. This is an easy choice.

Prediction: Auston Matthews

Selke Award – Best Defensive Forward

Nominees:

Wild C Mikko Koivu

Bruins C Patrice Bergeron

Ducks C Ryan Kesler

There’s a mix of former nominees and newcomers for the Selke. Bergeron has won it three times and nominated three more times. Kesler won in 2011 and has finished in the top three in five total instances. Koivu is a first-time finalist who’s finished as high as fourth in voting.

Koivu had more blocked shots than points with 65 and 58 points. Kesler won over 57 percent of his faceoffs and ranked third in the NHL as a forward with an average time of 21:18 on the ice. He is likely the toughest one of the bunch to go against one-on-one.

The toughest out of all of them this year, however, as Bergeron, who did everything on the ice. He may have had fewer points, but he had more faceoff wins than Kesler (1,089 to be exact) and was more efficient in the circles. Bergeron goes up against many top lines and creates havoc on the ice. He can match Bob Gainey as the only four-time Selke winners.

Prediction: Patrice Bergeron

Other NHL Awards Predictions

Lady Byng Award for Most Gentlemanly Player – Wild C Mikael Granlund. Every nominee was a first-timer, so this is a toss-up. However, if you go 27 games without being called for a penalty, you need some kind of recognition.

Masterson Trophy for Dedication to Hockey – Senators G Craig Anderson. Easy money. His wife overcame cancer and he was lights out during her battle. The best story of the NHL this past year had a happy ending and follows up with a happy epilogue.

Jack Adams Award for Best Head Coach – Toronto’s Mike Babcock. All three candidates (Todd McLellan of Edmonton and John Tortorella of Columbus) turned around mediocre teams into playoff contenders. But did anyone expect the Leafs to go to the playoffs? Babcock created the right winning culture.

NHL General Manager of the Year – Nashville’s David Poile. His team’s run to its first Stanley Cup Final didn’t count in voting; it didn’t need to anyway. His offseason acquisition of P.K. Subban electrified the team.

 

Feature image courtesy of Cali Sports News

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Atlantic Division Playoff Predictions

The Atlantic Division is a mess right now. Literally anything could happen. When it comes to the standings, nobody is safe. What counts for first place in the Atlantic doesn’t even warrant a wild card in the Metropolitan.

Needless to say, it’s a tight race.

So with that in mind, please enjoy the Game Haus’ Atlantic Division Playoff Predictions.

OTTAWA Wins the division

Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Carey Price, Claude Julien, Alex Galchenyuk, Erik Karlsson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sasha Barkov, Niklas Bjugstad, Craig Anderson, Mike Condon, Guy Boucher, Mike Babcock

Photo credit: Andre Ringuette, NHLI via Getty Images.

Guy Boucher and the Ottawa Senators have surprised a lot of NHL fans this season. They currently sit in second place in the Atlantic Division, trailing Montreal by only two points.

Under Boucher’s leadership the Sens have employed a much more defensively responsible system. Fantasy owners may not be happy about this, Erik Karlsson’s point production this season has suffered as a result. But in combination with the outstanding goaltending of Mike Condon and Craig Anderson Boucher’s system has raised the Senators’ stock significantly.

Look for Ottawa to finish the season strong, they’ve gone 6-4-0 in their last ten and have three games in hand compared to the division leading Habs.

Ottawa will finish first in the Atlantic Division

MONTREAL follows close behind

Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Carey Price, Claude Julien, Alex Galchenyuk, Erik Karlsson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sasha Barkov, Niklas Bjugstad, Craig Anderson, Mike Condon, Guy Boucher, Mike Babcock

Photo Credit: NHL.com.

Though it has not always been smooth sailing for the Montreal Canadiens this season they remain on top of the Atlantic Division. That lead, however, has become increasingly narrow as the season wears on Montreal’s slump continues.

Under the leadership of their new head coach Claude Julien the Habs will become a more dominant team, with better puck possession, and score more goals. But it will take time to adjust.

Though a change behind the bench was just what the doctor ordered for the Canadiens, the institution of a new system will take time. And in that time the Canadiens will fall behind and lose their Atlantic Division lead to the Sens.

Montreal will finish cecond in the Atlantic Division.

FLORIDA FINDS A PLAYOFF SPOT

Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Carey Price, Claude Julien, Alex Galchenyuk, Erik Karlsson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sasha Barkov, Niklas Bjugstad, Craig Anderson, Mike Condon, Guy Boucher, Mike Babcock

Photo credit: La Presse Canadienne.

