Sunday, February 15, 2009

Therrien toe tagged for Penguin's troubles

When he looked down the bench just Saturday night, Michel Therrien saw Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar to name a few, all seemingly struggling to fit into his defensive oriented schemes, strangling the offensive portion of the Penguins game.

When GM Ray Shero looked at the NHL East division standings on Sunday morning, he saw his Penguins out of the playoffs and falling fast, a rather unusual place for a team that was a Stanley Cup finalist just last season and boasts of some of the fastest of skaters and sharpest of shooters that there is in an NHL lineup.
So, Shero on Sunday did what many had been suggesting was bound to happen, he fired Therrien as head coach of the Pens, bringing in Dan Bylsma the head coach of the AHL farm club, now the hopeful guide to the playoffs before the season is lost.

With the Penguins continuing to struggle and Saturday nights collapse and surrender still fresh in managements eyes, the decision was made to make the much anticipated change, the fifth coaching change this year in the NHL.
Pittsburgh's decision is one that seems to have been designed to return the Pens back to the more offensive style of play that was the mark of last year's run for the Stanley Cup, a more fast paced approach to the offensive attack, one which probably won't be the greatest of news for Marc Andre Fleury, the Pens who never really seemed to buy into Therrien's defensive approach will now seemingly abandon it in a quest for goals.

Whether it will be the change that was needed to push them back into the playoff picture or just the final act of a very disappointing season remains to be seen, one thing however is certain now, only the players and management will be left to be held accountable when the regular season comes to an end with the Pens either in or out of the playoff race.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette-- Bylsma named coach as Pens fire Therrien
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette-- GM Shero hopes coaching shift will spark Penguins but don't count on it
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review-- Pens fire head coach less than a year after reaching Stanley Cup finals
Pittsburgh Tribune-Rview-- Penguins part ways with coach Therrien
Globe and Mail-- Lemieux behind Therrien's dismissal
Globe and Mail-- Penguins fire Therrien
National Post-- Struggling Penguins cut loose coach Therrien

Friday, February 13, 2009

Paddock points a finger

Revenge as they say, is a dish best served cold... but you really should remember who is paying the dinner bill!

He hasn't been the coach of the Ottawa Senators for almost a year now, but it seems he still has a few thoughts about what went wrong with his former team and what still may be wrong with them.

In short, it seems that the dysfunctional Senators can look towards their General Manager for the cause of their winters of discontent.

Paddock provided some choice quotes for the Camden Courier Post, suggesting that Murray will be the next in line to be sent to the hockey unemployment lines.

His observations also outlined his impressions of the current line up of Senators, most of which he was in charge of less than a year ago, observing that in his impression that "The players are not very good, that's the problem"

Murray the current GM, Paddock notwithstanding, provided his take on the controversial commentary, expressing his disappointment in his former coach and stating that Paddock had apologized by email for his comments.

He also pointed out that technically Paddock is still an employee of the Senators, with the Sens still paying the final two years of his last contract, unless of course he should speak out again and violate the terms of that parting of the ways. A revelation that probably accounted for the email from Mr. Paddock, no doubt on the advice of his financial advisor.

Currently the coach of the Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL, Paddock had outlined his thoughts just prior to the Sens/Flyers match up on Thursday night.

Perhaps they struck a chord with the Sens, as they went on to defeat the Flyers 5-2, racking up their third win in a row for new coach Cory Clouston.
Perhaps coach Clouston should keep the transcripts handy for future use, nothing provides motivation better than being told you stink.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Montreal misery continues on western swing

"It's a message to everybody to wake up,"-- Head Coach Guy Carbonneau outlining how his roster moves prior to Wednesday's game were designed to get the team's attention, a request that apparently went unheeded...

Neil Macrae the acerbic sportscaster on Vancouver radio station CKNW probably provided the best commentary on the state of the Montreal Canadiens these days, recounting how head coach Guy Carbonneau had taken the team bowling this week all part of a bid to break the tension of their losing ways.

