Friday, December 2, 2011
Weekend rumblings: Canucks goalie drama, Ryan trade talks, Brassard's agent angry
By Pierre LeBrun
The goalie drama in Vancouver is unreal.
Most Canucks fans are on the Cory Schneider bandwagon.
The fact is, however, that Canucks management remains steadfastly consistent in their belief that Roberto Luongo is still a great goaltender, no matter what anybody thinks.
"Roberto, for some reason, mostly due to the media, has become a lightning rod for anything that goes wrong with our team," Canucks GM Mike Gillis told ESPN.com on Thursday. "We've always said that it's unfair. It's a team sport. One player doesn't dictate. But I think he set the bar so high when he arrived here, they were so hungry to finally have a guy that could actually play well -- an All-Star goalie -- that when he doesn't always meet that standard that's been set every day, some people begin to question him. In our mind, it's really unfair."
Every market is different. In Boston, fans applaud the 1-2 punch in goal the Bruins have in Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask. Of course, Thomas won the Cup, and Luongo didn't. Still, the Canucks feel fortunate to have the depth they have in goal and wonder why that can't be the story.
"If you look around the league, if you don't have a good goalie, you can't win hockey games in this league," Gillis said. "It's that simple. We're lucky to have two of them. Cory is a work in progress, and Roberto is our No. 1 goalie. You can't argue with his body of work and you can't argue with what he's accomplished. We were one game away from winning the Stanley Cup. Hopefully, we'll get back there again and have an opportunity to do things better as an entire group."
Ducks aftermathBobby Ryan can rest his mind, at least for now.
Ducks GM Bob Murray told him to relax after the coaching change was made and to ignore all that trade chatter.
Other league sources tell ESPN.com that Murray spent part of Thursday calling back teams that showed interest in Ryan and telling them he was going to quiet down those talks at this point.
The feeling inside the Ducks camp was that they wanted to see how the team responded to the hiring of head coach Bruce Boudreau and hold off on any major player transactions.
But you can be sure that if the season doesn't turn around, those talks could be back on the front burner come the Feb. 27 trade deadline.
I spoke with Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf on Thursday and asked him what his reaction would have been in September when I stopped in Anaheim during my camp tour and told him that two months into the season the Ducks would be near the basement of the standings and Randy Carlyle would be fired as head coach.
"I would have probably laughed at you," Getzlaf told ESPN.com. "Going into the season we were excited and energized. And we started the year that way, we were 4-1 over the first five games and playing well. Then we hit a skid and couldn't get out of it."
Players often feel remorse after a coach is fired, feeling that they could have played better to prevent it, and Getzlaf certainly felt that way.
"More than probably anybody," Getzlaf said. "I think Randy meant a lot to this organization and to us as individuals. He's the only coach I've had in the National Hockey League. He gave me my start and the confidence I've gained over the last seven years. I felt I kind of let him down this year, as well as our group. He probably deserved a better fate. But at the same time, it's the nature of the business and it's a tough business to be in. I know Randy will be working before he knows it."
Getzlaf reached out Thursday morning to Washington Capitals assistant coach Dean Evason, who coached him in juniors, to get a heads-up on what Boudreau was all about.
"He brings some excitement," Getzlaf said of Boudreau. "And he brings a different voice, which I think was all this was really about, was getting a different voice there bringing a different message. Now it's up to the group to respond."
Columbus controversyVeteran agent Allan Walsh does things a bit differently than his colleagues in the business. For one thing, he's a big presence on Twitter. And secondly, he is not afraid to go public when he's angered by the way one of his clients is treated.
It rubs some GMs the wrong way, of course.
He went public a few years ago when his client, Jaroslav Halak, wasn't getting enough starts, in his opinion, behind Carey Price. He went public last season when he hammered Minnesota Wild head coach Todd Richards for not playing Martin Havlat enough.
And on Thursday, Walsh was it again when he released a statement (to ESPN.com, among other outlets) expressing his frustration with Columbus head coach Scott Arniel over the handling of Walsh's client, forward Derick Brassard, who was a healthy scratch seven of his past 10 games entering the weekend.
