The Summer of Coaches continues, as former Edmonton Oilers interim coach Todd Nelson was expected to take over the bench in Grand Rapids with the AHL’s Griffins. Detroit’s top farm team had been run by Jeff Blashill, who graduated up to the NHL squad when Mike Babcock left for Toronto recently.
In Nelson, the Griffins get a coach who began his post-playing days in Grand Rapids – he was an assistant for one season before taking the head coaching job with the now-defunct United League’s Muskegon Fury, winning back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2005.
The former journeyman defenseman, who had a cup of coffee with the Washington Capitals, has also been an NHL assistant with the Atlanta Thrashers and had a good run with the Oilers’ AHL squad in Oklahoma City, losing in the conference final two years in a row. Current Capitals coach Barry Trotz was a big influence on Nelson early on.
Nelson was part of Edmonton’s shaky transition after the mid-season firing of Dallas Eakins this season, taking over on an interim basis alongside GM Craig MacTavish. He was reportedly given an interview for the full-time position by new GM Peter Chiarelli, but the franchise went with the more experienced Todd McLellan in the end.
Landing in Grand Rapids is a nice situation for Nelson. The Griffins made it to the conference final this year before losing to Utica and many of the top players will be back. While leading scorer Teemu Pulkkinen may be a full-time NHLer, he will replaced by another sizzling prospect in center Dylan Larkin, who left the University of Michigan after an excellent freshman campaign and even won bronze at the World Championship with Team USA, holding his own against NHL competition.
Other notable names in Grand Rapids include Tyler Bertuzzi, Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul. Perhaps the most important player now under Nelson’s command however, is left winger Anthony Mantha.
The rookie pro, who was a gifted goal-scorer in junior, was called out by Detroit senior VP Jim Devellano for a lack of production, though Mantha was also coming off a broken leg that cost him valuable time at the beginning of the campaign.
The Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday named the three men who will serve as assistants to new head coach Mike Babcock next season – and one of them is a former Leafs player and now-former coach of the most recent Memorial Cup-winner.
D.J. Smith, who played 11 games for the Leafs in the late 1990s and 45 NHL games in his playing career, joins Babcock’s staff along with Jim Hiller and Andrew Brewer. Smith had been head coach of the Ontario League’s Oshawa Generals for the past three seasons, and during the 2014-15 season, he led the team to both the OHL championship and Memorial Cup title. The year prior, the 38-year-old Smith was named the OHL’s coach of the year. Read more
You could see it in the dejection splashed across the face of Steven Stamkos, and hear it in the considered whisper of Jon Cooper: the Tampa Bay Lightning were spent, physically and emotionally, and at a loss for appropriate words in the wake of losing the Stanley Cup final to the superior Blackhawks Monday. Undoubtedly, their fans and management were devastated as well; you would be too if you cheered on or built up a speedy and skilled roster of players who defied the odds and two of the league’s very best goalies en route to their fourth-round showdown against the Hawks. To get within eye distance of a lifelong dream and fall short is about as excruciating as it gets for professional athletes and those who support them.
But the mourning period for this edition of the team ought to be short, because the Lightning are anything but one-year wonders. The group GM Steve Yzerman has in place will have just as good a chance of returning to next year’s Cup final and at least a couple more after that. The Bolts are young, their salary cap situation is tenable – and if you look closely enough at this year’s squad, you’ll see they should be a little more lucky when next they’re playing for the best trophy in all of sport. And they will be back, and at least as dangerous next time around. Read more
It’s the debate that never really ends – which NHL position do you absolutely need a star at in order to win a Stanley Cup championship? – and it likely won’t end by the end of this column. But the impact of Chicago’s Duncan Keith and Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman on the 2015 Cup Final adds more evidence to what many see is an overwhelming pile of it that favors one position: you can win a Cup without a traditional No. 1 superstar center, and you can win one without a cream-of-the-cream-of-the-crop goalie, but you cannot hoist the most storied trophy in professional sport without the presence of a workhorse, perennial Norris-Trophy-candidate defenseman.
