At some point in an athletes career, they realize their time is done. For some it is when they can no longer get a contract, in other cases they simply can’t making it onto the ice or playing field. When its time to say good-bye to their time as a player, many paths are taken. Some guys go into the broadcast booth having planned it out since junior hockey. Others just want to sit out porch and watch their kids play. A few will go with dramatic career changes that bring them someplace as far removed from athletic competition as the world of fashion or politics.

Having watched a lot of two particular players getting towards the end of their playing tenure, I wonder if the best use of their talents might be behind a bench. Having watched just about all of Hal Gill’s career, you can’t doubt for a minute he has a deep understanding of the game that allows him to take advantage of his average athleticism. He’s been invaluable in several systems under widely different coaches and playing philosophies. Given the number of coaches in the NHL now who were less gifted defensemen than he is, and who likely mentored less men along the way, a coaching position in the NHL, AHL or elsewhere might be the perfect occupation for the next twenty or so years for the towering Massachusetts native.

The other man is possibly even more interesting as a potential coach. Of limited finesse, and clearly a self-made player Shawn Thornton might just be the next Gordie Dwyer. As you no doubt know, Dwyer was a highly physical player who made the transition to major junior head coach. Along the way Dwyer more than double the number of wins his squad put up from first year to second. Thornton has proved a valuable asset to his teams over the years with his gloves on and off, demonstrating an understating of his teammates that allowed him to steer them in the teams best interest. During his professional career he’s played both wing and defense.

Both Thornton and Gill epitomize the adaptability needed to stay in the NHL long term, both have been a part of Stanley Cup wins, and seen all the changes the last decade or so have thrown at players, coaches, fans and the families of players. Either gentleman could be exactly the right cog to help an organizations move forward if they step behind the bench.

With each first round series begun, it is time to take our first serious look at who might be carrying around the extra hardware this summer.

Before we get to the men still playing there are some honorable mentions that had individually stellar first rounds. Out west that list is headed by pending UFA Paul Stastny who contributed not just a lot of points, but timely ones. In the east no one deserves more respect than Steve Mason who came into the second season behind a pretty porous defense and put up a more than respectable .939 Sv%.

West:

  • Ryan Suter, 29:14 a night is more minutes a night than any one else still playing. His 14 hits and 15 blocked shots blocked piled up in 8 games.
  • Anze Kopitar, the Selke finalist leads all players in post season points with 13 through 8 games, 51.6% on the faceoff dot, and is a +5 to go with it.
  • Ryan Getzlaf, seven games, 9 points, 3 power play points, a shorthanded point, and a +3 say he’s doing the job in all three zones and all situations over almost 22 minutes a night is quite the workout for a forward.
  • Jonathan Toews, three game winning goals in seven games, 23:16 a night in TOI, and 62.5% in the faceoff circle are a step or three above good.

East:

  • P.K. Subban, 6 games, 2 goals, 7 assists, 9 points, leads the Canadiens in scoring.
  • Torey Krug over the regular season his ice time has increased 2:30, his on ice save percentage has climbed, he’s a point per game in the most defensive minded system left in the playoffs.
  • Henrik Lundqvist, through eight games he’s allowed 2 or less goals in six games. His sv% is up over the regular season, and of all the goalies left, he’s the only one not playing behind someone in the top 15 in post season scoring.
  • Paul Martin 7 games, 8 points, three powerplay points, 2 shorthanded points, +7, 27:29 of TOI, 20 blocked shots, arguably.

Honorable mentions still playing, Evgani Malkin, Tuukka Rask, Corey Perry, Patrick Kane, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Lars Eller, Corey Crawford, Drew Doughty, Zach Parise, Marian Gaborik, Matt Niskanen, Marc Staal.