The Florida Panthers have weathered the storm and are finally firing on all cylinders again.

With the return of Bjugstad, Barkov and Huberdeau the Panthers are again a force to be reckoned with. Earlier this month they pulled off a feat no Eastern Conference team has managed this season, a California sweep.

Don’t let their goal differential (-14) fool you, they’re 8-2-0 in their last ten outscoring their opponents 38 – 30 over that span.

Look for a healthy Panthers squad to make a late surge in the standings.

Florida will finish third in the Atlantic Division,

TORONTO FINDS THE WILDCARD

Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Carey Price, Claude Julien, Alex Galchenyuk, Erik Karlsson, Jonathan Huberdeau, Sasha Barkov, Niklas Bjugstad, Craig Anderson, Mike Condon, Guy Boucher, Mike Babcock

Photo credit: John E. Sokolowski, USA Today Sports.

The Toronto Maple Leafs will make the playoffs this year. But it won’t be pretty.

There are a lot of New York Islanders fans that will probably hate this prediction, but the young Leafs have been explosive all season long.

The first wild card spot in the East will undoubtedly go to a Metropolitan Division team. The New York Rangers, who currently hold the position, have 78 points in the standings; more than even the first place Canadiens in the Atlantic. Still, Toronto will manage to secure a wild card spot for themselves.

Leafs’ head coach Mike Babcock knows a thing or two about making the playoffs. But his young squad will fatigue as the season grinds on. Their upcoming schedule includes a tour of the California teams and it remains unlikely that the Leafs will be able to find any easy wins on the West coast. As a result, the Leafs will fall from their third place position in the Atlantic.

Toronto will finish fourth in the Atlantic Division and secure a wild card spot in the process.

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What Will it Take for Montreal to Win the Cup this Season?

After starting the season 13-1-1 the Montreal Canadiens have cooled off considerably. The Habs got off to a red-hot start this season but have managed only a meager 14-12-6 record since the start of December. Since returning from the All-Star break they have dropped four of their last six contests.

The Canadiens were humiliated in Denver on Tuesday night by the Colorado Avalanche. Given that the Habs trounced the Avs 10-1 back in December, Tuesday’s 4-0 loss to the League’s last place team ought to be a bit of a wake-up call for the wavering Canadiens.

Though they won in the desert last night against the Arizona Coyotes, it was a less than commanding performance from the Habs. Carey Price had another less than stellar performance, letting in four goals after the team got off to a two goal lead in the first.

That said, Montreal is still sitting atop the Atlantic Division. Barring a repeat of last season, Montreal is almost certainly a lock to make the playoffs. But then what?

General manager Marc Bergevin has repeatedly stated that this is Montreal’s year, that his team is “all in.” And so it is here that the Habs organization and fans alike must ask themselves, what will it take for Montreal to win the Cup this year?

PRICE TO PLAY LIKE PRICE

Gerard Gallant, Claude Julien, Patrick Roy, Montreal Canadiens, Habs, Carey Price, Michel Therrien, P.K. Subban, Shea Weber, Marc Bergevin, Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers, Boston Bruins, Stanley Cup, Goals, Wins, NHL, Hockey, Michel Therrien, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche

Photo credit: . David Zalubowski, Associated Press.

Last year Montreal’s best player spent the better part of his season on the Injured Reserve. For the Habs, losing Carey Price to injury was the equivalent of the Washington Capitals losing Alex Ovechkin or the Pittsburgh Penguins losing Sydney Crosby.

Luckily for the Canadiens, that’s not been the case this year. Yes, injuries have plagued the team but their roster has remained more or less intact. Still, especially as of late, Price has not been Price.

Since December Price has struggled to stop the puck from finding the back of the net. He’s allowed three or more goals in 13 of his last 20 starts. Accordingly, his goals against average has suffered. Though Price has a very respectable .918 GAA on the season the statistics are skewed. For the month of December he sported a very un-sexy .898, January .901, and thus far in February its been .874. These are not Carey Price numbers.

Though he is still widely regarded as the best goaltender in the world, Carey Price is having a hard time living up to this title. Though nobody expects him to stop them all, three and four goal games are not something the Habs should get used to. If Montreal was producing on the front-end then this might not be such a big problem.

