Into the Boards: Julien Canned, Pens Closing in, Wild are on Fire, and Vegas is Searching
What’s up hockey nerds? I, Scott, am sitting here snowed in on Long Island while Vin battles the cold on tour with Moon Tooth in upstate New York, so we are in perfect hockey moods. This week was another wild one with Claude Julien being shown the door in Boston after ten successful seasons. Pittsburgh is closing the gap on Columbus and we’ll also take a look out west at the surging Minnesota Wild as well what’s going on in Vegas with all of these available coaches. Let’s dive right in!
Another One Bites the Dust
This season we have witnessed and been surprised by numerous teams underperforming and their coaches getting the axe (to fall). We witnessed Gerard Gallant of the Panthers being sent home in a yellow cab, Coach Cappy getting the boot in Brooklyn, Hitch in St. Louis, and this week the honorable Claude Julien packed his bags and made his way out of Beantown.
Julien was with the Boston Bruins for ten seasons, going 419-246-94, becoming the team’s all-time leader in wins and taking them to the postseason seven out of his ten seasons there. Claude led the team to a Stanley Cup championship in 2011, and a Stanley Cup final in 2013 when they fell short against the Chicago Blackhawks. I doubt this will be the last time we see the great Claude Julien behind the bench as there are numerous teams out there who will be looking to add a new head coach (*cough* Islanders *cough*).
Assistant coach Bruce Cassidy will be taking over the reigns in Boston in the meantime. This isn’t Cassidy’s first go at the head coach position. He previously manned the bench for the Washington Capitals in 2002-03 and spent five seasons coaching the AHL Providence Bruins where he worked with current Bruins players Torey Krug, David Pastrnak, and Frankie Vatrano.
The Bruins are obviously struggling this year, but luckily for them, the Atlantic Division is full of teams playing mediocre hockey recently, so it’s honestly anyone’s game at this point with almost a half of season of puck yet to be played. The Bruins are only two points behind the Leafs for third place, so look for them to turn it around and maybe make some much needed acquisitions at the deadline under their new coach.
Bruised Up Pens Staying Strong
I (Vin) am currently on the road again with Moon Tooth and yesterday we had the opportunity to play at Club Cafe in Pittsburgh. The Steel City feels like a blue collar Mecca, where sports and a strong work ethic are the blood in its veins. I can’t help but feel comfortable whenever I arrive there. As an Islanders fan, it’s hard to root for the Penguins, but goddamn, you have to respect them.
Where Steelers pride has been strong for many years, it’s clear with the next generation that the Pens are the new team of the city. At the show, I got to speak with a few Penguins fans (shout out to Brian of Atlas Decay) and it inspired me to write about the boys in black and yellow. Last year’s Stanley Cup champs are looking to do it all over again, and with the way they’ve been playing, they might do just that. Crosby and crew currently sit in third place in the Metropolitan Division and are only one point behind the Columbus Blue Jackets who have cooled down after a tremendous hot streak. With a 7-2-1 record in their last 10 games, I am confident the Pens will leapfrog the Jackets and start to close the gap between them and the first place Capitals.
What’s most impressive about the Penguins latest run is that they’re winning games with their secondary players, showing that they not only have depth, but depth that can step up and produce when needed. As of right now, superstar Evgeni Malkin, Carl Hagelin, and the young stud Conor Sheary are all on the injured reserve list with varying timetables to return. We all know Pittsburgh always looks to acquire more talent at the trade deadline to deepen their roster and with big names like Jarome Iginla, Matt Duchene, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins potentially on the trade block, anything is possible. I feel like the biggest competition for the Penguins in the East is the Washington Capitals, but if history repeats itself the Caps will choke in the playoffs and the Pens will remain the Stanley Cup Champions for another year.
Wild ‘n Out
The Minnesota Wild are firing on all fronts, which inspires one question: are the Wild finally for real, or are they doomed to fizzle out in the postseason like they always have? Let’s take a look.
The start of the 2016-17 season saw Bruce Boudreau take over in the state of hockey after he was let go by the Ducks for blowing yet another game seven. History sure isn’t on Boudreau’s side here as he made his name coaching the Washington Capitals to tons of regular season success, only to always fall short in the playoffs and never get past the second round. This trend continued in Anaheim as he led his team to four straight division titles, only to lose in game seven each time. But it’s important to note that one of these losses was in a Conference Final, which is certainly no easy task to reach.
History aside, it’s important to judge what’s going on right now with a completely different team, and perhaps value it higher than Boudreau’s previous shortcomings. What’s truly interesting about the Wild’s current success is that they are doing it without a bonafide superstar. Looking at the successful teams of years past seems to reveal that there are always one or two superstar players who drive the team’s success. This is not to say that the Wild do not have upper-tier players (Zach Parise, Ryan Suter), but none in the class of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, John Tavares, Jeff Carter, Evgeni Malkin, etc. Minnesota is winning by committee. They have ten players who have scored ten or more goals this season and ten players who have scored 25 or more points. This, combined with fantastic goaltending from Devan Dubnyk (.933 SV% and 1.99 GAA) has given the Wild prolonged success to make them the second best team in the NHL to this point. I think the Wild can certainly win a playoff round this year, but they will need a standout performer to pick up the slack when the going gets tough in the playoffs so I’m hardpressed to say they will get further than the second round. Let’s see if Bruce’s luck changes in Minnesota.
Bench Boss in Vegas?
With an expansion team making its debut next year, it’s time to start thinking about who is going to be the very first coach of the brand new Las Vegas Golden Knights.
With the firing of Claude Julien this week, the rumors have again started swirling about Las Vegas, so let’s update the obvious list of candidates. We have Gerard Gallant, Jack Capuano, Ken Hitchcock, and Claude Julien that have all been axed this year by their former clubs. Newsday writer Arthur Staple tweeted that Jack Capuano was reportedly in Las Vegas this week to meet with Golden Knights management about the position (tweet below).
Hearing Jack Capuano is in Las Vegas meeting with Golden Knights management this week.
— Arthur Staple (@StapeNewsday) February 9, 2017
The idea of any of these coaches taking the Vegas job assumes none of them take a job elsewhere before the end of the current season, but I certainly don’t think any of them will, especially not Hitchcock or Julien. There’s simply no rush for any of these guys, as they all have options and the offseason may lead to even more openings in more cities, so it is in their best interest to field as many options as they can. Of course, there’s the possibility that Vegas doesn’t go with an established name, but the motto of the team (and the league’s expectations for them) has been “be competitive immediately” since day one (see: expansion draft), so I expect them to make a splash with a familiar name. George McPhee has said that he will be waiting until April to make a decision about coaching, but perhaps his mind will change now that there are even more reputable coaches available.
Player of the Week
Vin: My dude Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals. Backstrom went off this week scoring two goals, collecting four assists, three power play points, and put home the game winner against the Montreal Canadiens.
Scott: The golden boy Mitch Marner. The 19-year old has three goals and four assists for seven points in his last five games. The future is bright in Toronto and I love watching little Mitch.
Vin: My dude Martin Jones. Watch Jones stack the pads and flash the glove, robbing Tobias Rieder on a 2-on-1 opportunity in OT.
Scott: Nino Niederreiter of the Minnesota Wild. Watch here as Charlie Coyle gains the zone and dishes it off to Niederreiter who turns a routine two-on-two rush into a goal with a perfectly silky toe drag to change the angle on Josh Morrissey and go high glove on Ondrej Pavelec.