John Stevens and Joel Quenneville, the latter of whom coached the Blackhawks to three Stanley Cup championships (2010, ’13, and ’15), were given the heave-ho this past week from behind their respective benches.
A direct connection? Nothing beyond the fact that both Stevens’s Kings and Quenneville’s Blackhawks opened with an underwhelming first month, dealing with rosters their front offices failed to upgrade substantially, or even adequately, over the summer.
It’s that latter point that best connects them. The goods just weren’t there, and the next general manager who volunteers to beat the coach to the door will be the first GM to volunteer to beat the coach to the door.
The Kings figured Ilya Kovalchuk, for whom they outbid (three years, $18.75 million) the Bruins and others in the offseason, would be the fix for an aging core to get immediately back in the hunt. Curious decision by team bosses Rob Blake and Luc Robitaille, given that most of the league is emphasizing youth and speed in NHL 2018-19, and the 35-year-old Kovalchuk, just back from the Triple A KHL, is 6-8 years beyond his prime.
To give him his props, however, Kovalchuk entered the weekend with a 5-9—14 line in 15 games. That made him No. 1 on the Kings’ scoring list. It also underscored their No. 1 problem: lack of offense across the board. Kovalchuk’s 14 points ranked him T-58 in league scoring as of Friday morning.
Headed into Saturday night’s game against the Flames, Jeff Carter was the only other Kings forward in double digits (4-6—10). The Kings stood dead last in the overall standings (5-9-1), and no surprise, dead last in goals (33). Once was the time Marcel Dionne, center on the famed Triple Crown Line, nearly potted 33 in the first month of the season.
New coach Willie Desjardins, with ex-Bruins forward Marco Sturm alongside, immediately began preaching the “we must win now” mantra, hoping to shake the lethargy from a veteran group, like many of the Blackhawks, that knows success — Cup wins in 2012 and ‘14.
But urgency alone won’t rejuvenate a long-in-the-tooth roster, one being supported by backup goaltender Jack Campbell while No. 1 Jonathan Quick recovers from surgery to repair knee cartilage. Of far greater urgency is the Kings’ need to add youth and scoring touch, commodities not to be found among their list of available prospects.
Such blatant need would make the Kings prime candidates to join a bidding war for the Blue Jackets’ Artemi Panarin, particularly because of his desire to land in a big city with a robust Russian community. But two problems: 1. The Blue Jackets appear steadfast in waiting until the February trade deadline to wheel Panarin (5-11—16 as of Friday morning) and 2. Unlike the prospect-heavy Bruins, the Kings don’t have the assets to get in the game even if the Jackets were to decide now is the time to make a deal.
However, the Kings do have the glitz and glasnost of LA. Those bright lights and enough money (eight years at $10 million per?) could be enough for the Kings to entice Panarin into agreeing to a contract extension, thus providing the platform for the Kings to hand over real assets in a swap. But again, what assets? If they had them, Desjardins already would be reaching for them in his “win now” tool kit.
The Blackhawks, who missed the postseason last spring for the first time in 10 years, hired on the following as their summer facelift: Cam Ward (goalie); Brandon Manning (defenseman), and Chris Kunitz (forward). Rather than provide the stats here, let’s just say they’re as uninspiring as their names. Not quite what the doctor ordered for the same kind of rehab that was needed in LA.
The Blackhawks have spent the better part of their revival in a tug of war with the salary cap. GM Stan Bowman — forced, by the way, to deal Panarin to Columbus because of cap concerns — has 42 percent of the $79.5 million cap tied up in four players — forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, and defensemen Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith. Problem is, Kane is the only one really delivering on the dollar. The rest, even the once-great Toews, too often look like guys who’ve been through too much of a grind for too long.
Keep in mind: As of Friday morning, the four-pack of Kane, Toews, Seabrook, and Keith had combined for (playoffs included) 4,179 games. High odometers. High sticker prices.
None of those four can be traded without permission. Seabrook has another five seasons remaining at $6.875 million per, while the others all have another four to go — Kane and Toews each at $10.5 million per and Keith at $5.538 million. Kane (29) is the only one under age 30.
Quenneville, 60, has the luxury of going home and relaxing, with this year and next remaining on his deal at $6 million per. No doubt he can use the downtime after 10-plus seasons in Chicago, following 11 seasons as head coach in St. Louis and Colorado — all with but a one-year break between the Blues and Avalanche gigs.
