As per usual, there is quite a bit happening around the NHL. Here are a few news & notes items:
Flyers fire GM Ron Hextall
- Flyers President Paul Holmgren announced Monday that the team had dismissed Executive VP & GM Ron Hextall of his duties. Assistant GM & Director of Player Personnel Chris Pryor and assistant coach Gord Murphy have also been let go. Holmgren indicated the future of Flyers coach Dave Hakstol is in the hands of the yet-to-be-named GM. Pryor was Hextall’s right hand person and had been with the Flyers organization for the past 20 years; he oversaw the team’s draft selection process. Assistant coach Murphy had been responsible to the team’s defenseman. As for the reason for Hextall’s departure, it was reported that Holmgren ran out of patience with the lack of success on the ice. Holmgren was a Flyers GM in the past and was known to make deals and shake things up when the team was not winning but Hextall did not appear to operate the same. Hextall was known to preach patience but in the end, it seems Holmgren ran out it with respect to Hextall.
- Former LA Kings GM Dean Lombardi, who was an adviser to Hextall in the Flyers front office, was offered to stay on with the Flyers even though he was brought into the Flyers organization by and to work with Hextall. Flyers President Holmgren indicated they’d like Lombardi to advise on the GM search and stay on even when the new GM is hired.
- After 24 games played this season, the Flyers have a record of 10-12-2. The team has used 5 different goaltenders and, in a 31 team league, are 28th in goals against with an average of 3.58 goals against/game. Former Marlies goaltender Calvin Pickard was placed on waivers by the team on Wednesday. In 11 appearances this season, Pickard’s record was 4-2-2 a 4.01 GAA and a .863 SV%.
- I caught most of the game Saturday night when the Flyers played in Toronto and it was an embarrassing display by the Flyers who lost 6-0.
- TSN reported Wednesday that the leading candidate to replace Hextall is former Minnesota Wild GM Chuck Fletcher who is currently working in the front office of the New Jersey Devils, with their GM Ray Shero. The Devils reportedly OK’d the Flyers talking to Fletcher about the opportunity. Fletcher is scheduled to meet with the Flyers on Thursday (29 Nov). The Flyers did indicate they plan to move quickly and have a new GM in place as soon as possible.
- One of the Flyers top forwards, Wayne Simmonds is an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2019 so the new GM will have look at that soon after taking over.
- All signs point to the NHL Board of Governors approving Seattle as the NHL’s 32nd franchise during the Dec. 3&4 meetings. This will be a big NHL news day.
- Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan said Monday that the KeyArena renovations will be completed for the start of the 2020 NHL season.
Signings / Trades
- Rangers forward Kevin Hayes is a pending unrestricted free agent and Rangers GM Jeff Gorton said they are taking a “wait and see” approach regarding possible contract negotiations. Gorton is going to see how the team plays leading up to the February 25, 2019 trade deadline. Hayes, 26, has reportedly been the team’s top forward this season.
- The Coyotes traded forwards Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini to Chicago for forward Nick Schmaltz. All three players in the deal were former 1st round selections. Strome was drafted 3rd overall in 2015 (before Mitch Marner); Perlini was drafted 12th overall in 2014; Schmaltz was drafted 20th overall in 2014. Apparently the Blackhawks are hoping Strome can play 2nd line center behind Jonathan Toews. Strome and Hawks forward Alex DeBrincat played together in the OHL, with the Erie Otters (McDavid was the other player on the line), and the team is hoping they’ll be able to develop chemistry again. The Coyotes ran out of patience with Strome and he’s not one the league’s better skaters. Similarly, Schmaltz fell out of favor in Chicago where he had 21 goals and 52 points last season. This season he’s recorded 11 points on 2 goals in 23 ‘Hawks games. The Coyotes are 1-4 in their past 5 games and Chicago is 2-4 in their most recent 6 games. The ‘Hawks are 3-5-2 under new head coach Jeremy Colliton who reportedly signed a 3 year contract at $1.4 M /season.
- Sounds like the Hurricanes may make a move to change their 3 goalie situation. They have Peter Mrazek, Curtis McElhinney and Scott Darling. Darling may be the odd goalie out.
- The Leafs are 10-3-0 in their past 13 games and just got Auston Matthews back from a shoulder injury. They’ve won 6 straight games at home (are 9-5 at home this season) and the team is super entertaining to watch especially when they play at ScotiaBank Arena. Wednesday night’s game against San Jose was, again, fun to watch with Matthews scoring 2 goals and Marner collecting 3 assists.
