December is a significant time in the NHL season — just far enough that front offices have seen enough of their teams to understand what they’re really about.
This is not to say that there are usually a lot of trades in December, especially since there is a trade freeze on part of it (the holiday schedule freeze takes effect at 23:59 local time on December 19 and lasts until 00:01). local time). 28 Dec). But what you usually see is trade discussions ramping up and seeds being planted leading to deals that close in January/February.
It’s also a month where we often see managerial changes. A year ago, Alain Vigneault (Flyers) and Travis Green (Canucks) were fired in December, and Paul Maurice (Jets) resigned that same month. Chicago fired Jeremy Colliton in November.
The point is, we’re so far into the season that when a team isn’t performing, management gets a little restless.
Let’s take a look at four teams looking for answers right now.
I could imagine the blueshirts’ fickle ways testing General Manager Chris Drury’s patience in more ways than one.
Consider, for example, that Rangers are being accurately viewed as one of the best potential landing spots for Blackhawks star Patrick Kane, a pending unrestricted free agent who could push the March 3 trade deadline forward. But remember, Kane and his agent Pat Brisson hold the keys to every deal during the season via a full no-movement clause. Kane and Brisson can choose their target, just like Brisson did with Claude Giroux a year ago in similar circumstances.
Rangers will have to do their part if Kane travels to New York, and that’s intended to be similar to the Stanley Cup contenders they should be pre-season. Drury has already cleared some cap spaces in Ryan Reaves’ trade. So Rangers are well positioned to pounce before March 3rd. But they need to start winning games more consistently. I can’t see Kane waving his no move clause to join a bubble team.
I could be wrong, but I see the course correction coming organically here. I don’t think Drury needs to do anything drastic at this point. This team will turn around. I know it’s a boring attitude, but this is an example of a team where patience is ultimately the best course of action. Of course I can be wrong. But there are times when GMs feel the pressure to do something drastic and end up doing something they absolutely regret.
Could Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin reunite at the New York Rangers?
above @TheAthletic https://t.co/MDqkiFG3kr
— Arthur Staple (@StapeAthletic) December 3, 2022
There was a clear sense of urgency in the comments GM Brian MacLellan made to local media over the weekend.
“We have to be concerned,” MacLellan said of his team digging a hole in the standings.
The Caps have been plagued by key injuries from the start, so this season has always been a challenge. When I sat down with MacLellan in mid-October, he conceded that the first half in particular would be a test given Nicklas Backstrom’s and Tom Wilson’s long-term injuries, as well as other injuries.
“I mean, that’s going to be hard to get over,” MacLellan said. “We have to hold out here at the beginning of the year. We have to be competitive. We have to stay with the pack (in the Eastern Conference) and then eventually get Tom back and then eventually we’ll get some clarification on where Nick is.
“That will affect everything with our team.”
Hopefully Wilson will be back later this month. back current? It is not yet clear where this will lead.
But the bottom line is that the caps haven’t held up on the chart like MacLellan had hoped. They’re a long way off, but a .462 point percentage in 26 games is indeed a hole dug.
MacLellan has 11 outstanding UFAs on his roster, including Dmitry Orlov, Lars Eller and Nick Jensen. Without a turn, the Caps GM will soon be in listening mode, followed by selling mode. We’re not quite there yet, but MacLellan will know what’s next by the new year.
#caps GM Brian MacLellan spoke ahead of Saturday’s 5-2 loss in CGY. He discussed:
🏒Backstrom, Wilson + the hat
🏒 Whether he’s thinking about a trade
🏒Free Agents on D
🏒McMichael, Lapierre and Miroshnichenko
And more ⬇️:https://t.co/RPxVw2U6xx
— Tarik El-Bashir (@Tarik_ElBashir) December 4, 2022
Making the playoffs this season might not have been a realistic goal for the Senators — only the most optimistic Sens fans and watchers could imagine — but 2022-23 should be about playing meaningful games in March and making an impactful move to do in the remodel. That in itself is now in jeopardy, although back-to-back wins certainly help to settle some nerves.
On November 15th, after the GM meeting in Toronto, GM Pierre Dorion came out and redoubled his belief in head coach DJ Smith.
“Coaching is not the problem. It’s as simple as that. Not at all,” said Dorion. “For me, it’s the first time we’ve given a DJ a team that can compete for a potential playoff spot. So I think we have to be patient about that.”
And true to his word, Dorion was patient.
I don’t think coaching is the problem either. It’s not Smith’s fault that the blue line wasn’t updated. It certainly wasn’t from a lack of attempts, but Dorion, not landing a D in the offseason or so far this season, was disappointing. It’s difficult to land an Impact player in this position, but it’s doable and must be done.
Here’s the thing about this team, though — and maybe I’m completely wrong here, but I honestly believe it: There’s still a chance the Senators will step on a heater and salvage appearances of a season. No place in the playoffs, of course, but the kind of hockey for the rest of the season that at least assures they’re on track.
We saved the hottest burning fire for last.
One of the things I’m wondering about the final bit of drama enveloping the Canucks is what exactly have most people been expecting from this team this season?
I thought they were a bubble team, and that’s where they sit Monday morning: four points from a playoff spot.
But I suspect that in one of the NHL’s most passionate hockey markets, the fear has less to do with the team’s record and more to do with the uncertainty of the entire game plan as it pertains to roster realignments. Many Canucks fans would have opted for a full scorched-earth rebuild years ago, and may even still do so today, but it’s never been something the owner embraced.
What the Brock Boeser reports and dramas tell us about the current state of affairs #Canucks: https://t.co/ukKt8LHP89
What @DhaliwalSports and I hear from Boeser, Horvat, Kuzmenko and more: https://t.co/rA4FfFqYdg
— Thomas Drance (@ThomasDrance) December 5, 2022
All of which brings us to what my colleague Elliotte Friedman reported on Saturday’s “Hockey Night In Canada” that Brock Boeser’s camp had permission from the Canucks to speak directly with teams about a potential trade.
My understanding of the situation is that Boeser’s agent, Ben Hankinson, has spoken to a half-dozen teams Monday morning since receiving clearance last week, and has more on hand to get in touch this week. I don’t think a trade is imminent. This will require some work. But the end seems inevitable that Boeser will be playing somewhere else before the end of the season.
I would suggest that the same is likely for upcoming UFA captain Bo Horvat.
As for JT Miller — whose no-trade clause, along with its extension, does not take effect until July 1 — his camp, led by agent Brian Bartlett, has not spoken to Canucks management about a potential change of scenery. In Miller’s case, it appears he signed an extension because he’s very keen to be part of the solution, and as it stands now he wants to stay on board.
Finally, there’s head coach Bruce Boudreau. He replaced Green behind the bench a year ago and his contract expires after this season, but given the pressure on management to make changes, I think it’s not a question of “if” when it comes to a Canucks, it’s a matter of “when.” ‘ is a change of coach. That sure is the shitty part of the deal.
It will be interesting to see where this team sits after the March 3 close and what their salary cap situation looks like heading into the off-season.
There’s a lot more drama to come from Vancouver.
(Top Photo by Brock Boeser, JT Miller and Bo Horvat: Harry How/Getty Images)