Like returning from a long trip, we have a lot to unpack this week as the NHL skates another week closer toward the All-Star break.
Let's open our Weekly Warmup travel bag and drop the puck:
GM Shero, Devils 'Part Ways'
Sunday was busy in New Jersey with the Devils' managing partner and chairman, Josh Harris, holding a press conference to explain the team and now ex-GM Ray Shero "have agreed to part ways, effectively immediately." Not many media members or fans saw this move coming mid-season, but the reasons (some solid speculation, some likely not the case) for firing piled up fast like inches of a winter storm: Not enough done about goaltending during the offseason, disagreement with ownership about winning now or rebuilding, trade return for Taylor Hall was too low, trading Hall altogether rather than sign him to a long-term deal, one playoff appearance in five seasons. There's more but you get the idea. Shero won a Stanley Cup in 2009 as Pittsburgh's GM, beating Detroit to avenge losing in the 2008 Cup Final. From Harris per the team's press release: "Ray is a talented hockey executive and I am confident he will have great success in the future. However, Ray and I are in agreement that the Devils need to move in a new direction and that this change is in the best interest of the team. In the coming weeks and months, we will be launching a formal search for a new General Manager." Shero's long-time assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald will be interim GM with team executive; he has interviewed for other GM openings and considered a top young talent by league insiders. All-time great goalie Martin Brodeur serving as a hockey operations adviser. Both are considered candidates for the permanent job.
Nashville Makes Its Own Change
As head coach, Peter Laviolette led the Nashville Predators to a Stanley Cup Final, two Central Division titles and a Presidents Trophy that goes to the NHL team with the most regular-season points. But the accomplishments didn't stop GM David Poile from firing Laviolette and long-time assistant coach Kevin McCarthylast Monday. The Preds 19-15-7 at the firing. No interim was named-because the team announced John Hynes the next coach (no interim tag) last Tuesday. Hynes was fired by New Jersey and now ex-GM Ray Shero (see above) about a month ago. Poile knows Hynes from USA Hockey national team developed in which Hynes has coached and Poile serves as a USA Hockey executive. Hynes played NCAA hockey for powerhouse Boston University with Jeff Kealty as his teammate and roommate. Kealty is a Nashville assistant GM. It It seems clear Predators management thinks Hynes' experience in Jersey (one playoffs appearance in five seasons after successful years coaching in the American Hockey League) will provide a rink load of lessons to applied in Nashville, where the challenge is mixing younger players into a veteran lineup while still securing a postseason spot in the rugged Central division, where a winning record can still land you in next-to-last or even last place in the standings. Hynes lost his debut Tuesday night (a Boston 6-2 road win) then followed with two wins on the road at Chicago and Winnipeg.
'Last Man' Votes are In
Each NHL All-Star Weekend (Jan. 24-25) affords fans a chance to vote on an additional player or 'Last Man' from each division. This year's winners: Forward David Perron (St. Louis/Central) and defenseman Quinn Hughes (Vancouver/Pacific), Mitch Marner (Toronto/Atlantic), Mount Vernon native T.J. Oshie (Washington/Metropolitan) now populate the All-Star rosters. Oshie likely received strong support from St. Louis, his former team where he was a fan favorite, and, of course, here in the Seattle area. Perron benefitted from a strong social media campaign executed by Blues staffers and delivered by Blues fans, including MLB pitcher Adam Wainwright, TV host Andy Cohen ("Watch What Happens Live" on Bravo) and actress Jenna Fischer (Pam on "The Office"), who all regularly attend games. Hughes makes the ASG Weekend as a rookie, Marner goes for the first time, too, while Perron and Oshie make their second all-star team.
More All-Star News
If you are wondering, the 2019 Last Man winners were Jeff Skinner (Buffalo/Atlantic), Kris Letang (Pittsburgh/Metropolitan), Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado/Central) and Leon Draisaitl (Edmonton/Pacific). Letang and Draisaitl are back in the ASG mix. Draisaitl (second in NHL scoring with 70 points, one behind Oilers teammate Connor McDavid) was named to the team by the NHL hockey operations group. Letang, a Last Man nominee who lost out to T.J. Oshie, was named over the weekend to replace injured teammate Jake Guentzel (shoulder). In other replacement news, Pittsburgh goalie and league-wide surprise goalie of the first half, will take injured Columbus goalie Joonas Korpisalo's spot for the Metropolitan division. San Jose's Tomas Hertl will replace SJS teammate Logan Couture (ankle) and Vegas' Max Pacioretty was also added to the Pacific squad upon Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury choosing not to play. Jacob Markstrom (Vancouver) was named to be one of the Pacific goaltenders.
Games to Watch This Week
Monday night, Carolina (27-16-2) will be visiting the Washington Capitals. The Hurricanes have won three in a row and their recent goal sheets have featured any number of players acquired or drafted by former GM and now-Seattle boss Ron Francis. An "Original Six" matchup Wednesday features Chicago at Montreal; both teams are bobbing at the .500 mark and need win streaks to get into serious postseason contention. Saturday, Central division-leader St. Louis visits Colorado in a showdown that might also be a first- or second-round postseason matchup.
Tampa Bay's Double-Digit Winning Streak Ends
Hours after the team fired GM Ray Shero-the players found out 90 minutes before game time-New Jersey defeated Tampa Bay 3-1 to stop the Lightning's win streak at 10. Lots of storylines here: Former TBL goalie Louis Domingue was the winner for the Devils, who suffered from goalie underperformance in the first half of the season. Plus, New Jersey beat another top Eastern Conference team Saturday night, winning 5-1 at Washington. Crazy weekend: The last-place Devils beat a first-place and second-place team on back-to-back nights, firing the GM in between.
He Shoots, He Scores … the Goalie?!
In even more Devils-related happenings, ex-Jersey coach and now-Nashville coach John Hynes earned his first Predators victory in a tight game at Chicago. The Blackhawks pulled their goalie in the final minutes, trailing 3 to 2. Nashville scored an empty-netter to make it 4-2. But Chicago coach Jeremy Colliton stayed with the empty net and extra attacker, adhering to hockey data analytics that project your team still has a better probability of scoring two in that instance (dramatically proven Jan. 5 by Washington doing exactly that against Vancouver, then winning in overtime). No dice for Chicago, though. Nashville scored a second empty-net goal to make it 5-2. The goal scorer? Goalie Pekka Rinne on a rink-long shot near his own goal crease. The last goalie to score was Mike Smith (then Arizona, now Edmonton) in 2013.
Speaking of Goalies…
When Carolina goalie Petr Mrazek posted his seventh career shutout this past week, he became the third goaltender in Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers history to notch at least seven shutouts before playing 70 games for the franchise. The others: Arturs Irbe (7) and Kevin Weekes. Weekes is now in his 11th season as a TV hockey analyst and a must-watch personality on NHL Network. By the way, Mrazek tossed his shutout Friday night at home against Arizona. His fellow Canes goalie, James Reimer, did the same Saturday night against Los Angeles.
The first time Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin played a round of golf, he says he recorded a hole-in-one during the round.
Fast-forward to the Washington Capitals fourth annual Wish Upon A Par charity event at Top Golf attended by Ovechkin and teammates. Here's a video that might give pause; keep your on the ball: