Rumor Roundup: Sharks & Coyotes trade buzz

Patrick Marleau (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

As the San Jose Sharks prepare for the start of training camp next week, questions hang over the future of several players.

Though Sharks GM Doug Wilson backtracked somewhat from talk of making significant changes to his roster, CSN Bay Area’s Kevin Kurz still believes Wilson is open to moving Patrick Marleau for a deal agreeable to all sides.

Marleau and Joe Thornton are both starting three-year contracts containing full no-movement clauses. So far neither player has shown any indication they want out of San Jose, but the Sharks recently stripped Marleau of his alternate captaincy and Thornton of the captaincy, which generated speculation it was done to force the pair out of San Jose. Coach Todd McLellan, however, insisted it was done merely to start this season with a clean slate.

Kurz also believes Antti Niemi’s stint as the Sharks’ undisputed starting goaltender is over. Kurz expects the 31-year-old netminder will be challenged by backup Alex Stalock. With Niemi eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer, Kurz feels it’s time for the Sharks to “start phasing out” Niemi by shopping him once Stalock proves capable of handling the starter’s job.
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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.

Five NHL starters who could lose their jobs this season

Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks. (Photo by Rocky Widner/Getty Images)

You’ve got to be some kind of crazy to be a goalie. Not only do you have to regularly deal with frozen chunks of rubber flying towards you at rifling speeds, but you’re also the last line of defense and, therefore, the first one to blame when things go wrong.

The landscape has been changing at the position, too. In the Dead Puck Era, you needed a proven high-end goalie to compete and spending a lot of money on the position seemed a smart thing to do. But in the cap era, priorities have changed. The game is faster and becoming more based on possession, so you need to spend money on those types of players to keep up.

Paying big money to one goalie today is a dangerous game to play. You can count on one hand the number of consistently excellent goalies in the NHL who are worth large, long-term investments. The market is flooded with all sorts of good, cheaper options to fill the position, which has made the goalie trade market by far the weakest of any position. If you’re not afraid of the unknown, it may be a smarter move to let a goalie walk if he asks for too much money or term, in favor of a younger goalie in the system, or a cheaper one available via free agency or trade. Aside from the top four or five goalies in the NHL, you’re better off spending less money and term on the position.

Which brings us to this list of goalies who may lose their starting jobs this season. Some are up for contract renewal, while others have a cheaper player behind them waiting to break in. There are some Stanley Cup winners here, but unfortunately for them, goaltender is the most “what have you done for me lately” position. They may not be worth the pay day anymore.

Here are five goalies who could lose their No. 1 jobs this season.

1. Cam Ward
Ward actually did lose the starting job to Anton Khudobin last season, but the team still believes in his ability as a No. 1. Read more

Top 10 wacky NHL predictions

Sidney Crosby (Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)

Pre-season predictions are a mug’s game at the best of times, because the truth is often far stranger than any fiction we could dream up. Well, we’re going to put that to the test, because today’s predictions are all of the…um, far-fetched variety. So sit back, suspend your disbelief, and enjoy THN’s Top 10 Wacky Predictions for the NHL’s 2014-15 campaign.

10. After hearing one too many questions about his future in Detroit, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock snaps and vows to only say, “I am Groot” in all media interviews for the rest of his career. Babcock’s inimitable speaking style translates so well into the single line of dialogue spoken by the Guardians of the Galaxy character, he replaces Vin Diesel in the sequel to the blockbuster movie.

9. In their ongoing attempt to employ every key member of the 2004 Stanley Cup champion Lightning, Rangers acquire Vincent Lecavalier from Philly and Dave Andreychuk and Fredrik Modin from retirement. John Tortorella also hired as director of dressing room security.

8. Following years of speculation, NHL announces expansion to Long Island and Atlanta in 2016. “Don’t worry about it,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says in a news release welcoming expansion franchise owners Charles Wang and Atlanta Spirit, L.L.C. Jr. into the league. “Let’s just see what happens.” Read more

Fantasy Pool Look: Sharks, Blues off-season outlooks

Joe Thornton and PAtrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

It’s the 12th annual off-season review of each team from a fantasy-hockey standpoint. Every year I run through the teams alphabetically – but switch starting points each year. This year I’m doing something different and reviewing the teams in reverse order of regular season finish. Today, the Sharks and the Blues are on the docket.

