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Inside the NHL: Julien next on coaches hot seat

Jack Capuano was fired in Brooklyn last week, a victim of the New York Islanders' woeful free agent summer. After winning a playoff series for the first time in 23 years, the Brooklynites' new ownership group got an eyeful from General Manager Garth Snow.

Gone were Kyle Okposo (Sabres), Frans Nielsen (Detroit) and Matt Martin (Toronto). Replacing them with Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera has proven to be a costly decision. Ladd is looking like one of the worst free-agent signees of all time with eight goals, four assists and a minus-10 rating in 41 games. And that comes, remember, in the first year of a seven-year, $38.5-million contract given to a player at age 31.

And that's the coach's fault? Unfortunately, it usually is. While Snow is clearly on the hot seat as well, most of the other coaches in trouble should be sending thank-you notes to their GMs for setting them up for failure.

Who might be next to follow Capuano out the door? Here's a quick list:

Claude Julien, Boston: The Bruins have lost three straight tough games, including Friday's 1-0 defeat to Chicago on a Marian Hossa goal in the final two minutes that was their second straight shutout defeat at home. The previous one was the 4-0 loss to Capuano's Islanders that resulted in the winning coach getting fired the next day!

Julien led this team to a Stanley Cup in 2011 and a Cup final two years later but it seems like it's turning into Lindy Ruff at the end of his time with the Sabres. Stale, stale, stale. The Bruins are 8-0 against the Sabres and Florida -- and 15-20-6 against the rest of the NHL. For now, the Jacobs family ownership group and GM Don Sweeney don't seem to have an itchy trigger finger, unless they decide to insert president and former B's star Cam Neely behind the bench.

Julien, however, is chafed at well-deserved talk of his demise. Asked if he was worried Friday night, he curtly responded, "I'm not into shock journalism so I'll stay away from that question if you don't mind."

Sorry, Claude. That's a legitimate question. You're in trouble.

Dan Bylsma, Buffalo: Ordinarily, the Sabres boss would be in trouble. Injuries or not, there's no reason for this club to be languishing near the bottom of the East. But the thought here is that Rex Ryan has saved Byslma for now. While Terry Pegula could stomach yet another blow to his wallet, it would look utterly ridiculous for the owner to fire both of his high-profile coaches in the second year of their five-year contracts.

That said, the Sabres better start well next season. Bylsma's teams have gotten off to the same lousy Octobers that the Ron Rolston-Ted Nolan tank clubs did, and he might have a lot of time on his hands for Thanksgiving dinner if that pattern continues in 2017-18.

Ken Hitchcock, St. Louis: In his final season, the Blues already have named former Wild head man and current assistant Mike Yeo their coach in waiting. You wonder if they might go that route a few months earlier. How much of it is Hitchcock's fault that goalie Jake Allen -- who starts a four-year, $17.4 million extension next season -- is so wrecked right now that the team kept him home for a mental break and didn't take him to Winnipeg Saturday?

Allen has a 2.85 goals-against average and .897 save percentage. Backup Carter Hutton is at 2.80 and .892. No chance this club gets back to the West final with that kind of goaltending.

Lindy Ruff, Dallas: Another coach doing the goaltending dance for the first time in his career. GM Jim Nill saddled him with two high-priced sieves in Kari Lehtonen (2.83/.902) and Antti Niemi (3.16/.902) and neither is getting the job done. But the same applies to big names like Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and John Klingberg. Ruff is in the final year of his four-year deal. If he misses the playoffs, the betting here is that he's gone. He'll be 57 next month and it would be interesting to see what his next career move would be.

Jon Hynes, New Jersey: They play the same boring hockey we're used to seeing, except now the Devils aren't getting the results. They have a minus-29 goal differential which is horrible but at least they've figured out the road. After starting 4-12-5, they're 5-0-1 in their last six outside of Newark. Perhaps a temporary relief from the pressure valve.

Others to watch: Vancouver's Willie Desjardins, Winnipeg's Paul Maurice, Colorado's Jared Bednar and Arizona's Dave Tippett all bear watching simply because of the standings. But would Tippett, who was essentially given personnel sharing with 27-year-old GM John Chayka, get the gate? And would Colorado dump Bednar after one disastrous year?

Okposo on Capuano

Sabres winger Kyle Okposo played the last four seasons under Capuano with the Islanders and said he was disappointed the situation in Brooklyn ended the way it did.

"Everybody loved Cappy. He's a good man and you don't like to see that happen," Okposo said. "But everybody understands this league is the way it is. You're not going to be a coach forever. The start kind of dictated it a little more for him and he was kind of a casualty of that."

When he heard the news, Okposo texted Capuano to thank him for the influence on his career.

"He appreciated that I reached out," Okposo said. "I just told him that I was sorry to hear the news and that I hoped he would enjoy some time with his family. He was appreciative of that and responded that he enjoyed coaching me, so that was definitely nice to hear."

