Winnipeg Jets’ Patrik Laine Lights up the Lamp in November

There’s nothing like posting a five-goal game to climb the standings in the NHL’s overall goal-scoring race. That was the case for right-winger Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets on November 24th when he found the back of the net a handful of times in an 8-4 victory over the Blues in St. Louis. The scoring feat propelled the native of Tampere, Finland to first place on the scoring chart and as of November 26th he was leading the league with 19 goals in his 22 games.

Laine becomes the 57th player to score five times in an NHL game, but the first since Johan Franzen of the Detroit Red Wings achieved the feat in February of 2011. The only other player to do it in the last 21 years was the Minnesota Wild’s Marian Gaborik when he pumped five past the New York Rangers in December, 2007. But while you may think Laine is the first 20-year-old NHL’er to reel off a five-goal contest he isn’t. Wayne Gretzky pulled the same rabbit out of his hat not once but twice back in 1981 at the same age. Don Murdoch of the Rangers was the only other 20-year-old to do it, which he did in October of 1976.

In fact, Gretzky managed to record a dozen games of at least three goals (hat tricks) by the time he was 21 years old. Laine ranks second in NHL history in this category as he now has seven hat tricks in his young career of just 177 games. His scoring outburst in St. Louis enabled him to leapfrog both Dale Hawerchuk and Jimmy Carson as they both registered six hat tricks by the time they were 21. Laine’s next goal will also be a milestone as it will be the 100th regular-season marker in the league. When he scores it he’ll become the seventh player to bang in 100 goals before reaching 21.

Gretzky had the most goals at that age with 167 while Carson had 141 and Hawerchuk 122. Steven Stamkos was next at 114 followed by Ilya Kovalchuk with 108 and Brian Bellows with 102. Laine has notched three of his hat tricks this season and all of them have come since November 1st. He scored three times against the Florida Panthers in a 4-2 triumph on the 1st and another three against the Vancouver Canucks in a 6-3 win in Vancouver on November 19th. The three goals against Florida were special for Laine as they came in his homeland with the game being held in Helsinki.

This has definitely been Laine’s month as he’s netted 16 of his 19 goals in November. This sets a new franchise record for Winnipeg and he still had two games remaining in the month. The last time somebody scored that many times in a single month was back in November of 1996 when Pittsburgh Penguins’ legend Mario Lemieux slipped 17 past the goalie in 15 games. His teammate Jaromir Jagr wasn’t far behind him as he scored 16 times in 13 contests the same month. Laine has managed to score his 16 goals in just 10 games this month.

Scoring goals comes naturally to Laine though. He was drafted second overall by the Jets in 2016 behind Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He scored 36 goals and 28 assists in 73 games as a rookie and followed it up last season with 44 goals and 26 assists in 82 contests with 20 of them coming on the power-play. If you’re interested in comparing Laine’s numbers to the somewhat injury-prone Matthews here goes. As of Nov. 26th Laine had 99 goals and 57 assists for 156 points in 177 games. Matthews had 84 goals and 64 assists for 148 points in 155 games. Laine has five goals and 12 assists in 17 playoff games while Matthews has five goals and two assists in 13 postseason outings.

Colorado Avalanche’s Mikko Rantanen remains red hot

The Colorado Avalanche should expect to write some big numbers on Mikko Rantanen’s paycheques over the next several years once his three-year entry level contract expires at the end of this season. The 22-year-old Finnish forward has definitely shown general manager Joe Sakic he deserves the big bucks after his first two years in the league and a red hot start to his third campaign. The right-winger was drafted 10th overall by Colorado in 2015 while playing in is homeland. He played just nine pointless games for the team the next season while scoring 24 goals and 36 assists in 52 contests in the AHL with the San Antonio Rampage. He was named to the league’s Second All-Star Team, the All-Rookie Team and also shared the AHL’s rookie of the year award that season.

Rantanen cracked the Avalanche lineup for good in 2016/17 and posted  a team-high 20 goals along with 18 assists in 75 games. He improved on those numbers by racking up 29 goals and 59 assists for 84 points in 81 contests last year and finished 16th in league scoring. He was also the first Finnish player to reach 80 points since Teemu Selannne did it in 2006/07. Rantanen certainly didn’t cool off during the offseason as he was leading the NHL in scoring after 20 games this year with eight goals and 24 assists for 32 points as of November 19th. He was the first player to reach the 30-point barrier this year and the first Colorado/Quebec Nordique franchise player to score 30 points in 20 games since Sakic and Peter Forsberg achieved the feat in 1996/97.

