It would appear that the NHL’s firing season is upon us. We’ve already seen two GMs relieved of their duties since the lockout ended — Brian Burke’s oddly timed dismissal in Toronto, followed by Scott Howson finally being put out of his misery in Columbus. Last week, we got our first coaching casualty.
And it was a big one. Lindy Ruff had held the distinction of being the NHL’s longest-serving head coach but this month got the pink slip after more than 15 years on the job in Buffalo. If Lindy Ruff can be fired, anyone can.
So who’s next? Let’s take a look around the league at some of the coaches and GMs who find themselves on the hot seat.
[Editor’s note: An old friend called and asked if he could take over today's column. He sounded really sad and desperate on the phone, so I agreed.]
In case you were too busy NOT being the greatest shortstop AND third baseman of all time, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Hey guys, future Hall-of-Famer Alex Rodriguez here. Spike asked me to take ALN off of his hands for the day, and I generously agreed. I figured I could use humor to start getting back into America's good graces after a not so great day of news for me. Hey, it's like they always say, when life gives you deer poop, kill the deer and drink the liquefied remains of their antlers. Hehe. OK, let's go.
We're going to start with my favorite sport other than baseball, and that's NBA basketball. Last night the Los Angeles Lakers of Los Angeles played the New Orleans Hornets at home. (Oh wait, I wrote Los Angeles twice. How do you erase words that you already wrote? I guess it's not technically wrong I'll leave it.) Before the game, I gave my best friend Kobe Bryant like 15 phone calls to be like, "Hey, bud, how's it going?" cuz I could really use a pick-me-up, but he must've been busy or something because he never answered. Anyway, he's a great friend, and the Lakers won, 111-106.
We’re roughly 10 percent of the way through the NHL season, and that means it’s time for some teams to panic.
Not really, of course. Even in this abbreviated season, jumping to conclusions based on four or five games would be downright irrational. So any of you hockey fans who are completely rational when it comes to your team can go ahead and stop reading right now.
The other 98 percent of you still with me? Good. Let’s hit the panic button.
One note: We’re focused here on teams that are struggling relative to expectations. The Blue Jackets may have been iffy so far, but they’re clearly in rebuilding mode, and just about everyone had already picked them for last place. A team like that can’t be considered to be in panic mode by any reasonable definition.
The same can’t be said for many of the early season’s other underachievers. Here’s a look at some of the teams that aren’t living up to expectations right now:
It’s probably foolish to try to read anything into two days’ worth of games, especially when half the players in the NHL are still trying to get back to pre-lockout form. But that’s no reason not to try, so here are 10 random observations from the NHL’s opening weekend:
The Blues made a statement
The St. Louis Blues entered the season as a trendy pick to win the Western Conference. They looked the part Saturday, pummeling the Detroit Red Wings, 6-0, and outshooting them, 17-2, in a first-period display that played out as a near-perfect depiction of Ken Hitchcock hockey.
The game also featured the breakout performance of opening weekend, with Blues rookie Vladimir Tarasenko scoring a pair of goals, including a filthy individual effort in his NHL debut. The 21-year-old 2010 first-round pick has spent the last few seasons in the KHL, and could make a major impact if he can bring consistent production to a Blues offense that wasn’t exactly intimidating last year.
But while Tarasenko could be the league’s next big star, let’s hold off on the hype until we see him do it against an NHL-caliber defense.
"Probably an hour," he said, kidding-except-actually-serious.
Shortly afterward, in his postgame press conference, Rangers coach John Tortorella explained that winning this first-round series in seven games was no easy task, that it was invaluable experience for a team with so many youngsters. (The Rangers went into the playoffs with the least combined postseason experience of the 16 teams.) "They should be real proud of themselves," Tortorella said. "For about an hour."
The last time the Florida Panthers made the playoffs, Bill Clinton was president and Metallica was suing Napster. The NASDAQ had just reached an all-time high. Elian Gonzalez was soon to be seized by feds at gunpoint. 'N Sync was breaking album sales records, AOL was purchasing Time Warner, and Ben Affleck was dating Gwyneth Paltrow. (The world would not be introduced to the concept of "Bennifer" for another couple years.)
It's been more than a decade since that Panthers postseason appearance, the longest active drought in hockey. (The Toronto Maple Leafs, who haven't made the playoffs since 2004, are second on that dismal list.) But it looked as though it would be finally coming to an end — or at least getting a new beginning — on Tuesday night. The Panthers, who could clinch with a win over the Winnipeg Jets, certainly started off the game on track: Tomas Fleischmann's goal just 25 seconds into the second period gave Florida a comfortable 3-0 lead.