The Indian Heads are now under the charge of Jeremy Colliton, a onetime Islanders prospect who just last season became bench boss for the Blackhawks at their AHL Rockford franchise and marched the IceHogs to the Calder Cup semis. A new day in Chicago, with Kid Colliton (33) taking over as the NHL’s youngest coach this season. With his current roster, both he and the job could grow old fast.
GOOD OLD DAYS
Crisp recalls time with Bruins
Terry Crisp, his name twice on the Cup with the Flyers (1974 and ’75), spent two seasons playing with the Bruins’ top minor league affiliate in Oklahoma City, where he was coached his first year by player/coach Harry Sinden and then Murray Davidson, who took over as the Blazers’ bench boss when Sinden moved on to Boston to start the 1966-67 season.
Now 75, Crisp, a longtime broadcaster with the Nashville Predators, recently recalled his close scrape during one training camp scrimmage when the Bruins had hard-hitting Leo Boivin on the backline.
“They wanted to see who could handle it, who could survive,” said Crisp, recalling that scrimmages were routine decision-making tools in those days. “I’m a brand-new rookie, coming through, looking over my shoulder for the puck, and here comes Freight Train Boivin. I see him coming and I’m thinking, ‘I’m bleepin’ dead . . . I’m dead!’ ”
Boivin, who finished with 1,110 games and untold thousands of bone-rattling hits, let the rookie pass without a scratch.
“He turns to me and says, ‘Kid, you’re allowed one, and that’s yours,’ ” recalled Crisp, breathing a sigh of relief more than a half-century later. “My life flashed before my eyes. Thank you, Mr. Boivin! Thank you, Mr. Boivin!”
The two best guys in the Boston room, recalled Crisp, were Doug Mohns and Murray Oliver.
“The ones you remember are the ones who are nice to you,” Crisp said. “And with no reason to be nice to you . . . because you weren’t a name and you weren’t a star. I remember Ronnie Schock, Gary Dornhoefer (later a Flyers teammate), and another young guy, Don Awrey . . . and after one practice, Mohns and Oliver say to us, ‘Fellas, hurry up and get showered, you’re coming with us.’ ”
Schock and Dornhoefer brought the boys home, recalled Crisp, where their wives had prepared dinner.
“Unheard of,” said Crisp. “I mean, that’s gotta be 1963, and that still sticks in my mind. Guys being nice to you, that’s what sticks with you. The jerks, they stick with you, too, for different reasons . . . but those guys didn’t have to do that.”
In Oklahoma City, recalled Crisp, all the Blazers players lived in the same apartment building. On one warm Sunday afternoon, he recalled, they all gathered around the swimming pool, enjoying a few beers and bragging about their track and field prowess from high school days.
“You know,” said Crisp, “stuff like, ‘I can run the 100-yard dash in 3.4 seconds!’ and blah, blah, blah. It was guys like [Jean-Paul] Parise, John Arbour, and a few of the young guys, and Gerry Cheevers.”
Crisp raised both eyebrows when Cheevers said he could make tracks with the best of ’em.
“Now Cheevers, come on,” said Crisp. “I’m looking at him . . . and he says, ‘I’ll show you, let’s go out to the parking lot.’ So out we go. We pace off maybe four telephone poles, maybe 100 yards total, and say, OK guys, start to bet. Guys are betting on Parise. Guys are betting on Dornhoefer. Probably about six guys total in the race, Cheesie’s one of ’em.”
Crisp, not running, wasn’t about to place his dough on the stout Blazers puck-stopper.
“I figure he’s good for a heart attack,” said Crisp. “And I’m walking along beside him, and I say, ‘Cheesie, you sure you want to do this?’ And all he says is, ‘Don’t bet against me . . . just don’t bet against me.’ ”
Crisp acted as the starter. Cheevers promptly pulled out front and finished first by 3 or 4 yards. His boyhood lacrosse training as a forward back in St. Catharines, Ontario, paid off in the clutch.
“I couldn’t believe it,’ said Crisp. “And Cheesie says, ‘Crispy, 100 yards I can fly . . . 101 I’m toast.’ ”
Nylander, Leafs still in standoff
The William Nylander rumor mill continues to churn in Toronto, where the Maple Leafs, even without injured star forward Auston Matthews, continue to press for the top spot in the overall standings.
