When coaching junior teams and guiding Canada to a silver medal at the 1994 Winter Olympics, Tom Renney could motivate players by appealing to their pride and patriotism. In his first year as coach of the Vancouver Canucks, Renney is learning that rah-rah speeches don’t work quite as well on millionaires.
Despite a $27.3 million payroll that ranks in the NHL’s top five, the Canucks have slipped toward the bottom of the pack in the increasingly tight Western Conference playoff scramble. On sheer talent, they should rank among the league’s elite, but a 3-8 slump - including losses to the Kings and Mighty Ducks over the weekend - dropped them a point out of the final playoff spot.
“Talent doesn’t win the games for you,” said winger Alexander Mogilny, who leads the Canucks with 26 goals and 60 points but hasn’t had the streaks he once did. “Work, discipline, special teams, everything like that will win it. I wish I had the answers.”
So does Renney.
“We’ve been up and down all season, with the exception of five or six weeks when we were trying to create an identity and we worked hard,” he said. “The scary thing is, they tease you with a great game here and there. This team has a hard time sustaining that. This team has (some) guys who put it on the line night after night and others who don’t.”
Nor can the Canucks decide what kind of team they want to be. Mogilny and winger Pavel Bure thrive in a run-and-gun system, but Renney favors simply dumping the puck in, rather than carrying it, if there’s no obvious play. And though he likes a grinding game, he doesn’t have enough grinders to wear down opponents. His defense is average at best.
“The biggest challenge is being a consistent, responsible hockey team,” Renney said. “I’m a bit frustrated, but I’m keeping my wits about me.”
On the ice
The National Hockey League’s Board of Governors unanimously approved the sale of the New York Islanders to Texas businessman John Spano, completing a $165 million purchase of 90 percent of the NHL franchise from long-time owner John Pickett.
The Buffalo Sabres will be without Garry Galley for eight to 10 days after the team’s top-scoring defenseman suffered a hairline fracture in his jaw Sunday night.
Ottawa Senators center Dave Hannan, 35, has chosen retirement instead of a demotion to the minor leagues, the team said.
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