- The team is 12-0 when scoring first this season; 13-0 when leading after 2 periods and 17-1 when scoring 3 or more goals.
- Patrick Marleau’s 1,600th career game on Monday night was special, too. Marleau is only the 11th player all-time to play in as many games. Players who’ve played more games than Marleau:
- Howe 1767 games
- Messier 1756 games
- Jagr 1733 games
- Francis 1731 games
- Recchi 1652 games
- Chelios 1651 games
- Andreychuk 1639 games
- Scott Stevens 1635 games
- Larry Murphy 1615 games
- Ray Bourque 1612 games
- Marleau has an incredible active games played streak of 733 games. He is also only the 25th player to score a goal against all 30 NHL teams and he’s the only player in NHL history to record a game winning goal against all 31 NHL teams.
- Auston Matthews 12 goals puts him in 3rd place for most goals by a Leafs player in his first 3 seasons. Rick Vaive had 96 goals and Matthews has 86 with three quarters of the season remaining.
- Mitch Marner recorded 8 assists in the recent 3 home games. His price as a restricted free agent keeps going up but, at the player’s request, contract discussions are awaiting until after the season.
- John Tavares is on pace for a career high in goals and points. He’s on pace for 49 goals and 92 points. His previous career high in goals is 38 and points, 86.
- The team plays 7 of their next 8 games on the road starting Saturday evening against Minnesota. The Wild are one of the league’s top teams in their own building with an 8-3-2 record.
- No one knows what will happen with the Saturday, December 1st 5 PM EST deadline for William Nylander to play in the NHL this season. Current scuttlebutt is, if Leafs can sign him by December 1, this would be his final season in Toronto. One suggestion is the Leafs give Nylander a bit more money this season, because they’ll have Matthews and Marner contracts after this season on their books, and then trade him this summer. Many people have grown tired of this situation but, after December 1, the organization will know where things are at. Coach Babcock seems to really want to player back and Auston Matthews and Nylander are close friends and have excellent chemistry on the ice. GM Dubas seems to be a patient person who could put the trying negotiations in the past, if he signs. If he doesn’t sign, it seems more likely he’ll be traded. Seems the number to get Nylander signed is 6 years at between $6.9 M and $7 M /season.
- Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe won his 158th game Wednesday night which is the most of any Marlies coach. Keefe, I would expect, should get NHL interest soon.
- Marlies defenseman Rasmus Sandin is tied for the lead among AHL rookie defenseman in goals with 4.
- The Blues are really struggling with a 8-12-3 record after 23 games played and have lost 7 of their past 9 games. The team has a 1-3 record under interim head coach Craig Berube. Apparently, the team’s defenseman are making untimely mistakes that are costing the team games. The team is 0-5-3 in one goal games this season.
- The team next plays in Colorado; the Avs have won 6 straight games.
- Starting goaltender Jake Allen has a 3.27 GAA and a .896 SV% and there were some rumors this week the team may look to acquire a goaltender with pending UFA Wings Jimmy Howard being mentioned as a possible Allen replacement.
- The Sabres have 10 straight wins and forward Jeff Skinner is tied for the NHL lead in goals with 19. Skinner and Sabres captain Jack Eichel play on the team’s number one line and have developed strong chemistry together. Skinner, as pending UFA, is going to get paid well this summer. I heard Sabres GM Jason Botterill plans to open contract talks with Skinner in the new year.
- Off-season acquisition Carter Hutton is playing well; in 19 appearances, Hutton has a 2.50 GAA and a .920 SV%.
- Ken Hitchcock took over in Edmonton and the team is 2-1-1 in Hitch’s first four games. Hitchcock has been going with Mikko Koskinen in net (he’s played in 3 of the 4 games). Koskinen looks good in the games I’ve watched (most of them since Hitch took over) and has a 6-2-1 with a .923 SV% and 2 shutouts. Oilers former starter, Cam Talbot, is in the last year of this contract and unrestricted on July 1, 2019.
- The Oilers recalled Jesse Puljujarvi (4th overall in 2016) from the AHL. The player has been a bit of a disappointment so far in his NHL career but Hitchcock specifically asked for the player to be recalled because Hitch believes he can help the player improve plus Hitch likes big forwards and Puljujarvi is 6’4” and 200 pounds.
- Defenseman Andrej Sekera has been skating with the team in practices (he’s recovering from an achilles tear in off-season training) but his return to game action may not be until the new year.
