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Coaches from two Canadian NHL teams have particularly come under fire over the past week.
Montreal Canadiens’ Michel Therrien and Vancouver Canucks’ Willie Desjardins were both placed on the hot seat thanks to the performances of their lacklustre squads.
Speculation that Therrien will lose his job is more rampant – and with good reason.
Once the owners of a 9-0-0 start, the Canadiens now hold a 5.8 percent chance of making the playoffs thanks to their well-documented slide since the beginning of December. While it’s true Therrien hasn’t had the services of star goaltender Carey Price over that time period, he hasn’t done himself any favours either. Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshysnski explained how Therrien is fighting a losing battle. Now he’s basically resorted to throwing desperate haymakers in the hopes that something will land.
Completely belittling defenceman P.K. Subban, the team’s highest-paid player (with the longest contract term) and leading scorer with 44 points, probably isn’t the best road to go down. Subban clearly made a mistake when he turned over the puck at the offensive blueline leading to the winning goal in a 3-2 loss in Colorado. But to call Subban “selfish” for trying to make a play to help his team win is misguided.
That’s the situation with Therrien. As for Desjardins, it’s hard to pin all the blame on him.
As a rookie head coach last year, Desjardins helped the Canucks overachieve and reach the playoffs. The odds of them getting back there this season sit at a paltry 4.4 percent.
However, Desjardins hasn’t had Dan Hamhuis and Brandon Sutter in his lineup for most of the season. Defenceman Luca Sbisa missed 18 games with a hand injury. Even super-durable captain Henrik Sedin has sat out six games. Add it all up and the Canucks have been one of the teams hit hardest by the cumulative quality of players lost.
The Vancouver Province featured a story this week with the headline, “Willie go or Willie stay?” The Ben Kuzma piece highlights some of the Canucks’ possession and offensive woes, and questions some of Desjardins’s tactics. But the article also explains how some of the team’s youngest players – Jake Virtanen, Ben Hutton and Jared McCann – have been among its best. In a year where the Canucks have been so open about developing their youth, isn’t this a positive sign?
It remains to be seen if Desjardins or Therrien join Mike Johnston, Todd Richards and Mike Yeo on the NHL’s fired list.
It appears as though one of them has made a better case than the other.
Now for the rest of The Seven – a weekly look at the Canadian-based NHL teams. This week we’ll break things down from west to east.
Trending – A 5-2 loss on Hockey Night In Canada to the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs started a three-game losing streak.
Making his mark – Winger Sven Baertschi scored his 12th goal of the season in a 5-2 loss to Anaheim on Thursday. The previous career high for the Calgary Flames castoff was three.
Dubious distinction – The Minnesota Wild had lost eight straight games when they came to Vancouver under new coach John Torchetti. They beat the Canucks 5-2.
What’s ahead – The Canucks play in Calgary on Friday before returning home to start a five-game homestand, beginning with Colorado and Ottawa.
Trending – Gary Bettman upheld Dennis Wideman’s 20-game suspension for hitting linesman Don Henderson. No surprise there. The intrigue came when he unveiled a text message the Flames defenceman sent to a teammate. The now infamous message read: “The only problem and the only reason I’m here is cause the stupid refs and stupid media.”
Making his mark – Throw in an assist in the Flames’ last game – a 5-3 loss to Minnesota on Wednesday –and Johnny Gaudreau is tied for seventh in NHL scoring with 55 points. Talks for a big raise are now reportedly happening.
Dubious distinction – Goaltender Kari Ramo’s season is over as of Wednesday because of a torn ACL.
What’s ahead – It’s a busy stretch for the Flames, who play Vancouver, Anaheim, Los Angeles and the New York Islanders over the next seven days.
Trending – The Oilers welcomed Kohen Flett to the team, allowing him to take part in practice Wednesday. The eight-year-old was diagnosed with a brain tumour when he was 15 months old and has undergone 70 rounds of chemotherapy, according to the Edmonton Sun. “It was the best day of my life,” he said of the experience.
Making his mark – Could Connor McDavid really be in the Calder Trophy conversation? Well, his 10 goals through his first 22 games equalled the start of some guy named Gretzky.
Dubious distinction – A three-game losing streak means the Oilers have the worst odds of reaching the postseason.
What’s ahead – The Oilers host Colorado and Ottawa before making a visit to Los Angeles.
Trending – Coach Paul Maurice was livid when centre Bryan Little was rocked by Tampa Bay defenceman Anton Stralman. He made such a scene that he was ejected from Thursday’s 6-5 shootout loss.
Making his mark – Ondrej Pavelec’s return from knee injury was a successful one. Pavelec made 21 saves in a 2-1 shootout win in Edmonton last Saturday.
Dubious distinction – Defenceman Mark Stuart is the latest shot-blocking casualty. He’s out four-to-six weeks with a broken hand after blocking a puck in Carolina.
What’s ahead – The Jets play the other Florida team, the Panthers, on Saturday before heading back to Winnipeg for a game against Dallas on Tuesday. The Jets and Stars face off in Texas two days later.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Trending – Winger Leo Komarov was ejected for elbowing Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh in the head during Thursday's 4-2. The hit earned him a three-game suspension.
Making his mark – AHL callup Brendan Leipsic scored in his NHL debut, a 5-2 win in Vancouver last Saturday.
Dubious distinction – The Leafs were blown away in Chicago, losing 7-2 to the defending champs. To add insult to injury, according to the Toronto Star’s Kevin McGran, the public-address announcer couldn’t even pronounce some of the players’ names correctly.
What’s ahead – Their homestand continues with games against Philadelphia, Nashville and Carolina.
Trending – Coach Dave Cameron brought a little levity to the Dennis Wideman texting controversy. Cameron, from Prince Edward Island, said the NHL wouldn’t be able to understand his texts because he communicates in “P.E.I.-isms.”
Making his mark – Cody Ceci’s seventh goal of the season lifted the Senators to a 4-2 win over fellow playoff long shot, the Carolina Hurricanes.
Dubious distinction – Ceci’s marker helped Ottawa to its second straight win. The Sens haven’t done that in a month.
What’s ahead – Ottawa’s next three opponents are Detroit, Edmonton and Vancouver.
Trending – TVA’s Louis Jean reported the Canadiens were “gauging the market” from other teams on P.K. Subban.
Making his mark – John Scott scored his first goal with the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps.
Dubious distinction – Lost in the Therrien-Subban kerfuffle is the fact that, like Subban, captain Max Pacioretty was benched in the dying minutes of that Colorado loss.
What’s ahead – The Habs host Philadelphia and Nashville for before playing Washington next Wednesday.
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