This still-young 2013-14 season seems to spawn theme weeks. Unfortunately, those themes have frequently dabbled in the darkly comic, if not flat-out awful.
One week, it seemed like we couldn’t go more than 24 hours without the stomach-churning term “stretchered” being thrown about. During another period of about seven days, the disturbing pattern involved players suffering from scary lacerations. This week seems all about coaches and/or general managers getting canned.
Wednesday brought about the stunning/inevitable dual firing of Buffalo Sabres head coach Ron Rolston and Rasputin-like general manager Darcy Regier. This follows the Florida Panthers’ decision to part ways with Kevin Dineen.
Sabres fans shouldn’t be too rattled that the team is parting ways with the past, however, as the replacements seem retro in their own right.
Technically, former Sabres star Pat LaFontaine is the president of hockey operations, so it’s possible he might not serve as the GM as well. But he also might, more or less, do just that. (It’s possible that he’ll have powerful sway in such decisions, yet in a vaguer way, like Joe Sakic with Colorado.) The biggest eyebrow-raiser was probably that Ted Nolan was named the new head coach, a lot like an old head coach, though …
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If you’ve been paying a decent amount of attention to hockey rumor mills for the last 15-20 years, you know that Ted Nolan has faced his share of controversies. (Whether there’s fire to go with all that smoke, one can assume that the Sabres’ 90’s-laced nostalgia will probably stop before it includes Dominik Hasek taking a front office role.)
Fantasy owners don’t need to pay that much mind, beyond the possibility that he might have a falling out with certain players or he could very well favor certain hockey player types (boon for Steve Ott, maybe?) over others.
The bottom line is that it’s difficult to ascertain how Nolan will adapt to the NHL in 2013-14. He only has four seasons of NHL experience - two with the Sabres (1995-96 and 96-97) and two with the New York Islanders (2006-07 and 07-08) - so the sample size even just looking at his past is pretty slim.
With that word of caution out of the way, here’s my best effort at forecasting his impact.
GAUGING HIS STYLE
For the sake of brevity, let’s ignore the existential question of “How much do the Sabres really want to succeed during a season in which it’s obvious they should tank?” and instead focus on the present and past … even if Buffalo should have its eye on the future.
There’s not a ton of “literature” on Nolan’s coaching style, so instead, I consulted Hockey Reference’s handy season guides to try to get at least a vague idea of what we’re dealing with here.
1995-96, first with Buffalo
Goals For: 247 (league average: 258); Goals Against: 262 (league average: 258)
PP%: 15.93 (average: 17.93); PK%: 83.95 (avg: 82.07)
Top scorer: Pat LaFontaine with 91 points. Next best was Randy Burridge with just 58.
Dominik Hasek in net (.920 save percentage)
Record: 40-30-12 (won the Northeast Division title, lost in second round to Philly)
Goals For: 237 (avg: 239); Goals Against: 208 (avg: 239)
PP%: 13.19 (avg: 16.27); PK%: 83.79 (83.73)
Top scorer: Derek Plante with just 53 points.
Dominik Hasek won the Hart, Vezina and Ted Lindsay Trophies that season.
Nolan won the Jack Adams Award.
2006-07, first year with Islanders
Record: 40-30-12 (lost in first round of playoffs)
Goals For: 248 (242); Goals Against: 240 (242)
PP%: 18.10 (17.58); PK%: 81.76 (82.42)
Top scorer: Jason Blake with 69 points
Rick DiPietro looked like top pick material (32-19-9, .919 save percentage)
2007-08, final year in NHL before this hiring
Goals For: 194 (228); Goals Against 243 (228)
PP%: 14.55; PK%: 81.87 (82.25)
Top scorer: Mike Comrie with 49 points.
Ricky D regressed.
Looking at those teams, it’s a marvel that Nolan managed to win a division title. It’s amusing that LaFontaine wasn’t just the best scorer he’s ever had … he’s the top guy by more than 20 points. And that was in the meat of the worst obstruction days.
Aside from the LaFontaine-and-everyone-else year, Nolan’s teams have experience balanced scoring … but probably because he dealt with rosters full of jabronis.
He should feel right at home in Buffalo, then. Nolan might even feel spoiled to have a few extra talented players here and there. Hopefully he’s indeed smart enough to do one thing Ron Rolston seemed to do correctly: ride Cody Hodgson and Matt Moulson as far as the two could take them.
With just four seasons (and two two-season sets separated by about a decade) to work with, it’s tough to do anything but paint in broad brushstrokes. My gut feeling is that “grinding” might be the only phrase that really fits the bill, and that might be a matter of necessity rather than Nolan’s preference.
