Turns out, money will be an object in Babcock negotiations

Ken Campbell
Ken Holland and Mike Babcock (middle).  (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – The most intriguing off-ice story of this season will be Mike Babcock’s future with the Detroit Red Wings. Until Babcock re-signs with the Detroit, the questions will continue to follow this team.

And here’s one to ponder: If John Tortorella is worth $2 million a year sitting in his barcalounger, what is the man many consider to be the best coach in the NHL worth? Will Babcock be the first to break the bank and be paid like his NFL counterparts?

The first assumption is that money will not be an object, that the Red Wings will give Babcock all the money and all the term he wants and that if Babcock leaves, it will be for a better situation. There is no salary cap on what coaches can be paid, so that begs the question, why would a superstar coach such as Babcock not make $5 million a year? Joel Quenneville, who has won two Stanley Cups in the past four years, is believed to be the highest-paid coach in the NHL at about $2.5 million, which is ridiculously low because it’s less than the average player salary.

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Top 10 players/coaches on The Hot Seat

Rick Nash (Photo by Rebecca Taylor/NHLI via Getty Images)

The most daunting challenge when it comes to forming a list of people on The Hot Seat™ for 2014-15 is keeping the list to just 10. Heck, you could have 30 just by placing every coach in the league on there. Because as your trusty correspondent recently pointed out, coaches and GMs are getting whacked at a dizzying rate these days.

But some, obviously, are feeling the heat a little more than others. You wouldn’t think the Los Angeles Kings would be too concerned about Darryl Sutter if they don’t get off to a great start this season. And during football season, is anyone going to notice if Bill Peters can’t turn the moribund Carolina Hurricanes around?

With that in mind, we’ve kept our list to 10, evenly divided between coaches and players. These are people who will be under pressure to produce results or face either (a) the prospect of being fired, in the case of coaches; or (b) the prospect of feeling shame, in the case of players.

So, here we go:

10. Ken Hitchcock: The St. Louis Blues coach has done everything right with this team, with the exception of win a playoff series. Since he took over in 2011-12, the Blues have won just one playoff series and compiled an 8-13 record in the post-season. There were rumbles that Hitchcock was in jeopardy after the Blues lost in the first round to Chicago, but they were quelled by GM Doug Armstrong. But if Hitchcock can’t find a way to get his team over the Chicago/Los Angeles hump, there might be no choice but to make a change.

9. Ryan Johansen: Even though they appear to be playing hardball with him, the Columbus Blue Jackets will sign Johansen at some point. But after an acrimonious summer in which Johansen felt his team’s offer was a “slap in the face,” there will be pressure on Johansen to prove he was worth all the off-season angst, particularly if he misses training camp or some of the regular season. Johansen is at a critical point in his development as a player and he has every right to sit until he gets what he feels is a fair deal. But with that comes the pressure of living up to it.

8. Bruce Boudreau: The Anaheim Ducks coach is quickly becoming known as The Man Who Can’t Win Game 7. The Ducks won the Western Conference regular season title last season, but the fact they didn’t take their foot off the pedal in the regular season cost them in the playoffs. Boudreau will have to do the delicate dance between being good enough to compete in the west, while not burning his team out for the time when the games get really important.

7. Alex Ovechkin: How does a 50-goal scorer end up on the list of players on the hot seat? By piling up points on the power play, being an uninspired player 5-on-5 and not leading his team to the playoffs, that’s how. Ovechkin might be one of the least-feared 50-goal scorers in the history of the game, primarily because he does precious little other than feast when the Capitals are on the man advantage. He’ll also have to adjust to a new coach in Barry Trotz who will demand more defensive accountability. For real.

6. Todd McLellan: There were rumors the Sharks coach was on his way out of San Jose and to Toronto after last season, but GM Doug Wilson opted to keep him after his team blew a 3-0 lead in the first round to the Kings. Instead of firing the coach, which would have been the convenient thing to do, the Sharks instead emasculated Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. If the Sharks stumble out of the gate, McLellan might be an easy target.

