Ilya Kovalchuk press conference; Lamoriello makes the system work for him

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ilyapressconference.jpgToday, the New Jersey Devils unveiled the largest re-acquisition in team history, holding a press conference to announce the official re-signing of superstar forward Ilya Kovalchuk.Craig Custance of The Sporting News assembled some of the key quotes from Kovalchuk, Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello and new head coach John MacLean.

As for why Kovalchuk picked the Devils, his words ring out like a promo for movie sequel.

He said he was impressed with the professionalism of the organization and that he learned a lot about winning in his short time there. “There is unfinished business,” Kovalchuk said. “That was the biggest reason.”

When did Kovalchuk decide that New Jersey was it? A bit more recently than you’d think and the number “17” plays into things in a rather cryptic, Jim Carrey film sort of way.

“It was a couple days ago,” He said. “Actually on July 17 too. It’s kind of weird but it is. Actually four years ago, my dad passed away on July 17, that’s maybe a little bit special for me. That where we sit with my wife and the kids and decide we’re going to go to New Jersey.”

John MacLean was asked if the Devils would be a bit more offensive in their style and with the kind of talent the Devils have stockpiled at the moment, it’d be a shame to lock it all away playing defense-first hockey, right? MacLean was happy to toe the line.

“We certainly hope so. We have a lot of talent, definitely we have to let the talent play but in saying that we’re not going to put [Marty Brodeur] in a position where we’re going to have a shootout every night.”

The most fascinating quotes of the day belonged to Lou Lamoriello as Fire & Ice’s Tom Gulitti was able to find out. One thing is for certain, Lou Lamoriello is not one to pull punches in his assessments.

I asked Lamoriello what he would think if someone brought up Kovalchuk’s contract in the next round of CBA negotiations (in two years) and pointed to it as a flaw.

“I might agree,” he said. “But there is nothing that we have done wrong. This is within the rules. This is in the CBA. There are precedents that have been set. But I would agree we shouldn’t have these. But I’m also saying that because it’s legal and this is something that ownership felt comfortable doing for the right reasons.” 

As for the historic and seemingly iffy nature of the deal as far as it being for 17 years and a metric ton of money up front, Lou wasted no time telling folks where to look for the answers.

“You’d have to speak to ownership about that,” Lamoriello said. “The commitment that ownership has made here, this is a commitment and a decision they wanted to make for this type of a player and all I can do is say whether the player is a player that will fit into the team, can help the team and is not a risk as a player. As far as what the financial commitment is and that aspect of it, that was out of my hands.”

The money was out of Lou’s hand for once? Clearly, New Jersey’s investment in this came from the top and the Devils owners saw this as their opportunity to lock up a bonafide superstar for life and have him represent the organization from here on out. As for the possibility that others on the outside of the organization might find Lou to be a hypocrite for having such a mold-breaking deal happen on his watch, Lou understands.

Lamoriello said he “absolutely” rolled his eyes when the Islanders signed Rick DiPietro to a 15-year contract in 2006 and when Washington signed Alex Ovechkin to a 13-year contract in 2008. He also said he “absolutely” rolled his eyes about the Kovalchuk’s contract terms.

I said yesterday in analyzing this whole deal that it’s the most fascinating contract situation the NHL has ever seen, and reading Lamoriello’s words on this entire matter indicates that either Lou is painting a sane picture for the media and was happy to along with this (doubtful) or that the wishes of ownership overrode Lou’s plans on what to do about the situation (seemingly likely). One way or the other, however, Lamoriello will go down in history for this contract and Ilya Kovalchuk suddenly has a lot to live up to.

With four vacancies, the NHL coaching carousel is ‘spinning out of control’

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Bob Hartley watched bosses come and go three times as coach of the Calgary Flames. He will need one more general manager to believe in him to stay in the NHL.

Fired Tuesday by the Flames, Hartley is itching to get back at it and he’s not alone. The Anaheim Ducks’ last two coaches, Bruce Boudreau and Randy Carlyle, are also in the mix for current vacancies.

“Right now, the coaching carousel is spinning out of control,” Hartley said. “It’s the time of the year. So obviously there’s lots of jobs, there’s lots of names and there’s going to be lots of speculations.”

