mike babcock

Blackhawks expect Joel Quenneville to coach next season

Blackhawks expect Joel Quenneville to coach next season

It won’t be long before Joel Quenneville is trending on Twitter, and not just in Philadelphia.

Hockey Hall of Famer Chris Chelios was in Chicago for Thursday night’s Flyers-Blackhawks game, but it was his appearance earlier in the week on WGN Morning News where he opened up about the 60-year-old head coach.

Chelios is hoping the Maple Leafs get bounced in the first round of the playoffs, and with that, the organization elects to part ways with Mike Babcock, currently the league’s highest-paid coach after signing an eight-year, $50 million contract in the summer of 2015. 

Chelios and others in Chicago see growing tension between Babcock and the Leafs organization, and the former Blackhawks defenseman prefers to see Quenneville land in Toronto or with the future expansion team in Seattle that doesn’t start play until the 2021-22 season.

Unquestionably, Babcock’s style can wear on players, and with the probability of facing the Boston Bruins again in the first round, Babcock and the Leafs are looking at the possibility of another first-round exit. 

As for Quenneville, even his former players believe the three-time Stanley Cup-winning coach is ready to jump at another chance, whether that’s in Philadelphia or somewhere else.

“It would be pretty weird if he’s coaching somewhere else next season and not with the Blackhawks,” Patrick Kane said. “I think we all know that Joel has a big passion for hockey and a fire and a desire to win. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s coaching somewhere else next season.”

“I would be surprised if he’s not coaching,” Duncan Keith. “He never really changed [this season]. I think it’s just that competitive nature inside him. That’s what made him a great coach. The competition of winning games. There’s never anybody who loves winning more than him.”

Even Quenneville recently admitted during his first television interview since his firing, “There’s an appetite to get back into the game.” Quenneville spoke to Chicago’s WGN-TV on St. Patrick’s Day and said that he’s in “no hurry right now” to accept a head coaching position while also adding, “We’ll see how things transpire in the offseason. We’ll have to think about it, and we’ll see.”

Several Blackhawks insiders believe Quenneville’s relationship with the general manager and input regarding personnel decisions will go a long way toward determining where he eventually coaches again, pointing to the trades of defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and forward Artemi Panarin, which created organizational strife the past few years in Chicago, and eventually led to Quenneville’s firing in early November.

There could be as many as nine teams looking for a permanent head coach heading into the 2019-20 season.

Quenneville admitted he still watches a lot of NHL games, but not as many Blackhawks games.

Perhaps he’s evaluating what he sees on the ice and which organization might be a good fit.

When it comes to the Flyers, there’s a lot to like.

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Flyers Notes: MacDonald's injury putting Flyers in tough spot

usa-andrew-macdonald-vs-preds.jpg
USA Today Images

Flyers Notes: MacDonald's injury putting Flyers in tough spot

TORONTO — This can’t be the Andrew MacDonald effect, can it?

Eleven goals surrendered over the past two games.

Prior to MacDonald’s injury, head coach Dave Hakstol had his defense pairings configured to specifications. Ivan Provorov with MacDonald, Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg along with Travis Sanheim and Brandon Manning splitting time with Radko Gudas.

Whether it's MacDonald's absence or just poor play, something has gone awry. Ever since Tuesday’s game against the Ducks, Hakstol has been furiously trying to find the right combinations so the Flyers can resume normalcy on their blue line.

“As soon as Mac goes out, jumble, jumble” general manager Ron Hextall said. “We always go through preseason trying to figure out what our lines are and what our defense pairings are, and it’s hard. It’s hard, you only have eight games, and you don’t get a great feel. Two games ago, we didn’t have a very good game. Was it your pairs or was it one of those games? 

“You hope we correct it right away, and guys get familiar with each other, but a lot of these guys haven’t played together much and that’s the reality. There’s nothing you can do about it. There’s no excuses, that’s for damn sure, but Thursday night toward the end, they looked like they felt comfortable together so we’ll see.”  

One of the biggest changes that came out of Thursday’s game in Ottawa was the Provorov-Gostisbehere pairing, where the two players switched sides periodically to take advantage of their offensive instincts and awareness.

“I think Ghost and I see the game similar, definitely on the offensive side,” Provorov said. “It was easy to play with the puck to do all those switches and passes, finding each other in the neutral zone and in the offensive zone. We’ll try and continue to get better and see what happens.”  

Losing the shield
For tonight’s game in Toronto, Wayne Simmonds will finally ditch the extended face shield that has protected the lower part of his face, most notably his dental work after losing teeth after taking a stick to the face in a game against the Predators. Simmonds says breathing had been an issue and the shield has a tendency to fog up, which has impaired his vision when looking down at the puck. 

Simmonds is hoping it will improve his concentration and focus as the Flyers' second line was arguably one of the team’s worst in Thursday's 5-4 loss to the Senators in Ottawa. 