 

The first round of the playoffs may have been the best opening round as a whole in years. The Columbus Blue Jackets traded blows and goals with the Pittsburgh Penguins and had the Metropolitan division winners looking just a bit weak. The loss of David Backes due to a suspend-able hit by Brent Seabrook was clearly the tipping point of the series between the Saint Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. The San Jose Sharks went from unmitigated domination of the Los Angeles Kings to going into the night with a whimper.

The Philadelphia Flyers played a pretty even series with the New York Rangers that came down to a memorable game seven decided by one goal; the series was also the coming out party for Steve Mason who put up a stellar 1.97 GAA and .939 sv%. The Alex Goligoski and Shawn Horcoff led Dallas Stars put a two game scare into the Anaheim Ducks before succumbing to a focused and superior team. In the battle between snowy Montreal and snowbird heaven Tampa Bay, the Lightning went down in the opening rounds only sweep, minus Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop. In the opening round the Boston Bruins lost the opening game to their Original Six rivals, and then laid them in the dust in four straight wins.

Biggest surprises of the first round:

  • 169 players having more goals than Sidney Crosby, including Luke Schenn, Bryan Allen, Raffi Torres, Jordan Caron and Devante Smith-Pelly
  • How much Jonathan Quick struggled in the first few games, and that Sutter didn’t go to Jones full time.
  • Paul Stastny ending a playoff run with well deserved accolades like “heroic performance” being thrown his way, even around all the love for the shiny new rookie.
  • Paul Martin weighing in at over a point per game. Yes, that Paul Martin.
  • Alex Goligoski gaining zero attention while playing 28:30 a night, putting up 4 points and being a +7 in a six game losing series.
  • How well the very young Colorado Avalanche held together through some very tough games.

Top 3 series of the opening round:

  1. Columbus Blue Jackets vs Pittsburgh Penguins, the pure drama in this matchup was amazing to watch.
  2. Minnesota Wild vs Colorado Avalanche; There is so much young potential in this series it is staggering, Coyle, Neiderrietter, Brodin and Spurgeon we’ll see more of this year, MacKinnon, Landeskog, Hishon, and Duchene we’ll have ot wait until fall for more from.
  3. Chicago Blackhawks vs Saint Louis Blues, as far as the best hockey played game in and game out this series wins, but the drama level wasn’t quiet as high as the other two series.

The NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs are hear, and the best matchups are always the teams that are closest in talent, health, and drive. In the past that meant the four versus five matchup and the three versus six. With the changes in playoff format, the second and third place teams in each division will square off.

Metropolitan Division:

New York Rangers vs Philadelphia Flyers

As pure dyed in the wool rivalries go, there isn’t another first round matchup that comes close to this. Both teams have a different coach than they did at this time last year, but nothing has changed about how these two teams go at each other.

The Rangers as the #2 team have home ice advantage, they are mostly healthy, with only Kreider out and McDonagh dinged, they have a roster full of men who want to be winning in June.

The Flyers are equally healthy, and have a coach who didn’t even get a training camp. They have a star in Claude Giroux who predicted they would make the second season, an a guy in Steve Mason who has his mojo back.

Best Players:

NYR: Ryan McDonagh and Martin St Louis have to be the guys to carry the mail. St Louis is a first ballot hall of famer with a lot of games left in him. McDonagh is the guy who makes their rather talented backend work and pushes things at both ends of the ice.

PHI: Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds are the men of the hour in Philadelphia. Simmonds for his part needs to play a slightly better two way game, Giroux needs to stay healthy and focused.

Series X Factor: Coaching.

Neither of these coaches has won much. Neither has any professional hockey championship wins. Vigneault has spent more time coaching in the NHL with several playoff runs. Berube played over 1000 NHL games, and 89 playoff games. Whichever coach can control the locker room and bench will win the series.

October is over, and with the close of the seasons inaugural month we can finally start to get a handle on which teams are for real and which are just pretenders.

Anaheim Ducks: When will they turn one or more of their wealth of goaltenders in future assets or skater to improve them for the playoffs?

