Hello, beautiful Bench-Lifers. I am back again for another look at the biggest NHL storylines from the past week. There was a ton to talk about during the past seven days so let’s jump right in.
A new day has dawned for the Chicago Blackhawks. On Tuesday morning, in the midst of a five-game losing streak, the team fired long-time head coach Joel Quenneville. The mustachioed bench boss was the longest-tenured coach in the NHL at the time of his firing and had won three Stanley Cup championships over his 10 seasons with the team. Jeremy Colliton, who was coaching the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL, was named his successor and became the youngest coach in the league at 38-years-old.
Quenneville is the second-winningest coach in NHL history (890 wins), trailing only the legendary Scotty Bowman (1,244 wins). Ironically enough, the Bowman regime has a massive part to play in this whole scenario. Stan Bowman, the Blackhawks general manager (and Scotty’s son), butted-heads with Quenneville over organizational matters throughout the entirety of their working relationship. Mark Lazerus has a fantastic piece about the whole situation on The Athletic, but basically, there were three main points of contention that the article covered.
- In the 2011-12 season, Bowman forced Barry Smith upon Quenneville as an assistant coach. Scotty Bowman was a senior advisor in the organization at the time and Smith was an old friend who had coached with him for over 15 seasons. The decision infuriated Quenneville and started a theme of resentment between him and the Bowman clan. Interestingly enough, Smith was immediately brought back this past week as an assistant coach once Quenneville was canned.
- At the end of the 2016-17 season, Quenneville’s best friend/assistant coach Mike Kitchen was fired by Bowman. The two started coaching together in 1998 with the St. Louis Blues and had spent over 12 seasons alongside one another behind the bench.
- Bowman had made some trades that Quenneville vehemently disagreed with over the past few years, most notably, the Niklas Hjalmarsson and Artemi Panarin deals.
The way I see it is that Bowman saved his own ass by firing Quenneville. Apparently, that is how former Blackhawks’ tough guy Daniel Carcillo sees it too.
Now, the head coach was not perfect by any means. He was not some infallible deity that could do no wrong with the hockey gods. Quenneville routinely frustrated fans by showing blind loyalty to veteran players while youthful talent waited for their chance. The Blackhawks had first-round exits in both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons before completely bottoming-out last year. Due to this, changes definitely had to be made. With that being said, Bowman is more responsible for an under-performing roster than Quenneville was.
The head coach did not trade Hjalmarsson to the Coyotes nor did he make the Panarin for Brandon Saad swap. He did not trade Teuvo Teravainen, Philip Danault, or Vinnie Hinistroza in the past two years. The general manager is responsible for those moves. Furthermore, Bowman inherited his Cup-winning core from Dale Tallon when he was hired in 2009. He did not draft Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, or Corey Crawford. Likewise, Bowman responded to the Blackhawks’ worst season in a decade by signing Chris Kunitz, Brandon Manning, and Cam Ward this past offseason. Talk about some real game changers.
Negativity aside, I fully believe Bowman deserves credit for the moves he made during the 2012-13 and 2014-15 Cup wins. Players like Johnny Oduya, Michal Handzus, and Antoine Vermette were integral playoff pieces and shrewd acquisitions.
All of this adds up to the Blackhawks losing the first two games of Colliton’s NHL coaching career. Their losing streak now sits at seven games. After a 6-2-2 start, their record sits at 6-8-3. Quenneville was caught up in a power struggle, and he ultimately deserved a better fate. Regardless, he will be able to coach again any time he wants to as certain teams are likely drooling at the thought of bringing him in. Quenneville will be fine. I am not sure the same can be said about the Blackhawks.
Comebacks And Curly Fries In The Motor City
Before saying anything else, the Detroit Red Wings are not a good team. I am a diehard fan myself, and while they have been incredibly fun lately, I am not mistaking them for a team with realistic playoff aspirations.
With that being said, OH MY GOD THE RED WINGS REBUILD IS IN FULL SWING! WE’LL BE BACK IN NO TIME! IN LARKIN WE TRUST!
Yes, the Red Wings have won six of their last seven games after a dismal 1-7-2 start to the year. They have won three straight games despite trailing by multiple goals in each contest. It is the first time in franchise history that the team has accomplished such a feat. Up front, there have been fantastic performances from some of their young leaders. In particular, Dylan Larkin is playing like an absolute stud. He has seven goals and 10 assists through 17 games this season including the overtime winner against the New York Rangers on Friday.
Similarly, Andreas Athanasiou has been dangerous on a nightly basis. He has four points in his past two games and 10 points through 13 games this season. On Saturday, Anthony Mantha single-handedly spearheaded the comeback against the Carolina Hurricanes with two goals in the third period. Tyler Bertuzzi has shown he belongs at the NHL level and 2017 first-round pick Michael Rasmussen has delivered tantalizing flashes of his power-forward potential.
With that in mind, perhaps the best part about the whole start to the season has been 2016 first-round pick Dennis Cholowski on the back end. On draft night, many fans (including myself) were skeptical when the team traded down, jettisoning Pavel Datsyuk’s contract to the Arizona Coyotes, but passing on Jakob Chychrun in the process. Cholowski was a moderately unknown commodity at the time as he played in the BCHL during his draft year. On the other hand, Chychrun had been considered a top-10 pick early on in 2016 while playing for the Sarnia Sting in the OHL. Cholowski surprised many people out of training camp this season and ultimately wound up on the team for opening night. Since then, all he has done is impress with two goals, six assists, and a poise that far exceeded expectations.