If nothing else, Nolan has shown that he can get the most of ragtag groups, although it’s possible that his methods might also produce rapid burnouts. Or maybe it’s just a couple of coincidences, as he’s only received two kicks at the can.
At least now the Sabres are embracing change, acknowledging that things were indeed going wrong and are worth half-watching again. That might at least make the crowds less dour in Buffalo.
After the jump: Kadri makes some Wild enemies and other game notes.
MINNESOTA 2, TORONTO 1 (SO)
-- So, Nazem Kadri might find himself in hot water with the league. He ran Niklas Backstrom early in the game, knocking the Wild’s starter-turned-possible-backup out of the action with a very questionable hit. Then he delivered another iffy check to Mikael Granlund. Will two wrongs mean a night off or two for Kadri? That’s for the NHL to say. But stay alert for that possibility.
-- Really, it’s a shame these two don’t meet more often in a way. After all, it’s a battle between “The State of Hockey” and one of - if not the - places in the world that loves the sport the most. It smells of a big brother/little brother rivalry, if you ask me.
-- Backstrom’s loss is Josh Harding’s gain, as he slid in relief to stop 19 out of 20 shots and get his 10th win of the 2013-14 season. If Backstrom's injury is even somewhat substantial, could Harding outright cement his status as No. 1 this season?
-- Credit to Charlie Coyle for at least a token effort to fight Kadri. It also gave him a nice night, as he had an assist and seven PIM.
-- After cooling off in the SOG department ever so slightly, Zach Parise fired six on net last night to give him a ridiculous 85 SOG and a nice nine goals on the season. Fantasy owners must hope that he doesn't burn out, especially with the Olympics in mind.
-- It might not be worth it if he's suspended for more than a game or two, but those 14 PIM and assist do look great for Kadri right now.
PHILADELPHIA 2, PITTSBURGH 1
-- So, what's the deal with Brayden Schenn, who scored both of the Flyers' goals? Well, he's on a hot streak right now, with three goals and two assists in his last three games. Still, I'm a little mixed up about him.
He's getting less than 16 minutes of ice time per game (although a little more than three minutes of PP time per contests is nice) and isn't sending a hail of shots on net. My feeling is that he's just getting puck luck right now and is mainly a middling forward in fantasy terms. If you want to talk yourself into grabbing him, he is in a contract year, though. Actually, let me add another caveat: he's valuable in deeper stat leagues, as he has 22 PIM and 41 hits.
-- I’m impressed that Jakub Voracek owners have been so patient (70 percent owned). He’s worth grabbing even with questionable peripherals in many formats.
-- It's bizarre to see a Flyers team playing such tight hockey, win or lose. Ray Emery's starting to heat up (three goals allowed in his last three games since pummeling Braden Holtby), although Steve Mason's stunning work limits the 31-year-old netminder's value.
-- Marc-Andre Fleury's now on a three-game losing streak. Maybe the Penguins' light recent schedule has him a little out of sync? Only one of those games was a truly bad performance on paper (five goals allowed against the Rangers on Nov. 6), at least.
-- I doubt Sidney Crosby will threaten for the Maurice Richard as he's still most blessed at playmaking (15 assists in 18 GP), but at least he's doing a little of everything, with 68 SOG and nine goals.
-- Evgeni Malkin's struggles are probably a little overblown, as he has a five-game point streak (six assists) going. I'll definitely agree that we miss the guy who saw a surprising jump in SOG when he was dominating with James Neal.
-- The guy one would like to see more from is Kris Letang (four points in nine GP). Maybe he's still working himself into game shape?
DALLAS 3, EDMONTON 0
-- If you would have told me that one of tonight's three games would be essentially a 1-0 stalemate disguised as a 3-0 win (thanks to two empty-netters), this wouldn't have been it. Not exactly two defensive powerhouses.
-- That being said, Tyler Seguin's eighth goal (and the first EN) was as well-earned as an empty-netter gets. He sailed the puck out of his own zone under extreme duress, somehow finding the net and cementing the win. Bravo.
-- The Oilers have been shut out three straight games at home. Kari Lehtonen stopped 22 out of 22 shots for his first shutout of 2013-14, giving him an 8-3-2 record this season.
-- Again, Devan Dubnyk is an unlucky man. At this point, the appropriate question sadly seems to be: where will he be unlucky next?
-- If you're the type who tracks No. 1 vs. No. 2 draft pick battles, Taylor Hall seems to win the battles while Tyler Seguin takes the wars. Hall has 157 points in 184 career regular season games, besting Seguin's 138 in 221. Seguin's seen the playoffs and has a Stanley Cup ring, though.