Into the Boards: Gallant Gets Fired, Islanders at the Bottom and the Oilers are For Real


Hello, ITB readers! We sure hope you all got a chance to drop the gloves over a TV or lay someone out for a PS4 during your Black Friday escapades, but now it’s back to hockey.

A hell of a lot went on this week, so let’s get you caught up with the top stories. Florida head coach Gerard Gallant was on death row and didn’t even know, the New York Islanders are scraping the bottom of the barrel, the Oilers seem to be for real, and San Jose is making noise again.

We also bring to you our top dawgs and plays of the week, as well as a special interview with International Scouting Services regional scout Pete Judge. Brace yourself, because you’re about to get checked into the boards!

Eastern Conference

Death Rowe Shocks Panthers

Earlier this week Florida General Manager Tom Rowe shocked the league as well as Panthers fans by firing Head Coach Gerard Gallant. Last season, Gallant finished up with a franchise-record of 103 points and brought the Panthers to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in three years, only to get knocked out in the first round after a hard-fought series with the New York Islanders. Unfortunately, injuries to some key players have plagued the Cats early in the season. Forwards Jussi Jokinen and Nick Bjugstad are just returning to the ice and finding their groove while top-line winger Jonathan Huberdeau is still out for a few more months with a lower-leg injury. The Panthers currently sit in sixth place in the Atlantic division with a record of 11-10-2, which is not too bad considering some key players are just now joining the team and it’s still early in the season.

There are a few teams that are underperforming this year that I thought would be making coaching changes (*cough* the goddamn Islanders *cough*), but I never thought the Panthers would be one of them. The most miserable and sad part of this event is that after being fired, Gallant was left off the team’s flight to Chicago and kicked to the curb where photographers snapped photos of him as he shamefully climbed into a yellow minivan taxi to begin a very long ride to his hotel (or a bar to drown his sorrows). For the time being, and most likely the rest of the season, GM Tom Rowe will be on the bench calling the shots. In his debut on Tuesday, the Panthers lost in a shootout to the Blackhawks by a score of 2-1. Like I said previously, there is still a lot of hockey left and Rowe is looking to put a stop to his team’s mediocre play and get them back into the playoffs, but he may learn pretty quickly that last year’s success was more luck than he originally thought.

Brooklyn Bottom Feeders

Yup, here it is: it’s time to publicly talk shit on my own team. For Islanders fans, this season has been sad, lackluster, and awfully boring. I feel like an old man in a loveless and miserable marriage trying to keep up a half-chub during a semi-annual, half-assed, apathetic handjob. The Isles are a team that don’t seem at all concerned with winning, and therein lies the problem. They currently sit dead last in the Eastern Conference and hold one of the worst records in the entire NHL. This is a team that made the playoffs last year, but let three core players go in Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo, and Matt Martin because they felt they couldn’t spend the money to make it work. Still, we remained hopeful for newcomers Jason Chimera, Dennis Seidenberg, and Andrew Ladd to fill those holes and help push the team to their full potential, but so far, no dice. Now is the time for change, and it starts behind the bench. Coach Jack Capuano has taken this team as far he can. His coaching, very much like his hairstyle, is whack and outdated. A spark is needed to light this flame. Whether it be new coach or the addition of new players, it has to happen NOW. According to BleacherReport, there are multiple players on the block; Evander Kane, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Kevin Shattenkirk, Matt Duchene, and Cam Fowler could be traded. At this point, I’d take anyone one of them. Last season the Penguins had an awful start, but they turned it around and won the Stanley Cup. I’m not saying the Isles will do the same, but I can only hope they’ll make the rest of this season worth watching. The Islanders flame is still lit, but it’s dim… very dim.

Western Conference

A Well-Oiled Machine

The Edmonton Oilers have been the brunt of many a joke for quite some time now. They’ve finished badly enough for long enough to win four of the last seven draft lotteries, which by default almost guarantees them a halfway decent team by now. The 2015 draft gave them the opportunity to draft Connor McDavid, easily the greatest gift to oil country since The Great One, and things are finally looking up. After one more turbulent season last year, the Oilers sent former first overall pick Taylor Hall to New Jersey for Adam Larsson to address a serious defensive need, fully turning the reigns over to Connor McDavid as he became the youngest captain in NHL history. I (Scott) reserved my judgement about the Oilers early season success to see just how sustainable it was and while there was a slight drop off, Edmonton has managed to stay in the mix to take the Pacific division. Their defense still leaves a hell of a lot to be desired, but their dynamic offense has slightly outweighed that for now to produce a +7 goal differential. Years of drafting high-flying forwards has made the Oilers a whole lot of fun to watch and when Connor McPerfect touches the puck, my eyes are glued to the screen. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a player with that degree of puck control while also being so fast. On the flipside, though, bad defense and decent-at-best goaltending generally don’t fare well in the playoffs, so while I think Edmonton will make it to the postseason, I don’t imagine them doing too much damage yet. Regardless, the Oilers are finally onto something.

