Pacific Division Notebook: Duck Hunting

If Tuesday’s 4-1 loss in Los Angeles to the Kings does anything for the Ducks, it firmly puts them on notice. With John Stevens fired in LA and Joel Quenneville biting the bullet in Chicago, hot seats around the league have been turned up. No seat is currently hotter than that of Randy Carlyle’s.

In fact, a loss Wednesday night to the Calgary Flames very well could be the final straw for Anaheim. The Ducks are currently 6-7-3 and outside the playoff cut, playing their worst hockey in years. The possession metrics are a mess, there is no one providing offense, and the defense looks weaker than it has in a long time. If not for John Gibson, this Ducks team would be among the worst in the NHL right now.

The lack of performance this season has without doubt caught the eyes of Anaheim management. They currently have Dallas Eakins coaching their AHL affiliate in San Diego, and is word is he could be taking a ride up to Anaheim very shortly to take over the bench.

Eakins was a hotshot AHL coach with the Toronto Marlies prior to taking the Edmonton Oilers job in 2013. After a disastrous tenure in Alberta, Eakins has returned to the AHL and rebuilt his legacy. In fact, multiple NHL teams reached out to him about jobs this past summer, including some for head coaching vacancies. Eakins’ preferred spot, however, has been Anaheim since the day he joined the organization.

A loss tonight at home to Calgary, and Eakins very well could get his wish. Carlyle’s seat is so hot that smoke is starting to rise.

No Longer The Kings Men:

I have to say, I didn’t see the Stevens firing coming on Sunday. Yes, LA has a terrible start to the season, but this team also made the playoffs in Stevens’ first year and the roster was flawed. Assuming Dustin Brown would repeat a career year driven by shooting percentages was a fool’s gamble, as was assuming Anze Kopitar was suddenly a 90 point player.

LA simply doesn’t have the firepower or defensive depth to be a factor this season. They overachieved last year, and likely bought in to the thought process that their championship window was back open. Instead of selling high on veterans that went above their established levels, starting a much-needed retool, they doubled down on this aging core. Rob Blake is now dealing with the consequences of those decisions, and Stevens was tabbed to take the blame.

Joining Stevens in the unemployment line is assistant coach Don Nachbaur. The replacements? Former Vancouver bench boss Willie Desjardins takes over as head coach, while former San Jose Shark, Boston Bruin and briefly LA King Marco Sturm joins the staff as an assistant.

I’m a big fan of the Sturm hiring, I think he’s a head coach in waiting and wouldn’t be shocked if he becomes a star behind the bench here in North America. His work with the German National Team impressed me so much last winter, I think he absolutely gets it.

As for Desjardins, I’m happy to see him getting another opportunity. I don’t think he exactly had the best scenario at the end of his Vancouver tenure.

The Rest Of The Crew:

  • Did anyone really believe the San Jose Sharks were going to stay below the playoff line long? Of course not. The Sharks are starting to click now, having defeated Minnesota by a 4-3 margin on Tuesday night. The most impressive thing for San Jose during their 8-4-3 start? They have been getting major contributions from depth players who are carrying the load while their star players shake off the rust. You get a feeling this team isn’t click on all cylinders just yet either.
  • Would Peter Chiarelli fire Todd McLellan after an 8-6-1 start to the season? I seriously doubt it, but he should be considering it. The Oilers are right on the playoff line right now but they still have their faults and I believe the roster is being deployed incorrectly. If Edmonton can get their hands on Quenneville? They should make the move right now. That said, a win Thursday ends a tough four game road trip 2-2-0 and bumps them to 9-6-1. Not a terrible start by any measure.
  • Speaking of the hot seat, at what point does Brad Treliving start to feel the heat? Sure, the Flames are off to a decent enough start, but their miracle third period comebacks can only last so long. This team desperately needs goaltending help, or else they aren’t making the playoffs for a second straight season. Treliving has built a very good roster, but Mike Smith simply isn’t an NHL starter anymore.
  • At what point do we consider the Vancouver Canucks real? I don’t think we are there just yet, but we are getting close. If this team maintains a playoff spot through the start of December? I think we need to consider them a real threat to make the dance. Now, I have my doubts that will happen, but still. Vancouver’s schedule picks up quite a bit here, and I still don’t have faith in their defensive group or their goaltending. The young talent up front, however, is special.
  • At what point does Vegas get worried that major summer acquisition Max Pacioretty? After a nightmare final season in Montreal, Pacioretty has struggled out of the gate on a Vegas team that right now can’t buy a bounce to go in their favor. He’s only 29 years old, but is Patches starting his decline already? Vegas needs him to get back to his 30 goal form if they want to return to the playoffs, especially after losing both James Neal and David Perron. So far, Pacioretty has been a disappointment with the Golden Knights.
  • Here’s a phrase I never thought I’d type again: If you can watch the Arizona Coyotes, do yourself a favor and do it. The Yotes have become one of the NHL’s most exciting teams, with a ton of young talent up front and an underrated defense holding the fort. Even after a 5-2 loss to Philadelphia on Monday night, Arizona has earned respect around the league for playing an up tempo style that rewards speed and skill. I’ll be interested to see how the management team approaches the rest of the season. Will John Chayka give his team a boost with an outside addition?

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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