A look back at the biggest games and emerging story lines of the NHL weekend.
Theme of the Week: Here Come the Playoffs (and the Layoffs)
Saturday marked the end of the regular season, meaning we now know what the playoff bracket looks like. And no, your eyes aren’t deceiving you — both last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winner and Stanley Cup champion aren’t on it. The Bruins and Kings missed the playoffs, meaning a good percentage of this year’s preseason picks are already trashed before the playoffs have even started. We’ve got a preliminary look at the matchups down in the next section, and we’ll have a full preview rolling out over the next two days.
Of course, the start of the playoffs for 16 teams also means the start of the offseason for the other 14. That usually kicks off with a bunch of people losing their jobs, and the Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t waste any time on that front. Yesterday, the Leafs announced that general manager Dave Nonis and interim coach Peter Horachek had both been fired, along with most of the coaching staff and several scouts. Those were obvious moves (although the future of Nonis had somehow become the subject of debate in Toronto), and the Leafs deserve minimal credit for getting the easy ones right. The bigger test comes over the next few weeks and months, but at least Toronto fans get a chance to have been first at something. The Sabres were the second team across the finish line, just like they were in most of their games this year, firing coach Ted Nolan early Sunday evening.
Now we get to see who goes next. Edmonton fans are desperate for a housecleaning and have been for years, although a slight improvement in the season’s second half means they might not get get one. The Sharks will almost certainly fire one or both of Doug Wilson and Todd McLellan after missing the playoffs. Craig Berube could go in Philadelphia, Lindy Ruff might be in trouble in Dallas, and there have been season-long rumors that Dave Tippett could be on the way out of Arizona. And, of course, the Devils will need to figure out what to do with the two-headed coaching creature Lou Lamoriello put in place in December.
And then we circle back to the Bruins and Kings. It doesn’t sound like any major changes will be coming in Los Angeles, despite reports of a major rift between the players and coach Darryl Sutter (which the team basically confirmed). Boston could be a different story; team CEO Charlie Jacobs had previously made it clear missing the playoffs would be considered unacceptable, meaning neither GM Peter Chiarelli nor coach Claude Julien should feel safe.
That should cover us for the next week or so. Once the first round ends, we can play the same game all over again with some combination of Mike Babcock, Ken Hitchcock, Bruce Boudreau, and pretty much everyone who works for the Penguins.
Long story short: If you’re an NHL coach or GM, try not to answer your phone over the next few days. Just to be safe.
Cup Watch: The League’s Five Best
The five teams that seem most likely to earn the league’s top prize: the Stanley Cup.
5. Montreal Canadiens (50-22-10, +30 goals differential) Studies have shown that momentum heading into the playoffs really doesn’t matter as much as we assume it does. Keep repeating that to yourself, Habs fans.
4. St. Louis Blues (51-24-7, +42) The good: They came on strong to win the division and avoid playing the Blackhawks or the Predators. The bad: They get the Wild instead. The Centralis brutal.