Just Keep Swimming

Staying in the somewhat lackluster Pacific division, it’s time to pay some attention to the group’s best, the San Jose Sharks. The 2015-16 campaign ended sadly for the California powerhouse as they fell to the Penguins in six games, watching an opportunity to win the first Stanley Cup in franchise history slip right between their fingers. That being said, the Sharks seem to have put the bitter defeat behind them and gotten right back on the horse. The boys in teal capped off last night with a convincing 4-1 victory over the rival Los Angeles Kings to improve to 4-1-0 on the week, effectively pushing them to the top of the Pacific division over Edmonton and Anaheim. While it was fun to see Edmonton rush out of the gate, all seems to be right in the world now that the stronger Sharks have caught up and established a three point lead over the Oilers. It’s the usual suspects carrying the torch in San Jose with Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski tied for the team lead in points and Joe Thornton and Logan Couture tied for second, and when your best players are producing, all is well. The general weakness of the Pacific should help the Sharks take the division, and once they’re in the postseason, I would certainly love for them to make another push to the finals, because who wouldn’t want to see Jumbo Joe and Brent Burns hoist the cup at the same time? That’s enough facial hair to cover playoff beards for the whole team.

Players of the Week

Vin: My player of the week is the guy everyone loves to hate, but I always wish he played on my team: good ole Milan Lucic. Gino and McDavid are becoming an elite duo, helping Edmonton build a contender. This past week Lucic filled up the score sheets with 2 goals, 5 assists, 2 PPP, and a +3 rating. As long as Milan and Connor are together, both of these players will continue be talked about on ITB and repeat as POTW.

Scott: Connor McJesus… I mean McDavid. My golden boy C-McD had a hell of a week as he potted 3 goals and 4 assists for 7 points in just 4 games. Connor is well on his way to becoming the best hockey player in the world, and some would argue (including today’s interviewee Pete Judge) that he is already there. I simply cannot wait to watch this kid continue to grow.

Plays of the Week

Vin : My top play features the great Carey Price, making a series of athletic saves against the Red Wings. It’s clear that Price is leading the race for the Vezina Trophy this year, and here is a glimpse of his all-star talent:

Scott: My play of the week is an unbelievable effort by the Dallas Stars’ Jamie Oleksiak. Watch here as Oleksiak picks up a pass in the neutral zone that’s a bit behind him by pulling the puck between his legs. He then crosses the blue line and makes mincemeat of Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo and picks a hole on goaltender Jake Allen. A thing of beauty from the defenseman.

ITB Special Guest: International Scouting Services Regional Scout Pete Judge

Through my years of playing in Cryptodira, I’ve met and befriended countless people, but few more interesting than my good friend Pete. While attending a local hardcore show in what can only be described as a dank-ass basement, I noticed a dude holed up on a couch by himself in the merch area watching what I believe was a Rangers vs. Habs game from the 2014 Eastern Conference Final as he waited to play in his band, Punishment Due. Naturally, we got to talking and I quickly realized I wasn’t just talking to another goon in a hardcore band that owned a Rangers hat. Pete has worked for the PAL Junior Islanders and currently works as as regional scout for ISS Hockey (International Scouting Services), so I picked his brain about the future of the NHL.

ITB: How exactly did you get your foot in the door in the scouting world? I’d imagine it requires some kind of experience or reputation outside of “I really like hockey.”

Pete: There were guys that I played with growing up who ended up in various levels of college/pro hockey who I followed even as we lost contact, and as someone who basically lived and breathed the sport I started just following the draft very intensely when I was in high school. I used to have a sports blog with a few of my friends where I covered the Rangers and was very in depth with the prospects and following the upcoming draft classes to see who would be the best fit. From there, I reached out to some contacts of people I knew through playing and just sent my work out to various teams and organizations and landed with the PAL Junior Islanders organization and then International Scouting Services.

Who should we keep an eye on from the projected 2017 draft class? Any sleepers that other scouts maybe don’t rank as high as you do?

At the top of the draft class is the no-brainer Nolan Patrick of the Brandon Wheat Kings. He’s not quite the franchise-changing player that McDavid, Matthews, and Eichel are but he’s a very good player and it’s hard to see him not being the top pick. Timothy Liljgren from Rogle in the Swedish Hockey League is my second ranked prospect at the moment. Other high-end guys I like are Eeli Tolvanen from the Sioux City Musketeers and Kelowna Rockets defenseman Callan Foote (son of Adam Foote). Callan also has a younger brother Nolan on Kelowna who is incredible but not eligible until the 2019 draft.

