1. The Heat is on
Well at least one team in this organization has had some semblance of success, eh?
The Heat ripped through the Milwaukee Admirals in their first-round series which is, I think, a little impressive given that Nashville’s farm depth has always struck me as being pretty good. But now they face the Toronto Marlies, which are positively stacked with guys who have the look of perennial NHL fourth-liner/AHL superstar. A tough ask, probably.
Not that the Heat don’t also have their fair share of career AHLers. Hugh Jessiman, Ben Walter, Krys Kolanos, Clay Wilson, Quinton Laing, etc. Last year we heard a lot of talk that the Binghamton Senators’ run to the Calder Cup would prove to be beneficial to the team’s young players going forward and, given the performance in the regular season (articularly by some of their younger players) and their pushing the best-in-the-East Rangers to seven games in the opening round, maybe that’s true. Certainly, guys like Paul Byron, Greg Niemisz and Leland Irving (who we’ll get to later) won’t be hurt by just being around a bunch of veterans, let alone playing, in what could be a deepish foray into the AHL postseason.
Now, don’t go asking me how a team in Toronto can be classified as being in the Western Conference. Doesn’t seem fair to me. But I guess that’s neither here nor there.
Speaking of the Heat, though, that leads us to the next point…
2. Hey is the team thinking about getting a new coach soon or what?
As Kent noted the other day, we haven’t heard much at all out of the organization in the last few weeks since the season ended. Not even the faintest whispers of actual news, particularly with regard to the whole vacant coaching position thing.
Jay Feaster has gone on record as having said that Heat coach Troy Ward will at least get a look for the top position, which makes all the sense in the world if the team is indeed going into full youth movement mode. He knows a lot of guys who will be relied upon heavily going forward for the next several years if that is indeed the team’s new direction (which I don’t fully buy, but that’s a discussion for another day, I suppose).
But beyond that, details have been, shall we say, scant.
There was that brief rumor kicking around over the weekend about Bob Hartley. That, too makes sense. He and Feaster go way, way, way, way back. Their kids are named after each other or something. But on the surface this seems a patently ridiculous choice. Hartley hasn’t coached an NHL team since 2008, and even then, it was the Thrashers. Since then, he has held various jobs and recently wrapped the first season of a two-year deal with some Swiss team that won a championship.
The Swiss A League is, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, not quite the NHL, but it must be said that Hartley has won a championship in every league in which he’s ever coached (in the QMJHL with Laval in 1993, in the AHL with Hershey in 1997, in the NHL with Colorado in 2001, and now with ZSC in the Swiss league this season).
Again, I feel that rumor is adorably dumb at worst and misguided at best. Hiring him, in my estimation, would be a mistake. However, with that having been noted, I said the same thing about Ken Hitchcock getting hired in St. Louis to replace Davis Payne, whom I consider a hell of a coach. That worked out okay for the Blues.
3. Dale Hunter is a dumbo
That’s the only way to describe a guy who would play Alex Ovechkin an average of 19 minutes a night in the playoffs.
Greg Wyshynski had a good post yesterday about how Hunter is succeeding with this method of keeping the team’s four best players stapled firmly to the bench, and how it’s making him look smart because the Caps keep winning with Jay Beagle eating big minutes. Wysh was right in the respect that the Caps shouldn’t be winning games like this. He’s wrong in saying that Hunter looks good for doing it.
If not for superhuman efforts by the Caps defense and Braden Holtby, this team would have been folded up like a futon by the Bruins and certainly wouldn’t have come away from MSG with a win. Hunter and his team are winning very much in spite of his tactic of employing the kind message-sending that got Bruce Boudreau fired.
How long do you think playing Jason Chimera for bigger minutes than Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin actually works? Two more games? Three at most? It’s an absurd and alarmingly stupid tactic by a guy who clearly doesn’t want the Washington job. And while people aren’t actually praising him for it, no one has said to him, "Yes excuse me…what the hell is wrong with you?"
4. What can we learn from Chris Kreider?
Obviously Chris Kreider has more or less exploded onto the scene in the NHL after a massively successful college career that saw him win two national titles in three seasons. Kreider may only have three points in seven games but man were the two goals he scored extremely nice. And more to the point, he’s looked extremely competent in all areas of the game, belying the fact that about three weeks ago he was taking math classes or whatever.
You’ll note, by the way, that Kreider comes from the same program in which Flames prospects Johnny Gaudreau and Billy Arnold are developing: Boston College. Am I saying that either will be anywhere near the player Kreider looks like he can be? Of course not. Kreider would have developed into at least a servicable NHL player if he’d spent his formative years playing third-line minutes on your beer league team. He’s so big, so naturally gifted, so smart, so blindingly fast, and so lethal with his wrist shot (which he hasn’t even really exhibited at the NHL level) that he was always a slam-dunk sure-thing can’t-miss first-round pick.
But that part about being great in all areas of the ice? That’s strictly the result of playing at BC. I saw Kreider play a little bit as a high schooler and he very literally coasted around the ice because he was a man among boys — checks bounced off him, no one could keep up, goaltenders waved futilely at just about every shot he could elevate and get on net — and I saw him try to do the same stuff as a freshman at BC. Not surprisingly, when playing against guys that could get as old as 24, he didn’t do so well. He was a defensive liability and the slightest contact seemed to disquiet him considerably.
Three years later, you see what playing under Jerry York can do. Kreider is confident and eminently capable at everything you ask — not that he’s being asked a lot yet — he’s throwing his 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame around with reckless abanadon and playing as a physical presence that would have shocked me if it had been a jump-cut from 18-year-old freshman to NHL rookie in these three seasons.
Jerry York did that to him and for him, rounding out an already sky-high game to make him extremely valuable for what will likely be a terribly long NHL career. And again, not that Arnold or Gaudreau will ever be the kind of player Kreider projects to, but BC isn’t known for churning out incapable players, so there’s that at the very, very least.
5. On the subject of Leland Irving
Saw an item yesterday where he’d prefer to stick with Calgary but might jump to a European league if the team doesn’t let him be Miikka Kiprusoff’s backup next season:
Irving also wants a one-way pact and could bolt to Europe if he feels the right deal isn’t forthcoming from the Flames. Defenceman Mark Giordano blazed that very path by playing the 2007-08 season in Russia.
Another nugget to consider: Irving and Giordano are represented by the same agent, Ritch Winter. “There was talk (last summer) about me going to Salzburg, Austria,” Irving said. “It is a possibility. I know some of the guys over there. But obviously, the Flames drafted me. I want to be a Flame. I want to continue to grow and develop and be a bigger part of this team. But sometimes, it’s not always in my control. We’re just going to wait and be patient and see what happens. “
Okay. This seems like unnecessary fretting.
I mean, the guy’s a restricted free agent and I’m pretty sure the Flames will make all efforts to sign him to a (hopefully-sensible) contract to keep his current job. Why wouldn’t they? Because he missed a bunch of time being an NHL backup and came back to find his AHL starters’ job taken by a journeyman? Who cares. He wants to stay with the team and he will. It’s not that big a deal.
But let’s entertain that maybe he does jump to the Austrian league for a year or two. Again, no big deal, probably. Playing in Europe sure didn’t hurt Mark Giordano’s development.