On Monday we spent all day maybe in pajamas and definitely watching live streams of owners, general managers and coaches whose teams are bound for the golf course earlier than they’d like.
Here’s a wrap-up of all the news, rumours and reaction to the fallout as the 15 NHL teams that failed to make the playoffs began cleaning out their lockers and reflecting on a lost season.
Molson trusts Bergevin to turn things around
Montreal Canadiens owner is standing by GM Marc Bergevin as his club enters a pivotal off-season that may or may not see its captain traded and surely will see another hunt for centre depth.
“I’m very confident that with all the changes we have to make, I have the right person in place,” Molson told reporters. “Even if there will be changes, to have Marc in charge of turning the page is the right decision.”
Bergevin refused to blame all the losing on injuries and promised a complete evaluation of hockey operations following one of the worst seasons in Montreal’s history.
Flames’ Gulutzan questions team’s identity
No doubt injuries factored into the Calgary Flames’ dud of a finish to 2017-18 — top-line centre Sean Monahan already underwent a mellow four different surgeries since his season ended — but head coach Glen Gulutzan said Monday what we all believed.
On paper, this edition of the Flames looked better than last year’s.
“A year ago we probably exceeded expectations but this year I think we were under expectations,” Gulutzan told reporters.”You have to ask, ‘Which team are you?’
“Which players are you? This year or last year’s player?
“Which coaching staff are you? This year’s or last year’s?
“Those answers are probably somewhere in the middle.”
Gulutzan must still meet with GM Brad Treliving to see if he’ll be back behind the bench in October, but as goaltender Mike Smith reminded fans Monday, the mental side of the game is where the talented Flames failed.
Islanders owner apologizes to fans
Jon Ledecky, a majority owner of the New York Islanders, publicly apologized to the team’s fans Monday.
Ledecky declined to address the futures of individual players, coaches or managers. He only stated that the club is committed to long-term success.
“We will be evaluating our hockey operations and then determine the path forward,” Ledecky told the media. “As owners, we have failed.”
For now, GM Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight remain employed and will reportedly stay in place for 2018-19.
John Tavares — this summer’s most critical UFA — reasserted his intent to remain an Islander. With no contract in place, Tavares wisely turned down an invite from Hockey Canada to participate in the world championships.
“This is obviously where I hope to be,” Tavares said. “I’ve always stayed that. I’ve loved it here. The people have really embraced me.”
Hurricanes owner puts whole team on notice
That head coach Bill Peters was not part of his players’ exit meetings may simply mean that new owner Tom Dundon doesn’t operate in a traditional manner.
Or — and hear me out — it means that Peters may not be the Hurricanes’ head coach in 2018-19.
At Monday’s season-wrapping press conference, Dundon said he is still in discussions with potential GM candidates and that no decision has been made on Peters’ future. The coach has another year on his contract but holds an option to leave.
“There are positive things about Bill and things he needs to work on,” Dundon said.
Dundon also asserted that budget is not an issue when it comes to hiring the next GM. Don Waddell is the interim general manager.
“It’s obvious on the hockey side we’re not good enough,” Dundon said. “We didn’t make the playoffs.”
The owner then put the whole roster on notice.
“Either the players have to be tougher, or you have to bring in tougher players,” Dundon said.
“We may have 19 new players next year, or we may have zero.
“It will be greater than zero, I can tell you that.”
News & Notes
• Erik Karlsson on his future: “I’m going to deal with that as we move along this summer, but I’m still hopeful that the puck that I picked up is not going to be the one that’s going to be the last.”
• Canucks coach Travis Green said no decision has been made on Vancouver’s next captain or who will be named to the leadership group in light of the Henrik and Daniel Sedin’s retirement.
• Brock Boesser is in Minneapolis visiting a doctor about his wrist. He won’t be participating in the worlds but his recovery is on schedule.
• Arizona’s Derek Stepan played nearly a month with a fractured right foot.
• The Islanders are sending a bunch of players to play for Team Canada at the worlds in May: Mathew Barzal, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Pulock, and Anthony Beauvillier.
• Chicago’s Patrick Kane (USA), Tomas Jurco (Slovakia), Connor Murphy (USA), and Alex DeBrincat (USA) are also participating in the tournament. Brandon Saad, who is getting married in July, declined. So did Duncan Keith.
• Montreal’s Andrew Shaw is clear of concussion symptoms but will undergo knee surgery next week. He is expected healthy for training camp.
• Calgary centre Mikael Backlund said he’s “embarrassed” by his minus-21 rating.
• Oliver Ekman-Larsson (UFA 2019) reiterated his desire to remain in Arizona and sign a contract extension as early as July. He’ll represent Sweden at the worlds because he wants to get his body used to hockey in May.
• Detroit’s Jeff Blashill will serve as head coach of Team USA over in Germany.
McLellan points to issues with pace, special teams as he reflects on Oilers’ lost season
Oilers coach Todd McLellan, who flew back to Edmonton from Humboldt mere hours ago, rehashed some of the problems that plagued his disappointing team this season.
Pace of play, the coach stressed, is the biggest area of necessary improvement (with an honourable mention to the power play and penalty kill). That means quicker decision-making and faster passing and zone exits, not just foot speed.
McLellan believes starter Cam Talbot will bounce back from 2017-18 and deliver a performance next season more in line with the excellent job he did in 2016-17.
The coach stood by his assistants’ work ethic but knows a step-by-step, top-down organizational evaluation is coming.
O’Reilly: ‘I’ve lost the love of the game’
A candid Ryan O’Reilly opened up with the Buffalo media about the Sabres’ culture of losing and how it has affected him personally.
“It’s disappointing. It’s sad. I feel throughout the year I’ve lost the love of the game multiple times. You need to get back to it because it’s just eating myself up and eats the other guys, too. It’s just eating us up, and it’s tough,” O’Reilly said.
