Thursday, May 15, 2008
Are the Stars really alive out West? Will Canucks fire Vigneault?
By Scott Burnside ESPN.com
Five things we've learned from Wednesday:
1. The Dallas Stars will have to be a lot better in Game 5 on Saturday if they're going to prove Wednesday's 3-1 victory over Detroit wasn't just a last spasm of pride. The Red Wings had one goal waved off and another potential goal nullified by an early whistle as they saw their (and Chris Osgood's) nine-game winning streak brought to a halt. Dallas is a good team; it just hasn't been very good in this series. And even when the Stars caught a break when a Detroit goal by Pavel Datsyuk was waved off because Tomas Holmstrom was ruled to have interfered with Dallas netminder Marty Turco, they still had to rely on the brilliance of Turco to emerge from a second period in which they were outshot 14-6 (Detroit outshot the Stars 29-13 over the final two periods). Both teams are now a bit banged up; Dallas is playing without veteran forward Jere Lehtinen and Detroit is still missing playoff scoring ace Johan Franzen. Still, the Wings look like a team that's ready to advance despite Wednesday's loss.
2. Hands up for anyone who thinks the idea of waving off goals because of goaltender interference and not calling a penalty on the play is a good idea. No? Didn't think so. Either a player is interfering with a goaltender and should be assessed a penalty or he's not interfering with a goalie but simply doing his job of obstructing the goaltender's vision. But that's not how the NHL works. Case in point was the second period of the Detroit/Dallas game Wednesday. With both teams unable to score and the Stars trailing 3-0 in the series, Holmstrom was in his usual spot, on the edge of the Dallas goal. Datsyuk scored, but the goal was waved off with no penalty called. Worse, replays showed Holmstrom was neither in the crease nor did he have any contact with Turco. In a league where everyone seems to think more goals would be a good thing, this is one of the rules that needs to be given the heave-ho.
3. This isn't much of a surprise, but in an offseason that will be filled with coaching and managing intrigue, you can take Detroit coach Mike Babcock off the "Will he stay or will he go?" list. Babcock told reporters at the West finals it's a matter of wrapping up a few details and a new contract will be put to bed. There had been rumors that Babcock, whose current deal with the Wings is up this summer, might be wooed by former boss Bryan Murray in Ottawa. But Babcock has been a terrific fit with the talented Red Wings and the team is looking like they'll carry off their fourth Stanley Cup since 1997.
4. Speaking of coaching possibilities ... there's not much attention being paid to the Memorial Cup tournament that begins this week in Kitchener, Ontario, but it will be interesting to see if the event yields a new NHL coach. The host Rangers are the top junior club and their coach, Pete DeBoer, is having his name bandied about, especially with six NHL coaching openings now available and more likely in the offing. It's unusual to see a coach come straight from junior hockey to the NHL; Brent Sutter did it this season, but he had a wealth of NHL experience as a player. Still, DeBoer has a solid reputation and his junior teams have almost always been contenders, so he may get a look from teams looking to build around young players.
5. Busy times in Vancouver as new owner Francesco Aquilini cries to the local papers every time he reads something that rankles him, and with new GM Mike Gillis throwing everyone connected to the Dave Nonis regime under the bus. Now, Gillis is starting to rebuild the Canucks in his own image, announcing that he's hired longtime NHLer Scott Mellanby to be a conduit between the team's hockey operations and himself. Mellanby, who played 1,431 regular-season games and 136 more in the playoffs, was the captain of the Atlanta Thrashers in his last NHL season (2006-07) and was considered a strong presence in the dressing room. The Canucks are holding their annual meetings in Las Vegas this week and Gillis is expected to make a final decision on whether to bring back coach Alain Vigneault. Sources have told ESPN.com that Vigneault rubbed some veteran players the wrong way, and there is a strong suspicion Gillis will bring in his own coach.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.