San Jose Sharks
Gone – Martin Havlat, Brad Stuart, Dan Boyle

Incoming – Michael Haley, Tye McGinn, John Scott, Taylor Fedun

Ready for full time – Freddie Hamilton is ready to take on a third- or fourth-line checking role. He probably doesn’t have scoring-line upside in the NHL, but he may be able to carve out a career on the third line as a potential 40-point player. However, that won’t be this year and given the Sharks’ depth at center he may not be called up until mid-season.

Matt Tennyson was a big college free agent signing in 2012 and after two seasons in the minors he’s getting closer. His minus-25 rating with Worcester last season indicates that perhaps he could use at least another half season, but he projects as a second-pairing guy who could chip in on the second power play unit. Read more

Rumor Roundup: Vinny Lecavalier and Joe Thornton trade buzz

Vincent Lecavalier (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Earlier this summer there was speculation the Philadelphia Flyers were shopping center Vincent Lecavalier. If Lecavalier is troubled by the trade rumors, Flyers coach Craig Berube told NJ.com’s Randy Miller the veteran center should get over it and focus on the upcoming season.

Lecavalier struggled last season, with only 37 points in 69 games. Miller notes Flyers management allowed the center’s agent to speak with other clubs hoping to drum up trade interest. Rumored deals to Nashville and Florida reportedly fell through. There was also talk Lecavalier’s no-movement clause made finding trade partners difficult.

Berube believes Lecavalier simply needs to change his game a little bit to become more effective. The coach is hoping Lecavalier becomes more defensively responsible. Berube claims the 34-year-old Lecavalier trained hard this summer and will be competitive when training camp opens in September. Read more

The top 10 players to watch in the Champions League

Washington first-rounder Jakub Vrana has already started his season (Photo by Andreas Froberg/Linkoping HC/Champions Hockey League via Getty Images)

If you can’t wait for the NHL season to start, maybe turn your attention to Europe, where the Champions League is off and running. The super-sized tournament for club teams features squads from all over the continent and it’s more than just a place to find fun NHL names from the recent past (Chuck Kobasew! Mikael Samuelsson!). A lot of great young talent is on display, including some top NHL prospects and draft eligibles. Below you’ll find 10 players to watch for as the tournament goes on. Not included were skaters on rosters but yet to play in a game, including 2016 prospect Patrik Laine of Finland, 2015′s Michael Spacek of the Czech Republic and Pittsburgh first-rounder Kasperi Kapanen.

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The San Jose Sharks are panicking, but their Stanley Cup window is still wide open

The San Jose Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead to the Los Angeles Kings last season. (Photo by Rocky Widner/Getty Image)

The San Jose Sharks and their GM Doug Wilson panicked this summer. They were going to rebuild, they weren’t going to rebuild. They were going to trade Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, they weren’t going to trade Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. They signed John Scott. Management didn’t act as San Jose Sharks management usually acts – calm and measured. They acted like a team that just blew a 3-0 series lead to the eventual Stanley Cup champions.

Believe it or not, the window for the San Jose Sharks to win a Stanley Cup is still open. The team didn’t get melted down the way Wilson made it seem like it would when he talked about being a “tomorrow team” at the start of the summer. They still have their best player (Thornton) and their leading playoff scorer (Marleau). Had the team got a little better than the terrible goaltending they got at the end of that Kings series, or if Marc-Edouard Vlasic didn’t have to sit out due to injury, the Sharks may have won that series against Los Angeles. The way they were playing in Games 1-3, they may have won the Cup.

Unlike the potential movement of Thornton and Marleau this summer, the departures of Dan Boyle and Martin Havlat always seemed inevitable and obvious in the wake of that loss. Boyle was still an important player on the blueline who pulled in huge minutes, but he had lost a step and Vlasic had emerged as the No. 1 on the blueline. Havlat had lost two or three steps and though he still sees himself as a fleet-footed scorer, those days are gone. There was no room for him in this lineup anymore. Read more