“We’ve got to be better,” Simmonds said. “I think over the past few games, (Jordan) Weal was out for a couple and he got back in and our chemistry was a little bit off. We just got to find a way to get it back. We’ve got to figure it out quick.”

No suspension for Gudas
As expected, the NHL did not hand down supplemental discipline Friday against Gudas for his check on Ottawa defenseman Chris Wideman. Gudas was slapped with a five-minute major for charging, and with that, a 10-minute misconduct for a hit that appeared to be rather routine.

“Radko hits hard. He hits as hard as anybody in the league,” Hextall said. “His hits are impact hits. If one of our other 17 skaters makes that hit (Thursday) night nothing comes of it. Exact same hit, exact same body position, everything. It’s just that Radko is so strong that his hits make an impact, and at times, it’s not fair.” 

Knowing Babcock
A typical Maple Leafs practice day doesn’t usually make headlines within the Toronto media, but Friday’s intense but abbreviated workout was unusual coming off a lethargic 6-3 loss Thursday night to the Carolina Hurricanes.

Despite the Leafs' 7-3-0 record, Babcock put his team through an intense, hard-skating 24-minute session and then ordered every player off the ice in a move to help them conserve their energy for tonight’s game against the Flyers. No Flyer is more familiar with Babcock’s motivations than center Valtteri Filppula, a 2002 third-round pick who played in Detroit under Babcock from 2005-13.

“I think he’s really good with details,” Filppula said. “He gets the guys to play the system really well. Obviously, he’s had some good players too, and you always need that to be a good coach, but I think he prepares the team really well and I think that’s his strongest suit.”

Projected lines & pairings
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Filppula-Simmonds
Matt Read-Jori Lehtera-Travis Konecny
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Provorov-Gostisbehere
Sanheim-Gudas
Manning-Hagg

Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth 

Flyers and Maple Leafs set for most significant battle since 2004

Flyers and Maple Leafs set for most significant battle since 2004

TORONTO -- Most of the players in Thursday's game involving the Maple Leafs and Flyers weren't around in the spring of 2004 playing in the NHL.
 
Which is why tonight's game is easily the most significant head-to-head contest involving these two franchises this late in a season since that historic playoff series.
 
Fact is, the Maple Leafs haven't been in a playoff chase for a long time and now both they and the Flyers are locked in a wild-card battle, upping the ante.
 
And just to make it all the more intriguing from the Flyers' standpoint, goalie Michal Neuvirth will be in net for this very important game, not Steve Mason.
 
"No, not at all, I don’t really care," Neuvirth said, alluding to the past. "This is just another really big game for us.
 
"It's really tight in the standings. For us, every game is big whether Colorado, Toronto or Pittsburgh."
 
Neuvirth's career numbers aren't sterling against Toronto, but they are significantly better than Mason's. He has a 2.83 goals against average and .902 save percentage with a 9-4-1 record.
 
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said, however, that's not why Neuvirth is starting this game. Mason had the net the previous four games.
 
"The schedule dictates it," Hakstol said. "Mase has been real good. He's done a great job for us and Neuvy has to do the same thing for us tonight.
 
"You look at the schedule right now, one guy is not going to be able to run the table. It's a good night for Neuvy to go in and do a job for his teammates."
 
Asked about the statistical difference -- Mason's GAA against the Leafs is 3.43 -- Hakstol said, "You try to factor some of those things in, but it wasn't the dominant factor in Neuvy getting the start."
 
Hakstol said his players are keenly aware this is an impact game with huge playoff implications, regardless of the past history between the two clubs.
 
"Everybody knows what is at stake," Hakstol said. "That doesn't need to be spoken of in terms of what is at stake this time of year. ...
 
"It still comes down to get ready and prepared, regardless of everything that surrounds the importance of the game. No question [history] adds to it. I don't think anybody is trying to downplay the significance ..."
 
Certainly, not Leafs coach Mike Babcock.
 
"It's an important game for us and for them," Babcock said. "We know where we're at. You want to be right in it right to the end. ... It should be fun."
 
On Filppula
Babcock coached Flyers newcomer Valtterri Filppula for the first eight years of his NHL career.
 
"He's probably a better player [now]," Babcock said. "I would think he's improved his game. He's a real good skater. A real good man ... he does things right as a pro. He plays well with the puck and he distributes it well."
 
Filppula, who waived his no movement clause at the trade deadline to come to the Flyers, admitted that Toronto was not on his list of clubs and the timing was such where the Leafs could not be added. He also turned down a deal to go to Toronto.
 
"I made a list earlier and the trade deadline came really quick," Filppula said. "I made the decision over the summer. Nothing against Toronto, obviously they have a great team and a coach who coached me before. Things happen so quick. ... You have to make some decisions. I'm here now and happy to be here."

Tonight's lineup 
F: Weal-Giroux-Simmonds
Schenn-Filppula-Voracek
Cousins-Couturier-Read
VandeVelde-Bellemare-Konecny
 
D: Provorov-MacDonald
Manning-Gostisbehere
Del Zotto-Gudas
 
G: Neuvirth