In this week's installment, Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman receives some interesting feedback on whether Bob Gainey would return as coach of the Montreal Canadiens, and wonders if the Oilers would consider trading veteran Ryan Smyth to a contending team if the Oilers fall out of the playoff race.
1. One GM, talking earlier this season about the Rangers said: "The only thing they do is block shots." Obviously, they do it really well.
2. 2011 Sense of Humour Award: Randy Cunneyworth received a Rosetta Stone for Christmas.
3. Many of you (via twitter and the comments section) reacted negatively to my suggestion that the Canadiens consider bringing back Bob Gainey if they felt he was the best person to make tough decisions going forward. Should have clarified that it was meant as a short-term suggestion through the end of the season.
4. Did receive some interesting feedback about Gainey from a few people around the league. First of all, he was in Winnipeg with the team last week, which suggests he is somewhat involved. Second, there is some belief Gainey was approached about the idea of coaching the Canadiens. Several people who know him much better than I do say his true passion is coaching, not managing.
5. Finally, those same people say Gainey isn't interested in a front-and-centre role because he just doesn't want to deal with the frenzy anymore. We'll see if this goes anywhere.
6. If - and I stress if - the Canadiens do decide to make another coaching change, would giving Michel Therrien another shot be a bad idea? You look at what he, Alain Vigneault and Claude Julien have done since leaving Montreal. He got Pittsburgh to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. A little older and wiser, could he bring stability?
7. Jim Matheson's column in The Edmonton Journal comes out on Sundays, and he had something I've been wondering about, too. Would the Oilers trade Ryan Smyth to a contender? (Assuming they don't get back in the playoff chase, of course.) He's got a no-move, but could really help a team. And they could do a "nudge-nudge, wink-wink, we'll see you in July" type of handshake, ensuring Smyth's agreement.
8. Have no doubt that Ryan Whitney really wants to play and the Oilers need him. But there's got to be a point where common sense takes over, especially since he's under contract for another season. Time to shut him down and let him heal completely. It's best for both the player and the organization.
9. Curious to see if Eric Staal's play really improves now that Marc Staal is cleared for contact. Eric hates this topic, which is totally understandable. But nothing means more to him than family and you have to believe the stress of Marc's injury greatly affected him.
10. Is George McPhee ready to shake up his roster? Couple other teams say the Capitals are a club to watch.
11. Big win Monday night for Bruce Boudreau. Wonder though, if, with 20-20 hindsight, Boudreau would re-think his decision to return so quickly. Anaheim's a much bigger rebuild job than any of us realized. You can see the frustration on the players' faces, too.
12. Had a really interesting conversation with a player last week. He was saying his (struggling) team needed an identity. Then, he went on to list some teams that did have one. "You know that Boston is going to pound you and make you pay physically. You know that Chicago is going to dare you to try and skate with them. You know that Vancouver is going to try to get you to take penalties and make you pay on the penalty kill. And you know that Detroit is going to turn the other cheek while winning all of the one-on-one battles." Then, he added, "We need to be more like the Red Wings."
13. From stats man supreme Stan Nieradka: the Florida Panthers hired Kevin Dineen on June 1. Of the 30 coaches, his seniority rank is 19.
14. The Bruins are an obscene plus-56 in goal differential at the break. It got me thinking: when was the last time a team was that dominating by Christmas? Was more recent than I thought. Ottawa was plus-69 in 2005-06. (Prior to that? Detroit plus-60, Pittsburgh plus-59 in 1995-96.) Since the end of October, Boston's allowed 38 goals in 23 games.
15. Another NHL coach after watching super-pest Steve Ott tangle with Peter Laviolette: "He always says [bleep] to other coaches in the walkway."
16. When he was a junior, heard that Ott was introduced to Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky said, "I've heard of you...My friend Eddie Mio says you keep injuring his clients." Asked him if that story was true. Ott just smiled.
