We had two coach firings over the last week with the Chicago Blackhawks replacing Joel Quenneville with Jeremy Colliton and the Los Angeles Kings replacing John Stevens with Willie Desjardins. I have mixed feelings about both of these decisions.
For Quenneville in particular, it’s not hard to see why I would question the decision. He’s second on the all-time wins list at 890 and has won the Stanley Cup three times with the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks certainly haven’t done as well lately, but is that really Quenneville’s fault? For Chicago, it seems like the bigger problem is that cap constraints have finally caught up with them. The Blackhawks also have made some moves recently that have backfired, such as the trade involving Artemi Panarin-for- Brandon Saad. Corey Crawford being sidelined for roughly 10 months didn’t do them any favors either.
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None of that was something that Quenneville can be blamed for. I’ve seen some view this firing as an attempt by Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman to deflect the blame for his own mistakes and while I think there’s an argument to be made there, I also feel that Bowman has overall done a good job with Chicago. When he stepped into the general manager role, he was inheriting an elite team with core group that was the envy of the league. However, he also did a very good job of managing some difficult cap situations in his early years as the general manager. It was former GM Dale Tallon’s team that won the 2010 Stanley Cup champions, even if Tallon has been fired prior to them lifting the Cup, but I think it’s fair to give Bowman a decent amount of the credit for the Blackhawks managing to win it all again in 2013 and 2015.
The reality of the cap era is that it’s very hard for teams to stay relevant indefinitely. We saw that with the Detroit Red Wings, the Los Angeles Kings, and I think we’re seeing it now with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Speaking of the Kings, they of course also fired their golden era coach, Darryl Sutter, and replaced him with Stevens starting with the 2017-18 campaign. Under Stevens, the Kings enjoyed a modest rebound. They weren’t an elite force, but Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown enjoyed bounce back years en route to them making the playoffs with a 45-29-8 season. The Kings were then swept by Vegas in the first round.
Given the Kings’ circumstances, 2017-18 could be taken as a positive, which is why it’s somewhat surprising that Stevens is already out of a job. The Kings got off to a 4-8-1 start under Stevens, but injuries played a role in that. Jonathan Quick has missed almost the entire campaign thus far and Dustin Brown couldn’t make his season debut until Oct. 28. Los Angeles’ problems extended beyond the injuries, sure, but it’s surprising to see that Stevens was on such a short leash that a rough 13-game stretch would be enough to erase any good will he had accumulated over his first season coaching the squad. Especially given that the Kings were showing signs of turning a corner (they had won two of their last three) when Stevens was fired.
That counterargument is that changing coaches, even if you’re letting go of a great coach in the process, can spark a team and there’s some logic to doing that relatively early in the season so that there is still time enough to turn things around. The example that comes to mind of a team waiting too long in the interest of giving a bench boss a fair shot is the 2010-11 New Jersey Devils. John MacLean was selected to take charge of a team that had made the playoffs in each of the previous 13 seasons and was coming off back-to-back division wins.
MacLean was still relatively young for a coach in his mid-40s, but came with 1,194 games worth of experience in the NHL and had paid his dues as a coach with six seasons as an assistant with New Jersey and one season as an AHL head coach under his belt. Even still, the Devils just didn’t perform under him and he was finally let go after posting a 9-22-2 record. Jacques Lemaire, the man MacLean was supposed to succeed, came back and led the Devils to a 29-17-3 record the rest of the way, but it was too late and the Devils saw their postseason streak come to an end. At least in the case of Colliton and Desjardins, they’re inheriting their teams with more than enough time left to make a real difference.
The other major event this week is something that didn’t happen: Namely, nothing appears to have happened on the William Nylander front. If he doesn’t sign by Dec. 1 then he simply can’t play this season, which would be a disaster for all involved. It’s probably not going to get to that, but at the same time I’m losing hope in the idea that the Toronto Maple Leafs can sign him. I don’t want to say anything definitively, because I’m just a guy on the outside looking in and literally any moment, a story could break seemingly out of nowhere that he signed. However, based on what is out there, it does seem like we’re trending in the direction of the Maple Leafs trading him.
Nylander is believed to be holding out for a contract with an annual salary of $8 million-plus, with Leon Draisaitl being the player he’d like to use as a comparable. The Leafs, given their long-term cap situation, have balked at that and while that makes a lot of sense from their perspective, Nylander might end up getting exactly what he wants. While Leafs fans would rather he took a discount of course to be a part of their group, if Nylander believes that he can just wait this out until Toronto trades him to a team that will meet his demands, then why shouldn’t he do that? It sucks for the Leafs and as a fan you’d like to see players show that they care about more than money, but this is also their job and they have a right to maximize their pay. Again though, I’m speaking of things I don’t necessarily understand. I don’t know that Nylander’s only issue is the money, though from an outsiders perspective like my own, it is easy to jump to that conclusion even if things might not be that simple in reality.
At any rate, from a fantasy perspective, I do worry about Nylander this season. Obviously, those that drafted him believing that he, like almost all RFAs, wouldn’t end up missing much, if any, playing time over a contract impasse, got burned. On top of that though, I have my doubts that Nylander will be that effective when he comes back. If he gets traded, he’ll be highly motivated to prove that he is ultimately worth the high salary he demanded, but at the same time he’s already missed training camp and more than a month of games and practices. It will be hard for him to just step back into the NHL at this point and be effective. In the long-term he will be a great player regardless, but for 2018-19, I don’t think the disappointment that fantasy owners are feeling will end up with him signing.