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Ranking how teams fared in Harden trade: Pacers emerge a big winner –



In case you hadn’t heard — and you really must’ve been caught up in some serious stuff if you haven’t heard by now — 2018 NBA MVP and three-time defending scoring champ James Harden is now a member of the Brooklyn Nets.

The divisive superstar was traded Wednesday evening in a four-team blockbuster that saw the Nets acquire him; the Houston Rockets receive Victor Oladipo, Dante Exum, Rodions Kurucs, four unprotected first-round picks and four first-round pick swaps; the Indiana Pacers pick up Caris LeVert and a second-round pick; and the Cleveland Cavaliers acquire Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince.

You get all that?

It’s a complicated deal, to say the least, so don’t worry if you’ve missed all the fine details. What really matters is Harden got his wish to reunite with Kevin Durant in Brooklyn via a ridiculously oversized transaction.

And now that the deal has been made, the more important question — as is the case with any big trade — is who came out on top in this mega deal?

In order to answer, here’s how we’ve ranked the four teams involved in the exchange.

1. Indiana Pacers

If the Nets were going to acquire Harden, they were always going to have to include a third or fourth team in the deal to make sure they could team him up with Durant and Kyrie Irving due to his obscene $41.2 million salary for this season.

This meant that whoever those third or fourth teams were going to be would have an excellent opportunity to vulture in on the main deal between the Rockets and Nets and theoretically find a way to pick up good assets for minimal outgoing value in the process.

In the case of the Pacers, the deal they made was the simplest, but, ultimately, could be the most impactful both short- and long-term.

As the deal eventually worked out, one of the players Houston snagged from the Nets was talented young guard LeVert, whom they immediately flipped to the Pacers for former all-star Oladipo.

This was a great piece of business for Indiana for a couple of reasons. First of all, under new head coach and former Toronto Raptors assistant Nate Bjorkgren, the Pacers look like one of the best teams in the league thanks to the all-star level play of Malcolm Brogdon and the All-NBA-level that Domantas Sabonis is playing at to start the season.

Comparing the stats between Oladipo and LeVert is almost like looking at two mirror images of each other, and while LeVert will want to play on the ball more than Oladipo did, the two players are, essentially, the same productivity-wise with the main difference being the fact that bringing in LeVert could probably help with Indiana’s team roles.

Oladipo, before he got injured, was his team’s undisputed star, but that’s a mantle that has since been passed to Sabonis, something that may have possibly caused friction as this season progressed had they kept the team as it was.

Now it looks like there’s a clear pecking order in place as LeVert doesn’t carry the clout nor the ego to disrupt what is a good situation for him with the Pacers.

Additionally, by bringing in LeVert and sending Oladipo away, Indiana is now under the luxury tax threshold, a big added bonus on top of the addition of a very good player.

Some darn fine work from Chad Buchanan.

2. Cleveland Cavaliers

Ranking at No. 2 is the other vulture in the deal.

The Cavaliers came away from this transaction with Allen and Prince, two high-level role players and, in Allen’s case, a guy with legitimate future star potential.

The Nets are likely going to regret trading Allen away. At just 22 years old, he’s already one of the top centres in the league and figures to only get better.

With Allen, the Cavaliers have a true building block from which to form lethal pick-and-roll partnerships with some of their young guards like Darius Garland and Collin Sexton.

Before they can get down to doing that, however, the Cavaliers need to figure out the logjam they have with all their bigs.

With the addition of Allen, Cleveland now has five big men on the roster with Andre Drummond, Kevin Love, JaVale McGee and Larry Nance Jr.

That’s too many, and before the trade deadline they’re going to have to find a landing spot for at least one or two of these guys — and one such potential place could be Toronto.

It’s no secret that the Raptors’ centre production has left a lot to be desired to start the season, and with Drummond and McGee on expiring contracts there could be a trade to be made there.

In particular, Drummond would shore up the Raptors’ need for defensive rebounding in a big way and a deal could be made there without giving up Kyle Lowry or Pascal Siakam if he is still available by Feb. 5, when Aron Baynes will be eligible for dealing.

But even if the team that comes knocking isn’t the Raptors, the Cavaliers are in a good spot because they have a surplus of assets that they should be able to use to improve themselves. And between that and acquiring a future stud like Allen, they deserve praise.

