For a brief span in the early 2000s, the NHL had two European coaches. Ivan Hlinka ran the bench in Pittsburgh, while Alpo Suhonen was in charge of Chicago. It didn’t last long; 168 games combined, to be specific. But with New York Rangers assistant Ulf Samuelsson in the running for the position in Carolina, perhaps NHL teams are willing to look at hockey minds who weren’t born on this continent once again.
NEW YORK, NY – For a city that boasts so many people, New York is surprisingly poor when it comes to developing hockey players. Sure, Joey Mullen has a great legacy, but in recent years, there haven’t been too many NHL prospects from the area.
Carolina pick Brett Pesce comes from Tarrytown, where the Rangers practice, while New Jersey prospect Steven Santini hails from the exurb of Mahopac. In the 2014 draft, fans can look for high-flying left winger Sonny Milano of Long Island, but there aren’t a ton of other big names.
Hall of Famer Mark Messier is beloved in New York thanks to his play and leadership in 1994, when he steered the Rangers to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title in 54 years. Now, he’s helping the grassroots in the city by working for the Kingsbridge National Ice Center project, which would bring nine rinks to a new complex developed from an old armory in the Bronx.
In choosing former Hurricanes architect Jim Rutherford to replace Ray Shero, the Pittsburgh Penguins have opted for experience over a more youthful, longer-term solution. The 65-year-old Rutherford is a well-respected NHL executive, but he’ll face intense scrutiny from anyone who looks at the Pens’ major issues on the blueline, compares them with the at-best-mediocre defense corps Rutherford built when he was running the Canes for the past two decades, and comes away skeptical he’ll be able to adequately address them.
Any GM who has won a Stanley Cup as Rutherford did in Carolina in 2006 accumulates a cachet of the benefit of the doubt. But the fact is, after the Hurricanes won a championship, they’ve made the playoffs only once. And their defense has been a mess; if Joni Pitkanen is your best blueliner in the past eight years and you’ve brought back Joe Corvo for a second tour of duty, you’ve got a lot of room for improvement. If Rutherford is to have any success in Pittsburgh, he has to do a better job of building his back end. Read more
It’s time for the 12th annual off-season look at each team from a fantasy hockey standpoint. Every year I run through the teams alphabetically – but switch starting points each year. This year I’m doing something different. I’m reviewing the teams in reverse order of regular season finish. This week it’s time to tackle the Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Pending UFAs – Manny Malhotra, Radek Dvorak, Joni Pitkanen, Ron Hainsey, Mike Komisarek, Brett Bellemore, Justin Peters, Mike Murphy, Chris Terry
Pending RFAs - Aaron Palushaj, Zach Boychuk, Jiri Tlusty, Andrei Loktionov, Drayson Bowman, Nathan Gerbe
Not returning - Kirk Muller (Coach) Read more
By Andrew Heliotis
1. Wayne Simmonds
RW, Philadelphia Flyers
This past season Simmonds hit career highs in all three scoring categories and his 60 points were good enough for a top 50 scoring finish. Simmonds really excelled on the power play, however. Scroll down the special teams list of top goal scorers and it won’t take long to hit his name. Only Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and San Jose’s Joe Pavelski finished with more than Simmonds’ 15 power play goals. With 209 shots all season he scored at the same rate as Sidney Crosby and finished with a better shooting percentage than six of the top 10 point-getters of the season.
2. Alexander Steen
LW, St. Louis Blues
Early in 2005-06, two rookies for the Maple Leafs made their team’s scouts look like geniuses. Steen and Kyle Wellwood combined for 90 points and the Toronto faithful began salivating. But 20 games into 2008-09 Steen would forever be an afterthought in Hogtown when he was sent to the St. Louis Blues for Lee Stempniak. Oh, how things have changed. This season Steen, who built a reputation as a consistently underrated, solid two-way forward, led the Blues in goals (33) and points (62), recorded in just 68 games. Steen’s 0.49 goals per game was seventh in the NHL. Read more
As many professional sports teams are wont to do when they fire a coach, the Nashville Predators hired a replacement – former Flyers, Isles and Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette – who in many regards represents the polar opposite of his predecessor. In some cases, that’s not the ideal approach to take. But in bringing Laviolette aboard Tuesday to replace Barry Trotz, the only coach the franchise has ever known, the Preds are making the right choice.
If any team needs a philosophical reset, it’s Nashville. And while Laviolette won’t be able to work miracles with a squad that’s still years from gaining admittance into the upper echelon of the Western Conference, he’ll be a breath of fresh air for the Predators as they continue to build toward being a more offense-minded, well-rounded group. Laviolette is a proven winner (he’s got a lifetime regular-season coaching record of 389-282--63 since his NHL career began nearly 13 years ago), but the most encouraging part of his resume – other than the Stanley Cup he won with the Canes in 2006 – has to be his ability to boost the fortunes of a team almost immediately after his arrival. Read more
One of the first things that came out of Ron Francis’ mouth after he was named GM of the Carolina Hurricanes was, “I’m my own man.” You have to wonder how much of that was genuine after he almost, but not quite, cleaned house when it came to the Hurricanes coaching staff.
Fire Kirk Muller? No issue there. The guy had parts of three seasons to get the Hurricanes into the playoffs and he couldn’t do it. Including shootout and overtime defeats, his teams lost 27 more games than they won. He couldn’t coax better seasons out of Eric and Jordan Staal, Alex Semin and Cam Ward. Read more
Few people inside or outside the hockey industry were shocked to see TSN report the Canucks would fire head coach John Tortorella Thursday. The marriage between the mercurial menace and the team was a high-risk gamble to begin with, and the result couldn’t have been worse. His antics – whether it was playing the bull to Bob Hartley’s matador or pulling one of his patented “Look, everybody, scratching a key veteran hurts me more than it does him!” routines for a second straight season – went over like a thong party at The Vatican, and with the franchise looking at a long-term rebuild, a win-now-and-at-all-costs presence like his wasn’t going to be any better of a fit for the Canucks in 2014-15.
Similarly, nobody is surprised to see the speed with which NHL teams change bench bosses anymore. The coaching business no longer is a carousel – it’s one of those Polar Express rides that spins you silly with dizzying speed at a local fair. In the NHL’s salary-cap era, firing a coach is often the only option for teams that either can’t or won’t break up underachieving rosters. Read more