Again, the Red Wings are not good. This is a team that was so bad early on in the season, that Arby’s changed a decade-old curly fries promotion. In years past, fans would get a free order of curly fries whenever a Red Wings player scored a hat trick. All they had to do was bring in a box score of the game. Now, Arby’s is giving away a free order of curly fries whenever the Red Wings score three goals in a game. There is lowering the bar, and then there is that. But hey, since the changeover the Red Wings have scored at least three goals in seven of eight games. All praise the power of the curly fry.
The Uber Ride Heard ‘Round The World
At this point, I hope we all know what happened. If not, here is the video. During a road trip to Arizona in late October, several Ottawa Senators players were unknowingly recorded by their Uber driver as they mocked their coaching staff in a five-minute rant. Matt Duchene was the most vocal of the bunch and continuously mentioned how clueless assistant coach Martin Raymond was while Chris Wideman and Thomas Chabot laughed at the team’s inefficient penalty killing.
Now, this is not a great situation, especially for a franchise that has had such a tumultuous year. It is embarrassing for the players and provided an unnecessary headache in an already challenging season. With that being said, I thought this whole ordeal was blown way out of proportion. I mean, who hasn’t badmouthed a co-worker, customer or boss before? The difference is, if you knew you were being recorded, you probably would have kept your opinions to yourself. Gerard Gallant, head coach of the Vegas Golden Knights, had a great take on the situation when asked by a Toronto Sun reporter.
“All the players talk about coaches all the time, believe me, and vice versa.” He paused to laugh. “We talk about them too.”
Obviously! It is cliche, but you cannot please everyone. A hockey team consists of a ton of individuals having to try and work together to achieve a common goal. Not everybody is going agree with the methods, and in return, they will vent about it in privacy. This video never should have surfaced because all it is are athletes voicing their frustrations.
Thankfully, the Senators won two of their four games this week, including a wild comeback against the powerful Tampa Bay Lightning. Things would have been brutal if they went on a massive losing streak after this media firestorm.
I will say, one positive from the whole situation is that this tweet was made (sorry Sens fans).
These players scored the first NHL goal of their careers this week: Denis Gurianov (DAL), Brett Seney (NJD), Jeremy Lauzon (BOS).
The Boston Bruins top line of Brad Marchand (2G,3A), Patrice Bergeron (2G,4A), and David Pastrnak (5G,2A) absolutely dominated during four games this week. The trio has accounted for 58% of the Bruins goals this season (31/53). They are simply terrific.
Continuing on with the Bruins, shoutout to Jaroslav Halak who has been downright magnificent with Beantown this season. Halak has posted a 6-1-2 record with a 1.77 goals-against average, .945 save percentage, and two shutouts to start 2018-19. Aside from a five-goal clunker against the Canucks on Thursday, he has been practically unbeatable. Tuukka Rask remains on personal leave which means Halak is manning the crease for the near future.
The Minnesota Wild have been quietly formidable through their first portion of the season. They are riding an 8-2-0 record in their last 10 games and sit at 11-4-2 on the year. Zach Parise’s resurgence has been a big part of their success. He has delivered seven goals and nine assists through his first 17 games after posting back-to-back seasons with less than 50 points. Here’s hoping he stays healthy!
William Nylander continues to play the waiting game with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The slick Swedish forward has until 5PM on December 1st to sign a contract or else he will be ineligible to play this season. Both parties are apparently still quite far apart with the financials. I understand the hesitation from Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas. 1). This is his first big contract dispute as an NHL general manager. If he caves and gives Nylander a big contract, agents will prey on him for years to come. 2). He has to try his best to get Nylander signed to a reasonable contract that will not handcuff the team’s financial abilities in the future. Apparently, the Leafs have reached out to possible trade partners in recent days. Dubas has continuously stated that he will not trade Nylander, but with the clock ticking, desperation may set in during the coming weeks. Not having Nylander playing and/or not having assets in return would severely hurt the Leafs chances of getting past Tampa Bay and Boston in the playoffs this season.
A couple of streaks were extended for Florida Panthers players on Sunday evening. Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov both picked up an assist during a 5-1 win over the Ottawa Senators. This extended their point streaks to 12 and 11 games, respectively. The two have formed a daunting unit with Aleksander Barkov on the top line.
The Nashville Predators have become the third team in NHL history to win their first eight road games of the season. Last year’s President Trophy winners are well on their way to another magnificent campaign. They sit atop the NHL standings with a 13-3-0 record and are currently rolling on a five-game win streak.
About three weeks ago, New Jersey Devils center Brian Boyle announced that his leukemia was in remission. Boyle was diagnosed with the disease back in 2017. On Tuesday, which was coincidentally Hockey Fights Cancer night in Pittsburgh, Boyle scored the first hat trick of his 705-game NHL career. Sometimes sports can be pure poetry. What a touching moment for Boyle and his family. Good luck to him the rest of the season.
San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton played in his 1500th career game on Thursday night during a 4-3 loss to the Dallas Stars.
Minnesota Wild left wing Zach Parise scored the 700th point of his career on Thursday night during a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings.
Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Patrick Marleau picked up the 600th assist of his career on Friday night during a 6-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils.
Thanks for reading and see you next week!