Marc Bergevin just needs to take his cue from Bob Murray.
Murray knew there were lots of issues with his team this season, but he also knew he had a solid coach and just stood by him, even though the Anaheim Ducks were pretty much awful before Christmas and still sit outside a playoff berth.
Now, it’s time for Bergevin to show the same patience, although it’s a lot easier said than done in Montreal.
Expectations were raised sky-high with the Canadiens when they were excellent in October and November, even when all-star goalie Carey Price wasn’t available. But struggles in December have turned into a January nightmare, and as early as Monday night the terrific play in the fall could be washed out and the Habs could make it seven out of seven Canadian teams outside the playoff picture.
Michel Therrien’s an excellent coach and that hasn’t changed. But the extended absence of Price has changed both the dynamic on the ice for Montreal, and possibly in the room as well. On Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday, Nick Kypreos and Kelly Hrudey talked about possible strains in the Canadiens dressing room, and the challenges the leadership group there — primarily captain Max Pacioretty and defenceman P.K. Subban — have in keeping the group together.
Well-publicized off-ice incidents this season involving the departed Zack Kassian and youngster Alex Galchenyuk haven’t helped. Now, there’s lots of questions and controversy surrounding Friday’s trade with Arizona that sent former first-round pick Jarred Tinordi packing and brought "all-star" John Scott to town.
Some have accused Bergevin of doing the league’s dirty work by acquiring Scott and sending him to the minors so he wouldn’t be able to go to Nashville after voters seeking to embarrass the league stuffed ballot boxes. Now the Montreal GM can only hope that defenceman Victor Bartley, also added in the deal, can do something to help the club and provide evidence that a) Bergevin got something for Tinordi and b) there actually was a legitimate hockey reason behind this deal.
The good news for Montreal is the schedule. After a tough one against Boston on Tuesday, the Habs get some time off before Saturday’s home game against the plummeting Maple Leafs and then a home-and-home set with awful Columbus.
If Therrien can’t get at least two wins out of the next four, well, the wolves baying at his door will only get louder. And even harder for Bergevin, his boss, to ignore.
Drouin’s gone cold
He had two goals in his first game with the Crunch, but now hasn’t scored in his last five games and is pointless in his last four games. He had two goals in 19 games with the Lightning this season, and his inability to light it up with Syracuse is certain to give teams a reason to pause as they consider what the third pick of the 2013 draft might be worth in a trade.
Latest trade proves Penguins are all in
Hagelin was pointless and had four shots last night as the Pens rolled over a much-improved Carolina squad, 5-0. With the former Ranger speedster in the lineup along with defenceman Trevor Daley, acquired a month ago from Chicago, and 23-year-old winger Bryan Rust recalled, GM Jim Rutherford feels he has significantly improved his team’s overall speed. Hagelin also helps with the loss of veteran winger Pascal Dupuis.
Hagelin, however, has three more years remaining on his contract at $4 million, while the players sent to the Ducks — forward David Perron and defenceman Adam Clendening — are up after this season. More payroll stress isn’t exactly what the Pens need right now, and with the Canadian loonie suffering, there are GMs who believe that if the current $71.4 million payroll goes up, it will be only slightly. Pittsburgh now has $39.1 million committed to seven forwards for next season, plus another $13 million in cap space to goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and blue-liner Kris Letang.
So that means something in the neighbourhood of $20 million or so will be left for 14 other players to fill out Pittsburgh’s 23-man roster, plus for the second year in a row the Penguins won’t have a first-round pick unless, of course, they miss the playoffs.
If that happens, well, all bets are off with what happens in Pittsburgh.
The best news of late for the Pens, aside from Sunday’s win? Since returning to the Charlottetown juniors, forward prospect Daniel Sprong has eight goals in 10 games.
Crawford talks Maple Leafs, Quenneville, Avalanche
Marc Crawford figures it’s not over yet.
"When Mike (Babcock) is done his eight years, I’ll only be what, 61? So I’ll be ready," chuckled the head coach of Zurich of the Swiss league. "How old was (John) Brophy when he coached them?"
Well, Brophy may have had white hair, but he was only 52 when he took over the Leaf coaching reins for 2 1/2 seasons in the mid-1980s. What Crawford was referring to, however, was that fact that back in the early 1990s both he and Joel Quenneville were apprenticing young coaches in the Toronto system, but while both went on to win Stanley Cup rings, neither ever coached the Leafs.
"Funny how things worked out," said Crawford, currently guiding the fortunes of Auston Matthews, likely the No. 1 pick for the NHL draft in June.
These days, Sheldon Keefe is turning heads with the 31-8-2 Marlies, doing a remarkable job in his first pro hockey job after running the OHL Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. But with Babcock in the first year of an eight-year, $50 million deal, there’s virtually no chance that Keefe will get to be a head coach in Toronto, and probably little chance he’ll stick around in some other capacity to get his chance in Toronto after Babcock like Jeff Blashill did with Detroit.
Crawford and Quenneville talked last Wednesday as Quenneville was signing his new three-year contract extension with the Chicago Blackhawks, and often talk over old times when both were young coaches with the St. John’s Maple Leafs waiting for their big chance.
Crawford, then coaching the Cornwall juniors for $40,000 a season, was interviewed for the Leaf minor-league job in 1990, but GM Floyd Smith decided to go with Frank Anzalone instead. When Cliff Fletcher took over from Smith the next season, he did a deal with Crawford for $70,000 a season to become the head coach in St. John’s. Fletcher told Crawford his playing assistant would be Quenneville, who came highly recommended from David Poile, who Fletcher had known since his days running the Atlanta Flames.
