Heading into an emotional return to Carolina, Cam Ward was the focus of Monday’s Blackhawks – Hurricanes game. Ward didn’t get the last laugh as he faced his old team, yet it was Brent Seabrook who absorbed most of the mockery.
While Ward was on the ice trying in vain to stop Sebastian Aho from scoring the 3-2 overtime winner, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you kept your eyes trained on Ward … or Aho alone, for that matter. Instead, make sure you watch Seabrook during that decisive goal, and there are high odds that you’ll get a good laugh.
(Unless you’re a Chicago Blackhawks fan. Fans tend to miss the humor in eight-game losing streaks.)
This is one of those instances where you should stick it out deeper into the video, as the best angles of Seabrook’s unintentionally funny defense crop up around the 30-ish second mark:
That moment of levity was just part of a rocky night for Seabrook.
The Blackhawks built a 2-0 lead, yet former Chicago forward Teuvo Teravainen began the comeback with a power-play goal after Seabrook was whistled for delay of game. Seabrook also drew the ire of Jordan Martinook by boarding Hurricanes rookie Andrei Svechnikov:
Ward wasn’t able to protect that lead and gain a win against his former team, but the Hurricanes still embraced their longtime goalie, including rolling with the type of tribute video you’d expect:
The Blackhawks were on a five-game losing streak when they fired Joel Quenneville. So far, new head coach Jeremy Colliton hasn’t enjoyed the honeymoon period that a team often experiences after such a change, as he’s 0-for-3 in trying to get his first win as an NHL head coach.
You can forgive Cam Ward for wondering if he’s shuffled off from a playoff drought with the Hurricanes to what could be a painful stretch for his new team in the Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks have two eight-game losing streaks in their last 50 games.
There are only four games on the NHL schedule Monday night, but they feature a couple of intriguing storylines worth watching.
First, in Carolina, former long-time Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward will be making his return as a visiting player for the first time when he is expected to the start for the Chicago Blackhawks. He will be trying to help them snap their seven-game losing streak and get them their first win under new head coach Jeremy Colliton.
Ward did not play when the two teams met in Chicago (a 4-3 Hurricanes win) this past week.
Ward is certain to get a warm welcome, and already did when he first arrived in the arena on Monday.
Ward’s time with the Hurricanes is a complicated one.
On one hand, he spent 13 years as the primary starting goalie for the team. That is, to say the least, a long-time, and there are not many goalies that spend that much with one franchise. So it is always going to be a big deal when — or if — they return as a visiting player. But goaltending was a constant thorn in the Hurricanes’ side during Ward’s time with the team and that is usually what his time there is remembered for to everyone outside of Raleigh.
But, he is still a significant part of the team’s history for helping the Hurricanes win their first and only championship during the 2005-06 season. And he played a huge role in that title.
Ward was a rookie during the 2005-06 season, and even though he only appeared in 28 games during the regular season, he was a rock for the team in the playoffs with a .920 save percentage, picking up 15 of the team’s 16 wins during the postseason. That run included two shutouts, including one in the Stanley Cup Final, as he took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
The Hurricanes only made the playoffs one other time during Ward’s tenure with the team (a trip to the Eastern Conference Final in 2009 when they were swept by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins).
But banners hang forever, and thanks in large part to Ward’s contributions as a rookie the Hurricanes have one.
That should never be forgotten if you are a Hurricanes fan, no matter what happened after that.
The other intriguing game on the Monday schedule is in Anaheim where the Ducks are hosting the NHL-leading Nashville Predators.
The intrigue here isn’t so much with the game itself, because, quite honestly, it looks to be a rather one-sided matchup on paper. Nashville is rolling — again — while the Ducks are going in the complete opposite direction and trending toward the bottom of the league.
What stands out with this one is it could be another chapter in the ongoing personal feud between Predators center Ryan Johansen and Ducks center Ryan Kesler. They do not like each other. At all.
For a quick refresher, refer back to this August post from our Sean Leahy highlighting the feud that was continued with this Tweet from Kesler over the summer.
@RyanJohansen19 How’s summer training going? Want to meet me in the streets before we get going on the ice?
Things really escalated between the two during the 2017 Western Conference Final (which Johansen and the Predators won) and consisted of some back-and-forth trash talk between the two.
Among the highlights:
Johansen to Kesler: “Nobody likes you”
Johansen on Kesler: “I don’t know how you cheer for a guy like that.”
Kesler on Johansen: “He’s not my friend. He’s not going to be my friend. He can say whatever he wants.”
So there is that little backstory.