3. Brooklyn Nets

Oftentimes the team that get the best player in any trade is the clear winner, but even though Harden is a phenomenal player, the way Brooklyn went about acquiring him has to make you pause.

First off, the Nets aren’t all that stable at the moment as they’re dealing with drama from Kyrie Irving just deciding to take days off work and looking like he might be done — for now — with life as a professional athlete.

And so now you throw Harden, another big personality, into the mix and you have a recipe for true chaos if things start to go south.

There’s going to be nothing but pressure on rookie head coach Steve Nash to try to bring a team together without a true glue guy on the roster as they traded those types of players away, and there’s obvious concerns — even if Irving does decide to return — about how they’re going to share the ball, as well as which player(s) will have to sacrifice their own personal statistics for the good of the team.

There’s little denying just how great a player Harden is, and any issues with his present weight shouldn’t cause too much unease as his arrival in a new environment will likely signal a rejuvenated level of effort. However, Harden became an MVP and scoring champ because he dominated the ball, pounding the air out of it in isolation situations, something that isn’t going to fly with Durant on the team.

Still, the potential for the new “Big 3” is immense and expectations are understandably sky high. This is a team that could have the Eastern Conference all but wrapped up by the end of February if everything clicks the way they want it to.

If the Nets actually become the Legion of Doom like they’re setting themselves up to be, one really has to wonder what the value of a play-in tournament spot in the East is. Playing for the right to get crushed by Brooklyn doesn’t sound like a lot of fun at all.

That’s only if Brooklyn can unlock its potential, though. With expectations comes pressure and in the Nets’ case the walls look to already be squeezing in on them as they once again have leveraged the entirety of their future on a star-studded trio to try to win.

With all the draft compensation they sent away, the Nets have yielded all of their first-round picks up to 2027 in an effort to win with Harden, Durant and Irving, and if they aren’t able to do it this is a team that will be heading back down the rabbit hole of obscurity once again.

Granted, this trio is much younger and closer to their primes than when Brooklyn opted to team up Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce with Deron Williams, but the comparison is very much there and history has a nasty way of repeating itself.

4. Houston Rockets

The draft-pick haul Houston got looks impressive on paper, and the idea of Oladipo pairing up with John Wall in its backcourt is very exciting, but the closer you look at what the Rockets did, the more faults you find in it all.

Rockets GM Rafael Stone was certainly under the gun to get a deal done with Harden fracturing his team’s locker room more and more by the day, but the final result makes it look as though he did his due diligence and then bailed on the better deal for his team.

A few hours before it was reported that Harden was heading to the Nets, a deal between the Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers was reported to be in the works that would see Ben Simmons heading Houston’s way.

If that is actually true, why didn’t Stone take that deal?

With all due respect to Oladipo, Simmons is a much better player and even though a star duo of Simmons and Wall would have left a lot to be desired from a shooting perspective, trying to score on those guys would’ve been incredibly difficult.

It also would’ve been fun to watch and, more importantly, could’ve helped Houston plan for the future better as Simmons is a legitimate building block.

Instead, the Rockets opted for a picks package, something that could very well work out in their favour. But if Brooklyn ends up meeting its potential, suddenly all those picks become far less valuable mid-to-late first-rounders.

The Rockets’ best bet with all those picks will be to do what Danny Ainge never did with his “war chest” and find a way to cash them in on a big trade for a big star down the road.

When/if that ever happens is anybody’s guess, though.

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With six coaches out, Sergio Scariolo steps in to lead Toronto Raptors to win – ESPN



For Sergio Scariolo, this was just another game.

The Toronto Raptors assistant coach slid over into the head coach’s chair, leading the team to a 122-111 win over the Houston Rockets in Tampa Bay on Friday night. The win came despite Toronto being without star Pascal Siakam, head coach Nick Nurse and five other Raptors assistants because of health and safety protocols.

But even with Toronto down another assistant in Chris Finch, who earlier this week became the head coach in Minnesota, the Raptors still had a pretty experienced man on the bench to handle the job.