17. Good refereeing: last Friday the Islanders trailed Toronto 4-3 when, as Joffrey Lupul is called for cross-checking, John Tavares is fingered for a dive. Doug Weight absolutely freaks out on the New York bench. He just explodes. What I liked about the situation is that Don Van Massenhoven let Weight vent. He didn't overreact, didn't try to show who's boss, didn't need to be a tough guy and add another penalty. These games are tense, and every one means something. I thought that was the way a referee is supposed to act.
18. As a guy who played 1,238 games, Weight should get some extra rope. When I covered the NBA, referees made it very clear they wouldn't take any backtalk from an assistant. Boom! Technical foul.
19. One of Toronto's front office execs on Lupul: "He's our MVP."
20. Ron Wilson gets some legit criticism: the penalty kill, for example. But when discussing his overall job performance, I remember a conversation with Gainey, who was Montreal's GM the night Wilson coached his first game with the Maple Leafs. Asked how long it would take for Toronto to rebuild, Gainey said, "Six years." We're at three-and-a-half. Honestly, the team is probably where it should be.
21. The extension is actually a bit of a mirage. It gets the media to stop asking about it, which is a smart play. But, since it's not really a long-term deal, there's nothing from stopping a wealthy franchise from eating it Cookie-Monster style.
22. Milan Lucic on Team Canada world junior coach Don Hay: "His practices are brutal...At my first [NHL] rookie camp, all of the other players were saying how hard the practices were. They didn't feel so bad to me. That's when I realized how tough [Hay] is." He coached Lucic at WHL Vancouver.
23. Think that's one of the reasons Hay's approach wasn't suited for the NHL game. He wouldn't dial down those skates. Some veterans rebelled, especially since the schedule doesn't allow for as much recovery.
24. Interesting to hear Ken Hitchcock compare David Backes to Keith Primeau. They had a great relationship in Philly, probably as good a synergy as a coach and player can get. For example, any newly acquired Flyer would be roomed with Primeau on the road. It's no coincidence the captain's career-ending concussion led to a bitter playoff defeat and a coaching change the next season. He was a great buffer between Hitchcock and the other players.
25. Senators play-by-play voice Dean Brown had his stats guy keep track of something very revealing during a recent game: how long a player who committed a turnover stayed on the bench after the mistake. Erik Karlsson's longest such stretch was 27 seconds, and twice he went back out about 13 seconds later. That's a great method of building confidence in a young group.
26. For all of the complaints about Tampa's goaltending, the Lightning's GAA isn't much different at the Christmas break (It was 3.27 last season, now it's at 3.41). But the team is down more than half a goal a game. A few opponents thought Tampa had a "charmed" season in 2010-11 and would be brought back to earth. Let's see what Steve Yzerman whips up.
27. Interesting conversation with Derek Roy about recovery. We were talking about players pushing themselves to come back from injury. Last year, he dressed for Game 7 against Philadelphia after not playing since Dec. 23. "I had to give it a shot," Roy said, after both Jason Pominville and Tim Connolly went down. He said the muscles atrophied so badly that his left leg was half the size of his right.
28. Couple of Oilers fans asked for more detail about the stick debate between Tom Renney and Ales Hemsky, reminding me of Claude Julien/Phil Kessel. When Kessel was in Boston, Julien hated the stick he used. He called it "a pee wee stick." Hearing Renney's comments triggered that memory.
29. Will be wishing the best for Mark Visentin over the next couple of weeks. He stood up after last year's gold-medal game collapse, didn't duck any questions - was the first player to meet the media. It's easy to talk when you win. True character is shown when you lose.
30. What a kind man Johnny Wilson was. I'm too young to have covered him, but met him a few times when his nephew, Toronto coach Ron Wilson, would have games in Detroit. Always dressed perfectly. Always with a smile. Always willing to do an interview if we asked. One time, he briefly continued talking as play resumed. After I threw back to the booth, he said, "Bet you were worried I'd talk over a goal," then smiled and winked. Passed away Tuesday morning at age 82. Condolences to the Wilson family.
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