By Lyle Richardson
San Jose Sharks rookie winger Tomas Hertl set an NHL record last week, becoming the youngest person in league history to score four goals in a single game.
The 19-year-old Hertl’s achievement came during the Sharks lopsided 9-2 victory over the New York Rangers, the highlight being his fourth goal, a breakaway trick-shot through his legs which fooled Rangers goalie Martin Biron.
The goal made highlight reels throughout North America and generated considerable buzz among NHL fans. Not everyone, however, was pleased. Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates called out the youngster, suggesting the goal was disrespectful to the league.
One wonders, however, if Oates would feel the same way if Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin attempted such a move.
Anything which gets sports fans talking about the NHL in a positive light is a good thing, especially at a time when the MLB playoffs and the NFL regular season are dominating the sports headlines.
The league should be hyping Hertl’s trick shot goal as an example of the offensive artistry of its most skilled players.
Speaking of the Rangers, they’re struggling to adjust playing under new head coach Alain Vigneault.
The former P.E.I. Rocket and Vancouver Canucks bench boss was hired replaced the outspoken John Tortorella. Vigneault was seen as a breath of fresh air for a Rangers club some believed stagnated last season under Tortorella’s demanding defensive system.
Vigneault was expected to bring in a more balanced system, allowing scoring stars Rick Nash and Murray Harbour’s Brad Richards to become more creative in the offensive zone.
Five games into this season, however, the Rangers lurched to a 1-4 record, outscored 25-9 over that period. The sole bright spot was Richards, who scored half his club’s goals.
The once-vaunted Rangers defence gave up an average of 37 shots-against per game during that stretch, ranking third-worst in the league. Blue-line stalwarts Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal seemed confused and were often caught out of position.
Henrik Lundqvist, considered among the world’s elite goaltenders, gave up 15 goals in four games. He and Biron also combined for a league-worst 5.00 goals-against average.
The Rangers also missed some key players (Nash, Ryan Callahan, Carl Hagelin) to injury during this time. Another factor behind their poor start is renovations to Madison Square Garden forced them to open the season on a nine-game road trip.
Though the season is barely three weeks old, New York fans and pundits are beginning to panic over the Rangers unexpected poor performance.
GM Glen Sather will remain patient with Vigneault and his roster, which has sufficient talent to turn things around. If the losses keep piling up, however, he could try to shake things up with a trade.
Following an 0-3 start to this season, the Philadelphia Flyers fired head coach Peter Laviolette, replacing him with Craig Berube.
Laviolette, who won a Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006 and coached an underdog Flyers to the 2010 Stanley Cup final, became the scapegoat for the failings of GM Paul Holmgren.
Once considered among the NHL’s shrewdest general managers, Holmgren made a series of questionable move in recent years which diminished the Flyers roster.
He signed eccentric goalie Ilya Bryzgalov in June 2011 to an expensive nine-year deal, only to buy out the struggling netminder this past summer.
Holmgren also dealt away star forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, who went on to help the Los Angeles Kings win the 2012 Stanley Cup.
He failed to find a suitable replacement for the all-but-retired Chris Pronger, and paid too much this summer for aging free agent blue-liner Mark Streit.
Perhaps Berube will have better luck with this diminished roster. If not, Holmgren could face pressure to make a trade which not only saves the Flyers' season, but also his job.
The Edmonton Oilers slow start (1-4-0) has generated speculation they’re shopping for help in goal and on the blue-line.
Problem is, there’s not much of a trade market to speak of right now.
Bryzgalov remains the best goalie remaining in the free agent market. Teams with goaltending depth (Toronto, St. Louis, Anaheim) aren’t shopping their spares right now. Buffalo Sabres netminder Ryan Miller could be available but has a partial no-trade clause, a $6.25-million salary and is eligible for free agency next summer.
Defensively the pickings aren’t much better. Some rumour bloggers tried to link the Oilers with struggling Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner, citing his minor league connection with Edmonton coach Dallas Eakins.
Problem is, the Leafs wants a first-line forward in return, plus they have defence concerns of their own.
Oilers GM Craig MacTavish wants to make a bold move, but until the trade market improves, there’s little he can do right now to improve his roster.
Lyle Richardson is a freelance writer with The Hockey News and runs the website Spector’s Hockey. His column will appear in The Guardian throughout the NHLhockey season.