The Nashville Predators cut ties with the NHL’s longest tenured head coach. They did it in the nicest possible, way of course but not renewing a contract is only different from firing in semantics. Barry Trotz who was the only head coach the Preds, their fans, and the world had known is soon to be merely the first head coach in team history. The issues with finding a replacement however are complex enough that his replacement is not only sure to be there less time, but significantly less time.

The main issues are:

  1. Nashville is not a major market.
  2. General Manager David Polie has to be on ice as thin as any general manager.
  3. The Predators have no history of success.
  4. The direction ownership and management wants to go in will severely limit the potential pool.

On the first point there is no arguing. On the third point there is even less. The team has won less than one playoff game a year sine its inception. The franchise has won exactly two playoff rounds in its history, not in the same year. The hero of one of those series was Joel Ward. A solid player, but not the guy who should be carrying a team.

David Polie had the opportunity to thicken the solid water on which he stands this year in selecting the American Olympic roster and coaching staff. He had every American player in the NHL, SHL, AHL, KHL, USHL, College, and CHL to choose from. No coach would say no. No healthy player would decline. The American program four years ago rocked the hockey world by beating Canada in a pre-medal game, and taking the eventual gold medal winners to overtime.

This years squad did nothing. Literally nothing. They flopped. The flailled about in the medal round and lost to Finland int he Bronze medal round, a game where they failed to bounce back from a loss to Canada. When the games mattered, the coach, hand picked by Polie couldn’t keep them focused. The squad he picked with no need to budget minded, no limitations on when they can talk to free agents, and no worries about how they’d adjust long term to a pretty small city and its dearth of entertainments.

Of these points, as other places have proved, the second and fourth points are most important. Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles all had major market attractions, solid enough fanbases to support a team, and resources. What they lacked were a general manager who had an unassailable position, and ownership committed to making the team a winner. The Nashville Predators are not as far gone as the Oakland Raiders or the Atlanta Thrashers were in terms of disaffected and negative affect ownership, but are not at the upper tier or even the middle.

To find a coach that gives them the chance of moving among the elite of NHL franchises, the ownership needs to decide which group they want to be in, make the right choices and the right man will become available.

 

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

 

Players:

  • Dion Phanuef at a staggering .956 would have the highest on ice sv% of any NHL defenseman with 30 or more games played.
  • that after leading the Ducks in scoring in the 2011-12 season, and finishing fifth in scoring last year, Teemu Selanne would be 12th in points this year.
  • of the top 10 players in PIMs one would be both a first round pick, and a teenager; Tom Wilson.
  • also among the top 10 players in PIMs Radko Gudas would be the only one playing more than 20 minutes per night.
  • US Olympian Cam Fowler would not only lead the Ducks in total ice time, but shorthanded TOI/G as well.
  • despite fewer games and trailing the overall points race Patrick Kane would lead the NHL in road points.
  • of the top to players in points at home, only two would appear in the top ten for road points: Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby.
  • Blake Wheeler would have the highest points total of any right wing against his division.

Teams:

  • the Phoenix Coyotes would be the only team without a shorthanded goal.
  • based on Capgeek.com rankings, the top 10 spending teams would all be in the playoffs, 2 of the bottom ten (Montreal, Colorado) would be in leaving just 4 playoff teams in the middle 10.
  • the New Jersey Devils and Nashville Predators would be the only teams without even one shootout win.
  • 40% of the Washington Capitals wins would come via the shootout, higher than any other team currently in a playoff spot.
  • the 26th place Florida Panthers would have as many wins in 41 games this season as in the 48 game lockout shortened season.
  • the Nashville Predators would be the only team to not allow a shorthanded goal.
  • the Calgary Flames would be the only NHL team to play three full games without a penalty, and all three would be in November: 3rd against the Blackhawks, 20th against the Blue Jackets, and 30th against the Ducks.
  • the Minnesota Wild would be the only team to make it to the new year without a bench penalty.
  • 4 of the 5 most teams with the most PIMS would be in a playoff position while only three of the five least penalized would be.

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?

The Olympics are growing closer and closer as the NHL season is finally escaping the early season mire. Some teams are still playing at a level that no one predicted, others are about where the consensus pegged them. At this time of year it is easier to get a handle on where players will be in the rankings when it comes time for the NHL to dim the lights and the spotlight turns to a Russian city just north of Georgia on the Black Sea.

Alex Steen

While the Canadian team’s wealth at center is deep enough that they could fill all 12 forward positions with worthy centers, they likely to go for a more balanced approach. This is too bad because it means that Alex Steen who is tied for the NHL goal lead with that other Alex might be left off the final roster. 10 goals in 9 games is a tiny bit of a hot streak. Last year in 40 games he had just 8 goals, in a season that was anything but normal. Don’t be too surprised if the Winnipeg Alex is skating against the Moscow Alex in Sochi.