The Flames, Ducks, Minnesota Wild and Ottawa Senators all have openings. All four teams have different expectations for next season and beyond, and different requirements for their next head coach.

Anaheim is perhaps in the middle of its Stanley Cup window after winning four consecutive Pacific Division titles but failing to reach the final under Boudreau. GM Bob Murray dismissed Boudreau, citing “the way” the Ducks have been eliminated.

A team with star forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, a bright young blue line and goaltender John Gibson is an attractive destination. Winning in the playoffs is the expectation.

Paul MacLean, who coached the Senators to two playoff appearances during three-plus seasons in Ottawa, was on Boudreau’s staff this season, and former Edmonton Oilers coach Dallas Eakins took the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies to the Calder Cup final in 2012. Then there’s Carlyle, who won the Cup with the Ducks in 2007 and has been out of work since the Maple Leafs fired him in January 2015.

Minnesota has also made the playoffs four years in a row and is looking for more. GM Chuck Fletcher fired coach Mike Yeo and replaced him in February with interim John Torchetti, who is a candidate after a first-round exit.

Fletcher flew to California, reportedly to meet with Boudreau, and is looking for a strong hockey person behind the bench.

“I think it’s important that we find a coach that can hold the players accountable and put a system in place and get them to execute the system and hold them accountable to it,” Fletcher said.

In some places, just consistently making the playoffs is the standard.

The Flames missed the playoffs after a surprise postseason run a year ago, and problems that were there all along doomed Hartley. Calgary is the biggest wild card in the entire process because Boudreau knows how to get the most out of young talent, but GM Brad Treliving could think outside the box.

Calgary needs a coach who will improve its special teams. Hartley, who won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year last season, knows his power-play and penalty-killing units weren’t good enough, but he sees the potential of forwards Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, and knows his successor will have success.

“I really believe that this team is just a couple of players away from being a great hockey club despite the fact that they’re still a very young hockey team,” Hartley said Wednesday. “We have done lots of good things that maybe didn’t show in the standings but will show in the very near future.”

Like the Flames, the Senators made the playoffs against long odds in 2014-15 and fell backward in the standings this year, costing Dave Cameron his job. NHL head-coaching experience is a prerequisite, so Boudreau, Hartley, Yeo, Carlyle, Kevin Dineen, Marc Crawford and Guy Boucher are all legitimate candidates.

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said on Toronto’s AM-590 that the team was down to its last couple of interviews.

“It’s gone well,” Melnyk said. “There’s some great talent (available).”

Hartley, Boudreau and MacLean have all been named coach of the year, Carlyle and Crawford have each won the Cup, and Dineen helped the Chicago Blackhawks win it as an assistant.

Then there are hot names like Washington Capitals assistant Todd Reirden and Philadelphia Flyers minor-league coach Scott Gordon, as well as college coaches like Providence’s Nate Leaman of and Denver’s Jim Montgomery.

Of course, Hartley and his counterparts won’t go quietly.

“Coaching is my passion, coaching is in my blood, there’s no doubt that I want to coach,” Hartley said. “I’m only 55 years old, and I believe that I’m in great shape and I love this game, I love teaching, I love competing to win hockey games.”

Related: Sens will interview Boudreau on Friday

Ribeiro likely scratched, again, as Preds look to even series with Sharks

Nashville Predators center Mike Ribeiro (63) celebrates after scoring a goal in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
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If it ain’t broke…

We’ll spare you the rest, but the cliche does appear to be appropriate for the Predators — after getting their first series win against the Sharks with Mike Ribeiro healthy scratched two nights ago, the Preds look as though they’ll keep Ribeiro in the press box for tonight’s pivotal Game 4 at Bridgestone.

Rookie Pontus Aberg made both his NHL and Stanley Cup playoff debut in the Game 3 victory in place of Ribeiro, getting just under nine minutes of ice time.

Preds head coach Peter Laviolette has stressed that this Sharks series is much different from the opening round against the Ducks. Anaheim presented a “heavier” challenge, whereas San Jose’s speed has proven to be an issue.

Aberg is a young, strong skater and gives the Preds more speed — but the move wasn’t just about Aberg.