As Macrae tells the story, when the Habs left the lanes, the pins were still standing.

Such is how far the mighty Montreal Canadiens have fallen in such a short time, they now provide the punch line to cross Canada morning radio show jokes.

Things may be worse than they think, back home they've become the staple of the yuk yuks set as well. Perhaps it would be best to keep the internet away from the lads for the next little while.

Montreal's horrid days continued on Wednesday in Edmonton as the Oilers demolished them by a score of 7-2, not the best way to celebrate the 3,000th road game of your fabled history.

The Habs have lost nine of their last eleven games, gone seven games now since tasting victory, surrendering some 35 goals in that period. scoring only 14.

They seem to have shattered the confidence of their young goaltender Carey Price, some of the players have pouted in the dressing room and others have taken the funk onto the ice, mostly however they hav looked less than competent and left their head coach to say only that he and Bob (Gainey) will have to once again look at the roster.

Of course that's providing that Carbonneau will still be in the executive loop by the time the Habs return home after Sunday nights game in Vancouver. As the Habs have continue to lose, there have been rumblings that coaching may be the quickest fix, though watching the Canadiens play of late one wonders just how logical that might be. It's the easy route but one wonders if it will be the most effective thing to turn around the struggling squad.

Whatever is happening in Montreal these days seems to be an ongoing fungus, it's begun to creep into all corners of that dressing room, turning former high achievers into disinterested spectators game in and game out.

From the talk of a run for the Stanley Cup back in November and December, now it's a case of just trying to hang on to make the playoffs. With a trading deadline fast approaching, Carbonneau and Gainey had best quickly find some kind of package to put together to move out the troubled assets and bring in some injection of intensity and effort to salvage the year.

The Vancouver sportscasters joke ended with the zinger of "the pins were still standing", at the moment the same can't be said for the Canadiens, for now they're clearly a team mired in the gutter.

Montreal Gazette-- Mental break for Habs
Edmonton Sun-- No Habby ending
Edmonton Journal-- Merci, Canadiens
Globe and Mail-- Seventh hell for Habs

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sundin sets the pace for Canucks

It would seem that training camp is finally over for Mats Sundin, the mid season addition to the Canuck's lineup finally began to show some of that tenacious skill that many had come to expect from him in previous seasons.

Tuesday night in St. Louis, Sundin appeared to be back into his groove, battling for the puck behind the net and taking his teams game up a notch or two as the Canuck's battled back from an early deficit to persevere against the feisty Blues.

The comeback was very much on the back of Sundin, who picked up two of the Canuck's six goals on the way to the 6-4 victory over St. Louis.

Sundin has over the last few games shaken off much of the rust that the almost eight month break from hockey had set upon him. Over the last three games he has begun to be a dominate player once again, overshadowing the first line as his second line unit found their pace and frequently found success on the score sheet.

The rise of Sundin has coincided with a modest little win streak by the Canuck's, who have won their last three games, the Blues game by no means a classic, but one which showed a determined Canuck squad that did not throw in the towel after the Blues took two goal leads twice in the game.

While Roberto Luongo has also been working himself back into peak shape, Tuesday was not one of his better nights; it’s rare that he allows a team to score the key goal in the course of a game, but St. Louis found the mark on two occasions that seemed to put them in the position to put the game away.

A lot of the credit should go to the Blues, who despite their lower levels of standing in the West showed remarkable grit in their bid to topple the Canuck's, they were however aided by some sloppy defensive work in the Canuck end, as the defense had trouble clearing the puck from time to time and the forwards neglected their back checks which allowed the Blues time to set up and find their scoring range.

In the end though, it’s the two points in the standings that most will remember and while it was a rather ugly win, it was a win none the less.

However, even more promising than the ability to battle back for the win, has been the steady progress of Sundin, the always talkative hockey fans of British Columbia were beginning to get a little worried that the promise of the signing of late 2008 was not going to deliver their team to promised land of playoff hockey.