Boston Bruins: Which is the real team here, the one that beat both the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks or the one that lost to a severely under-performing New Jersey Devils squad?

Buffalo Sabres: Has the front office identified their first overall pick yet, will it be the right shooting defenseman Aaron Ekblad or savvy center Sam Reinhart?

Calgary Flames: Can’t this team even get tanking right, don’ they know a team that’s tanking isn’t supposed to be tied for 20th after a month?

Carolina Hurricanes: How in the world is it possible to have a team with Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Alex Semin, Jeff Skinner, Jiri Tlustly, and Ron Hainsey still have the NHL’s 22nd best powerplay?

Chicago Blackhawks: If Joel Quenville’s squad didn’t have the worst penalty kill in the NHL they might be a tear similar to last year’s rampage through the NHL so how can they be so, so bad at the PK and still in the top half of the league for goals against?

Colorado Avalanche: Will the Semyon Varlemov situation affect the chemistry in the room and topple a team that has been a force of nature through the first 30 days?

Columbus Blue Jackets: When will the team figure out they need to either score more or stop more and do so if the want to see the playoffs?

Dallas Stars: Can one of the few rosters in the NHL without a player on injured reserve taking advantage of this window of health to climb the standings?

Detroit Red Wings: Can this team stay in the range of its current 19th in goals for and remain a playoff level team?

Edmonton Oilers: How in all the worlds did this team offend the Hockey Gods so much that they can be on the cusp of 60 goals against while most teams are in the 30’s and no other team has even allowed 50?

Florida Panthers: When Dale Tallon wakes up in the morning is his first question “How in the world can those teams be worse than mine?” or “How is this roster doing so well”?

Los Angeles Kings: Is the entire roster wondering if they didn’t accidentally trade the real Jonathan Quick in the off season for the slob who currently has a .896sv%?

Minnesota Wild: Are any of the Wild’s rivals even mildly concerned that the team holds a playoff spot and haven’t gotten any viable contributions from Dany Heatley, Charlie Coyle, nor had Josh Harding or Niklas Backstrom healthy for two straight weeks?

Montreal Canadiens: Is anyone gonna acknowledge the incredible start Carey Price is off to, 12 starts in 15 games and a .932 sv%?

Nashville Predators: When will the answer to the question “What’s holding the Predators back?” not be “lack of scoring”?

New Jersey Devils: So this is what $63,473,577 buys when a general manager looses touch with the NHL, right?

New York Islanders: The lowest cap hit in the NHL and a playoff spot might be what it takes to inspire a hockey edition of Moneyball, huh?

New York Rangers: Ryan Callahan and Rick Nash are on injured reserve and the team has won three in a row for half their wins on the season is a bit eye opening isn’t it?

Ottawa Senators: Daniel Alfredsson’s old team is actually outscoring his new team, it’d be nice for what is now Jason Spezza’s squad if they could stop pucks as well this year wouldn’t it?

Philadelphia Flyers: For the first time in years goaltending isn’t the biggest problem for the Flyers, is that why the whole roster looks so befuddled on the ice?

Phoenix Coyotes: Did anyone expect the Coyotes to be fourth in goals for a month and three days into the the season?

Pittsburgh Penguins: What’s more surprising about the 2013-14 Penguins, the fact that Fleury is playing above his normal zone, or that defenseman Matt Niskanen has a better points per game number than Kris Letang?

San Jose Sharks: Exactly how many of this teams players will be on their nations Olympic roster in Sochi Russia?

Saint Louis Blues: If 18 points in 12 games isn’t surprising enough to get you to take David Backes and crew seriously, does the fact that the team is second in scoring do it for you?

Tampa Bay Lightning: Is it too late to place a healthy bet on this team to make the playoffs and bring in a very nice return?

Toronto Maple Leafs: Now that it is no longer October and Phil Kessel who is off to a 9-9-18 start will inevitably cool off, can the Leafs maintain their lofty perch in the standings?