- The Avalanche have won 6 straight games and their top line of MacKinnon-Landeskog-Rantanen are the top line in hockey. Nathan MacKinnon has 8 multi-point games in his past 9 games.
Team Canada Hockey
- Former Carolina Hurricanes GM Ron Francis and Sean Burke will co-GM Team Canada at the upcoming Spengler Cup. Burke was Canada’s GM at the 2018 Winter Olympics where the team won a bronze medal. Burke was also GM of Canada’s team at the past two gold winning teams at the Spengler Cup. Kevin Dineen will be the team’s head coach with assistant Gord Dwyer and Mike Kitchen. The tournament starts December 26, 2018 in Davos, Switzerland. Canada has won gold in the past 3 Spengler Cup’s.
- Team Canada will announce the junior aged players invited to Team Canada tryout’s for the 2019 World Junior Tournament on Monday, December 3rd. Training camp opens December 10, 2018 in Victoria. The final roster is expected to be announced on December 15th. The tournament starts on December 26. All of Team Canada’s games are in Vancouver while some other games will be played in Victoria. Tickets are almost completely sold out. Games in Victoria are already sold out and games in Vancouver are close to being sold out.
- Team Canada’s head coach is Tim Hunter who is currently the head coach of the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL.
- Goaltender Michael DiPietro, who plays for the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL (a 2017 3rd round draft selection of the Canucks) is expected to vie for the starting goalie position. Prince Albert Raiders goaltender and Leafs prospect Ian Scott (2017 4th round) is also expected to be invited to selection camp. On defense, Oilers first rounder & London Knight’s captain, Evan Bouchard, is expected to the team’s #1 defenseman. Noah Dobson (12th overall 2018) an Islanders draft pick is another highly rated defenseman expected to play for Canada at the tournament. At forward, there are 3 players – Robert Thomas (STL), Gabe Valirdi (LA) & Michael Rasmussen (DET) that are eligible to play in tournament but they are with NHL clubs currently. Ducks Max Comtios (a returnee from last year’s team) was just returned to the QMJHL and seems to be someone that will again play for Team Canada. Vegas’ Cody Glass (6th overall 2017) and ‘Habs Nick Suzuki (acquired in the Pacioretty deal) should make the team as well. Coyotes draft pick, Barrett Hayton (5th overall 2018), a two-way center, is another name that gets mentioned as a possibility. Senators draft pick Alex Formenton is expected to make the team; he’s a noted fast skater. Alex Lafreniere (draft eligible 2020) should make the team as well.
- Team USA is holding their World Juniors training camp in Everett, Washington from December 14-18. Jack Hughes, the expected number 1 draft selection in the 2019 entry draft, is the star for the Americans.
- The Bruins are without their number one center, Patrice Bergeron. Bergeron suffered rib & sternoclavical injuries in a game Nov. 16th and the he’s to re-evaluated in 4 weeks (from the date of injury). Bergeron had recorded 9 goals and 17 assists in 19 games before the injury.
- Also with the Bruins, defenseman Kevan Miller will miss at least a month after getting hit in the throat with a puck. Fellow defenseman Zdeno Chara is also injured with the knee problem.
- New LA Kings forward Carl Hagelin will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a lower body injury.
- Canucks star forward Brock Boeser just returned from a groin injury.
- Penguins forward Patrick Hornqvist is out of action with a concussion.
- LA Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick is nearing a return from his knee injury.
High Profile RFA’s that need a new contracts this summer
- The following young stars are all RFA’s, meaning they need a new contract this summer and do not have the ability to go to arbitration.
- Flames Matthew Tkachuk
- Lightning Brayden Point
- Jets Patrik Laine
- Leafs Auston Matthews
- Leafs Mitch Marner
- Avs Mikko Rantanen
- ‘Canes Sebastian Aho
- Canucks Brock Boeser
- Some experts see this summer as a changing of the CBA landscape because these 22 year old young stars want to be paid big money out of their entry level contract and are not interested in bridge deals. The Nylander contract is the first of these (his contract expired this past summer) but when he signs, it will start to set the financial marketplace for these young restricted free agents (the stars of the RFA group). This could also affect players age 30+ as the young players are wanting more money at a younger age; there is not as much left for the 30+ players since the young players are taking a bigger chunk of the cap earlier in their careers. The game is younger and faster than it’s ever been.
- For the Leafs, Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen are also RFA’s but have not achieved as much as the others played mentioned above.
- Jets Kyle Connor (23 GP 10 G & 14 A) is another good, young player that is in the final year of his entry level contract.