"I knew Joel a little because he’d been at my brother Bob’s wedding because both had played for Hartford, and I’d played against Joel, as well," recalled Crawford. "That Toronto organization was so good for both of us. They mostly left us on our own in St. John’s, but every weekend Smith or George Armstrong or Cliff or Bill Watters or Pierre Dorion or Dick Duff would come by, keep us connected. They were great mentors."
Pat Burns was hired to coach the Leafs the following summer, so that road to an NHL head coaching position was blocked.
"I remember when Pat got the job, we were in the AHL finals," said Crawford. "Cliff said this is too good a deal to pass up. I said I knew I wasn’t near ready."
After two seasons together, Quenneville was hired by Brian Burke to coach Springfield, Hartford’s affiliate. Crawford had interviews with the Islanders, Whalers and Anaheim at various points about head coaching vacancies, and finally jumped to Quebec for the 1994-95 season. The plan had been for him to join Burns as an assistant that year, but instead he took over the Nordiques and convinced Quenneville to come with him.
"I had to convince him, because he was a head coach," said Crawford. "We just really worked great with each other, he was such a confident guy, great at delivering the message.
"I never had an assistant as good as him, and I’ve had some good assistants. He just saw the game so well. You’d see me talking to him on the bench, and usually I was saying "What happened?" He’d then give me almost a picture perfect video recount.
"Mike Kitchen says he’s still doing the same thing with the Blackhawks now."
Crawford and Quenneville won a Cup together after Quebec moved to Denver, and after one more season, St. Louis GM Ron Caron came calling with an offer for Quenneville to take over from Mike Keenan with the Blues.
Now, Quenneville’s won three Cups with the ‘Hawks, and is considered arguably the best coach in the game. Even while he waits himself for another NHL chance, Crawford can’t help but admire his old assistant coach, who he sometimes meets in Saratoga, New York in the off-season for a chance to catch up and watch the horses.
"When we lost Joel, it was the absolute worst thing for Colorado Avalanche at that time," said Crawford. "He was really important to us."
Crawford resigned after his third season in Colorado with a year remaining on his contract, but not before he had his infamous blowup with Scotty Bowman in one of those heated playoff series with Detroit.
"That would never have happened if Joel had still been there," said Crawford. "He was really good at calming me down."
Staal’s status with Hurricanes remains unclear
Eric Staal arrives in media-heavy Toronto this week with the Hurricanes, and with his status still unclear as he moves towards unrestricted free agency, he’ll likely be less-than-thrilled to get grilled about it just as Steven Stamkos was grilled several weeks ago when he came in to play the Leafs.
Staal has acknowledged the uncertainty has been difficult. He’s been a ‘Cane since 2003, but with owner Peter Karmanos thus far unsuccessful in his attempt to sell majority interest in the team but maintain control, Staal’s future, or whether Carolina wants to keep him, trade him by the Feb. 29 deadline or let him walk, is unclear.
His agent Rick Curran is expected to confer with Carolina GM Ron Francis this week to try and get clarity on the situation. Staal, who has nine goals in 47 games this season, has a total no-movement clause in his contract.
Komarov an appealing deadline asset
Here in mid-January, it’s clear three clubs — Toronto, Buffalo and Columbus — will be sellers at the trade deadline, and pretty evident Edmonton will be, too.
Of those clubs, Leaf winger Leo Komarov and his 16 goals may be the most appealing asset available. Komarov, 28, has two more years at an affordable $2.95 million cap hit, and has shown this season he can play in the top six on the Leafs, and definitely in the top nine of a better club.
The Leafs would be looking for a first rounder, which might be a stretch. But with so few teams falling back of the pack, there may not be many better players out there at the deadline.
Talbot finally bringing stability in Edmonton goal
It was only a few weeks ago that it seemed like the Oilers had possibly squandered second, third and seventh round draft picks last June to get goalie Cam Talbot from the Rangers. He was playing so badly, in fact, you had to wonder if the Oilers would even bother signing him as an UFA this summer but might instead had the reins to Anders Nilsson.
But Talbot has turned it around, allowing only 18 goals in his last 11 games, and after reclaiming his starter’s role was rewarded with a three-year, $12.5 million contract extension on the weekend.
After using five goalies last season and six the year before that, Talbot could represent stability at long last in the Edmonton goal.
Why were Fabbri’s OHL right traded?
There’s an interesting theory out there as to why the Guelph Storm were able to trade the rights to St. Louis centre Robby Fabbri at the OHL trade deadline to the Kitchener Rangers in exchange for three picks, the earliest of which is in the 2018 OHL priority draft.
Fabbri, of course, has been one of the names mentioned predominantly as possibly going to Tampa if St. Louis pulls the trigger on a trade for Drouin. If such a deal were to happen, however, the Bolts might not be able to accommodate Fabbri on their NHL roster, and could theoretically have to send him back to junior. That’s Kitchener’s hope, anyway.
It’s a long shot for the Rangers, who already got a break earlier this season when Toronto second-round draft pick Jeremy Bracco left Boston University after five games to head to the OHL. Bracco, who was pushed to improve his conditioning when he arrived in Kitchener, now has 40 points in 29 games.