Penalty Minutes: Oilers and Leafs' woeful seasons
MAR 26, 2014 9:57p ET
During a timeout in an 8-1 home loss by the Oilers to their archrival Flames last Saturday, a disgruntled fan threw their jersey on the ice. It was the second time this season that flagrant act of fan unrest occurred at Rexall Place.
Is there a better way for a fan to protest than such an act of defiance? It somewhat mimics the act of fans at Wrigley Field when they throw a home run ball by the opposing team back on to the playing field. It makes the statement, "We don't want it."
But throwing the jersey of one's own team onto the ice -- think about the hundreds of dollars invested -- is subversive in a way that vastly differs from throwing back the home run ball. That's why the act hit such a raw nerve with Oilers goalie Ben Scrivens, an Edmonton-area native, who used his stick to catapult the unwanted jersey back over the glass.
"When I see a jersey thrown out on the ice, you know, I'm from here, you're not just disrespecting the guys in the room," Scrivens told reporters after the game. "You're disrespecting the guys who wore the jersey before us -- the Messiers, the Gretzky's -- they all take pride in wearing that jersey."
The problem is that the franchise has become the NHL's poster child for futility. Since advancing to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2006, the Oilers have failed to make the playoffs. Not only that, but they have finished with some of the worst records in the league on virtually an annual basis, as they will again this season.
The Oilers are on pace to finish 29th of 30 teams this season -- a fourth potential bottom-two finish in the past five seasons. Since that 2005-06 season, the Oilers have not finished better than 19th overall and it has mostly been much worse than that. From 2009-10 to 2011-12 they finished 30th, 30th and 29th , respectively.
In some ways, the Oilers have become the NHL's version of the Cleveland Browns, a once-great organization with some of the sport's best fans, who are continually promised a rebuilding project. First-year coach Dallas Eakins represents the Oilers' fifth coach in the past six seasons.
Like the Browns who had brought in Mike Holmgren and his championship pedigree to run their organization, the Oilers have done the same with Craig MacTavish, who coached that 2005-'06 team.
One of MacTavish's first acts as general manager upon getting hired was to fire Ralph Krueger, who was brought in for one year as coach, ostensibly, for the long-term project of working with the rich crop of young offensive talent the Oilers have harvested from all of those top-of-the-draft picks. Krueger got his team to finish 24th last season and the Oilers looked promising.
This season, as last Saturday showed -- adding to the jersey incident, star Taylor Hall threw a water bottle that exploded on the bench and drenched Eakins -- the Oilers have regressed as they attempt a new style.
Earlier this month, Krueger, who scouted for Hockey Canada's gold medal-winning team at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, was appointed chairman of the English Premier League team Southampton. Krueger spoke to the BBC of the club's having a "positive soul" when he was hired.
"We will build on that soul by creating platforms of open communication both inside with the staff and outside with our fan base," he said. "We will continue to nurture 'The Southampton Way' by reaching for consistent growth in all departments to ultimately build a culture that allows Southampton to remain healthy and sustainable in the future."
Ironic, isn't it? Sounds a lot like what the Oilers could use with their fan base.
Who's hot: Gustav Nyquist
The Red Wings must be kicking themselves.
They might not have known the extent to which they were stifling a budding offensive juggernaut in the American Hockey League earlier this season but it is evident now.
With all of the devastating injuries the Red Wings have suffered through -- Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, to name two -- the fact that they have any chance at making the playoffs at all might rest on the shoulders of one of the smallest players on their roster, 5-foot-11, 185-pound Gustav Nyquist.
Nyquist has been on a scoring barrage of late, with goals in six straight games -- nine overall in that span. If Nyquist scores on Thursday at home against Montreal, he will tie for the longest goal-scoring streak in the league this season with Anaheim's Corey Perry, a former Hart Trophy (MVP) winner.
Overall, the 24-year-old right wing has a team-leading 25 goals but he has only played in 47 games, giving him one of the highest goals-per-game ratios in the league (among the top 30 goal-scorers in the NHL, Nyquist ranks second only to Alex Ovechkin who, with 48 goals in 69 games, averages .695 per game).
Nyquist has played so few games because the Red Wings were having salary cap issues early on and could not fit in Nyquist's modest $850,000 salary. The Red Wings rectified the problem on Nov. 27 when they called up Nyquist from Grand Rapids.
"He was lethal," Hutton said of Nyquist, who has been better than a point-per-game player in both the NCAA and AHL. "He was one of those guys, more of a playmaker. Even in college, he was one of those guys, if it was anything, he held on to the puck too long ... but he always had the game on his stick. He was one of those guys that every time he got the puck you were well aware of what he could do and to me, honestly, it's not very surprising. At all."
Presently, the Red Wings are tied with three other teams for one of the final two wild-card playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Technically, they are eighth by virtue of having played one fewer game than Washington and two fewer than Toronto.
Don't count out the cagey Red Wings, who have struggled to qualify for the playoffs in recent seasons. Last year Detroit entered as the No. 7 seed but took eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago to seven games in the second round and led that series 3-1. Detroit's streak of 22 consecutive playoff appearances is on the line.
If Nyquist could have supplied a few goals back during October and November and helped to win just a couple of more games, the Red Wings might be breathing a lot easier right now.