Scariolo has 25 years of coaching experience overseas, and since 2009 has been the head coach of the Spanish national team, with which he won the FIBA Eurobasket tournament three times (2009, 2011 and 2015) and the FIBA World Cup (2019). He also coached Spain to a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics and a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics.

So no, this wasn’t his first rodeo.

In fact, Scariolo served as a head coach just last week as he coached Spain for the Eurobasket qualifiers in Poland on Feb. 19 and 21. Spain won both of those games.

“It’s a 3-0 week,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said.

Originally quarantining this week after he returned from Poland, Scariolo became available to rejoin the team on Friday, just as the health and safety protocols took out the coaching staff. Scariolo said he got back from Poland on Monday and spent the rest of the week away from the Raptors. He drove to Miami, where the Raptors played on Wednesday, but still stayed separate from the team; he drove back to Tampa in the same car the day after the game.

Scariolo said the team started to put a plan in action Thursday, with the Raptors having reassigned tasks to the coaches who would still be able to be with the team by Friday morning. The team also had to alter its pregame routine because tests didn’t come back on time, so the Raptors had to have one joint film session before getting on the floor without a walk-through.

“So it was kind of reacting every time to something different, but at the end of the day, we got the W, so who cares,” Scariolo said.

Scariolo said he had a video call with Nurse before the game and credited Nurse’s philosophy and the teamwork he has instilled in the coaching staff for helping to make the transition as smooth as possible. He also credited his own experience as a head coach.

“Honestly, it didn’t feel too much difference with the 1,500 games I’ve coached before,” Scariolo said. “I felt that we were prepared getting into the game because everybody made his contribution and this is what it takes in a team sport like basketball.”

Lowry and guard Fred VanVleet tried to downplay the situation as much as possible, but Lowry made sure to grab the ball after the buzzer and present it to Scariolo after the game. Scariolo said that basketball will go next to other balls players have given to him following medal games or other championships throughout his career.

VanVleet said the team tried to keep things the same as much as possible so as not to try to overcorrect something that didn’t need to be corrected.

“I think I kind of came to grips with that pretty early on once they made a decision that obviously those coaches were going to be out. I didn’t really want to overreact to it,” VanVleet said. “I think it’s one of those things that you probably put a little bit too much stock into, but the game doesn’t change.

“The way we need to play doesn’t change. The way we play doesn’t change. So just having a different voice out there, obviously, that’s why you have a strong coaching staff for situations like this. Obviously, Sergio has been a great head coach for a long time. He’s been doing it at a high level, so plugging him in was pretty simple to do.”

The Raptors didn’t release the names of the coaches who missed the game, but Jim Sann, Jamaal Magloire and Mark Tyndale were spotted along the Raptors’ bench and received shoutouts from VanVleet and Lowry after the game.

Scariolo said he doesn’t know how long he’ll serve as the acting head coach, adding that the team will continue to operate on the fly until it knows more. While he had talked to Nurse before the game, he hadn’t talked to him before meeting with reporters postgame. There were more important matters to take care of first.

“I will make sure I get tested first, this is my first test and I don’t want to make a mistake right now,” he said. “We can’t afford it. Then, for sure, we’ll talk.”

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Quick Shifts: Extra motivation in McDavid vs. Matthews? –



A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and less so, and rolling four lines deep. I missed the “Barbie Girl” song and who knows what’s going to be on when I come back…

1. Mark Scheifele, a shameless hockey nerd, has been binging Canadian division games in his spare time, even the ones that don’t involve him.

The Winnipeg Jets star takes mental notes when he observes the show being put on by this season’s leading point-getter (Connor McDavid) and goal-scorer (Auston Matthews), in particular.

In doing so, Scheifele is heeding advice from the late, great Dale Hawerchuk, who coached the centreman in OHL Barrie.

“Dale always told me: ‘It’s free education.’ You get to learn from them and pick up little things they do and try them at practice the next day. It’s about learning from the best players in the world and trying to add that to your game,” said Scheifele ahead of a three-game Leafs-Oilers series that kicks off Saturday.

“From watching Connor and Auston play, you pick up little subtleties, little passes they’re making, the way that Auston’s shooting the puck, all those little things.”

Appointment television for players and fans alike. But Matthews vs. McDavid may be more fun for us to watch and debate than it is for the participants.

