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Behind every failing coach is a befuddled GM

The Score’s “Houses of Hockey” blog featured an updated list of coaches on the hot seat, spotlighting Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff, New Jersey’s John MacLean and Anaheim’s Randy Carlyle.

I agree with the list, but I think it’s a shame that coaches are almost always the “fall guys” when the truth is that a team’s general manager is just as much to blame (if not more). With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the blunders by the Sabres, Devils and Ducks GMs.

Sabres GM Darcy Regier – Regier deserves some benefit of the doubt for dealing with working in small market Buffalo. That and the small town’s cold weather makes it harder for the team to land big ticket free agents.

Still, it looks like Regier made some tactical errors. For one thing, he depended on two players continuing to play over their heads. Ryan Miller is a genuine elite player, but counting on him to top (or maintain) his 2009-10 level of performance is asking a bit much. Regier also seemed to expect Tyler Myers to be at least as good as he was during his unexpected run to the Calder Trophy, but the super-tall defenseman is regressing a bit. Even if talk of a “sophomore slump” is a bit overblown, Regier put too much stock in Myers, allowing top defensemen Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman leave via free agency for cheaper options.

He left Ruff (pictured to the right) with a makeshift defense, an OK but by no means elite group of forwards and a shoddy, bargain-basement backup in Patrick Lalime. Both Ruff and Regier have been in Buffalo a long time, but it seems like the longest tenured coach in the NHL might be the scapegoat instead of Regier.

Devils GM Lou Lamoriello – People will naturally gravitate toward the Ilya Kovalchuk signing and – in some ways, rightfully so – even if it’s more of a symbolic mistake. It signifies a break from the team’s tradition of avoiding big free agent risks and never putting one player above the whole.

But when you look at it, the team’s been moving in the wrong direction for years. Trading for Jason Arnott made the team worse from a 5-on-5 perspective and I must admit that I was a little shocked by how excited many people were by the signing of a very average backup in Johan Hedberg. Let’s not even get started on the contract he handed to Brian Rolston.

Really, it comes down to their threadbare defense, though. Some moves have been related to bad luck, from Anton Volchenkov (pictured) being injured* to Scott Stevens retiring and Scott Niedermayer wanting to play alongside his brother in Anaheim. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that he let Paul Martin and Brian Rafalski walk; maybe those two received more money than they were worth, but how many blows can a blueline take before it falls apart?

Perhaps it’s not as much about MacLean being a bad coach as it is about how deft Jacques Lemaire was at camouflaging the team’s defensive blemishes. Either way, the Devils woes can be traced back to a common combination of bad luck and bad decisions. Lamoriello earned his protected place as one of the league’s most respected general managers, but perhaps he’s lost a step or three over the years.

* – Though I think it’s fair to say that signing a guy who blocks that many shots to a big contract is pretty risky, considering the fact that laying down in front of a puck is hockey’s answer to Russian Roulette.

Ducks GM Bob Murray – After beating the Pittsburgh Penguins last night, I think Carlyle (and Murray) are much safer than they were a week or two ago. Still, the Ducks could very well waddle their way back into trouble, so let’s take a quick look at their issues.

Much like Lamoriello, Murray (pictured) faced a combination of bad luck and bad decisions when it came to the team’s once-proud defense. Then again, Niedermayer has been mulling retirement for years, so it’s not as if he could have been blindsided by the decision. Trading Chris Pronger for prospects was seen as a bottom-line decision, but they didn’t save as much money as expected considering the fact that one-dimensional forward Joffrey Lupul doesn’t make much less cash. Since winning the Stanley Cup, the Ducks lost Pronger, Niedermayer, Francois Beauchemin and James Wisniewski among other defensemen.

Mysteriously enough, the team is allowing the most shots in the league and their talented offense and above average goalie are given too much of a burden for consistent success. Perhaps Carlyle deserves some of the blame, but Murray blamed the players, at least publicly … and Murray is the man who chose them.

***

So, that’s my take on those three situations. I’m not saying that coaches deserve none of the blame and general managers should be given all of it. Yet much like a middle manager getting fired even if it’s hardly his or her fault, coaches often get canned even if the real problem is one step higher up the food chain.

Shocking: Tortorella emphasizes ‘mental toughness’

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 15:  Team USA head coach John Tortorella answers questions during Media day at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 15, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Without any clues, if you had to pick one word to describe what John Tortorella might be looking for, what would it be?

There’s a strong chance many would pick “toughness” (or, OK, maybe a variation such as “grit”) and you’d be right.

After a World Cup of Hockey in which Team USA’s pursuit of toughness bordered, at times, on the comical, Tortorella kept the same themes going with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“I think that’s the fine line of winning and losing,” Tortorella told the Columbus Dispatch. “How do you handle yourself in those little situations where it’s, ‘Man, what do (I) give? Or, do (I) give in?’

“I’ve said it from day one, our mental toughness needs to be changed and this is part of the process.”

Specifically, Tortorella was talking about the Blue Jackets going through what the Columbus Dispatch describes as an especially “grueling” practice early on in training camp. But, honestly, it feels like it can be Torts’ request for just about anything hockey-related.

(It would be a refreshing bit of trolling if Tortorella decided to talk about finesse for an entire press conference.)

To some extent, talk of toughness can probably be chalked up to “coach-speak.”

Still, it’s tough not to wonder if the 2016-17 season might serve as a litmus test for Torts’ way of thinking and how it may influence the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Even when it’s not Torts making the decisions or at least dishing out the soundbytes, the Blue Jackets seem fixated on intangibles. Consider how GM Jarmo Kekalainen spoke about character while elaborating on the divisive decision to select Pierre-Luc Dubois over, say, