NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – April 15, 2023
Reaction to the Penguins firing Ron Hextall and Brian Burke, the Capitals parting ways with head coach Peter Laviolette, the Ducks firing coach Dallas Eakins, and much more from a busy final day of the regular season in today’s NHL Morning Coffee Headlines.
NHL.COM: Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon finished the regular season with a hat trick in a 4-3 victory over the Nashville Predators. With the win, the Avalanche clinch the Central Division title and face the Seattle Kraken in the opening round of the 2023 playoffs starting Tuesday in Denver. The Dallas Stars sit second in the Central and will square off against the Minnesota Wild starting Monday in Dallas.
The Buffalo Sabres closed out their season by downing the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-2. Jeff Skinner scored a goal and collected two assists while Devon Levi made 29 saves for his fifth win in seven starts. Johnny Gaudreau scored for the Blue Jackets.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline reports Blue Jackets head coach Brad Larsen raised questions about his future with the club following the game. He said he loved his job despite the challenging year the Jackets faced. However, he indicated there are “a lot of things to sort through and a lot of things to think through in a year like this.”
Portzline also reported Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen texted him saying Larsen had not been informed postgame that he’d been fired. Earlier in the week, Kekalainen said his coaching staff would not be judged on its record because of the injuries that ravaged the roster this season.
**UPDATE** The Blue Jackets officially relieved Larsen of his duties this morning and announced the contract of goalie coach Manny Legace won’t be renewed.
PITTSBURGH HOCKEY NOW: The Penguins fired general manager Ron Hextall, president of hockey operations Brian Burke and assistant GM Chris Pryor on Friday after little more than two years on the job.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This wasn’t shocking given the Penguins missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007. The status of head coach Mike Sullivan and his staff will be determined by Hextall’s replacement.
Pundits are wasting little time speculating over possible candidates for the Penguins general manager job. Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas, former Sabres GM Jason Botterill, and Carolina Hurricanes assistant GM Eric Tulsky are among the notables suggested as potential options.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: The Washington Capitals and head coach Peter Laviolette have agreed to part ways after three seasons. Laviolette’s contract expires at the end of this season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Capitals missed the playoffs this season for the first time since 2014 in part because of their injury-depleted roster. Nevertheless, they failed to show much progress toward returning to Stanley Cup contention over the previous two seasons.
Part of that is because of how the Capitals’ roster is constructed. However, Laviolette seemed unable to develop their promising younger players or get better results from struggling players like Evgeny Kuznetsov and Anthony Mantha.
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER: The Anaheim Ducks decided not to renew the contract of head coach Dallas Eakins after four seasons.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Ducks GM Pat Verbeek inherited Eakins when he took over midway through last season. Verbeek gave him a year but it’s apparent he wants his own man behind the bench as part of the club’s rebuild.
STLTODAY.COM: The St. Louis Blues announced they relieved Mike Van Ryn and Craig MacTavish of their duties as assistant coaches.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: As with their roster, the Blues seek to retool rather than overhaul their coaching staff.
THE HOCKEY NEWS: Good news for the New York Islanders as they prepare to face the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round of the upcoming playoffs. Mathew Barzal has rejoined his teammates for practice for the first time since being sidelined on Feb. 18 with a lower-body injury.
Florida Panthers forward Sam Bennett (lower body) was placed on injured reserve as his club prepares for their approaching first-round series with the Boston Bruins.
TSN: The Minnesota Wild intend to ride Marc-Andre Fleury and Filip Gustavsson as a true goalie tandem during the coming playoffs.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Fleury has the experience and more games played (46) this season but Gustavsson has better stats and saw action in 39 contests.
MONTREAL GAZETTE: Canadiens executive VP of hockey operations Jeff Gorton laughed off a rumor claiming he might be interested in a GM job elsewhere. “Why, are you sick of me already?,” he said, adding “I’m coming back, yes. Those were just rumors.”
Canadiens GM Kent Hughes said his club must do a better job getting its players to be more forthright with the team regarding injuries.
It was revealed that Brendan Gallagher played eight games on a broken ankle before missing 13 games. He played three games following his return before breaking the same ankle and missing 45 games. Meanwhile, Sean Monahan admitted playing on a broken foot for several games led to his season-ending groin injury.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Canadiens led the league in man games lost to injuries for the second straight season. Part of that is due to the longstanding tradition among NHL players to try to play through serious injuries to help their team.
It’s a mindset based on the bad old days of the Original Six era when players had little choice but to play through injuries or risk being replaced and demoted to the minors. That’s no longer the case today. Nevertheless, the tradition continues because of the mythology of the toughness of NHL players that are celebrated throughout the league.
The downside, of course, is that it merely makes things worse for the player as his effectiveness is hampered. The injury eventually worsens forcing them from the lineup for much longer than they would’ve been had they allowed themselves time to properly heal. This also comes with the risk of shortening the player’s career.
The Canadiens aren’t the only team facing this problem. It’s time for teams to do a better job educating their coaches and players on the adverse effect that playing through serious injuries can have on their health and careers.
A new contract for Canadiens winger Cole Caufield doesn’t seem imminent. The 22-year-old sniper said there isn’t a rush on either side right now but claims he’s unconcerned about it. “The deal’s going to get done when it gets done,” he said.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: The longer Caufield goes unsigned this summer the more media speculation will ramp up about his future. He’s a restricted free agent coming off an entry-level contract with no arbitration rights. A rival club could swoop in with an offer sheet after June 30 but that’s a long shot at best given how seldom such deals are made.
There’s plenty of time for the Canadiens and the Caufield camp to get a deal done. If he’s still unsigned when training camp opens in September, then it may be time for Habs fans to worry about his future in Montreal.
NHL.COM: The league announced the odds for the participants in the 2023 draft lottery on May 8. The Anaheim Ducks have the best odds at 18.5 percent, followed by the Columbus Blue Jackets at 13.5 percent and Chicago Blackhawks at 11.5 percent. You can see the odds for the remaining 13 teams by clicking the link provided.
CAP FRIENDLY: As part of the conditions of the Timo Meier trade, the San Jose Sharks will receive the New Jersey Devils’ 2023 first-round pick.