In many ways, it’s good that the Leaf brass and the fans have had the opportunity to step back and think through what needs to get done this summer. The raw emotions that people were feeling at the end of the regular-season have eased a bit with time. Management will no doubt work toward what they have stated as their off-season objectives: acquiring goaltending, a center and additional toughness.
How that gets accomplished will be part of the fun—and summer is usually the best time to make major changes.
Not surprisingly, the Leafs aren’t the only organization with decisions to make:
- The Oilers are looking yet again for a new coach. I don’t quite know why Kevin Lowe has such a great reputation as a hockey guy (post-career, I’m talking about). Glenn Sather’s been gone a long time. Besides the one playoff run, what does Lowe have to show for his time on the job there? Once Lowe was somehow promoted, Tambellini has been just as mediocre as his replacement. What has he done except allow the team to become so bad that they’ve been able to draft first three years in a row? What is the team’s identity after all this time? Yet the coaches are always to blame?
- The Capitals have a very intriguing decision ahead of them. Who replaces Dale Hunter? Do you go back to a “players' coach”, or get someone just like Hunter? I’m not sure that’s a job I’d want.
- If I was Darryl Sutter in LA, I’d do like Hunter and step down at the end of the season. He can’t possibly duplicate his playoff success with that team. I don’t think it’s possible for teams to “buy-in” to playing that hard two seasons in a row. But he has certainly driven the Kings to a remarkable performance so far. (That said, great goaltending always makes coaches look really, really good…)
- Does anyone believe that, if Patrick Roy is indeed hired to coach the Montreal Canadiens, that story will end anything but badly? I’m not even sure being GM would have ensured a dignified exit for him down the road. Unless he was, say, team President, there are huge risks in his taking a "hockey" job. It could further harm what has already been a fractured relationship with the organization. It’s rare when a Jean Beliveau can work for an organization into retirement and still be so highly-regarded. Importantly, Beliveau was never really in a decision-making position with the Habs, so he never encountered that kind of potential controversy. He was more of a goodwill ambassador, and occasional advisor…It won't be easy for the volatile Roy.
- I think Zdeno Chara deserves a ton of credit. After winning the Cup last season and playing a tough playoff round this spring, he is leading his Slovakian team into the semi-finals of the World Championships. He’s a big-time player.
- Same with Alfredsson. Sweden couldn’t quite get it done, but kudos to the long-time Leaf rival for playing hurt in the playoffs and still making the trek to Finland to help Sweden yet again.
- Canadians often used to say the Russians had no heart, but we should look at how many of their NHL stars made a point of joining their national team for these World Championships, even after the letdown of losing in the playoffs. I find it impressive. (There are a few Americans and Canadians who couldn’t be bothered, eh?)
- The rubber is beginning to meet the road in Vancouver. I sense they don’t really want to extend Vigneault. Truth is, he hasn't taken them to the promised land, despite having the best team the last two seasons. Yet, they don’t exactly want to fire him. Interesting deadlock. Does he want to go to Montreal? I wonder...
- On the ‘Nucks, the decision on Luongo has already been made. I’m convinced that any “private discussions” with the veteran goalie are a mere formality. He’s being dealt. The real question is: where. I don’t think it’s Toronto but the summer is always full of surprises.
- I’m one of those who don’t like Tortorella. Never have. But it has nothing to do with how he conducts himself in his infamous post-game media conferences. I just don’t like the guy, not that it matters. It was fascinating to hear former NHL player and coach Steve Ludzik talk openly about his lack of respect for Tortorella recently on TSN’s “Off the Record”. I was shocked at his straightforward comments. To me, it’s clear Ludzik is not the only NHL guy who feels that way.
- I still think Jordan Stall could shake free this summer via a trade out of Pittsburgh. If I was the Penguins, Malkin is the guy I’d move, if I couldn’t make the numbers work. I just think Staal will be a two-way impact guy for the next several years.
- Given his track record, I’ll be very interested to see how “Year Two” goes for Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis next year.
- I guess it would have been mildly awkward, had the Coyotes won the Cup with no real ownership in place. Nonetheless, it does look more and more as though new local owners have come to the rescue. The Coyotes have had a tremendous season—much credit goes to Dave Tippett.
- I’m betting that Doug Wilson (who seems to have the Kevin Lowe halo effect protecting him) will make a coaching change in San Jose. Todd McLellan has delivered "poor" results after very high expectations were put on him upon arriving from Detroit.
- If I had to guess which organization was going to spend big in free-agency this summer, I’m thinking it will be the Red Wings. If Lidstrom decides to play one more season, they’ll want to reinforce the squad to take one more run at a Cup with him. If he goes, they’ll need to go hard after some quality to replace him.
- I know some are pushing Brent Sutter, recently deposed Calgary coach, as the best choice for the Oilers. I wonder why. He was OK with Jersey. OK with Calgary. It’s not like he has a track record of stellar success. If he was named Smith would people be so high on him?
- Just one quick comment about Canada’s unceremonious exit from the World Championships: we tend to gloat and feel good (which is fine) when Canada does well at these World events, but slough them off as meaningless when we don’t. I’m not sure we can have it both ways. Let’s face it, as much as we all love the World Juniors, for example, that is largely an invention to promote Canada’s hockey excellence. The tournament is usually held in North America, at a perfect time for our players and coaches. We should win that event. When it comes to the spring World Championships, that’s an event that means a lot to Europeans, because it has always had immense historical significance for them. Yet as Canadian fans we inevitably find excuses for lack of success—mostly by simply claiming it’s not an important tournament. Try telling that to the players on the team that wins Gold—or the fans from the country that wins the World Championship.