While the path to Stanley may still have a few pitfalls, they might be feeling a little better about their chances after the last three games, with Sundin starting to score and Luongo slowly getting back into his groove there may yet be some post season planning to be made in Vancouver.

Vancouver Province-- Ask, and ye shall receive
Vancouver Province-- Canucks fight back for victory
Vancouver Sun-- Canucks beat the Blues
St. Louis Post Dispatch-- Blues Collapse, Stay in Cellar

Sharks send notice that they’re in charge

The date had been circled on the calendar since December, once it became clear that both the Bruins and the Sharks were for real this season and weren’t going to fade to the middle of the pack after quick starts.

So, Tuesday night’s game in Boston had become one of the more anticipated of matches in a long and occasionally tedious regular season. A chance for the two top teams of the NHL to make a declaration for NHL supremacy just past the mid way point of the season.

For the first period it looked as though the Bruins would be the team that came out of the showdown with the bragging rights, Milan Lucic a one man scoring machine quickly had the B’s up by two and looking very dominant as Boston played their normal home game of bashing and scoring.

However, it was a former Bruin who finally shook off the road trip blues and grabbed his team by the sweater to take charge of the game. Joe Thornton, once the toast of the city became the Bruin’s greatest tormentor on Tuesday as he pushed his team on to victory, scoring once in the third, and part of a three goal in six minute explosion by the Sharks.

More importantly, he became the focus of attention for the Bruin’s fans who booed him every time he touched the puck and for the Bruins on the ice who seemed to provide him with much in the way of attention, a strategy that inevitably would leave other sharks open to take advantage of the scoring opportunities

Sharks captain Patrick Marleau had another strong game with a three point night, kicking off that three goal splurge in the third, that final twenty minutes was all San Jose as they controlled all facets of play, out hitting the Bruins, out playing them and in the category that counts the most out scoring them.

While the Bruins played well in the first two periods, the third period letdown provided a lesson for Boston, if they want to challenge with the best in the league, it takes all three periods of play.

Bruins’ coach Claude Julien was hopeful of a rematch with the Sharks in the months to come, should it come to pass it will be part of a seven game Stanley Cup final, as the Bruins and Sharks don’t meet again in the regular season.

The Sharks look very much like they'll be a team to be pencilled in for the finals, the Bruins showed some strength as well, but need to keep the game plan on the move for all three periods.

Should the two teams renew acquaintances again in late May or early June, one suspects that these lessons from the middle of the season will not be lost on the Bruins.

Boston Globe-- Sharks show teeth
Boston Herald-- Best not that good

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Bad Boy Sean on his way back?

He was the topic of conversation on Hockey Night in Canada, is once again the poster child for the New York City tabloids, Sean Avery, the enfant terrible (bad boy for Sean) of the NHL is said to slowly making his way back to the league.

The Dallas Stars began the talk today when they put Avery on waivers, a clear sign that he won't be showing up in a Stars dressing room again, having worn out his welcome and caused more than enough trouble for his former team.

Cleared by the NHL after his penance for his boorish commentary in Calgary, he now goes up for bid from the NHL's member teams, though it's not expected that anyone is inclined to pick him up at his full salary from his days in Dallas.

He'll clear the waiver wire on Monday, at which time he would be sent to the minors, though the Stars have no minor league affiliation and would be looking to place hi someplace, a prospect that many suggest may see the Rangers offer assistance.

Allowing Avery to while away his minor league time in Hartford with the Ranger farm club, with the Blue shirts stumbling around in the NHL east all of a sudden, there is talk that they need some kind of spark, with more than a few Ranger observers apparently suggesting that such a spark would come in the form of Avery.

The prospect of his return must be sending the NHL head office to the Tums counter of the local pharmacy, seeking out a four month supply of the antacids, just in case somehow Avery finds his way back into a line up.