5. P.K. Subban: The Montreal Canadiens defenseman became the first player in NHL history to reach a contract agreement after an arbitration hearing and before a decision was rendered. And what an agreement! Subban will undoubtedly face pressure to justify his $9 million-per-season cap hit, but he will be courting trouble if he internalizes it and tries to do so every time he touches the puck.

4. Paul MacLean: There were rumblings that MacLean lost his golden touch last season with his players and mismanaged his players last season. Not surprisingly, he was not able to coax the results out of his team that he got in 2013. Even though the Senators are closer to being a lottery winner than a playoff team, expectations are always high in Canadian markets. And if the Senators get off to a disastrous start, the only guy at the Canadian Tire Centre with a bushy moustache will be MacLean’s doppelganger in the first row.

3. David Clarkson: The Toronto Maple Leafs winger is a classic example of expectations gone awry because of a huge contract. Clarkson was never going to be able to live up to the deal he signed with the Maple Leafs, but even by those standards, his 2013-14 season was an unmitigated disaster. Clarkson’s best course of action would be to forget the contract and resist the temptation to be something he’s not.

2. Randy Carlyle: Clarkson’s coach with the Maple Leafs is undoubtedly on the shortest leash of any coach in the NHL right now. With analytics gaining more prominence in the game, the Leafs cannot afford to continue getting Corsi-ed to death on a regular basis. The Leafs have significantly improved their bottom six, but if they don’t tighten up defensively, Carlyle will likely become the first coach looking for work this season.

1. Rick Nash: The New York Rangers winger led the team in goals with 26 last season, but Nash simply can’t produce when his team needs him most. Including all his NHL playoff games and the two Olympics in which he has participated, Nash has seven goals in 54 games. There was a time when Nash seemed to be able to carry players on his back on his way to the opposing net. It seems now he can’t even get himself to the net, which is why he finds himself on the periphery so much.

Coaches and GMs under the gun like never before

Ken Campbell
Brian MacLellan (left) and Barry Trotz (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Around this time of year when we all get antsy for hockey to get going, one of the most popular topics of conversation centers around which coach will be the first to get fired. Randy Carlyle and Paul MacLean look to be the early frontrunners in that department.

And with the average lifespan of a coach running at about 2.4 years, why wouldn’t they be in peril? Carlyle is approaching that with the Toronto Maple Leafs and MacLean has already exceeded that in Ottawa, having been there for the past three seasons. After two seasons in which he could do no wrong, MacLean was blamed for everything from his handling of the Senators goaltenders to how clueless his team was in its own end last season. Read more

Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov has Russian intelligence on Barry Trotz

Ryan Kennedy
Washington's Evgeny Kuznetsov (Photo by Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images)

There was a very distinct Russian clique at the NHLPA Rookie Showcase in Toronto this weekend, with Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov, Boston’s Alexander Khoklachev and the Tampa Bay duo of Vlad Namestnikov and Andrei Vasilevskiy. They hung out during media availability and on the ice, teasing Vasilevskiy as he forged through a rare English interview and cracking up when Khoklachev bailed behind the net.

For Kuznetsov, this was clearly his element. The Capitals’ first pick in 2010 had been a highly anticipated prospect for years, choosing to develop his game with Traktor Chelyabinsk in the KHL instead of North America and for a while there, it seemed like he might never come over. But the powerful and gifted center did indeed make his debut last year, getting into 17 games with Washington once his KHL campaign was done and posting a decent nine points.

You would think a player who had already helped his hometown Chelyabinsk squad get to a Gagarin Cup final in Russia would be a little less awed by the NHL, but that wasn’t the case with Kuznetsov and his debut.

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Florida Panthers owner: “the current business model is not sustainable”

Rory Boylen
Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers fans deserve something, anything, better than what they’ve been given in the 20-plus years of the franchise’s existence. This is a team cursed with poor drafting, or poor ownership, or poor coaching, or poor trades, or any combination of those things. Very early in their existence they made the Stanley Cup final. And that was the peak for them.

