NHL Roundtable: Outdoor apathy; World Junior hype; multi-coach
Every Wednesday, a trio of SI.com staffers will sit down for a discussion of the hockey world's hot button issues. This week, Brian Cazenueve, Sarah Kwak and Al Muir palaver about Winter Classic boredom, a clash of titans at the World Junior Championship, and the Ghidorah approach to coaching in New Jersey.
• There's a sense that apathy has overtaken anticipation of the Winter Classic. What will it take to restore the luster of the NHL's marquee regular season event?
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• There was no shortage of hype before the World Junior matchup between Canada and the United States. Is the hype justified?
Yeah, it's kind of reminiscent of the gold medal game back in the 2005 WJC tournament when a draft-eligible Sidney Crosby faced off against Alex Ovechkin shortly after Crosby had been taken first in the 2004 draft. Neither Ovi nor Russia fared all that well in that one (Canada trounced them, 6-1), but it was a moment that presaged a rivalry that came to define the sport. That's how the round robin game set up with McDavid and Eichel pegged by scouts as generational talents, but as I pointed out in Off The Draw, don't be surprised if they aren't the stars of the show. Both players assumed supporting roles for their teams in the early going. That's exactly what you'd expect from underagers in a tournament that's typically dominated by 19-year-olds, but it's worth keeping in mind for fans who don't usually watch this event.
Hey, if there's ice, anthems and Canada/USA, you're guaranteed special. And don't forget that McDavid and Eichel aren't the only kids worth watching. Team USA has Noah Hanifan on defense, and it's a good bet taht he'll be the third player selected in June. The other one that scouts are raving about is Auston Matthews, a 16-year-old forward from Scottsdale, Arizona (!) who's the early favorite to be the top pick in 2016.
• The struggling Devils handed coach Peter DeBoer his pink slip this week, but his firing was nowhere near as big a story as the way he's being replaced. Has GM Lou Lamoriello lost his mind or should he be regarded as a visionary for his football-inspired approach to bench leadership?
You know if this works that others will follow. Lamoriello is still a respected figure among NHL GMs, even if some people acknowledge that his heavy-handed ways would not work with many organizations. Hockey is becoming more structured by the year. Just look at the ideas of puck pursuit, breakout plays and the advanced stats that were not in the game all that long ago. As the game has become more structured, it has also become more open to the ideas of specialized coaching and preparation. Coaching staffs are larger now than they used to be. I remember when teams didn’t have goalie coaches, when one head coach changed both forwards and defensemen, when the idea of an assistant who worked with the special teams was simply not given any thought. If it works, yes, Lamoriello will be thought of as a visionary for trying it, but more important, other teams will consider following suit. If it fails, then it will be a while before people start confusing hockey with football.
I suspect that this is not all that different from how many NHL teams already approach coaching—that is, coaches in charge of specific aspects of the team. What will be interesting is how exactly they move forward. I do not see this as a permanent staff structure, and I suspect they will return to a head coach with assistants who concentrate on their areas of expertise. That's because there needs to be a singular vision for the team, and it doesn't work if there are too many cooks in the kitchen. Is Lamoriello a visionary? In lots of ways, he already is, but I don't think that this is one of them. I think this move will work out fine for the short term. Both Scott Stevens and Adam Oates have a lot of experience working under Lamoriello and in the organization, but there are deeper issues than coaching here. The Devils need to build a better roster and cultivate their talent better than they have. They haven't done particularly well in the draft, and that's where I think New Jersey needs to concentrate.
New Jersey's season is essentially over—the Devils are not leapfrogging past six other teams, even in the East-—so why not swing for the fences? I don't see it as a viable solution (Sarah's right about too many cooks), but they've got four months to let this experiment play out. Maybe they learn something about their structure and game management processes. Maybe they learn something about their development system and their personnel. Maybe they realize just how far removed they are from being anything more than a fringe playoff contender. Or maybe they end up with a high lottery pick. As crazy it looks on the surface, there's really no downside here.