Keith has averaged more than 31 minutes through 22 games, and Hedman is leading his team with nearly 24 minutes of ice time on average. Both are arguably the respective Conn Smythe Trophy candidates as playoff MVP. They’re out there virtually every other shift, usually taking on the opposition’s top players. And considering how Steven Stamkos and Patrick Kane have had scoring issues in this series, Hedman and Keith are doing what they’re being asked to do in all aspects.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. Seven of the past eight Cup-winners employed a blueliner who could command control of the play in a manner few of his peers could. Two of the past three years, the L.A. Kings have sent the gazelle-like Drew Doughty over the boards more than 27 minutes per playoff game. In Chicago’s most recent two Cup wins, Duncan Keith has averaged nearly 28 minutes a game. When Boston won it all in 2011, Zdeno Chara was on the ice some 27.5 minutes a night. When the Red Wings won their last championship in 2008, Nicklas Lidstrom gave his team nearly 27 errorless minutes per game. The Pittsburgh Penguins were an anomaly in 2009 – Sergei Gonchar was their most-utilized defenseman at 23:02 per game – but when the Ducks won it in 2007, they had an incredible three defensemen averaging more than or a shade within 30 minutes each game (Scott Niedermayer and 29:50, Chris Pronger at 30:11, and Francois Beauchemin at 30:33). Take away just about any player from their aforementioned championship squad, and there’s no assurance that squad would have its name etched on the Cup. Read more
When it comes to knowing the impact of Russian players on the NHL, few coaches can speak to it better than Scotty Bowman. Bowman, during his days in Detroit, helped recreate the five-man unit that the Soviet style of play was built on.
In the documentary Red Army, which hit shelves Tuesday, Bowman talks about his experience utilizing his five Russian players – Slava Fetisov, Igor Larionov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Sergei Fedorov and Slava Kozlov – and what those players meant to the Red Wings at that time. The ‘Russian Five,’ as they came to be known, dominated opponents with their incredible play and helped lead the Red Wings to the 1997 Stanley Cup.
Bowman spoke with THN about the first time he saw the Soviets play, the incredible resiliency of the Fetisov and what modern players he sees some of the Russian style in: Read more
When it comes to hockey documentaries, Gabe Polsky’s Red Army sets a new gold standard.
The incredible 85-minute documentary covers the legendary teams from the Soviet Union and centers around Hall of Fame blueliner Slava Fetisov, one of the most unique characters whose story is astounding and perseverance and triumphs provide the perfect backdrop for the remarkable tale.
Red Army hit shelves on Tuesday and Polsky, who wrote, directed and produced the documentary, spoke with The Hockey News about the film’s creation, the Soviet style of play, his relationship with Fetisov and why hockey has never been as good as the 1987 Canada Cup. Read more
53-year-old Chris Chelios may be getting back on the players bench next season with the Detroit Red Wings.
According to TSN’s Aaron Ward, when the Detroit Red Wings finalize their entire coaching staff for the upcoming season, expect to see Chelios named an assistant coach alongside newly minted bench boss Jeff Blashill.
While Ward reported the Chelios announcement could be expected today during Blashill’s introductory press conference, he and Red Wings GM Ken Holland were mum on who would join the coaching staff. Blashill did, however, note that he would like to have his entire coaching staff in place by the end of the week. Read more
Hall of Fame legend Gordie Howe is “comfortable and happy,” after undergoing his second stem cell treatment at a clinic in Mexico Monday night, said his son, Murray.
“Our dad continues to participate in a clinical trial where stem cells are being used in the treatment of a stroke,” Murray Howe said in an email to thn.com. “We’d like to wait until the first phase of that clinical trial is complete before providing any more updates. At this time, our dad is comfortable and happy. That remains our goal. We want to thank everyone for their ongoing support for Mr. Hockey.”