In the absence of anything better or more compelling to talk about, talk this week seems to have shifted to who is or is not on any number of various hot seats.
You see why: This is the point of the season at which a lot of stuff just starts to kinda run together. For me, Games Nos. 40-60 is the dead stretch of the season, when we’re naming All-Star teams but the game itself is weeks away.
And also at this time of year, a lot of people are checking the standings and saying, “Ah this team should be a lot better.” Seems to be a common problem in Canada in particular, where I’d say Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, and maybe even Toronto are worse than most of us probably thought they would be. And hey, when teams start struggling, people start looking for answers. Once they’ve checked off the possibility of an important call-up, or some roster tweaks, or making a shake-up trade (Ottawa already tried and it doesn’t seem to be going well), well, you gotta fire someone.
So a lot of questions this week are about teams trying to re-calibrate for the second half of the year. Or maybe beyond.
Let’s get to it:
Tom asks: “What coaches should Rangers consider if and when they move on from Alain Vigneault?”
Let’s start with the idea that I still think Vigneault is a good coach — even if, as a number of question-askers question-asked this week, he treats Pavel Buchnevich like he ran over the Vigneault family dog — but has probably overstayed his welcome with the Rangers. Moreover, let’s include the idea that I think the Rangers just kinda suck and there’s no coach who’s going to turn this around for them.
With that in mind, let’s see if there are any candidates out there. You have the kinda obvious guys like Darryl Sutter and Dan Bylsma, and I think if you’re making a hire mid-season you go with a guy who’s not currently working. That rules out college coaches (we’ll get to those in a bit) at least until March, AHL head coaches, NHL assistants, and so on
But here’s one that might be less obvious: Dave Tippett, who’s out of Arizona and just kinda not doing anything, but he wasn’t fired or anything. It was a mutual parting of the ways between him and his old organization, and that’s a guy who, despite his record with the Coyotes, can flat-out coach. If the Rangers do indeed fire Vigneault in the near future, Tippett is probably my preferred pick to replace him.
Zoe asks: “With Dermott, Carrick, and Borgman all apparently competing for two spots in the lineup, what will it take to get Polak rotated out? Zaitsev coming back? An injury? More than 2 penalties a game? Nothing? Is all hope lost?”
Someone has to lock Roman Polak in a basement or something, just so Mike Babcock doesn’t have the chance to overuse him any more. The implication that Dermott, Carrick, and Borgman are fighting for spots on the bottom pair means Babcock (probably the best coach in the world) views Polak as a No. 4 defender. He absolutely is not one of those.
The only thing that will keep Polak out of the lineup at this point seems to be injury. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but here we are.
Carl asks: “Are the Jets a legitimate Cup contender?”
I have a hot take for you: Maybe.
I love their offensive talent and I believe in Connor Hellebuyck like I believe the sun will rise every day, but I’m not totally sure about that defense in a bunch of seven-game series against actual good teams. I think I was one of the few people I remember seeing talking about them being capital-L Legit in October, but halfway through the season I’m still not sure they can go the full distance. (This, of course, goes for just about every team in the league that isn’t Tampa.)
So if they trade for a defenseman, or at least find something that works when it comes to distributing minutes properly, this might be a pretty scary team.
Zach asks: “Is it time for St. Louis to hit the panic button on Jake Allen or are the problems with the team in front of the goalie? If the latter, what can be done to fix it? The fanbase seems divided on it.”
It was time to hit the panic button on Jake Allen like two years ago.
The guy is 27, he has fewer than 200 games of NHL experience, and he’s a roughly average goaltender over the course of his entire career. His playoff run last year was great (.935) but it was also 11 games and was driven pretty much entirely by an incredible first round against Minnesota, which isn’t exactly the world’s more powerful offense.
As for the, “Is it a systems issue?” Well, Carter Hutton has the eighth-highest expected 5-on-5 save percentage in the league (.930) and Allen’s is 15th (.926), which suggests that the team in front of them is doing a good job of keeping things to the outside. And yet, in all situations, Allen has allowed 4.9 more goals than the average goaltender would have, and that number is 16th-worst in the league. That’s on him.
I said it the other day, but the fact that he has been usurped by a guy who is a career-long average backup should be a big worry. Like, obviously Hutton isn’t any sort of long-term answer and his current run seems like it’s going to run out of gas soon, which is fine. But the idea that Jake Allen is or ever was this franchise’s goalie of the future should be an indictment of the franchise and its ability to develop goaltenders, full stop.
Jen asks: “How do you fix the garbage fire that is the Oilers, acquiring a time machine to not make trades not being an option?”
I am honestly not sure you can, or at least, you can’t do it in a way that doesn’t involved trading Connor McDavid for a team’s entire farm system and starting from scratch.
The damage Peter Chiarelli did to make his forward group worse and not really improve his defense all that much would be impressive if he were, like, trying to make the team worse while appearing to try to make it better. But as far as I can tell, that’s not what he’s doing and he has, instead, just screwed everything up.
I got another question this week about who regrets their decision to sign long-term more, McDavid or Jack Eichel, and it’s a tough one to answer because they both signed up for trouble. But I think McDavid probably regrets it more at the end of the day because they were, like, supposed to be good and instead are rather the opposite, weighed down with a bunch of bad contracts for years to come. Eichel’s team at least has roster flexibility even if there probably won’t be a lot done with it.
Oh actually I just thought of something the Oilers could do to turn things around: Draft Rasmus Dahlin. But if the lottery works out so that happens, Chiarelli is going to get Caesar-at-the-Senate’d by the other 30 GMs.
Brian asks: “Should teams start resting star players or more physical players during some regular season games in order to save energy for the post-season?”
There is no universe in which teams that have locked up playoff spots by Game 70 shouldn’t be resting their top players, unless those top players want to pursue performance bonuses or something.
Let’s say you’re Jon Cooper, right? Your Lightning, as of Game 40, basically already had the whole division locked up. Probably also the Eastern Conference. At that point why wouldn’t you have basically all your star players — Stamkos, Kucherov, Hedman, Stralman, Vasilevskiy — playing a maximum of two out of every three games the rest of the season? Do it on a rotating basis, who cares? They’re gonna waltz to 100-plus points and the rest of the Eastern Conference looks kinda not-great. They already have an eight-point lead on the Capitals.
Miles are miles and it doesn’t matter if they’re accrued in early-February games against non-conference opponents or the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Any edge you can get in May you gotta take, and that’s what having 60 points at the halfway mark provides you.
Justin asks: “Who is the most likely (or maybe top 3) NCAA coach to make the jump to NHL?”
Okay so this gets asked a lot, especially at this time of year, and there are three names that seemingly always come up: David Quinn at Boston University, Nate Leaman at Providence, and Jim Montgomery at Denver.
There are all reasons why they would make very good NHL coaching candidates (mainly: they are good coaches who do a good job managing talent), and all reasons why they would never take an NHL job (mainly: they’ve got good gigs and oodles of job security in the NCAA).
Some other guys I’ll mention real quick as dark horses: Tony Granato at Wisconsin (limited track record as a head coach but he’s coaching the U.S. team at the Olympics) and Rand Pecknold at Quinnipiac (great coach whose team doesn’t really have a lot of talent the last two years), but if I had to pick just three, those first three would be The Guys.
Will asks: “Thoughts on limiting the amount of time replay officials have to make the decision of a goal/no-goal?”
I think I’ve said it before but: It should be two minutes and that’s it. If you’re not able to tell after looking at a slow-mo, zoomed-in replay for 120 seconds, it’s too close to really be worth worrying about.