Chicago Hot Seat: Coach…or GM?
Hard to believe that coach Joel Quenneville would be feeling heat due to the Blackhawks’ first-round exit in a sweep at the hands of the Nashville Predators. That, however, is the stink in the air around the United Center in the wake of the firing of assistant coach Mike Kitchen, a longtime ally of Quenneville from the St. Louis days.
With the Blackhawks’ defense and penalty kill subpar, exactly the areas of Kitchen’s responsibility, GM Stan Bowman may have felt compelled–or been ordered to–serve up some fresh meat.
Expectations in Chicago are now sky-high, rightly so after three Cups since 2010. However, the GM is the guy who made the decision to bring in Brian Campbell and John Oduya, for example, rather than plug in prospects on defense. The offense sputtered, too, scoring only three goals in four games vs. the Predators. So it’s either cover your ass time for Bowman, or it’s a big message to a legendary coach. The stink around United Center had better dissipate early next season or more heads may roll at the end of next season. Which head would be a mystery, whether coach…or GM. GM’s usually are given a chance to go through two or three coaches before the axe falls, but Quenneville has done such a tremendous job it would be hard to justify firing him, but that’s what makes pro sports such a crazy business.
Buffalo’s Pegula Takes Decisive Action
Terry and Kim Pegula took decisive action, firing their hockey GM (Tim Murray) and football GM (Doug Whaley).
Despite the Buffalo hockey-mad media giving no quarter to the new ownership regime, with an intensity we normally only find in Canadian cities, most Western New York fans seem to appreciate the dual house cleanings.
Terry Pegula indicated that “experience” was going to be a key consideration, a statement that many assumed would mean that the candidate the Sabres seek must be a former GM. Turns out that a number of assistant or associate GM’s are interviewing with the team, which is the same position Murray occupied in Ottawa when hired.
As reported by our buddy Dennis Bernstein at The Fourth Period, ace Kings executive Mike Futa, who served as VP of hockey ops under Dean Lombardi through both Cups, and was a leading candidate when the Sabres hired Murray in 2014.
Other candidates reported to have made their way to Nickel City include Blue Jackets Assistant GM Bill Zito (who steered the Lake Erie [now Cleveland] Monsters to the AHL championship in 2016); Jason Botterill, associate GM, and Bill Guerin, assistant GM, both of the Penguins, and Paul Fenton, assistant GM of the Predators.
While it would be reassuring for fans if the club names a seasoned GM such as Lombardi (who they have not interviewed), every GM must start somewhere and if a longtime hockey ops exec comes available, that’s just as legitimate a chose as any.
One name that has yet to come up is Don Maloney. Considering the solid work he did in Arizona with a budget almost always the lowest in the league, one must wonder whether he’d be a dazzling candidate for the Sabres, since Pegula has proven that he’s willing to go deep into his pockets and spend liberally.
The Sabres are most certainly due to start the season much stronger than they did with Jack Eichel (61GP: 24-33-57) out of the lineup for the first 21 games of the season with a high ankle sprain. The club also played without key defensemen Dmitry Kulikov for 35 games and Zach Bogosian, who missed 26.
Eichel denied having made comments to the effect of his not wanting to play for Dan Bylsma, but Terry took the heat for that mess and the club will move on without Murray and Bylsma. Owners love their stars, and these moves are no surprise.
Hart Trophy Nominees Announced:
Sergei Bobrovsky, G, CBJ
Sidney Crosby, C, PIT
Connor McDavid, C, EDM
Winner: Crosby for the third time.
Voters will see the Art Ross Trophy, which comes as a reward for phenom McDavid’s 100 points, as sufficient to recognize the 20-year-old’s amazing season. Bobrovsky’s nomination as a finalist for the award will be viewed likewise. The Hart will go to Crosby, who finished second in scoring (89 pts.) despite missing seven games. Crosby fueled his club to a second-place finish in the Metro, won the Rocket Richard Trophy for the second time with 44 goals (30 at even strength), and was tenacious as always every night, and vastly underrated in the defensive zone.