toughroadforbuff

World Junior Championships force Buffalo Sabres to deal with tough ‘boomerang’ schedule

Last season, I thought Roberto Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks would probably not be able to win the Northwest Division thanks to an NHL record 12-game road trip before and after the 2010 Olympic games. Instead, the Sedin twins played the kind of hockey that would help earn Henrik Sedin an unexpected Hart Trophy while the team managed to win their division despite that challenge.

Of course, the Canucks were (and are) the kind of Stanley Cup contending team that stands well above their division mates. The Buffalo Sabres will deal with a similar – though nowhere near as long – bit of turmoil thanks to the 2011 World Junior Championships being held at HSBC Arena. (And the city won’t even receive the benefit of uniform good press, judging by the fact that Emerson Etem called Buffalo a “ghost town” on Twitter today.)

Stu Hackel of Sports Illustrated thinks that the Sabres are getting “screwed” by the schedule makers during this upcoming stretch. Here is how it breaks down for Buffalo:

  • A back-to-back out in Western Canada, as they lost a road game against the Calgary Flames tonight and will play the Oilers in Edmonton on Tuesday.
  • Then the Sabres get the one home game that Hackel said they requested during the WJC tournament’s “off-day,” a contest against the Boston Bruins on New Year’s day.
  • After that, they “boomerang” right back to the Western Conference, with road contests against the Avalanche on Tuesday, Sharks on Thursday and Coyotes on Saturday.

Hackel explains how the league handled a similar situation differently with the Ottawa Senators before and how these types of tough road trips hurt – and will continue to hinder – even some of the league’s best teams. (Let alone a struggling bunch like the Sabres.)

Now, when the Ottawa Senators hosted the WJC in 2008-09, they went west for three games, then came back to play in Toronto and New Jersey. That’s a reasonable schedule, but, for some reason, it was no template for this year. The Sabres are eight points south of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and 1-4-2 in their past seven road games while being outscored 22-11.

To make matters worse, the Sabres will begin their boomerang trip and what could be the defining portion of their schedule by adjusting to the loss of their top offensive player, Derek Roy. Roy tore his left quadricep tendon on Thursday after being checked by Florida’s Dmitry Kulikov and falling into the boards. Roy is scheduled for surgery this week.

The road has also been treacherous this season for other clubs. The Kings, for example, were on top of the Western Conference earlier this season, went on an extended trip and lost five of six. The Canadiens have dropped three of the first four games on their current seven-game voyage (including Sunday night to the Islanders who — gasp! — have now grabbed nine of a possible 10 points in their last five games, led by NHL First Star of the Week, goalie Dwayne Roloson). The Flyers are about to embark on their biggest road trip of the season and will play nine of their next 10 away from Philly. Without Chris Pronger, it should be a very telling stretch.

Hackel points to quotes from Sabres GM Darcy Regier, who rightly points out that every team has to deal with its share of road challenges. Yet, when you consider Buffalo’s tenuous position as a playoff hopeful team – and the potential destructive effect of Derek Roy’s injury – this could be the end of the road for the Sabres’ shaky postseason dreams.

Kings put Gaborik on IR because of lower-body injury

Los Angeles Kings' Marian Gaborik celebrates his goal against the Boston Bruins during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Boston Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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By Marian Gaborik‘s often-fragile standards, he’s been relatively sturdy as a member of the Los Angeles Kings.

Still, few should be shocked when they hear of a lower-body injury for the veteran winger. In this case, it’s serious enough to land him on injured reserve, as the team announced on Saturday.

Gaborik had a bumpy time with zero points from Jan. 9-23, but he’s been more productive lately, scoring five points in his past seven contests.

And, again, it was an unusually healthy run for Gaborik:

LA Kings Insider’s Jon Rosen indicates that Gaborik was placed on IR in part so that the Kings could make room for Peter Budaj.

Minnesota Wild fire Mike Yeo

Minnesota Wild head coach Mike Yeo talks to Jason Zucker (16) in the first period of an NHL preseason hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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Update: The Minnesota Wild made it official. Still no word yet on a replacement.

***

It looks like the Minnesota Wild have no love left for Mike Yeo on Valentine’s Day weekend.

Apparently an eighth consecutive loss (falling to the Boston Bruins) was the final straw, as Yeo has been fired, according to Chad Graff of the Pioneer Press and Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Yeo confirmed as much via text (pauses for comment about this being a strange time for us all) to Russo:

The Wild haven’t made an official announcement yet. The writing certainly seemed to be on the wall with Graff reporting that there were especially long meetings between Minnesota management and Yeo after today’s loss to Boston.

Yeo mentioned that he wouldn’t quit following the game.

One big question remains: is GM Chuck Fletcher safe to work the trade deadline or will there be sweeping changes for the struggling Wild?

Also: who coaches them going forward? Will an assistant be bumped up to interim head coach or will the franchise go to someone looking for a gig? Perhaps this option …

Who knows, really. PHT will keep you up to date either way.

/paging Jacques Lemaire …

Cold for Clutterbuck? Illness sidelines Isles’ heavy-hitter

New York Islanders right wing Cal Clutterbuck (15) goes flying after tripping over Edmonton Oilers defenseman Brandon Davidson (88) in the third period of an NHL hockey game in New York, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016. The Islanders defeated the Oilers 8-1. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
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The Carolina Hurricanes probably can save a few ice buckets tonight, as the New York Islanders will be without winger Cal Clutterbuck.

The Isles announced that Clutterbuck won’t play on Saturday because of an illness. Their next game is against the Detroit Red Wings on Monday, and then they don’t suit up again until Thursday, so Clutterbuck’s sickness may not be too much of a nuisance.

According to Yahoo’s numbers, the amusingly named forward has delivered 55 hits in 14 career games against the Canes (not to mention a solid five points).

Matt Martin‘s among the most frequent hitters in the league, too, so it’s not like the Hurricanes will leave tonight’s game totally unscathed.

Here are the Islanders’ tweaked forward lines:

If Wild want Yeo out, they’ll probably need to fire him

Minnesota Wild head coach Mike Yeo argues a call in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Nashville Predators Tuesday, March 17, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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If the Minnesota Wild want to make a coaching change, it sounds like Mike Yeo won’t make it easy for them by stepping down.

“I’m not freaking quitting here,” Yeo said to reporters including the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Michael Russo.

It also sounds like Yeo realizes that Minnesota’s morbid losing streak – now at a worrisome eight games – may very well cost him his job.

The scene sounded pretty somber after today’s loss to the Boston Bruins, and not in your usual way.

https://twitter.com/ChadGraff/status/698629021232455680

Yikes.

Firing Yeo would be a big step for the Wild, even more than usual, as he began his coaching stint in 2011. GM Chuck Fletcher was hired in 2009, so the two have been attached at the hip since then.

(And they got to know each other well in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.)

Will one or both be gone, possibly in the near future? Even Yeo admits big changes can happen.

Wild players, meanwhile, just seem beaten down … and maybe ambivalent about Yeo?