“I don’t know if I’d describe it as fun, but it’s always a challenge,” Matthews said last time the Leafs left Edmonton. “It’s always a challenge going up against that amount of talent and speed coming at you.”

On Friday, McDavid predicted 180 more tight-checking minutes between the two best teams in the North. Edmonton and Toronto are tied 2-2 head-to-head with an aggregate score of 12-12.

“Both teams have that kind of respect for each other where neither really wants to open it up and let the other offensive guys get going,” McDavid says.

Lost on neither side is that an Edmonton sweep would vault the red-hot Oilers over injury-tested Toronto and into first place.

“They’re playing as good as anybody in the league right now,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe acknowledges.

A healthy Mike Smith has been a boon to the crease, Edmonton’s depth forwards are chipping in, and coach Dave Tippett is finally seeing an improved defensive commitment.

The Oilers have charged a 11-2-0 run through February.

“Everyone’s buying in and starting to really believe. That’s the main thing,” McDavid says. “When everyone believes in what we’re doing, that’s when it gets real dangerous.”

Despite all the individual awesomeness boiling in the capitals of Alberta and Ontario, team is (finally?) trumping all — in both markets.

McDavid would have you believe he’s not drawing any extra incentive from facing off against the other Hart Trophy favourite.

“There’s obviously guys that you watch and compare yourself to. When you see them doing well, you want to do the same,” McDavid says.

“But I’m a pretty motivated guy. That’s not an issue I have each and every night.”

2. The reporter in me loves Sheldon Keefe’s honesty when it comes to Auston Matthews’ nagging wrist injury.

The cynic in me has to wonder: Now that this info is public, will opponents target Matthews’ wrists during these divisional battles?

Too sore to take face-offs toward the end of Wednesday’s overtime win, Matthews took it easy Thursday and Friday. He has not been ruled out of Saturday’s showdown in Edmonton, however.

“He’s just a tough customer. We’re lucky to have him on our side,” Jack Campbell says. “It’s incredible what he’s able to do, whether he’s at 100 per cent or not.”

Adds Joe Thornton: “He’s played through stuff all year long, and he’s been a complete stud. So, we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”

3. The swiftness with which Marc Bergevin dismissed Claude Julien — 18 games in, winning record, positive goal differential — and assistant Kirk Muller (a bigger surprise) had me wondering if the climate is actually more tense on NHL benches these days or if it just feels that way from the press box.

Neil Glasberg is the founder and president of PBI Sports. His agency represents 30 coaches at the NHL level, including Muller. (Check Glasberg’s excellent appearance on the 31 Thoughts podcast from earlier this month.) In other words, he’s in tune with how his clients are feeling.

“I think there is way more pressure this year. You look at the standings now, you’re already starting to see how things are going and how they’re going to shake up. Nobody’s gonna help you — because everyone’s fighting for the same prize,” Glasberg says.

Owners look at the folded seats and worry about money. General managers worry over job security and the difficulty of completing trades under a flat cap. And everyone feels the added stress of the virus. People, in general, are a little more on edge. Why wouldn’t that seep into the hockey world?

Tack on the fact that every game is a four-pointer, practice time is scarcer than ever, and there are 26 fewer games to sort out your lines, and the stressors have been juiced.

No wonder so many healthy scratches and waiver placements have made headlines.

“Every game is so important, and you have no reprieve. Anybody can beat anybody in this league,” Glasberg goes on. “So, you could say that the Ottawa Senators are the worst team in the league. They have the ability to win. They could beat anybody.”

Of the NHL’s 31 head coaches, only 11 are signed beyond 2022.

We’ve already seen smoke in markets from Nashville to Detroit, Vancouver to Calgary.

But just because Julien was dismissed does not necessarily mean some imaginary seal has been broken and there’s more pink slips to follow in-season. (The off-season is another story.) Montreal’s decision, in these eyes, stems from the urgency to make good on a hefty investment to win now and is reflective of Bergevin’s own pressure.

“There’s no first-mover advantage to firing the coach, put it that way,” Glasberg says. “I don’t think it has any impact on anyone else’s decisions…. I doubt a GM wakes up in the morning thinking, ‘OK, now I can toast my guy since somebody else has already done it, and I’m not going to look like a schmuck.’

