Bob Murray didn’t want to fire Bruce Boudreau, and didn’t.
Now look at the Anaheim Ducks.
Chuck Fletcher didn’t want to fire Mike Yeo, but finally did.
Now look at the Minnesota Wild.
Those two cases within the context of this NHL season just go to show you that when it comes to making a coaching change, you never know what pulling the trigger — or not pulling the trigger — is going to achieve.
The Ducks have returned themselves to the role of Stanley Cup contender, thankfully for those of us who saw them that way in September and looked silly as they languished through the fall. They’re 19-4-2 since Christmas after beating Calgary on Sunday night and just finished a terrific 5-1-1 road swing.
Murray could have canned Boudreau when it was all awful a few months ago. Pretty much everyone believed he would. Instead, in a rare case of a GM standing by his man, Murray tinkered with his lineup and kept Boudreau on the job. He moved out Carl Hagelin, who didn’t seem to fit, and waited until the team — notably star centre Ryan Getzlaf — turned it around.
Now, the Ducks have closed to within two points of the division lead behind the L.A. Kings, something few saw possible a matter of weeks ago.
In St. Paul, Fletcher insisted a week before firing Yeo that dismissing coaches during the season wasn’t his preferred option because it never makes a difference. Then he made the move.
Now, he may have to revise his opinion.
In their fourth game under interim head coach John Torchetti, the Wild thumped the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks 6-1 before 50,000 fans on the University of Minnesota campus Sunday. With Torchetti at the helm, the Wild have now scored 21 goals in those four games (5.25 per game) after scoring 135 goals in their first 55 games of the season (2.45 per game) under Yeo.
Nobody would expect that 114 per cent offensive increase to last. But after losing eight straight under Yeo, Fletcher decided he had to make a move to keep Minny in the playoff race and, possibly, keep his own job, although it should be noted the Wild still aren’t in a playoff position as of today.
It’s always worth wondering, finally, how ownership plays into these situations.
In Anaheim, the Samueli family has pretty much let Murray do what he has wanted to do while being a budget team, rather than spending to the cap. In Minny, Craig Leipold is an active owner, while some suggest the addition of Matthew Hulsizer as a minority owner a year ago has added another strong voice, perhaps one that leaned heavily on Fletcher to make a coaching move.
Phil Kessel, David Clarkson and Dion Phaneuf, all gone.
No player under contract except for defenceman Jake Gardiner after the end of the 2017-18 season.
Twenty picks in the next two NHL drafts, including three first rounders and four seconds.
That, and ownership of last place in the Eastern Conference, is where a year’s worth of frenetic activity from the front office of the Toronto Maple Leafs has the club positioned.
There is only up from here.
The most ambitious teardown/rebuild in club history continued today, with defenceman Roman Polak and forward Nick Spaling peddled to San Jose for a pair of second-rounders, one in 2017 and one in 2018, a surprisingly good return for Toronto in a deal that sets the cost for rental defencemen heading toward next week’s trade deadline.
That followed a weekend deal that saw Shawn Matthias sent to Colorado for a fourth-rounder, and the recent deal that saw Phaneuf traded to Ottawa in a major nine-player deal that, from a Leafs perspective, saw the team add 25-year-old defenceman Jared Cowen, prospect Tobias Lindberg and a second-rounder.
The Leafs had nine picks last June, as well. This is a sharp departure from the draft strategy of previous seasons. The club had only six picks in 2014, five picks in 2013, and six in 2012.
The club also owes third-round picks to Detroit and New Jersey for signing head coach Mike Babcock and GM Lou Lamoriello, respectively. The Babcock pick has to move in one of the next two drafts, the Lamoriello pick in one of the next three.
More bodies will likely move over the next seven days before the trade deadline, which means more draft selections may be added. Leafs fans may also soon get a glimpse of the future in the form of call-ups for players like William Nylander, Connor Brown and others. This morning, defenceman Stuart Percy, who started last season in the NHL, and winger Brendan Leipsic were recalled for Tuesday’s game against Nashville.
These may all be brief cameos, and the Marlies are hoping all of their best farmhands will be part of a long playoff run in the AHL this spring.