Vancouver Canucks: With a stat line of 4-6-10 through 16 games Mike Santorelli has to be one of the best NHL players per cap dollar in the league this year right?

Washington CapitalsDo you think if Adam Oates adds fellow former Capital Donald Brashear to his coaching staff he can beat some consistency into this roster?

Winnipeg Jets: Is there any more damning statement that could be made about this team than that they might actually be overachieving since they’re best team statistic is an 11th ranked penalty kill?

This is a feature that will run about every two weeks with improbable stats and situations in the National Hockey League.

 

Teams:

  • The Philadelphia Flyers would be the first team to fire their head coach promoting Peter Laviolette to customer and banishing him from the land of misfit toys.
  • The Colorado Avalanche would not only have the first head coach (Patrick Roy) fined in the regular season, but lead the Central division with almost three weeks gone and less game than three of their rivals.
  • Despite the addition of not one, but two former 30 (or more) goal scorers the Boston Bruins would be 18th in scoring.
  • Almost three weeks into the season four teams would have a goals against average under 2.0 per game; the San Jose Sharks, The Colorado Avalanche, The Boston Bruins, and Montreal Canadiens and yet only two would lead their divisions.
  • The Ken Hitchcock led Saint Louis Blues would have outscored everyone in their division and be third in the league in scoring ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
  • While nestled at the bottom of the standings with the Philadelphia Flyers the Buffalo Sabres would have a top 5 penalty kill?
  • The most penalized team in the NHL would be the Saint Louis Blues, and they’d be the only team over 20 PIMs per game, and lead the Montreal Canadiens who were second by over four minutes.
  • To date, the Montreal Canadiens would have the most major penalties at 9, followed by Toronto, Buffalo, and Tampa Bay.

Players:

  • Alexander Steen would lead not just the St Louis Blues in scoring, with 11 points in 7 games, but be in second place in the NHL race.
  • Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes would have identical stat lines of 8gp 2 goals 6assists, while their team were each second in their division’s.
  • Of the seven rookies from the 2013 entry draft, two would be on point per game paces Sean Monahan of the Calgary Flames and Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche
  • Seth Jones of the Nashville Predators would lead all rookies in time on ice per game with 23:46 a night through seven games and 2:37 a night short handed.
  • Radko Gudas would lead the NHL’s rookies in hits and blocked shots as a member of the Tamp Bay Lightning.
  • Brent Burns, Tomas Hertl, and four other San Jose Sharks would be on a point per game pace or higher.
  • that a goalie with a .935 s% through 6 games, Ryan Miller and only have one win.
  • that Martin Biron, Braydon Hotlby, and Martin Brodeur would all have worse sv%’s than Ondrej Pavelec
  • Tyler Seguin would win just 25 of 78 faceoffs in six games, and no one would be talking about it.

We’re a week into the new NHL season. Teams have played between two and four games, and several possibly sustainable surprises have come out of the first seven days.

 

Anaheim Ducks: Secondary scoring may actually be a factor this year, the top two in points through three games were added since last year, Mathieu Perreault and Jakob Silferberg.

Boston Bruins: We know that this should be Jordan Caron’s last opportunity to carve out a roster spot in the top 9 of the team. What we don’t know is if he can.

Buffalo Sabres: We know that with four games played, and just one point in the bank, Ron Rolston and company are going to have to eventually get around to supporting their goaltenders who have done everything they could (Ryan Miller .963Sv% and Jhonas Enroth .912sv%).

Calgary Flames: While being tied for the points lead in your division is great, 18 year old rookie centers statistically don’t maintain a 1.2 ppg pace all season very often, and that’s what Sean Monahan is doing. Monahan is tied with Jiri Hudler for the teams points lead.

Carolina Hurricanes: What do we know about Jordan Staal, Alex Semin, and Ron Hainsey? Other than taking up 1/4th of the Canes cap space they are exactly 3 points behind Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner who lead the team in points.

