Ramblings: on the firing of Ken Hitchcock, Conor Sheary's injury and Marchand's elite play.
The Blues fired Ken Hitchcock yesterday, replacing him with Mike Yeo. This isn’t particularly surprising as this was their succession plan for once the season was done. They just accelerated the plan as they have struggled through a transition season.
The Blues have been horribly inconsistent, especially in goal. Everyone wants to hang this coaching change on the goalies, which might be fair:
I feel like people haven't been talking enough about the fact that the Blues literally went from 1st to 30th in save percentage this season.— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) February 1, 2017
I don’t think that goaltending is the whole story here, however. The team has gotten younger after moving on from veterans David Backes, Troy Brouwer and Brian Elliott. Considering the contracts that Backes and Brouwer got, it is totally justifiable that the Blues let them go. Meanwhile, seeing how Elliott self-destruct in Calgary probably acts as some consolation that they didn’t technically downgrade by subbing in Carter Hutton as the backup.
Losing several important cogs from the locker room and putting head coach Ken Hitchcock in a lame duck situation looks like the recipe to disaster. Add in some subpar goaltending as a catalyst and you’ve got your coach firing soup.
As always, things need to hit unsustainable lows for a coach to get fired. In this case, it’s Allen’s save percentage that should rebound. The team has publicly acknowledged that Allen needs to find his confidence, but also that they aren’t doing him any favours. Perhaps shifting away from the lame duck coach will help in some manner.
Yeo has a reputation for riding his veterans but aside from stretching out Ryan Suter’s ice time to it’s conceivable limits, he wasn’t nearly as egregious as some might say. Also, this attitude isn’t all that different from Hitchcock’s. Paul Stastny and Alex Steen are already the top ice time getters among forwards on this roster.
What would be really intriguing is if Yeo went the other way, placing more trust in Vladimir Tarsenko in late-game situations that Hitchcock ever did. That could give Tarasenko a little more juice to rise in the scoring race.
One thing that doesn’t need solving is the Blues’ special teams. They rank in the top 10 in both power play (8th) and penalty kill (T10th) percentage. Hopefully they don’t go about making any changes in that regard.
Getting back to the goaltending: it should be mentioned that the Blues also fired goalie coach Jim Corsi. Ty Conklin and Martin Brodeur will take over these duties. I am not certain that they will fix Allen but perhaps a new voice will help. It has worked in the past.
On the flip side, if I were the Flames, I would have Corsi on the phone, seeing if he can come help Elliott get his game back on track. Elliott’s best years were with the Blues, working with Corsi.
It stinks that Hitchcock and Corsi have to hang for this team underwhelming but that’s the business. It’s also reflective of the trade market. I am sure that they would have loved to have made a trade to shake things up instead of firing Hitchcock but couldn’t find anything worthwhile.
This was a bullet that they needed to fire to help determine their direction going forward. If they can’t stick in the playoff race after switching up the coaching then it’s time to become sellers. If they hang around then maybe they buy instead. There is no question that Hitchcock, in his last season with the team would have wanted help for this season. Now the front office and Yeo can get on the same page with more of a long-term picture in mind.
Last night was damn near a nightmare scenario for the Bruins. Patrice Bergeron took a slap shot to the knee and had to leave the game but he would eventually return. Meanwhile, Tuukka Rask tweaked his groin but finished the game:
Tuukka Rask said he tweaked his groin on that full-split save in the third period, but that he was okay— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) February 2, 2017
Their season is over if either of those two gets hurt, let alone both.
Brad Marchand remains a revelation. Normally when a guy sees a big scoring spike as late in his career as he has you’re skeptical of it but with Marchand the underlying numbers back up what he has produced. He’s always been an efficient scorer and a driver of possession. Last season he brought shot volume to the mix, without losing his scoring efficiency. Now he has added the power play dynamic.
Marchand is averaging the most power play time of his career at 2:35 per game and it is trending upward as he is seeing top unit time of late. Two power-play goals for him last night pushes him to a career high 15 power-play points. That power-play scoring is the difference between being a 60-point guy and pushing a point-per-game pace. His three-point night now has him tied with Evgeni Malkin for third in league scoring.
It has taken an obscene run of scoring for Marchand to get up to this point-per-game pace. He has scored nine points in the last four games and 21 in the last 15. This extended run coincides with Bergeron getting his season back on track.
Bergeron has scored seven goals and 16 points in his last 17 games. That whole top line with Marchand, Bergeron and David Pastrnak is obscene. They tilt the ice with brilliant shot metrics and the ability to convert said shots at an elite rate (Bergeron’s early struggles notwithstanding.)
Marchand looks like a cinch for 70+ points but Claude Julien’s seemingly tenuous hold on the head coaching gig looms over all of this. Would a new coach break up the brilliant top line? Would he cut Marchand’s PP time? I think that Bergeron and Marchand have achieved a certain degree of Teflon but I cannot be certain.
I am less concerned about Marchand for this season than I am for future seasons. I traded for Marchand in a salary cap dynasty league thinking he would be a one-year rental as his new deal is far too long and expensive for my tastes and I can only drop him this summer or commit to him for the next eight years.
If he’s good for even half of those then it’s a bullet worth biting but those will be his age 29 through 32 years, which is right around when we’d expect his scoring to start falling off. Acknowledging that he has been a late bloomer, it’s not as though this talent hasn’t been there but rather that the opportunity hasn’t been. He has been playing tough minutes for Boston for years.