The Leafs undoubtedly pushed for one of those second-rounders from the Sharks to be for this June, but San Jose had already traded its first-rounder to Boston in the Martin Jones deal and undoubtedly wanted to protect that selection to at least stay in the first two rounds. San Jose also doesn’t have a third-rounder.
It feels like a similar deal to last year when the Leafs, then run by Dave Nonis, moved Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to Nashville for a first rounder and Leipsic, who scored his first NHL goal recently.
The final appeal of the Dennis Wideman 20-game suspension for abuse of an official is expected midweek, and this will undoubtedly be the most fascinating stage of this process.
Wideman missed his 10th game Sunday, and Georgetown University law professor James Oldman will hear submissions on whether his punishment for his collision with linesman Don Henderson was appropriate or an over-reach by the league.
If Oldham were to find Wideman’s suspension should have been less than 10 games, he would be reimbursed to the tune of $28,226 per game.
The biggest lesson here is probably that the process has taken far too long, at least for Wideman to exhaust his appeals.
The Hawks, for obvious reasons, have become the team of choice when it comes to NHL outdoor games. They’ve played four of them, with the Rangers and Penguins having played three times.
Chicago may want to rethink how it RSVPs to these games, however. Including yesterday, the Hawks are now 1-3 in in outdoor games, only coming up with a win last year in Washington.
In four months, Charles Wang will cede majority control of the New York Islanders to Jonathan Ledecky, and it will be fascinating to see how the embattled hockey club proceeds from there.
Ledecky takes over July 1, and with the team having seen a significant attendance drop in its first season in Brooklyn compared to its last year in Uniondale despite a pretty darn good team, there was a report in the New York Post on the weekend that the Isles may already be looking to get out of their lease at Barclays Centre in favour of some other option.
From a hockey point of view, the Islanders have three significant UFAs this summer, and with the trade deadline next week, you have to wonder whether centre Frans Nielsen, winger Kyle Okposo and forward Matt Martin could be on the move.
There’s also the future of defenceman Travis Hamonic, who has asked to be traded, and the free agency of centre and team captain John Tavares in 2018.
If the move to Brooklyn was supposed to stabilize the Islander situation, it really hasn’t. Ledecky has some intriguing alternatives coming his way when he takes over from Wang, who has been a rather controversial figure as the club’s owner.
There was a curious report from the KHL this morning that Ilya Kovalchuk has been dismissed from the St. Petersburg club and won’t play the rest of this season.
There were reports last year that Kovalchuk, who retired from the NHL in July 2013, was looking to return to the NHL for next season, although it’s believed he’s under contract until the summer of 2017.
Today’s news will undoubtedly ramp up new speculation on his future.
Kovalchuk turns 33 in April. He had 16 goals and 33 assists in 51 games this season. You have to wonder what NHL club would want to commit to a substantial contract with him after he walked out on the New Jersey Devils in mid-contract three years ago.
The other KHLers to watch are defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who is reportedly look at joining Toronto, and Alexander Radulov, who will be a free agent this summer and has 23 goals with CSKA Moscow this season. Radulov was last in the NHL in 2012 with Nashville, a return that ended badly when he was suspended during the playoffs for breaking team rules.
Eric Staal hasn’t waived his no-trade clause, nor has he been asked to. There have also not been any contract talks between Staal and the Carolina Hurricanes, although its reasonable to suppose that with Staal continuing to insist he wants to stay in Raleigh, a hometown discount would be part of the conversation.
The Canes have had months to deal with this situation and haven’t, largely because owner Peter Karmanos wants to sell majority interest in the team but maintain control, and because Carolina has proven to be a better team than many thought.
Now GM Ron Francis is going to have to decide. Teams are calling, but with a full no-movement clause in his deal, Staal won’t go just anywhere, and only a handful of teams can handle his cap hit.
He could still move by the deadline, and in many ways that makes the most sense. But there are big barriers to get around before that happens.
So far, the Pens have declined to consider moving Murray. But with the team in a dogfight to make the post-season and having already committed to this season by moving prospects and adding contracts like Hagelin’s, you have to wonder if an offer for Murray might yet sway GM Jim Rutherford to move him if help can be added now.
Murray was re-assigned to the minors this morning by the parent club.
The same scenario, of course, goes for AWOL Lightning prospect Jonathan Drouin, although there’s a sense all is quiet on that front.