My two sleepers are both local guys I’ve watched for a long time — David Farrance and Tyce Thompson. Farrance is from the Syracuse area, plays with the US National Team Development Program and is committed to Boston University. He’s an offensive defenseman in the mold of Gostisbehere. Smaller kid but he’s a beautiful skater and can do some really impressive things with the puck. He’s deceptively fast because he likes to control the pace of the game. Thompson is Brent Thompson’s son, and his older brother Tage was a first round pick of the Blues. Unlike his brother and dad who are giants, Tyce is about 5’10 and thin. He didn’t exactly light it up at Salisbury Prep last year but he has a good amount of offensive skill and is a solid 200-foot player. Tage grew like seven inches between the ages of 16 and 18, and if Tyce can grow a bit he could be a steal.

You watch a tremendous amount of junior and college hockey, so what are some of the fundamental differences between these leagues and the show?

Defenses and goaltending at the junior and college level are just nowhere close to what they are at the professional level, so you see a game that’s more open and generally higher-scoring. Major junior hockey is played at such a quick pace, with offensively gifted young players who can flourish in an environment where they’re not getting taken into the boards regularly by big-time defensemen and have a little more space for creativity.

I think watching two teams full of 6’3″ guys dump the puck into the corner and change gets stale. I love the NHL but I think there’s a severe lack of creativity in it, probably something that gets beaten out of the players by their coaches. It’s very system-based and it’s the reason why certain players struggle to catch on and some don’t ever even get a chance. At this point, other than a handful of players I absolutely love to watch, I’d take a good OHL game over most NHL games.

Analytics and advanced statistics are starting to take over as the go-to way to judge a team and build a winner, causing quite a divide between old-time hockey heads and statisticians. How important are fancy stats to your scouting process?

I’ll say first that I love advanced stats and am usually the guy my friends go to when they want a crash-course on them. I think they’re very valid as a tool to help identify which players are doing well and which aren’t, and which teams are over and underachieving. If a team is shooting at 16% over the course of 20 games or so it’s safe to say that they’re a team on a hot streak who will eventually come down to earth, and vice versa if they’re shooting terribly. These things help us understand streaks and help us figure out whether a team is actually as good or as bad as they look.

For me, I almost never use advanced stats when I scout. I’ve tried it but it tends to be too much when you’re trying to take notes on seven or eight players while tracking their zone starts and shot attempts, etc. When I’m focused on specific players rather than the game, I don’t really need the stats to see how effective they are. From that standpoint, the stats are mostly important when you’re trying to analyze a player over the course of a season rather than identifying their strengths and weaknesses or tendencies.

Being a scout gives you a sort of preliminary look into the future of the NHL, so with respect to the way the game has evolved what types of style changes do you foresee over the next decade?

I think you’re already seeing it but the league is starting to get smaller and it’s getting faster. No one else can skate the way McDavid and Eichel do, but as a whole you’re seeing an emphasis on skill and speed rather than size. I don’t think Johnny Gaudreau plays in the NHL in 2001, and now he can excel.

What I think will happen is that as this younger generation that’s drilled so heavily on their skating and who play the game with creativity and flair begin coming up, the guys who made their living blocking shots and hitting will start to phase out. There will always be a place for them, but just like enforcers the game will start to squeeze them down to lower levels. I know some people are miserable at the idea that the NHL is going to become less physical, but I think the product you’ll see in 10-15 years will be worlds better than the one they produce now.

Favorite 2016-17 rookie in the NHL and why?

Picking just one is tough. I love Auston Matthews and think he will end up the best player in the class but Patrik Laine is so freakin’ fun to watch. He has a little bit of that cockiness that Ovechkin had when he came up and with 13 goals already he might be challenging him as the best goal scorer sooner rather than later.

I’m also a giant Mitch Marner fan. I love the kid’s work ethic and his speed, and the hands are just special. He has the potential to be a very good NHL player, and I think this year we’re just watching him come into his own.

And I know he’s not a rookie but Connor McDavid is the best and most exciting player in the NHL today.

Also, Shout out Cryptodira and Moon Tooth who I love very very much!!!!

You can visit ISSHockey.com to learn more about draft prospects and also purchase tremendously helpful NHL draft guides.

Hey hockey nerds, Vin here. Come hang! I’ll be on the road with Moon Tooth these next few weeks. We’ll be touring with Thank You Scientist and The Tea Club all over the East Coast and Canada. Come hang out and talk some puck over a beer with me. No one talks to the bass player so I’m always up for the conversation, haha, check out the tour dates below:

Thank You Scientist Moon Tooth

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