Last week I talked about the mixed feelings I had regarding Chicago and Los Angeles replacing head coaches Joel Quenneville and John Stevens with Jeremy Colliton and Willie Desjardins respectively. A week later and it doesn’t look like swapping coaches will save either team.
To make a long story short, I noted that despite my reservations about the firings, the one potential positive was that switching coaches relatively early in the season could provide the teams with a spark before the hole they dug for themselves became insurmountable. So far though, the firings have had little to no impact on either team’s performance. Los Angeles is 1-3-0 under Desjardins while Chicago is 1-2-1 under Colliton.
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You could argue that it will take time for Desjardins and Colliton to turn their teams around, but if anything you typically see teams overperform in the immediate aftermath of a coaching change, so the fact that there was no boost is very discouraging. It’s looking more and more like Chicago and Los Angeles’ problems are fundamentally linked to the roster and not the coaching, which frankly isn’t something that’s going to surprise people.
These are teams that were built for success years ago and to their credit, they achieved their goals at that time. In the cap era though, success is hard to maintain and both teams have found themselves in ugly cap situations that has made it hard for them to stay relevant and will make the potential rebuilding efforts that much more painful in the short-term. Not that either team has resigned to a rebuild yet mind you, but it does seem probable that the changes won’t end with the firing of coaches.
In fact, that’s guaranteed with Los Angeles now given that the Kings already made a trade of note, moving Tanner Pearson to Pittsburgh on Wednesday in exchange for Carl Hagelin. That trade though feels more like general managers making a statement than addressing issues. Pearson and Hagelin are two underperforming players on teams off to disappointing starts, so each general manager is hoping that a change of scenery will spark the player they got while simultaneously giving the players that remain a sense of urgency lest they might see more of their teammates go.
It’s an entirely lateral move though. Pearson is the younger player at 26 and the one with more offensive upside. However, he’s also the one signed through 2020-21 at $3.75 million annually while Hagelin comes with a $4 million annual cap hit this season and then he can walk as an unrestricted free agent. In other words, what the Kings gained in this trade is long-term cap flexibility and frankly that’s something that they lacked. Even without Pearson, Los Angeles has $72.8 million in 2019-20 cap space already consumed, according to CapFriendly, and that’s before re-signing RFAs Adrian Kempe and Alex Iafallo.
Getting Hagelin rather than a prospect means that the Kings aren’t conceding the 2018-19 campaign yet, but he is definitely a potential trade chip at the deadline if things aren’t turned around.
Shifting gears, Thursday was a terrible day when it came to injury news. Sidney Crosby is likely to miss a week due to an upper-body injury (it’s not a concussion at least), Nashville’s put PK Subban (upper body) on the injured reserve while Viktor Arvidsson (thumb) will miss the next six-to-eight weeks. Tampa Bay will be without Andrei Vasilevskiy for an extended period of time due to a fractured foot. San Jose’s Tomas Hertl has a lower-body injury that will cost him at least Thursday’s game. The Islanders will be without Andrew Ladd (lower body) for an indefinite period of time. Anaheim’s Cam Fowler also needs surgery for a complex right facial fracture.
There were also some minor bits of bad luck sprinkled in there. Columbus is expected to miss Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin tonight due to illness and Minnesota might also be without Zach Parise for the same reason.
That’s a lot to unpack but there are a couple of those I want to focus on. Unsurprisingly, Vasilevskiy’s absence is one I want to highlight. We don’t know exactly how long he’ll be out yet, but any significant amount of time Tampa Bay will be without him is a major blow. He’s one of the best goaltenders in the league with a 2.29 GAA and .927 save percentage in 13 contests. Meanwhile the Lightning’s understudy, Louis Domingue, has left something to be desired so far with his 3.43 GAA and 3.43 GAA in five starts. In Domingue’s defense though, his statistics have been skewed down by a start on Oct. 27 when he surrendered seven goals on 30 shots.
If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that Vasilevskiy might be better rested down the stretch due to this forced vacation. Fatigue seemed to catch up with him last season. Vasilevskiy posted a 2.18 GAA and .931 save percentage in 41 games before the All-Star break and a 3.37 GAA and .902 save percentage in 24 contests afterwards.
The loss of Arvidsson is another big issue. The timing of Arvidsson’s injury is particularly unfortunate too because he had only just returned from a lower-body injury. While he’s not a superstar, he’s been a major offensive presence for Nashville with back-to-back 61-point campaigns coming into 2018-19. He also had a combined 60 goals over his previous two seasons. When healthy in 2018-19, he’s been even better with eight goals and 13 points in 13 games.
Nashville is off to a 13-4-1 start thanks to some superb goaltender by Pekka Rinne, who has also spent some time on the sidelines, a nicely spread out attack. So the Predators should be able to overcome Arvidsson’s injury, but it does thin out their offense and makes them more vulnerable to cold streaks and further injuries.
One more player I want to note is Hertl, but not really because of the injury. We don’t know a lot about Hertl’s issue, but it does sound like he won’t be out for too long. Instead, I just want to highlight that Hertl’s stepped up this season with five goals and 16 points in 16 games. This is what the Sharks were hoping for when they signed him to a four-year, $22.5 million contract over the summer and it seems like their faith in him is going to pay off.