NHL coaches already sweating

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:20 PM ET

Less than a month in, and coaches put in absurd positions are on the hot seat.

And already having to use tactics usually reserved for last-ditch attempts to hang on to their jobs.

In New Jersey, John MacLean made US$100-million man Ilya Kovalchuk a healthy scratch because the star, whose contract is greatly impacting their salary cap situation, was reportedly 10 minutes late for a team meeting.

Minnesota bench boss Todd Richards had to use the classic junior hockey bag skate to get the attention of his players.

Columbus head skipper Scott Arniel held a clearing-of-the-air meeting instead of a morning skate one day after his team was blasted by the Calgary Flames.

A trend emerges from these three incidents, and not just the fact we’re talking about inexperienced NHL head coaches.

The parity caused by a hard salary cap is putting more and more teams in the same boat.

Pretty much every team has a handful of players making big dollars, a bunch below the league average, and a varying amount of players with salaries in the middle.

Which means the difference between a winning team and a losing team is the consistent effort from game to game.

Sure, you have the slam-dunk playoff teams: Detroit, Pittsburgh, Boston, Washington, Chicago, Vancouver, San Jose etc.

The over-riding factor for success, though, comes in the form of sweat. Sure, all players and all teams work hard, but not all do it consistently enough.

Nashville once again looks like a playoff team, for no other reason than it’s a collection of players willing to give their all game after game. The job done by GM David Poile and head coach Barry Trotz is nothing short of remarkable.

Wouldn’t you expect the Devils to be sitting prettier than the Predators?

A team with Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Jason Arnott, Patrik Elias, Jamie Langenbrunner, Henrik Tallinder and Andy Greene should be good enough from start to finish to compete.

Watch them play, and it’s a group as dysfunctional as the Osbournes, and it seems the inmates are running the asylum.

Fewer and fewer teams each season can get by on pure talent. If any at all.

Those who don’t learn the lesson soon, will have a longer summer than they expect.

FLAMING C-NOTES

A couple of leftover bits from talking with Craig Conroy prior to his 1,000th NHL game: His first contract was worth $225,000 in the NHL and Cdn$27,500 in the minors, where he spent most of two full seasons. His first season after four years in university didn’t end until the AHL championship round. “I thought I’m wasn’t going to make it. I must have weighed 165 pounds when I was done.” ... Can somebody at TSN explain how Alex Tanguay’s backhanded cross-ice pass which set up Jay Bouwmeester for his powerplay goal against the Edmonton Oilers wasn’t even a Highlight of the Night candidate? ... Left winger Raitis Ivanans was finally skating for the first time Thursday morning prior to the Flames-Avalanche game, the next step in returning to action from the concussion suffered in his season-opener fight with Edmonton’s Steve MacIntyre.

HOCKEY TALKY

The team with the best start nobody’s talking about has to be the St. Louis Blues, with a league-best 1.81 team goals-against average heading into Thursday night’s action. Still can’t believe the Montreal Canadiens traded Jaroslav Halak. Sure, Carey Price is winning over the Montreal fans, but Halak is that piece the Blues needed, just like Ilya Bryzgalov did for Phoenix ... Both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane managed just two goals this season for the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Bank on them both ramping up their game with Marian Hossa on the shelf for a couple of weeks and puck-moving defenceman Brian Campbell returning to the lineup soon ... The New York Islanders made the right move by returning Nino Niederreiter to the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. Portland has a very good team and the 18-year-old first-round draft choice will benefit from another year on the buses. He was a boy among men the last few games ... In comparison, the Oilers are wisely keeping Taylor Hall instead of returning him to the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires. Hall has done enough in the junior ranks, other than win world junior gold ... How good are the five teams in the NHL’s Central Division? All five were not only in the Western Conference’s top eight before Thursday’s game, but they were all in the top 13 in winning percentage.

YOU DON’T SAY

“I’ve got three kids and a mortgage, I’m not going there.”

— Florida Panthers head coach Peter DeBoer, when pressed for comments on the refs in Toronto missing a blatant goaltender interference which led to Colton Orr’s game-winning goal in a 3-1 Maple Leafs victory.

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/RandySportak

THE FARM REPORT

Abbotsford Heat centre John Armstrong’s admittedly starting to get his game back in gear after two injury-filled seasons and a rough go during training camp. Armstrong had two shoulder surgeries the past couple of years and then took a puck in the face in the pre-season. He has three goals in 10 AHL games. Curiously, his first goal of the year came one year to the day of his one tally of the 2009-10 season. “It’s taken me a couple games more than I thought it would to get back in the routine of things,” he told the Abbotsford News. “It feels really good to be back, though, just playing and being around the guys.”

Carter Bancks, the free-agent signing from the WHL Lethbridge Hurricanes continues to be the Heat’s leading scorer, with one goal and eight points in 10 games. Moreover, he was wearing the alternate captain’s “A” recently.


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