I'm a big believer in "face time," that talking to someone or seeing a situation in-person is the best way to report. Obviously, that isn't always possible, but it beats phone calls or text messaging - the scourge of a new generation.
Didn't get a lot of face-time with the Chicago Blackhawks this season and I'm not around the team every day like a Chris Kuc, an Adam Jahns or a Tracey Myers. But there were plenty of rumours of behind-the-scenes strife, especially when former Scotty Bowman assistant Barry Smith appeared on-ice to help with the ailing power play.
General manager Stan Bowman agreed to address it two months ago and disagreed with the idea of a rift, pointing out that Smith - the team's director of player development - worked with guys all the time. He added it didn't hurt to "have an extra set of eyes" with a power play that went 0-for-40 in one stretch.
The rumours never went away. Not being there makes it very difficult to recognize what really is going on. Tuesday night, we finally received a window into the situation.
As Joel Quenneville emphatically stated his desire to stay with the Blackhawks, assistant coach Mike Haviland was fired. This came two days after we blathered that Quenneville's good friend, new Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin, may ask for permission to talk to him about the Montreal opening.
"I had an assessment that there is some dysfunction to our coaching staff and we need a change," Quenneville said on a conference call, adding that Stan Bowman agreed. "It was not an easy decision. It was tough on Mike. I'm respectful for the job that he did. It's not the blame game here."
He later added, "I take ownership for what happened this year."
The word "dysfunction" is an eyebrow-raiser, because you so rarely hear coaches use it in relation to their staff. But, it is the exact word that's been used from the outside to describe what's been going on in Chicago.
Now, this is where it gets dicey. Not going to take sides because I'm not there every day, but here's an idea of what's been said:
Over the past few years, the Blackhawks moved from one of the NHL's worst-run organizations to one of its model franchises. The focus changed from floundering like a beached fish to actually winning a Stanley Cup - which it did in 2010.
Under president John McDonough, Stan Bowman and Scotty Bowman, the team was unafraid to make bold but cutthroat decisions. Dale Tallon, who began the resurgence, was fired under controversial circumstances. Quenneville replaced Denis Savard just four games into the 2008-09 season.
The Blackhawks knew they were going to Salary Cap Jail in 2010. But, understanding they had a rare chance with a great team to end a 50-year Stanley Cup drought, they went for it - a decision no one can argue.
The cap crunch meant painful choices. Gone are Andrew Ladd, Troy Brouwer, Dustin Byfuglien and Brian Campbell, among others. Since they left? Consecutive first-round defeats.
McDonough made it clear the organization wanted to win "Cups" (as opposed to just one "Cup") and this was not acceptable. Never mind the fact it's hard to win and that, for 49 years, Chicago wasn't real close very often.
More was demanded. And, when it didn't happen, the pressure increased and different factions emerged. There were accusations of "spying."
Disagreements, too. Apparently, according to sources, there is a belief one involved where Patrick Kane should play - wing or centre. Another involved John Scott. (Scott was traded to the Rangers at the deadline, after internal debate about his spot on the team.) Power-play philosophy clearly was an issue. And there was something else.
Don't know what happened between Quenneville, his good friend/assistant Mike Kitchen and Haviland. Don't know who is right or who is wrong or who stood where on what issues. But, the decision to remove Haviland - a coaching finalist in Winnipeg last season - and the explanation for it is proof that people did not trust each other.
Players notice stuff like this. It affects your team.
Quenneville had a lot of leverage. If he walked or was fired, he'd be unemployed for as long as it takes Don Draper to charm a bored housewife. And, there was no guarantee they'd find a better replacement.
He wanted to pick his own assistants and got his wish. Haviland becomes a scapegoat, because there couldn't be just one person disagreeing with everybody else. But next season is a huge one for the Hawks. If they don't push farther into the playoffs, bigger changes are coming.
Got to make Quenneville happy, because he's your best bench choice for that success.
1. Expect Bergevin to interview a wide range of French-speaking candidates (Marc Crawford, Bob Hartley, Patrick Roy, Michel Therrien, etc.) but don't be surprised if he looks at a couple of unexpected names as either assistants or AHL coaching possibilities. Among them: Gatineau coach Benoit Groulx (especially if Roy is the guy) and Colorado assistant Sylvain Lefebvre.
