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This Week In Hockey (06/05)

June 5, 2009
Around The League
News and Notes

by Ryan Wagman

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1. Changes on Top

NHL front offices continue to shuffle their key players as this week saw a few new principals around a number of different franchises. As reported on Puck Prospectus earlier, Pat Quinn has taken the reigns of the Edmonton Oilers along with associate Tom Renney, bringing a combined 26 years of NHL head coaching experience, including 18 years of reaching the playoffs, not to mention two Jack Adams trophies, awarded to the best head coach in the league. The two new honchos bring a wealth of experience to a team that, barring offseason acquisitions, has only five players over the age of 30 under contract for next season (Pisani, Moreau, Visnovsky, Souray and Staios). With over $46 million already tied up in salary for next year and only one somewhat unproven goaltender (Drouin-Deslauriers) tied up, don’t expect them to add too many veteran salaries this offseason.

The Dallas Stars ended their experiment with co-GMs, pushing Brett Hull to an executive vice president and alternate governor role and returning Les Jackson to his former role as director of scouting and player development. The deposed co-GMs welcomed their new boss while admitting that, at least at that level, one head may be better than two. Mike Heika, of the Dallas Morning News, quoted Jackson as saying, “I think you need one person in charge; I do believe that's best. You're always going to listen to a lot of voices before making a decision, but I think one person needs to be making the final decision." Expect Jackson to be one of those voices, particularly in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. Hull, seen as the author of the Sean Avery fiasco, might not be quite so prominent.

After the Oilers tabbed Pat Quinn as their new head coach, many speculated that this may be the turning point for the return of other recently unemployed former bench bosses, after last year saw the cvoaching debuts of Dan Bylsma, Peter DeBoer, John Anderson, Cory Clouston, Scott Gordon, Todd McLellan and Rick Tocchet. The Montreal Canadiens have followed the Oilers lead by naming Jacques Martin as head coach, after his recent one-year sabbatical. Martin, like Quinn, has an extensive track record in the role, having coached 1098 games over 14 seasons and three different franchises. Martin also has a Jack Adams trophy on his resume, awarded for his work in bringing the Ottawa Senators a Northeast Division title. As he enters the most high profile coaching role of his career, it is worth noting that his playoff record is spotty, having never reached the Stanley Cup finals, even when coaching four talented Senators teams to over 100 point regular seasons, including the Presidents’ Trophy winners of 2002-2003.

Finally, in a move that could have been foreseen after Patrick Roy publicly turned down a supposed head coaching offer for family reasons last week, the Colorado Avalanche made it official and fired Tony Granato, in addition to his three assistants, their video coordinator and the assistant General Manager. The team also gave the full-time General Managership to Greg Sherman, replacing interim GM Pierre Lacroix who had taken over for Francois Giguere after the latter was fired in April. According to Adrian Dater, of the Denver Post, Avalanche Director of Player Personnel, Brad Smith will play a larger role in personnel decisions. Much of Sherman’s former duties involved player contracts including arbitration and cap management. Although the Avalanche have only 17 players under contract for next season, their current cap number is over $43 million. Sherman will have to do a lot with a little. There is no current favorite for the coaching gig, but candidates are said to include both the untested (AHL coach Joe Sacco), and the experienced (Marc Crawford, Guy Carbonneau and Craig MacTavish)*.

* Prior to Game 4, Joe Sacco was named Head Coach of the Avalanche

2. Updates from Phoenix

Is Gary Bettman in denial? During the second intermission of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Bettman sat with Ron MacLean of Hockey Night in Canada to discuss a number of issues pertinent to today’s NHL. It seemed that throughout the interview, whenever Mr. MacLean brought up a possible issue wherein the league might reasonably do better, Bettman contradicted and reverted blame to either individual players (Havlat returning before he was ready from a concussion) or teams (poor salary cap management forcing them to play shorthanded). When the subject of the Coyotes and Hamilton was brought up, Bettman put forth the official league stance that while the Phoenix ownership group believes that it is their right to decide if and when to sell and if and where to play, it is really a “league opportunity”, being the league’s prerogative to make those decisions. Essentially, the Phoenix Coyotes are a franchise of the NHL. The league decides where to place franchises. A franchise owner then simply owns the right to run a given franchise. He compared NHL ownership to ownership of a McDonald’s franchise, in that the owner of a given franchise cannot move his or her franchise’s location. As such, even though Jerry Moyes (the Coyotes principal owner) declared bankruptcy with the intent to sell the organization, Bettman and the NHL are asserting that Moyes is attempting to sell something (the Coyotes NHL franchise located in Phoenix) that he does not in fact own.

