NHL Wins and Sins: Mascot fights, the Flyers’ firing of Dave Hakstol, Patrik Berglund and puppies

It’s time for our weekly installment highlighting what’s right and what’s wrong with the NHL during every week throughout the season. For all the things there are to love about the NHL and its product, there’s also plenty to hate and plenty to criticize. 

With that in mind, let’s hash it out together … right here … every single Wednesday. 

Loving and/or hating something about the NHL at any given point throughout this season? Feel free to drop your praise/complaints in my email inbox

What’s right: Mascot fights


Pete Blackburn photo illustration

For those who have ever stepped inside a mascot suit, I’d like to thank you for your service. Aside from all the dancing and wild antics, it seems like a pretty miserable and thankless job. Those heroes are exposed to annoying children and drunk fans far more than anyone should ever be, all the while slowly cooking inside a furry sweatbox. I’d imagine it often takes tremendous patience and restraint dealing with people at the arena on a nightly basis, especially when things aren’t going well for the home team.

Well, it appears that the poor soul trapped inside the Blackhawks‘ mascot, Tommy Hawk, ran out of patience and restraint over the weekend. Things have certainly not been going well for the ‘Hawks this season, but things hit rock bottom for Tommy on Friday night at United Center, when he got into a legitimate brouhaha with a young man on one of the arena concourses.

The tussle reportedly came after a fan attacked the mascot, punching the bird in its oversized bird face and attempting to put it into a giant bird headlock. Unfortunately for the assailant, who police say was between 18 and 20 years old, Tommy Hawk was not in any mood to take the high road and put up with this sort of nonsense. 

Instead, my guy Tommy decided to go full Angry Birds and unleash some hell. Not only did Tommy send some punches flying from the nest, but he even tried to thrown down a respectable suplex. Ultimately, he put this kid into the trash where he belongs. All in all, a strong showcase in the art of self-defense from the agitated person inside the suit.

The Blackhawks have needed to show more fight and more bite all season, but who the hell would have thought it would be the mascot stepping forward to lead by example? That being said, you take a spark wherever you can find one. Time to put a letter on Tommy Hawk’s sweater.

What’s wrong: Flyers‘ coaching mess

Almost everything about the Flyers seems to be a free-falling mess at this point, and that includes the firing of coach Dave Hakstol this week. 

It certainly wasn’t a surprise that Hakstol got canned. The Flyers came into the season with lofty expectations and have struggled out of the gate, and Hakstol was on the hot seat. In this column a few weeks ago, I wrote that the coach probably should have been cut loose in Philly before general manager Ron Hextall was.

Hextall seemed to understand that and was intent on building for the future, but he didn’t do enough to keep his bosses happy in the short-term. I wonder if he could have bought himself some more time had he been more willing to cut ties with Hakstol, who probably should have been the first to go anyway. It’s somewhat ironic that the one general manager this season who refused to fire his coach in order to save his own job was one who could’ve rightfully swung the axe. 

Instead, it’s the way that Hakstol was let go that kind of left everyone stunned. It appears that in order to make up for his overdue dismissal, the Flyers basically fired him twice in the span of 24 hours. 

On Sunday, initial reports of a coaching change came from local sources who claimed that the team would dismiss Hakstol either Sunday night or Monday morning and then hire former Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. Shortly thereafter, those reports started getting called into question when Quenneville denied that he’d taken the job, and the team released a statement later Sunday that seemingly backed Hakstol.

But where there’s smoke there’s often fire, and that statement from the Flyers had a very short shelf life. The team fired Hakstol on Monday morning, just hours after giving him that apparent vote of confidence.

And while the statement was technically true at the time it was released, why would the Flyers even comment on the reports if there was even a slight possibility that Hakstol wouldn’t be the coach the very next day? 

According to some, it’s because they weren’t initially planning on firing Hakstol but the coach wanted reassurance regarding job safety from new general manager Chuck Fletcher when he arrived at the rink on Monday. When Fletcher wouldn’t give him that reassurance, the two sides decided to part ways. 

Call me a skeptic, but I’m not sure I’m buying that story.

Maybe I have too much faith in the media, but some very reputable Philly beat sources were all aboard the “Hakstol is a goner” train on Sunday, and that’s too big of a story to run without trusting your sources. And aside from the Quenneville aspect (which was a bit more perplexing), the reports ultimately weren’t wrong. They said that Hakstol would be fired either Sunday or Monday; the latter prevailed. 

And what kind of coach waltzes into his new general manager’s office when the team sits last place in the division and demands job security? Especially when it’s a relatively green coach that has not-so-secretly been on the hot seat for the past month? And ESPECIALLY when it’s literally the Monday morning after said team just returned from a road trip in which they went 0-3-1? 

Of course, if that actually went down then Hakstol not only deserved to immediately get fired but also get laughed all the way out of the building. I’m just not fully buying that that’s the way it went down.