Ryan Miller

If dictionaries were updated on a weekly basis Websters would have a picture of Ryan Miller, his stats and the Buffalo Sabres record. The American goaltending picture for this year was supposed to be some combination of Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings and Craig Anderson of the Ottawa Senators. The third goalie might as well be an inflatable sheep since it was as likely to see action as whoever was behind those two. In the cold light of reality, Miller is outplaying Quick by such a wide margin it isn’t fair to Miller to compare them.

Let’s take a look:

American born NHL goaltender stats October 27 2013

American born NHL goaltender stats October 27 2013

 

 

And when considering the USA crease, while Quick has won a Stanley Cup, Miller has played in the pressure cooker that is the Olympic tournament and done very, very well.

Mark Giordano

Of the top six Canadian NHL defensemen in scoring which one plays more than 25 minutes a night, has played a season (plus playoffs) for Dynamo Moscow, and also has World Championship experience? If you guessed the Calgary Flames blueliner named Mark Giordano, you’re pretty good at this. Add in 18 blocked shots, and the fact that he plays over three minutes a night short handed and on the powerplay and you’ve got a compelling package. When you consider he’s in the upper echelon of scoring while on a poor team he’s taken over as captain of, you have to work hard to leave him off the roster.

Tomas Hertl

The soon to be 20 year old Czech made the jump from Europe to the NHL on his first attempt, is playing just below a point per game pace. Not may people outside his home nation and the Sharks offices had him on their radar coming into the year. He got off to a phenomenal start, caught some (worthless) criticism for showboating, and has leveled off since. There is still time to pull himself back on track, if he does, there’s a chance he’s sharing the ice with a lot of guys who grew up watching.

Torey Krug

The second year defenseman out of Michigan State is currently leading all American defensemen in goals scored. Three of his four have come on the powerplay helping his Boston Bruins improve enormously in that regard. With six points in ten games, the points pace he’s on is every bit as good as Ryan Suter, particularly when minutes played are factored in. Anyone who’s watched three minutes of Krug’s play should have no concerns about his ability to handle any sized ice sheet.

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.

October 1:

The Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens will get the headlines, but if you want the best game of the night, it isn’t this one. It isn’t The Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers, it is the Washington Capitals taking on the Chicago Blackhawks in Chicago, you’ve got a banner raising, the return of Russian Olympic torchbearer Alex Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, John Carlson, Mikhail Grabovski, and Brooks Laich all ready healthy and ready to go.

The star power on both sides is great, goaltending is about equal. This may be the best game of the week.

October 2:

With just three games on the docket, another easy choice. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers both underwent huge roster turnover since last spring. One was a playoff team and may manage it again, the other needs to get into the playoffs or heads will roll. James Van Riemsdyk and Luke Schenn will faceoff against their old teams, and it least one of roster will sport a different goaltender than the last time these two teams met.

October 3:

This is an almost impossible night of coverage to choose from. The Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning always put on a good show, and this will be the first night on the ice for the Bolts new captain. The Minnesota Wild and Los Angeles Kings should be a good tilt, the jilted former champions versus the rising power looking to wash away the stain of being pushed out of the playoffs so easily. The Saint Louis Blues and Nashville Predators will square off with what could be two of the best backends in the NHL.  But the game of the night will be the San Jose Sharks and their playoff feast the Vancouver Canucks. The changes in the Canucks lineup and coaching will make the game even more compelling.

October 4:

Friday night will be a smorgasbord of NHL action. The game of the night is easily the Ottawa Senators and the Buffalo Sabres. These two division rivals will square off with both hoping to be in the top three in the new Atlantic division. With Boston and Montreal to compete with every point, every game, every shift counts and these teams know it. Ottawa was in the mix last year, but new captain Jason Spezza will want to bring the boys to the top of the standings from the starting pistol to the final horn.

October 5:

Saturday’s game of the night is easy: Original 6 action. The Boston Bruins host the Detroit Red Wings. Both the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins were laid low by the Chicago Blackhawks last June. With the Red Wings playing as an eastern conference team for the first time in a generation, both fan bases will have to work overtime to get this rivalry to something with a bit of hate in it. Kronwall and Lucic will provide devastating open ice hits, Bergeron and Datsyuk will be on display as three zone aces, Tuukka Rask and Jimmy Howard will be in the crease making their case for inclusion on their nation’s Olympic rosters for Sochi, and Zdeno Chara and Henrik Zetterberg will be captaining each ship in the first of five regular season battles.