2. In the last week, Bergevin's received a lot of credit for his scouting acumen. Best find? Probably Andrew Shaw, who wasn't selected until his third year of draft eligibility. Bergevin convinced the Blackhawks to take him in the fifth round last June.
3. A few hockey people are surprised the coaching market's been "so quiet." Montreal and Calgary are vacant, Edmonton and Columbus are in a holding pattern, Vancouver wants to extend Alain Vigneault and Washington awaits Dale Hunter's decision. Some of it is because candidates are still coaching, some of it is because teams hoped Vigneault, Quenneville or Todd McLellan would be free. (If San Jose lets McLellan go, he'd be snapped up in a second.) But it could also be because teams don't want to risk paying two salaries with the possibility of a lockout.
4. One bit of coaching gossip is that Bryan Marchment could join the San Jose staff. He is currently a scout.
5. Agreed with Brendan Shanahan's decision to suspend Claude Giroux, but something about the video was off. At the 1:05 mark, he points out Giroux is "legally finished" by Mark Fayne but certainly creates the impression the Flyers forward is angry there was no call on that contact. (Giroux was actually upset Martin Brodeur wasn't penalized for illegally playing the puck.) Shanahan's trying to protect his referees, but that's misleading.
6. Not that he needed to, but Zach Parise increased his UFA attractiveness with a ferocious forechecking performance against Philly. He constantly forced Flyers to turn towards the boards, where New Jersey dominated the entire series. For a great example, look at his goal that puts the Devils up 3-2 in Game 3.
7. The Flyers downplayed their lack of hatred for New Jersey as a factor, but you've got to believe it is a pretty big reason for the defeat. Philly so badly wanted Pittsburgh -- and deserve great credit for having that attitude -- but succeeding in the playoffs is all about adapting to four different opponents and challenges. If you're not as emotionally invested in the Devils as you are in the Penguins, you've got to find another way.
8. From stat superstar Stan Nieradka: Who is the only player acquired on Trade Deadline day still active in the postseason? (Answer at bottom.)
9. Barry Trotz repaid David Poile for 14 years of loyalty by playing Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn in Game 5. Can't imagine there is any way Trotz wanted to do it. After the Game 4 loss, he understood the bigger picture: don't embarrass your GM. Especially when he's been great to you.
10. One storyline got a little out of control last week. It's ridiculous to say that you can't win with Russians, just as it's ridiculous to say that people were "piling on" them. The fact is this: more than any other "hockey nationality," you have to do your research -- because Russian players have a legitimate financial option others don't. A lot of them want to play in the NHL and compete hard for the Cup. Some don't. If you're wrong, you could get burned by a player who is willing to flout the rules because he sees no consequence.
11. The best thing the Predators could do right now is take a deep breath and say, "We're not making any decisions over the next couple of weeks." Never make important choices when you're emotional. Then, they've got to sit down with Ryan Suter and ask for an honest appraisal of his future. If he won't sign (or give you enough assurance), it's time to let teams talk to him in advance of July 1. Get what you can.
12. Shea Weber? One more year until he becomes UFA. God knows what the next CBA will look like, but will there be any push from the league to raise the age/experience level for free agency? That could affect Weber, Jordan Staal, Carey Price and Cory Schneider, among others.
13. This is the series where Phoenix will miss Raffi Torres. Energized and in control, he could have made a difference against the physically dominant Kings.
14. The better the Kings do, the worse it is for Columbus. The Blue Jackets have an option on the Kings' first-round pick, but a conference final berth means it can't be any higher than 27th. The Jackets will likely wait for 2013.
15. Colorado didn't create a market for Chris Stewart before trading him to St. Louis, and teams were disappointed they didn't get a chance at a strong, right-shooting scorer. Not long after the deal, I asked a member of the organization about letting him go. All he said was, "We have our reasons." That was it. No further explanation, no shot at his character. Just that.
16. Thought of that conversation when Stewart was a healthy scratch for the second time in the playoffs, Game 2 against Los Angeles. As the Blues packed up, he told NHL.com's Lou Korac, "This is probably the biggest summer of my career." Yes, it is, if he wants to prove the Avalanche wrong.
17. On Mike Green's Game 4 power-play winner, Alex Ovechkin was down low with the extra man, not on the point. (Dale Hunter does that late in games to be a little safer defensively.) One thought is that this was a reason for the goal, because Henrik Lundqvist couldn't find Ovechkin in the regular spot. Glenn Healy disagreed.