Chicago Blackhawks: The champs enter the second week of the season with an odd vulnerability to Alex Steen and one of just two teams with a 1-1-1 record sitting in fourth place in their division.

Colorado Avalanche: 3-0-0? Great start for the Avalanche, but the team is averaging over 30 shots against per game, and Varlamov’s .963 sv% is more than just fighting out of his weight class.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Six goals through their first pair of games and twelve players have been involved in the scoring.

Dallas Stars: We know that with the possible exceptions of an over indulgent aunt of their no one picked Alex Chaisson and Brenden Dillon to lead the team in scoring through two games, certainly not management.

Detroit Red Wings: The Wings have points from ten different skaters through three games, and are winning 55.6% of their faceoffs.

Edmonton Oilers: The good news is that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made it into a game, and that David Perron has contributed three points. The bad news is a 1-2-0 record that has them in the Pacific basement.

Florida Panthers: We know distinguishing yourself by playing the worst defense on this team will take a monumental effort of will.

Los Angeles Kings:  We know that Jeff Carter’s 36% of the teams goals is not a good sign for an offense that should be better than this.

Minnesota Wild: At 0-1-2 they are one of just three teams not to have a win yet. On the plus side Zach Parise has three goals.

Montreal Canadiens: Anyone who picked Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk to lead the team in scoring, and be in or tied for a top ten spot in the NHL scoring race, raise your hand.

Nashville Predators: We know this team needs more from fifth year forward Colin Wilson and third year man Craig Smith if they are going to be playing in the third week of April.

New Jersey Devils: While this team is far more balanced than last years both financially and on the ice, they are 0-1-3 through four games.  We also know this team needs to get younger real soon, of the six players with two points or more only soon to be 28 year old Damien Brunner is under 30.

New York Islanders: We know after a decade in the dumpster, the vertigo that goes along with finding themselves in 2nd entering the 2nd week of the season will leave some fans a bit giddy. Michael Grabner and his two point game per pace are a bit noteworthy as well.

New York Rangers: There are three bright spots to this season so far: Brad Richards is scoring, Marc Staal is playing, and Derek Stepan is signed and on the ice. Everything else from Henrik Lundqvist’s .897 sv% to 6th place in the Metropolitan division are ungood.

Ottawa Senators: If the playoffs were to start today, the Pesky Sens would own one of the two wildcard spots in the east, despite only winning one of their three games. At some point they will have to improve in one or both ends.

Philadelphia Flyers: When the Flyers signed former Tampa Bay Lightning captain Lecavalier, they appear to have signed his old teams basement lease as well.  Through four games they have just 2 points and are being outscored two to one.

Phoenix Coyotes: Just about nothing is going right for the team right now, their defense and penalty kill are both well below last years pace.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury has a career sv% of .910, so we’re all sure he can maintain his current .963 through and beyond this year, aren’t we? He should probably buy a $1000 savings bond for a defenseman’s kid every game he allows less than three goals.

San Jose Sharks:  So, Tomas Hertl. Launched 1000 puns, and leads the NHL in goals and points. He might manage to hold a place in the NHL for a bit.

Saint Louis Blues: Not a sad note in town as the David Backes, Vlad Sobotka, Alex Pietrangelo, and company open the season 3-0-0.

Tampa Bay Lightning: While its only October, and the first week is just wrapping up, they currently hold the first eastern wild card spot. That fact becomes truly amazing when you realize that through three games Stamkos and St Louis only have one goal between them.

Toronto Maple Leafs: This team might have a perfect record through four games if they hadn’t dumped Grabovski who is tied for 3rd in the NHL in scoring.

Vancouver Canucks: What is with Bobby Lou? He looked back to Olympic form in the preseason, and  since then its been mostly fizzle. At least the Sedins are producing again, its pure coincidence that this is their contract year.

