Blue Jackets fire head coach Brad Larsen, do not renew goaltending coach Manny Legace’s contract

Hours after their season-ending loss to the Buffalo Sabres, the Columbus Blue Jackets fired head coach Brad Larsen. They also announced that they are not renewing the contract of goaltending coach Manny Legace.

Larson was named the eighth coach in franchise history on June 10, 2021. Under his watch, Columbus compiled a 62-86-16 record. The Blue Jackets were a surprising 37-38-7 during Larsen’s first season but finished the 2022-23 season with the fewest points (59) in the Eastern Conference and were tied with the second-fewest points in the entire NHL.

Injuries decimated the 2022-23 Blue Jackets, who were expected to compete for a playoff spot after acquiring longtime Calgary Flame left winger Johnny Gaudreau this past offseason. Gaudreau was one of the few Blue Jackets regulars who stayed healthy, however, as right wingers Patrik Laine and Jakub Voracek and defenseman Zach Werenski were among Columbus’ key players that missed significant time with injuries.

Goaltending was also an ongoing issue for the Blue Jackets, as they finished 31st of 32 teams in the NHL in goals allowed.

“This season has been extremely disappointing and the responsibility for that lies with all of us,” Jarmo Kekalainen said on Saturday, via a team insider. “These decisions were difficult and not made lightly given our respect for both Brad and Manny as coaches and people.

“Brad has been part of our organization for more than a decade, and we are extremely thankful for his hard work and many contributions – both on and off the ice – during that time. We wish nothing but the best for Brad and his family in the future.”

A former NHL player, Larsen began his time with the Blue Jackets’ organization in 2010 as the assistant coach at AHL Springfield. He then spent seven seasons as Columbus’ assistant coach under head coaches Todd Richards and John Tortorella. During that span, the Blue Jackets reached new heights that included three four consecutive playoff appearances from 2017-20. The 2019 Blue Jackets won the franchise’s first-ever playoff series after brooming the top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round.

A former goaltender who won a Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 2002, Legace broke into coaching in 2012. He spent five seasons as the Blue Jackets’ goaltending coach after having the same role with the team’s minor league affiliates, the Cleveland Monsters.

Kekalainen said that the team will take a “deep look at all the best candidates” when it comes to finding the Blue Jackets’ next head coach.

“I don’t think we’re going to rush into anything,” he said. “The sooner the better, obviously, but I think we’re going to do thorough search.”

First impressions from Game 1 of every first-round series

Now that we’ve seen Game 1 of every Stanley Cup Playoff series, teams have given us an idea of what to expect. It is just one game, but every game is critical in the NHL playoffs.

With road teams winning six of the first eight games, underdogs have gotten off to a surprisingly strong start. In particular, the New York Rangers and Winnipeg Jets made statement road wins to begin their playoff runs.

Other teams, like the Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche encountered some issues. And, yes, even in a big win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Tampa Bay Lightning have reason to be discouraged.

Here are the first impressions from each Stanley Cup Playoff first-round series.

Islanders need to fix anemic power play
The New York Islanders’ power play was among the NHL’s worst in the regular season, and that didn’t change during Game 1 against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Isles lost, 2-1, and they missed several chances to flip the script with the man advantage.

The Islanders failed to convert on all four of their power plays
They only generated four shots and 0.82 expected goals on them, per Natural Stat Trick.
With under five minutes remaining in the third period, the Isles got a power play with an opportunity to tie the game, and they didn’t even get a shot on goal.
This should be a low-scoring series regardless, and the Islanders have a shot to pull off the upset, but they need to get some kind of production from their power play unit. The Hurricanes are an elite defensive team, and they were first in the NHL in five-on-five expected goals against in the regular season. If the Isles can’t light the lamp with the man advantage, their postseason appearance may be brief.

Panthers missed golden opportunity against Bruins
If the Florida Panthers are going to pull off the upset against the Boston Bruins, they can ill afford to drop winnable games. That is exactly what happened in Game 1.

The Bruins were without captain Patrice Bergeron, and the Panthers outplayed Boston for stretches. According to Natural Stat Trick, Florida controlled 61.0% of the expected goals at five-on-five, and they even did a decent job of holding Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak in check.

The Panthers just couldn’t solve Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark, and Alex Lyon coughed up an inexcusable goal in his playoff debut for Florida. There was a lot to like about the Panthers’ game, and perhaps they can build on that as they try to even the series before heading back to Florida. This game, however, was there for the taking, and the Panthers failed to capitalize on a subpar effort from the Bruins. They may not get many more chances like that the rest of the series.

Joe Pavelski’s injury could tilt balance of the series
In the second period of Game 1, Dallas Stars veteran forward Joe Pavelski left the game when Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba laid a heavy hit on him. Pavelski struggled to get off the ice, even with help, and Dallas may be without him for at least a couple of games.

Matt Dumba lays a late hit on Joe Pavelski and receives a 2-minute minor penalty for roughing.

— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) April 18, 2023
Pavelski, 38, is still one of the most reliable forwards in the NHL, and he’s been a key cog in the Stars’ top line for the last few seasons (he just tallied 28 goals and 49 assists in the regular season). Taking him out of the Dallas lineup only tilts the odds more in favor of the Wild after their double overtime win in Game 1.

