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Behind every failing coach is a befuddled GM

The Score’s “Houses of Hockey” blog featured an updated list of coaches on the hot seat, spotlighting Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff, New Jersey’s John MacLean and Anaheim’s Randy Carlyle.

I agree with the list, but I think it’s a shame that coaches are almost always the “fall guys” when the truth is that a team’s general manager is just as much to blame (if not more). With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the blunders by the Sabres, Devils and Ducks GMs.

Sabres GM Darcy Regier – Regier deserves some benefit of the doubt for dealing with working in small market Buffalo. That and the small town’s cold weather makes it harder for the team to land big ticket free agents.

Still, it looks like Regier made some tactical errors. For one thing, he depended on two players continuing to play over their heads. Ryan Miller is a genuine elite player, but counting on him to top (or maintain) his 2009-10 level of performance is asking a bit much. Regier also seemed to expect Tyler Myers to be at least as good as he was during his unexpected run to the Calder Trophy, but the super-tall defenseman is regressing a bit. Even if talk of a “sophomore slump” is a bit overblown, Regier put too much stock in Myers, allowing top defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman leave via free agency for cheaper options.

He left Ruff (pictured to the right) with a makeshift defense, an OK but by no means elite group of forwards and a shoddy, bargain-basement backup in Patrick Lalime. Both Ruff and Regier have been in Buffalo a long time, but it seems like the longest tenured coach in the NHL might be the scapegoat instead of Regier.

Devils GM Lou Lamoriello – People will naturally gravitate toward the Ilya Kovalchuk signing and – in some ways, rightfully so – even if it’s more of a symbolic mistake. It signifies a break from the team’s tradition of avoiding big free agent risks and never putting one player above the whole.

But when you look at it, the team’s been moving in the wrong direction for years. Trading for Jason Arnott made the team worse from a 5-on-5 perspective and I must admit that I was a little shocked by how excited many people were by the signing of a very average backup in Johan Hedberg. Let’s not even get started on the contract he handed to Brian Rolston.

Really, it comes down to their threadbare defense, though. Some moves have been related to bad luck, from Anton Volchenkov (pictured) being injured* to Scott Stevens retiring and Scott Niedermayer wanting to play alongside his brother in Anaheim. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that he let Paul Martin and Brian Rafalski walk; maybe those two received more money than they were worth, but how many blows can a blueline take before it falls apart?

Perhaps it’s not as much about MacLean being a bad coach as it is about how deft Jacques Lemaire was at camouflaging the team’s defensive blemishes. Either way, the Devils woes can be traced back to a common combination of bad luck and bad decisions. Lamoriello earned his protected place as one of the league’s most respected general managers, but perhaps he’s lost a step or three over the years.

* – Though I think it’s fair to say that signing a guy who blocks that many shots to a big contract is pretty risky, considering the fact that laying down in front of a puck is hockey’s answer to Russian Roulette.

Ducks GM Bob Murray – After beating the Pittsburgh Penguins last night, I think Carlyle (and Murray) are much safer than they were a week or two ago. Still, the Ducks could very well waddle their way back into trouble, so let’s take a quick look at their issues.

Much like Lamoriello, Murray (pictured) faced a combination of bad luck and bad decisions when it came to the team’s once-proud defense. Then again, Niedermayer has been mulling retirement for years, so it’s not as if he could have been blindsided by the decision. Trading Chris Pronger for prospects was seen as a bottom-line decision, but they didn’t save as much money as expected considering the fact that one-dimensional forward Joffrey Lupul doesn’t make much less cash. Since winning the Stanley Cup, the Ducks lost Pronger, Niedermayer, Francois Beauchemin and James Wisniewski among other defensemen.

Mysteriously enough, the team is allowing the most shots in the league and their talented offense and above average goalie are given too much of a burden for consistent success. Perhaps Carlyle deserves some of the blame, but Murray blamed the players, at least publicly … and Murray is the man who chose them.

