NHL Betting: The Week's Biggest Stories
by Trevor Whenham - 12/08/2008
Big Bad Bruins
Two short seasons ago, Boston was the third worst team in the Eastern Conference. In the Northeast Division they were both last and irrelevant. It is amazing how quickly things have changed. Now, only San Jose has more points. More impressively, they just finished off an 11-1-1 November. It didn't take a genius to see that Boston was moving forward, but they are far ahead of schedule this year.
The basic formula for their success isn't hard to comprehend - no team allows fewer goals per game, and only three score more per game (incidentally, San Jose is exactly the opposite - first in scoring and fourth in defense). The route to that kind of success is what is worth noting, though.
GM Peter Chiarelli took over the team before the 2006-07 season. This was his first GM gig after previously being a player, and agent, a lawyer, and assistant GM in Ottawa. Chiarelly knew that Boston couldn't play defense and that they couldn't scare anyone physically. He picked two key free agents to build around that would provide the kind of play he wanted - massive defenseman Zdeno Chara, who he knew well from Ottawa, and natural scorer Marc Savard. Once those two were in place it became much easier to convince the players he acquired that he had a plan.
Through astute trades he robbed teams of players who have now become central to the success - goalie Mannie Fernandez from Minnesota, Aaron Ward from the Rangers, and defenseman Andrew Ference from Calgary. Ference isn't flashy, but I can't watch a Flames game without commenting at least three times on how much we miss his conscientious, disciplined, almost flawless play in his own zone.
On top of that, Chiarelli had some luck. Patrice Bergeron emerged into an elite player. Phil Kessel and Milan Lucic were drafted just before he arrived, and both are big contributors. Luck aside, though, there is one important thing to take from all this - Boston isn't a fluke. They have been built to do what they are doing, and there is no reason to think that they won't keep doing it.
Back To The Future
Five seasons ago, Paul Maurice was fired as coach of the Carolina Hurricanes. He was the only coach the team had had since leaving Hartford. He was replaced by Peter Laviolette. Laviolette won a Cup and went on to become the winningest U.S. born coach in NHL history. Everything wasn't rosy, though - the year the team won it all was the only one of four full seasons under Laviolette in which the Hurricanes made the playoffs. They hadn't been terrible, but they weren't good enough, either. This year they were barely clinging to the eighth and final spot, and weren't looking great. A change probably needed to be made, and this week it was. The new coach? Same as the old coach - Paul Maurice.
Maurice was available because he had been fired in Toronto after a dismal season. He remained good friends with both the owner and GM, so on some level it makes some sort of sense. He's also been out of town for long enough that most of the players there haven't played for him before. So far, Maurice hasn't lit the world on fire - he is 1-1-1 since taking over. At that rate he could get fired again soon - a crucial step if he wants to become the next Billy Martin.
The overriding issue is whether the coach was the problem. Was Laviolette holding the team back, or was this just an eighth place team with seventh place talent? I favor the latter theory.
A couple big injuries will have huge impacts on their teams for more than a month - on the scoresheet in one case, and on the spirit of a battered team in the other. After already missing 15 games with groin and abdominal woes this year, Daniel Briere will be out of the Philadelphia lineup for four or five weeks with a severe groin strain. Briere had been averaging a point a game in his nine games. Philly doesn't struggle to score, but they aren't defensively sound enough that they couldn't use any boost they can get. The Atlantic Division is wide open for the taking, so this comes at a very bad time for the Flyers. The only reason for hope is that Briere is a fast healer - when he had abdominal surgery in October, doctors said he would miss a month, but he was back in two weeks.
Joe Sakic's injury may be the final straw for a team in Colorado that is quickly losing hope. Sakic, the Av's 39-year-old captain, is out for at least six weeks with a herniated disc. Sakic almost didn't return this season after missing 38 games last year thanks to a hernia. Sakic likely only really returned because he is the heart and soul of the team on and off the ice, and no one around the organization has any clue how to replace him. This injury is probably a pretty clear sign that maybe he should have packed it in last year. There isn't much about the team that makes you believe that they have a playoff run in them.
I don't want to spend too much time dwelling on the Avery situation, but I do have to ask one question - am I missing something? Avery made an off-color, but essentially PG statement about a former girlfriend. He didn't mention anyone by name, and a lot of casual fans would have had no idea what he was talking about until it was explained in the media a million times. He didn't say anything that you can't hear a few times a day on TV or in movies, and he didn't say anything slanderous, libelous, racially motivated, or illegal. His crime was being a classless, bitter ex, and a moron. Period. And yet he gets six games, and he may very well be dumped by Dallas.
Two things. First, Avery didn't do anything out of character - the guy has always been a mouthy idiot. Dallas has no reason at all to act so hurt by this - no one forced them to overpay Avery in the offseason. Second, you can get a much less severe penalty from the league for hitting a guy from behind, intentionally high sticking or crosschecking a guy, or doing any one of a hundred other things that could end a career. The message - the hurt feelings of someone whose only direct connection to the league is that she sometimes writes a blog for NHL.com are more important than dozens of lethal injuries to guys who actually play the game.
When did the NHL become the morality police, and when did everyone become okay with that? Avery stepped over a line. I don't dispute that at all. It just wasn't the league's job to make him step back.
As an aside, as a Flames fan, I wish that someone would say ignorant things about Dion Phaneuf's girlfriend all the time - the defenseman has five assists in his last two games.