So…what happens to the Kings if they don’t make the playoffs after all?

Jonathan Quick (Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

In being defeated 4-1 by the Blackhawks Monday in Chicago, the Los Angeles Kings missed out on a golden opportunity to insert themselves back into the Western Conference’s final wild card slot. Had they won, L.A. would have pushed Winnipeg out of that slot (by virtue of their tiebreaker advantage over the Jets) and kept pace with the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames in the race for second and third place in the Pacific Division. Instead, they’re now: two points behind Winnipeg with no games in hand; three points behind Calgary (the Flames have played one more game, but will hold the tiebreaker over the Kings if it comes to that); and five points behind the Canucks with the same amount of games (six) remaining.

For weeks now – to be specific, since February, when they reeled off eight straight wins after an abysmal January – many have been talking as if the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings were going to be a low-seeded team potential playoff opponents needed to respect, if not fear. And who can blame them? The incredible manner in which L.A. won its second championship in the past three seasons, the team’s collective spine that showed astonishing bend and no break, represent sufficient evidence on which to base a healthy trepidation of squaring off against them at the most important time of the year.

But that charge back to the playoff race has obscured a question that was being asked of the Kings as they stumbled out to a 21-18-12 record, and that question should be asked again now: what happens to Los Angeles’ roster if they fail to make the post-season? Read more

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

KHL goal-scoring king Steve Moses leaves Jokerit. Is the NHL next?

Jared Clinton
Steve Moses (via KHL/YouTube)

After three seasons with Finland’s Helsinki Jokerit — and only months since he broke the KHL’s single-season goal-scoring record — winger Steve Moses has announced he is leaving the KHL club, and he’s likely to be heading back to North America.

In a video posted on the Jokerit website, Moses thanked the organization and its fans for all the support he’s received over the past three seasons. In the interview, Moses talked about what his future may hold and mentioned that he has been thinking about returning to North America. Read more

Thomas Vanek says Isles’ move to Brooklyn was factor in his departure; Isles fans should thank him

Adam Proteau
Thomas Vanek (Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)

In a new interview with NHL.com, Wild winger Thomas Vanek says the New York Islanders’ pending move to Brooklyn played a part in his decision to leave that franchise as an unrestricted free agent and sign with Minnesota.

“It was close in February [2014] and I thought about it long and hard,” Vanek said. “There was two factors; I made a choice that I really wanted to go to free agency. But after being here for a while I loved it here. The one thing I didn’t like was the move to Brooklyn. I think if the rink would have been built here, it should be here on the island. There was probably a good chance I still would be here.”

There are Islanders fans who no doubt read those words and began stretching their hate muscles in preparation for booing Vanek at Nassau Coliseum when the Wild come to visit. But given the way things have turned out, that’s the wrong approach. Isles fans should be thankful the team moved to Brooklyn, because if Vanek had stuck around and accepted the reported seven-year, $49-million contract offer GM Garth Snow put before him last season (before dealing the then-30-year-old to Montreal last March), the organization would have come to rue the decision. Read more

Meet Kevin Hayes, the best free agent of the summer of 2014

Ken Campbell
Kevin Hayes (Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)

By the time the 2016 draft ends, the New York Rangers will have gone four straight years without a first-round pick. But when you have Glen Sather’s recent track record when it comes to first-rounders, you could argue the Rangers are far better off with the established players they have in their lineup than uncertain prospects.

And really, when you can bring in an NHL-ready player such as Kevin Hayes into your lineup, who needs a first-round pick? Hayes likely won’t receive final-three consideration for the Calder Trophy – although with the sagging fortunes of Filip Forsberg and the rising ones of guys such as Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman and Hayes, perhaps it’s time for a Calder race reboot – but you could argue that he should win the award as the best free agent signing of the summer of 2014. Read more

Johnny Boychuk signing continues great run by Islanders GM Garth Snow

Ken Campbell
Boychuk

My goodness, has any general manager reinvented himself better than Garth Snow has? Once regarded as the backup goalie who was the ill-advised hire of a bizarre owner, Snow is putting himself into serious contention for the NHL’s GM of the year award.

Prior to this season, neither Johnny Boychuk nor Nick Leddy even played for the New York Islanders. Now, the two of them are clearly the lynchpins of the organization’s blueline corps and the two defensemen around whom the Islanders have staked much of their future. That much was apparent when Boychuk inked a seven-year deal with the Islanders worth $42 million. That signing came just two weeks after Leddy was signed to a seven-year extension worth $38.5 million.

Considering the fact Snow acquired both defensemen on the same day last fall, it’s only fitting that their extensions would be so similar and be signed at almost the same time. And Snow was able to get both players because he was a GM with a commodity in the form of cap space that neither of his trading partners had.

In a perfect world, Leddy would probably still be a member of the Chicago Blackhawks and Boychuk would be with the Boston Bruins. But Snow realized that GM Stan Bowman of the Blackhawks and Peter Chiarelli in Boston were getting squeezed by the salary cap and was able to get both of them for less than market value. He got Boychuk for second-round picks in 2015 and 2016 and a conditional third-rounder, which would have materialized only if Boychuk had been dealt this season, something that obviously will not happen now. Leddy was acquired from Chicago for Ville Pokka, Anders Nilsson and T.J. Brennan, three players who may never turn out to be NHL regulars.

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Someone stop Glen Sather before he transacts again: Busy Rangers GM signs Mats Zuccarello to four-year deal

Adam Proteau
Mats Zuccarello (Jared Silber/NHL)

Rangers GM Glen Sather was far and away the busiest GM on the day before the NHL trade deadline, making deals with Arizona and Winnipeg. But going into the day, the biggest question was the future of winger Mats Zuccarello, a pending restricted free agent who had been credibly rumored to be on the trade block due to his contractual uncertainty. And according to ESPN.com, Sather managed to get that situation cleared up before the clock struck midnight, signing Zuccarello to a four-year, $18-million deal to keep him in Manhattan for the long term.

With 12 goals and 35 points in 59 games this year, the 27-year-old Zuccarello isn’t enjoying the same success on offense has he did in the 2013-14 campaign (19 goals and 59 points in 77 games). Nevertheless, the speedy Norwegian has shown enough in more than five seasons with the team to have almost certainly received on the open market a significant raise from the $3.5 million he earned this year. Could he have received closer to $5 million a year instead of the $4.5 million he accepted? Read more

Islanders lock up Nick Leddy to seven-year, $38.5 million deal

Jared Clinton
Nick Leddy (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

The New York Islanders announced Tuesday afternoon they have signed Nick Leddy to a seven-year extension worth a reported $38.5 million that will pay the defenseman $5.5 million per season.

Leddy, 23, is in his first season with the Islanders after being acquired by the team in October in exchange for defenseman T.J. Brennan, blueline prospect Ville Pokka and restricted free-agent netminder Anders Nilsson. In 61 games with the Islanders, Leddy has tallied eight goals and 25 points. Read more