A Few Late-November Thoughts on the NHL
Florida Panthers management fired head coach Gerard Gallant not because he’s a lousy coach or because of the club’s slow start, though the latter made a convenient excuse. Gallant was fired because because he wasn’t “their guy”,
Under Gallant’s coaching, the Panthers recorded a team-record 47 wins last season, clinching the Atlantic Division and reaching the playoffs for only the second time in 15 years. He was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year.
In other words, Gallant didn’t suddenly get stupid or let success go to his head.
Former Panthers GM Dale Tallon hired Gallant, who’s an old school type of coach. But his style clashed with the analytics crowd running the show in the Panthers’ front office. This isn’t a slam against analytics; advanced stats are invaluable tools in evaluating player and team performance.
But in the case of the Gallant firing, the decision overlooked the fact the Panthers were missing several key players (Jonathan Huberdeau, Jussi Jokinen and Nick Bjugstad) to injury, while blueliners Erik Gudbranson, Brian Campbell and Dmitry Kulikov departed last summer via trades or free agency. Those absences obviously took a toll in the early going this season.
Don’t expect Gallant to be unemployed for long. While the Panthers’ front office seemingly had little appreciation for his services, others teams will be contacting him soon. The Vancouver Canucks and New York Islanders could be two clubs with interest in Gallant.
In every NHL season, there’s always a handful of players who regularly surface in the trade rumor mill. This season, Buffalo Sabres left wing Evander Kane, Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, Calgary Flames defenseman Dougie Hamilton and Arizona Coyotes center Martin Hanzal are considered likely trade candidates.
For all the discussion about where Kane, Fleury and Hamilton might go, their contracts are significant sticking points. Each of them carries annual cap hits over $5 million.
With only the Ottawa Senators, New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes possessing over $6 million in cap space, the only way those guys get moved right now is if there’s a dollar-for-dollar deal to be made, or if any interested parties can shed salary in separate moves.
As for Hanzal, he carries a more affordable $3.1 million cap hit and is eligible for unrestricted free agency in July. While there’s undoubtedly interest in the 6-foot-6, 226-pound center, there’s no certainty he’s available right now. The Coyotes apparently want to re-sign him, preferably to a short-term deal.
If any of these guys get dealt this season, it’ll happen closer to the March 1 trade deadline. It’s tough to move high-salaried players before January.
Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is primarily known as a playmaker. In his five 100-point seasons, only once – in 2009-10 – did he reach the 50-goal plateau.
After missing the opening six games of this season to concussion symptoms, the 28-year-old Crosby’s been on a torrid scoring pace. Of his 20 points in 16 games, 15 of those are goals. That puts Crosby on pace to reach 70 goals in 76 games.
Of course, it’s unlikely Crosby will reach that rarefied air. The last time any NHL player tallied 70 goals was in 1992-93, when Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny each netted 76. The last player to reach 60 goals was Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos in 2011-12.
Crosby might have a shot at 60 goals this season. A second 50-goal campaign, however, seems more likely for the Penguins superstar.
The Montreal Canadiens finish November as the NHL’s top team, just as they were a year ago. And once again, goaltender Carey Price is the biggest reason why the Habs are perched atop the overall standings.
This season’s version of the Canadiens appears a better, grittier bunch, with offseason acquisitions Shea Weber, Alexander Radulov and Andrew Shaw playing key roles. Alex Galchenyuk, meanwhile, continues to blossom as a first-line center, a role he should’ve been put in much sooner last season.
Price, however, is the main factor behind the Habs’ success.
Last season, the Canadiens season was derailed by Price’s season-ending knee injury last November. As long as Price stays healthy, the Habs should remain among the league’s top teams. But if he sidelined again for another lengthy period, they could once again tumble out of playoff contention.
Colorado Avalanche right wing Jarome Iginla is coming to the end of his 20-year NHL career. The 39-year-old has only five points in 20 games and now skates on the Avs’ third-line.
With the Avalanche struggling again this season, speculation is percolating that perhaps Iginla could get dealt to a playoff contender by the March 1 trade deadline. Iggy, meanwhile, isn’t thinking about that possibility right now, claiming he still wants to help the Avs reach the playoffs.
If the Avalanche are well out of postseason contention by late-February, they could ask Iginla to waive his no-trade clause to join a contender.
Not to be sacrilegious, but if Iginla’s a fading asset by that point, will a playoff club really have interest in him?
Iginla’s a future first-ballot Hall of Famer and one of hockey’s good guys. Maybe his years of experience and leadership will prove enticing for clubs seeking those assets for a long playoff run. Maybe Iginla, who’s always been a slow starter, will regain his scoring mojo on a deeper roster.
But if all he’s got left to offer a playoff contender is his name and his previous accomplishments, that might not be enough to sway a GM into pursuing him.