The usually quick jaunt down Highway 2 must have felt like a cross-continent plane ride as the Flames returned to Calgary on Friday.
There is a lot to unpack, much more than just three weeks’ worth of bubble supplies.
Where do the Calgary Flames go from here?
A chinook of change is bound to be blowing through Cowtown. From the interim coach to an underwhelming core, to free agents galore, change is just about the only guarantee as GM Brad Treliving and Co. begin a most critical autopsy after yet another disappointing finish.
Six seasons into Treliving’s tenure – the 10th-longest in the Now Hiring League – the Flames have just one postseason series win, setting aside the pandemic oddity of a qualifying-round victory over the Winnipeg Jets.
The first and most obvious question surrounds the immediate future of interim coach Geoff Ward.
It was Ward who said after Thursday night’s crushing loss – the only Stanley Cup playoff game in hockey’s 102-year history where a team trailed by three goals and won by four – that he felt the Flames “took a step” forward “as opposed to last year.”
It certainly did not feel that way. The Flames won the Pacific Division last year with 107 points and were on pace to finish with a middling 93 this season.
Unlike last spring, when the Flames were extinguished by Nathan MacKinnon, this series against the Dallas Stars was there for the taking. Calgary was 12 seconds away from a 3-1 edge in the best-of-seven before blowing a late lead. The Flames appeared to lack the step-on-your-throat mentality required to win in the second season.
If Ward did not do enough to have the interim tag removed pre-pandemic with a 24-15-3 record, it’s hard to imagine that his panicked goalie pull after Cam Talbot blew a three-goal lead helped his case.
If Treliving opts to start fresh, the Flames’ new bench boss would be Treliving’s fifth in seven seasons, and his fourth hire after Glen Gulutzan, Bill Peters and Ward.
Which players will the next Calgary coach have at his disposal?
That’s where the temperature gets turned up.
Fingers are already pointed at Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, the common refrain being that this playoff run would be the once-and-for-all referendum on Calgary’s core.
They are not unfair questions to raise.
But if this summer solidified anything, it’s that the Flames are Matthew Tkachuk’s team. He was already their heartbeat, but missing Tkachuk for the final four and a half games against the Stars was proof that he is also their best player.
The danger in making that distinction lies in the decision that follows it. The knee-jerk reaction might be to blow it up, ship at least one of the core players out. The smarter play might be to find a better supporting cast for Tkachuk, to take the heat off Gaudreau and Monahan in the matchup game and maybe make those two lines among the best two-headed monsters in the league.
To be clear: Johnny and ‘Mony’ are not absolved from scorn. They combined for exactly one even-strength goal in the series – on an empty-net. But they did create at least six power-play goals over 10 games, and the scoreboard doesn’t distinguish between even strength and power play – especially in the postseason.
You can bet Treliving’s phone will be ringing off the hook, with 23 of the league’s 31 teams able to trade with each other by Monday, to inquire if either are available.
Their contracts, each under control for at least the next two seasons, are incredibly reasonable relative to their production.
Consider: Over the past six seasons, Monahan has 172 goals – the 15th-most in the NHL – and more than Leon Draisaitl (168), MacKinnon (168), Mark Scheifele (166) and Jeff Skinner (161). Over the past five seasons, Gaudreau has 380 points – the 11th-most in the NHL – and more than John Tavares (368), Claude Giroux (365), David Pastrnak (352), Aleksander Barkov (347) and Jack Eichel (337).
Instead, attention might be better spent on net. Goaltending might not have lost the series against Dallas, but it certainly cost them Game 6.
If there is one true knock on Treliving’s tenure, it would be in his failure to adequately address the Flames’ goaltending. Talbot, a pending free agent, and David Rittich provided Calgary with its best season in net in six years, but the Flames have averaged a 20th-place finish in save percentage over the past six years.
Treliving has trotted out 11 different goalies in six seasons: Jonas Hiller, Karri Ramo, Joni Ortio, Niklas Backstrom, Brian Elliott, Chad Johnson, Jon Gillies, Rittich, Mike Smith, Eddie Lack and Talbot.
This is the off-season to make a splash, with more starting-calibre goaltenders likely available than possible starting positions – from Vancouver’s Jacob Markstrom to proud Western Canadian Braden Holtby, from popular teammate Robin Lehner to playoff pedigreed Matt Murray – that should make the annual game of musical chairs play to Calgary’s advantage.
With a goal line-out approach, the blueline is next. The Flames will be counting on Rasmus Andersson and Juuso Valimaki to shoulder top-four loads, but what does that mean for T.J. Brodie? Travis Hamonic is unlikely to return after opting out of the return to play, plus Derek Forbort and Erik Gustafsson are also free agents.
The Calgary chinook of change is coming. There are no shortage of questions, and they will all require careful consideration.
Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli
Lakers' Davis questionable for Game 5 – TSN
Los Angeles Lakers superstar centre Anthony Davis is questionable for Saturday’s Game 5 against the Denver Nuggets after suffering a sprained left ankle late in LA’s Game 4 win Thursday night.
