Calder Cup Playoffs
Hamilton 6 Hershey 2
(Hamilton leads series 3-1)
Calder Cup Playoffs
Hamilton 6 Hershey 2
(Hamilton leads series 3-1)
The search is on for the next coach of the Islanders following the firing of Jack Capuano, and a familiar face could be in the mix after New York received permission to speak with Gerard Gallant.
Speaking to media Tuesday about the firing of coach Jack Capuano, Islanders GM Garth Snow said there was no clearcut timeline on when the organization would plan to bring in its next coach and replacement for current interim bench boss Doug Weight. That said, Snow reportedly isn’t wasting much time looking into his options.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported Tuesday evening, mere hours after Capuano’s firing, that the Islanders have been granted permission to speak with former Florida Panthers coach Gerard Gallant about the vacant position behind the bench. However, in an interesting addition to the report, TSN’s Bob McKenzie said the request was made “some time ago,” which could mean weeks before the Islanders made the move to can Capuano.
That Snow is, or possibly was, considering Gallant for the position should come as no surprise. Gallant’s work behind the Panthers bench was fantastic, especially his work with the group during the 2015-16 season which saw Florida post the most wins in franchise history and finish atop the Atlantic Division.
It would be interesting to see what Gallant could do in New York, though, given how he turned around a Panthers team that had mustered only 29 wins two years prior. In his first season behind the bench, the Cats improved by 25 points and posted nine additional wins. That was followed by another nine-win improvement and another 12 points in the standings. The Panthers struggled early this season, which led to Gallant’s firing, but some saw Florida’s change in direction as a move made as much because of philosophy as it was the team’s on-ice performance.
Beyond Gallant’s recent track record of turning around struggling clubs, Gallant has a history with the Islanders organization spanning two seasons. In 2007, Gallant came aboard as an assistant with New York and he remained with the team until 2009, working under coaches Ted Nolan and Scott Gordon. Snow was in his first few years as the club’s GM during Gallant’s years as an assistant with the Islanders, and the two certainly have a relationship from that time with the club.
Turning around the Islanders won’t simply be about finding the right coach, though. New York’s off-season moves, which included letting Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen walk while dishing out big money for Andrew Ladd, haven’t paid off in the least and the inability to build around captain John Tavares has been apparent. The Islanders aren’t likely to simply hire the first former NHL bench boss they can find, either, and the process of hiring a coach is almost certain to take longer than a few days or weeks.
This is a crucial time for the Islanders, who looked ready to take a step forward but are instead sitting in the Eastern Conference basement. Whether Gallant lands the job or the New York chooses to go another direction, it’s not a decision the team will be making overnight.
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Petr Mrazek has struggled mightily for the Red Wings this season, and that’s going to make Detroit GM Ken Holland’s decision about the future of his crease all the more difficult.
Before the season started, the Detroit Red Wings’ goaltending situation was a no-brainer. Veteran netminder Jimmy Howard had done his part, but with a sizeable cap hit and diminishing play, his time was up. Howard’s younger counterpart, Petr Mrazek, was the starter of both the present and the future, inked to a two-year, $8-million extension. It seemed like only a matter of time — be it by trade or by expansion draft — that Howard would find himself with a new home.
A lot can change over the course of a few months, however.
Though Howard has spent nearly a month on the sideline, he was, through the early part of the season, the lone bright spot for a Red Wings team more destined to finish with a shot at the first overall pick than at keeping their post-season streak alive. Across his 17 games, he posted a 1.96 goals-against average, .934 save percentage and, of goaltenders who have seen at least 500 minutes at 5-on-5, Howard ranks sixth with a .936 SP.
Meanwhile, Mrazek, the Red Wings’ expected goaltender of the future, has looked like anything but. Through 25 appearances, he has an unsightly .893 SP and 3.19 goals-against average, and in six of his 21 starts, he’s finished the game with a sub-.850 SP. Among the same grouping of netminders as Howard, Mrazek ranks 43rd out of 49 goaltenders with a .909 SP at 5-on-5. Those are far from starter calibre numbers.