Rantanen has led the league in scoring or has been tied for first most of the season as he’s been at the top of the hit parade since October 23rd. He has obviously formed an excellent working partnership with his linemate Nathan MacKinnon as MacKinnon was close behind Rantanen in scoring with 16 goals and 16 assists for 29 points after 20 games. Rantanen is one of the league’s biggest players at 6-feet-4-inches in height and 212 lbs, but he plays a very skillful game. He’s an excellent skater and playmaker with an exceptional pair of hands around the net.

His success isn’t really surprising though since Rantanen has excelled as an elite hockey player at every level he’s performed at, including internationally. He helped Finland win the World Junior Championships in 2016 and also won a silver medal with the senior squad at the IIHF World Championships the same year. Rantanen scored 28 points in 26 career games with the Finnish junior side and in 23 games with the senior team he has scored nine goals and 13 assists up to now.

The Avalanche would have been wise to sign Rantanen to a long-term contract before the 2018/19 season got underway. However, the player and his camp were willing to wait until the season ended as they were confident he’d enjoy another high-scoring campaign. There’s a good chance Rantanen will finish in the top five in the scoring race this year and he’ll have a lot of leverage when contract negotiations get under way. He’ll be a restricted free agent at the end of the season and with the salary cap going up each year he’ll likely benefit by delaying contract talks.

Of course, there’s no guarantee Rantanen and Sakic will agree on his worth to the team though. The player doesn’t have arbitration rights and the pair will be at an impasse if they don’t see eye to eye. We’ve seen that exact same situation in Toronto this year as the Maple Leafs have yet to sign high-scoring forward William Nylander to a new contract. Sakic will need to open talks with Rantanen as soon as the player is ready since he’s far too important to the franchise to lose for any period of time. As the Leafs have found out, it often takes several weeks or even months to come to an agreement on a contract so the sooner Colorado begins negotiating with Rantanen the better.

Chicago Blackhawks hope coaching change results in playoff spot

It may seem odd to fire the second-winningest coach in NHL history just 15 games into a season, but that’s what the Chicago Blackhawks did after starting the 2018/19 campaign at 6-6-3. Sixty-year-old Joel Quenneville was given his pink slip recently and replaced by Jeremy Colliton, who at the age of 33 now becomes the youngest bench boss in the NHL. Quenneville is considered a legend in Chicago as he led the Blackhawks to Stanley Cup triumphs in 2009/10, 2012/13 and 2014/15. However, the team has been struggling recently and failed to make the playoffs last season.

Quenneville was an assistant coach with the Colorado Avalanche back in 1996 when the team won the Stanley Cup and then had stints as a head coach with the St. Louis Blues and back in Colorado before joining the Blackhawks in September of 2008. He was originally brought to the Windy City as a pro scout and soon found himself behind the team’s bench. Quenneville spent 10 full seasons as the Blackhawks’ head coach and failed to make the postseason just once, which was last year. As well as hoisting the Stanley Cup three times with the team he also led Chicago to a trio of Central Division titles.

Quenneville spent 707 games behind the bench during the regular season in Chicago and posted a record of 452-249-96 while going 76-52 in the postseason. His career NHL coaching record stands at 890-532-77-137 with Scotty Bowman being the only man to have more victories and Al Arbour being the only one to coach more games. Quenneville’s current salary is reportedly $6 million a season, but it’s doubtful he’ll be out of work for long. His replacement Jeremy Colliton played just 57 games in the NHL and kicked off his coaching career with Mora IK in Sweden in 2014.

The Blackhawks saw potential in him and hired Colliton to coach their Rockford IceHogs AHL farm team last season. Chicago GM Stan Bowman liked the way Colliton communicated with his AHL players and is now hoping he can do the same at the NHL level. He’ll be coaching several players that are older than him, but the Blackhawks also have 15 players under the age of 30 on their current roster. He won’t be working with former Chicago assistant coaches Kevin Dineen and Ulf Samuelsson though as they were both fired along with Quenneville.

