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Will all this drama derail the Stars?

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The drama just never seems to stop for the Dallas Stars, although things do get kind of boring when this team actually tries to score goals. Worse yet, the Stars aren’t piling up PR losses alone any longer, as Dallas is now mired in a four-game losing streak.

The latest drama

Thursday presented the latest episode of “As the Stars Turn,” with embattled Stars coach Jim Montgomery deciding to bench Alexander Radulov – one of the team’s precious few actual scorers – for the remainder of the first period after an argument.

Such a tactic clearly isn’t about X’s and O’s, but instead about sending a message. If the message was sent, perhaps it was taken by carrier pigeon, as the results weren’t immediate. The Stars dropped a sad 2-1 loss to the lowly Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. During this span (all regulation losses), the Stars have scored a measly three goals. Total.

As Matthew DeFranks of the Dallas Morning News and others report, Radulov was able to cool off from his argument with Montgomery, eventually saying that his benching was “the right decision.”

Plenty of other people in the hockey world aren’t so easily convinced, and judging by Montgomery’s comments, even the coach might (deep down) have some second thoughts.

“Every decision we make is what’s best for the Dallas Stars, and at that moment, I thought that was best for the Dallas Stars,” Montgomery said. “When you’re struggling to score goals, it’s hard to do with a player of that caliber.”

In isolation, maybe Radulov did need to be reprimanded. The Athletic’s Sean Shapiro (sub. required) and others point out that Radulov had been drawing criticism for mental errors, including taking too-long shifts.

The questionable decisions and self-inflicted wounds really pile up when you look at the bigger picture, though. And that picture isn’t pretty.

Passing the buck

Ever since Stars CEO Jim Lites absolutely trashed Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn before the end of 2018, the Stars have suffered an almost unending run of embarrassing moments, and most of management’s wounds seem resoundingly self-inflicted.

After all, Lites went out of his way to throw Seguin and Benn under the bus, chiding bloggers to “write this!”

Since then, there’s been a steady stream of mistakes, and it doesn’t really seem like management is ever turning the discussion inward, at least on the record. Honestly, I almost picture Stars management transforming into Principal Skinner at some point.

Back in November, Montgomery discussed the Stars’ challenges in depth during a PHT Q&A, and it’s difficult to tell if anything’s changed for the better.

“Where we’ve got to get consistent is valuing our details that allow us to have success on nights when we don’t have legs. That’s where we have, I think, not embraced the process enough.”

All of the messaging seems to be about effort or “character.” Montgomery recently railed against a “culture of mediocrity,” but the thing is, that culture of mediocrity might just be plaguing the Stars’ front office more than the locker room.

This is a franchise that’s frequently failed when it comes to drafting, even whiffing on some crucial first-round picks. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn aren’t the ones who have bungled their way through a procession of three different head coaches in three seasons. GM Jim Nill and his staff were the ones who made mistakes like crossing their fingers that Martin Hanzal would somehow become a healthier player as he got older.

Maybe all of this bluster is an attempt to create a smokescreen around something that’s pretty obvious: management has failed to surround Benn, Seguin, Radulov, John Klingberg, and a few others with the proper supporting cast to succeed when they “don’t have their legs.”

Not hopeless yet

All things considered, it’s actually pretty amusing that the Stars would land in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs if they began today.

In fact, the Stars aren’t so far off from the Colorado Avalanche, who currently rest as the third seed in the Central Division (27-18-8 for 50 points in 47 games played, 21 regulation/overtime wins).

Sure, the West’s wild card races are starting to feel like that year in the NFC where the Seattle Seahawks made the NFL playoffs with a 7-9 record, but if the Stars can stumble their way into a playoff berth, maybe they should start to take a more positive approach?

After all, it sure doesn’t seem like anyone’s having fun. From a per-game perspective, the Stars are the third weakest scoring team in the NHL, but they’ve been able to grind out wins thanks to fantastic goaltending and pretty solid special teams work.

Walking such a tight rope can lead to frayed nerves, yet failing to support the players doing the balancing act may throw everything out of whack.

A four-game losing streak, and a tiny margin for error to maintain a playoff spot, sends a message. While management seems to believe that they need to push and humiliate their players, maybe they should instead provide them support with an upgrade in trades — and a pat on the back?

After all, their competition might be just as much of a mess, but they seem to get that memo.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The bleeding ends: Ducks finally halt record losing streak

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The agony is over.

The Anaheim Ducks have won for the first time in 2019 (and the first time since a 4-2 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 17), snapping a 12-game losing skid that earned the title of a franchise record.

Yes, the bleeding has ended, due in large part to John Gibson, who has been the one constant during the winless stretch. Gibson stopped 37 shots, including 10 on the power play for the shutout in a 3-0 win against the Minnesota Wild.