But who knew, except for maybe the Red Wings' scouting staff, which appears to have found another mid-round gems from Sweden.
Who's not: Maple Leafs
Remember the GIF from last year's playoffs that mistakenly seemed as if actress Elisha Cuthbert, the fiancee of Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf (now wife), and the wife of Leafs goalie James Reimer were exchanging glares after Reimer allowed an overtime goal against the Boston Bruins?
Well, right about now Leafs fans everywhere are glaring at the train wreck they see on the ice and once again their gaze could be pointed in the direction of Reimer.
Toronto lost its sixth straight game on Tuesday, 5-3 to St. Louis, imperiling the Leafs' playoff chances. As of Wednesday morning, four teams were tied for the final two wild-card spots in the East: Columbus, Detroit, Washington and the Leafs.
"Certainly we're afraid of letting it slip away," Toronto forward Joffrey Lupul told reporters after the game on Tuesday. "The whole year, we've thought we were a playoff team, and we still believe that now. It's a matter of just going out there and doing it, I think."
Toronto only has eight games left, the fewest of that foursome, while Columbus and Detroit each have 10. The Leafs also rank third of those four in the first tiebreaker, regulation and overtime wins (ROW).
As mentioned earlier, many of the Leafs' problems revolve around goaltending and they began when Jonathan Bernier hurt his groin on March 13 against the Los Angeles Kings. Reimer relieved Bernier to start the second period and stopped all 31 shots he faces to earn the win.
After that, it all went down hill. In losing five in a row, Reimer, who was tied for sixth in shutouts in the NHL last season and seventh in save percentage, posted a 4.20 goals-against average and an .870 save percentage. Bernier, in his seven games prior to getting hurt, had gone 5-0-2 with a 2.38 GAA and .930 save percentage. (Remember back in the fall when Leafs coach Randy Carlyle refused to say which goalie was his No. 1? Bernier has a 25-17-7 record while Reimer is 11-13-1.)
But even now it does not seem that Bernier can save the Leafs amid their defensive woes. Toronto allows 36.2 shots per game, the most in the league, while ranking 25th in shots per game at 27.9.
Such a deficit will cause even the best of goalies to wilt, which is what happened to Bernier on Tuesday in his first game back. He allowed four goals on 48 shots (a more than respectable .917 save percentage) in the defeat.
The ugliness on the ice has moved off of it, with Reimer's wife April being subject to attacks on Twitter. Reimer had to tell fans to back off before the game on Tuesday.
The Bruins take over the top spot for the first time this season as they have earned 27 of 28 possible points over the past 14 games.
2. St. Louis
3. San Jose
The Sharks hold a four-point lead over Anaheim for first place in the Pacific Division.
On Tuesday the Blackhawks held a moment of silence in honor of former beat writer Tim Sassone, who died at age 58 earlier in the day. Sassone covered the 'Hawks for more than 25 years.
Mark Giordano is quietly having one of the best seasons of any NHL defenseman. His 43 points rank 11th among NHL defensemen but he has played only 54 games because of injury. He also is plus-11 on a Calgary team with a minus-28 goal differential.
The Islanders are 5-4-1 in their past 10.
One year after going plus-9 and playing in the Stanley Cup Final with Boston, defenseman Andrew Ference is minus-18.
Since their fire sale at the trading deadline, the Sabres are 2-9.
Game of the week: Boston at Washington, Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET
The Capitals, one of four teams tied for the final two wild-card spots in the East, are desperate to make the playoffs. The Bruins are the hottest team in the league, as they have not lost in regulation in their past 14 games (13-0-1). Two years ago, these two teams met in the first round of the playoffs with the Capitals' scoring an upset in a memorable seven-game series victory. Washington was the No. 7 seed that year and Boston the No. 2. This year, if the Capitals qualify, they could be the No. 8 seed and Boston the No. 1. Braden Holtby, the Capitals' goalie who ousted the Bruins in '12, has given way to Jaroslav Halak. As the former Montreal Canadiens goalie, Halak will be a familiar face to Boston on Saturday.
Stat line of the week: Curtis Glencross, Calgary
In an 8-1 victory over archrival Edmonton last Saturday, Glencross netted a hat trick in 12:33 of time on ice. The margin of victory was the Flames' largest ever in Edmonton. Glencross also finished plus-3, had five shots and won 50 percent of his faceoffs. The 31-year-old left wing, a two-time 20-goal scorer, missed almost three months with a high ankle sprain but has 10 goals in 28 games this season.
Honorable mention: Matt Cullen, Nashville
In a 6-5 win against Calgary on Friday, Cullen totaled one goal and three assists in 18:29 of time on ice. The goal was 37-year-old's second in 41 games. A two-time 20-goal scorer, Cullen has three goals and three assists in his past three games. He also finished plus-2, had two shots and won 71 percent of his faceoffs on Friday.
Dishonorable mention: Brian Campbell Florida
In a 6-2 loss on Sunday to Anaheim, the defenseman finished minus-4 in 24:31 of time on ice. He also had one shot on goal and blocked three shots. Campbell, who is tied for second in the NHL in time on ice per game at 27:17, had had an even rating until that game. He is currently minus-3 on the season on a team with a minus-59 goal differential.