Brett Hull

Assessing the fortunes of the Ducks, Panthers and Stars since NHL’s 1993 expansion

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It’s easy to cast a wide net of criticism on the NHL’s expansion to “non-traditional” markets. Looking at the struggles of teams such as the defunct Atlanta Thrashers and the struggling Phoenix Coyotes, one might make a generalization that the game cannot translate to these warmer climates.

That doesn’t mean that every experiment has been a failure, however. Too Many Men on the Site’s Jenna Barley took an interesting look at the fortunes of three franchises that cropped up in unusual markets in 1993: the Anaheim (formerly Mighty) Ducks, Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers. Naturally, it’s important to note that the Stars had a leg up on the expansion Ducks and Panthers because they inherited the Minnesota North Stars’ roster, but it’s still interesting to take a big picture view of some of the NHL’s biggest steps into atypical hockey markets.

Barley found that the three clubs have had some interesting ups and downs since being introduced almost 20 years ago. PHT will expand on her commentary with some notes and insights of our own.

Anaheim Ducks

No doubt about it, the Ducks grew mightier once they cut ties with their Disney movie past. As the Mighty Ducks, they made the playoffs just four out of 12 seasons, though they made spirited runs in two of their last three campaigns. Trading for Chris Pronger surely made a bigger difference than changing the team name, but it is interesting that they won their only Stanley Cup during their first season (06-07) as the plain new Ducks. The sans-Mighty Ducks managed to make the postseason if four of five seasons, bringing the franchise’s grand total to eight in 17 seasons – not awful for a team that many considered a joke even when Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya were tearing things up.

Dallas Stars

Again, Dallas inherited plenty of talent from the Minnesota North Stars days, particularly in the form of franchise player Mike Modano. It seems like the team picked the right time to peak when they won the Stanley Cup in 1998-99 as other local teams such as the Cowboys and Mavericks weren’t having much success. The Stars made the playoffs in 11 of their first 13 seasons, but things have been rocky lately – they’ve gone three straight seasons without making a postseason appearance.

Next season should prove pivotal for a franchise that many cite as a shiny example of successful “Sun Belt” expansion, as the team hopes to get a new owner in place and turn things around with new head coach Glen Gulutzan. Overall, the teams’ been a success but they need to find their way in the post-Modano days.

Florida Panthers

Barley points out that the Panthers were competitive out of the gate, which is pretty impressive since expansion teams are built from scratch.

The Florida Panthers had a very successful first four seasons in the NHL.  They were only one point away from a playoff spot in both the inaugural and second seasons of 1993-1994 and 1994-1995.  In their 3rd season (1995-1996), the Panthers made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, only to be swept by the Colorado Avalanche.  They again made the playoffs in 1996-1997, but never made it past the first round.

The Panthers had their highest point season in 1999-2000 with 98 points (43-33-6-6).  They also made the playoffs again that year, with a strong Pavel Bure leading the way.  However, they were swept in the first round by the New Jersey Devils and have never made the playoffs since.  The Panthers have gone through 8 coaches since then and 11 since the team inception, but the Panther’s hope that with Kevin Dineen this upcoming season, they can break their 11 year playoff drought.

It’s easy to critique new GM Dale Tallon’s frantic series of moves during his second summer running the team, but the hope is that the Panthers can find two things they haven’t seen much of since Ed Jovanovski was a much younger “Jovocop”: stability and focus. From different coaches to general managers, the team has had too many cooks in the kitchen over the last decade; if that trend stops, the Panthers flailing ways might come to end as well.

***

The Ducks, Stars and Panthers have had their ups and downs, but even Florida can point to moments in which they played on hockey’s biggest stage. Each teams have reasons for optimism but also plenty of reasons for concern, which means that it’s still too early to be certain if these teams will ultimately be seen as successes or failures.

Capuano firing puts focus on Snow

BETHPAGE, NY - SEPTEMBER 09:  (L-R) Head coach Jack Capuano, John Tavares, and General Manager Garth Snow of the New York Islanders pose for a photo during a press conference naming John Tavares the New York Islanders team captain at Carlyle on the Green on September 9, 2013 in Bethpage, New York.  (Photo by Andy Marlin/Getty Images)
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A coaching change is rarely made without management shouldering some, or much, of the blame.

Case in point, last year, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford admitted that he was partly to blame for his team’s struggles, “because I didn’t get the defensemen that were necessary to have more movement from the back end.”

But Rutherford fired Mike Johnston anyway, and we all know where Mike Sullivan led the Pens, with some help from his GM.