On the other hand, I committed to Kyle Okposo for a similar price and length of deal, at a similar age and he has been exactly what I hoped he would be moving to Buffalo, which is also nothing close to the elite performer that Marchand has been this season. But perhaps my concern is committing to both of these guys long term.
But I don’t have to make these decisions today. Marchand is producing ludicrous numbers right now and we should all enjoy it.
Also producing ludicrous numbers: the Washington Capitals. These guys have hit their stride. It feels like just a few weeks ago we were lamenting how Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom were skating fewer minutes and that it was hurting their production. Backstrom is now up to 51 points in 51 games, good for a tie for sixth in league scoring.
Meanwhile, Ovechkin is only four points back of Backstrom and three goals back from Sidney Crosby in the league’s goal-scoring race. As always, Ovechkin is the greatest goal-scorer of our generation. We all need to embrace him while he is still at the height of his powers. He is always the favourite for the Rocket Richard trophy to the point where pre-season bets should be Ovechkin vs. The Field.
John Carlson has been back for the past couple of games but Matt Niskanen has not been bumped down the pecking order. He continues to skate on the top PP unit and notched a pair of assists to give him 10 points in his last 10 games. Don’t be too excited about Niskanen, however. You can keep Niskanen around until he loses his spot but when Carlson is healthy, Niskanen always loses his spot eventually.
Brian Elliott has won two in a row! Good timing now that the Flames have fully moved to the “win and you’re in” approach in goal. I’m not sure I’m scooping up Elliott in any leagues, however. The Flames have three games remaining before their bye week starts next Wednesday and two of those are against the Rangers and Penguins.
If I were to pickup Elliott it would be for a spot start against the Devils on Friday and then to stash him thinking that he has finally found his form. But the problem is that if he loses any of those games then Chad Johnson comes back into play.
The bottom line with Elliott is that he hasn’t been able to string together multiple good starts this season and until he does we shouldn’t trust him.
If the playoffs started today the Wild would not have to play the Flames in the first round but this series is definitely in play, which should be a somewhat scary thought for the Wild. The Flames have moved to 3-0 against the Wild this season having held them to just three goals total. I’d still favour the Wild in that series, especially since the first two games in this series went to overtime (essentially coinflips) but last night got away from them in a big way.
Also, there is just a ton of animosity between these two owing somewhat to the slash that ultimately broke Johnny Gaudreau’s finger costing the superstar a month.
I guess what I am really saying is that while the Wild may not covet this matchup it’s definitely one we as fans should be rooting for.
While we are talking about the Wild, here’s a snippet from my latest Puck Daddy column, offering up some options to consider off the waiver wire:
Jason Pominville – RW – Minnesota Wild – 5% Owned: I thought we were done with Pominville but he is on quite the run of effectiveness, having scored 12 points in his last 12 games. He is clicking on a new third line with the recently demoted Zach Parise and Erik Haula.
Pominville also skates on the Wild’s second power play unit that is rapidly becoming their go-to unit. This bodes well for not only Pominville but also the scorching hot group of Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter, Mikko Koivu and Jared Spurgeon.
Granlund extended his scoring streak to 10 games and is blistering hot. The more the ice time continues to bend towards that “second unit” the more I am embracing the idea of Granlund as an elite option. It also has me thinking that the time to sell high on the likes of Charlie Coyle and Eric Staal has hit.
Where would the Kings be without Jeff Carter? Certainly not in a playoff spot. Carter is now all alone in second in the goal-scoring race with 26. He’s not going to win that race but being in the hunt is awfully impressive. It’s been damn near a decade since Carter’s last (and only) 40-goal season. He’s currently on pace for 42 but I would suspect he falls just short.
It took Anze Kopitar long enough but he is back in superstar form with 15 points in 13 games since we flipped over to 2017.
Coach Sullivan says that Conor Sheary has an upper-body injury. He will be out 4-6 weeks.— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) February 1, 2017
That’s a heartbreaker for those who enjoyed his run of elite play alongside Sidney Crosby. This does create an opening up front, which means all new opportunity for you to raid the waiver wire. You might potentially see Bryan Rust jump back onto the top line on his off wing in replacement of Sheary, while Patric Hornqvist sticks on the right side but that wouldn’t be my top choice.
I prefer Jake Guentzel or Chris Kunitz in this spot. My gut says Kunitz is the guy. We all know how difficult it has been to find chemistry with Crosby, Kunitz has done it in the past. Especially with Evgeni Malkin out, finding some normalcy is this lineup should be paramount. That said, Guentzel is way more talented and I would love to see him get a crack.
The Canadiens placed Mark Barberio on waivers yesterday. I understand that the Canadiens have a logjam of defensemen having gotten Greg Pateryn and Andrei Markov back from injury plus the trade acquisition of Nikita Nesterov but Barberio has been an analytics community favourite for a while now. The Canadiens seem to have exposed a good one here.
Someone should claim him. There’s an argument for 25 different teams to take a shot. Who doesn’t need depth on defense? That list should start and end with the Colorado Avalanche, however. You know, the team shopping its best forwards for help on defense. Leave no stone unturned here. Your current defensemen stink and you can get a new one for free.
Barberio wouldn’t be a solution for Colorado, but he could still help. Should they pass, you can continue on down the list of teams who could use a third pairing guy who has boasted positive shot metrics in every season since making the leap.
Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.
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