On the plus side, if such a thing can be attributed to an Avery return, if indeed it is the Rangers that he find a home, at least he won't have to travel as far for the next disciplinary hearing, which one would suspect wouldn't be too far down the line upon his arrival back in an NHL uniform.

New York Daily News-- Stars put former Sean Avery on waivers, could lead to Rangers return
Newsday-- Avery might be attractive to Rangers
Newsday-- How Avery could come to NY
New York Times-- The Morning Skate: Is Avery Bound for the Rangers?
Dallas News-- Avery is back on Stars roster
Hartford Courant-- Avery Could Put Spark In Wolf Pack

Senators find salvation in a Saturday night shoot out

It took three games, two of them shoot out affairs, but finally Cory Clouston has his first win as an NHL head coach as his Ottawa Senators survived an encounter with the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night.

The Sens looked to be on a pace to give their new coach his first win outright, taking a two to nothing lead before slipping into their old ways a bit and allowing the Sabres to battle back at Scotiabank Place.

It was in the shoot out however that they redeemed themselves, after a fast flying overtime period the Senators selected shooters tried some new moves on Sabers goaltender Ryan Miller.

At the other end of the rink, rookie goaltender Brian Elliot made one save during the shoot out, good enough to secure the win for the Sens and give Clouston something to put on the mantle, or at least on his office desk if he doesn't own a mantle.
With the win, the Senators can prepare for their upcoming road trip with a bit of confidence, something that has been in short supply over the last few weeks and even more so after the dramatic turn of events at the start of the week which saw former head coach Craig Hartsburg terminated.

Clouston's first two attempts to get in the win column came up a little short, the most recent one a shoot out loss that provided a bit of hope that his team was starting to come together, Saturday night's win adds more confidence to that belief.

The next seven days will take the Sens to five out of town locations, an opportunity to regroup as team and try and gain some focus on the remainder of the season without the hot house atmosphere that has become Ottawa, even in a cold February.

Ottawa Sun-- Shootout shot in the arm

Thursday, February 05, 2009

All that money and not a dime for Gary...

Gary Bettman may be confident that the NHL is destined to stay in Phoenix, but for those that might have the kind of money required to keep that destiny alive, the prospect of hockey in the desert doesn't seem quite as enthralling.

Gary Bettman's personal thorn this week has been David Shoalts of the Globe and Mail, he has been doing some fascinating research on the state of the financial picture of the Coyotes and the interest in them and he is providing a contrarian opinion to the Commissioners public pronouncements in today's edition of the Globe.

Shoalts contacts have suggested that some of Phoenix's most established sports owners have taken a look at the Coyote's books and quickly turned the other way, such is the apparent state of the financial picture in Arizona.

The sources for Shoalts article list two baseball owners Jerry Reinsdorf of the White Sox and Ken Kendrick, the managing general partner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, along with Phoenix Suns majority owner Robert Sarver having all taken to crunching those numbers and deciding that the smart money would be to spend no money on the Coyotes who are reportedly mired with some 45 million dollars in losses for this year.

It's a huge number that is proving to be the main deterrent to anyone taking to the idea of making hockey work in Arizona.

The Globe and Mail story provides just the latest outline as to how much trouble the Coyotes are in as they wander through the final months of the 2008- 09 season, still a potential playoff team it will be interesting to see if the Little Orphan Annies of the NHL can keep the suspense carrying on into the second season.

The Commissioner has repeatedly suggested that the Coyotes will be fine, and that there is no plan to move the team to some other location.
Perhaps that's true, but the real question should be will the Coyotes still exist in September.

200 and counting for Ovechkin

He's perhaps the most entertaining player in the game today and Thursday night he reached yet another milestone in his young career.

Alexander Ovechkin tallied up his 200th goal, joining just three other players to reach the 200 goal plateau in four years.