It's All-Star time

It's off to Los Angeles for the game's big names this week as All-Star Weekend hits Staples Center and the city's booming "L.A. Live' district. The big kickoff is Friday night, when the "NHL 100" is announced to reveal the top 100 players of all-time in honor of the NHL's centennial celebration. The announcement comes during a nationally televised show from the Microsoft Theater at 9:30 p.m. Eastern on NBCSN. Gilbert Perreault and Dominik Hasek anyone?

The annual skills competition is Saturday night at 7 Eastern on NBCSN while the game itself -- again played by divisions in 3-on-3 formats -- will be Sunday at 3:30 Eastern on NBC. Okposo is the Sabres' lone rep. The annual breakaway challenge has been dropped from the skills events and replaced by long-range shooting. No more Patrick Kane superman capes. I guess guys were having too much fun.

Laine on road back

Winnipeg rookie sensation Patrik Laine hopes to participate in the All-Star festivities and get in a game this week after returning to practice Friday. He has missed six games with a concussion after the crunching hit he took from Jake McCabe of the Sabres here on Jan. 7.

“I got the puck and that's it. Can't remember anything else," Laine said. "“It wasn't a good feeling. I hope that I won't get hit like that again. The headaches, and I was kind of tired all the time. Just focusing was kind of hard. But basically headaches and tired.”

As you would expect, Maurice is preaching huge caution.

"He's absolutely not getting back into a game until he's at 100 percent and clear," the Jets' coach said. "And then I'm more interested in getting him in the next game.”

The Jets host Anaheim on Monday and San Jose on Tuesday before playing Thursday in Chicago. Laine is their only all-star.

Babs a Martin fan

The Leafs were openly derided over the summer for giving Islanders bruiser Matt Martin a four-year $10-million And Martin isn't doing much on the stat sheet, with just three goals in 43 games (the latest being Robin Lehner's post-Christmas gift Tuesday night).

But coach Mike Babcock isn't caught up in numbers. He loves what Martin brings to a team full of young players.

"We don't get slapped around ever," Babcock told Toronto reporters Friday. "Last year, we got abused. We never get slapped around now. Not only is he a good player, he's a great man. He treats those kids with kindness, with a firm hand of accountability at the same time, and he's a good pro. He lives right, he acts right, treats his teammates right. He's got a huge fan in me, I'll tell you that."

W-L stats deceiving

Want an example of why goalies' won-lost records can be goofy at times? Just consider what happens when one is pulled during a game. Lehner got yanked after giving up the third goal Tuesday in Toronto with the Sabres down, 3-2, and Anders Nilsson gave up James van Riemsdyk's third-period goal that made it 4-2. Lehner was in line for the loss -- until William Carrier's goal with 2:23 left made it 4-3. That put Van Riemsdyk's tally as the game-winner and saddled Nilsson with an undeserved 'L.'

I've never understood why goalies' W-L record isn't like a pitcher in baseball, where the decision is determined by the netminder who allowed the goal that put his team behind for good. In this case, that would be goal No. 3 against Lehner by Auston Matthews. Lehner would thus have been credited with the loss that he deserved the way the game played out.

Around the boards

---When Vancouver's Henrik Sedin scored a goal Friday night against Florida to become the first Canuck to 1,000 career points (233 goals, 767 assists), he also became the fourth Swedish-born player to reach the mark. The others are Mats Sundin (564-785—1,349), Daniel Alfredsson (444-713—1,157) and Nicklas Lidstrom (264-878—1,142).

---With the advent of teams' bye weeks, it's probably time for the NHL to consider adding points percentage to the standings. Longtime NHL observers were scratching their heads last week, having never seen one team have as many as six games in hand over another, as the Leafs did over the Bruins. The Leafs entered Friday fourth in the Atlantic Division but had a .581 points percentage. Second-place Ottawa was at .601 while third-place Boston was only at .542.

---The Capitals entered the weekend with 30 goals over their last five games, going 4-0-1 in them and suffering the only blemish in Monday's epic 8-7 overtime loss in Pittsburgh. Washington scored at least five goals in each, its first five-game run of five-plus goals since 2010.

---Thursday marked the fourth straight day at least one NHL game featured at least 10 goals. According to Elias Sports, it's the longest run since a five-day burst of scoring from Feb. 12-16, 2009. It began with the Caps-Pens game, moved to Dallas' 7-6 win over the Rangers on Tuesday, to Wednesday's 6-5 shootout win for Detroit over Boston and concluded Thursday with Washington's 7-3 win in St. Louis.

---What's in the water in Detroit on Jan. 18? The win over the Bruins was the second time in three years the Wings wiped out a three-goal deficit on that date in Joe Louis Arena. They also did it in a 6-4 win over the Ted Nolan-led Sabres in 2015.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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