Unfortunately, this has not been the case.

SCORING

It’s simply too easy to say that the Canadiens won’t win unless they score goals. That’s obvious, it’s precisely the point of the game. Just how they manage to find those goals is up for debate.

If you’re head coach Michel Therrien, your solution to the slump is probably to continue mixing things up. Though Therrien’s ‘blender’ has been the punchline of distraught fans for years he has never abandoned the practice.

The main criticism of the ‘blender’ has been that it doesn’t give guys enough time to generate chemistry before being force to move to a new line. Without chemistry there is no production, without production Price has no support, and without those things games are lost.

Now if you’re general manager Marc Bergevin your options aren’t quite as narrow as Therrien’s.

The Canadiens’ lack of depth in scoring, particularly at center, has them rumored to be on the hunt for a goal scorer before the Trade Deadline. Among those rumored to be available for trade, the Colorado Avalanche’s Matt Duchene has reportedly been on Bergevin’s radar. But at what cost? Avs general manager Joe Sakic has been clear that Duchene won’t come cheap.

Is Montreal willing to wager its future for the chance at a Stanley Cup in the present? This argument extends to any trade Montreal might make before the deadline. The alternative to a Duchene type trade would be to either secure a rental player for a relatively smaller return or leave things be and hope for the best.

Of course, as some have suggested, there is also a third option: fire Therrien.

The COACHing Conundrum

Fans have been calling for Therrien’s dismissal for years now.

Last season’s blunder was largely the result of injury woes and poor point production. Therrien, according to Bergevin, was not to blame. So instead of instituting a coaching change, Bergevin used the offseason to shuffle up the roster; trading away star defenseman P.K. Subban for the much more defensible responsible veteran blue liner Shea Weber.

The Canadiens find themselves in similar slump as last season, even with their revamped roster. But this season is different than last. They have Carey Price in net, they are capable of scoring (even if they haven’t been as of late), and the market is flush with coaches. Not only is it a buyers-market for teams looking to make move behind the bench, but if Montreal insists on a French speaking coach as they historically have, the time is ripe.

Gerard Gallant, Claude Julien, Patrick Roy, Montreal Canadiens, Habs, Carey Price, Michel Therrien, P.K. Subban, Shea Weber, Marc Bergevin, Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers, Boston Bruins, Stanley Cup, Goals, Wins, NHL, Hockey, Michel Therrien, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche

Photo credit: Bernard Brault, La Presse.

Claude Julien is only the latest head coach to be let go. His 14-year coaching career included stints with the Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils, and the Boston Bruins. He sports a very attractive 512-309-10-111 record over that span. During his tenure with the Bruins Julien won the Jack Adams Award in 2009 and the Stanley Cup in 2011.

Gerard Gallant, Claude Julien, Patrick Roy, Montreal Canadiens, Habs, Carey Price, Michel Therrien, P.K. Subban, Shea Weber, Marc Bergevin, Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers, Boston Bruins, Stanley Cup, Goals, Wins, NHL, Hockey, Michel Therrien, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche

Photo credit: Associated Press.

Gerard Gallant was one of the seasons earlier coaching departures. His resume is considerably shorter than Julien’s but let’s not judge a book by its cover. Gerard’s first NHL coaching gig was with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2003. But after coming up short in 2003-04 and 2004-05, missing the playoffs both years, Gallant was let go 15 games into the 2006-07 campaign.

It wasn’t until 2014 that Gallant would take another stab at manning the helm, when he was brought on board by the Florida Panthers. Although the Panthers missed the playoffs in Gallant’s first year behind the bench he is largely credited with turning the team around, finishing first in the Atlantic Division last season, and making it to the Conference Quarterfinals. Injuries plagued the Panthers to begin the season and Gallant was unable to stop the ship from sinking, hewas relieved of his duties only 22 games into the season. Gallants sports a 152-141-4-31 record over the course of his coaching career.

Gerard Gallant, Claude Julien, Patrick Roy, Montreal Canadiens, Habs, Carey Price, Michel Therrien, P.K. Subban, Shea Weber, Marc Bergevin, Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers, Boston Bruins, Stanley Cup, Goals, Wins, NHL, Hockey, Michel Therrien, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche

Photo credit: Brad Rempel, USA Today

Patrick Roy rather abruptly left his post as the Colorado Avalanches head coach in the offseason. It’s no secret that Roy has strong ties to Montreal. He grew up in Quebec, began his playing career with the Habs franchise, and won two Cups with the team. He’s coached three season in the NHL, all of which were with the Colorado Avalanche. During his first year as an NHL coach Roy won the Jack Adams Award. But the team quickly crumbled, and Roy is no longer an NHL coach. During his time as an NHL bench boss Roy managed to put up a 130-92-24 record, winning a division title in that span.

