Another lapse in discipline, another poor start, another declaration by General Manager Bob Murray that the Ducks' failings are not Coach Randy Carlyle's fault.
Murray's loyalty to Carlyle is admirable, but Murray has begun throwing players under the bus to explain why the Ducks are 14th in the West and 26th in the 30-team NHL. There's no quicker way to alienate players than to say they're not working hard enough when the truth is Murray hasn't provided enough talent and depth to get better results.
Starting Wednesday, the Ducks will play three consecutive home games and five of six at the Honda Center, a stretch Murray said is "critical for a lot of people, but not for Randy." Why shouldn't the team's performance during that span be vital in determining the future for Carlyle — and Murray?
It's always possible that consciously or not, players are taking bad penalties and allowing a league-high average of 38.8 shots against in order to get Carlyle fired. But from what Murray said in an interview Monday, Carlyle isn't in danger.
"Our coaching is fine. He's a good coach. It's not the coach who's doing some of the things that are happening out there. It's not the coach taking stupid penalties. It's not the coach losing faceoffs in our own zone and then not taking their guy," he said, referring to a faceoff coverage gaffe by team captain Ryan Getzlaf on Saturday in the first minute of the Ducks' 5-2 loss at San Jose.
"It's not him doing those things. He's a good coach. His record proves that. It's more our people. I'm getting tired of watching them looking for excuses, feeling sorry for themselves."
When Murray succeeded Brian Burke two years ago, he inherited a team that was so close to the salary cap Burke had nearly traded Bobby Ryan. Murray was hamstrung by big contracts and no wiggle room.
He cleared cap space but lost the heart of the 2007 Stanley Cup championship team. Francois Beauchemin walked away as a free agent. Murray dealt gritty winger Chris Kunitz to Pittsburgh for soft defenseman Ryan Whitney, who was a bust. Trading Chris Pronger because the then-34-year-old defenseman wanted a seven-year, $35-million extension is defensible. But the return has been poor: defenseman Luca Sbisa hasn't stuck in two NHL tries and Joffrey Lupul has played only 23 games because of a back injury and infection. He might return soon, but it might be too late to save this season.
Murray said players have "a little while longer to convince me if they want to stay here." A stretch around this time last season, when they played nine of 10 games at home and were 4-5-1, "is where the season got away from us. … I expect to see some desperation," he said.
The alternative is seeing new faces — and not on the ice or behind the bench.
The New York Islanders sent forward Nino Niederriter, the fifth pick in the June entry draft, back to Portland of the Western Hockey League. That leaves Edmonton's Taylor Hall, Boston's Tyler Seguin, Carolina's Jeff Skinner, Atlanta's Alexander Burmistrov and Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler as the only 2010 draft picks still in the NHL. Fowler has been limited to six games because of a stiff neck, but he's likely to return this week and sure to stay with the Ducks.
Philadelphia's Daniel Briere was lucky to be suspended only three games for a high stick to the face of the Islanders' Frans Nielsen in the final seconds of the Flyers' 6-1 win Saturday. It was vicious and cost him and his team more than it was worth: as a repeat offender he loses pay based on the number of games in the season, not the number of days. That means he forfeits $237,804.37 to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund.
Buffalo's Jason Pominville was cleared to play after suffering a concussion Oct. 11 on a hit by Chicago's Niklas Hjalmarsson. He missed nine games. Hjalmarsson got a two-game suspension after being assessed major and game misconduct penalties….Poor Jordan Staal. The Penguins' talented two-way forward had recovered from a foot infection and hoped to make his season debut this week but broke his hand in practice Monday. He's scheduled to undergo surgery and be out six weeks.