Frozen Four preview

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When last we left you two weeks ago, we were wondering how East Region #4 seed RIT  managed to blow through to the semis like it was no big deal while the other three top seeds (Boston College, Wisconsin, and Miami) powered through their regions to reach the Frozen Four at Ford Field in Detroit.

If the guys at RIT thought that they saw tough competition from Denver Unive2010frozenfour.jpgrsity and New Hampshire in the East, they’d be liars for the most part, but they haven’t seen anything yet like what they’ll see against Wisconsin (5:00 pm ET). Coach Wayne Wilson’s team is the hands-down Cinderella of this tournament and they’ll being playing the same role that Butler did in the NCAA Basketball Final Four trying to take down all the big dogs. They’ve already knocked off one #1 seed in Denver and if they’re going to do the unthinkable and win the National Championship (in just their third year of tournament eligibility) they’ll have to beat two more to do it. 

That’s a bit of a tall order but if there’s anything the RIT Tigers have proven in this tournament is that they will not be cheated in any game and they will take advantage of all opportunities presented to them. The main man for RIT has been goaltender Jared DeMichiel who stopped 39 shots against Denver and 24 against UNH to help carry the Tigers into the semis.

As for Wisconsin, they powered through the West Region beating on game Vermont and St. Cloud State teams but make no mistake about it, head coach Mike Eaves brings the most talented team into the Frozen Four.  Hobey Baker finalist Blake Geoffrion leads the headlines but stars like Brendan Smith, Derek Stepan and Michael Davies are studs and big time scorers for the Badgers. Containing the Badgers offensively may be tricky for RIT but one area the Tigers may be able to get through is against goaltender Scott Gudmandson. Gudmandson comes in with a 2.32 goals against average with a .915 save percentage while playing in the very defensive-minded Wisconsin system. If you choose to read that as “the trap” you can give yourself a pat on the back. 

If Gudmandson is a little bit shaky, the reliance of Wisconsin’s stars to come up bigger than normal may be required. RIT has shown a great resilience in this tournament and nothing short of blowing them away will keep them down.  If you wanted to call this a “David v. Goliath” match up you wouldn’t be using a strong enough metaphor to describe it.

In the other semifinal, a couple of old tournament foes get to be reacquainted, this time on a much larger stage.  Miami University and Boston College (8:30 pm ET) are more than familiar with each other when it comes to the tournament and if the past is reflective of anything, things don’t bode well for Miami.  In 2006, 2007 and 2008 BC and Miami met in the tournament with each loss more painful than the one before it for Miami. A 5-0 defeat in in the first round in 2006, and back to back Regional Final losses (4-0 in 2007, 4-3 in OT in 2008). 

Of course, all this comes on the heels of Miami’s stunning defeat in last year’s National Championship game at the hands of Boston University. Not to get overdramatic here, but the seniors on this Miami team, including top scorer Jarod Palmer, have seen enough of Boston teams ending their seasons in gut-wrenching fashion you’d have to think that maybe, just maybe, this would be the time to step up and take one back in the name of the Redhawks… Right? Exorcising the BC demons would go a long way towards helping them out psychologically and perhaps keep head coach Enrico Blasi from checking into an asylum.

Boston College head coach Jerry York will have a lot to say about that as he’s one of college hockey’s legends and true masters on the bench and his Eagles have been playing tough, inspired hockey for the better part of a month and a half now.  Cam Atkinson and John Gibbons are red hot in this tournament and junior goaltender John Muse already has a National Championship under his belt as he backstopped Boston College’s 2008 title team.  BC is a confident team and plays a fast, intense game and they’ll need all of that against Miami.

If BC is going to have issues with Miami it’s going to be along their own blueline as BC had a hard time keeping Yale off the board in the Northeast Regional Final (a 9-7 BC win).  Miami can score with the best of them though as Palmer, Pat Cannone, Tommy Wingels, Andy Miele, and Carter Camper all have 14+ goals this season. Miami also rolls into the tournament with a two-headed monster in goal with Cody Reichard and Conor Knapp splitting time all season long beautifully for the Redhawks.