The Ducks got goals from Adam Henrique, Brian Gibbons and Rickard Rakell.

Devin Shore, who the Ducks picked up earlier this week in a trade that sparked the first of four in the span of 72 hours, added an assist. Derek Grant, who the Ducks traded for in a flurry of deals late Wednesday, played 16:21.

While Bob Murray’s moves didn’t dent the scoresheet too much, they certainly sent a message to the locker room. To be fair to the Ducks, they had been playing better as of late, only to have a couple games slip through the cracks, including a 4-3 overtime loss to the Winnipeg Jets and a 7-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins that should have been an Anaheim win if not for an epic implosion.

But that’s all history now with the losing streak coming to an end.

The Ducks won six of their first seven games in December and still sit in a three-way tie for the last wildcard spot in the Western Conference. With Gibson’s Vezina-caliber season so far, and the fact that a lot of teams in the West seem disinterested in distancing themselves from one another, the Ducks have as good a chance as any to sneak in the backdoor.

Breaking that losing streak was the start. What happens over the next few weeks is the next test.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Ducks make a hat trick of deals Wednesday as re-tooling continues

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When you’ve lost as many games in a row as the Anaheim Ducks have recently — and you’ve publicly backed your head coach — the only thing left to do is throw a stick of dynamite into the locker room to shake things up.

That’s precisely what Bob Murray has done over the last several hours (and the past couple of days). In fact, at the time of writing this, the top three posts on the Ducks’ website are three media releases involving trades. Scroll a little further down, and another trade appears.

That’s four trades in the span of three days. You can’t say Murray isn’t trying (although the debate will rage on whether these trades really move the needle at all).

The Ducks acquired center Justin Kloos from the Minnesota Wild for winger Pontus Aberg late Wednesday afternoon. Kloos, who has only played in one NHL game this season (and the rest in the American Hockey League for Iowa) led the Wild’s farm team in points and was tied for the most goals.

Aberg, meanwhile, has been a healthy scratch recently after initially showing well to start the season. Alas, his 11 goals and eight assists were cutting it, even if he was near the top of the Ducks’ scoring leaders.

[RELATED: Ducks get younger, ship Cogliano to Stars for Shore]

Michael Del Zotto was watching the Vancouver Canucks lose 3-2 in a shootout to the Edmonton Oilers when he was beckoned by Murray in exchange for fellow defenseman Luke Schenn and a seventh-round draft pick in 2020.

Del Zotto was a healthy scratch on Wednesday, something he’s been quite a bit this season. Schenn, meanwhile, has spent most of the season playing for the San Diego Gulls in the AHL.

And the last trade of the day brought a familiar face back to the west coast.

Forward Derek Grant returns to Anaheim after signing with the Pittsburgh Penguins as a free agent in the offseason. Grant played in 66 games last season with the Ducks, scoring 12 goals and adding 12 assists.

In 25 games with the Pens, he found the back of the net just twice, adding three helpers.

The Ducks sent center Joseph Blandisi the other way. Blandisi was a sweetener in the Adam Henrique-for-Sami Vatanen trade between Anaheim and the New Jersey Devils last season. He only played six games with the Ducks since arriving last winter, an has no goals and no points in those games.

Murray made his biggest splash on the first deal he made on Monday, sending Andrew Cogliano to Dallas for Devin Shore.

MORE: Who has the inside track in the Western Conference wildcard race?


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Stage set for Oilers to make panic trade

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If you want to make an Edmonton Oilers fan wince in pain, utter this line: “Peter Chiarelli isn’t done yet.”

It’s gotten to the point where a lot of hockey people wouldn’t trust Chiarelli to make a lunchroom snack trade with grade-school children, yet a bunch of factors point in the direction of another bold move … and in almost every case, bold trades have been unmitigated disasters for the Oilers.

Let’s consider the rumblings at hand.

  • On Monday, TSN’s Ryan Rishaug reported that the Oilers are in a “full-court press” to land some help at forward. They’re shopping three possible components according to Rishaug, with the two scariest components bolded to express my horror for Oilers fans: goaltender, first-round pickand “a young developing forward” are in play.

Now, it’s not necessarily guaranteed that the “young developing forward” could be Jesse Puljujarvi, but that brings us to an additional, well-sourced report that should make Oilers fans pour out flop-sweat, and any number of opportunistic opposing GMs lick their chops.

  • In the latest edition of 31 Thoughts on Wednesday, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman also confirms that the first-round pick is “definitely in play,” while depicting an internal tug-of-war regarding whether Puljujarvi should be dangled, as well.