Of course, if Montreal goes the route of firing Therrien mid-season, assistant coach Kirk Muller (former Hab and Stanley Cup champion himself) would most likely get the nod as interim head coach. Muller was brought back to Montreal after a brief coaching stint in Carolina Hurricanes ended.

SOMETHING HAS GOT TO GIVE

Though it’s unlikely Bergevin is looking to make a coaching change, a recently held meeting between himself and the players (sans Therrien) has many speculating that the Habs’ bench boss is on his last leg with the team.

Quite simply, they are looking for a spark. And that spark needs to come from somewhere. Whether that means upgrading the roster through a trade or saying bon voyage to their head coach the Habs are in desperate need of some wins if they have any chance at making a run at the Cup.

One thing’s for sure, if the Canadiens are to win the Cup this year Price will need to play like the All-Star he his and his team will need to support him with some production.

Just how the Habs plan to accomplish this remains to be seen.

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John Scott, All-Star, All-Star Game, NHL All-Star Game 2017, Jack Adams Award, NHL, Hockey, Coach, John Tortorella, Bruce Boudreau, Michel Therrien, Peter DeBoer, Shea Weber, Carey Price, Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Eric Staal, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thorton, Cam Atkinson, Sergie Bobrovsky, Nick Foligno, Vezina Trophy, Zach Werenski, Calder Trophy, OHL, Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens, San Jose Sharks, Minnesota Wild, Tampa Bay Lighting, New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks, New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins

All-Star Coaches: A Jack Adams Short-List

It will be all the big names, and only the big names, at this year’s NHL All-Star game.

Last year’s game was a public relations nightmare for the NHL.

Journeyman John Scott found himself at the center of a massive push by fans to see an enforcer in the All-Star game. A non-elite player playing with the best of the best. A regular Joe.

And it worked.

John Scott, All-Star, All-Star Game, NHL All-Star Game 2017, Jack Adams Award, NHL, Hockey, Coach, John Tortorella, Bruce Boudreau, Michel Therrien, Peter DeBoer, Shea Weber, Carey Price, Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Eric Staal, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thorton, Cam Atkinson, Sergie Bobrovsky, Nick Foligno, Vezina Trophy, Zach Werenski, Calder Trophy, OHL, Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens, San Jose Sharks, Minnesota Wild, Tampa Bay Lighting, New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks, New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins, All-Star Coaches

Photo credit: Christopher Hanewinckel, USA Today Sports.

Scott was voted captain of the Pacific Division but the NHL tough guy was subsequently traded out of conference and demoted to the AHL. And that’s when conspiracy theories started coming out of the wood works.

It was alleged that the trade was an elaborate plot by NHL execs to strip Scott of his All-Star captaincy and thereby “restore” the good name of the NHL All-Star game.

The game having been openly mocked, re-tooled and tweaked for the better part of a decade due to little to no interest by both fans and players alike.

Many argued that the internet was trolling the NHL by voting Scott the Pacific Division captain. Others argued that the All-Star game is meant to represent what the fans want to see, a for the fans by the fans game.

In the end, Scott was allowed to participate. He captained the Pacific Division, scored two goals, and won the All-Star tournament. Despite not being on the ballot, Scott won the All-Star game MVP by an overwhelming amount of write in votes.

But it’s a new year and a new All-Star format has emerged. Along with new voting rules.

According to the new ‘John Scott Rule’ players sent down to the minors, or injured, are now barred from participating in the All-Star game.

So no more John Scott’s

This might lead one to believe that the NHL doesn’t really care about what the fans want.

Rather predictably, this year’s All-Star game will be filled with all the regulars.

The NHL announced the game’s four captains on January 3rd and the full rosters on the 10th.

But forget about the players for a moment. We all know Crosby is an All-Star. We all know Ovechkin is a stud. Of course Carey Price will be there, he is the best goalie in the world.

Let’s talk, instead, about the coaches.

