NHL Wins and Sins: Patrik Laine making people rich, Flyers getting impatient, Sabres on fire

It’s time for our weekly installment highlighting what’s right and what’s wrong with the NHL during every week throughout the season. For all the things there are to love about the NHL and its product, there’s also plenty to hate and plenty to criticize. 

With that in mind, let’s hash it out together … right here … every single Wednesday. 

Loving and/or hating something about the NHL at any given point throughout this season? Feel free to drop your praise/complaints in my email inbox at [email protected]

What’s right: Patrik Laine

Remember like a month ago when Patrik Laine wasn’t scoring and a bunch of people were freaking out wondering if there was something wrong?

Yeah, there’s nothing wrong. 

Laine has scored 16 goals in 11 games this month, including three hat tricks. He had an especially good last week and change, scoring 11 goals over a four-game span, including a five-goal performance against the Blues on Saturday night in St. Louis. Yes, FIVE. On five shots!

That made the 20-year-old Laine the first NHL player to tally five in a game since Detroit’s Johan Franzen did it in 2011. (Can we talk for a second about how weird it is that Franzen was the last guy to do that? I mean, he wasn’t exactly a slouch back in the day but he’s also only hit the 30-goal mark once in his career. Some nights everything just goes your way, I guess.)

The five-goal outburst from Laine helped put him back on track to be one of the league’s leading goal-scorers again this season. (He finished second in the NHL last year with 44.) He currently sits atop the leaderboard with 19, which means he’s projected to finish with 71 goals this year. 

So, yeah, he’s fine. 

But the big night wasn’t only beneficial for Laine and the Jets, it also helped one insanely lucky Jets win a million dollars. Thanks to the “Score & Win” game held by Canadian supermarket chain Sobeys/Safeway, the five-goal game won Winnipeg’s Christopher Haley a cool million bucks. The contest awards a $1 million prize to a selected fan if a single Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton or Winnipeg player scores five goals in a game. It took a while, but they finally have to pay up.

The prize will be paid over the course of 20 years ($50,000 annually, for those of you who are mathematically challenged) so he’s not *technically* a millionaire unless he was already rich. And if that’s the case, screw that guy. I still have school loans to pay off. 

NHL Wins and Sins: Patrik Laine making people rich, Flyers getting impatient, Sabres on fire
Photo Illustration by Pete Blackburn

What’s wrong: This goal given up by the Coyotes

This is a hyperbole-free statement: The Arizona Coyotes gave up one of the absolute worst goals I have ever seen in my life this week. One of the absolute worst, at least at the professional level. 

It’s going to be hard to put this one into words, so just take a look at it.

The first thing to point out here is that Arizona was on the power play when they delivered this catastrophic load of ineptitude — their THIRD shorthanded goal surrendered that night. It’s a tremendous example to young players of how not to approach the man-advantage; just because you’re on the power play doesn’t mean you don’t have to play defense or work hard.

You can give credit to Calgary’s Mark Jankowski for the hustle and making the goal happen, but he never should have even had the opportunity if Arizona played the right way. I can guarantee this sequence led to an absolutely miserable film session for the Yotes the following day, during which a number of transgressions were pointed out (and probably rather loudly) by the special teams coach.

  • Richard Panik (No. 14) peels away from the puck without any real regard for making sure his team wins it back
  • Alex Goligoski (No. 33) fails to tie up Jankowski behind the net, instead electing to give him a half-hearted shove into the glass before letting him escape
  • Jakob Chychrun (No. 6) … well, I have absolutely no idea what he was doing. Seems like he would’ve had a decent chance to dig the puck away from Jankowski but instead he decided to go at him ass-first
  • Derek Stepan (No. 21) trails the play the whole time and then just decides to skate into the corner for no particular reason, leaving the middle of the ice wide open
  • Antti Raanta doesn’t do a wonderful job of goaltending here, but there’s just too much other blame to go around to stick this one on the goalie … he shouldn’t have been put in that spot

It’s just a tremendous collective breakdown and overall failure from the Coyotes, who have had their fair share of struggles so far this year. This, though … this is by far their lowest point of the season, and I hope for everyone’s sake that they can only go up from here.

What’s right: TRADE SZN

Not surprisingly, the Coyotes walked away from the game highlighted above and were like, “well, we’ve pretty much gotta trade somebody.”

That somebody ended up being two somebodies, as the Yotes shipped Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Nick Schmaltz. It’s the first significant midseason trade of the year and one involving three young first-round picks.

