The pressure is mounting in Edmonton, the pressure to do something. Anything. Now.
Which is, of course, absolutely the wrong idea. It’s the kind of thinking that has, for example, kept the Toronto Maple Leafs away from the winner’s circle for 47 years.
The idea, assuming this was all a plan, was to build a powerful hockey machine in Edmonton, something similar to the squad that ruled the sport in the 1980s. Even if that was impossible in a salary cap era, multiple high picks over multiple years was supposed to deliver a championship worthy outfit.
It hasn’t yet. But that doesn’t mean it won’t.
But it won’t if the plan gets changed now and decisions are made to make the short-term more palatable.
This was always going to be extremely painful. And one imagines it must be for Oiler loyalists.
But what’s the point of all that pain if it only yields mediocrity because somebody — Daryl Katz, Kevin Lowe, Bob Nicholson, Craig MacTavish — decides the current situation is too nasty to bear and goes for a quick band-aid solution?
Edmonton’s goaltending hasn’t been fixed (even with today’s firing of goalie coach Frederic Chabot), and it’s likely not going to be fixed this season. Nikita Nikitin was, apparently, a poorly advised signing, just as many thought he would be. Benoit Pouliot, Teddy Purcell and Mark Fayne haven’t made decisive impacts. Taylor Hall is spectacular and also makes spectacular mistakes. Nail Yakupov (three goals, minus-8) apparently isn’t the next coming of Jari Kurri.
Despite all this, the only decisions that should be made are those that help the team to win a Stanley Cup in five years, not make the playoffs this year. If it means drafting Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel in June, so be it.
If the Oilers lose the big picture, all this suffering will have been in vain.
Other weekend takeaways:
A "C" or a target?: One really wonders if the Leafs really shouldn’t name a captain. As in, ever again.
What’s the point? The moment you put that letter on a Toronto player he is evaluated beyond his ability, production and salary. Only Doug Gilmour, really, has escaped that kind of scrutiny, and even at the end in Toronto he was being critiqued severely.
Mats Sundin, the best Leaf of the past 20 years, was constantly questioned. Dion Phaneuf is looked at as a failure by many not because of what he does, but because of the way in which he carries the captaincy.
It was an awkward fit to start with, and "salute-gate" last week made it clear it’s still awkward. Can’t fix that now, however, as long as Phaneuf remains a Leaf.
But it’s a lesson for down the line. When it comes to letters in Toronto, just stick with the letter "A."
Let He Who Is Without Sin Throw the First Punch: Given the ultra-nasty style of play Milan Lucic embraces, it’s sure odd how much he protests the aggressive tactics of opposing players.
He didn’t like how Dale Wiese and Alexei Emelin played during the Boston-Montreal series last spring, enough to make some ugly threats during the traditional handshakes at the end.
Now, he’s protesting the way in which Dalton Prout of the Columbus Blue Jackets one-punched him in a game last week. Lucic was skating towards Prout in a threatening manner when Prout bopped him. Lucic says he was telling the Columbus blue liner he wasn’t going to fight.
"As far as I was concerned, we were engaged in a fight," said Prout.
Ah, the rules of engagement. Never that clear in today’s NHL.
Tough To Get A Read On These Habs: The Canadiens begin the week first overall, but their season has been an unusual sequence of big successes and big failures.
When they win, the Habs defy the analytics experts. When they lose, they lose big. In six regulation defeats this season, Montreal has been outscored 30-3, including 5-0 by the New York Rangers on Hometown Hockey this weekend.
Strange. Worrisome? Not yet. Somewhat concerning, however, might be the slump being experienced by Alex Galchenyuk, now with no goals in seven games and one in 12.
Cub Reporter Meets Legend: It was back in 1987 during that fall’s Canada Cup that I was assigned the rather intimidating task of interviewing legendary Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov while helping to cover the tourney for The Toronto Star.
Just two years out of Ryerson and not even a regular member of the paper’s sports department, I met with Tikhonov and his assistant, Igor Dmitriev, in the lobby of the Royal Connaught Hotel in downtown Hamilton. Dmitriev, a wonderful man, spoke English well and acted as translator, and it was just the three of us sitting quietly for about 20 minutes. I took notes, and the conversation wasn’t recorded. Too bad.
Can’t imagine that happening today in quite the same relaxed, informal way. News that Tikhonov had died today at the age of 84 brought that story back to mind again.