The wildcard in all of this has been that with Howard out and Mrazek struggling, the Red Wings have turned to 25-year-old Jared Coreau, who has been their undisputed best option in goal as of late. An undrafted goaltender out of the NCAA’s Northern Michigan University, Coreau played his way into a job as an ECHL starter with the Toledo Walleye in 2013-14, turned that into an AHL starting gig by 2015-16 and has now gotten the call in seven of the past 11 games in Howard’s absence. Over that time, Coreau’s .915 SP and 2.48 GAA are leagues ahead of the .868 SP and 3.70 GAA Mrazek is sporting, and that’s not to mention the two shutouts Coreau has posted along the way.
All of this poses a major question for Detroit moving forward, too, and that’s how to approach their goaltending situation come this off-season because, no matter what, something has to give. The choice for GM Ken Holland won’t be an easy one, either, with pros and cons for each netminder he currently has in his stable.
When it comes to Howard, the clearcut veteran of the group, Holland will no doubt take a look at what the netminder has done for the team this season. Were it not for Howard, the minuscule glimmer of hope the Red Wings have at making something that even resembles a run up the standings would have been snuffed out by the time December rolled around. He’s got the experience in goal and has proven in several seasons that he can be an average-or-better starter in Detroit.
What works against Howard, though, is that his game has been littered with inconsistency over the past several years. His best seasons, with .920-plus SPs in 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2016-17, have bookended a three-year period in which he boasted an average SP of .909. And even when he has been at the top of his game, Howard has battled injury, missing 47 games in the past six seasons. Six of those absences have been knee or groin related, which has to be somewhat worrisome. None of this is to mention that Howard’s $5.292-million cap hit is the biggest reason many saw him as the odd-man out in the Detroit crease. It was too much money and too much term, with another two seasons remaining after 2016-17, for a goaltender who had been mediocre in the run up to this season.
As for Mrazek, the worry comes in understanding which goaltender the Red Wings are going to get. There have been two versions of Mrazek, and the current one isn't the one Holland or the Red Wings faithful had hoped they'd see this season. Rather, the hope was they'd be getting the Mrazek who stood on his head for a two-month period from December 2015 to February 2016, posting a 13-6-1 record, .942 SP and three shutouts in 21 games. Instead, he's been more like the Mrazek who went 6-6-1 with a .886 SP in his final 16 appearances during the 2015-16 regular season and lost the starting job to start the post-season. Mrazek has dealt with a continuation of his struggles from the end of the past season, though it could simply be a matter of the 24-year-old netminder trying to regain his confidence after having it shaken.
Regardless of the play in goal, Mrazek holds a decided edge when it comes to cap management. He’s nearly $1.3-million cheaper than Howard and comes off the books following the 2017-18 campaign. For a Detroit team that’s projected to have a mere $4.653-million in cap space at season’s end, any extra spending money under the cap could be huge. Right now, though, Mrazek is effectively a third-string netminder behind Coreau and Howard, whenever he's able to return. Is that enough to have Holland and the Red Wings' brass change their mind when it comes to Mrazek as the future in goal?
As far as the lock to stick around in Detroit, the only option in that regard is really Coreau. His $612,500 cap hit makes him a no-brainer for the backup role, especially if he can continue to push the starting netminder, be it Mrazek or Howard, with his own exceptional play. It’s not as if there’s a bluechip prospect on the way that will push Coreau out of the way, either. None of the 10-best prospects in the Detroit system are netminders, and unless there’s a dynamite signing to shore up the goaltending, Coreau looks like the best thing the Red Wings have going in terms of strong, second-string goaltending down the road. Even if he’s a flash in the pan who fizzles out at some point soon, Detroit would likely only be looking for him to be a serviceable backup next season.
The solution, of course, likely still lies in playing to the cap and hoping Mrazek turns it around. Despite what Howard has done this season, the Red Wings aren’t going to do all that much with top-tier goaltending, even if that’s what Howard winds up providing wherever he goes next. If Mrazek has difficulty again in the starting role next season or there are down years due to poor goaltending, the Red Wings can look at other options for the future. For the time being, though, Detroit’s a team in transition and it serves the organization better to put their faith in the pair of Mrazek and Coreau, hoping one or both push for the starting job and lay claim to the crease when the time comes for the Red Wings to contend again.
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Brian Elliott hasn't worked out in Calgary. Jake Allen hasn't worked out in St. Louis. Would it benefit everyone for Elliott to rejoin his old team?
That elusive grass on the other side could not look greener. The Calgary Flames and St. Louis Blues can only stare longingly.