On the surface, it seems like a deal that could be beneficial to both sides and all three players involved, each of whom weren’t exactly living up to the hype they carried into the league. Arizona hopes that Schmaltz, 22, will fully tap into his offensive potential and continue to develop into a complete player at the front of their lineup. He tallied 21 goals and 52 points for the Blackhawks last season and was once seen as the guy who could take over for Jonathan Toews as 1C in Chicago, but he was also frequently criticized for playing soft and being reluctant to go hard to the net.

Meanwhile, Chicago is gambling that they’ll get two young, effective front-end wingers for the price of one, helping to improve their depth issues at a relative bargain. Perlini, 22, is a guy that scored 31 goals over his first couple of NHL seasons but has regressed this year and suffered from inconsistencies. But the bigger gamble lies in Strome, the guy who was taken with the third overall pick in 2015 (yes, the unfortunate position behind Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel) and has done next to nothing in the league so far. He’s got seven goals and nine points through his first 48 NHL games, while those other two guys … well, you already know about them.

However, the Blackhawks are hoping that a change of scenery and reuniting the 21-year-old Strome with his former OHL linemate Alex DeBrincat will help re-ignite some of the magic they experienced when they tore up the junior circuit together alongside McDavid. That project got off to a good start on Tuesday when Strome scored in his first game as a Blackhawk.

Overall, this surprising deal felt like two teams coming together to swap young, under-achieving pieces that had driven their respective general managers insane. It’s also a deal between familiar parties, as the Blackhawks and Coyotes seem to basically be one and the same these days. Schmaltz is the ninth ex-Blackhawk to join the Coyotes roster.

So, yeah, this was a rather intriguing deal to kick off what is likely to be an interesting trade season. It was quickly followed by this deal between the Leafs and the Flames.

That deal is far less interesting and I have no interest in discussing it. NEXT.

What’s wrong: Patience

In last week’s column we discussed the early season wave of job openings and how more could be coming, both behind the bench and in front offices. Less than a week later, we got our first general manager firing of the season, and it may not have come in the place you most expected. 

The Flyers fired executive vice president and general manager Ron Hextall on Monday, citing a philosophical disagreement regarding the direction of the team as the reason behind the termination.  When the club’s senior executives took to the podium for a press conference addressing Hextall’s firing on Tuesday, it became quite clear that that philosophical disagreement had a lot to do with patience.

“[Hextall] was very confident in his plan and his vision, and he wasn’t going to waver from that plan,” said David Scott, said Comcast Spectacor CEO at the presser. “Do I think we can do better as a team now? Not two years or three years from now, but now? I think the answer is yes.”

Quite simply: Hextall had a long-term vision for the team but he wasn’t proactive enough in his short-term approach and the higher-ups ran out of patience with his patience. He established a solid foundation for the club moving forward, but the team failed to win a playoff series in his four-plus seasons as GM (qualifying twice) and the club’s slow start to this season became a death sentence.

NHL Wins and Sins: Patrik Laine making people rich, Flyers getting impatient, Sabres on fire
Len Redkoles/Getty Images

It’s clear that the Flyers are placing a priority on winning now, and they want someone who will be more aggressive in pursuing immediate success. So, it feels safe to say that you’re going to be some trades involving Philly this season.

The Flyers sit last in the Metropolitan division through 24 games but, with it being only November, they’ve still got a pulse. They’re only five points out of a playoff spot, but they’ll need to see significant improvement in several areas if they’re going to get back to the postseason.

Their goaltending has been a weak spot (as it was pretty much throughout the entirety of Hextall’s reign) and their special teams units have been bad as well, with their power play and penalty kill ranking near the bottom of the league. Dave Hakstol’s job behind the bench could quickly be in jeopardy as well if things don’t turn around. In fact, Joel Quenneville’s name was apparently floated by Philly after Coach Q was fired by the Blackhawks, but Hextall didn’t want to deviate from the team’s current course. Ultimately, Hakstol’s fate will likely come down to whomever the team appoints as the next GM.

Given some of Philly’s longstanding issues (namely goaltending), Hextall’s inability (or reluctance) to find quick fixes and their relatively modest success under the GM, it’s hard to argue against his termination being fair. But it’s also worth questioning whether the impatience of the club’s senior leadership is worrisome.

As we’ve seen in today’s NHL, patience can be a virtue. The Jets under Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Predators under David Poile are two examples that immediately come to mind because they slowly climbed to powerhouse status through long-term, deliberate decision-making. Aggressiveness can certainly reap rewards, but too many aggressive and short-sighted decisions can often doom a team to mediocrity and leave them chained to mediocrity (or worse) for years. 