Bolts Welcome Back Marty: Martin St. Louis returns to Tampa for the first time on Wednesday since the trade to the Rangers last March, and he returns needing just two points for 1,000 in his amazing career.
The Rangers rode St. Louis to the Stanley Cup final. But the Lightning may end up winning the trade. In the deal, Tampa received winger Ryan Callahan, a 2015 first-round pick and a conditional second rounder in 2014. When the Rangers made it to the Eastern Conference final, that ’14 pick turned into a first rounder that the Lightning ultimately traded to the Islanders for two seconds. With those, Tampa added depth to their prospect list with Czech rearguard Dominik Masin and defence man Johnathan McLeod of the U.S. under-18 program.
Callahan re-signed in Tampa, and now that ’15 pick could be very valuable, particularly if the Rangers stumble and don’t make post-season play.
The Brodeur Legacy: It did seem just a little strange, didn’t it, when the Devils allowed Cory Schneider to break Martin Brodeur’s consecutive starts record last week, and then immediately rested him for a game?
There is no bad blood between the organization and Brodeur, and he’ll likely go to work for the team when he officially retires. Still, it was odd. Perhaps it was a way to help Schneider believe the job is actually his to keep.
Meanwhile, there are Brodeur’s boys to watch. Anthony, 19, was drafted by the Devils in the seventh round last June. He recently lost his job as the No. 1 puckstopper in Gatineau and was picked up on waivers by Drummondville.
His younger brother Jeremy, 18, is the No. 2 man in Oshawa with the high-flying Generals behind 19-year-old Ken Appleby. Jeremy is draft eligible next June.
Unable to Hit the Broad Side Of A Barn: There has to be major concern in Minny over the production of winger Tomas Vanek, signed to a three-year, $19.5 million contract last summer.
Vanek has one goal in 19 games. Of all the players who have scored at least 70 goals over the last four seasons, Vanek’s .35 goals per game average ranks him 29th.
Looks Like He’s Here To Stay: It wasn’t very long ago that the Sabres and defenceman Nikita Zadorov were deadlocked over his immediate future. After being a healthy scratch for seven games, he wanted to go back to Russia and the KHL if he wasn’t going to play, and the Sabres were more inclined to send him to the OHL London Knights.
Lo and behold, the big rearguard played over 19 minutes in his 10th game of the season on Saturday against Washington, thus triggering the first year of his entry level contract.
Not Giving Up Yet: Interesting story on Philly defender Kimmo Timmonen by Frank Seravelli of the Philadelphia Daily News on the weekend.
It seems the 39-year-old Timmonen, who has not played this season because of blood clots on his lungs, hasn’t abandoned all hope just yet of playing again. He’s on anticoagulant medication, and will have to go off that in a few weeks and then undergo ultrasound and CT scans in the New Year.
He’s hoping the news will be good then, and that he might be able to return to the NHL.
The Week It All Changed: It was a year ago this week during Grey Cup festivities in Regina that Rogers executives quietly flew to New York to meet with Gary Bettman, meetings that ultimately led to the historic $5.2 billion NHL contract.
As the Green Riders celebrated their triumph in the big game over Hamilton, news of the stunning deal began to leak out. Over the course of just one year, a sports and live event operation has been built from the ground up, and it’s been amazing to be a part of it. Lots of work still to be done, but great people to work for and with.
Not Good News For Hockey Canada: Executives for the national junior program have targeted four NHL players — Anthony Duclair of the Rangers, Bo Horvat of the Canucks, Ottawa’s Curtis Lazar and Tampa Bay forward Jonathan Drouin — as athletes they’d like to get their hands on for next month’s world junior hockey championships in Montreal and Toronto.
Right now, it’s looking like they may not get any of them, not good news as Canada tries to get back into the medals at this prestigious competition. Still, the camp roster won’t be named until Dec. 1st, and any NHLer could join the team as late as Dec. 19. So there’s still time.
MLSE Still Looking For A New CEO: As reported Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada by Elliotte Friedman, league executive John Collins is no longer in the running to succeed Tim Lieweke as chief executive officer of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
Lieweke’s contract expires in June, but he’s ready to leave at any time once his replacement is found. When that happens, it will mean that the new MLSE will not have hired president Brendan Shanahan, who didn’t hire GM Dave Nonis, who didn’t hire head coach Randy Carlyle, whose preferred assistant coaches were fired last summer.