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

Why the Penguins should trade Sidney Crosby for the No. 1 pick

Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Before any Pittsburgh fans go and get their jerseys in a jumble, just pause for a second, take a deep breath and think about it: if the Penguins fail to get back to the Stanley Cup final for the sixth straight season, what else is left for the franchise to do but blow up the core?

After an off-season of upheaval in which Pittsburgh brought in a new coach, a new GM and a new supporting cast for Sidney Crosby, there would be few options left but to raze the roster to the ground and begin anew. Sure, the Penguins could use Marc-Andre Fleury as a scapegoat and try using the same roster again next season with a different goalie, but that would only be putting off the inevitable. (Just ask the San Jose Sharks, who are years behind on the rebuilding schedule after sticking with their core despite perennial playoff failures, including their first-round faceplant last year.)

The best thing for the Penguins to do would be to try to trade Crosby for the next Crosby.

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Rumor Roundup: Goaltending questions for several teams as off-season nears

Antti Niemi (Francois Lacasse/Getty Images)

The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch lists the San Jose Sharks, Buffalo Sabres, Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames “and possibly” the St. Louis Blues as teams that could seek goaltending this summer.

Free agency is one reason these clubs could be shopping for depth between the pipes. San Jose’s Antti Niemi, Buffalo’s Anders Lindback, Edmonton’s Viktor Fasth and Calgary’s Karri Ramo are eligible to become unrestricted free agents in July. If they test the market they’ll have to be replaced. Read more

Mark your calendars – the date has been set for the NHL’s most anticipated draft lottery in years

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly announces the Buffalo Sabres as holders of the second pick in the 2014 entry draft. (Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

For months now, hockey fans have slowly built their anticipation for one of the most highly-consequential NHL draft lotteries since the process was introduced in 1995. And now it appears the league has settled on a date people can circle on their calendars.

According to a Sportsnet.ca report, the league has decided to hold this year’s draft lottery Apr. 18, as part of a Hockey Night In Canada playoff broadcast. That leaves a little more than three weeks for fans of sad-sack teams to firm up viewing party plans and binge on lottery simulation websites – and when you look at some of the teams with a decent chance of drafting nascent superstars Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel (and the stakes involved if they fail to win the lottery), you’ve got near-perfect conditions to deliver what could very well be hockey’s most drama-packed off-ice night in history.

For one thing, the increasingly-improving chance the Maple Leafs have at McDavid is going to push TV ratings to record levels. Like them or not, the Leafs have millions of fans, and after their brutal free-fall through the NHL standings this season those fans are going to try every superstitious trick in the book in the hope it allows fortune to smile on their beloved Buds. If that does happen, the city of Toronto is going to instantly explode in the biggest hockey-related celebration since a Stanley Cup was won here in 1967.

And for as dramatic as that result would be for the Leafs franchise – it would almost certainly tempt team management to fast-track their rebuild – think of the ripple effect it would have on the rest of the league, and on Toronto rivals in particular: Read more

Antti Niemi makes miraculous save with help from Tommy Wingels

Jared Clinton
Antti Niemi (Francois Lacasse/Getty Images)

Sometimes, no matter how great a save may be, a goaltender needs a little help from the rest of his teammates. That’s exactly what happened Monday night after Sharks netminder Antti Niemi robbed Senators winger Alex Chiasson.

Niemi, whose future in San Jose is uncertain, added a clip to his free agent highlight reel with a post-to-post save on Chiasson that showcased his flexibility. With Ottawa up 1-0 nearing the midway mark of the second period, Niemi robbed Chiasson with his right pad on what was a huge chance. However, after the stop, the puck flipped up and over Niemi, but failed to cross the line thanks to a last-second effort from Sharks winger Tommy Wingels: Read more

The 10 most surprising struggles of 2014-15

Joe Pavelski (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

As much as a story like the resurgent New York Islanders or the Andrew Hammond-led Ottawa Senators pleases us, there will always be teams or players that fail to meet expectations.

Be it simply a down year or a minor – or major, when it comes to a team – injury, no NHL season goes by without teams and players facing their fair share of difficulties. If they respond positively, they’re heralded for their efforts. But, if things go sideways in a hurry, we’re left wondering how exactly our predictions could have been so wrong.

And these are the predictions that were the farthest off — the teams and players still making us wonder how prognostications could have been so misguided. These are the 10 most surprising struggles of 2014-15:

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NCAA Frozen Four: Players to watch from every team in the tournament

Minnesota State goalie Stephon Williams (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

College hockey’s Frozen Four kicks off this week with 16 teams gunning for a spot in Boston, where the semifinal and final will be held in April. Regionals spread the squads across four cities and there is a lot of firepower at this year’s installment. But who are the players to watch for? Here’s a primer for every school, with an admitted bias towards NHL prospects.

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Backchecking: Russian star Sergei Makarov speaks (very) softly but carried a huge stick

Sergei Makarov (Allsport /Allsport)

By Denis Gibbons

Terry Crisp bent over backwards to show Sergei Makarov respect when the great Soviet winger came to play in the NHL for Calgary in 1989. One day the Flames coach was drawing up a play on the board, illustrating to Makarov how to position himself. Suddenly, Makarov grabbed the chalk, crossed everything out and started making his own diagrams.

“Tikhonov bad guy, good coach,” he said to Crisp (in reference to the late Soviet bench boss). “You? Good guy, bad coach.”

Crisp, who had led the Flames to a Stanley Cup the year before, said Makarov, who played in the Soviet Union on the KLM line with Vladimir Krutov and Igor Larionov, probably had more talent than anybody he had ever coached. Read more