James O'Brien

Hockey Daily Dose

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Will firings fire up players?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

While Monday’s Daily Dose was all about backups, today’s DD revolves around a horrible day for two (former) head coaches and how that might affect fantasy hockey owners.


In case you somehow missed it, the Washington Capitals parted ways with Bruce Boudreau (in favor of ex-Caps great Dale Hunter) while the Carolina Hurricanes sacked Paul Maurice and replaced him with Kirk Muller. On the bright side, both teams feature top players (Alex Ovechkin and Eric Staal respectively) who are experiencing major slumps and other mid-card guys (Alexander Semin, Cam Ward) who could benefit from a new voice.


The interesting part is that both voices are relatively un-tested in NHL terms, though.


Muller was one of the hot coaching prospects last summer, but for whatever reason, he couldn’t land one of the vacant jobs. He was known as a “great teacher” as an assistant coach of the Montreal Canadiens. He could be a good fit for Carolina because he brings the touch of a former offensive player and experience coaching under defensive taskmaster Jacques Martin. I'd say he has the highest odds of helping the team he inherited of these two coaches, although the Canes obviously have far more room for improvement.


Hunter is a mixed bag for fantasy owners. He’s one of the least conventional hires, even if it doesn't seem that way on first impact. It’s true that NHL teams are scooping up minor league coaches in bunches, but most of those guys (see: Dan Bylsma, Guy Boucher and … Boudreau) came from the AHL. Hunter is an OHL guy, so it’s a bigger jump. He also professed commitment to the defensive side of the game over a run-and-gun style, which isn’t great news for anyone who carries offensive players in Washington. (It might be a boon for Tomas Vokoun and/or Michal Neuvirth, though … then again, the personnel doesn’t exactly scream “Jacques Lemaire’s dream” either.)


So looking at the coaches, they're both a bit of a mystery. Still, teams tend to experience a “honeymoon phase” in which players attempt to impress their new bosses and maybe keep their jobs. Here’s a quick look at the most prominent players who can turn things around. In other words, these guys might be good buy-low trade targets or could see nice spikes in production if you already have them.



If you know a manager who is fed up with the should-be all-world winger, you might still have a chance to strike. Try a reasonable deal that still gives you a likely long-term return. Maybe pitch an over-performing third rounder or a big name with weak peripherals for Ovi. (Full disclosure: I doubt you’ll pry him away now, but it’s worth trying.)



It’s been a miserable season for Staal. In fact, only an outrageous human would deny that his start has been worst than Ovechkin’s higher-profile struggles. Personnel issues are probably plaguing Staal more than anything Maurice said or did, but he could jump to respectability. He also could be much easier to pry away – just don’t give up someone you can’t do without.



By my estimation, Cam Ward is the guy who could benefit the most from Muller’s arrival. Don’t expect miracles there, but considering the loose defense in front of Ward in 2011-12 (and really in general), there’s a huge amount of room for improvement. I firmly believe that Ward is a solid franchise goalie who happens to play for a franchise that cannot play defense.


I wouldn’t recommend trading another goalie for him unless you can pull a real fast one on someone (Jonas Gustavsson maybe?), but maybe an excess forward or defenseman might be worth a try. Starting goalies are simply tougher to come by than forwards and defensemen, so it wouldn’t hurt to at least beat around the bush a little bit.



Semin might be Washington’s Ward: the guy who could benefit the most from a coaching change. Boudreau benched him and he’s been the whipping boy for the media and fans. A fresh start might steer Semin in the right direction – or at least remind him that he can make a lot of money in what has been an otherwise disastrous contract year.


So those are the high-end guys who could get an interesting bump from these changes. It’s dangerous to pin too many hopes on these players making drastic changes, but it wouldn’t be shocking if they started delivering closer to their previously expected levels, either.


After the jump: suspensions and injuries dominate the other big stories.


continue story »
James O'Brien is the Hockey Daily Dose's author and has been a contributor to NBC's Pro Hockey Talk for more than four years. Follow him on Twitter.
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