NHL Wins and Sins: Elias Pettersson, Uber, Joel Quenneville and the 'Digital Six'
What's right and what's wrong with the NHL this week
It's time for our weekly installment highlighting what's right and what's wrong with the NHL during every week throughout the season. For all the things there are to love about the NHL and its product, there's also plenty to hate and plenty to criticize.
With that in mind, let's hash it out together ... right here ... every single Wednesday.
What's right: Elias Pettersson
If you take a look a look at the Pacific division right now, you'll see the Flames and Canucks at the top of the standings. Obviously, it's still early and there's plenty of hockey left to be played, but it's rather shocking to see those two teams there through 15-plus games.
In the Canucks' case, not only have they been surprisingly successful out of the gate, they've also been surprisingly fun to watch. A big reason for that has been Elias Pettersson, Vancouver's 19-year-old Swedish wonderteen, who entered this season as a favorite to take home rookie of the year, and who has lived up to the hype (and then some) so far.
The No. 5 overall pick in 2017 NHL Draft has 10 goals through his first 10 NHL games, making him just the fifth player to score 10 times in his first 10 career contests since the NHL's inaugural season in 1918-19. He also became the youngest to ever do it.
That 10th goal? It looked like this.
Just a perfectly-placed old school slapper from the top of the circle. It's not something you see too often anymore but, boy, is it ever a thing of beauty. Shades of Wayne Gretzky, if you're willing to go there.
The kid seems to do something amazing every game, and he's almost single-handedly making the Canucks a team that you need to seek out on a nightly basis. Earlier this week, he made this obscene indirect pass off the boards to fellow young Canucks stud Brock Boeser.
It should be noted that this comes after Pettersson was sidelined for two weeks as a result of a concussion in October. That head injury was concerning and frustrating -- especially since it came after he scored five goals in his first five games -- but he's been able to pick up right where he left off and it's been incredible to watch.
He's looking like the league's next can't-miss superstar, so make sure to tell your friends.
What's wrong: Fall guys
Last year we had to wait until the final day of the regular season to see a coach fired. This year, two got axed in the first week of November.
John Stevens became the first NHL coaching casualty of the season on Sunday when . They replaced him with Willie Desjardins, who will serve with an interim label. (They also replaced assistant coach Don Nachbaur with Marco Sturm.)
Then, just a few days later, another firing. The Chicago Blackhawks decided to , the coach that led them to three Stanley Cups in a six-year span. He had been the longest-tenured coach in the NHL, having served behind the Blackhawks' bench since 2008. They replaced him with Rockford IceHogs coach Jeremy Colliton, who, at 33 years old, becomes the youngest coach in the NHL (He's younger than four players on the Blackhawks' roster.)
In both of these cases, the coaches seemingly became fall guys for the general managers that failed them.
In Los Angeles, there's no doubt that the team had its offensive struggles under Stevens. The Kings' 2.15 goals-per-game average at the time of his firing was the league's worst mark, and their goal differential of minus-17 also put them 31st out of 31 teams. But they're just a year removed from Stevens leading them back to the playoffs during a season in which they finished as the leagues' best defensive unit.
Those early absences were significant, considering depth isn't a strong point of the Kings' roster. They've got an elite center in Anze Kopitar, an elite defenseman in Drew Doughty, and very good goaltender in Quick. Behind that, a few nice pieces but nothing spectacular to write home about. They've got one of the oldest and slowest teams in the league, and general manager Rob Blake seems to be clinging on to the core group that he inherited when he took over the job last year.
There's possibly an argument to be made that making the playoffs hurt the Kings (and Stevens) more than it helped them, as it allowed Blake to look at his team -- one that's not overly impressive -- and feel reassured that it is heading in the right direction and doesn't need significant changes. I'm not so confident that's the case.
Maybe Desjardins can extract more offense out of this group -- they came away with a 4-1 victory in their first game under the new coach -- but the Kings' shortcomings seemingly fall on Blake more than they do Stevens.
Meanwhile, the Quenneville firing was a whole lot more shocking than Stevens', if only because of the goodwill that Coach Q had (seemingly) built up in Chicago during his tenure. He's the second-winningest coach in franchise history (as well as second-winningest in league history) and is regarded as one of the best coaches, if not the best, in the league.
Last year, the Blackhawks missed the playoffs for the first time under Quenneville. (And it was only the second time in Quenneville's 20-plus year coaching career that he finished a season without a playoff berth.) There's no question that it was a disastrous season; they finished seventh in the Central division and looked like a mess for a majority of the year.
What did general manager Stan Bowman do this offseason to put them in a better position to succeed? Almost nothing, because there wasn't a lot he could do considering how much money he's committed to certain aging veterans that clearly aren't the same players they were when they put pen to paper. Even the money he did manage to free up (around $5 million in the Marian Hossa deal) he ultimately just sat on.
Much like the Kings, the Blackhawks seem to be clinging onto a core that's growing older and less effective, and struggling to put pieces around them. It's hard to look at what happened to Chicago last year, then look at what they did this offseason and say "OK, things should get better." Not even the return of Corey Crawford was going to save this Chicago team.
But, as we've seen so many times, general managers will bring the ax down on coaches -- even historically great ones -- because it often buys them time and, typically, they're not interested in firing themselves. Maybe the new coaches in Los Angeles and Chicago will serve as something of a wake-up call, but they're likely not going to be able to fix the bigger problems that led to the firing of their predecessors.
It's unfortunate to see coaches get thrown under the bus like this, but these guys ---- will likely bounce back with new gigs rather quickly (if they so desire) and have a chance to prove that they weren't the issue.