Minnesota is an excellent defensive team, but they struggle to score goals at five-on-five. In order for the Wild to win this series, they’ll probably have to win some low-scoring defensive battles. With Pavelski out of the lineup for Dallas, that becomes a much more attainable goal.

Goaltending remains a giant question mark for Oilers
Stuart Skinner proved to be a solid starting netminder for the Oilers in the regular season, but there were still questions about his lack of experience coming into those playoffs. After Game 1, those questions remain.

To be clear, Skinner was not the only reason the Oilers dropped Game 1 at home to the Los Angeles Kings. It’s just that Skinner didn’t do much to help his team lock up a victory after Edmonton went up 2-0 in the first period.

He surrendered a somewhat soft goal to Adrian Kempe to start the second period.
In total, he wound up allowing 0.65 goals above average, per Natural Stat Trick.
The Oilers’ goalie faced 35 shots in nearly 70 minutes of game time and allowed four goals.
That won’t do it, especially when Joonas Korpisalo was on top of his game for the Kings. The good news for Skinner is that Edmonton played fairly well overall in Game 1, and he should have a decent shot to redeem himself and get back on track with a win in Game 2.

Devils cannot let Rangers win special teams battle
The New Jersey Devils have been a better five-on-five team than the New York Rangers all season, but that edge was erased — and then some — in Game 1 because the Rangers dominated the special teams battle.

In the first 10 minutes of the game, the Devils got two power plays and failed to score on both. New Jersey didn’t even put a shot on Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin. New Jersey had a chance to seize the momentum early, but instead New York gained a lot of confidence on the road.


— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) April 19, 2023
Then, on their own first power play of the game, which came with just over 10 minutes remaining in the opening frame, the Rangers cashed in and took a 1-0 lead. Things wouldn’t get any better for the Devils after that.

New Jersey finished the game 0-for-4 on the power play as the New York penalty kill was completely stifling. On the flip side, the Rangers capitalized on two of their three power plays and cruised to a 5-1 win. As good as the Devils are at five-on-five, they simply cannot afford to get torched on special teams and expect to beat this loaded Rangers team.

Lightning win big, but at an even bigger cost
Just from looking at the scoreboard, you would think everything went right for the Tampa Bay Lightning in their Game 1 blowout of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The injury report tells a very different story.

While the Bolts rolled to a 7-3 win over the Leafs in Toronto, they lost a pair of key defenders.

Victor Hedman left the game with an undisclosed injury after the first period.
Erik Cernak appeared to suffer a head injury after taking a high hit from Toronto’s Michael Bunting in the second period.
If those two can’t return to the series, it presents a steep mountain to climb for the Lightning, even with a 1-0 lead.
Although he’s had a down year in 2022-23, Hedman is still one of the best defensemen in the NHL when he’s at his best, and Cernak eats up tough minutes while playing a huge role on the penalty kill.

Losing those two against a Maple Leafs team loaded with firepower up front is a worst-case scenario for Tampa. Mikhail Sergachev can play the role of No. 1 defenseman for the Bolts, but he doesn’t have much help around him. Rookie Nick Perbix will likely play a larger role, and Zach Bogosian and Haydn Fleury will now slot into the lineup after tough regular seasons for both.

As long as Hedman and Cernak are out, it is the Maple Leafs’ series to lose — regardless of the final score of Game 1.

Jets send a message in domination of Golden Knights
It wasn’t surprising to see the Winnipeg Jets take Game 1 against the Vegas Golden Knight, but the way in which they won was shocking. The Jets simply dismantled the Golden Knights in their own barn, 5-1.

This wasn’t a case of the game being closer that it appeared on the scoreboard. Outside of a short stint in the second period, Winnipeg was in full control of this matchup. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Jets limited the Golden Knights to just 1.2 expected goals at five-on-five. Vegas couldn’t get any kind of sustained possession in the offensive zone.

With the Golden Knights trailing 2-1 to start the third period, everyone watching the game expected a big push from the Pacific Division champs, but it never came. Instead, the Jets came out swinging, and Blake Wheeler doubled his team’s lead less than five minutes into the period. Defensively, Winnipeg held Vegas to 10 shots on goal in the final frame, and many of those came with the net empty at the other end.

The Jets sent a message in Game 1, and the Golden Knights must find an answer before they head up to Winnipeg down 2-0 in the series.

Philipp Grubauer, Kraken silence doubters
Coming into this postseason, I was very skeptical about Philipp Grubauer’s ability to hold up against a Colorado Avalanche offense that can fill the net when they’re rolling. After Game 1, Grubauer is well on his way to proving me wrong.

In the process of leading the Seattle Kraken to a Game 1 win over the defending champs, Grubauer stopped 34 of the 35 shots he faced and saved 2.52 goals above average. The Kraken netminder did get support from a tremendous defensive effort in front of him, but Grubauer alson came up with some huge saves at key points in the game.

By the time the final buzzer sounded to end the third period, Grubauer’s detractors and the sellout crowd in Ball Arena were dead silent. If Seattle is going to pull off one of the biggest upsets in recent Stanley Cup Playoff history, Grubauer will have to turn in a couple more performances like this. It is just one game, and that’s important to remember, but it’s hard not to be encouraged by what Grubauer did in Game 1.