The Blackhawks have some fine talent in Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, Artem Anisimov, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, but goaltenders Cam Ward and Corey Crawford are on the downside of their careers at the respective ages of 34 and 33. It’s now up to Colliton to get his roster to play the way it’s capable of or the Blackhawks could miss the playoffs for the second straight season. Many coaching changes bring instant dividends, but Chicago lost their first two games with Colliton in charge and as of November 12th were in the basement of the Central Division at 6-8-3 for 15 points and were on a seven-game losing streak.

The Blackhawks need to improve in all areas of the ice if they hope to make the playoffs though and Colliton has his work cut out for him. Their goaltending, defence and and goal scoring are all below par while their penalty-killing and power-play special teams are among the worst in the league. Chicago lost several good young players after their Stanley Cup triumphs since they couldn’t fit them all under their salary cap. They’re now paying the price for that on the ice and should be regretting the trade that saw high-scoring forward Artemi Panarin shipped to the Columbus Blue Jackets for former Blackhawk Brandon Saad in June, 2017.

If there is a bright side for the Blackhawks it’s the fact that there’s still over 75 per cent of the NHL season to play and they are only a handful of points out of a playoff spot. The team’s definitely heading in the wrong direction though with seven straight defeats and this will place a ton of pressure on the shoulders of Colliton. With no previous NHL experience, it’ll be interesting to see how he handles it.

LA Kings’ John Stevens the first coaching casualty of NHL season

The Los Angeles Kings fired head coach John Stevens on November 4th and replaced him with former Vancouver Canucks’ bench boss Willie Desjardins. Assistant coach Don Nachbaur was also given his marching orders and his job will be taken over by Marco Sturm. Desjardins is being called an interim coach as he’s only been given until the end of the season to turn things around. In addition, Sturm is currently coaching in Germany and won’t head out to Los Angeles until mid-November. The move may have been a bit of a surprise to some fans, but it wasn’t a total shock considering the team is off to a 4-8-1 start and sits in the basement of the Pacific Division.

The Kings have been beaten in seven of their past nine outings, but the timing of the announcement was a little odd considering it came after they downed the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-1 at home just a few hours earlier. Desjardins will get his feet wet behind the Kings’ bench on November 6th when they host the visiting Anaheim Ducks. Los Angeles GM Rob Blake said he believes the 61-year-old Desjardins can kick start the team and get some better results before the side falls too far out of the playoff race. Desjardins last NHL stint saw him go 109-110-27 with Vancouver between 2014 and 2017.

Blake hinted that more changes may be coming though if he doesn’t see an improvement in play soon. The 52-year-old Stevens was hired by the Kings in 2010/11 and worked as an assistant to former head coaches Terry Murray and Darryl Sutter, winning the Stanley Cup in 2011/12 and again in 2013/14. He then took over the reins from Sutter for the 2017/18 season. Stevens guided the Kings to a 45-29-8 mark last year, but the team was swept in four games in the first round of the playoffs by the Vegas Golden Knights. Stevens had previous NHL head coaching experience as he also guided the Philadelphia Flyers from 2006 to 2009 and his career record now stands at 171-148-43.

Blake said he felt terrible firing Stevens, but something had to be done to shake the team up and it seemed like the most sensible option. The squad has been under performing as the Kings have scored just 28 goals so far this season for an average of 2.15 per game, which is last in the NHL. This comes as a surprise since they signed free agent Russian sniper Ilya Kovalchuk in the offseason to a three-year deal worth $18.75 million. The team scored 2.89 goals per game last year to rank 16th in the league, but instead of improving they’ve actually gone south. In addition, their chances of winning low-scoring games isn’t that good at the moment since number one goalie Jonathan Quick is on the sidelines due to recent knee surgery.

But according to Blake’s comments to the media, he believes the players simply haven’t been performing as well as expected and as well as they should be and that needs to be rectified as soon as possible. And that’s why the Kings’ players who don’t have no-trade or no-movement clauses in their contracts will need to pull up their socks under Desjardins. If they don’t they could find themselves shipped out of town as well. If there is a bright side to the coaching change in Los Angeles, it’s the fact that goaltending coach Bill Ranford and assistant coach Dave Lowry still have their jobs…at least for the time being.