18. The next day (Sunday), the Rangers reminded players about their "rules" of shot blocking. As one explained it, Lundqvist (and the coaches), ask that if you're going to block, you have to stop everything low. That is your responsibility. Green's shot got through the otherwise excellent Ryan McDonagh for the score.There are not supposed to be any holes along (or slightly above) the ice.
19. Lundqvist gave brief insight into his film work with coach Benoit Allaire. They'll break down all of the opposing team's scoring chances, among other things. How many clips is that, he was asked? "About 20." That's a lot by today's standards, as most coaches don't believe players have the attention span for more than four or five. "Goalies are smarter," Lundqvist said.
20. One more on him: when Ottawa smothered the Rangers late in the third period of Game 7, Kelly Hrudey wondered how badly Lundqvist's legs were burning. Standing in goal, adjusting your stance, it wears you down. The Ranger said it isn't so bad for him, because he's so upright. And, other goalies do agree his style economizes movement.
21. A little insight into the McDonagh trade: Right around the 2009 draft, it's believed the Canadiens struck out for the second time on Vincent Lecavalier. (There was disagreement in Tampa about whether or not it really made sense to deal him.) Glen Sather saw an opening and let Montreal know Scott Gomez was available. He pointed out, correctly, that there wasn't much out there and the Canadiens could not go without trying to fill the No. 1 centre position. They were in a weak spot and Sather exploited it.
22. When Sather realized he had a shot at making the deal, he went to Director of player personnel Gordie Clark and asked, "Who should we get?" Both Clark and assistant GM Jeff Gorton had McDonagh No. 1. The Rangers really liked him going back to the NHL combine of his draft year and always kept an eye on him. (He was taken before New York selected the late Alexei Cherepanov.) Who was No. 2 if Montreal said no? "It never got that far," Clark said.
23. Clark explained how the Rangers (and presumably every other team) keep an updated list of about four/five players from all other organizations they'd target in a deal. "We're not talking about guys like [Steven] Stamkos," he said. "Everybody wants him. It's about prospects or lesser-known players. You watch everyone else's like you watch your own." That way, when Sather needs an answer, he gets one quickly.
24. Clark added the Rangers liked McDonagh for the same reason they noticed Chris Kreider and Dylan McIlrath at their comebines. "Physically, it was like men amongst boys," he said. "You have to be careful to make certain they have the hockey sense to play the way they need to, but they really stood out."
25. Totally forgot that Tom Renney helped run the Rangers' draft from 2001-05. He found some good ones -- none better than current captain Ryan Callahan. Renney apparently credits Don Maloney and Jamie McDonald for that pick, and McDonald's influence is interesting. He took a ton of grief for selecting Mike Richards fourth overall in the OHL draft and saw Callahan in the same mold. "Oozed character and drive," was part of the report on Callahan.
26. Jay Beagle lost 10 pounds in the triple overtime Game 3. He said he was doing shots of olive oil and avocado oil the next day to replace some of the "good fat." Keith Aucoin joked he lost just four pounds "because I only weigh 170."
27. Dale Hunter indicated Beagle would play Game 6 despite missing the morning skate. (He blocked a shot on Monday.) Beagle could barely walk from the ice to the dressing room. Sometimes skating is easier than stepping, but you could see he was really in pain.
28. Really couldn't find a ton of info on Roman Cervenka, the free-agent centre the Flames signed out of the KHL. Even though his salary is reported as $3.775 million US, three-quarters of that is bonuses. (His base is $925,000.) Calgary would be more than happy to pay all of that, because it means he has a great season. It caught people by surprise, because there wasn't a ton of interest. Maybe the Flames know something others don't.
29. Mattias Ohlund wants to play again. You can be certain he'll try everything he can to get back, although the knee problems are severe. While Brian Rafalski and close friend Markus Naslund walked away from one year of salary, Ohlund has four years and $12 million remaining.
30. Trivia answer? John Scott. (Credit to NHL.com's Dave Lozo, who guessed it in three seconds.) The only other players still alive acquired in the week before the deadline are Jeff Carter, Antoine Vermette and Marek Zidlicky.
Do you have improvements to suggest for this page?