What's right: Brian Boyle's timely hat trick
Brian Boyle was featured in as a winner after it was announced his leukemia was in full remission. Here he is again, this time after he recorded his first career hat trick ... on Hockey Fights Cancer night in Pittsburgh.
The hat trick couldn't have come at a more fitting time for Boyle, considering what he's been through over the past year or so. It was just a really cool thing to see.
Boyle was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia last preseason and missed the start of the regular season as he received treatment. After his diagnosis, Boyle played 69 games for New Jersey, was an honorary All-Star selection and took home the Masterton Trophy for perseverance and dedication to hockey at year's end.
His hat trick this week gave him six goals through 12 games, putting him well on his way to eclipsing the 13-goal mark that he's posted in each of the past three seasons.
What's wrong: Uber
One of the biggest stories in the NHL this week was an absolute mess and it involved -- you guessed it -- the Ottawa Senators!
during a recent road trip stop in Arizona. The video, which was presumably recorded and shared by the driver of the vehicle, was posted online and it quickly became a story.
In it, a number of prominent Sens players -- including Matt Duchene, Chris Wideman, Thomas Chabot and Chris Tierney -- were seen and heard poking fun at the team's current defensive and special-teams woes. They were especially unkind to Ottawa assistant coach Martin Raymond, who runs the team's penalty killing unit.
Probably the most damning part of the video came when Duchene, while criticizing the coaching staff's reluctance to change things, said "I haven't paid attention in three weeks."
The players said they didn't know they were being recorded and later apologized for the incident. But, if we're being honest, everyone involved in this situation came away looking pretty dumb.
The Sens players weren't dumb for having the conversation. I would venture to guess pretty much every single one of us has complained about a work situation or co-worker, and former NHL player Ryan Whitney said that "every team in NHL history has had a cab full of guys ripping the coach or GM."
That being said, it's 2018 and you should probably be careful about having those conversations in the presence of a stranger, and you should also probably check that the cab you're having that conversation in doesn't have a running camera on the dashboard. If that wasn't clear before, it should be now.
But it's most definitely the Uber driver who comes away looking the worst here. It's just a total scumbag move and invasion of privacy to release this video to the public, especially if the guys weren't obnoxious, inappropriate or rude during the ride. They were having the private conversation, and the only reason for the driver to release the video is because he knows it would make them look bad. And by "them," I'm talking about paying customers to the company that "employs" him (Uber drivers are technically independent contractors, or something), so he probably shouldn't ever be able to represent the company again.
According to Elliotte Friedman's "31 Thoughts" piece this week, the driver was reportedly upset about a tip (or lack thereof) and said the players were "cheap entitled kids." They certainly didn't seem to be acting that way in the five-minute video he shared; in fact, he seemed to be enjoying himself during the ride. At the end of the video he's seen checking his phone and saying "f--- you," which could be in response to the tip thing.
But do most people even tip their Uber drivers? Like, I get these people have more money than most, but I don't think this is a condemnable offense. It's certainly not worth turning around and leaking this video to the media. Just an incredibly petty and weaselly move by the driver.
In any case, it was yet another unwanted blemish and distraction for a Senators team that has had plenty of them over the past few years. At least their partnership with Uber is still going strong.
What's right: Laine in Finland
As part of the NHL's Global Series this season, the Jets and Panthers headed to Patrik Laine's home country of Finland to play a couple of games in Helsinki this past week. It was a nice opportunity for the 20-year-old Laine to play in front of his family, friends and countrymen, and boy did he ever take advantage of it.
Laine put up a hat trick in that first game as the Jets took down the Panthers 4-2.
Obviously, it was a very cool moment for Laine and all the people who showed up to watch his homecoming. However, it was less cool for the fantasy owners who weren't prepared for time zone effect and didn't put Laine in their lineup in time.
Hopefully they learned from their mistake, as Laine came out and tallied another goal in the second game -- a 4-2 Jets' loss. (A real Jekyll & Hide trip for these teams.) His goal in that game came on this beauty...
Laine had gone scoreless in his previous five games before tallying four goals during the Finland trip, so the Jets should take note of that. Maybe they want to consider moving the team from Winnipeg to Helsinki full-time just so that Laine can score 162 goals a year. Would be fun to watch!
What's wrong: NHL Digital 6
The NHL did a really weird thing this week when they unveiled "digital exclusive" uniforms for each of their Original Six teams -- the Bruins, Blackhawks, Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Rangers and Red Wings. Basically, they're uniforms that would only be found in EA Sports' "NHL 19" and never actually worn in real life.
It seemed like a very weird idea, at least until we saw the unis. Then it made perfect sense. Just look at these abominations.
The Red Wings one is passable, as is the Leafs' (basically a straight ripoff of Canada's unis from the 1972 Summit Series) but the rest hang out somewhere between hideous and shameful. I almost wish they were actual jerseys just to watch the fan bases of all these proud franchises just burn to the ground in disgust.
The Blackhawks' uniform looks like an ugly Christmas candy cane; The Rangers looks like they're wearing a beauty pageant sash; The Bruins' one looks like a hybrid ripoff of the Barstool Sports logo and the 76ers' new City uniforms; The Habs jersey is so boring that I can't even think of a proper insult for it.
In any case, this wasn't the worst idea in the world, but the execution was abysmal. In fact, it was so bad that I was told at least one team involved didn't even want to share the promotional material because they were afraid of the reaction.
It would have been cool if the league and NHL 19 had fans participate in a create-a-uni contest within the game, then had fans vote on the best submissions before picking winners. Seems like it would've been a better way to involve fans, and I'm willing to guarantee the results would have been more desirable.
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