With goal number 200 now ready for mounting on the wall, Ovechkin joins Wayne Gretzky, Mike Bossy and Mario Lemieux in one of the NHL's more exclusive fraternities.

In keeping with his persona these days, Ovechkin didn't want to talk about his marquee goal, with the Capitals coming up on the short end of the score against the Kings on Thursday night, Ovechkin only wanted to talk about the missed opportunity for his team to pick up some valuable points in their quest for playoff positioning in the east.

Much of the teams success however has come off the stick of the Russian sniper, Ovechkin currently leads the league in scoring with 37 goals, if he continues on his current pace it won't be too long before 300 goals become the just over the horizon target and more importantly if he continues on with his scoring touch his Capitals may be expecting a long run in the playoffs.

My accountants tell me...tales of the rosy glasses of Gary Bettman

We're not sure what to make of it all, but the fuzzy math and logic of Mr. Bettman was given a rough reception by the Toronto media this week, this after Mr. Bettman's deliverance of his Good News review to the National Club in the heart of the Leaf Nation.
Mr. Bettman trotted out his paperwork and grabbed his talking points to advise the gathered that the league will "endure, we will flourish".

It's a remark that has caught the attention of the ever watchful members of the media, who having sat in many of Mr. Bettman's arenas this year so far, can't help but notice that a number of the paying customers are disguised as empty seats, a financial indicator all to itself.

Even more telling is the revelation from the NHLPA that the union has increased the escrow amount deducted from players' pay cheques to 22.5 per cent for the third quarter of the season, an increase of ten percent and a hedge against future financial downturns on the NHL team balance sheets.

As David Shoalts points out in his article for the Globe and Mail, that NHLPA move is perhaps the best indication that the NHL financials aren't quite the gold standard that Mr. Bettman has portrayed, as in the end if the revenues don't meet the NHL's projections, then it's the players that will have to make up the difference from the escrow account.

By bumping up their contribution now, the players union is clearly suggesting that they believe that the economic pain is something that is on the way, Shoalts reminds us that the union does this so their membership doesn't have to take too large a hit and so far they've been pretty sharp stewards of their membership's money on this issue.

The other piece of fuzzy math that Mr. Shoalts examines is the interesting concept of teams buying up their own tickets, even if through a separate arm of the same company, a move that allows the struggling teams to show that the have a growing attendance and revenue pool to showcase, thus qualifying for revenue sharing from those teams that are still somewhat flush with cash.

That one may be a harder sell for the Commissioner, never mind the pesky press and their never ending questions, once you start taking money out of the pockets from the successful owners to prop up the teams that can only qualify through some fancy paperwork, well that's the kind of thing that executive reviews are made of.

Perhaps the Commissioner had best hope that the NHL team owners don't have time to read the newspapers, they might have a few questions of their own if the research proves correct.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Gauthier gets the gate for five

It's a pattern that seems to reoccur with Denis Gauthier just a little too frequently, a questionable hit that is usually followed by comments "that something needs to be done to get this out of the game".

Monday, the NHL mindful of the current atmosphere when it comes to head shots and unsportsmanlike play, suspended Gauthier for his hit on Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens Josh Gorges's head.

Gauthier is clearly seen leaving his feet and delivering the crushing blow, leaving Gorges woozy and in need of assistance off of the ice, Gauthier was immediately assessed a game misconduct.

Monday, came the suspension and forfeiture of pay to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund, a 56,000 dollar contribution for his blatant disregard for Gorges' safety.

Gauthier's reputation over the years has been one of somethone that crosses the line on too many occassions, Saturday's events suggest that he still hasn't learned the ability to reign in that focus and to play within the parameters of the game.

He gets his next chance to show that he understands the rules of the game on February 14th when he will be eligible to return to the Kings line up when they play the Edomonton Oilers.