All-Star Coaches

The NHL All-Star game’s coaches reads like a short list for this season’s Jack Adams Award.

Michel Therrien of the Montreal Canadiens (Atlantic Division), Bruce Boudreau of the Minessota Wild (Central Division), John Tortorella of the Columbus Blue Jackets (Metropolitan), and Peter DeBoer of the San Jose Sharks (Pacific) will be behind the benches at the 2017 All-Star 3-on-3 tournament in Los Angeles this coming January 29th.

Each of these men merit consideration when it comes to the coach of the year award, the Jack Adams, and here’s why.

Michel Therrien

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Photo credit: Richard Wolowicz, Getty Images.

Therrien’s coaching career has been a bit rocky. Full of peaks and valleys. Right now, though, he is definitely riding high.

Therrien got his first big league coaching gig in the 2000/01 season with none other than the Montreal Canadiens. After two and half mediocre years he was let go. Only to be picked up by the Pittsburgh Penguins for the 2005/06 campaign.

He achieved moderate success in Pittsburgh. Coaching them to the Conference Quarter Finals in 2006/07 and the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007/08. Though he would be let go during the 2008/09 season the Pittsburgh Penguins went on to win the Stanley cup under their new head coach Dan Bylsma.

To Montreal’s surprise, Therrien was re-hired as the Habs bench boss in 2012. General Manager Marc Bergevin citing his ability to work with and mold young talent. A skill highlighted by his work in building the Pittsburgh franchise into what we all know today as one of the league’s top teams; year in, year out.

Even with an injury riddled roster, Therrien has been able to maintain a consistent level of play out of his squad. The Canadien’s are first in the Atlantic Division and will also be sending goaltender Carey Price and defenseman Shea Webber to All-Star festivities.

Since being brought back in 2012 Therrien’s Canadiens have missed the playoffs only once.

Bruce Boudreau

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Photo credit: Norm Hall, NHLI via Getty Images

Bruce Boudreau’s record behind the bench this year has been nothing short of impressive, which seems to be par for the course for the talkative French Canadien coach. Nicknamed “Gabby” by his players, Boudreau boasts the second highest winning percentage in NHL history.

Throughout his career Boudreau has won eight division titles, four with the Washington Capitals and four with Anaheim Ducks, in only nine seasons. Though he has never won a Stanley Cup championship, he has only failed to make the playoffs once. Boudreau has won the Jack Adams Award once before, with the Washington Capitals back in 2008.

He now finds himself steering the ship in St. Paul as the Minnesota Wild’s new head coach.

The Wild boast the second best record in the Central Division, behind the Chicago Blackhawks, and have enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance this year after firing longtime bench boss Mike Yeo and interim coach John Torchetti last season.

Boudreau has not only awoken the Minnesota franchise from its slumber. He appears to have revived the career of NHL veteran, Stanley Cup champion, and Olympic gold medalist Eric Staal.

Staal leads the team with 13 goals, 22 assists, and 35 points. Halfway through the season, Staal is only four points away from passing last year’s total.

Not only have the Wild been winning but they have been winning in spectacular fashion.

In a season full of incredible winning streaks the Wild managed to cobble together an impressive 12 game win streak. A streak which only came to an end when they faced the Columbus Blue Jackets, who were in the midst of maintaining a historic streak of their own.

Peter DeBoer

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Photo credit: Christian Petersen, Getty Images.

It should come as no surprise that Peter DeBoer ought to be considered for the Jack Adams Award. DeBoer coached 13 seasons in the Ontario Hockey League, winning the Matt Leyden Trophy (OHL coach of the year award) twice in that span.

In the NHL he has manned the helm for the Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils, and – since the 2015/16 season – the San Jose Sharks.

In his first season with the Sharks DeBoer took the team all the way to the Stanley Cup championship. This year the San Jose Sharks sit atop the Pacific Division and look poised to take another run at the cup.

Under his tutelage, DeBoer has managed to raise the play of his team into a truly elite squad.

Brent Burns leads the league in shots on goal and points by defenseman.

Martin Jones has turned into a legitimate Vezina contender.

Veteran NHLers like big Joe Thorton, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau continue to post quality numbers while also acting as character guys in the dressing.

And after an injury riddled season Logan Couture looks as though he has not missed a beat.

DeBoer is well on his way to a successful tenure as the head coach of the San Jose Sharks. Perhaps it’s the California sun?