This week Alex Ovechkin will take on the job of Olympic Torchbearer. It isn’t a job they give out randomly, you have to be the best, the best and the best known. You have to exude the essence of your sport. The Alex Ovechkin who fulfilled NHL fans dreams of a more exciting game coming out of the dead puck era was exactly that man. He dominated defenses and gouged goaltenders from day one. That is the man who was selected to be a torchbearer.

For the first five years of his career Alex Ovechkin was the torchbearer, the icon, the beacon of scoring prowess, love of game, and over powering exuberance. You couldn’t go a game without some jaw dropping display of hand eye coordination and athleticism. His goal celebrations were legend. More remarkable was how hard it was to know if he’d scored or a teammate, he just loved goals.

Two season back, he a wall. His goal production dropped twenty goals in just one year. Their were rumors, all sorts of rumors. Some of it was the usual anti-Russisan xenophobia so typical north of the 49th parallel. A closer look at the dip will reveal personal problems off the ice, and injuries to both himself and key pieces of the Washington Capitals offense. About the same time a coach ran out of tricks for motivating teams. A new coach came in, and he wasn’t that good.

This year we’ll see Alex Ovechkin playing under a hall of fame player turned coach. Better still, we’ll see him playing under a coach who respects him and understands offense as well anyone who has ever played the game. Backstrom is healthy. Green is healthy. Laich is healthy too. Grabovski has something to prove. The team is poised for 90+ points and another playoff appearance.

But will we see Alex Ovechkin regain the top rung? In recent years Stamkos among others have grabbed the headlines and bright lights. Can the 28 year old dynamo from Moscow compete with the fresh young (Canadian)  faces? With a healthy team, and a wide open division what is a good benchmark for success? Will 40 goals be good enough for the man who averaged over 53 goals a season his first five years? Does he need to eclipse the 50 goal mark? We know the great 8 will take up the Olympic torch in Greece, what we don’t know is if he can reignite the NHL torch and once more be its frontrunner.

The 2012-13 season had highs, lows and surprising blows. Sidney Crosby jumped out of the gate and pounced on the scoring lead. Then out of no where a puck breaks his jaw and puts him on the shelf. Elder statesmen Craig Adams and Chris Kunitz led the way appearing in all 48 games while Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Paul Martin and Kris Letang all missed extended stretches. When all was said and done, with their backup goaltender turning in better stats, the Penguins were the eastern conference champions when the final regular season game was played.

The playoffs saw the Penguins escape the New York Islanders in the first round, no thanks to Marc-Andre Fluery who allowed 17 goals in 5 games and turned in his second worst playoff performance. Thankfully, there was Tomas Vokoun. In eleven games, and making his first playoff appearance since his long ago days with the Nashville Predators, Vokoun won six games, carrying the team through the second round against a depleted Ottawa Senators squad and holding the fort in what would prove to be Daniel Alfredsson’s last game in a Senators jersey. Against the Boston Bruins, Vokoun was the most blameless of the teams top players as they were swept out.

Of the core components to start last season, all are returning. None of the playoff reinforcements remain, and a mistake that was made in years past was corrected, Rob Scuderi is back in Pittsburgh. The opening five games of the season represent a chance to jump out on top of their division against not very stiff competition. Not one of their first five games is against a team that made the playoffs last year. The only set of back to backs is the last pair of games against the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers. All five of their opening games are also in the eastern time zone.

Number of days 1-5: 9

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Carolina Hurricanes or New Jersey Devils

Weakest opponent: Florida Panthers

Home games: 3

Projected points: 7+

There are several big questions looming over the team despite their undeniable collective talent. Will the Sochi Olympics cost the team any players lost to injury or fatigue? How much of a distraction will head coach Dan Bylsma’s Olympic coaching duties distract from his job as behind the bench in Pittsburgh? Will the teams official player leaders develop their leadership to a point where Ray Shero won’t feel the urge to bring in two other teams captains to help right the ship for the playoffs? And of course, when the playoffs start, will the team remember how to play in both ends of the ice? Getting to the playoffs is almost a given, even with two more playoff quality teams in the East is almost a given, but recent playoff failures raise the question of their exact nature of their mental fortitude.

The NHL has surprises here and there, injuries unexpected firings, and ridiculous hirings. But the for the most part, NHL observers can expect exactly the train-wrecks and triumphs that are written in the stars just waiting to be read.