It seems like they may have decided Hakstol’s fate on Sunday and then just lost control of the flow of information, allowing the story to leak to the press. (It’s possible at this point Quenneville decided that he’d rather not walk into this mess and that he’d rather just keep skiing while collecting his $6 million salary from the Blackhawks this year.) The unexpected buzz may have sent the front office into scramble mode and caused them to find it necessary to release a statement (which really wasn’t a statement at all) in order to buy themselves some more time to figure things out. 

That being said, the fact that new interim coach Scott Gordon wasn’t present on Monday when Hakstol was relieved lends some credence to the idea that the team may not have been planning on letting Hakstol go. Then again, that could have been for the sake of optics. Or maybe Gordon got late notice because he wasn’t the first choice of replacement.

Regardless of what you choose to believe, it’s clear that someone seriously bungled this situation and caused a whole lot of unnecessary drama, especially considering most of us had a pretty good idea that Hakstol was likely on his way out in Philly.

What’s wrong: Patrik Berglund

Patrik Berglund was suspended indefinitely by the Buffalo Sabres this week after failing to show up for a team flight. His absence wasn’t by accident, as Berglund is reportedly unhappy in Buffalo and wants out. And the story of how we got to this point is bit of a strange one. 

As you might recall, the 30-year-old forward was part of the blockbuster trade that sent Ryan O’Reilly to the Blues this summer. Berglund was reportedly not thrilled with his involvement in that deal, not only because he was going from a projected contender in St. Louis to a rebuilding squad in Buffalo, but also because he could have prevented it. 

The day before the trade, Berglund’s full no-trade protection expired and became a modified no-trade clause, which would have allowed him to submit a list of teams he would not accept a trade to. However, Berglund didn’t immediately submit his list to the club, and the Blues jumped on the opportunity to include him in their package to Buffalo. 

Oops.

But things often seem to have a way of working themselves out, and Berglund ultimately reported to camp in Buffalo, where he was viewed as a leadership figure by a number of the Sabres’ younger players. And as the season got underway, a very unlikely turn of events were set in motion: the Blues appeared to be trash, while the Sabres were thriving in a tough Atlantic division.

Not a bad deal for Berglund after all, right?

Well, not so fast. The veteran forward hasn’t exactly been a central part of the team’s success. His two goals and two assists through 23 games have him on pace for a career-worst season and he’s been healthy scratched by the Sabres. Apparently he’s had enough and wants out. 

So, now what?

Well, the two sides are reportedly working on a resolution. The Sabres can trade him, but he doesn’t have a ton of value at the moment, especially considering his contract ($3.85 million cap hit through 2022). If it’s decided that Berglund is in breach of contract, there’s also the option for Buffalo to terminate or void the contract completely, with no cap ramifications. 

The latter scenario would be much more of a win for the Sabres than it would be for Berglund, as they’d be able to wash their hands of his less-than-sexy contract (the biggest reason St. Louis dumped him in the first place), while Berglund would get to go elsewhere but likely at the cost of a significant pay cut.

If the relationship isn’t yet beyond reparable, the best option might be for Berglund to just suck it up and play, and play well. If he can find a way to contribute more regularly, he’ll start raising his stock and A) find a more regular spot in the Sabres lineup, and/or B) become a more attractive trade target for other teams.

It seems like at this point, he should be on board with anything that doesn’t result in the termination of his contract because, well, he’s pretty lucky to have that contract.

What’s right: St. Louis Blues puppy    

In last week’s Wins and Sins, the St. Louis Blues earned themselves a sinners label after beating the crap out each other in practice. Credit where credit is due: While the Blues are still struggling in the standings, they had a much better week in practice this week.

That little fella is Barclay, the Blues’ front office puppy being raised and trained as a service dog. This week, he got one of his first tests when he was basically installed as the team’s comfort dog, making sure that St. Louis’ players wouldn’t whale on each other in practice. 

It appears he passed with flying colors, because of course he did. 

Not a bad move by the Blues here, honestly. More teams should consider starting fights in practice if it means that you’ll get a puppy on the ice a week later.

Anyway, Barclay is a very good boy with a very good Instagram. 

Holiday Costume of the Week

Speaking of Instagram, we got this treat from Erik Karlsson’s page over the weekend:

Karlsson and his wife, Melinda, are regular standouts when it comes to Halloween costumes, but a Christmas costume is a new trend that I’m willing to get behind. And if you had any doubt as to who deserves the credit for this masterpiece (and all the other ones before it), it’s Melinda.

From a Karlsson feature last year:

“Halloween isn’t a huge deal in Karlsson’s native Sweden, but it means a lot to Currey in her hometown of Ottawa. Currey, who works in marketing, likes to flex her creative muscle, so every Halloween she dresses Karlsson however she wants.”

It’s worth pointing out that Melinda seems to very much enjoy dressing Erik as a woman. 

Keep up the good work, Melinda.

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