Top five potential free agent NHL coaches this summer

Mike Babcock (Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

With this NHL off-season having the weakest class of unrestricted free agents in recent memory, the biggest names that change teams more than likely are going to be behind the bench. Some of the potential coaching free agents will depend on the regular-season and playoff games to come this spring and summer, but there’s no doubt new salary benchmarks will be set for a profession that hasn’t been flush with money (at least, as compared to NHL coaches’ counterparts in other sports). Here are the top five potential free agent coaches in the 2015 off-season:

5. Dan Bylsma. The former Penguins coach and Stanley Cup-winner has been waiting quietly on the sidelines for the opportune moment to restart his NHL coaching career, and although he has another year remaining on his contract with Pittsburgh, few think he’ll stay there for much longer. He’s not an authoritarian figure in the dressing room and showed during his time with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin he understands how to handle the league’s top young talent. Bylsma’s pedigree and young age – he’s still only 44 years old – will have him on the list of interviewees for a number of job openings. Read more

Claude Noel, WHL club part ways after less than a season

Jared Clinton
Claude Noel (Ben Nelms/Getty Images)

After less than a season with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, former Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel and the club have mutually agreed to go their separate ways.

The news of Noel and the Giants looking at different options comes less than a week after Vancouver’s season ended with a 5-2 loss to the Kelowna Rockets. Noel, who took over the Giants’ coaching duties on Nov. 30, 2014, posted a record of 17-23-2-2 and Vancouver finished in last place in the Western Conference. Read more

Sidney Crosby to spend part of summer running his own hockey school in Atlantic Canada hometown

Adam Proteau
Sidney Crosby  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Remember when Penguins star center Sidney Crosby was accused of selfishness for not appearing at the 2015 NHL All-Star Game? That was a bogus accusation at the time – anybody who’s had a glimpse at one of Crosby’s daily itineraries can tell you what he happily gives to the league and the game – but news that the Pens captain would spend a portion of his off-season this summer running his own hockey school in his hometown of Cole Harbour, N.S., is another indication of his devotion to the sport and his Atlantic Canadian heritage. Read more

With 3-on-3 OT likely on NHL’s horizon, change to points system should – but won’t – be next

Adam Proteau
Leafs goalie James Reimer and Sabres center Cody Hodgson (Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

The NHL’s group of GMs Tuesday endorsed a 3-on-3 element to follow its current five-minute overtime period with a goal of mitigating the number of games that go to shootouts. That’s a reasonable decision made in the name of a fairer outcome that rewards better teams. It’s just a shame the league doesn’t extend that philosophy to its points system, which still treats every game as if it has the same competitive integrity.

This isn’t to say the league has utilized its current system (which it’s used since implementing shootouts in 2005-06) for no good reason – the smoke and mirrors of keeping teams closer (at least, in theory) to a playoff berth gives more franchises a longer time frame in which to sell tickets – but when GMs are moving to lessen the impact of shootouts, they’re in effect indicting the system and the shootout itself. And in not moving to a 3-2-1 points system (three wins for a regulation time win, two points for an overtime or shootout win, and one point for an overtime or shootout loss) that would reward teams for winning in regulation or overtime, the league isn’t doing all it can to reduce the number of shootouts its fans see. Read more

Forward-thinking Ken Hitchcock is fourth coach to 700 wins. Who’s next?

Matt Larkin
Ken Hitchcock. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Ken Hitchcock won his 700th game as an NHL head coach Thursday night, and it was an easy milestone to root for. ‘Hitch’ is obviously one of the most successful bench bosses of his generation, but he’s also one of the quirkiest, most approachable and most adaptable.

Flash back to the NHL Awards in Las Vegas, June 20, 2012. Hitchcock had just been handed his first Jack Adams Award as coach of the year after taking over the St. Louis Blues in November 2011, going 43-15-11 and pulling his team within two points of the Presidents’ Trophy. He took the backstage podium and turned what could’ve been a softball question into an insightful answer.

“Is this Blues team the best you’ve coached since winning the Stanley Cup in 1999 with Dallas?” I asked.

His goalies at the time, Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak, were in the room and within earshot, showing off their shiny new Jennings Trophy. Of course ‘Hitch’ would play it diplomatically with “yes, easily my best team since Dallas,” right?

Wrong.

Read more

Maple Leafs (finally) make the right call by scratching Nazem Kadri, John Tavares sounds off

Ken Campbell
Nazem Kadri (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star/Getty Images)

Nazem Kadri stood at his stall at the Air Canada Centre Monday morning and said all the right things. Talked about how he slept in Sunday morning and was late for practice and took the blame and the consequences like a professional. The cynics in the crowd might say it’s the first time a player on the Toronto Maple Leafs has actually shown up in the last couple of months.

“I’ve apologized to the coaching staff…it was my fault and I screwed up and I’m willing to take whatever is given to me,” Kadri said after it was announced he would be a healthy scratch for tonight’s game against the New York Islanders. “It was uncharacteristic of me and it will never happen again.” Read more

Even at age 80, Don Cherry hasn’t soured on hockey – and fans still love him

Ryan Kennedy
Don Cherry (Adam d’Oliveira photography)

When super draft prospect Connor McDavid broke his hand in a fight in November, the number of hot takes on the matter scorched the media landscape. Everyone was expected to weigh in and NHL players were not immune.

Boston Bruins power forward Milan Lucic was one of them and, given his appetite for truculence, his response was no surprise.

“You definitely respect the fact he’s willing to step up for himself,” Lucic said. “On another point, not contradicting or going against what Don Cherry was saying, it’s good to see that a player of his caliber has that fire.” Read more

Why will Red Wings coach Mike Babcock soon be a $4-million man? Here’s why

Ken Campbell
Mike Babcock (Harry How/Getty Images)

At some point in 2015, Mike Babcock will become the highest paid coach in the NHL. His salary will start with a four, perhaps even a five. Whether it’s with Detroit or somewhere else, Babcock will set a new salary standard for coaches.

And if it’s true that a high tide raises all ships, other coaches around the league should be grateful. We asked a couple of them exactly why Babcock is worth at least $4 million a year and here’s what we were told. Read more