Ribeiro has been a disappointment this postseason, with no goals and just one assist through nine games, with a minus-3 rating. He’s taken some bad penalties and his Corsi has dropped form 58 percent during the regular season to just 47 in the playoffs.

Part of the disappointment stems from the fact that, last year, Ribeiro had a really effective playoff. He scored five points in six games in an opening-round loss to Chicago, while averaging a whopping 23:22 TOI per night (inflated due to the number of overtimes played, but still.)

Nothing’s official for tonight’s game, and Laviolette could still reverse course and opt to put Ribeiro back in.

But for now, the veteran looks as though he’ll be eating popcorn.

The Coyotes would be ‘shocked’ if there was no arena announcement by June 24

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Anthony LeBlanc doesn’t want to say the Coyotes are getting close to announcing some arena plans, because he’s already said that a few times and there’s been no announcement yet.

But according to LeBlanc, the Coyotes are, um, getting pretty close to announcing some arena plans.

“There’s been significant progress in the past couple of weeks,” the team’s co-owner/president said today after the club unveiled its new management structure.

“Maybe I should learn my lesson; I’ll give myself a longer time line. I’d be shocked if we get to the draft on June 24 without a significant announcement in regards to the new arena.”

Where might that new arena be built?

In what may have been a strong hint, LeBlanc said there had been “substantial discussions with the City of Phoenix over the past week to two weeks.”

And though he didn’t rule out striking a deal with another group, he did say that “we’ve been very impressed with the leadership” that Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton has shown on the matter.

Stanton called last month for the Coyotes and NBA’s Phoenix Suns to come together and make plans to share a new downtown arena.

“You can read into it what you want,” LeBlanc said of his praise for Stanton.

The Coyotes are going in a ‘new direction,’ and that’s an understatement

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - JULY 08:  (L-R) Head coach Dave Tippett and Assistant General Manager/Analytics John Chayka of the Arizona Coyotes watch the prospect development camp at the Ice Den on July 8, 2015 in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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At the very least, the Arizona Coyotes aren’t afraid to try new things.

Today, they officially named a 26-year-old, John Chayka, as their new general manager.

And that wasn’t all.

The Coyotes also unveiled a new, flatter management hierarchy that will see Chayka working alongside head coach Dave Tippett on player-personnel decisions. Tippett has added the title of Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations. He’s also agreed to a new, five-year contract.

In addition to those changes, one of the Coyotes’ co-owners, Gary Drummond, will now serve as Director of Hockey Operations.

It was reported yesterday that Chayka would replace Don Maloney as GM. The Coyotes fired Maloney in April, citing a desire to go in a “new direction.”

Chayka sure represents that.

“John is among the best and brightest minds in hockey,” Drummond said in a statement. “He is knowledgeable and driven and has an incredible passion for the game. He brings an innovative approach to assessing talent and looking at player development and combined with his strong analytics expertise, we feel that he’s the right choice for the direction we want to go with our franchise.”

Chayka told reporters today at a press conference that he’s open to using “any and all tools” to help turn the Coyotes into a sustainable winner, from traditional scouting methods to statistical analysis to psychological profiling.

And though some may be skeptical about his age, he insisted he won’t be going at it alone. 

“I’m excited to partner with Dave Tippett on this venture,” said Chayka. “I appreciate the experience and knowledge that he brings to the game.”

To aid Chayka and Tippett, the Coyotes intend to hire a “very seasoned” assistant general manager.

The way Chayka explains it, the idea is that all voices will be heard, and all opinions will be considered.

“At the end of the day, the buck stops with me in terms of player-personnel decisions,” he said. “But certainly I’m not someone who’s going to be authoritarian in my views. I’m going to be very open. … The key for me is the best idea wins.”

Suffice to say, it will be interesting to see how all this plays out. There’s always skepticism when a team tries something new, and this is definitely unique:

Chayka, however, believes the Coyotes’ future has never been brighter.

“The positives are endless with respect to the vision and direction of our ownership group, to the influx of young, talented players that are going to excite our fans for years to come, ” he said.

“We’ll have challenges along the way as we continue to grow, but we’ll rely on our increased communication, collaboration and innovation to overcome these issues and achieve our goals.”