Kesler, who was limited to just 44 games a season ago due to injury, only played in one of the Ducks’ three games against the Predators so we really have not seen them have a chance to renew their relationship on the ice since that Western Conference Final series.
In the one game they did face each other since then the two spent five minutes on the ice together and, of course, got into a fight late in the second period.
Shortly after Blake Wheeler exploded for a career-high five-point night on Friday, the labels began to flow from the mouths of those affiliated with the Winnipeg Jets.
In a paraphrased sentence of several combined players and a coach, it looked like this:
“Blake Wheeler is an elite player, the heartbeat of Jets and the guy who drives the bus.”
If we are to extrapolate on this joint statement of sorts, we can glean that Wheeler enjoys high regard among his closest peers, is the most vital organ to his NHL team and the man who leads its charge.
Of course, a five-point night from anyone in the NHL will often lead to superlatives by the truckload. And Wheeler undoubtedly deserved the due recognition he received from his teammates after a special night at the rink.
The thing is, his teammates and coaches have always known. They see his work ethic and what the 32-year-old puts in so that he’s able to produce at the level he does. It’s normal to hear those closest to a team heap praise on their comrades.
But pilling on plaudits outside of Winnipeg’s sphere? It hasn’t always been the case for the Jets captain.
Wheeler’s underrated status has tagged alongside him for much of his career. The argument can be made that, up until last year, Wheeler was known as a good player — a productive power forward — but not one that came with the same clout as, say, a Nikita Kucherov.
Then Wheeler hit 91 points, tied for the NHL lead in assists with 63 and finished eighth in Hart Trophy voting last season. Many started to wake up to Wheeler’s worth, even if he was a near-point-per-game player for several seasons prior.
The highlights from Friday night’s game were a clinic on what an elite passer looks like. Wheeler’s nine-game point streak is nothing to scoff at.
Yet, the underrated label endures. Last week, Wheeler was voted the third-most underrated player in the NHL by 61 of his peers, behind Aleksander Barkov and Nicklas Backstrom. Given that Wheeler has always seemed to operate in the shadows of the league’s top righties, it wasn’t all that surprising.
What might surprise you to know that since 2011, Wheeler has the third most assists among right-handed shots in the NHL, behind only Claude Giroux and Patrick Kane, neither of whom would be categorized as underrated.
There’s more, too. In all situations, here’s where Wheeler sits in a variety of categories during that time frame.
Primary points/60: 3rd
Primary assists/60: 1st
Primary assists: 1st (226)
Expected goals-for: 3rd
I suspect if you polled players for each position around the league as to who they think of first when they hear ‘Winnipeg Jets’, it might go something like this:
Perhaps Wheeler falls victim to a little of the ‘East Coast Bias’ we often hear about.
Taylor Hall, for instance, admitted on the Spitting Chicklets podcast last week that he probably benefited from some of that bias when it came pipping Nathan MacKinnon to the Hart Trophy last year.
It’s possible Wheeler, a fellow Central Division player like MacKinnon, gets overshadowed in that regard as well.
“I don’t have an answer for you on that,” Jets head coach Paul Maurice said on Saturday.
Maurice has opened the taps of praise for Wheeler many times during his Jets tenure. Maurice says Wheeler’s dominance isn’t lost in coaching circles.
“I know that other coaches do [notice Wheeler],” Maurice said. “So when you’re at the coaches meetings in the summer or you have colleagues you talk to, especially guys after you play, it’s like, ‘My god, Blake Wheeler is a dominant man out there.’ And they really see it, probably because he didn’t have a 50-goal season at 21 or 22 that brought the spotlight to him.
“He really built his game over the years, maybe in kind of the way Mark Scheifele did it early on in the first two or three [years]. He didn’t explode in his first few years. They are always very exciting young players that come in and put up numbers that are designated superstars from a young age. I think Blake has built this. He’s built his body to a machine that can drive as hard as anybody I’ve ever coached. And all of that has led to the skills I think he always possessed coming out.”
Arguably, the most important part of the any Winter Classic has now been squared away.
The Chicago Blackhawks unveiled their slick new threads to the hockey world on Thursday night, completing the 1930s inspired look that will take center stage on Jan. 1 when they meet the Boston Bruins at Notre Dame Stadium (1 p.m. ET, NBC).
When it became clear that Jeremy Colliton would become the new head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks – and, at 33, easily the youngest bench boss in the NHL – the most common reaction was probably, “Who?”
The fresh-faced coach is jumping right into the fray, as Colliton will debut against the Carolina Hurricanes – and similarly new head coach, Rod Brind’Amour – on Thursday.
