Eventful NHL week includes suspensions, milestones and hiring/firing

The past week in the NHL was quite eventful as it featured a couple of suspensions and milestones and the firing and hiring of a head coach. The Montreal Canadiens made the biggest splash early in the week when they announced the firing of head coach Michel Therrien on February 14th and the hiring of Claude Julien as his replacement. Julien was let go as head coach of the Boston Bruins just a week earlier and this will be his second stint behind the bench in Montreal. Ironically, Therrien was hired by the Habs four years ago to replace Julien.

It appears Montreal didn’t want to risk seeing Julien hired by somebody else such as the Las Vegas Golden Knights and jumped at the chance to sign him. However, it came at a price since Julien was hired to see out the rest of this season and was inked for four more years at $5 million a campaign. Therrien also had two coaching stints in Montreal as he was at the helm from 2000 to partway of 2002-03 season. He was fired in 2002/03 after the Habs record stood at 18-19-5. Julien then took over for two and a half seasons before he was also let go.

It’s not often that the coach of a first-place team gets the sack, but the Canadiens haven’t been playing well lately and Julien was a Stanley Cup winner with Boston. Therrien’s record over the past four and a half years stood at 194-121-37. He led the team to two divisional titles and a trio of playoff appearances, but failed to make the postseason last year. However, they were without all-star goaltender Carey Price for much of the campaign. Julien still had two years remaining on his contract in Boston and Therrien also had two years remaining in Montreal at $2 million per season.

There were also a couple of high-profile suspensions recently as veteran forward Antoine Vermette of the Anaheim Ducks was nailed with a 10-game ban and forward Gus Nyquist of the Detroit Red Wings was handed a six-game suspension. Vermette was given an automatic suspension after he slashed the back legs of a referee in a road game in Minnesota. Vermette was officially suspended on February 16th for abusing an official. The 10-game holiday will cost Vermette a grand total of $97,222.22 in salary, but it’s believed the NHL Players’ Association will appeal the verdict. If the appeal fails, he’ll be eligible to return to action on March 12th.

As for Nyquist, he was found guilty of high-sticking defenceman Jared Spurgeon of the Minnesota Wild. Nyquist appeared to intentionally spear Spurgeon in the face after being cross-checked by the defenceman. The Red Wing was handed a double minor penalty on the play and fortunately there was no serious damage done to Spurgeon. However, most NHL insiders felt the 27-year-old Nyquist should have received at least 10 games for his actions. The ban will cost Nyquist a total of $158,333.34 from his salary and like Vermette’s suspension, the money goes to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund.

On the brighter side, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby reached a scoring milestone last week when he notched his 1,000th career point. The year-old centre earned the point with an assist on a Chris Kunitz goal against the Winnipeg Jets at home on February 16th. Crosby reached the 1,000-point plateau in his 757th regular-season game. He’s the 12th-fastest NHL player to hit the milestone and the fastest active player. Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals scored his 1,000th point a few weeks ago, but took more games to accomplish the feat.

In addition, another interesting milestone was reached on February 14th when forwards Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets became the first draft choices to be selected first and second overall to score at least 25 goals in their rookie seasons since 2004/05. Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins were the last pair of top-two draft picks to achieve the feat over a decade ago. Matthews was taken first overall in the 2016 NHL Draft while Laine went second and they both have an outside chance at leading the NHL in goals this season.

Other milestones included ageless winger Jaromir Jagr scoring the 760th regular-season goal of his career in a 4-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on February 17th. Jagr, who just turned 45 years old, is third on the NHL’s all-time goalscoring list and will tie Gordie Howe for second place if and when he reaches 801. Wayne Gretzky tops the list with 894 goals. On the same night, forward Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins recorded his 500th career assist in a 2-1 overtime loss to Columbus.