The thing is, I don’t think this team is as bad as the one that finished 29th last season. The goaltending should be better, which is enough to see some improvement, but the youngsters should also ascend modestly. Some deadwood was shed, although some younger cap deadwood was added (coughDavidBollandcough), but overall, in a weak Eastern Conference where the Toronto Maple Leafs will get some votes as a post-season team, Florida should be in the running for one of the last playoff spots.

It’s enough to give further optimism to a fan base that has been brought up on optimism and false promises without any payoff. But, still, hovering over this franchise is the prospect of relocation.

Currently, the Panthers are seeking a greater share of Broward County’s “bed tax” which are levied on tourists to the area. The hockey team receives 16 percent of that tax right now and is seeking an increase to about one-third, or 33 percent. Those who oppose a greater share going towards the Panthers want the money used on the beaches, which is a greater tourist draw than the arena.

“We estimate that about 30,000 room nights are related to all events at the arena (concerts) annually. We have over 8 million room nights per year sold,” the county’s Nicki Grossman told the Miami Herald earlier this year.

The Panthers, who claim to lose $30 million a year, have a lease in the BB&T Center that runs through 2028 and a debt of about $250 million on the arena. But mayor Barbara Sharief and the county have hired a consultant who is looking into the feasibility of letting the Panthers franchise relocate and get out from under that lease.

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The results of that report are expected to be released in October.

On Saturday, Fox Sports published an interview with Panthers co-owner Doug Cifu who, among other things, was asked about where he saw this franchise in five-to-10 years. He dodged it with the grace of Tim Thomas defending a breakaway, saying his and Vinnie Viola’s desire was to keep the team in Florida, but he added…

“the current business model is not sustainable.”

The optimism about this young team is as thick and pungent as its ever been, what with Aleksander Barkov coming off a strong rookie showing, Jonathan Huberdeau bound for a bounceback season – plus veteran Roberto Luongo back between the pipes for a full season. But it seems the rumors and speculation that this franchise will inevitably move won’t be going away any time soon. Hopefully, for those die-hards who are in Florida, its not some other city enjoying this group in its prime.

So there you go, Panthers fans. Just another day in the summer of a sorry team that had to board up one of its end zones during a game. Keep the faith. Stay strong.

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Editor’s note: an earlier post on the Panthers focused on ownership meeting with one coaching candidate. We’ve been informed that quote was taken out of context and have changed the post.

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Will women ever get into the NHL coaching ranks?

Ryan Kennedy
Cassie-Campbell

When it comes to barrier smashing, the NBA has been a lot more results-oriented than hockey. Basketball already lists an openly gay player and a female union boss and now thanks to the San Antonio Spurs, a female assistant coach in Becky Hammon.

A former WNBA pro herself, Hammon earned her clipboard based on her basketball IQ, convincing Spurs coach Gregg Popovich that she deserved a shot with the defending champs. So who will be trailblazer in hockey? There’s no reason the NHL couldn’t have a female assistant coach right now (or a head coach for that matter).

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NHL coaching is now about relationships as much as it is Xs-and-Os

Adam Proteau
Evgeni Malkin (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

New Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Johnston traveled to Russia this weekend to talk with star center Evgeni Malkin about the team’s new direction in the wake of sweeping change to management and the playing roster. The trip is a must for Johnston, because, now more than ever before, relationships can mean the difference between coaches winning and losing at hockey’s highest levels.

The days of autocrat bench bosses barking orders at their charges are long-gone. Just ask the short-gone John Tortorella and his former employers in Vancouver who can’t do enough to distance themselves from that awful experiment. The Canucks replaced Tortorella with Willie Desjardins, an affable, considerate man who paid his dues in the hockey world, but who also has a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in social work. Desjardins may not succeed in his new gig, but his well-rounded background will serve as the template for NHL coaches in the years to come.

Seeing the continued evolution of the coaching profession brings to mind something former Leafs executive Dave Poulin told THN a few years back: he believed the label “coach” didn’t accurately describe what the men who served in the role did every day. He thought baseball had it right in calling their coaches “managers”, because so much of the average NHL coach’s job today is about managing: managing on-ice strategic adjustments – in-game and game-to-game – and, more importantly, managing the personalities of players as they attempt to form a cohesive unit. Read more