***

So, that’s my take on those three situations. I’m not saying that coaches deserve none of the blame and general managers should be given all of it. Yet much like a middle manager getting fired even if it’s hardly his or her fault, coaches often get canned even if the real problem is one step higher up the food chain.

Turris: Public trade requests can be ‘very difficult’ to go through, as Drouin saga drags on

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When it comes to the pressures of trade requests that go public, Kyle Turris can relate to what Jonathan Drouin might be going through.

Of course, Drouin’s request to be dealt from Tampa Bay made its way into the public via his agent, Allan Walsh, earlier this season.

The talented 20-year-old forward and third overall pick in 2013 has since been suspended indefinitely without pay for failing to show up to an AHL game while down in the minors and hasn’t played since Jan. 18.

It’s been a while now, but Turris found himself in a similar situation when, in October of 2011, his agent Curt Overhardt confirmed that the now 26-year-old center wanted to be traded out of Arizona.

Back then, Turris, another third overall pick, was a restricted free agent and had been in contentious contract talks with the Coyotes. He eventually signed a two-year deal with the Coyotes and was acquired by Ottawa not long after.

He’s been there ever since, with two 20-plus goal seasons.

“It’s tough,” Turris told the Tampa Bay Times. “Everyone has mixed feelings, and especially not being an established player. Then people are doubting that you’re doing the right thing, you really have to have confidence in yourself and your ability to do it.

“It was very difficult to do. You’re getting a lot of heat from the media and people, and people within the organization. It was a tough, tough go.”

Speaking of heat from the media: In addition to the suspension, Drouin was ripped in a local newspaper column — He’s the kid who quit” was one particular line that stands outfor his request and the drama that ensued from that.

For now, the trade deadline (Feb. 29) approaches and Drouin’s request has yet to be granted.

The wait continues.

Trotz wants fix for Caps’ ailing power play

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WASHINGTON (AP) The Capitals are winners of three in a row and sitting pretty atop the NHL, so not much seems to be going wrong for Washington. They do however have one glaring problem – power-play goals – and it is something coach Barry Trotz hopes to fix sooner rather than later.

Washington is 0 for their last 17 and haven’t scored a power-play goal since Jan. 19 after consistently being the league’s top power-play team the past several seasons.

The five-game drought hasn’t cost them in the standings, but after a similar stretch haunted them in last year’s playoffs, so it’s worth significant attention in the coming days and weeks.

“Sometimes we can be very stubborn and say, `Our power play will work against everybody,’ but we do make lots of adjustments,” Trotz said after the Capitals beat the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. “If there’s a trend, then we better fix it before the playoffs because to me if we don’t fix it before the playoffs, you’re almost in a situation where it’s too late.”

The Capitals went 0 for 13 in Games 2 through 7 of their second-round playoff series against the New York Rangers last spring.

A lack of power-play goals wasn’t the only reason for blowing a 3-1 series lead, and this five-game drought isn’t cause for alarm just yet. The Capitals still (barely) have the league’s top unit with a 24.2 percent success rate, but more importantly they have a four-point lead over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Presidents’ Trophy race and have played five fewer games.

But as Washington goes on the road to face the Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars this week, getting the power play back on track is a major focus. It’s not necessarily about getting rid of the goose egg in the goal column as much as fixing what’s contributing to the problem.

“We believe as long as we are getting zone time, we’re getting shots, we have some of the key elements of our power play, that results are going to come,” power-play point man Matt Niskanen said. “Some of those areas have been lacking lately, so that’s what we’ll try to fix. I don’t think you get too caught up in the results. You focus on the process and things like your breakout, your zone entries, your recoveries, net presence, execution – all those things. If we concentrate on those things, the results will come.”

Trotz blamed poor puck retrievals and execution for the power-play struggles. It doesn’t help that forward Marcus Johansson has missed four games with an upper-body injury, but with offensively-potent Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson in the lineup that shouldn’t be such a debilitating loss.

