Year of firings continues in NHL
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New Year’s Eve is a relatively useless holiday when you’re straight edge and when you try your best not to believe in time (the worst man-made construct of all). Hey world, that’s me.
But it did give me the benefit of being clear-minded as always while watching the 2020 Winter Classic. And it didn’t take long for me to go, “Oh, Peter Laviolette is totally getting fired next.”
It’s been that kind of year in the NHL, and that kind of year for the Predators. It took another loss, this one a 5-4 shootout loss to the Ducks, but the Predators pulled the plug on Lavy on Monday, making him the sixth head coach fired this season. (That’s almost 20 percent of all coaches.)
Make no mistake about it, Predators front office boss David Poile hated to do this. In fact, the next man behind the Nashville bench will be just the third coach in the franchise’s 22-year history.
But I mean, what else could have been done? Sitting five points out of a playoff spot (and sixth in the Central), time is running out on the Predators. In more ways than one. This team certainly seemed to hit its ceiling with Laviolette leading the charge, and the impending cap crunch when Roman Josi’s $9 million cap hit kicks in next season throws a potential wrench at their Cup window. And speaking about their roster, it’s probably never a good thing when your top scorer is a defender (Josi) leading the second-highest scorer by a staggering 16 points. Matt Duchene, who signed a deal to make him the Preds’ highest-paid forward this past summer, hasn’t been what he was as a goal-scorer last season, and their power play has sputtered at 16.8% (ninth-worst in the NHL).
Special teams as a whole have been a disaster for the Preds, actually, with their 74% mark on the penalty kill sitting as the third-worst percentage in hockey entering Tuesday.
The seemingly dynamic one-two punch of Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros has been of absolutely no help, either, as they’ve posted a combined .889 save percentage on the year. Only the Sharks, Kings, and Red Wings have been worse. And considering that this tandem posted a combined .914 save percentage last year (fourth-best in hockey), it’s not hard to see what’s gone wrong in Smashvile.
Now, how much of this falls on Laviolette is subjective. But it’s not exactly foreign. Laviolette’s message eventually grew old in Carolina, and then again in Philadelphia. He’s always been this coach that squeezes some highly, highly competitive years out of your franchise before it kinda fades.
And it’s certainly faded in Nashville.
To the point where their window has officially closed? Well, if the Blues came back from what they did last year, anything’s possible, and the overall skill of this roster (especially in net and on the backend) would indicate that a turnaround is coming. It’s just a matter of who brings it out of them.
(Also: If you’re the New Jersey Devils’ Ray Shero, you should probably call Laviolette first thing.)
Here are some other quick-hitters from around the NHL…
- Martin Jones has to be the worst starting goaltender in the NHL, right? I mean, this is getting bad. And it’s hard to see how the Sharks come out of this. Just assuming they don’t work their way out of this, it’s worth mentioning that the Sharks have just over $47 million committed to five skaters and a goaltender through 2023-24. That group includes Evander Kane, Logan Couture, Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Jones. And with some more expiring contracts coming, it could get Kings-ugly if Doug Wilson doesn’t hit some home runs elsewhere.
- It’s pretty wild that the Canadiens were the only team apparently willing to gamble on Ilya Kovalchuk. And it only cost them a one-year, two-way contract worth a pro-rated $700,000 (so half of that figure). Really thought he made a lot of sense for the Bruins (as you know), who continue to rotate about a billion different players with David Krejci in search of a long-term fit, especially at that cost. It’ll also be hilarious if the Habs flip Kovalchuk at the deadline should they truly fall out of playoff contention, forcing some team to trade assets for him when they coulda had him for nickels.
- The Canucks look really, really, really nice in their throwbacks. Love them.
- Getting a close look at Connor McDavid this past Saturday (and then again on Monday), it’s just plain wild to watch this guy in person. The way he moves -- and the way he just straight-up clowns players in one-on-one battles if you give him even an inch of space -- is absolutely remarkable. I mean, he makes your team’s fastest skater look like a beer league straggler.
- The Atlantic Division is about to get real. The Bruins have sputtered of late, while the Maple Leafs have been arguably the hottest team in the league since making the switch from Mike Babcock to Sheldon Keefe. The Lightning, meanwhile, have rattled off seven straight victories and their advanced metrics tell the story of a team that’s finally going to get rewarded and return to their absolute-freaking-juggernaut status before you know it. Just a matter of where they finish in terms of postseason positioning, if you ask me. Could be the most dangerous team in April this time around.
Ty Anderson is a writer, columnist, and weird personality for 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, where he covers all things Boston sports. He has been covering the National Hockey League for HockeyBuzz.com since 2010, and has also been part of the Boston Chapter of the PHWA since 2013. He will not give you his email, so yell at him on Twitter (@_TyAnderson).