We’ll spare you the saccharine sentiments, but we will take advantage of the Christmas season to take a look at who’s been naughty and who’s been nice so far in this National Hockey League season.
As usual, there’s no shortage of candidates in both categories, so this is not a comprehensive list. Some just struck our fancy; one even fit on both lists.
Bruce Boudreau is a perennial favourite of sportswriters, as his nickname Gabby will tell you. He went into Washington Monday night for his first game at the Verizon Center since the Capitals fired him as head coach back in November, 2011. He returned riding high, as his Anaheim Ducks carried the NHL’s best record, 26-7-5, against the 19-13-4 Caps.
When Ducks general manager Bob Murray hired Boudreau two days after he was dumped by Caps’ GM George McPhee, it was a classic case of replacing one style of coach with another. Randy Carlyle, who led the Ducks to the 2007 Stanley Cup and now coaches the Toronto Maple Leafs, is a brutally honest, demanding coach. Boudreau, an old teammate of Carlyle’s on the Maple Leafs, is renowned as a players’ coach.
“I don’t want to take any credit,” Boudreau told the Los Angeles Times. “We’ve got sound, young players. All I’ve done is build up their confidence a little bit and let them be themselves. My relationship with the players is as strong a suit as I have.”
Next on our list is another head coach, Patrick Roy, who has quite a connection with Boudreau. Given his fiery personality, Roy is generally found on the naughty list for one shenanigan or another, and in his first game as an NHL head coach for the Colorado Avalanche, Roy was in full naughty mode – as Boudreau can attest.
After opening-night game ended, Roy was so angry about a hit on his prize rookie Nathan MacKinnon that he wound up shouting at Boudreau. Then he went after the Ducks’ coach, knocking down the glass partition between the benches before being ushered safely away. Boudreau was rather amused by the incident and suggested that Roy wasn’t in junior hockey any more, and if he could not control his legendary temper, it would be a long rookie season.
However, 35 games in, Roy has the youthful Avs turned around with a 23-10-2 record, good enough for third in the Central Division and seventh in the Western Conference.
Also nice is Los Angeles Kings’ rookie goaltender Martin Jones. When starter Jonathan Quick was lost to a groin injury Nov. 12, there was some sweating when the Kings had to turn to former Leaf Ben Scrivens. He did alright, but then Jones came up from the Kings’ farm team and snatched away the No. 1 job. The 23-year-old from North Vancouver went into Monday’s games without a loss, going 8-0 with three shutouts and an otherworldly .966 save percentage and 0.98 goals-against average.
No shortage of contenders here, and Maple Leafs fans are all screaming for David Clarkson and his $5.25-million (all currency U.S.) cap hit over seven years to top the list.
But instead, we’ll start with an owner, the Buffalo Sabres’ Terry Pegula. Pegula made a mistake that a lot of new owners make, trusting the first people he met in the NHL when he bought the team nearly three years ago. This led to a stubborn belief in GM Darcy Regier, even when it was obvious to just about everybody the Sabres needed a change. It was only when this season was well along that Pegula could see his team was the worst in the NHL.
Now, after hiring Pat LaFontaine to run the operation and look for a new GM, and picking Ted Nolan to be interim head coach, Pegula has annoyed a whole new set of people. Well, he’s annoying them through LaFontaine, as the latter is looking to steal away Boston Bruins assistant GM Jim Benning. So is Calgary Flames president Brian Burke, apparently, after firing Jay Feaster. Burke might also pursue one of his assistants from when he was running the Leafs – Dave Poulin or Claude Loiselle.
On the player side, New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist hit the naughty list shortly after signing a seven-year, $59.5-million contract extension. The quality of his work fell off so badly after the new deal that backup Cam Talbot landed his first back-to-back starts since joining the Rangers. Lundqvist went 2-4-2 after the contract extension, while Talbot, a 26-year-old rookie, is 7-2 with a 1.67 goals-against average and .936 save percentage. He got the call Monday against the Leafs.
Finally, there is one man who could make both lists. Montreal Canadiens centre David Desharnais was definitely naughty after he signed a four-year contract for $14-million and then produced just one point in his first 19 games this season. But he worked his way to the nice list with 14 points in his past 11 games.
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