“It’s the NHL. It’s the best job in the world, but at times throughout the year I’ve felt I lost it.
“There’s times where I found my game and just enjoy it and it’s fun, but when you lose consistently like this for years, it’s tough.”
O’Reilly is still under contract through 2022-23 at a $7.5-million cap hit. That price would make him difficult to move, but it’s hard not to believe a change of scenery would be best for both sides.
The centre did say he wanted to be part of the solution in Buffalo.
Senators ‘need to improve everything’
Ottawa Senators head coach Guy Boucher met with the media Monday morning and said the team needs a complete evaluation — the coaching staff and the individual players.
“We need to improve everything,” he said. “Our group gelling this year was a lot more difficult this year than it was last year.”
Boucher brought up concerns about the Senators’ intangibles: work ethic, chemistry, attitude and accountability.
“I’m not going to change my philosophy. Whatever slap I get in the face, you get up and you get moving,” said Boucher, who is still under contract for 2018-19. “There’s going to be changes for sure.”
Rangers ‘need a new voice’
“The players need a new voice,” New York Rangers GM Jeff Gorton said Monday, regarding the firing of Alain Vigneault. “This was the decision we needed to make.”
The Rangers also fired assistants Scott Arniel and Darryl Williams Sunday. Lindy Ruff is still on the staff for now. Ruff will meet with Groton to see how and if he fits going forward.
Gorton said he’s looking to meet with five to 10 candidates and is willing to find the best man for the job, be it from the NHL, AHL or junior ranks.
The GM declined comment on potential interest in signing Ilya Kovlachuk because he is still technically the property of SKA St. Petersburg until April 15.
Chris Kreider (Team USA) is the only Ranger confirmed to attend the world championships. Mika Zibanejad has been requested by Sweden, but a decision hasn’t been made.
New York expects injured defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk healthy and ready for training camp.
Blackhawks make youth top priority
Having received a vote of confidence from club president John McDonagh, Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman and head coach Joel Quenneville met with the media Monday morning.
Bowman said his No. 1 priority is to ensure he keeps bright, young forwards Alex DeBrincat, Nick Schmaltz and Vinnie Hinostroza (RFA) in the fold. That means not chasing long-term deals with UFAs this summer and instead focusing on smaller complementary signings.
The GM also said there has been no improvement regarding Marian Hossa’s health status. Don’t expect him to play in 2018-19.
Chicago is not happy with its special teams nor its goaltending depth, which was exposed once Cory Crawford went down.
Bowman expects Crawford can be the same goalie in October as he was when he left with vertigo mid-season at the top of his game.
“He’s close to being ready to go,” Quenneville told reporters. “You see the way things went this year how valuable he is.”
World championship decisions
• As expected, Buffalo Sabres star Jack Eichel told reporters he is prioritizing his health this summer and will not represent Team USA at the IIHF World Championship next month.
• Sam Reinhart was invited by Canada but declined because he’s a restricted free agent without a contract in place for 2018-19. He can’t risk the injury.
• Rasmus Ristolainen declined Team Finland’s invitation.
• American Alex Galchenyuk also told reporters he won’t be heading to Germany. The Canadiens forward declined to specify whether he turned down an invite or was never extended one: “I’m just not going.”
• On the yes side of the bracket, Sabres centres Ryan O’Reilly (Canada) and Casey Mittelstadt (USA) will compete for their countries.
Rangers hitting fast-forward on rebuild?
The New York Rangers have been quick to act on their plan.
No club was more aggressive in dealing away assets for futures at the trade deadline, and the Blueshirts were the first to act over the weekend, firing head coach Alain Vigneault.
Vigneault now shoots to the top of the list of available coaching candidates. He released this statement Sunday:
I would like to thank the New York Rangers management – Mr. James Dolan, Glen Sather and Jeff Gorton – for allowing me the privilege to coach the Rangers. I spent five wonderful years in New York and I want to express my gratitude to all the coaches, players and staff that I worked with during that period of my life. The Rangers have an incredible fan base and I will cherish many special moments, especially our trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Rangers are going in a different direction, I respect that and I wish them all the best. Thus far in my coaching career I am very grateful that I have had the privilege to work with three great organizations – Vancouver, and two Original Six teams with New York and Montreal. I have great respect for everyone in the media but for now please understand that I don’t intend to comment any further, as I will regroup with my family. Thank you everyone for a great ride and life-lasting memories.
The turnaround may be swift in Manhattan, however, with a report out of Russia that the Rangers have agreed to terms on a multi-year deal with free agent Ilya Kovalchuk.
Kovlachuk, 34, has spent the past five winters in the KHL and is still near the top of his game. In addition to winning Olympic gold in Pyeongchang, he put up 65 points in 55 games with SKA.
While the Rangers and Kovalchuk may come to a contract agreement in principle, the star winger cannot officially sign an NHL contract until July 1.
New York holds a ridiculous seven draft picks in the first three rounds this June, giving them the flexibility to trade for roster players or stack the cupboards for the future.
This organization has never feared swinging for the fences. We needn’t remind you that Erik Karlsson and John Tavares may be available this summer.
Rangers GM Jeff Gorton should provide an update on his coaching search and the Kovalchuk speculation at 11 a.m. ET. You can watch live here.
How many coaching changes are coming?
The 2017-18 NHL campaign was a curious one in terms of job security off the ice.
For the first time since 1967 expansion, not one head coach was fired during his team’s season. Remarkable.
As a point of recent comparison, three mid-season coaching changes were made in 2013-14, four in 2014-15, three in 2015-16, and five in 2016-17.
The coaching seats are heating up now, however, especially with a respected bench boss like Alain Vigneault now a free agent.