Rumor Roundup: What’s next for the Blackhawks?; Maple Leafs want Aaron Ekblad?

Ben Smith (Photo by David E. Klutho /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

Most teams eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs enter the off-season facing questions over their roster needs and how to address them. But for the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks, recently eliminated from the Western Conference Final, there’s unlikely to be significant changes.

That’s not to suggest the Blackhawks don’t have any roster issues. The Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus reports they were essentially a three-line team for much of the season, unable to adequately replace departed veterans Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik and Viktor Stalberg. They still lack a dependable second-line center, while the defense struggled at times in the post-season.

The Blackhawks also have limited cap space for 2014-15, carrying a projected $4.6 million. They must also ensure sufficient cap space going forward to re-sign superstar forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who will be eligible for unrestricted free agent status next summer. Read more

Blue Jackets’ impressive season culminates in new contract for coach Todd Richards

Adam Proteau
Todd Richards (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images) ***

The Columbus Blue Jackets impressed many during the 2013-14 season, including Jarmo Kekalainen, and if they wanted to stay in Ohio, they had to. Their GM was in his first full season with the organization and could easily have fired head coach Todd Richards, who was hired by predecessor Scott Howson. But patience paid off for both the team (which finished with a franchise-best 43-32-7 mark) and Richards, who received a two-year contract extension Tuesday that lasts through the 2016-17 campaign.

“Todd has done an outstanding job for the Columbus Blue Jackets and we’re pleased that he will continue to lead our team,” Kekalainen said in a statement. “We believe he is one of the top young coaches in the NHL because of his knowledge of the game, work ethic and ability to communicate well and bring out the best in our players.”

After working briefly as an interim coach of the team in the second half of the 2011-12 season, Richards was named head coach in May of 2012. The Blue Jackets finished ninth in the Western Conference in Richards’ first full year, but still needed to perform at least as well this season to avoid changes. Richards was able to get that improved performance and because of it, the Blue Jackets finished seventh after moving over to the Eastern Conference before the Pittsburgh Penguins eliminated them in six first-round playoff games.

In 171 games as head coach, Richards has a record of 85-70-16. In a post-playoffs interview with the Columbus Dispatch, Kekalainen raved about Richards’ work ethic and meticulous planning. Read more

Tale of the tape: Martin St-Louis vs. Marian Gaborik

St-Louis

They were both dealt just hours before the NHL’s trade deadline. One was a disgruntled veteran who wanted out because of his sour Olympic experience and chose his landing spot. The other was an injury-prone and unproductive winger whose skill set did not fit in with his blue-collar team.

And with Martin St-Louis of the New York Rangers and Marian Gaborik of the Los Angeles Kings emerging as major components of teams that are one win away from playing in the Stanley Cup final, they’re also emerging as the two best deals of the 2014 trade deadline.

But which one was better? Here’s the tale of the tape: Read more

THN at the Memorial Cup: Edmonton finally shuts down the Storm

Oil-Kings

LONDON, ON – They played more hockey than any other team at the Memorial Cup and still saved the best for last. Facing a dominant Guelph Storm team, the Edmonton Oil Kings turned the tables on the Ontario League champs with an impressive 6-3 victory in the final.

Not only did Edmonton’s defense shut down big guns such Jason Dickinson, Brock McGinn and Scott Kosmachuk, but they essentially did it using four blueliners. New York Islanders pick and team captain Griffin Reinhart led the way, but Colorado prospect Cody Corbett, 2014 draft prospect Dysin Mayo and Ashton Sautner also played a ton in the downing of Guelph.

“They’ve got a lot of speed and pretty much four lines that can score,” Mayo said. “So we had to rely on our defensive game and then attack when we got the opportunity.”

Read more

Rumor Roundup: What’s next for the Boston Bruins?

Montreal Canadiens v Boston Bruins - Game Seven

Following the Boston Bruins’ playoff elimination by the Montreal Canadiens, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told the Boston media, “I’m not gonna gut the team just because players didn’t play well.” The Boston Herald’s Steve Conroy reports Chiarelli admits he will tweak the roster this summer.

The Canadiens exploited the Bruins’ lack of speed, which Chiarelli acknowledges he will consider addressing this summer. Conroy also notes the Bruins’ GM admitted the NHL game is trending away from fighting, which could be bad news for free agent enforcer Shawn Thornton.

Read more

Why Rick Nash is regular season rich but post-season poor

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHL)

There’s a curious coincidence when it comes to cash and Rick Nash. When the money stops flowing, so does his production.

Come playoff time, when players play for glory instead of green (aside from the occasional, obscure post-season bonus), the New York Rangers’ most expensive regular season asset of $7.8 million scores at the pace of a minimum wage NHLer.

Read more

NHL Prospect Hot List: Haydn Fleury of Red Deer

Haydn-Fleury

Team USA won the world under-18s in Finland, which is really no surprise because the Americans are always the favorite. What was surprising however, is that they didn’t play Canada in the final: the Czechs took out the Canucks in the semis, earning a silver medal and putting the national program on a new positive track after some dark years. Here’s a look at some of the noteworthy players from that tournament and from around the world of prospects.