Globe and Mail-- Gauthier suspended five games
Los Angeles Times-- Kings' Denis Gauthier suspended five games for hit to head of Montreal's Josh Gorges
CBC Sports-- Kings' Gauthier suspended 5 games
Montreal Gazette-- Boston coach applauds game misconduct for Denis Gauthier

Monday, February 02, 2009

The coach killers

The Ottawa Senators today did what many anticipated was set to happen, firing head coach Craig Hartsburg 48 games into his three year contract with the NHL"s most befuddling club.

It seems like only a few months ago that the Sens were suggesting that all that was needed was Hartsburg's confident hand on the wheel and all would be well again in Sensland... perhaps they underestimated the malaise that seems to have infected the entire organization.

Hartsburg who has watched what is supposed to be a Stanley Cup contending club morph into the stumbling, fumbling crew, had issues a call to the teams pride on Sunday night, after the Sens were showed up by Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.

Whatever message he delivered probably didn't resonate and now won't even be contemplated as Brian Murray removed the coach from his position, promoting the head coach of the Sens AHL club.

Cory Clouston, who has been coach of the minor league Sens in Binghampton since last year was previously a junior A coach in the WHL, he takes over a Senator team that has lost more than just confidence, but any concept it seems of how to play the game or how to be accountable for their lack of success.

The Sens have been on a horrendous slide since we last saw the Sens standing to the side watching the Anaheim Ducks carry the Stanley Cup around. Besides their continual testing of the depths of the eastern conference, they have proven to be the kind of team which can kill a coach's career.

Four coaches have placed themselves behind that Senators bench since the days of Jacques Martin and the expectations of contesting for that Stanley Cup, a arevolving door of frustration, with none seeming to find the key ingredients to return Ottawa to the upper echelons of the NHL.

A poll created by the Globe and Mail provides an intersting review of just who might be to blame for the Sens monumental fall from grace, a word of caution if you are Bryan Murray, don't click here...

With 34 games remaining on the schedule, the prospects of a Senator team in the playoffs seems to be slimmer and slimmer, the next 34 will be evaluation days for this collection, with a trading deadline soon to arrive, one would suspect that the team Mr. Clouston has inherited today, won't be the same one he finishes the season with, perhaps a courtesy that Mr. Hartsburg should have been provided with.

But then again, as they say if you can't fire the team, then you have to fire the coach.

Hartsburg proved once again how accurate that saying is in the NHL. He leaves behind in Ottawa a record of 17-24-7 and perhaps an ulcer for the Mr. Clouston to inherit.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Headlines of February 2009

Keeping track of the top stories of hockey on a daily basis.

February 28-- Oilers earn key victory over Wild
February 27-- Schneider lifts Habs
February 26-- Brodeur back with a blank
February 25-- Leafs spoil Tortorella's debut
February 24-- Glendale propping up Coyotes
February 23-- Tortorella takes over
February 22-- Flames take Battle of Alberta
February 21-- Sundin ices Leafs in return
February 20-- Great Unravelling under way in Montreal
February 19-- Canucks too strong for Senators
February 18-- 'Potential investors' interested in buying team: reports
February 17-- Gainey gives Kovalev a rest
February 16-- Canucks take to the road to improve playoff chances
February 15-- Pens fire head coach less than a year after reaching Stanley Cup finals
February 14-- Great One getting great big paycheques
February 13-- Halak carries Canadiens to crucial victory
February 12-- Canucks complete comeback for fourth straight win
February 11-- Bruins turn Boston into a hockey town again
February 10-- Sharks rally to beat Bruins
February 9-- Clemmensen gets first shutout in nearly 5 years
February 8-- Ex-teammates haunt Penguins
February 7-- Shootout victory helps Senators stop the bleeding
February 6-- ‘Practise harder,' Toskala told
February 5-- Ovechkin scores 200th NHL goal
February 4-- No shortage of action off the ice in Nashville
February 3-- Canadiens pour salt on Penguins' woes
February 2-- Senators have new bench boss, same old problems
February 1-- Bruins continue Eastern Conference mastery