Sometimes I write witty intros for these. Sometimes I don’t.
On Monday, the Nashville Predators fired long-time head coach Peter Laviolette and his associate coach Kevin McCarthy. Laviolette compiled a 248-143-60 record in his five-and-a-half seasons in Nashville, a stellar record that wasn’t enough to save him from the mediocre season his highly-touted group was turning in. When David Poile made the firing only a day before the Predators were set to play host to the Boston Bruins without simultaneously announcing an internal promotion, the rumour mill kicked into overdrive. Recently fired Pete DeBoer, recently fired Phil Housley, and recently fired John Hynes were all mentioned as leading candidates. You may have noticed a pattern.
On Tuesday, Nashville announced Hynes as only the franchise’s third ever head coach. While the Predators’ stability is worthy of some admiration, I do find myself a bit disheartened that there seems to have been no consideration of looking beyond the same narrow circle of the usual candidates. Elliotte Friedman spelled it out even more depressingly in his 31 Thoughts column on Wednesday:
It’s not hard to find reasons why Hynes was Nashville’s choice. The history with assistant GM Jeff Kealty. Poile’s closeness with Hynes’ former bosses in New Jersey, Ray Shero and Tom Fitzgerald, for a detailed breakdown. Poile has a loyalty to USA Hockey.
Look, Hynes might turn out to be the absolute right choice for this underachieving Predators team. But the process kinda stinks, and Nashville’s hardly alone in this. There’s more than just 35 people that are qualified to coach NHL teams, I promise you.
Kyle Turris’ Struggles
Carrying on with the Nashville theme, one of the more contentious parts of Laviolette’s tenure was his extended scratching of Kyle Turris. The former Senator got himself into the coach’s doghouse at the start of the year, and was a healthy scratch for seven straight games in November. His counting numbers are pedestrian by his standards, 17 points in his 36 games, and with four more years at $6M AAV remaining on his contract he’s been a lightning rod for criticism. Lately, it’s been fashionable among Sens-adjacent pundits to wonder aloud just how lucky Ottawa was to get out of paying him the money Melnyk supposedly refused to pony up.
I’m not going to re-visit the trade that sent Turris to Colorado, but I do think the discourse around his falling off is a bit overstated. Turris might not be the borderline 1C-calibre player he once was, but the Preds are more than breaking even on shots when he’s on the ice. He’s also, believe it or not, putting up a very respectable 1.73 PTS/60 at 5v5 (higher than noted goal-scoring centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau). The biggest reason his counting numbers are so much lower than when he was with the Sens is that he’s barely breaking 14 minutes a game (compared to nearly 20 in Ottawa) and he’s seeing half the PP as part of the Preds’ second unit. If you’re worried about his -5 rating it’s worth considering that Nashville’s goalies are posting a shocking 88.5% SV% behind him at 5v5.
All of this is to say that, yes, Turris isn’t scoring like he used to and he’s never been the most defensively responsible player. But there are also some serious mitigating factors at play here.
Re-visiting the Erik Karlsson Trade
Speaking of former Senators and the habits of Sens analysts and fans, re-appraising the Erik Karlsson trade in light of Josh Norris’ breakout season and San Jose’s struggles has been a favourite pastime for many of late. It is certainly the case that the package that the Sens received looks a lot better today than it did a year and a half ago. There’s a truism in sports that the team that gets the best player wins the trade, but in this transaction the best the Sens could realistically have hoped for was to get their hands on some foundational pieces for the future. While Dylan DeMelo and Chris Tierney have proven themselves to be respectable NHLers, a future Stanley Cup contender builds around players like Karlsson — the Tierneys and DeMelos of the world can be had. Rudolfs Balcers seems like he might have a future as a competent third liner. Quantity of respectable dudes isn’t exactly what you want when you trade an all-time great rearguard.
What’s changed since the trade was made is that Josh Norris is having a hell of a year in Belleville and the San Jose Sharks have been baaaad. There was always a chance the Sharks would fall off a bit as the team got older, but I don’t think even the biggest Ottawa optimists would have had them slumming it with the dregs of the league just one year later. Are the Sens really going to get some actual quality players out of this? That sure seems a lot more likely than it did a year ago.
For those of you who might not remember, the mood around these parts was pretty somber when the trade went down. I went and re-read that Ross piece and I remember agreeing with it at the time. I still don’t think he was off-base when he wrote it. But in the intervening years a lot has happened to make things look a bit brighter than they did. It’s good practice to re-visit our old opinions and see if they still hold up today. In this case, I’m happy to have been at least sort of wrong.
Drake Batherson on the Power Play
Drake Batherson’s AHL dominance, combined with some injuries to Ottawa’s forwards, forced management’s hand and the super prospect was recalled before last Saturday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. In it, #BathTime collected a power play assist on a slick feed to Pageau in the slot.
I really like the idea of giving Batherson, and Logan Brown if he’s ever recalled again, long looks on the first power play unit so that they have the opportunity to hone their offensive chops against NHL competition. Though I may disagree with D.J. Smith about the pair’s readiness to play meaningful 5v5 minutes, I can see where he’s coming from; they’re kids, and their 200 foot game could use some work. The great thing about the power play is that they don’t have to worry nearly as much about defence, and the extra time and space that they are afforded can help to give them confidence in their abilities to make incisive plays at the highest level. How do you solve the problem of giving your kids meaningful minutes when you’re worried they’re not totally ready 5v5? Let them play PP1. Heck, it can’t be worse than what Ottawa’s done so far this year.
Last, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remark about Pekka Rinne’s goal on Thursday night against the Chicago Blackhawks. Down 4-2 late in the third, Chicago pulled their keeper only to have Rinne bury one from behind his own goal line.
For the first time since 2013... WE HAVE A GOALIE GOAL.— NHL (@NHL) January 10, 2020
Bless you, Pekka Rinne. pic.twitter.com/teY98yCmB9
Goalie goals are fun, and I love seeing the skaters’ reactions when one happens. It’s a hilarious mix of jubilation, disbelief, and immediate ribbing. Rinne’s is extra great because he gets it the length of the ice, in the air, over several Chicago defenders.
I’ll sign off with a great compilation of goalie goals over the years. Enjoy your weekend everyone!