The Flames really thought they needed Brian Elliott last summer, and for good reason. They were fresh off finishing dead last in the NHL in save percentage, and all their NHL-level netminders were unrestricted free agents anyway. It made too much sense to make a trade. General manager Brad Treliving also knew the price for Elliott, never a bellcow starter but an elite platoon goaltender, would pale in comparison to what the Tampa Bay Lightning wanted for Ben Bishop or the Pittsburgh Penguins wanted for Marc-Andre Fleury.
Elliott for a 2016 second-round pick and a conditional 2018 third-round pick? Sure. Huge upgrade for the Flames in net. Advanced statistics such as 5-on-5 save percentage suggested Elliott was as effective as any goalie in hockey last season. Why not give him a chance to start at 31?
But if Treliving could get a do-over today, he’d probably take back those picks. Not all of what’s transpired in 2016-17 has been Elliott’s fault. Chad Johnson, signed supposedly to back up Elliott, has simply played too well not to be Calgary’s starter going forward. And it didn’t help that Elliott struggled so mightily out of the gate, with an .882 save percentage in his first 12 appearances. The Flames really thought they needed Elliott, but now it really seems they don’t.
About 1,700 miles away, the Blues just might be pining for their old stopper Elliott. And they, too, likely never felt they’d be in this position. Elliott served them faithfully for five seasons but, as great as he often was, he was never quite good enough or clutch enough to separate himself from his high-profile partners, from Jaroslav Halak to Ryan Miller to Jake Allen. Elliott had just one season left on his contract, and the Blues were ready to give Allen his shot. He was always their long-term project, and it was time for St. Louis to let him flourish as a real No. 1. Given coach Ken Hitchcock struggled with flip-flopping between goalies during countless early playoff exits since taking over the bench in 2011-12, the idea of relying on one true starter seemed ideal for a Stanley Cup contender like St. Louis. General manager Doug Armstrong inked a capable backup in Carter Hutton for a bit of insurance.
Who knew Hutton would end up important enough to recently appear in six straight games, twice in relief and four times as a starter? There’s no point trying to spin it: Allen has been a huge disappointment. His .900 SP is easily the worst of his four-year career, and he’s posted an .887 mark across 15 appearances since the start of December. He’s been bad enough that Hitchcock publicly challenged him last week to take responsibility and be better.
Is the problem Allen’s workload? His career high in starts is 44, making up 53.6 percent of St. Louis’ games. He’s started 33 of 45 this season, which is 73.3 percent. Maybe Allen’s body hasn’t yet adjusted to the extra minutes.
Hutton’s past week was a microcosm of his career. He entered Tuesday’s start having allowed just seven goals in his past five outings with a .939 SP – then promptly got lit up for five goals on 23 Ottawa Senator shots. Hutton is who we thought he was: a solid backup goaltender who can perform well in short spurts but lacks the talent to succeed as a starter or even a platoon goalie. Even if Allen isn't the answer, Hutton isn't either.
That’s where, believe it or not, Elliott might come in handy. What if Armstrong explored reacquiring Elliott? It might work for several reasons.
1. Elliott is a pending free agent. That benefits both teams. If Calgary knows Johnson is its starter now and plans to re-sign him, might it want to get something for pending UFA Elliott rather than lose him for nothing in free agency? If the Flames needed a backup in return and didn’t feel prospect Jon Gillies was ready for promotion from the AHL, perhaps the Blues could include Hutton along with a low- to mid-round draft pick. Seems fair enough.
2. Elliott has turned around his game just enough. Elliott isn’t outplaying Johnson, so it doesn’t appear Elliott will wrest the job back anytime soon, but he does have a .913 SP over his past nine appearances. It’s a start.
3. It would benefit Elliott twofold. Not that he would have an official say, as his contract has zero movement restrictions. But rejoining the Blues, not necessarily as a starter but at least as a platoon partner to spell Allen, would help Elliott’s wallet immensely. He’s done nothing but lose money since 2016-17 started. If the season ended today, Elliott would be viewed on the open market as a goaltender who had a shot to show he’s a No. 1 and flopped. He won’t earn anything close to starter’s money or term as a UFA. But a redemptive performance with the Blues might at least nudge his value back to what it was a year ago. Secondly, Elliott hasn’t lived in Calgary long. He called St. Louis his hockey-season home for five years. Transitioning back to Missouri less than a year after leaving wouldn’t be the most difficult of moves in theory.