"While I have tremendous respect for [GM] Scott Howson and the rest of Columbus' management team, the situation regarding Derick Brassard has become untenable," Walsh wrote. "This coach has a history of burying players and using them as scapegoats to mask his own lack of success on the ice. Derick has been singled out, almost from the very beginning of the season to be the fall guy in case things don't go well. The Columbus organization cares about Derick and has been good to him, but at some point enough is enough."
The Jackets produced a statement from Howson about an hour later.
"Scott has my full support with respect to his decisions on who plays and the handling of our hockey team," Howson said. "We all want Derick to play better and be the player we know he can be. The only person who will impact Derick's playing time is Derick himself."
Howson had gotten several calls this season from other clubs interested in Brassard but has been reluctant to give him away given his age (24) and upside. We'll see whether Walsh's public intervention pushes a trade. It certainly got Havlat out of Minnesota.
Therrien waitsThree coaching changes in the NHL this past week and you can bet Michel Therrien was looking at his cellphone, hoping it would buzz.
"Yeah, for sure. I wish the phone would have rung, but that's the way the business goes," Therrien told ESPN.com Thursday.
Therrien deserves another NHL shot. He was two wins away from a Stanley Cup championship with a young Penguins squad in June 2008 yet hasn't got a sniff since his firing the following season.
He's doing TV work for French-language sports network RDS in Montreal and says he enjoys that. But he yearns for another chance behind an NHL bench.
"It's a luxury to coach in the NHL," Therrien said. "The more you're out, the more you realize it."
He had that same feeling between his NHL jobs in Montreal and Pittsburgh, coaching in the AHL before getting brought in to coach the young Penguins.
"I had a big challenge with those young kids and we were close to winning the Stanley Cup with a really young team," Therrien said. "But I'm still hoping, I'm watching a lot of games and preparing and we'll see where things go from there."
Hold onto your glovesI was wondering the other day if it was only my imagination or if fighting was down in the NHL this season.
Turns out it wasn't my imagination at all.
Through the month of November, fighting was down 30 percent from the same point last season. There were 308 fighting majors through 357 games played (through Nov. 30), down from 441 through the same number of games last season. It's also down from 444 fighting majors through 357 games in 2009-10 and down from the 483 fighting majors recorded through the same time period in 2008-09.
It's the second-lowest tally since the lockout. There were only 274 fighting majors through the same number of games in 2005-06, right after the lockout, but that number grew to 319 through the same number of games in 2006-07 and 371 in 2007-08.
So, why the downturn?
For one thing, there appear to be fewer traditional enforcers dressed from night to night. Take Toronto, for example. Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke may like his truculence, but the fact is his team has been less truculent most nights this season, with tough guys Colton Orr (four games) and Jay Rosehill (12 games) playing sparingly. Head coach Ron Wilson has said repeatedly this season he wants his fastest possible lineup out there. That's been the trend on many teams. Tough guy D.J. King in Washington has played just one game. And the list goes on for several teams.
Long-term trend or just a blip this season? My guess is long-term trend.
Fire the coachI got a call from an NHL head coach Thursday -- who shall remain anonymous as per his request -- who passed on an interesting theory.
By his count, there had been 17 in-season coaching changes over the past four seasons (including this season as the fourth year), which TSN research guru Kevin Gibson confirmed for me.
"And I ask you, how many times did the team make a trade before they fired the coach?," the coach pondered to ESPN.com. "Not too often. It's hard to make trades in this system. So I wonder if this system doesn't lend itself to firing more coaches as some form of cure-all when teams are struggling? Because the GM feels he has to do something. There's pressure on him to do something."
Certainly in the case of Carolina and Anaheim, both clubs tried in vain to make a trade before ultimately firing their coaches this past week. The Hurricanes have tried for nearly a month to move Tomas Kaberle. The Ducks have been trying for weeks to make some form of trade, no matter how minor, but couldn't find a fit. So in the end, both clubs found the answer that was left was to fire the coach.