Changes to come, but where and when?
Editor's note: Our weekly "Faceoff" features ESPN.com NHL writers Scott Burnside (based in Atlanta) and Pierre LeBrun (based in Toronto), who duke it out over any given hockey topic. Let the games begin!
This week's topic: Counting down to the playoffs, what moves should we expect to see heading into April?
Scott Burnside: Bonjour, Pierre. Comment ša va? That's "How are you?" in French, as you well know, you noted bilingual. Wondered if we should try a scatter-gun approach to this week's edition as opposed to the finely honed focus we generally employ. For me, I'd like to stop in Edmonton first.
A lot of talk that this is the end for coach Craig MacTavish after his disastrous stick-measurement gambit against Anaheim went bad earlier this week. Only Lindy Ruff (Buffalo), Barry Trotz (Nashville) and Jacques Lemaire (Minnesota) have coached longer with their current teams, and MacTavish is a treat to work with from the media perspective. Do you think this is it, and, if so, who steps in? I think, barring a miracle finish, this is it. And wouldn't a guy like Tom Renney look good behind the Oilers bench?
Pierre LeBrun: I do indeed speak French and English, but it's the language of hockey that mattered Tuesday night when MacT gambled the season away on the stick call. Marty McSorley, where art thou? Funny thing is, if Teemu Selanne's stick ends up being illegal, the Oilers coach is a genius. Such is the fickle nature of our business. And I like the way MacTavish handled the fallout the next day -- took it like a man, answered questions about his future and didn't sound testy with the media at all. He's a real likeable character.
But will he last past this season? The new owner, Daryl Katz, apparently loves the guy (Dan Barnes of The Edmonton Journal reported Friday that Katz said MacT isn't going anywhere). Team president Kevin Lowe is very, very tight with MacTavish. But I still think the time has come. That's OK; MacT won't be without a job for too long, I can guarantee you that. Same goes for Renney, who I agree would be a great fit in Edmonton (if not Calgary, but I digress). But you touched on Ruff and his endurance in Buffalo. What would you do there?
Burnside: Talk about a team that is likewise done like dinner (sorry, Oilers and Sabres fans). Buffalo lost to Atlanta on Wednesday night, the second time it failed to defeat the Thrashers in the past couple of weeks; even though the Sabres earned a point in both cases, the points left on the table will haunt them through the summer.
I don't sense the same kind of unrest in Buffalo as there seems to be in Edmonton. The Sabres were without Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller for key parts of the season, but I still don't think this team has found the leaders in the room to take them over the hump. You've mentioned it before: Craig Rivet comes over from San Jose and becomes the team's captain? Rivet is a terrific guy, but it doesn't say much for the group that has been in the Sabres' locker room the past three or four years and hasn't seen a leader step forward. What do you think, is it time for Ruff? Not to sound like Renney's agent or anything, but the Sabres are another team that would, I think, thrive under Renney's tutelage.
LeBrun: Peter Laviolette would be another great fit in Buffalo. But I don't think Ruff is going anywhere; in my mind, he's not to blame. If Miller and Vanek don't get hurt this season, I truly believe the Sabres are ahead of Montreal and Florida. Still, the leadership point lingers. If I'm GM Darcy Regier, I try to bring in one or two character veterans in the offseason. Did I tell you Alexei Kovalev was an unrestricted free agent? Oh, wait ... never mind.
Speaking of the Habs, the more I think about it, the more it might make sense to bring in Bob Hartley to coach that team next season no matter what happens in the next few weeks. He'll light a fire under a few of those guys. Mind you, who knows how that Habs lineup will look with half the roster headed to free agency. Speaking of change ... what a great piece by Terry Frei on our site about the mess in Colorado. The intriguing theory was Frei's belief that perhaps Pierre Lacroix will come down from the heavens and fix his own mess.
Burnside: Yes, I have heard those whispers, too. And who says you can't go back? Paul Maurice has made believers in Carolina; maybe Lacroix could fix things, although his successes came during an era when all he had to do was spend owners' money. Now, Lacroix did manage to gather some pretty darned good prospects during his time, including Milan Hejduk, Alex Tanguay and John-Michael Liles, but he left the cupboard bare when he left the first time and the Avs are a long, long way from being a playoff team. Regardless of who's at the helm, does Tony Granato get another shot? Lots of whispers about Patrick Roy returning to Denver, too, and maybe it makes more sense for him to coach the Avs than Montreal, where the word "circus" wouldn't begin to describe the proceedings.
So, let me ask you, with time running out on the Panthers, do you think holding onto Jay Bouwmeester was the right thing to do?
LeBrun: First, on Granato ... I think he gets offered a job within the organization, but there's a new coach there next season. As for the Panthers, it's too easy to second-guess that one. If GM Jacques Martin traded Bouwmeester to Philadelphia (the Flyers had the best offer) and the Panthers miss the playoffs, he gets hammered for killing his team's chances. I said it at the time and I stand by it: He decided to give this season's team a chance. The franchise hasn't made the playoffs in eight seasons and, at this point, the short term seems more important than the long term. Sure, it'll hurt when Bouwmeester walks July 1, but at least Martin can turn around and use those cap savings to try to sign somebody else. Maybe, if ownership lets him that is.