Bettman continued by claiming that once the league lent money to the franchise, leaving Moyes the head in name only, the club was effectively left in the hands of GM Don Maloney and team President and COO, Doug Moss. When MacLean claimed that the Coyotes have lost over $400 Million since 1996, Bettman responded by saying, “There’s a bit too much hysteria about all of the underlying facts here.”

Of course, he did not exactly let us know just how excited we should be about those underlying facts.

Whatever the monetary facts garnering so much hysteria are, there are other frightening facts about the Coyotes that might be worthwhile to ponder; Namely, attendance. Since the strike, the Coyotes have ranked among the bottom handful of teams in the league in both raw home attendance and percentage of capacity.

Year	Average home attendance	    NHL home attendance rank
2001	14,224	                    27/30
2002	13,165	                    29/30
2003	13,229	                    29/30
2004	15,467	                    19/30
2005	N/A	                    N/A
2006	15,582	                    22/30
2007	14,988	                    24/30
2008	14,820	                    29/30
2009	14,875	                    28/30

(numbers courtesy of ESPN)

The Coyotes have placed in the bottom four in home attendance in the NHL in 5 of the last 8 years that hockey was played at the NHL level. Only once in that period have they finished outside of the bottom 10. Whatever Gary Bettman and the NHL think of the future of hockey in Phoenix, more needs to be said about the present.

3. Stanley Cup Contender Newcomers

As we watch this year’s Stanley Cup Finals with a sense of déjà-vu, it might help to note that things aren’t exactly the same as we remember from last year. And I’m not referring to the fact that many saw this year’s Penguins team as the slight favourite, or even that the Penguins have seemed to make things more competitive while losing the first two in Detroit and then winning the first one in Pittsburgh (which also happened last year). In addition to the principal players all being a year older, both rosters have experienced some amount of turnover between last year and now.

The Red Wings have maintained relative stability from last year to this, with the only significant departures from last year’s Cup winners being backup goalie Dominik Hasek, who only appeared in four playoff games last year, tough guy Darren McCarty, who chipped in one goal and one assist in last year’s run after missing all but three games during the regular season, and most significantly, veteran Dallas Drake. Drake was notable last year for finally winning hockey’s biggest prize after a 15-year career, then retiring from the top. Appearing in all 22 playoff games for the Wings last year, Drake contributed 1 goal and three assists, was a +2 and spent 12 minutes in the penalty box. This year, the Wings went into the playoffs with Ty Conklin (who also spent last year’s playoffs with the Penguins) as their backup goalie. He has so far seen a full 20 minutes of action. Significantly, and much written about, has been the addition of Marian Hossa to the Wings, after spending last spring wearing the black and yellow. Hossa led the Wings this year in goals with 40, and was third in points with 71. His strong overall play gave him +27, with a Relative +/- of 22.4, 14.0 Offensive GVT, 5.7 Defensive GVT, trailing only Datsyuk and Lidstrom in overall GVT with 19.7. In the playoffs, Hossa has continued his strong play, ranking fourth on the team in 6 goals and 8 assists so far, with a team leading 88 shots on goal and a +5. Other Red Wings who did not feature in last year’s Cup run:

Player	          GP	G	A	Pts	+/-	PIM	S	S%
Jonathan Ericsson 18	3	3	6	+10	23	27	11.1
Justin Abdelkader 10	2	1	3	+2	0	11	18.2
Ville Leino	  6	0	2	2	+2	0	6	0
Tomas Kopecky	  8	0	1	1	0	7	13	0
Derek Meech	  2	0	0	0	0	0	1	0

To contrast the stirring done to the Red Wings’ roster, the Penguins were rather more shaken up between last year and the present. In addition to losing Hossa and Conklin to the Red Wings, the Penguins also let go of Adam Hall, Georges Laraque, Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts and Jarkko Ruutu during the last offseason, and then traded away Darryl Sydor and Ryan Whitney in-season. Last spring those players combined to play 127 games, with 27 goals, 35 assists, 62 points, +14 and 134 PIM. Using most of the means available to a General Manager, Ray Shero has gradually replaced those players with Bill Guerin, Ruslan Fedotenko, Chris Kunitz, Matt Cooke, Miroslav Satan, Mark Eaton (although a Penguin last year, Eaton missed the playoffs) Craig Adams, Phillippe Boucher and Alex Goligoski. Up to, and including Game 3, they have combined to play 145playoff games, contributing 25 goals, 44 assists, 69 points, +25 and 69 penalty minutes. Nearly identical point-per-game production, much higher +/- and vastly improved discipline. The two teams may be in the midst of a rematch, but not all of the players will feel the same. Some new names will be engraved on Lord Stanley’s Cup this year.

Ryan Wagman is a guest author of Puck Prospectus. You can contact Ryan by clicking here or click here to see Ryan's other articles.

Ryan Wagman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Ryan by clicking here or click here to see Ryan's other articles.

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