We do a roundtable for the Season Pass and over the weekend we were asked which coach would be fired next. I felt that we might be passed the point where coaches would be fired this season, but I added, "but I think Claude Julien is the X-Factor. If a GM feels their best chance to sign him is now as opposed to the summer, then they'll make the move." With Michel Therrien being replaced by Julien, I can't help but wonder if that's what happened here.
Perhaps Therrien would have been fired regardless. After all, Montreal is 1-5-1 to start this month and has gone 6-10-2 dating back to Jan. 9, so while the Canadiens are holding onto their Atlantic Division lead, there have been problems for a while. At the same time, I can't help but wonder if Montreal would have stayed the course if Julien hadn't been readily available as an alternative.
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With Julien taking over, the Canadiens have a Stanley Cup-winning coach, former Jack Adams Award winner, and a man that's come full circle as his career as a bench boss started with Montreal during the 2002-03 season. While Therrien is a veteran coach that's seen success as well, there's no question that Julien boasts the better resume. It'll be interesting to see if Montreal finds another level under Julien and if the Canadiens defense in particular starts clicking. Carey Price hasn't been living up to expectations recently, but perhaps that will change now.
While we're on the subject of goaltenders, Henrik Lundqvist won his 400th career victory on Saturday. He's had a very up and down season, but right now he's on an upswing as he's won his last five contests. The question is if this hot streak will develop into a more sustained turnaround. It certainly has that potential as we enter the stretch run of the 2016-17 campaign.
Lundqvist was the 12th goaltender to ever earn 400 wins. He's closing in on some other members of that club in Chris Osgood (401 wins), Grant Fuhr (403), and Glen Hall (407). We'll almost certainly have to wait until 2017-18 before Lundqvist can pass Tony Esposito's 423 victories.
Meanwhile we're going to see another player reach a major milestone soon as Sidney Crosby has pulled within a single point of 1,000. He's been limited to one assist in his last three games, which is sluggish for him compared to the superb pace he's enjoyed so far this season, but I think he'll really start to heat up once he's gotten that 1,000th point and the monkey's off his back. When he does get hot again, he might take Jake Guentzel along for the ride as the 22-year-old rookie has been serving as Crosby's right winger recently.
In the meantime, Crosby's mini-slump has allowed Brent Burns to catch up with him as both players have 61 points each. Connor McDavid is still ahead of both of them with 63 points. Burns' presence makes this scoring race very interesting to watch because it is almost unheard of for a defenseman to win it and yet we might see it happen. If Burns does pull it off, he'll be joining Bobby Orr as the only other blueliner to ever win the Art Ross Trophy.
At the same time, this Art Ross Trophy race is a bit lackluster in terms of what it's likely going to take to win it. At this point it feels reasonable to say that we almost certainly won't see a 100-point player in 2016-17. It would be the second time in the last three years that's happened as Jamie Benn won the 2014-15 race with just 87 points. Last season Patrick Kane got 106 points, but the next highest player was Benn again with 89.
As we get closer to the end of the season, that lack of a 100-point player might spur more stories on the lack of scoring in the league, but the real issue is a lack of high-end scorers. In terms of overall scoring, we've seen 2.78 goals per team, per game this season, which is actually a big jump from the 2.71 goals we saw last season. In fact, this season is the highest scoring we've seen since 2010-11 when the average was 2.79 goals and we saw five players surpass the 90-point mark and Daniel Sedin win the Art Ross Trophy with 104 points.
One difference between now and then though, that might partially explain why top-end scoring is down, is that power-play opportunities have been relatively low over the last three seasons, especially compared to what it was like in 2010-11. There were 3.54 power-play opportunities per team, per game in 2010-11 compared to 3.12 this season. That's in turn led to a decline in power-play goals that has been compensated for elsewhere, but PPG is an area where you'd see the cream of the crop players get a more disproportionate amount of the scoring.
We also might be seeing a transitional period between the old guard and a new one. Players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Alex Ovechkin aren't reaching that 100-point mark like they did frequently earlier in their career. Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Patrik Laine, and Auston Matthews might all have 100-plus seasons in them, but we haven't seen them reach their prime yet. Over the next five to 10 seasons though, we might see those four players win the bulk of the Art Ross and Rocket Richard Trophies and have some impressive campaigns along the way.