Monday, February 14, 2022

Fresh starts in Montreal and Edmonton, a bad week for the Bruins, and the Ducks face some tough decisions

We had two more coaching changes this week, and both had been feeling inevitable for weeks. The only question in Edmonton was whether things would get bad enough for Ken Holland to actually fire a coach for the first time in his career, rather than wait for their contract to expire like he usually does. And the only question in Montreal was whether there was even any point in trying to make things better during a season so bad it’s been bordering on farce.

The answer to both questions turned out to be yes, and so we say goodbye to Dave Tippett and Dominique Ducharme and (a maybe temporary) hello to Jay Woodcroft and Martin St. Louis. This weekend, we had our first opportunity to get a real look at what both teams might look like for the rest of the year.

We’ll start in Edmonton, where Tippett somehow survived an awful stretch long enough to get his team back in track, but couldn’t weather a two-game losing streak coming out of the All-Star break. Woodcroft comes up from the AHL, and seems to be a generally well-regarded young coach who’ll have a decent shot to earn the long-term job. He started off his tenure by dialing back the ice time for Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, which took some guts, but it largely worked in Friday’s 3-1 win. Beating the struggling Islanders is hardly a sign the Oilers are fixed, but it’s a start, and they’ve got their next four games against good but beatable teams, so we’ll have a sense of where Woodcroft’s team is at by next week.

The Oilers are still very much in the playoff hunt, so every win matters. But in the big picture, the more important impact of the change is that Ken Holland has now played the one card he had left in his hand. He did the gritty leadership thing in the summer. He rolled the dice on Evander Kane a few weeks ago. Now he’s made the coaching change. There are no more easy targets, and if it doesn’t work now then there won’t be any question that it’s on the GM.

An even more interesting change came in Montreal, where the Habs put Ducharme out of his misery and brought in a guy with next to no coaching experience. I don’t get it, as you already know if you listen to the podcast, but it’s impossible not to root for St. Louis. He’s been an underdog story his whole career, everyone who played with or coached him seems to love the guy, and if you’re a fan of offense like I am then you have to perk up when you hear a new coach saying stuff like this:

Will it work? It did for the first three games, as the Canadiens looked far more competitive. Of course, the bar has been set so low this year in Montreal that “far more competitive” still means three losses, running their streak to ten straight. But they were in the games, or at least close enough, and Cole Caufield looked dangerous again, which might be more important to the long-term future in Montreal than anything else that could happen. In one sense, maybe that’s the best-case scenario for St. Louis as coach — the Habs get better, the young players take a step forward, and nobody really cares that they’re still losing enough to secure top lottery odds.

Sometimes a midseason coaching change works out great, sometimes they don’t. We’ve seen the Canucks turn their season around under Bruce Boudreau, including Thatcher Demko stealing a very entertaining win over the Leafs on Saturday. It hasn’t gone as well in Winnipeg or Philadelphia. My guess is that this might be it for the year, unless the Devils decide to move on from Lindy Ruff, but we’ll see.

On to the top five, only one of which has made a coaching change this year …

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