Friedman also notes a crucial facet of this, and something that could really increase the chances of Chiarelli throwing up a Hail Mary pass, only to be intercepted by a waiting defender/happy GM:

It sounds like people above Chiarelli are taking a “playoff or bust” mentality.

This would be a concern with your run-of-the-mill, good-to-average GM. But with a GM who’s shot himself in the foot with trades so often, you’d think he didn’t have any toes left, it’s terrifying with Chiarelli.

(I mean, unless you’re rooting for one of the NHL’s other 30 teams. Then you’re calling for someone’s head if they aren’t calling Chiarelli every 15 minutes.)

Last week, Friedman noted in a 31 Thoughts podcast that executive suites and other ticket packages will be up for the Oilers after 2018-19, so the team has some very bottom-line-related reasons to chase a playoff spot, even if it means giving up dangerous value.

History repeating

In a more immediate sense, it feels like Chiarelli’s been more likely to make a one-for-one-type “hockey trade,” then moving a pick or prospect for a rental. After all, his most famous (Oilers) blunders involve Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson, Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome, and then somehow losing another Strome trade with Ryan Spooner (who the Oilers are – pause for laughter – already trying to shop).

Chiarelli’s history is really just a buffet of bad trades, though.

After all, one of his most notorious trades meant paying up Edmonton’s 2015 first and second-rounders for Griffin Reinhart, who’s currently playing in the AHL and hasn’t made an NHL appearance since 2015-16.

Dig deeper and you open old wounds, including to Chiarelli’s trades with Boston.

Looking at those days, it’s even scarier to trust Chiarelli’s speculative abilities when it comes to a young player’s future, whether it means making the right move with Puljujarvi (not easy for anyone right now, frankly) or determining if a rental is worth a first or even second-rounder.

After all, Chiarelli traded Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart for Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik. The disastrous Tyler Seguin trade has Chiarelli’s fingerprints all over it.

It’s not fair to lay the Nail Yakupov era at Chiarelli’s feet, yet that name brings up uncomfortable parallels for Puljujarvi. Edmonton faces a crisis here: is there potential that some other team might unlock in Puljujarvi once they trade for him, or could it be that he’ll continue to be exposed as a potential bust, ultimately leading to the Oilers getting very little for him if they trade him later?

(That agonizing groan you just heard came from Edmonton.)

One minor salve

This all seems like a disaster waiting to happen for Edmonton, and an opportunity for another team to sucker a desperate GM and franchise, right?

Probably, and that’s where things get worse once again: if Chiarelli believes – reasonably – that his job security is on the line, wouldn’t he be more likely to make reckless, short-sighted moves that hurt the franchise in the long run?

With that in mind, there might be one way for the Oilers to mitigate a larger-scale disaster, even if it might mean a lower ceiling for this season. The Athletic’s Jonathan Willis makes a very even-keeled suggestion (sub required): the Oilers should determine Chiarelli’s future in the next week, whether that means firing him or keeping him around.

Now, sure, more Chiarelli could open the door for more mistakes. In the grand scheme of things, he doesn’t seem to be learning from those mistakes.

Yet, making that decision now instead of later would at least help the Oilers avoid digging a hole even deeper for the would-be next GM, if they part ways with Chiarelli anyway.

After all, as Chiarelli said, other teams aren’t looking to help you come trade time, and the Oilers might just experience that sensation one last time under their much-maligned GM.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Morning Skate: Top NHL-affiliated prospects; rookie dinner stories

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• TSN hockey analyst Craig Button released his list of top 50 NHL-affiliated prospects. A couple of Russians are at the top of this list. (TSN.ca)

• Find out how Devils defenseman Damon Serverson became a fan of rodeo and bull-riding. (NJ.com)

• The Islanders have received some solid contributions from their fourth line, which is made up of Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin, and Cal Clutterbuck. (Newsday)

• Sports Illustrated’s Alex Prewitt did a little digging to find out what some players’ rookie dinner looked like. (Sports Illustrated)

• Coming into this season, Rasmus Dahlin was expected to be the top rookie defenseman in the NHL. Let’s just say that Miro Heiskanen is giving him a run for his money. (The Score)

• Where do the Minnesota Wild go from here? (The Hockey News)

• NHL.com had a sit down with Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois. (NHL.com)

• The Nashville Predators should look into trading for Panthers forward Mike Hoffman. (Predlines)

Patrick Maroon going home to St. Louis was a nice story, but it hasn’t worked out for either side. (St. Louis Game-Time)

• Over the course of the 1,000 games Brooks Orpik has played in his career, he’s had to adjust his game. (NBC Washington)

Jake Gardiner and Larry Murphy have a few things in common. First of all, they’ve both been booed by their home crowd in Toronto. (Canadian Press)

Matt Duchene plays “What’s in the Box” with Paul Bissonnette:

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.