Nylander, the Leafs’ brilliant 22-year-old center, remains in a contract standoff, unwilling to sign a second contract with the Blue and White. The Leafs have to cut similar “second” deals next summer with a bunch of their kids, most notably Matthews, and now have only until Dec. 1 to tidy up business with Nylander. If he doesn’t have an NHL deal in place by then, Nylander (61 points each of the last two seasons) is ineligible to play anywhere in the Original 31 until the 2019-20 season.
The Rangers would love him, particularly if they are intent on continuing their roster purge of just about anyone over the age of 25. Ditto for the Wild and Hurricanes.
The Bruins, searching for an answer at No. 3 center, would welcome Nylander, particularly with their top two pivots, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, now members of the over-30 men’s league.
But hard to imagine the Leafs dealing with a division rival. And just as if the Bruins could engage the Blue Jackets in a Artemi Panarin swap, it would mean surrendering prime young talent (among the likes of Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, et al) to slap a spoked-B on ex-Bruin Michael Nylander’s kid.
The Leafs, meanwhile, are awash in cap space, slightly in excess of $15 million. They could accommodate Nylander easily, but they’d have to do it with an eye on payouts next summer for the likes of Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen, and Matthews among their entry-level kids. They’ll also be on the hook for restricted free agent defenseman Jake Gardiner, likey headed to the $6 million-a-year range.
Toronto management has tried to convince Nylander to reduce his salary demands — rumored at upward of $8 million a year — in hopes of selling him on remaining a vital piece of a long-term success story.
Thus far, the narrative hasn’t worked, possibly because he’s well aware other teams out there will pay him.
All of this should sound very familiar to Bruins fans, who watched then-GM Peter Chiarelli fail to sign Phil Kessel as a second-contract RFA in the summer of 2009. Kessel rightly sized up his market value, and ultimately forced a trade to . . . drum roll, please . . . the Leafs. Chiarelli picked up a pair of first-rounders (Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton) in the swap, and Kessel promptly signed a new deal worth $27 million over five years.
Bobby Orr, just out with his new coffee table book, “Bobby: My Life in Pictures,” is headed to a familiar spot — the operating room — later this month. The knees are fine (Orr: “A little stiff, but not bad”), but a recent trip to watch his grand-nephew play ball hockey left No. 4 flat on the ground, tripped up by some wires he hadn’t seen around a doormat. Dr. Peter Asnis, one of the Bruins’ team physicians, will patch up Orr’s rotator cuff and biceps tendon . . . Bay State homeboy Peter Laviolette, now in his fifth year behind the Nashville bench, grew up in Franklin, with the Channel 38 broadcasts of Bruins games the center of his sporting world. “It started with [Ken] Hodge, Orr, and [Phil] Esposito, and [John] McKenzie, [Wayne] Cashman, and [Terry] O’Reilly,’’ Laviolette recalled during the Bruins’ recent stop in Nashville. “I mean, that’s what we did, right? We had three channels on our TV set, and then 38 and 56. Not a lot of options. For a kid in Massachusetts, watching hockey on TV, that was it. You watched the Bruins.” . . . All 31 NHL coaches remained on their jobs throughout 2017-18, an NHL record. Though there were some quick dismissals, including Alain Vigneault with the Rangers. In 2016-17, the Panthers fired Gerard Gallant (doing fine now in Vegas) after 22 games and the Islanders shooed out Jack Capuano (now associate coach with the Panthers) after 42 games . . . Willie O’Ree, the ex-Bruins winger who’ll be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Monday night, scored his final NHL goal in what turned out to be his final NHL game, a 4-3 win over Chicago. It was March 19, 1961, in what was also the club’s final game of the season — the second of eight straight seasons the Bruins failed to qualify for the playoffs . . . Joel Quenneville was sacked by the Blackhawks along with two assistant coaches who also once wore the Whale tail: Ulf Samuelsson and Kevin Dineen . . . Had the Flames not dealt for Hamilton over the summer, they might have been able to entice the Leafs into a Nylander deal for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm. But those assets are Flames now and the Hurricanes don’t have the goods to engage in serious trade talks with the Leafs . . . Riley Nash, such a good fit for the Bruins the past two seasons, can barely fog a pane of plexiglass (0-2—2 in 15 games) with Columbus. He has two more years remaining at $2.75 million per. If the Bruins could find a way to trim that back by, say, $750,000 a year, he might be a good target to bring back as the No. 3 pivot . . . Slightly more than two weeks away (Nov. 29) from Rick Middleton’s No. 16 making it to the Garden rafters. For you young-uns not fortunate enough to see him play, it’s worth a skip over to YouTube for a look at his work. Craftsman.