Washington Capitals: The defense and goaltending have evaporated on this team since spring. Ovechkin appears to be back to world beating form.

Winnipeg Jets: Tobias Entrom and Dustin Byfuglien have four assists each through three games, the team is 2-1-0 and on the sunny side of the goal differential for a change. Evander Kane is on a point per game pace, lots to cheer about.

One of the best coaches in the NHL was fired, and his general manager‘s loss, could push another coach out the door. Peter Laviolette has won the Stanley Cup as coach of the Carolina Hurricanes, and the AHL championship with the Providence Bruins. With him available, it is unlikely any coaches already in jeopardy will sleep any better.  Here are some coaches who might want to avoid signing any long term leases or lawn service deals.

Mike Yeo:

The Minnesota Wild head coach is currently sitting on an 0-2 record having been run over in the playoffs last spring. The roster is the best it has been in the franchises history, and if he can’t get the team into the hunt for a top 3 spot in the division, he might not be wild about his future.

Dan Bylsma:

The regular season hasn’t been a challenge for the Pittsburgh Penguins since before Bylsma took over. With his Olympic hockey distractions, any faltering of the team in the regular season might lead him out the door for a new voice in the locker room.

Michel Therrien

His  clashes with core players alone make him vulnerable. Add in the fact that he is a retread, who fans and media may not hold in high esteem and the theatrical bench boss of the Montreal Canadiens might find his second stay a bit shorter than his first.

Barry Trotz

Trotz is currently the longest tenured NHL coach, and the only coach in the franchises history. What he’s hasn’t done is get a (questionably constructed) team out of the second round. He’s only even gotten them there twice as is. If the no especially flexible coach can’t find it in himself to push for a more balanced approach to the game he may find himself relocated from behind the bench.

Even if all four of these coaches hold on to their jobs, it is hard to imagine Laviolette will one be the only coach fired this season, and two not be on the very short list to fill any vacancies.

We are one week into the NHL season. With so few games having been played, and so many new players and coaches, the standings at this point are almost meaningless. The points matter a little, but even the teams that are 3-0-0 or 0-3-0 have only played 3.6% of their schedule.

Off The Ledge:

Buffalo Sabres fans, your team isn’t as bad as things look now. Despite the teams woeful start, the goaltending is still solid. Seven goals against in three games means Ryan Miler and Jonas Enroth are doing their part, the defense is at a minimum useful but the very, very young forward group hasn’t gotten in sync yet.

Philadelphia Flyers faithful should all retreat from the rooftops and bridges and find a good beer and cheese-steak. With two goalies still new to the system, and a several skaters who are either new as well, or spent some time out with injuries last year. While not many people are betting on Ray Emery to turn in the same (or better) numbers as last season, he’s a better goalie than he’s shown in his single outing this season.

Edmonton Oilers true believers have seen this before, and well, it was supposed to be different this year. Just as it was supposed to be different each of the last half dozen season. Unlike any of those years, I actually think this will be a better season.  They have veteran leadership, Taylor Hall is already doing better at faceoffs than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and top center Sam Gagner will be back by Thanksgiving to lighten the load for the team.

Don’t Plan The Parade:

Colorado Avalanche fans should be ecstatic right now. Somehow their team has scored nine goals and allowed just two through two games. Sure they’ve got offensive talent and Semyon Varlemov is underrated as a goaltender, but this isn’t merely over achieving for a team with a very very similar defense to last years 27th in the league team.

Toronto Maple Leafs A three and zero start is impressive, and not exactly luck. Their game against Montreal they slipped by with a one goal win. They did be the Flyers by two goals, but against the best of their opponents they had to win  in the coin flip competition known as a shootout. Possibly more importantly, there is a brewing goaltending controversy with Bernier and Reimer, and the two players leading the team in scoring; Mason Raymond and Joffrey Lupul are hardly the pictures of perfect health.