Sixteen teams survived the regular season, but today — NHL’s Black Monday — our attention turns to the 14 that failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Brutal day for a handful of respected hockey men.
As kicked off by the Dallas Stars on Sunday, off-season shake-ups are well underway.
Lindy Ruff, Tom Rowe, Willie Desjardins, and Darryl Sutter have all lost their coaching jobs in the hours since the regular season concluded.
Further, Rowe and Dean Lombardi were relieved of their GM duties.
Doubt has been cast on the future of Dan Bylsma in Buffalo as well. And the Vegas Golden Knights, of course, are on the hunt for their franchise’s first coach.
Here is a breakdown of the latest moves and reaction as the non-playoff teams begin to clear out their lockers and coaching opportunities open up.
8:01 p.m.: Kings clean house
The Los Angeles Kings overhauled its front office Monday evening, as AEG fired both long-serving general manager Dean Lombardi and head coach Darryl Sutter — architects of the franchise’s Stanley Cup championships in 2012 and 2014.
Luc Robitaille was named club president and will now oversee all hockey and business operations. The Hall of Fame forward had served as the Kings’ president of business operations the past 10 years
Rob Blake, who acted as Lombardi’s assistant GM and heir apparent for four years, has been promoted to vice president and general manager. The Hall of Fame defenceman will now direct all day-to-day hockey operations for the Kings.
“This restructuring of the front office will establish a single leader of the organization that will provide a unified vision, focus and alignment between the team side and the business side,” said Dan Beckerman, president and CEO of AEG, the Kings’ parent company.
“It mirrors the same structure we recently implemented with the L.A. Galaxy, and it will not only enable the integration of these two sides of the club into a single organization but will bring symmetry between the Kings and Galaxy.”
Falling from the championship height of 2014, the Kings have won just one playoff game in three years.
Rumours of a disconnect between Sutter and the players have been floating for months. He reportedly still had two seasons remaining on his contract and will no doubt become a candidate elsewhere.
Lombardi made expensive, long-term commitments to several members of the Kings’ Cup-winning squads — Marian Gaborik, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards, Anze Kopitar — that have put a strain on the club’s cap situation.
The pressing question is: Will Blake try to tinker on the fly and get this team back into the playoffs, or will he go the scorched-earth, full-rebuild route?
The latter option would require offloading a couple of bad contracts and, perhaps, even listening to offers in the next two seasons on his greatest asset: Drew Doughty, an unrestricted free agent in 2019.
“This was an extremely difficult decision and was made with an enormous amount of consideration for what we have accomplished in our past. But the present and future of our organization is the highest priority,” Beckerman said.
“With the core players we have in place, we should be contending each year for the Stanley Cup. Our failure to meet these goals has led us to this change.”
Lombardi leaves the Kings with a record of 425-339-104. Sutter’s was 225-147-53.
The team will host a press conference to discuss the changes Tuesday.
12:12 p.m.: Maurice is safe in Winnipeg
It appears Paul Maurice will guide the Winnipeg Jets into 2017-18.
Sportsnet’s John Shannon says he contacted a source within the Jets organization to ask if Maurice’s job was safe.
The answer: “Very.”
Assistant coaches Doug Lidster and Perry Pearn are also relieved of their duties.
Desjardins becomes the fall guy for another disappointing season for a Canucks team that has begun to embrace a rebuild.
Vancouver (30-43-9) finished the season with eight consecutive losses and ended in 29th place, earning the second-best draft lottery odds.
“We made a very difficult decision to relieve Willie Desjardins of his duties as head coach today,” GM Jim Benning said in a press release.
“It’s been a challenging season, and we all share responsibility for the results. However, we felt this change was necessary as we continue to develop a young team and look ahead to the future. We’re grateful to Willie, Doug, Perry and each of their families for their dedication and hard work and wish them every success.”
“Willie did a good job. Guys played hard for him,” president Trevor Linden said. “We felt at this time a change was needed.”
The Canucks hope to have a new coach in place by the draft and will place an emphasis on finding a candidate who can work well with young players.
Linden and Benning also took ownership of the Canucks’ recent failures, and by firing the first coach brought in by this front office, the heat now shifts to them.
Desjardins, 60, led Vancouver to one playoff round (in 2015) but failed to reach the post-season in the past two years. He leaves the Canucks with a record of 109-110-27 and .498 points percentage.
He does have ties with the Stars organization. Perhaps he’ll be considered for one of the coaching jobs that just opened up in Dallas.
Desjardins has one year remaining on his contract with the Canucks, so opposing teams interested in hiring him would have to get permission from Vancouver.
Expect Travis Green, head coach of the Canucks’ AHL farm team in Utica, to be a leading candidate for this vacancy. The Comets are 34-30-7 this season under Green, who was a finalist for the Anaheim Ducks’ coaching gig last summer.
11:55 a.m.: Bylsma discusses Sabres’ disappointing season
Last year at this time, the Buffalo Sabres were officially the most improved team, year over year. But 2016-17 was a different story—one fraught with injuries, poor performances, a notable benching, and plenty of rumours of a rift between head coach Dan Bylsma and his players.
“We fell short of where I thought we could be, hoped we could be,” Bylsma said at the podium Monday, “and I take responsibility for that.”
Bylsma wrapped up the second season of a five-year deal that pays him a reported $3 million annually.
The quick ascension of the Toronto Maple Leafs to the playoffs, as noted by star centre Ryan O’Reilly, underscored Buffalo’s stagnancy.
Still, the Sabres did finish with the NHL’s most efficient power play (24.5%).