John Tortorella

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Photo credit: Jamie Sabau, NHLI via Getty Images.

What can you say about John Tortorella? The fiery head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets is a man who needs no introduction. His antics have been broadcast far and wide. The success he and his team have enjoyed so far this season is turning haters into believers en masse.

Prior to the season starting, Tortorella had the honour of being NHL analysts’ head coach who was “most likely to be fired first.”

But you don’t fix what isn’t broken.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have been on fire this season. The 16 game win streak Columbus managed to put together in the first half of the season is the second longest in NHL history.

Having previously coached the Tampa Bay Lighting, New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks, Tortorella seems to be fitting in just fine with the Blue Jackets.

Since Torts took over as bench boss, Sergie Bobrovski appears to back in Vezina form. His stats so far this season are comparable his 2012/13 Vezina Trophy winning year.

Cam Atkinson and Nick Foligno, two of Columbus’s most important character players, are leading the team in points; a lead by example style of play Tortorella likes to emphasize.

Zach Werenski has found great success under Tortorella as well. The rookie defenseman is seeing top line minutes, both in 5-on-5 play and on the power play. Werenski’s name has been brought up often when talking about Calder considerations.

The 2004 Jack Adams Award winner needs no argument made on his behalf. John Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets’ record thus far speaks for itself.

 

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What Canada Has to Look Forward to Next Season

With only a few days left in the NHL season all seven Canadian teams have been eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoff race. You know it almost doesn’t feel right? This has only happened one other time in the history of the NHL during the 1969-70 season. I’m not here to talk about why the Maple Leafs are bad, or talk about another dreadful season in Edmonton, but to show the upside to these Canadian teams for next season.

Toronto Maple Leafs (28-40-11) 67 Pts.

Nazem Kadri the leading point scorer for the Leafs, is a good starting point when talking about the future for Toronto. As first line center, Kadri looks to improve on a dismal season, currently ranked last in the Eastern Conference. Helping Kadri bring the winning ways back to Toronto is offensive defenseman Morgan Rielly. Rielly, only 22 years old, is one the top defense prospects in the league. Another upside for the 2017 season is the return of one of the better coaches in the NHL Mike Babcock. Lastly, the Maple Leafs affiliate team in the AHL the Toronto Marlies have the best record in the league and are ready to bring some young talent to the NHL. Look for some of these prospects to make an impact in the years to come.
Ottawa Senators (36-34-9) 81 Pts.

On the back of Defenseman Erik Karlsson, the Senators have the best record of the seven Canadian teams. Karlsson is currently ranked first in assists (64) in the NHL. With youth like Mark Stone, 23, Mika Zibanejad, 22, and Cody Ceci, 22, the future looks bright in Ottawa.
Montreal Canadiens (36-37-6) 78 Pts.

Sean Monahan (23) and Johnny Gaudreau (13) celebrate after a goal. (www.cbc.ca)

Ill keep it short because of my recent article on the Canadiens. Nevertheless, with Carey Price in net and good core such as Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk, P.K. Subban, and Max Pacioretty, don’t be surprised when Montreal is in the playoffs next year.
Calgary Flames (33-40-6) 72 Pts.

With Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau leading the way the Flames look like a young Blackhawks team with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. This is their team to take control of, they control the future of this franchise. Both under the age of 22, and the number one and two point leaders for the Flames, I cannot wait to watch these two grow through the next couple years.
Winnipeg Jets (32-39-8) 72 Pts.

The future of the Jets is questionable after losing Captain Andrew Ladd. What is certain, is Blake Wheeler being a big contributor. Four of the past five years Wheeler has scored at least 60 points. Mark Sceifele, who has come on strong at the end of this season, looks to produce in a big way next year. Nikolaj Ehlers, out of Denmark, is only 20 years old and is already playing well and should be a good goal scorer for next year. There is some young talent on the Jets but I’m not sure if they are quite there yet.
Vancouver Canucks (30-36-13) 73 Pts.

With the Sedin brothers late in their careers retirement is right around the corner and they are the Canucks’ best players. One bright side to this season is the emergence of Bo Horvat. Only 21, Bo is fourth in points on the team and looks to be a key player in a much needed rebuild in Vancouver.

Edmonton Oilers (30-43-7) 67 Pts.

