The hockey cognoscenti have turned their attention to the ridiculous debate captivating the province of Quebec. The horror of horrors occurred two weeks ago after Jacques Martin was dismissed from his position as Montreal's head coach: the Canadiens named Randy Cunneyworth, an anglophone, the team's interim head coach. The operative word there is interim, as in, until a person who speaks French can be hired to appease the enraged masses of Quebec natives. The audacity of the Montreal Canadiens is shocking; it's not like their captain (Rochester, New York native Brian Gionta) or two leading goal scorers (Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty) are Americans, or the coach they just fired spoke French; it is simply ludicrous that none other than a French-Canadian could contribute to the team's success.
Demonstrators are organizing a formal protest for a home game against Tampa Bay in early January to make their ire known to the Canadiens' organization. We offer a modest proposal for the Habs: dismiss Randy Cunneyworth and hire Don Cherry as interim coach, because, if nothing else, Cherry loves French-Canadians.
Conversely, Cunneyworth has been in the Habs' AHL system for some time, and, considering his employers, it would have behooved to him to make an effort to learn the language. (Stick tap to Janet Eagleson for the info). The Canadiens are ingrained into the culture of Montreal like nothing we've seen here in the United States, but, if Cunneyworth can win, it shouldn't matter what language he's speaking.
However, the Cunneyworth era is off to a woeful start, as the Habs have lost four straight contests under their new interim coach, highlighted by a 4-0 loss to Winnipeg Thursday night. At least P.K. Subban will not be blamed for the loss, as he and teammate Lars Eller were healthy scratches by Cunneyworth, who feels Subban can be doing more with his talent. Many owners have also grown tired of Subban's lack of production, despite him finding some points the week Martin was fired.
While Montreal is floundering, to the west, on the provincial border, Ottawa's Erik Karlsson continues his assault on the NHL. The 21-year old Swede is on pace to pass Mike Green's 76 points from the 2009-10 season, and, remarkably, heads into the holidays with a plus-1 rating. Karlsson has seven points in the last four games while sporting a plus-8. The days of Karlsson being a secret to poolies have long since passed, but the Senators have been receiving blue line points from a more unlikely source the last two weeks.
Jared Cowen has nine of his season's 11 points in December buoyed largely by a four-point game (1 goal, 3 assists) in last Friday's 6-4 win over Pittsburgh. Cowen has not gone more than one game without a point in the last three weeks. With Karlsson and Sergei Gonchar piling on the points from the back end, Cowen might not overtake any of the league leaders, but, odds are, he is available in deeper leagues. The Senators cleared some space on the blueline last week in the Kyle Turris trade, sending David Rundblad to Phoenix as part of the package.
Ducks Fly Together
Several weeks ago, the hockey gods were less than kind to Lubomir Visnovsky, granting him a broken wrist on top of the atrocious start to his season (to be fair, he was not the only Duck to start poorly, Randy Carlyle included). Visnovsky had a mere four points in 16 games, all of which came over a three-game span prior to injury. Following a season where he was the NHL's highest-scoring defender, Visnovsky broke his hand, mercifully, saving owners the vexing knowledge of having to leave him in the lineup. Don't look now, but Visnovky is back and enjoying life under the expletive-laden tutelage of his new coach, Bruce Boudreau; Visnovsky has five points in five games since returning to action and heads into the holiday break with consecutive two-point games. If you want to give your fantasy team a gift that will help, pry him from an owner, citing the belief there is no way he will produce consistently, and, if, for reasons passing understanding, Visnovsky is available on your waiver wire, snag him.
The Stars' blueline has several strong options on it in ageless Sheldon Souray and rising talent Alex Goligoski. However, Trevor Daley is seeing his name on the scoresheet more often with six points in the last eight games, including two assists in Dallas' win over Nashville on Friday. Daley has done this routine before, where he will roll off a series of points over a few weeks before falling. Daley has averaged 24.5 points the last four seasons and is on pace clock in close to 30 points this year. He is seeing 2:43 of power-play time per-game and could be worth a look in deeper leagues. Souray's pace has fallen off and Goligoski's numbers are down. Daley is by no means the silver bullet for your team's success, but he could help.
It has been no secret this season that the Islanders' Travis Hamonic, along with several others of his teammates, started quite slowly. Hamonic was never going to challenge Erik Karlsson for offensive supremacy amongst blue liners, but a mere two points through October and November was simply woeful. Heading into the holidays, Hamonic had six points in 11 December contests and boasts a healthy 47 penalty minutes, a total boosted by the 15 he accrued in a 6-3 loss to Pittsburgh on December 10. Hamonic has value in leagues that reward penalty minutes, hits and blocked shots, as has already delivered 73 hits and blocked 85 shots in 33 contests. It is worth noting that Hamonic is a mere 21-years of age.
Land of Lakes
The Minnesota Wild have seen its torrid winning pace fall off but defender Jared Spurgeon is enjoying a solid season. A gifted skater listed at a generous 5-foot-9, Spurgeon has 15 points heading into the holidays with eight on the power play. December was kinder to Spurgeon than it was to his team, as Spurgeon notched seven assists in 11 games with points in two straight contests. Despite Minnesota's scoring issues, Spurgeon remains their top option on the back end, seeing close to 3:00 of power play time per game. Once again, those in deeper leagues and keeper leagues will want to check on the 22-year old's availability.
Stats and notes
-The Rangers' Michael Del Zotto is tied with Detroit's Ian White for the plus-minus lead among defenders with a plus-22 mark. Boston's Johnny Boychuk and the Sharks' Marc-Edouard Vlasic are also in the top five.
-Florida's Brian Campbell continues his strong season and leads all defenders in power play points with 16 (1-15-16) heading into the holiday break while the Islanders' Mark Streit has 13 of his total 18 points on the man-advantage.
-Campbell's teammate, Jason Garrison, is the only blue liner with double-digit goals, 10. He has six on the power play followed by Shea Weber of Nashville and Boston's Zdeno Chara, each with five power-play markers.
-Predators' teammates Weber and Ryan Suter have combined for 53 points in 70 games.
-Winnipeg's Dustin Byfuglien leads all defenders in shots with 123 and has come on strongly of late. Karlsson is second with 116 while Souray, Weber and Alexander Edler all have over 100 shots on goal, respectively.
-Theo Peckham of Edmonton assumes his mantle as the top pylon amongst defenders with 66 penalty minutes while Anaheim's Shane O'Brien sports a surprising 12 points with 58 penalty minutes.
-Toronto's Luke Schenn boasts an impressive 104 hits, tops amongst defenders, and also has a solid 11 points.
-Chicago rearguard Nicklas Hjalmarsson leads the way in blocked shots with 94 followed by Winnipeg's Mark Stuart and Dan Girardi of the Rangers. Montreal's Josh Gorges rounds out the top four as he also has blocked over 90 shots this season.
Contact Dan Pennucci here and follow him on Twitter @ DVNucci42. Questions, comments and suggestions are welcomed.
Happy Holidays to all.