Odds & Ends
- San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson will be playing his first game against his former team when the Sharks visit the Senators on Saturday. Karlsson has had a bit of a slow start in San Jose; in 26 games, he’s recorded 2 goals and 13 assists. Karlsson is in final year of his contract and will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2019. He can sign for up to seven seasons with San Jose at any time but he can’t sign a max/8 year deal until after this season’s trade deadline (February 25, 2019).
- LA Kings forward Ilya Kovalchuk has seen his ice time decrease under new head coach Willie Desjardins. This past Sunday in LA’s win against Edmonton, Kovalchuk played a season-low 6:20. Kovalchuk signed a 3 year $18.75 M ($6.25 M/season) contract in the summer. I believe Desjardins has issues with Kovalchuk’s defensive commitment. The player is pointless in the team’s last 9 games but still tied for the team lead in points with 14.
- Vegas has a 4 game winning streak going. The team had an uneven start but head coach Gerard Gallant says the team is starting to find their game. They lost to the Flames 7-2 on November 19th but since have reeled off 4 wins in a row. Forward Max Pacioretty has 9 points on 6 goals in his past 6 games.
- Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, 34, is on pace to start 69 games this season. It would be the most starts of Fleury’s 15 year career.
- Alex Ovechkin scored his 625th career goal on Monday. Ovi is tied for 15th all-time in goals scored with Jarome Iginla and Joe Sakic. Ovechkin is 33 years old and if he plays for 3-4 more season’s and records, modest guess, 30 goals /season, he would end up in the top 5 all-time in goals scored.
- Senators rookie Brady Tkachuk has 12 points in 13 games in Ottawa. He’s recorded 4 points in his past 5 games.
- The Vancouver Canucks are struggling to get wins. They are 1-7-2 in their past 10 games.
- Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber returned to game action Tuesday against Carolina. Weber had not played in NHL game in 344 days; his last game was December 16, 2017. Weber played over 25 minutes in his first game back.
- Boston Bruins legend Rick Middleton will have his #16 jersey retired by the Bruins organization this Thursday before the Bruins play the NY Islanders.
- The NY Rangers will retire Vic Hadfield’s #11 jersey on December 2.
- Penguins top defenseman Kris Letang is now tied for the franchise lead in games played by a Penguins defenseman with 703 games played.
- Montreal defenseman Karl Alzner was placed on waivers this week and went unclaimed. His $4.65 M/season contract could be a reason team’s don’t want to claim him. Alzner is now playing for the ‘Habs AHL affiliate, the Laval Rocket, but his agent and ‘Habs GM Bergevin are looking for other teams that may be interested in acquiring him. The ‘Habs would most likely have to retain salary to make a deal work.
- Capitals tough forward Tom Wilson has recorded 6 goals and 6 assists in 8 games-basically since he returned from suspension. Impressive numbers.
- Sidney Crosby has 14 points in his last 8 games including a hat trick against the Avalanche on Wednesday night.
- Jets star Patrik Laine had 3 hat tricks in the month of November. Laine is tied for the league-lead in goals with 19. The last player with 3 hat tricks in a calendar month was Alex Kovalev in February 2001.
- NY Rangers defenseman Neal Pionk appears to be a good young defenseman. In 51 career games at the NHL level, Pionk has recored 29 points which ranks him among the leaders in points after a Rangers defenseman’s first 50 games:
- Brian Leetch 48 points
- Ron Greshner 36 points
- Sergei Zubov 33 points
- Neal Poink 29 points
- Ducks goaltender Ryan Miller is one game from tying John Vanbiesbrouck for most wins for the USA-born goaltender. All-time wins USA-born goaltenders:
- John Vanbiesbrouck 374
- Ryan Miller 373
- Tom Barrasso 369
- Mike Richter 301
- Jonathan Quick 293
- Pekka Rinne became the winningest Finland-born goaltender in NHL history when he recorded his 320 career game on November 22. Rinne passed previous leader, retired former Sharks and Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff. Rinne, along with Frederik Andersen, have to be the early season favorites to win the Vezina trophy as the league’s top goaltender. Rinne, in 16 appearances this season, has a 10-3-1 record with a .938 SV% and a 1.77 GAA.
- In Ottawa, the LeBreton Flats project is in jeopardy after Eugene Melnyk and partner John Ruddy had a disagreement. It’s unclear at this point where this is going but it does not sound good for the Senator’s plan of getting a downtown arena.