It’s Friday, which means it’s time for the latest in a continuing series of THN mailbags. Here’s a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how it works: you send me questions and I answer a selection of them in three places – here, on THN Radio and in the pages of THN magazine. I can’t get to them all, but I appreciate them all in their own special way. Here is this week’s batch:
Greetings from the south, Adam. If a team sputters out of the gate or hits a rough patch sometime during this shortened season, what's the likelihood a coach would be fired mid-season? And what coaches, if any, would you consider to be on the hot seat this season?
Patrick Sullivan, Louisville, Ky.
Greetings from the north, Patrick.
I think it’s very likely we’ll see an NHL coach get the hook this season. And although the campaign is barely a week old, we’ve already got some bench bosses feeling the heat.
Most notable on that list is Flyers coach Peter Laviolette. Now, Philly’s brutal start to the year is not solely nor primarily his fault – the Flyers defense corps without Chris Pronger and Matt Carle is abysmal – but we all know what underperforming teams are forced to do when they can’t fire all the players. Beyond Laviolette, it’s a little more difficult to predict. I could see Detroit making a change from Mike Babcock, but again, the problem the Wings face isn’t necessarily coaching, but talent and depth.
That said, the reality is even the teams that are at the top of their conference right now could be forced into making a change if they lost consistently for two or three weeks. In this shortened season there is no room for error – and don’t think every single NHL coach isn’t hyper-aware of that fact.
Adam, what is the new rule about centers not able to advance the puck with their hand? What is the background on this rule and penalty?
Ed Ostrowski, Simpsonville, S.C.
The NHL altered its hand-pass rule – Rule 67, if you’re looking in your official league rulebook – so that players who are judged to be concealing the puck or preventing an opponent from playing the puck will be assessed a two-minute minor penalty. Players who bat the puck with their hand during a faceoff in an attempt to win the draw also will get two minutes or less in the box.
For a good explanation of the change, read my interview with NHL chief disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan. In sum, Shanahan said players taking faceoffs were beginning to use their gloves as a matter of habit and that’s a practice the league clearly wanted to end.
Hey Adam, as you know, the Islanders seem to really be improving, especially with John Tavares’ breakout season last year and with Matt Moulson's consistency; I think they're good enough to make the playoffs. But my real question is with Rick DiPietro. Do you think he can be the guy to put them over the top? Or are his health problems still a concern?
Stuart Trus, Ottawa
The Isles have looked good in spurts so far this season and might very well surprise some people (me included). But unfortunately, I doubt many people other than DiPietro have the expectation he’ll need to be a player of impact for that team to succeed.
DiPietro’s horrible luck with his health will be the key issue for him today, tomorrow and the rest of his playing career. And nobody is going to presume he’ll be any different until they see him return to action and play well with consistency. It’s a very sad story in a lot of ways and I wish DiPietro well, but his reputation will precede him until he turns things around.
Adam, what effect will the end of the lockout have on the players participating in the All-Star games of the AHL & ECHL that I will be attending?
Lloyd Kern, Ambler, Pa.
The lockout’s ending already has affected most, if not all minor pro teams and it certainly will impact their all-star games. For example, the major injury suffered by Leafs winger Joffrey Lupul on Wednesday resulted in the call-up of Marlies forward Matt Frattin, who was scheduled to participate in the American League All-Star Game.
As always, the events that take place in the NHL ripple down through the rest of the hockey food chain and inevitably alter the AHL and ECHL products. This year will be no different.
Adam, average goals-per-game has gone down for many years, with most scoring records probably safe forever. How much of the Dead Puck Era do you think has to do with a more competitive NHL after the European influx of players in the early to mid 90s? Maybe the NHL was watered down prior to fall of the Iron Curtain, allowing for a more wide-open game?
Kyle Anderson, Las Vegas
Yours is an intriguing question and one that doesn’t have any easy answers. My own belief is that, while the injection of European talent may have been a factor, the real keys to the DPE are NHL expansion and the micromanaging of the game.
Here’s my reasoning: although the NHL had more talent with Europeans, it wasn’t as if it was suddenly overflowing with elite talent. Sure, there were players like Sergei Fedorov and Pavel Bure, but they were as few and far between as Joe Sakic and Mike Modano were to North Americans. Far more common were workmanlike Euros – and combined with more franchises, coaches had an easier time implementing defense-minded attacks than they did sitting back and allowing for a more wide-open style of game.
As well, the number of coaches on every team increased dramatically. For most of the NHL’s history, there were no such things as goalie coaches, or three or four assistant/associate coaches standing on the bench or sitting in the press box with a headset on. As the NHL grew in popularity and salaries/ticket prices skyrocketed, the high stakes meant teams and head coaches no longer were willing to leave anything to chance.
That particular combination of influences resulted in many years of obstruction and ugly hockey – and only when the league finally smartened up after the 2004-05 lockout did the situation change. Even then, we still see the tendency for teams to take a safe, often less-entertaining approach. That has nothing to do with Europeans, I’d argue.
Ask Adam appears Fridays on THN.com. Ask your question on our submission page. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Adam on Twitter at @ProteauType.