Blackhawks fans and many people around the hockey world may find an introduction useful, so let’s get to it.
It was ultimately irresistible to use a photo from Colliton’s New York Islanders days, as that head of lettuce was really on-point:
The Islanders selected Colliton in the second round (58th overall) back in 2003. He began bouncing between the Islanders and the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers in 2005-06, ultimately finishing with three goals and three assists for six points in 57 NHL games. He last played for the Islanders in 2010-11, eventually making his way to Sweden to play for Mora IK, where his coaching career commenced.
That work helped him land a job in the Blackhawks’ organization as the head coach of the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs in 2017-18. Colliton managed a 40-28-4-4 record during his lone season as an AHL head coach, while Rockford swept its way through the first two rounds of the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs before falling in the third round.
“I just remember the locker room having the right vibes all the time,” Hayden said. “The most recent memory for me was our success in the playoffs, how he managed our team, players individually and the team overall. And he’s not that far removed from playing pro hockey himself, so I think he can use that to his advantage.”
“Jeremy and I played together when we were 11,” Seabrook said. “We played summer hockey together, we played against each other and our team invited him to a tournament. I can’t even remember when it was, I’ll have to ask my Dad, but it was a long time ago …”
/needs to sit down for a minute.
What kind of coach might he be?
(As you can see, Colliton looks far more clean-cut and sharp now, although his hockey hair was absolutely first-rate back in his playing days.)
When a new coach takes over – particularly one without any previous NHL experience – it can be difficult to get a handle on what makes them tick.
That’s especially true since there are so many catch-all buzzwords that just about any head coach will roll out. Everyone wants to keep the puck in the attacking zone as much as possible. Virtually anyone wants to be aggressive.
With that in mind, you’re searching for needles in a haystack, especially since Colliton is being thrown right into the thick of things as the season’s underway.
From reading through various accounts from players and colleagues, it sure seems like Colliton may be broadly defined as a “players’ coach.” Quenneville seemed willing to change in certain areas, yet he also came across as gruff, so there could at least be a nice “honeymoon period.” Multiple people mention that he rarely yells, and that approach may very well speak to players in refreshing ways.
Considering that he’s 33, could Colliton be more innovative? We’ll gradually find out in how he deploys the team, yet the initial rumblings indicate that he’s open-minded about analytics.
Asked my best Hawks source about Colliton: “He likes analytics & is open to all information, good communicator and motivator. His teams play with energy, that will be the biggest, most noticeable difference. Really smart hockey guy, good guy. I think he will be great.”
It’s my opinion that, broadly speaking, Quenneville got as much as one could expect out of a Blackhawks roster that – while still boasting some premium, if aging talent – has some major flaws, particularly on defense and from a depth standpoint.
Still, just about any coach has strengths and weaknesses, and the Blackhawks consistently struggled to produce on the power play in recent years under Coach Q. Since 2016-17, the Blackhawks have converted on just 16.7-percent of their power-play opportunities, second only to the Arizona Coyotes.
That’s a pretty glaring weakness for a team that employs Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, so if Colliton can find a way to maintain Chicago’s previous strengths while boosting that power play to become an advantage (or even just upgrade it to league average), then this coaching change could look a lot better than critics might expect.
Overall, it doesn’t sound like Colliton is aiming for enormous changes, which makes sense since he lacks a training camp to institute major tweaks.
“Yeah, there’ll be some things that we adjust,” Colliton said, via ESPN’s Emily Kaplan. “I don’t think we’re going to have a huge amount of change. It’s, ‘Can we push on a few things, detail-wise, that can give us a little jump start?’ And then once we get our hands dirty here and we know [one another] a little better and play some games, then, yeah, things are going to come up and we’ll feel more comfortable and have a better feel for what we have to do.”
The Blackhawks and their new coach remain in a tough spot. For all we know, Chicago essentially handed Colliton hockey’s version of a live hand grenade, as he’s being asked to right the ship as the team is currently suffering from a five-game losing streak.
And it’s true that I’m on record of saying that the Blackhawks would actually be better off being lousy anyway, as it would help trigger a soft-rebuild. There’s absolutely a scenario where the Blackhawks crater under a wet-behind-the-ears head coach.
Yet, there’s also a chance that Colliton could be the breath of fresh air that Chicago needs to turn things around, even if turning things around merely means barely making the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs before bowing out early.
It should be fascinating to see how this proud team full of winners handles a new voice in the locker room. Things likely won’t be easy for Colliton, but there’s also an interesting opportunity for by-far the youngest coach in the NHL.
If nothing else, we’ll figure out who Jeremy Colliton is.