“And what kind of PR value do you get out of firing somebody in a pandemic when there aren’t a lot of jobs? There’s probably some amount of empathy on behalf of the owners, in general, to hold off terminating people unnecessarily.”

About PR value: When it comes to a major overhaul (i.e., front office, bench) Glasberg believes ownership groups feel significantly more pressure when fans call for change than when members of the media do. Fans can’t throw sweaters on the ice or chant awful things when the losses mount, but a hashtag campaign still get noticed.

Bruce Boudreau — thrice hired, thrice fired — believes the coach about to be fired feels it.

“I think every coach knows when it’s coming. Sometimes you get blindsided a little bit, but you can feel it,” Boudreau told Lead Off this week. “It’s almost like a divorce. All of a sudden, your GM stops talking to you. We stop having those meetings that were so important. They’re more contentious, quite frankly. And he’s asking you questions: ‘Why are you doing this? Why are you doing that?’ ”

4. Loved seeing how quick Marcus Foligno flipped the switch from fury to empathy in his fight with San Jose rookie Nikolai Knyzhov.

“I caught him with the first one, and the second one made him bloody. I know he’s a young kid and probably didn’t know the fighting aspect of it. I just thought it was enough,” said Foligno, who motioned for the officials to intervene mid-scrap.

Post-game, Foligno gave the 22-year-old Knyzhov credit for stepping into ring in the first place, let alone getting his visor bloodied.

“There’s things you do when you’re young to answer the bell, and you have to do it. And you gain a lot of respect from your teammates. So, I’m sure he got that tonight,” Foligno said.

“I thought it was over after the first couple of punches. So, that’s all. I’ve had guys let up on me before, and it’s just kind of the respect code of the whole thing.”

5. The best advice your mother gave you: Keep your head up around Radko Gudas.

The Florida Panthers defenceman is a dang menace this season. As our pal Matt Larkin points out, Gudas’s 98 hits through 18 games would put him on pace for 446 over 82 games. He’d slaughter the NHL record of 382.

“That’s what we needed,” Jonathan Huberdeau told reporters of Gudas. “I think we were missing a defenceman like him. He’s just been great this whole year.”

The next most frequent checker on any blueline? Chicago’s Nikita Zadorov, who has needed three more games played to throw 74 hits.

“He certainly does bring an element of competitiveness and physicality,” said coach Joel Quenneville, who has increased Gudas’s minutes from where they were with Washington last season. “Overall, he’s done a nice job of playing the game. I think his thoughts and his mind have been very effective. He puts himself in a lot of good spots.”

All that physicality is taking a toll, though. Gudas sat out Thursday’s win over Dallas and is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

6. When a young Mark Fraser dived into GM mode on his NHL video games, he came armed with a specific strategy.

“I played on PlayStation or Sega Genesis. I would make trades to get all the brothers in the league on my team. That’s how I felt represented,” Fraser said Thursday during an excellent Lead Off interview.

“Jarome Iginla was my favourite player growing up. I wonder why, right? He’s got amazing talent and personality. But to see someone who looks like you doing that job allows you to feel that it is possible for you as well.”

Bravo to MLSE for hiring Fraser to the role of player development, equity, diversity and inclusion. He’s excited to act as a connector from the grassroots to the Leafs, eager to “create a more safe and inclusive culture around the game.”

Fraser, 34, has lived it. As a Kitchener Ranger, he recalls being told by a crowd in Erie to stick to basketball. “When I was 14 years old, I was told by some parents in Buckingham, Quebec,” a stone’s throw from his native Ottawa, “to go back to the bush in Africa.”

That wasn’t every night, but it shouldn’t be any night.

For the most part, Fraser says, he felt acceptance through hockey. But the deeper his career got, the more racism he saw. Mounting micro-aggressions and persistent stereotyping.

So, bravo to Fraser for initiating the conversation — and subsequent job opportunity — with MLSE on his own.

In June, Fraser penned the candid and damning “Silence Is Violence” article for The Players’ Tribune. Read it. In July, the Leafs alum reached out to GM Kyle Dubas, knowing a respected powerhouse like MLSE could be a diversity leader in the hockey community and the Toronto community.

Dubas was receptive, off the bat.