Bylsma and veteran defenceman Josh Georges both defended the relationship with the Sabres coaching staff and its players to reporters at the locker clean-out.
“We believe we are on the same page and have a good understanding of that system,” Bylsma said. “There’s not a disconnect.”
Said Georges, “I don’t think it’s anything with the coaches, with our system. If you’re going to be [in the NHL], I think you better be able to understand a system or what’s asked of you or what your responsibility is. That’s part of being a professional.”
Bylsma anticipates further discussions with GM Tim Murray as well as Sabres owner Terry Pegula and wife Kim.
“Coming to Buffalo, we knew this was a rebuild, that we want to build a winning culture, we want to build a winning team. And that was a process that was going to happen over a long period of time. It wasn’t going to happen with one snap of the fingers,” Bylsma said.
“You certainly feel like you have to be evaluated for where we’re at and what direction we’re going in. That’s a process we knew we were in and one we fully expect to sit down with Tim and the Pegulas and have that discussion after the season.”
Murray will wait until Wednesday to address the media.
9:27 a.m.: Panthers rename Tallon GM
Another round of front-office musical chairs for the Florida Panthers begins a long summer for the 2016 Atlantic Division champions.
Out — but not altogether gone — is general manager and interim head coach Tom Rowe.
In — again! — is Dale Tallon, who has been re-named general manager of the club.
“I am confident that we have the necessary talent throughout our organization to win the Stanley Cup,” owner Vincent Viola said. “Dale will continue to be our principle leader as we pursue this single goal.”
Tallon, 66, will retain his title of president of hockey operations. The 60-year-old Rowe will remain with the organization as a special advisor to Tallon.
When Rowe replaced Gerard Gallant mid-season, the Panthers were firmly in the playoff hunt. With Rowe behind the bench, they went 24-27-10 and fell to sixth in their division.
Tallon immediately begins the search for Rowe’s replacement. The crop of recently fired head coaches includes Lindy Ruff, Jack Capuano, Michel Therrien, Ken Hitchcock, and Gerard Gallant (because anything is possible with the Panthers).
“We have the talent to get back on track in a hurry,” Tallon said. “This was a difficult year for us, but I think we learned some tough lessons about what it takes to win consistently in the NHL. With a few tweaks to our roster and the right leadership, I’m confident we can get back to contending for the Stanley Cup next season.”
Tallon recently said the Panthers will look to get younger this off-season.
Glue guy Shawn Thornton, 39, will retire.
The future of legend Jaromir Jagr, 45, in Sunrise is in doubt.
“The way I look at it, I’m already playing in the future right now,” Jagr told reporters last week.
Jagr is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and Tallon must decide if he wants to continue to hand top-six minutes and a prominent power-play role to the oldest player in the league.
Sunday, 11:27 p.m.: Has Sutter coached his last game in L.A.?
On Saturday night, Kelly Hrudey—the former Los Angeles Kings netminder turned Sportsnet analyst—reported that Darryl Sutter might not return to coach the Kings next season.
After losing 4-3 in overtime Sunday to wrap up an underwhelming 39-35-8 season, Sutter said he was thankful that he got to work with Jarome Iginla for one more month.
The coach — whose future was uncertain for about a month after the conclusion of the 2015-16 as well — is well aware of the club’s faults.
“We hung in there. I’ve said that lots. The bottom line is, we didn’t score enough goals this year. I think we were 25 goals off our last two years. Goal scoring, we just didn’t have enough in our lineup,” said Sutter, hesitant to jump into a conversation about 2017-18.
“I’m not really into next season yet. I mean, how do you change that? We lost a lot of goals out of our lineup last year. It’s not like we added a bunch. We put kids in our lineup, but they weren’t really looked on as goal scorers. There were a couple guys that didn’t work out, that’s for sure.”
Sutter is reportedly signed through 2018-19 at $3 million annually.
The Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014. They’ve won just one playoff game in the three years since.
Sunday, 3 p.m.: Stars cut ties with Ruff
Lindy Ruff will not return as head coach of the Dallas Stars in 2017-18, GM Jim Nill announced Sunday afternoon.
Ruff’s contract was set to expire and will not be renewed. Under his leadership, the Stars went a disappointing 34-37-11 for 79 points while battling multiple injuries. In 2015-16, they finished tops in the West.
“I want to personally thank Lindy for his commitment and professionalism over the four years that he served as our head coach in Dallas,” Nill said.
“Lindy is not only a highly respected coach, he more importantly is a great person and an outstanding family man whom I have the utmost respect for on and off the ice.”
The Stars’ search for a new bench boss is underway. Some have speculated a fit for Ken Hitchcock, who coached the franchise to its only Stanley Cup back in 1999. Hitchcock has been silent since his mid-season dismissal from the St. Louis Blues. He still has connections to the Stars organization.
Addressing the media Monday, Nill announced that assistant coach James Patrick will not return next season, while Kurt Fraser will be given an opportunity to interview with the new head coach.
Goaltending coach Jeff Reese and video coach Kelly Forbes will be retained for 2017-18.
Nill told reporters Monday that he’s already been talking with three candidates to fill Ruff’s position and hopes install a new coach quickly.
“We’re looking for an experienced coach. We’re going to get back at it and get back on the horse,” Nill said.
“This isn’t a rebuild. I think we’ve got a lot of good pieces in place. It was a tough year. The tough part was [Ruff] never really had his team this year [due to injuries].”
It’s worth noting that free-agent coach Gallant played with Nill in Detroit.
Stars insider Mike Heika has thrown out the name Kirk Muller, a power-play specialist who has head-coaching experience and is currently is the associate coach in Montreal.