Speaking of potential free agents, don't you think the Rangers have to give serious thought to retaining Nik Antropov?
Burnside: I'm with you on Florida. Martin set the market for Bouwmeester, and when he didn't get what he wanted, he didn't cave in and take less. Good for him. And good for rookie coach Peter DeBoer for rolling the dice and going with Craig Anderson, who is hot, hot, hot, instead of playing it safe and sticking with Tomas Vokoun in net. Moves like that send a message to free agents who might otherwise be dismissive of a team like the Panthers in the offseason. Playoffs or not, maybe this is truly a turning point for them.
As for Antropov, wait until he takes a lazy offensive zone penalty in Game 6 of the first round with one minute left in regulation before you start offering him a big, fat contract (do the Rangers offer any other kind?). As for trade-deadline acquisitions, how is that Olli Jokinen thing working out in Calgary? The Flames are falling like a stone, and you can hear the cheers in Chicago, which may end up with Calgary instead of tough Vancouver in the first round. Jokinen and Jarome Iginla are ice-cold and Miikka Kiprusoff is now channeling Pasi Nurminen, so who knows how that's going to turn out. I am guessing badly and early.
LeBrun: Well, let Jokinen prove himself in his first postseason appearance before we make a final judgment on that front. But it brings up a good point: What's the fallout in Calgary if the Flames flame out in the first round? I mean, I can't even think of a single transaction for which I questioned GM Darryl Sutter. From Michael Cammalleri to Curtis Glencross to even Jokinen, I applauded those moves because they made so much sense. So what gives? Obviously, Keenan is the easiest target if it ends badly. We knew long ago it was a bad year for the two NHL teams in Ontario, but now we're getting the feeling the two teams in Alberta may not like their season endings, either. Not sure if you saw my blog earlier this week on the Red Wings, by the way, but I thought coach Mike Babcock was his usual honest self. He wants more from his team, and soon.
Burnside: Pierre, of course I read your blog. As usual, I was left emotionally drained and spiritually uplifted. And you're right, there is something just a little off in Detroit, but we saw the same thing in Boston, and the Bruins are back on track and, I think, a formidable force in the East. And no matter who gets in at the bottom end of the Western Conference playoff bracket, I cannot see anyone upending the Wings in the first round.
As for Calgary, we've said all season the window is rapidly closing for a Cup run for the Flames with Iginla, Kiprusoff, Todd Bertuzzi and now Jokinen not getting any younger. They just look so fragile -- the exact opposite of what you would expect from a Keenan team. I think if they don't get out of the first round, there will be a loud chorus demanding change in Calgary. So, what about this: Any way Brent Sutter ends up behind the Flames bench next season? Hard to imagine Devils GM Lou Lamoriello would go for it, although there are persistent rumors Sutter is homesick. Speaking of the Devils ... talk about pulling the chute after Martin Brodeur established the new wins record. Hammered 6-1 by Pittsburgh on Wednesday, the Devils look like a team angling for another playoff disappointment.
LeBrun: Let me wipe away my tears since you touched me so much with your comments about my blog ... All right, I'm OK now.
New Jersey? I'm totally stunned by the Devils' downturn. Two weeks ago, I was prepared to hand them plane tickets to the Cup finals, but their demise, whether it's short-term or not, once again leaves the East as wide-open as ever. We love what the Bruins have done this season and they deserve all the accolades they receive, but the truth is, nobody really knows how ready they are to live up to the top-seed billing. Remember Montreal last year? I have a feeling I know which team you like in the East. Is it the one with guys wearing 87 and 71?
Burnside: Well, it's a hard road to get to the Cup finals. Coming out of the No. 4 or 5 slot, the Penguins would have to go through either Carolina or Philly in the first round and then face either Washington or Boston (assuming no upsets), but Pittsburgh is looking pretty mighty these days. I think the Bruins are one of the teams that match up favorably with the Pens' incredible size and skill down the middle (Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal). As for the Devils, they may get their mojo back, but I must admit I'm rooting for a Rangers-Devils rematch, which would be the third time it has happened since the lockout. I enjoyed the Devils' chasing Sean Avery all over the ice the other night as Henrik Lundqvist once again outdueled Brodeur. You didn't answer my question about Brent Sutter in Calgary? No chance?
LeBrun: Sutter? I'm just not sure why Lamoriello allows him to get out of his deal and coach another NHL team. But that's just me. Dial me up for the Rangers-Devils, for sure; they'd finally pack the rink in Newark for that. How about Caps-Habs? I think Washington would win, but the buzz would be amazing, not to mention Jose Theodore facing his original NHL team. I'll tell you this -- I think Caps coach Bruce Boudreau will have Theodore on a short leash in the playoffs. One stinker and I wouldn't be surprised to see Russian rookie Simeon Varlamov in there. How do you like the Caps' chances?
Burnside: I am with you on the short leash, and I think if you get the good Jose Theodore, this is a team that could win a Cup. If the bad Jose shows up, which seems inevitable, there's no chance. One more week my friend. Until then.
Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun cover the NHL for ESPN.com.
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