The Blues have the worst save percentage in the NHL at .892, which is a shame given the team’s overall depth and talent. They were first in SP last year at .919. The Blues should be thinking about playing meaningful hockey into June but are instead barely clinging to a Western Conference playoff spot. They have plenty of promising young regulars, from Colton Parayko on defense to Robby Fabbri up front, but their contention window is now. Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo are in their primes. Veterans Alexander Steen, Paul Stastny and Jay Bouwmeester are exiting theirs. Hitchcock will step down as coach after this season. The Blues can’t afford squandering 2016-17, especially when the Western Conference looks like anyone’s to win. Allen’s ego may have to suffer for the sake of one good push for glory.
Elliott, then, would be a nice affordable stopgap, as opposed to Bishop or Fleury, who would command roster players and/or good prospects in a trade. Reversing last year’s swap with the Flames might be the best thing for all parties involved.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to thn.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin
Gabriel Landeskog (right) and Matt Duchene
The lowly Avalanche seem poised to make some big moves, but potential deals for forward Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene keep stalling.
For several weeks, Colorado Avalanche forwards Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene featured prominently in NHL trade speculation. With the Avs at the bottom of the Western Conference standings and considered out of playoff contention, GM Joe Sakic is reportedly listening to offers for his core players, with Landeskog and Duchene the most notable trade candidates.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports Sakic's set a high asking price. On Jan. 3, Friedman said the Avs GM sought “legit young defensemen or defensive prospects.” Recent rumors linking the 24-year-old Landeskog to the Boston Bruins claimed Sakic sought promising defenseman Brandon Carlo in return, an offer the Bruins apparently rejected.
TSN's Darren Dreger reports Sakic's asking price for Landeskog is higher than originally thought. He said the Avs seek a “top-level defenseman, a first-round draft pick plus.” He adds that's generated a negative reaction from his peers.
Every GM sets an initially high price when shopping a core player, but Sakic's dreaming if he thinks he'll net that type of return for Landeskog. While he has four 50-plus points seasons on his resume, including a career-high 65-points in 2013-14, his production doesn't merit such a lofty return. His sub-par production this season (13 points in 30 games) won't bolster his trade value.
There's been no word on Sakic's asking price for Duchene, but one can assume it's similar to Landeskog's. The 25-year-old center has better stats this season (24 points in 36 games) than the Avs captain and exceeded 50 points five times in his career.
First-line center Nathan MacKinnon is the only Avalanche player who might fetch that big return. Given his age (21) and skills, he could reach his full potential on a deeper roster. Still, a rival GM must give considerable thought toward deciding if MacKinnon is worth a top defenseman, a first round pick and more.
Dreger's colleague Pierre LeBrun thinks Sakic could make a move involving Landeskog or Duchene in the off-season. Interested parties should have more salary-cap space to work, plus there's usually more willingness at the NHL draft weekend in June to swing deals involving established stars.
DROUIN COULD MAKE FOR GOOD TRADE CHIP FOR LIGHTNING
A year ago, Tampa Bay Lightning left winger Jonathan Drouin generated headlines with his demotion to the club's farm team, followed by a holdout and refusing to play and requesting a trade. Eventually, Drouin withdrew his request, returned to action and became a productive part of the Lightning roster.
But with the Bolts sitting outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture and in danger of sliding further out of contention, perhaps Drouin could be used as a trade chip. In his trade-season preview of the Eastern Conference, ESPN.com's Craig Custance suggests the 21-year-old could be the type of player that fetches some much-needed help for the Bolts' blueline.
Custance observes Drouin is a restricted free agent this summer, along with fellow forwards Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. All will be in line for significant raises, leading Custance to suggest that “at some point the cap space is going to disappear.”
The Lightning's biggest need is another top-four defenseman. If there's one to be had via trade of the same pedigree as Drouin, Custances feels it would make sense to make that move.
Adding a quality rearguard won't be easy. GM Steve Yzerman repeatedly said he's making calls but there's not much happening in the trade market right now. So far, there's no indication out of Tampa Bay suggesting Drouin is available.
Yzerman could be forced to wait until the market improves, but that could be weeks away. By that point, it could prove too late to save the Lightning's season.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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