Sometimes, we as fans give too much credit to the coaches. Sometimes, it’s the opposite. As Barry Trotz is proving once again, coaching makes a world of difference, especially when players “buy into the system”. Some decisions work, others well… not so much. The best coaches however will adapt throughout a game. He will recognize what works and what doesn’t and will adjust on the fly. As Albert Einstein once said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
Claude Julien is a good coach, let’s be totally clear about that. He’s a coach who can adapt and he’s proven that this season, when he totally changed the Canadiens’ style of play. They are now an exciting team to watch… most nights. Last night was the Canadiens’ single most important game of the season against a team that was fighting directly with them for the last playoffs’ spots. A team that can count on the best player in the world: Sidney Crosby.
Prior to the game, Penguins’ head coach Mike Sullivan submits his starting line-up. He wants to make a statement, start the game on the right foot, so he puts Crosby’s line on the ice to start the game. Claude Julien is made aware of that and he decides to oppose… Jeff Petry and Jordie Benn against them. Results? Benn turns the puck over, Crosby takes full advantage and seconds into that crucial game, gives his team a 1-0 lead.
Petry and Benn was a combination that was tried at times this season (and last) and it never worked. They are not compatible and we, as fans, have noticed that. Reuniting them was mind boggling to start with. Putting them up against Crosby, when he has Shea Weber, arguably the best shutdown defenseman at his disposition, was insanity.
To make matters worse, Julien kept with this matchup all night. The results? A four points night for Crosby and a 5-1 shellacking at the hands of Pittsburgh in front of a dumbfounded crowd at the Bell Centre. And the Habs can’t use the excuse that they had played the night before as the Penguins also played on Friday night. No excuses… except a bad, bad game plan by the coach who was too stubborn to adjust and react seeing that it wasn’t working. This loss in the most important game of the season, it’s not on Benn, Petry, Domi, Price, Weber and company. This loss is solely on Claude Julien.
Late November, early December. Hunting season is drawing to an end and the lucky ones have a freezer full of game. Storefronts are getting a facelift with Christmas decorations. Cities put their colourful lights up for the season. We take our own decorations out of storage in anticipation, rearrange the living room to fit the tree, and we start making plans for the holiday season. Everywhere we go, we cannot escape it. Christmas is coming.
Hockey fans are looking at their favourite team. Some have already written the season off. Others are ecstatic with where they are in the standings. For most, they are hoping that Santa brings them a shiny new player or two in time to help them make the playoffs. And General Managers are working like elves at the North Pole to make it happen. The phones are buzzing, the conversations are dense and numerous. Will someone be willing to danse?
For various reasons, some GMs are more active than others right now. Whether their team is performing well below expectations, whether they find themselves in a playoffs’ race, a position they didn’t really expect to be in, or whether some feel the heat from above and want to save their own job, the phones are hot. But who exactly will be tempted to shake things up at this time? Who cannot wait to the February trade deadline to make moves? Let’s try to be the fly on the wall.
GM: Jarmo Kekalainen
The Blue Jackets are up to a very good start to the season, sitting atop the Metropolitan division, four points ahead of the Stanley Cup champions Washington Capitals. They do, however, have two key pending unrestricted free agents in Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, and while there is no rush to make a decision on either of them, they likely don’t want this to become a distraction. It has been reported that Bobrovsky is seeking a deal similar to Carey Price and that is way too rich for Columbus’ blood. Rumours have also been swirling around Panarin and with so many teams looking at trading, it would be foolish to count out the Blue Jackets as a potential trade partner.
GM: Kyle Dubas
The William Nylander saga is coming to an end and everyone in and out of Toronto will be happy about that. With or without him, the Leafs have a very potent offense and Frederik Andersen is performing at the elite level, keeping his team in most games. In spite of the stellar play of Morgan Rielly, they do have a dire need of defensive help if they want to compete against the likes of Tampa Bay and Washington in the playoffs. Sacrificing a bit of offense to round up their defense is a must for Dubas, who has yet to put his stamp on the team with a major trade.
GM: Don Waddell
The Eastern Conference is tight… very tight. And the Hurricanes are right in the middle of a playoffs’ race, and should be until the end. They have tons of depth on defense and they need goals scoring. We have heard rumours of them going hard after William Nylander but even if they miss out on him, Waddell will (or should) keep focussing on improving his team’s offense. Too bad they gave away Jeff Skinner for practically free, isn’t it?
GM: Marc Bergevin
Bergevin has done, by all accounts, very well this summer in both getting his team younger and more competitive. The return of Shea Weber has been a shot in the arm for a defensive core in need of something, but it has also brought back to light the fact that while they have good depth at the blue line, they also don’t have anyone capable of eating big minutes as his defense partner. With Karl Alzner and Victor Mete in the minors, Bergevin must try to find someone to play with Weber. Will he resist paying the high price for a veteran or will he continue with his plan to get younger, quality players as he did with Jonathan Drouin, Max Domi, Joel Armia and company? And will he find a new home for Alzner?