“I was thrilled immediately to know, this is a guy who gets it. He fully understands, fully supports the importance of it. Same with Shanny.”

7. Quote of the Week goes to Matthew Tkachuk ahead of the Flames’ miniseries with brother Brady Tkachuk and the coach-killing Ottawa Senators:

“Anybody that thinks we’re going to fight is an idiot.”

It won’t happen, but if it did, it wouldn’t be historic.

Brothers Keith and Wayne Primeau dropped gloves and exchanged blows on April 7, 1997:

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“We were laughing about it,” then-Whalers coach Paul Maurice said at the time (per Sun Media). “It must’ve been pretty tough at the Primeau dinner table when there was only one pork chop left.”

Keith was the winner ( has him at 74 per cent), but any older brother could’ve told you that already.

“You could tell he was holding back, but he was still hitting me in the head,” Wayne said post-game. “It wasn’t full through with the punch, but I was getting a little bit pissed off. I went to throw an uppercut and it just missed.”

Keith wasn’t happy with how it went down.

“There was some hesitancy, yes. I knew who it was. That’s blood, man. I was real disappointed it happened,” Keith said at the time. “Right away, I came in and called my parents and apologized.”

8. I really like Rob Blake’s patient approach to the Los Angeles Kings’ rebuild since he took the helm, and his approach as the trade deadline nears will be fascinating.

Even with L.A.’s recent six-game win streak and a playoff spot in the lopsided West there for the taking, the GM has indicated a stay-the-course approach. From an organizational standpoint — especially with playoff gate revenue moot — slow and steady is the smart way to play it.

Blake is reportedly in the market for a young, dynamic left-shot defenceman, and his veteran trade chips may never reach higher value than they hold right now.

Would flawed rosters in go-for-it-mode benefit from the addition of a Jonathan Quick or Jeff Carter, a couple of guys with rings on their fingers who are enjoying nice rebound campaigns?

Would Blake — who already holds seven picks in the first four rounds of the 2021 draft — dare ruffle the room by dealing away from a core that seems to be guzzling from the fountain of youth?

L.A. could enhance any potential return by eating salary here. In our eyes, this is an opportunity to plunder another high pick or decent prospect.

9. Thanks to Bodog, you can actually place bets on which actor will play David Ayres in his upcoming Disney flick.

Hot tip: Steer clear of Chris Pratt. Not a hockey fan.

10. I’m not mad at the NHL for hosting outdoor games at sunny Lake Tahoe. The visuals were spectacular, and the event had people talking, for better or worse.

Whether it was Kevin Hayes’s deep thinking or Alex Pietrangelo fearing an oncoming Nathan MacKinnon, the players delivered some fine mic’d-up moments:

The NHL can dream up these unique big-splash events, but the players’ willingness to play along is critical. Complaints about the world’s longest first intermission were essentially nonexistent.

Little touches like no-nonsense Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron’s idea for the team to dress up in ’90s ski gear, David Pastrnak’s “Barbie Girl” interview, Philipp Grubauer’s going full Karl Alzner with the sunglasses, or Charlie McAvoy’s fun tweet after the fact… they all go a long way.

11. Also well executed was the Pittsburgh Penguins’ celebration of Sidney Crosby’s 1,000th game.

The quantity and quality of tribute videos uploaded from around the hockey world was one thing. His teammates’ all wearing No. 87, all stopping to knot their skates during warm-up — that was priceless.

12. Mitch Marner compared the Maple Leafs’ Matthews–centred game plan to that of youth soccer coaches Will Ferrell and Mike Ditka in 2005’s Kicking & Screaming.

“Get the puck to Matts,” Marner said. “It’s the new, ‘Get the ball to the Italians!’”

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Marner’s analogy inspired me to rewatch Kicking & Screaming with my 10-year-old, and that was the best decision I made this week. Underrated Ferrell classic.

Subsequently, I tumbled down a YouTube rabbit hole and discovered this wonderful behind-the-scenes Ditka story during filming:

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By the numbers: Canadiens' identity a riddle wrapped in an enigma – Montreal Gazette



Habs have been the best team in the NHL in 5-vs-5, by a wide margin, but metrics show they need an overhaul in virtually every other area.

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Who are the Montreal Canadiens?