Today, Jack Capuano was fired after a lengthy run as the head coach of the New York Islanders. And while there was certainly a case to be made for the move, GM Garth Snow will not, and should not, escape blame. The Isles’ roster is littered with underperformers, and it starts with Andrew Ladd, the team’s big offseason acquisition.

Halfway through the season, Ladd has just eight goals and four assists. He also turned 31 in December and is signed through 2022-23 for a cap hit of $5.5 million. 

Nikolay Kulemin is another aging, overpaid winger. So is 37-year-old Jason Chimera. For some reason, Cal Clutterbuck got a five-year, $17.5 million extension. He hits a lot, sure, but he only has three goals in 40 games. Meanwhile, Nino Niederreiter, whom the Isles traded to get Clutterbuck, has turned into an impact player for the Wild.

And we haven’t even mentioned the goaltending situation, which remains in flux. Thomas Greiss has been the Isles’ only good netminder this season. Greiss is also a 30-year-old pending unrestricted free agent who will undoubtedly be looking for a raise.

Now, do the Isles have some good, young prospects? Yes, they do. Mathew Barzal, Kieffer Bellows, Anthony Beauvillier, Michael Dal Colle, and Josh Ho-Sang all have real potential.

But management and ownership have a major task ahead of them in re-signing John Tavares, who can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018. So far, the captain has said he wants to stay. But with just 24 playoff games on his NHL resume, he’s also said he wants to have success.

“I think for myself, I’ve always shown and talked about my commitment here,” Tavares said recently. “Wanting to have success here and keep building on some of the good things we’ve done. Obviously, this [low] point’s been disappointing.”

It was reported back in December that the club’s new owners, Scott Malkin and Jon Ledecky, had been searching for a “big name” to run the team. The Isles denied the report, but it immediately set off speculation about Snow’s future.

Don’t expect that speculation to die down now that Capuano has been shown the door. Snow was actually asked today if he thought his job was safe.

“I don’t even worry about that,” he told reporters.

It’s beyond his control anyway. All he can do now is hope for a miraculous turnaround. The Isles start a six-game home stand Thursday. They’re currently dead last in the Eastern Conference, eight points back of the second wild-card spot.

“We need to turn this ship around,” said Snow, “and I really have a lot of confidence in our coaching staff and in our players.”

Of course, he’s said that before.

Goalie nods: Interesting times in St. Louis, as Hutton makes third straight start

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 01: Carter Hutton #40 of the St. Louis Blues stops a shot by Vincent Hinostroza #48 of the Chicago Blackhawks during a preseason game at the United Center on October 1, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Jake Allen‘s had trouble adjusting to life as the Blues’ No. 1 netminder — see here, here, here and here — and now, he’s getting an awfully long look at St. Louis’ No. 2.

Tonight, Carter Hutton will make his third consecutive start when the Blues host the Sens at Scottrade. The decision to stick with Hutton comes after he stopped 55 of 56 shots in back-to-back wins over the Sharks and Ducks — on the road, no less — and posted a 23-save shutout in San Jose on Saturday.

Allen, meanwhile, hasn’t played since a 5-1 loss to Los Angeles last Thursday in which he was hooked in favor of Hutton. That was, somewhat infamously, when Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock dropped some pretty frank talk on his beleaguered No. 1.

“This is really on the athlete. There’s times in your young career where you just said you’ve had enough and then you’ve got to go turn it around the other way,” Hitchcock said of Allen’s struggles. “He’s in a position where he’s the guy that has to really take charge here.

“He’s got to man-up and get better.”

Allen, 26, was tasked with carrying the load this season after the Blues dealt Brian Elliott to Calgary at the draft. His status as the club’s No. 1 was cemented with a four-year, $17.4 million deal signed not long after. But things haven’t gone to plan since — Allen’s struggled all year, and is currently saddled with a .900 save percentage and 2.76 GAA.

This latest development is really compelling. For most of the year, Hitch has adhered to the “he’s our guy, we gotta stick with him” philosophy with Allen — until now. Perhaps Hitch is tired of waiting. Or perhaps he sees Nashville in the rear view — the Preds have won three straight, and are now just four points back of St. Louis in the Central.

For the Sens, Mike Condon starts in goal.

Elsewhere…

— More of the same for the red-hot ‘Canes, who will give Cam Ward his 20th consecutive start. No word yet on who goes for the host Blue Jackets, as Sergei Bobrovsky has been dealing with an illness.

Henrik Lundqvist‘s trusty backup, Antti Raanta, is out until the All-Star break with a lower-body injury, so it’s King Henrik in goal for the foreseeable future. No word yet on who Dallas will start, though Kari Lehtonen did play in yesterday’s loss to Buffalo.

Robin Lehner, fresh off a 31-save win over Dallas on Monday, is back in for the Sabres. He’ll be up against Frederik Andersen in Toronto.

— The Devils will stick with Cory Schneider after he beat the Canucks in Vancouver on Sunday. The host Wild are going with Devan Dubnyk, who continues to be lights-out this season.

— It’s Roberto Luongo versus Chad Johnson as the Panthers take on the Flames in Calgary.

Semyon Varlamov, who’s lost his first two games since returning from a groin injury, will get the start in Colorado as the Avs host the Blackhawks. Chicago counters with Corey Crawford.

Jonathan Bernier took advantage of a rare start on the weekend, shutting out the Coyotes, but the Ducks will go back to John Gibson when the host the Bolts. Tampa Bay has yet to announce a starter, but Ben Bishop did play (and win) yesterday in L.A.

Ryan Miller gets back in goal for Vancouver after Jacob Markstrom played against New Jersey on Sunday. Looks like Miller will face off against Pekka Rinne, who starts for the visiting Preds.

Isles fire Capuano

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24: Jack Capuano of the New York Islanders leaves the ice following a 2-1 victory over the Florida Panthers in Game Six of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on April 24, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Islanders won the game 2-1 to win the series four games to two. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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After a disappointing campaign that’s seen numerous calls for his job, Jack Capuano has been fired by the Islanders.

Assistant GM Doug Weight, who also served as a bench coach on Capuano’s staff, will take over the gig on an interim basis.

Capuano’s dismissal come with the Isles sitting dead last in the Eastern Conference, with a 17-17-8 record and just 42 points. They’re eight back of Philly for the final wild card spot, though the club did just put forth one of its best efforts of the season in Monday’s 4-0 win over the Bruins at TD Garden.

Despite that, the Isles are still a far cry from where they were last season, when they qualified for their second straight playoff appearance and won a round for the first time since 1993.

The team underwent some significant changes this offseason — Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo and Matt Martin left in free agency, while Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera came aboard — and never seemed to gel. Ladd and Chimera have disappointed, the defense and goaltending have been suspect (24th in GAA) and special teams have been a constant problem (26th-ranked PP, 21st-ranked PK).

There was hope former first-round pick Ryan Strome would take another step forward in his progression, but it hasn’t happened. And the club’s talented prospects — Mathew Barzal, Michael Dal Colle, Josh Ho-Sang — were deemed too young and inexperienced to play this season.

As a result, Capuano openly questioned how the club would compensate for the offseason departures.

“Where are we going to get point production?” Capuano asked reporters earlier this month. “One hundred and thirty-four points out of our lineup that we lost. Now we have to find a way. Like everything gets magnified, I get it. You guys are talking about the (losses) lately…but we have to find a way to get some balanced offense in our hockey team.”

There was also a constant issue with the club’s three-goalie setup, only recently alleviated with the waiving and AHL demotion of Jaroslav Halak — which came after Caupano called Halak out for his poor play.

It’s worth noting that, earlier this season, Isles GM Garth Snow had given Capuano a vote of confidence. But time and patience apparently ran out. As a result, the NHL’s fourth longest-tenured head coach is no longer.

Tough day in Vancouver: Hutton out 3-6 weeks with fractured hand

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 23:  Ben Hutton #27 of the Vancouver Canucks trips Ryan Garbutt #16 of the Anaheim Ducks during the first period of a game at Honda Center on October 23, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Just a short while ago, the Canucks announced they were shutting down Anton Rodin — the Swedish Hockey League’s reigning MVP — with a troublesome knee injury that isn’t getting better.

Now, more bad news.

Sophomore defenseman Ben Hutton, just weeks removed from signing a two-year contract extension, has suffered a fractured hand and will miss the next 3-6 weeks of action.

Hutton hasn’t dressed since Jan. 6, when he played nearly 22 minutes in a win over Calgary. He sat out the next night’s game — and did so on late notice, forcing the Canucks to play with just five d-men — and now joins fellow blueliners Erik Gudbranson and Philip Larsen on the shelf.

The University of Maine product is a big piece of Vancouver’s defense. Prior to getting hurt, he had four goals and seven assists in 41 games while averaging 20:59 of ice time.

The 23-year-old burst onto the scene last year, and surprised many last year after making the team out of training camp and putting together an impressive campaign. A fifth-round pick in 2012, Hutton finished tied for second with Colton Parayko in rookie d-men in assists (24), trailing only Flyers standout Shayne Gostisbehere.

Hutton was then named to Team Canada’s gold-medal winning side at the 2016 World Hockey Championships.

Looking ahead, the Canucks project to ice a blueline featuring Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, Luca Sbisa, Nikita Tryamkin, Troy Stecher and Alex Biega tonight when they host the Predators.