Backup shooting guard Dion Waiters is also questionable with a sore left groin while Alex Caruso (sore right wrist), Danny Green (Volar plate injury, left ring finger) and LeBron James (sore right groin) are probable.
The 27-year-old Davis has been one of the Lakers best performers in the postseason bubble, averaging 28.9 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists over 14 games, including hitting a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.
The Lakers can advance to the NBA Finals with a win on Saturday.
'EXPERTISE AND CHARACTER': Maple Leafs add veteran Paul MacLean to coaching staff – Toronto Sun
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“Over nearly two decades as an NHL coach, Paul has filled every role on a staff,” Keefe said in a club statement. “Adding someone of Paul’s expertise and character to advise and assist our staff is something that we felt was very important as we seek to make tangible steps next season.”
Before Columbus, MacLean led the Sens to a record of 114-90-35 and a pair of playoff appearances. He also served two stints as assistant for the Anaheim Ducks, ‘02 to 04 and ‘15-17, between his days in Detroit (‘05-11). His Cup victory came on ex-Leaf Mike Babcock’s staff, having also appeared in the ‘03 and ‘09 finals under the same coach.
Born in Grostenquin, France while his father served on a Royal Canadian Air Force base, MacLean was raised in Antigonish, N.S. He was on Team Canada at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid and as a mid-round pick of the St. Louis Blues out of the QMJHL, scored 36 goals as a rookie after a trade to Winnipeg. In all, he appeared in 719 career games for the Blues, Jets and Detroit, recording 324 goals and 349 assists.
He transitioned to coaching with various minor leagues in the 1990s, until joining Babcock’s first NHL staff in Anaheim. A strong start in Ottawa made MacLean a finalist for the Jack Adams in 2012, won by Ken Hitchcock, followed by beating out Bruce Boudreau and Joel Quenneville for the award in ‘13. Only MacLean, Jacques Martin, Alain Vigneault and Bob Hartley have won the Adams for Canadian teams the past 25 years.
It was also announced Friday that the Arizona Coyotes have hired away amateur scout and player development employee Brian Daccord from the Leafs to be special assistant to new general manager Bill Armstrong.
Maple Leafs hire Paul MacLean as assistant coach – Pension Plan Puppets
Today the Toronto Maple Leafs announced they’ve hired another new assistant coach, adding Paul MacLean:
“Over nearly two decades as an NHL coach, Paul has filled every role on a coaching staff, winning a Stanley Cup and Jack Adams trophy along the way,” said Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe. “Adding someone of Paul’s expertise and character to advise and assist our staff is something that we felt was very important as we seek to make tangible steps next season.”
MacLean spent the 2019-20 season as an assistant coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets after being hired on November 21, 2019. He previously served as the head coach of the Ottawa Senators from 2011-15, leading the Senators to a 114-90-35 record and a pair of playoff appearances. He won the Jack Adams Award while coaching Ottawa in 2012-13 after being a finalist for the honour in 2011-12. MacLean served two stints as an assistant coach for the Anaheim Ducks spanning 2002-04 and 2015-17 and was an assistant coach for the Detroit Red Wings from 2005-11. He has been an assistant coach in the postseason on 11 occasions and has made three appearances in the Stanley Cup finals (2003, 2008, 2009), winning the Stanley Cup in 2008.
MacLean, 62, joined John Tortorella’s staff in Columbus in November of last year after not having a coaching job for two years. He worked for Randy Carlyle in Anaheim after being fired as head coach in Ottawa in 2015.
The power play of the Columbus Blue Jackets is not something the Maple Leafs should be looking to emulate. In my pre-playoffs coverage of the Blue Jackets I said their power play was so bad that the only PK squad better than Columbus’s own powerhouse unit was whoever they tried their power play against on any given night. That wasn’t exaggeration, their power play really was that bad, although it improved whenever Seth Jones was available.
Last offseason, the Maple Leafs hired Paul MacFarland, and most of us here at PPP weren’t very thrilled at the prospect of his power play concept coming to the Leafs. We can only hope this goes better.
With the news that Bruce Boudreau would not be hired by the Leafs, MacLean seems to be next man up on the veteran leadership coaching list. He joins Dave Hakstol, Manny Malhotra, and the goaltending and video coaching staff. And the new guy is getting the up in the rafters job.
Sounds like Paul MacLean will play the eye in the sky role for the Leafs coaching staff, advising in all areas of the game.
— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) September 25, 2020
And in case you were wondering how a guy who’d never been to the Soo got this job:
It’s worth mentioning that Paul MacLean is the father of Marlies assistant coach A.J., who is one of Sheldon Keefe’s best friends and has worked with him for more than a decade. Keefe and Paul aren’t walking into this blind to one another — at all.
— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) September 25, 2020
Also today, the Arizona Coyotes hired Maple Leafs goaltending scout/consultant Brian Daccord to be their Special Assistant to the GM and Director of Goalie Operations. I don’t think they mean hip surgeries, but who knows?
He has been with the Leafs for five seasons prior to this change.
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