End of an era: Coyotes part ways with Tippett days after Doan departure

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The Arizona Coyotes will look different in 2017-18, and not just because longtime captain Shane Doan won’t be back. The team confirmed that they’re parting ways with head coach Dave Tippett late on Thursday.

Tippett spent eight seasons as head coach of the Coyotes, peaking with a run to the 2012 Western Conference Final. Early on, he distinguished himself as being able to coach a sound enough defense to help the team correct for a low-budget roster.

In recent years, he hasn’t been able to conjure that same magic. The Coyotes missed the playoffs in the last five seasons of Tippett’s tenure.

“On behalf of the entire Coyotes organization, I would like to sincerely thank Tip for all of his hard work and the many contributions he made to our organization,” Coyotes owner Andrew Barroway said. “Tip is a man of high character and we are very grateful for his leadership during his tenure as our head coach. Ultimately, we have some philosophical differences on how to build our team. Therefore, we mutually agreed that it is in everyone’s best interest to have a coaching change in order to move our franchise forward.”

Along with Doan and Tippett, Mike Smith is also out of town, and the ownership situation has come into focus. Former GM Don Maloney was fired last summer, so this franchise has been making big changes for some time, even ignoring the perennial arena drama.

The Coyotes announced that a new coaching search would kick into gear “immediately.” They might not have scored points with potential candidates considering the last week or so …

It’s a true changing of the guard out in the desert. This is also a time of stability heading into Friday, the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft.

More on the changes

Coyotes receive criticism for the way they handled Doan’s departure.

Mike Smith traded to Calgary, “no consolation prize” for Flames.

Oilers reportedly might spend Eberle savings on signing Russell

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Optimistic Edmonton Oilers fans who didn’t like the Jordan Eberle trade could at least rationalize the savings, as Ryan Strome comes at a $3.5 million salary-cap discount. Surely that money will be focused squarely on locking up the future – aka sorting things out with Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid – right?

After all, that was the spin from GM Peter Chiarelli: moving Eberle for Strome was all about “long-term thinking.”

Well, about that …

TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that the Oilers are nearing a deal with defenseman Kris Russell that could carry approximately a $4 million cap hit over a four-year term. The dollar amount can change, but that would put the shot-blocking defenseman’s cost at around $16 million overall. (There are rumblings that it might be $18M with a no-movement clause.)

Now, before we criticize (er, discuss) the move, do note that McKenzie reports that it isn’t a done deal. If it happens, it might not be announced until Friday, anyway.

If it does go through, the move inspires comparisons to last summer. To refresh your memory, the Oilers made a polarizing (but money-saving) move by sending Taylor Hall to the Devils for Adam Larsson. Shortly after that trade, the Oilers essentially used those savings to sign Milan Lucic.

Results were … mixed, and Lucic’s contract seemingly stands as a barrier to accrue other assets.

Could the same thing happen here? Russell has his proponents, yet his possession stats indicate that his stature has been inflated, at times, around the NHL. One thing that’s undeniable is Russell’s age: he’s 30.

Will a 30-year-old defenseman fall apart during a four-year deal? Not necessarily, although his shot-blocking tendencies inspire some concern; just look at how Dan Girardi aged in New York.

Either way, it’s difficult to defend giving Russell about $4 million a year when you’re trying to sign Leon Draisaitl (RFA this summer) and Connor McDavid (RFA next summer, but eligible for an extension as early as July).

Recent rumblings don’t inspire a ton of confidence, either. For one thing, Chiarelli made a strange semi-challenge regarding Draisaitl and offer sheets.

There are also rumors about McDavid’s potential contract demands.

Again, the parameters of a Russell deal could change; the Oilers might not even bring him back at all. TSN’s Darren Dreger also notes that McDavid wouldn’t necessarily receive that big payday he’d possibly ask for.

Still, Oilers fans have experienced the worst-case scenario far more often than not in recent years, and these developments could inspire some doom and gloom … even if all three players are kept in the fold.

Report: Vegas isn’t interested in trading defensemen Theodore, Schmidt

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The Vegas Golden Knights enjoyed another busy day on Thursday, moving the likes of David Schlemko and Trevor van Riemsdyk. That doesn’t mean that all their defensemen are necessarily for sale, even with some pressure to trade away a few more.

Now, it’s plausible that someone merely hasn’t found the right price to entice Golden Knights GM George McPhee, but TSN’s Pierre LeBrun indicates that he’s shooting down offers for especially enticing young defensemen.

Specifically, McPhee gave a hard “No” to at least three teams regarding Shea Theodore and also stonewalled offers for Nate Schmidt, according to LeBrun.

It’s probably not fair to say that McPhee hasn’t been willing to move younger players altogether. After all, Trevor van Riemsdyk is 25, much like Schmidt.

Even so, one could infer that McPhee would be quicker to trade away a veteran whose value may not ever be higher, such as Marc Methot or Alexei Emelin.

For what it’s worth, let’s break down the Golden Knights’ current defensemen in two camps (30-and-under, 30-and-older) along with their contract situations, with help from Cap Friendly.

Under 30

Luca Sbisa, 27, $3.6 million cap hit through 2017-18
Brayden McNabb, 26, $1.7M through 2017-18
Jon Merrill, 25, $1.138M through 2017-18
Colin Miller, 24, $1M through 2017-18
Theodore, 21, $863K through 2017-18
Griffin Reinhart, 23, RFA
Schmidt, 25, RFA

30 and older

Methot, $4.9M through 2018-19
Jason Garrison, $4.6M through 2017-18
Emelin, $4.1M through 2017-18
Clayton Stoner, 32, $3.25M through 2017-18
Deryk Engelland, 35, $1M through 2017-18

Considering the options at hand, it’s still feasible that someone might convince McPhee to ship Schmidt and/or Theodore over, anyway. The Toronto Maple Leafs have been connected to Schmidt and Colin Miller in rumors, though it’s unclear how likely such moves might be. Vegas isn’t tied to many players beyond this coming season, so they have plenty of flexibility to change their minds.

The Golden Knights may also view the trade deadline as a more fruitful time to move a veteran such as Methot.

Even so, it sure sounds like McPhee would at least prefer to build around his youngsters, and Theodore might be the clearest keeper of them all.

NHL may punish failed offside reviews with penalties next season

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It wasn’t a good look for the league, and it wasn’t captivating television, particularly for casual hockey fans intrigued by a fresh Stanley Cup Final matchup.

P.K. Subban seemed to score the first goal of the Penguins – Predators series, only for the 1-0 tally to be overturned after a lengthy offside review. Plenty of people in Nashville were never convinced that the league made the right call, and even if it was correct, Filip Forsberg would have been offside by a tiny margin. The fact that it came mere hours after Gary Bettman praised the process only exacerbated the issue.

(You can watch that agonizingly minute discussion in the video above. Predators fans might not want to re-live it.)

Colin Campbell presented an interesting question for next season on Thursday: would a team like Pittsburgh make such a marginal challenge if a failed review would result in a minor penalty?

It’s something the executive will bring to the competition committee and then the Board of Governors; Campbell believes such a tweak has a strong chance of being instituted in 2017-18.

Previously, a coach would lose his timeout if an offside goal review failed. If this change is implemented, a team would keep that timeout but suffer a minor penalty.

Campbell notes that this tweak would apply to offside challenges, not goalie interference reviews.

Ultimately, for Campbell, it comes down to the spirit of the offside rule. (TSN has video of his full comments.)

Amusingly, the Predators also suffered from an infamous offside goal that would have benefited from an obvious review, as this Matt Duchene goal from 2013 inspired the NHL to admit that a mistake was made.

The logic is pretty simple. If a goal was glaringly offside, then a team will view a challenge as worth the risk of possibly being penalized. If it’s a matter of inches or some other marginal question, a penalty would – ideally – deter a team from making a flimsier challenge. Specifically, Campbell pointed to offside reviews in which goals came long after the infraction had a significant impact on play.

Now, sure, you could make some wise cracks about the idea, especially considering how the NHL’s suffered from a painful roll-out of a change here and there. And perhaps some coaches will still believe that it’s worth the risk to flip that coin.

Still, the league’s heart is in the right place, and it could very well succeed in two goals: getting things right and not boring everyone to tears.

Related

NHL might crack down on slashes, too