GM: Jim Rutherford
Although only a couple of points out of a playoffs’ spot, the Penguins have been very inconsistent so far this season. The reason for it is rather simple: they are in the bottom tier of the NHL for goals against per game. Rutherford’s contract was just renewed so he’s not going anywhere. His core of players however, while still performing well, is not getting any younger. While goaltending has been an issue in Pittsburgh, their defensive core, with the exception of Kris Letang, has nothing to instate the fear of God into any opponent. Rutherford could very well be on the prowl for defensemen and goaltending improvements.
The Flyers having recently fired Ron Hextall as their general manager and two days later, they also showed the door to assistant general manager Chris Pryor and assistant coach Gord Murphy. They will certainly want to shake things up on ice as well and it’s not too farfetched to think that pending UFA Wayne Simmonds could be on the market in hope to get some much needed goaltending help. Only the Chicago Blackhawks and the Ottawa Senators have allowed more goals per game than the Flyers this season. While no replacement has been announced at the time to write this article, will team President Paul Holmgren, their former general manager, be tempted to step in to make some player personnel moves or is he still blacklisted by the NHL brotherhood of general managers? Either way, the Flyers need some change on ice too.
GM: Dale Tallon
Perhaps the biggest deception in the East, the Panthers have suffered a huge blow when Vincent Trochek shattered his ankle. Having lost goaltender Roberto Luongo for the first part of the season really exposed the team’s lack of depth at that position and we have even heard rumblings that they were interested in Canadiens’ prospect Charlie Lindgren. The Panthers are fourth from the bottom defensively, allowing a whooping 3.57 goals per game. Perhaps they could try finding an improvement behind the bench? Oh wait, they already tried that, sending Jack Adams Award winner Gerard Gallant home in a taxi a couple of years ago, gifting him to George McPhee and the Las Vegas Golden Knights!
GM: Peter Chiarelli
If you look at the definition of “Pressure on a GM”, you’ll find a picture of Chiarelli. However, with a record of 3-1-1 since replacing Todd McLellan with Ken Hitchcock, Chiarelli might have bought himself some time. The team’s biggest need is on the blue line, although getting some speedy forwards with secondary scoring ability, most specifically on the wing, is also pointed as a high need. The problem for Chiarelli is finding someone to trade away, outside of the team’s core, players with enough trade value to bring in the help needed. For many, it feels like the Oilers are wasting some valuable Connor McDavid time to get back into the winning ways of olds. When Milan Lucic is your biggest UFA acquisition when you have a draw like McDavid, you’re doing something wrong.
GM: Stan Bowman
Bowman is a good general manager. He has won some Stanley Cups with this core of players in the past. However, like any GM before him who have won Cups, he finds himself at a crossroad. That core of players is taking a lot of money on the cap and their production is diminishing and head coach Joel Quenneville paid the price a few weeks ago. Further, in order to keep under the cap, Bowman had to trade away some key role players over the years, and has traded some prospects and picks to get this team over the top… and he succeeded. He now finds himself in need of replenishing the cupboards of picks and quality prospects and you can’t do that unless you treat hockey as a business and leave feelings and loyalty behind. He may have to sacrifice some of his core players to do so.
GM: Doug Armstrong
With 19 points in 23 games so far, the Blues are tied with the L.A. Kings for dead last in the NHL’s standings. In the summer months, they traded for Ryan O’Reilly and they signed UFA’s Tyler Bozak, David Perron and Patrick Maroon. The expectations were high and saying that they are not living up to them would be a huge understatement. For a tem needing quality goaltending (Jake Allen 3.32 GAA .894 Sv%, Chad Johnson about the same), they let go of Carter Hutton (G) who is the starter in Buffalo now. So far, their solution to their problems has been to play yo-yo with Carl Gunnarsson, Chris Thorburn, Brian Flynn and Robby Fabbri all season. At some point, Armstrong will have to shake things up as it’s likely already too late for his team to make a push for a playoffs’ spot by now.
GM: Rob Blake
In spite of “winning” the Ilya Kovalchuk derby this summer, granting the UFA a three year deal with a $6.25 million cap hit on an over-35 contract, the russian star has been in the dog house with his 14 points in 25 games and his whooping minus – 13 differential. The troubles for the Kings continue from last season. After a coaching change that didn’t bring the expected results, Blake will have to come to realization that the problem is on the ice. Too slow as a team, he does have some assets of value to trade. Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, Alec Martinez and/or Jake Muzzin could all fetch some quality youth in return. Everyone is expecting some action soon from the Kings, a team to keep an eye on before the December trade freeze.
As you can see, the phones are red hot and there are many willing teams in need to make some change. In a league with a hard salary cap however, trades are not easy to complete and sometimes, creativity is the name of the game when it comes to making it happen. We can expect some creativity to surface in the next few weeks, even the next few days and with any luck, the Canadiens could be involved as Bergevin has clearly shown not being adverse to changing things up and addressing his team’s needs. Stay tuned. Go Habs Go!