Rookie Connor McDavid (weliveforhockey.com)

With all the talent on the ice for the Oilers you would think they would be better right? Possibly poor defense, below-average goaltending, it’s tough to say what is to blame. In the past six years the Oilers have had four number one picks. All of the talent is there, but the wins aren’t there. With the first pick last year the Oilers took 19 year-old phenom Connor McDavid. In only 43 games McDavid has 45 points but it hasn’t been enough. As the Oilers sit dead last in the Western Conference they have the chance at another 1st overall pick. I would like to see the Oilers return to their winning ways, so all the young talent can be brought to the national light.

 

What to watch for: 4/5

Islanders vs. Capitals -Eastern Conference playoff teams square off.

Lightning vs. Rangers -Another match-up of Eastern Conference playoff teams.

Avalanche vs. Predators -It’s a stretch for the Avalanche to get into the playoffs but can happen.

Sharks vs. Wild -Wild looking to lock up a playoff spot.

The Rise of the Ducks and Fall of the Canadiens

When you look at the Anaheim Ducks and Montreal Canadians, you have the Ducks at 42-23-10 and the Canadiens at 34-36-6. At first glance you see a playoff team and an average team that will miss the playoffs. Yet, there is so much more to be said about this rollercoaster ride of a season for both teams.

Anaheim Ducks

On October 29th only ten games into the season, the Anaheim Ducks found themselves at 1-7-2. Very early into the season, the Ducks found themselves at the bottom of the standings.

The one thing a team needs when starting out a season so poor is veteran players to use their experience and leadership to spark other players to play better and make a playoff run. That is exactly what they did to put themselves in a playoff position going on a 41-16-8 run, including a 25-4-2 run.

Ducks look to Ryan Getzlaf to lead them deep into the playoffs. (si.com)

Leading the Ducks into the winning ways was their two veteran forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Both Perry and Getzlaf  are Duck draftees from 2003, and both also coming from the 1st round. Since the draft they have been one of the better dynamic duos in the league. This year nothing has changed, with Getzlaf and Perry leading the team with points.

Both players are also 30 years old, now into the latter parts of their careers. Who knows how many more years the Ducks will have with them both for a shot at the cup?

Since winning the Stanley Cup in 06-07, the cup has teased the Ducks mightily. Making the playoffs four of the last five years, including last year where they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference finals, who went on to win the Stanley Cup.

If the season ended today, the Ducks would be matched up with a very talented San Jose Sharks team. Even with the Sharks high powered offense, I see the Ducks moving on if they do face-off.

Here are some key points why I think the Ducks can advance far in this year’s playoffs.

Special Teams

When special teams means the most is in the playoffs, and guess who has the best power play and penalty kill in the NHL. Yep, the Anaheim Ducks. With an 86.6% penalty kill and 23.8% power play anyone facing the Ducks is going to be dreaming for a low penalty ridden series.

Size

Usually you will not hear me talk about how big teams are when talking about single games, but the playoffs are another story. With the largest weight average in the NHL, the Ducks can lay the wood. In a playoff series hits pile up and can take a toll on a team. Players will have their heads on a swivel when playing the Ducks.

Montreal Canadiens  

The Canadiens story is exactly opposite of the Ducks. The Canadiens started out the season 13-2-1. They looked like a lock for at least a playoff spot. The Canadian born Carey Price in net looked unbeatable allowing only 3 goals or more in two games during the stretch.

With the second most points last year the Canadiens were disappointed in the playoffs losing in the second round to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who went on to lose in the Stanley Cup Final.

Most Canadian fans would blame their woes on the loss of goaltender Carey Price who before being injured was 10-2-0 with a 2.04 goals against average. The problems though run deeper than an injured goalie.

Wing play. The Montreal wingers are their weak point. Other than their captain Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher no other winger cracks the top eleven point scorers on the team. What this means is they lack playmakers from the right and left wing on their team.

What to look forward to next year

Canadiens missing their All-star goaltender Carey Price. (gohabsgo.com)

Players that will bring them to the playoffs next year include a lot of young talent like Brendan Gallagher (23), Alex Galchenyuk (22), and Philip Danault (23). Don’t forget they will also get back who some consider the best goalie in the NHL in Carey Price. Also, they will lean on one of the best offensive defenseman in the league with P.K. Subban.

If you are a Montreal fan, don’t get to down on this season. I will not be surprised when next year they are one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

What to watch: 3/29

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild

Colorado Avalanche vs. St. Louis Blues

Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars