No secret that the Kings have needed help putting the puck in the net. But why? Los Angeles general manager Dean Lombardi wishes he had the answer.
“Like I told our coaches, ‘Look, I get it, I figured we would be anywhere from, say, 15th to 20th in the league in goal scoring this year,’ ’’ Lombardi said just hours before swinging the trade season’s biggest swap, sending defenseman Jack Johnson to Columbus for center Jeff Carter. “We figured that would be OK, with our goaltending and our outstanding defense.
“But, heck, we’re 30th in the league [in scoring] . . . and every one of our guys is down [compared with] career numbers.
“We’re a young team. We’ve got guys who can score. I don’t know, it’s weird. Some of it is that we need better net presence, more drive to the net, some better luck - all of that. Luck may be an even bigger factor than ever, given how the game’s changed over the years.
“But I’ve never seen anything like it. Never. I could live with it if we were 20th. But 30th? With some of the talented guys we’ve got, like [Anze] Kopitar? It makes no sense.
“So I have to believe a big part of it is just mental. It gets in your head that you can’t score and then it sort of becomes true. Seems that way to me. But look, if anyone’s got answers, I’m wide open to ideas.’’
Give Lombardi, Springfield-born and -raised, big credit for maintaining a sense of humor in an extraordinarily frustrating time. He cashiered coach Terry Murray earlier this season, in part because the offense was dormant from the start, only to see it remain in hibernation under new boss Darryl Sutter. Now he has added Carter, a shooter more than passer, reuniting him with fellow ex-Flyer Mike Richards.
Headed into last night’s game vs. Chicago, the Kings had scored a meager 125 times, dead last in the Original 30 and well behind many of the clubs that are essentially out of the playoff mix.
If not for some sensational goaltending by Jonathan Quick, the ex-UMass standout, and stout defense (including the now-departed Johnson), Los Angeles would be nowhere near the hunt for a playoff spot. But the Kings are right there in the fight for the No. 8 seed in the West, the impetus for Lombardi to take on Carter’s rich long-term deal (10 more years at a $5.27 million cap hit).
To find an answer or two to the offensive flat-line, Lombardi said he and his coaches recently scrutinized game tapes of a few clubs, including the Bruins, who have been successful with their offense. The focus of the video review was five-on-five play, where the Bruins have often excelled the last couple of years.
In a conversation with Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, said Lombardi, he noted that the Bruins also have had scoring issues at times the last two years, leading Claude Julien’s coaching staff to try different shooting drills.
“So we’ve tried some things in practice,’’ said Lombardi. “You get a guy like [Milan] Lucic, he takes the puck on a straight line right to the hole. Not a lot of those guys in the league, guys who are big and strong enough to break that home plate area around the net we’re always talking about.
“Peter was great about the drills, offering suggestions to try different things. Some of those drills, you’re probably not going to make the goaltenders happy because you’re shooting high, but hey . . .’’
Lombardi pulled off a huge trade in June, acquiring Richards from the Flyers for Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. About 10 days later, he signed another ex-Flyer, Simon Gagne, via Tampa Bay as a free agent. Those two projected to be the key pieces that bolstered the offense and, perhaps most important, drew checking attention away from star center Kopitar.
Gagne has been sidelined by concussion symptoms since the end of December. Prior to leaving, he was an underwhelming 7-10-17 in 34 games. Richards, with 31 points in 53 games, has delivered at a pace roughly 40 percent below his expected level. No telling what another 20-25 points on his résumé might mean to the Kings.
Kopitar, with 51 points in 61 games, has scored only slightly below his standard levels, but the Gagne and Richards additions had many figuring he could have a career year of, say, 85-90 points. Right now, it looks as if he’ll finish in the 65-70 range, well off his career high of 81.
“Did I ever think we’d be world beaters on offense?’’ offered Lombardi. “No, I didn’t. But I really believe we’re better than this.’’
Where will road lead him?
By 3 p.m. tomorrow, Rick Nash likely won’t be under the employ of the Blue Jackets any longer. But if he is, then Columbus will deal with a bigger universe of bidders as both the draft (June 22-23 in Pittsburgh) and free agency (July 1) approach.
“True, more clubs, and less pressure on everyone,’’ noted one front office executive last week. “But I think this kind of pressure brings better offers. You’re playing at the $100 table in this market. In a few months, sure, you’ll have more guys in the game, but now it’s a $5 table.’’
Columbus general manager Scott Howson, in charge of soliciting bids right now, also could be removed from office by that time. He is the one handling the action, although GMs around the league believe he is vetting all offers through ownership (via president Mike Priest) and ex-Penguins GM Craig Patrick (brought in this season as senior consultant). Patrick, in fact, quietly has dipped into select NHL cities for first-hand viewing of talent, and was spotted recently at an AHL game in Toronto (hello, Joe Colborne).
It could be in Howson’s best interest to pull the trigger now, if the goods in return prove him worthy of staying on. It was ultimately the Joe Thornton deal, and how it failed to revitalize the Bruins, that led to GM Mike O’Connell’s firing in Boston three-plus months after the trade.
By midweek, according to one GM, the Blue Jackets already had at least two solid offers. Based on talks with a handful of GMs last week, it appears Howson is looking for either three or four solid assets in return, including at least one first-round pick.
Contrary to initial reports, a goalie doesn’t have to be part of the deal. However, if there isn’t a goalie - one on par with, say, Boston’s Tuukka Rask or Vancouver’s Cory Schneider - then Howson needs that fourth asset (be it first-round pick or roster player) to make a follow-up deal to bring one in.
The Thornton deal, which had Boston acquiring Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart, and Wayne Primeau, is one benchmark to guide Howson. So is the Chris Pronger deal in July 2006 that had the Ducks sending Joffrey Lupul, Ladislav Smid, and a first-round pick to the Oilers for the then-31-year-old back liner.
But there was a conditional sweetener that closed the Pronger deal: When the Ducks won the Cup 11 months later - Pronger proving to be the key piece of the puzzle - they had to fork over another first-round and second-round pick to the Oilers. Total package: five assets.
Given that Nash is 27, a year older than Thornton was in ’05 but four years younger than Pronger when he was dished to Anaheim, Howson is not overreaching.
Nash provided Howson with a list of teams he’d accept in a deal. Boston made the cut, but by all indications Chiarelli won’t surrender such a beefy package. He could pull it off, if he were to surrender Rask and top blue line prospect Dougie Hamilton, but that would sink too much of the franchise’s future into the present-day Nash.
The bet here is that the Flyers, always enthralled by big names (see: Eric Lindros), pull it off - or come the closest - with the likes of James van Riemsdyk and Sean Couturier (No. 8 pick last June) as the key parts. A third asset could be a choice of Sergei Bobrovsky, Brayden Schenn, or Wayne Simmonds. Add in a first-rounder, and perhaps a sweetener if the Flyers win the Cup, and Nash could be seen riding high on a line with Claude Giroux.
Oh, and about Lindros. Back in the day (June 1992), the Flyers sent the following to Quebec for his rights: Chris Simon, Mike Ricci, Kerry Huffman, Ron Hextall, Peter Forsberg, Steve Duchesne, and two first-round picks. L’Enfant Terrible played his last game for Philadelphia in the spring of 2000. He will be 39 Tuesday.
BUSINESS IS SLOW
Chiarelli sees a lean market
As the weekend approached, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli turned his focus to the lower end of the trade market, convinced that he could not nab the equal of, say, Rich Peverley and/or Chris Kelly, prized pickups at this time last year.
“I’ve never experienced this type of slow activity,’’ Chiarelli said, just prior to the Carter-to-LA move. “Just not a lot of players available. I think it’s because some GMs, not knowing what’s ahead with the CBA, don’t want to take on multiyear deals. And there’s just not a lot of rentals.’’
Keep an eye on defenseman Jaro Spacek in Carolina and perhaps ex-Bruin Sam Pahlsson (once part of the Ray Bourque deal) in Columbus. Pahlsson, 34, is versatile and won a Cup with the Ducks in 2007.
“I really doubt we’d be able to duplicate the Kelly-Peverley deals,’’ said Chiarelli. “Both solid two-way players . . . and each had time left on their deals, which made them more attractive. Just not the kind of guys we’ve seen in this market.’’
OUT OF COLLEGE
Kelly deems it time to depart
Not a good sign for college hockey, especially its coaches, that Paul Kelly abruptly resigned last week as executive director of College Hockey Inc. By and large, the coaches embraced the Newton-based organization that Kelly, previously executive director of the NHL Players Association, opened in November 2009.
The real rub is between the coaches and college hockey’s five league commissioners, who were at loggerheads as to how much authority and scope to give the organization. Caught in the middle of what is turning into an increasingly contentious taffy pull, Kelly opted out of his contract some eight months ahead of time.
Like most everything related to college sports, it’s a tangled mess. If this were college basketball, Kelly getting muscled out would have been headline material for days.
Essentially, NHL dollars fund CHI, via the $8 million it dishes to USA Hockey each year. USA Hockey, in turn, designates an annual lump sum ($600,000 most recently) for the administration of CHI, which is overseen by the five commissioners.
An influential contingent of coaches still wants CHI Inc. to expand its powers, which should lead to some kind of fun when the bench bosses gather with commissioners for their annual meeting in Naples, Fla., in April.
Meanwhile, Kelly, who lives in Needham, is looking for his next opportunity.
“Ideally, I’d like to stay in hockey,’’ he said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity the commissioners gave me, and now I’m going to take some of the advice I’ve given to a lot of college-aged hockey players the last couple of years: back away a bit and not leap at the first thing that comes along. When you do that, it often forecloses what can be even better opportunities.
“But I know I love the game, and would equally love the chance to stay in it, be that with the NHL, a team’s front office, international hockey, wherever.
“I know we did some very good things at CHI, and I know I leave there with it in good hands. I truly believe it has the chance to thrive.’’
A home run to remember
Sure looks like Vegas can lock in Detroit as the prohibitive Cup favorite (final odds set tomorrow at 3:01 p.m.).
The Winged Wheels have been exceptionally strong at home since the mid ’90s, averaging just over eight losses per season since ’93-94. Now they own the league’s all-time mark for most consecutive wins on home ice (23) and held a 26-2-2 record there prior to Colorado’s visit last night. But let’s not forget the great Canadiens run at the Forum in the late ’70s, when they clicked off four Cups (1976-79). Over those four regular seasons, the Habs lost a total of 14 times in 160 home games, an astonishing mark of 126-14-20 (.850 winning percentage). Such a storyline is why the Forum was made into a movie house when the Habs went to their new Bell Centre, where they have averaged more than 12 losses per season in the New NHL era. This season, Montreal is 11-14-8 on home ice.
A Washington mover?
Murmurings in D.C. that the Capitals might consider unloading superstar winger Alex Ovechkin. Haven’t we seen this movie? Sure have, and it was titled, “Jaromir Jagr, Franchise Maker.’’ It didn’t happen with Jags, leading to his deportation to the Rangers after 2 1/2 seasons with Club Leonsis. Now maybe it’s time for Ovechkin, who is 26 and in his seventh season. All the chatter surfaced after respected Capitals elder Olaf Kolzig, now the associate goaltending coach, openly remarked about Ovechkin being wrapped up in his “rock star’’ status and wondering where his “hard, no-nonsense, honest type of hockey’’ had gone. In January 2008, Ovechkin signed a 13-year, $124 million contract extension. He carries a league-high cap hit of $9.538 million.
A golden life
Now 32 years after captaining the Yanks to their Olympic gold at Lake Placid, 57-year-old Mike Eruzione remains busy on the talking circuit, working in Boston University athletics, and helping to coach the Winthrop High hockey team. “All good, still doing what I’m doing,’’ said the ever-affable Eruzione, whose sons, Michael and Paul, are now out of hockey and in the working world. “I make about 30 speaking appearances a year now, and no question, it picked up again after the movie ‘Miracle’ was made.’’ Autograph requests continue to come in from around the world, some 150 of them per month. To date, they’ve all received an autographed picture in return, even those who write from nations of the former CCCP. Eruzione and wife Donna still live in their home in Winthrop. Daughter Leighann, a social worker, is married and works out of Chelsea. Eruzione also recently bought into Qivana, a health business, and thinks ex-Leaf star Doug Gilmour is coming aboard, too.