In the wake of the axe falling on head coach Claude Julien and associate coach Kirk Muller on Wednesday, it might be a little while longer before we find a solid answer. With a newly minted interim head coach tag, Dominique Ducharme has an opportunity to resuscitate a season that has gone from a promising 7-1-2 start to a dreadful 2-4-2 slide heading into Saturday’s game against the Jets in Winnipeg (10 p.m., SN, SN360, CBC, TVA Sports, TSN690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

The start of the season for the Canadiens was always a bit of a mirage. No team is going to average 4.4 goals per game for long in a league that averages fewer than three, because there’s too much parity in the NHL. By the same token, the recent stretch in which the Canadiens have averaged just under two goals per game is similarly not fully representative of their play.

Are the Canadiens the juggernaut some observers said they were during their hot start the season? Or are they the awful team we’ve seen in February? The truth is neither, but also somehow both.


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Playing 5-vs-5, the Canadiens have been the best team in the NHL — by a lot. The quality depth that general manager Marc Bergevin assembled and the coaching style of Julien keeping consistent line combinations led to true dominance. Just take a look at the Canadiens’ metrics in goal differential, and the expected-goals model based on the shots they take and give up, crafted by Evolving Hockey.

To read the chart above, being in the top right quadrant means a team is playing well and getting good results, while the top left means a team is playing well, but getting poor results. The bottom right is playing poorly, but getting good results, while the bottom left is playing poorly with poor results.

The Canadiens at 5-vs-5 are ridiculous. They’re controlling over 63 per cent of all goals in that situation and, although they’re getting lucky in that regard, their expected result is still an NHL-leading number at 58.1 per cent. Playing 5-vs-5 is not a problem for this team as they’re dominant in that regard and they get the results they earn. At 5-vs-5, Ducharme is unlikely to make any major changes, and if he does, it might be ill-advised.


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There might be something to be said for giving Jesperi Kotkaniemi more opportunity, perhaps swapping him with Phillip Danault to see how well he can translate his strong production on a per-minute basis into bigger minutes.

What does need a complete overhaul though, is literally everything else. When you take 5-vs-5 hockey out of the equation and look at all other game states, the Canadiens go from contenders for the Stanley Cup to contenders for the draft lottery.

After another disastrous specials-teams failure in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday, the Canadiens have the worst expected-goals-for percentage away from 5-vs-5 in the NHL, at just 40.8 per cent.

This season, the Canadiens have appeared to be a Jekyll and Hyde team by the division of the schedule, but the split of results has more to do with random variance than anything. They’ve been attacking off the rush less often, but the issues on special teams have been there all along, and they’re only getting worse.


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Part of the issue for the Canadiens here is their league-worst penalty differential, where they’re drawing calls at an average rate, but take more penalties than any team in the NHL. The net result is the Canadiens giving their opponents 0.82 more power plays per game than they get, which doesn’t sound like much, but adds up over time, especially when their play in those situations is awful.

The first step for the new coaching staff needs to be a directive for more discipline from certain players, with Ben Chiarot, Victor Mete and Brett Kulak among NHL leaders in minor penalties per minute played among defencemen. Forwards Josh Anderson and Danault are in the same boat and don’t draw nearly enough calls themselves to even it out.


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Playing with more discipline is a start, but the special teams need a complete overhaul on top of that or the Canadiens will continue to struggle more than necessary.

Part of the needed changes are related to personnel. For example, the Canadiens’ strongest players on the power play last season were when Nick Suzuki and Tomas Tatar played together. This year, they’ve barely seen the ice. The bigger issue for the power play might be philosophical. The Canadiens’ shot leaders on the power play are Shea Weber and Jeff Petry, who are above-average-shooting defencemen, but they’re shooting from the blue line more often than not.

Compare the Habs’ strategy with that of the North Division-leading Maple Leafs, who are tied for the NHL’s best power play. Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Jason Spezza, Travis Boyd, William Nylander, Zach Hyman and Mitch Marner take shots more often than their top shooting defenceman, Morgan Rielly. Shot location matters, and the Canadiens’ power play has been operating like it’s still 2008 when the league has long since moved forward.

Andrew Berkshire is a Montreal-based hockey writer specializing in data-driven analysis of the game.

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