“We have some good people, so that’s not really an excuse,” Trotz said. “Marcus is very good on the power play, but so is Kuznetsov and Burakovsky and (Jason Chimera) does a good job in Marcus’ sort of spot. I don’t think that’s as big a deal.”

Not having Ovechkin when he was suspended against the Florida Panthers took away the power. Ovechkin’s one-timer from the left faceoff circle is one of the most unstoppable shots in hockey, even though defenders and goaltenders know it’s coming.

Ovechkin has been back for the past three games, and Washington hasn’t been able to get into much of a rhythm. Sunday against Philadelphia, one power play was rife with turnovers and even an icing.

Without a power-play goal once again, it was up to the Capitals’ penalty kill to get the job done. That unit is 8 for its past 9, and the pressure is higher on the penalty kill when the power play isn’t clicking.

“The power play has been (ranked) 1, 2 or 3 in the league for a ton of years in a row now and the PK hasn’t, so we always feel like we’re catching up to the power play,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “We want to pull our own weight, and so when things aren’t going, you have to win the special teams war in a different way, and PK is the way it needs to be done.”

Eaves to stick with Benn, Seguin on Dallas’ top line

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Patrick Eaves‘ cameo alongside the dynamic duo of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin looks like it’ll continue at least one more game.

Eaves, who along with Benn assisted on Seguin’s goal in Saturday’s loss to Chicago, practiced on Dallas’ top line today and should be there tomorrow when the Stars take on the Wild.

“Seguin, Benn and Eaves were in on 11 chances [Saturday against Chicago],” head coach Lindy Ruff explained, per the Stars’ website. They could have three or four [goals]. They should have had three or four. We missed too many good opportunities.”

This latest development is a positive in what’s been a tough year for Eaves. He was hurt early in the season after an awkward fall against the Oilers — a game in which he opened on the club’s top line, next to Benn and Seguin.

All told, he has just three goals and six points in 33 games.

Last year, Eaves was plagued with concussion issues but still managed to produce well, scoring 14 goals and 27 points in just 47 games.

After re-upping in Winnipeg, Byfuglien says leaving ‘never really crossed my mind’

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There was some speculation Dustin Byfuglien would be out of Winnipeg by the Feb. 29 trade deadline or, failing that, when free agency hit on July 1.

But according to him, leaving was never really an option.

“I’ve been here five years and from where we’ve started and where we’re at now, I don’t feel as an organization or a group that we’re far off,” Byfuglien told TSN 1290 on Monday, after inking a big five-year, $38 million extension with the Jets. “My family and I have found Winnipeg nice, and we’re very happy to stay here.

“It never really crossed my mind of going anywhere, and I’m excited to be a Jet.”

Prior to this extension, though, some thought leaving had definitely crossed Byfuglien’s mind.

Back in mid-December, the Free Press reported his initial ask was a whopping eight-year, $55 million deal. Some viewed that as his first potential step out the door.

It would’ve been big money and a lot of term for the Jets to commit, especially given 1) Byfuglien is 30, 2) the team still hasn’t signed captain Andrew Ladd, and 3) the club has some prized youngsters that need new deals this summer, specifically Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba. (In that same Free Press report, Trouba’s ask was $56 million over eight years.)

Then, there was Byfuglien at All-Star weekend.

When asked about his future — sign, trade or head to free agency? — Byfuglien said he had “no problem” with Winnipeg, adding “I just want to put on a jersey, to be honest with you.”

Some, like TSN’s Frank Seravalli, who was in attendance for the Byfuglien media scrum, noted the response “did not exactly sound like a ringing endorsement.”

Of course, Byfuglien later clarified his remarks following the All-Star Game.

“Yeah, I’d love to,” he told reporters when asked about re-signing in Winnipeg. “I’ve met a lot of good people and now some really good friends. I’ve been here for a long time. You never want to leave home. I’ve been here long enough; my family has been here and I’ve had two kids here.

“It’s somewhere you don’t want to leave.”

And now — well, for the next five years anyway — Byfuglien won’t have to.