The Arizona Coyotes took a risk when they acquired forward Taylor Hall, who is unsigned beyond this season, but their circumstances made it a chance well worth taking.
Still fighting for stability and fan attention after missing the playoffs the last seven seasons, the Coyotes stood first in the Pacific Division through games Friday. But they ranked 28th in the NHL in home attendance after playing to 83.6% of capacity at Gila River Arena in Glendale, averaging 14,318 fans per game.
This was their opportunity to make a splash and they seized it, getting 2018 league MVP Hall from New Jersey for three prospects, a conditional 2020 first-round draft pick and a conditional 2021 third-round pick. The Devils retained 50% of Hall’s prorated $6-million salary cap hit.
“We gave up some future value but feel like the present value is enormous,” Coyotes general manager John Chayka told reporters. “He’s a game-changer, he’s an electric player, he’s one of my favorite players to watch just in terms of entertainment value. We’re a team that’s looking to win and he’s certainly looking to win, and it’s a good marriage that way.”
The Coyotes are among the top five in lowest goals-against average but in the bottom third in goals scored, a problem offseason acquisition Phil Kessel (eight goals, 20 points in 37 games) hasn’t cured.
“We think we’ve got an elite defensive team. We’ve built that up over a number of years now,” Chayka said. “We’ve got a lot of good young players. We’ve got a strong veteran core. The opportunity to add a guy like this, I think the team really earned it.”
Sounds like a plan — or it did until goaltender Darcy Kuemper suffered a lower-body injury Thursday that will put him out week to week. Kuemper ranked among the NHL leaders in goals-against average (2.17) and save percentage (.929). It will be up to Antti Raanta (2.72, .919 in 13 games) to keep goals out while Hall tries to score at the other end and justify the price Chayka paid for him.
Coaching culture changing for the better
Chicago Blackhawks assistant coach Marc Crawford set an admirable example last week when he acknowledged he has been undergoing therapy to learn how to better express and manage his emotions. Crawford was suspended by the team Dec. 2 following allegations of misconduct in previous jobs — including his Kings coaching tenure — and will be allowed to return Jan. 2.
His suspension followed the resignation of Calgary coach Bill Peters, who had directed racial slurs at one player and kicked and punched others in his previous jobs, as well as the Dallas Stars’ dismissal of coach Jim Montgomery for “unprofessional conduct.”
In disclosing when his suspension will end, the Blackhawks noted Crawford has gotten counseling since 2010. They also said they found no misconduct on his part while he worked for them.
“We believe that Marc has learned from his past actions and has committed to striving to reform himself and evolve personally and professionally over the last decade,” they said in a statement.
Crawford’s statement was sincere and contrite: “Players like Sean Avery, Harold Druken, Patrick O’Sullivan and Brent Sopel have had the strength to publicly come forward and I am deeply sorry for hurting them. I offer my sincere apologies for my past behavior,” he said. “I got into coaching to help people, and to think that my actions in any way caused harm to even one player fills me with tremendous regret and disappointment in myself. I used unacceptable language and conduct toward players in hopes of motivating them and sometimes went too far.”
He said counseling helped him face “how traumatic my behavior was towards others.” He added, “I take full responsibility for my actions. Moving forward, I will continue to improve myself, to listen to those that I may have hurt, and learn from their experiences.”
Getting counseling shows strength, not weakness, and Crawford deserves credit for trying to fix his faults. His example, and the educational programs mandated by the NHL after Peters’ departure, should help weed out coaches who don’t know the difference between being tough and being abusive.
Kovalchuk leaves Kings, wants to stay in NHL
The Ilya Kovalchuk era ended for the Kings when they terminated his contract, making him a free agent. However, they keep his $6.25-million cap hit this season and next. While they’re not desperate for cap space, it would be interesting to hear general manager Rob Blake explain to his bosses why they gave $14 million to a player who clearly didn’t fit this stage of the team’s reconstruction.
Igor Eronko of the Russian sports newspaper Sport-Express reported Kovalchuk “wants to sign with a contender and would be OK with a minimum salary,” and said the Bruins are interested in signing him. Buyer beware.
Flames’ Chris Snow hopeful despite ALS diagnosis
Calgary assistant general manager Chris Snow, a former sportswriter and Los Angeles Times sports intern, is participating in a clinical trial for a promising drug that treats Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Snow’s wife, Kelsie, also a former Times sports intern, wrote a touching letter on the Flames’ web site disclosing the diagnosis and his treatment and expressing the importance of hope throughout treatment.
“Someone has to be the first person to live with ALS rather than die from it, and one thing I’ve always known about Chris is that he finds a way. No matter the obstacle, no matter how unprecedented the situation may be — he always, always finds a way,” she wrote.
Snow’s father, two uncles, and a cousin have died from the disease. The trial in which he’s participating targets a genetic mutation. Kelsie Snow said they don’t know if he’s getting the drug or a placebo but the disease doesn’t seem to have progressed.
“Hug your family, wring all the joy from each moment of your life, play with your children, and be present — all things at which Chris has always been wonderful,” she wrote. For those inclined, here’s a link to donate to ALS research: http://uom.convio.net/goto/chrissnow
And spare a positive thought for Flyers forward Oskar Lindblom, who was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that develops in bones and the tissue around bones. Lindblom will need extensive chemotherapy and radiation. His teammates have been wearing T-shirts with the words “Oskar Strong,” and his number, 23.