Haydn Fleury, D – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)

A veteran of Canada’s gold-medal summer team at the Ivan Hlinka tournament, Fleury reprised his anchor role on the blueline at the under-18s and was named top defenseman for his efforts, playing on a pairing with Kingston’s Roland McKeown.

“We were together at the Ivan Hlinka too, so we’re familiar, Fleury said. “You like to have that in a short tournament.”

Both defensemen are big puckmovers and will likely be two of the first blueliners taken in the draft, once Aaron Ekblad is off the board. Fleury was a stalwart for the Western League’s Rebels this season and the team lost a heartbreaking tiebreak game with Prince Albert, missing the playoffs as a result. Still, the defenseman stood out in his draft year.

“It went well personally, but our team struggled at times,” he said. “We were a bit inconsistent, especially on home ice. So we’d like to change that up next year and hopefully have a good team.”

Since defensemen take a bit longer to develop, Fleury will likely be back in Alberta for 2014-15, even if he goes in the top 10. But he’s got an NHL-caliber bench boss working with him in Brent Sutter, who could also coach the Saskatchewan native at the world juniors.

“He treats all of us like pros and that’s how it should be,” Fleury said. “We all want to get to the next level and if he treats us like that, we’re already ahead.”

Big, mobile and strong, Fleury is the most likely of the Rebels to hit that next level in an impactful way. Draft eligible in 2014.

Jakub Vrana, C – Linkoping (SHL)

Vrana was an absolute force at the under-18s, racking up eight goals and 10 points in seven games. Scouts thought he would play more Swedish League and less junior this year, but a special mid-season conditioning program took his skating up a notch and got his confidence back. As he showed in Finland, his sniping ability is back and it is deadly. Draft eligible in 2014.

Dylan Larkin, C – U.S. NTDP (USHL)

Anchoring the second line for Team USA at the under-18s, Larkin chipped in four points in six games, but his overall value goes beyond the scoreboard. Scouts love the University of Michigan commit for his speed, strength and work ethic – they feel he’ll be a no-doubt NHLer in the future and a leader. Draft eligible in 2014.

Willie Nylander, C – Modo (SHL)

Whomping the Finns 10-0 certainly didn’t hurt Nylander’s numbers, as Michael’s kid posted four in the rout and finished the under-18s with 16 points in seven games. That was tops in the tournament and did nothing to dispel the notion that Nylander is one of the most dynamic players in the draft and one who can make plays at high speeds. Draft eligible in 2014.

Jack Dougherty, D – U.S. NTDP (USHL)

A solid two-way defender for the gold medalists, the University of Wisconsin commit always seems to get his point shot through to the net, whether it’s on a wire or a simple wrister with eyes. Dougherty opened the scoring for the Americans in the Czech game and they never looked back. Draft eligible in 2014.

Antoine Bibeau, G – Val-d’Or Foreurs (QMJHL)

The Foreurs head into Game 7 with the equally potent Halifax Mooseheads and Bibeau will have to be sharp. Even though he gave up five goals in a 7-5 Game 6 win, the big netminder also stopped 38. Overall, he’s winning the goaltending duel with Montreal pick Zach Fucale. Drafted 172nd overall by Toronto in 2013.

Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW – Portland Winterhawks (WHL)

Once again, it’s Portland and Edmonton vying for the WHL crown and there will be a lot of weapons on display. The Winterhawks are led offensively by Bjorkstrand, the top post-season scorer in the ‘Dub’ with 15 goals and 28 points in 14 games. The smart and gutsy Dane may be skinny, but he gets the job done out there. Drafted 89th overall by Columbus in 2013.

Michael Amadio, C – North Bay Battalion (OHL)

Living up to the name, the Battalion moves as one under coach Stan Butler, so the individual accolades are tougher to come by. But Amadio is helping his draft stock immensely in North Bay’s incredible playoff run, running the second line and playing an effective two-way game with plenty of physicality. Draft eligible in 2014.

Mark Friedman, D – Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL)

The Hawks and Indiana Ice appear to be on a collision course for the United States League final and Friedman will have to be good for Waterloo. The Bowling Green commit provides offense from the blueline and has been a solid contributor with six assists in five games. Smart and slick-skating, he has also been great on the power play. Draft eligible in 2014.

Brett Pollock, C – Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)

On a talented team, Pollock is having a coming-out party with 17 points in 14 playoff games. His size is a definite plus, as the pivot is 6-foot-2 with room to fill out, plus he has a slick pair of mitts. And even with his height, Pollock knows how to find the quiet scoring areas in the offensive zone. Draft eligible in 2014.

 

 

Pittsburgh takes 4-0 lead…and barely holds on for win

Nick Foligno

Breathe, Penguins fans.

It sure looked like Evgeni Malkin was tuned in and would single-handedly breeze Pittsburgh past Columbus to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. After a long, back-and-forth excite-fest between the two teams, Malkin opened Game 6 with two first period goals and another in the second. It was 4-0 Penguins with less than half of the third period left and the series was winding down with a whimper.

But this year’s playoffs? Anything but predictable.

First, came Fedor Tyutin. Read more