Hextall seemed to understand that and was intent on building for the future, but he didn’t do enough to keep his bosses happy in the short-term. I wonder if he could have bought himself some more time had he been more willing to cut ties with Hakstol, who probably should have been the first to go anyway. It’s somewhat ironic that the one general manager this season who refused to fire his coach in order to save his own job was one who could’ve rightfully swung the axe. 

What’s right: The first-place Buffalo Sabres?

Remember when the Sabres were completely butt and basically the laughing stock of the league? I assume you do, considering it was just last season.

But we all know things can change very quickly in this league, and you can look no further than the Sabres for proof of that. Feast your eyes on this nonsense:

Atlantic Division GP W L OTL PTS

Sabres

25

17

6

2

36

Lightning

25

17

7

1

35

Maple Leafs

25

17

8

0

34

Bruins

24

13

7

4

30

Canadiens

25

11

9

5

27

Red Wings

24

10

11

3

23

Senators

25

10

12

3

23

Panthers

22

9

9

4

22

Ah yes, just as we all expected — the mighty Sabres are not only leading the mighty Atlantic division through 25 games, they’re also alone in first place in the entire league with 36 points. THE ENTIRE LEAGUE. I mean, what the hell?

It’s a downright historic achievement for Buffalo.

As I type this on Tuesday night, the Sabres just wrapped up their 10th straight win — the first time the franchise has won 10 in a row in a dozen years, and just the third time ever. The Sabres go for their 11th straight win Thursday against the Lightning, and that game can be streamed on fuboTV (try for free). The current win streak has been helped by the breakout of offseason acquisition Jeff Skinner, who has scored five goals in his last four games and sits tied atop the league’s leaderboard with 19 on the season. Haven’t seen a Skinner carve up opponents this bad since I rode my horse through West Elizabeth.

It’s hard to deny that the Sabres are a very fun team right now, but are they a legit threat? Twenty-five games in is still early, and Buffalo hasn’t exactly been dominant during this win streak. Of the 10 wins, only one has come by more than a one-goal margin, and seven of the wins have come in overtime or shootout. SEVEN!

They’ve also gotten some incredible goaltending lately. Carter Hutton (also an offseason acquisition) has gone 8-0 in his last eight starts, stopping 221 of 236 shots for a save-percentage of .936. He’s pretty much stopping everything within reason at this point and it’s certainly the kind of goaltending that will help you come out on the right side of one-goal games. (Linus Ullmark has also been very solid in relief.) If Hutton keeps this up he could be in the Vezina discussion at season’s end. If he doesn’t, the Sabres will probably end up falling down a few rungs in the standings pretty quickly.

But the Sabres have also proven to be a pretty resilient team to this point as well. They’ve got five wins already this season when trailing after two periods, which already matches their season total from last year, and that’s a good sign for a relatively young team with a lot of new pieces. They’re playing well together and they’re having fun … a lot of fun.

So regardless of how much longer this winning streak goes on or how far the Sabres might dip in the standings, we’re talking about them as the league’s best damn team more than a quarter of the way through the season. That’s something nobody could have seen coming. Hell, their fans likely would’ve settled for anything north of “utterly depressing” after the past couple of years.

Worst shot of the week

Joe Thornton has had a big month in terms of milestones. Last week, the ageless wonder scored his 400th goal in a huge spot . Then, he passed Mario Lemieux on the NHL’s all-time assists list with his 1,034th helper. But then he reminded us all exactly why he has so many more assists than goals with this display — one of the worst misses you’ll see this season.

via Gfycat

Let’s see where that puck landed …

On second thought, best shot of the week! Ross sucks forever!

NYLANDER WATCH!

NHL Wins and Sins: Patrik Laine making people rich, Flyers getting impatient, Sabres on fire
Pete Blackburn photo illustration

We’re in the final week of the William Nylander eligibility window. If the Maple Leafs don’t sign him to a new deal or trade him by December 1st, he’ll have to sit out the remainder of his age 22 season. Still no deal as of yet, but some reports over the past week have suggested that the two sides may be nearing closer to an agreement — likely a long term deal that hovers around $7 million per year.

There was also this very random Blue Jackets fan, who successfully managed to send Leafs nation into hysterics when he teased an announcement/resolution from GM Kyle Dubas that never came.

Some may criticize the kid for false information, but anyone who can effectively rile up Leafs fans and leave them insanely disappointed is a friend of mine. 

NHL Wins and Sins: Patrik Laine making people rich, Flyers getting impatient, Sabres on fire

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