7:  Jarome Iginla & Brendan Morrow

Both Morrow and Iginla ended up as part of the augmentation of talent for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they made a run towards the Cup. The team fell short, and what came next, should surprise 0.0% of hockey fans. Brendan Morrow who’s offense has fallen off the cliff since the 2010-11 season is without a contract. He performed like a third line rookie in the playoffs, and his skating was not impressive. Iginla on the other hand is signed to a contender having put up nearly a point per game despite the Pittsburgh Penguins season ending a lot like David Carradine, only without the consent or fun.

6: Nathan Horton Bolting Boston

When players who spend a lot of their career in very laid back markets without a strong (and occasionally vicious) media presence suddenly get dropped into the crucible of a major hockey market, the result is often less than pretty. Players have flamed out in Toronto, Montreal, New York and Boston. For Horton who spent most of his career in Florida where on an average day the training staff outnumber the media contingent Boston was destined to be uncomfortable. Add in six seasons of never getting to the playoffs and then suddenly winning the Cup, and he literally had no reason to stay. Columbus is about as close to southern Ontario as Boston, a quieter town, and as much as the team has improved, it will be a playoff team most of the next seven years so he wasn’t giving up much.

5: Bryzgalov goes Bye-Bye

Speaking of guys going from small markets to major hockey markets, witness the rise and fall of one Ilya Bryzgalov. Was all of his disastrous stay in Philadelphia his fault? No. Are the Philadelphia Flyers the kiss of death for goalie talent? Yes. Did everyone outside the Philadelphia Flyers front office see this coming? All the way across the humongous big universe. The buyout of Bryzgalov was both needed and inevitable. Sadly, he and his contract were not the biggest issues with Flyers, otherwise know as the home of things that make you go hmmm.

4: Russians Mute On Anti-Gay Laws

Whatever they think, Russian players in North America aren’t going to speak up about their government’s further encoding homophobia into the nations culture. If they agree with their home nations laws, they risk ostracizing here.  If they publicly disagree with the laws, the risk legal censure at home and possibly even being barred from the Sochi Olympic and other international competition. Here groups like You Can Play would keep them busy defending themselves, and well, National Geographic has convinced me I don’t ever want to see a Russian prison.

 3: RFA Contract Disputes Dragging On

The swallows return to Capistrano, and NHL teams drag their heels and try and sweat young players. Both happen with enough regularity that they cease to be amazing. Last year P.K. Subban’s contract negotiations dragged into camp, the year before it was Drew Doughty, this year it is Alex Pietrangelo. All of them are great young defenseman who any team should be happy to have and want to keep happy. But, these are NHL teams we’re dealing with.

2: Unsupportable Ranking of Sidney Crosby in NHL Fantasy Column
The NHL marketing department, which seems to have a super majority of the brain trust in league HQ, simply can not help itself, or the league. No matter what happens they keep beating the same drum over, and over in the same pattern. In the last three season Sidney Crosby has missed (113) more games than he’s played (99). His injury history should lead no one to think he’ll be healthy the majority of the season. Marc-Edouard Vlasic who was taken 34 picks after Crosby and started his NHL career a year later has played 49 more NHL games, Patrick Kane who was drafted two full years later and has suffered his own injuries has played just 36 games less. Alex Ovechkin, Andrej Meszaros, Andrew Ladd, Johan Franzen, Mark Streit and Travis Zajac several of whom have had serious injuries entered the league the same year or later have all played more games as well. Yes that includes 9th round pick Mark Streit, who missed an entire season.  So why is Sidney Crosby the #1 ranked Fantasy Hockey property? Because it sells jerseys.

1: Big, Dumb Contracts

Leaves fall from trees, cats chase mice, Matt Cooke is surprised when he is sent to the penalty box, all are slightly less predictable than a general manager in the NHL handing out incredibly dumb contracts sometime in the first two weeks of July. This year immediately after he was bought out Vincent Lecavalier was able to make it big (again) thanks to the generosity of Paul Holmgren Philadelphia Flyers General Manager. But Holmgren couldn’t help himself, he also made sure Mark Streit didn’t starve in the streets. Between the two he tied up $10,000,000.00 in cap space, Streit’s is a +35 contract and Lecavalier has a full no movement clause.

But Holmgren is hardly alone there. The Boston Bruins joined in by signing a goaltender who has never one a championship, not in World Juniors, World Championship, Olympics, AHL, ECHL, CHL or any place else to a contract they gave him $8,000,000.00 a year despite the lack of success and injury trouble. Tuukka Rask can thank Peter Chiarelli and Can Neely for buying a nice bill of goods.

Not to be outdone, Ray Shero’s golden handshake with Kris Letang was arguably the worst contract given to a defenseman since Dennis Wideman signed in Calgary. Letang’s playoff performance this year makes it doubtful to many people that he’s a $5m defenseman. Shero clearly believes that Letang is a $7,250,000.00 defenseman.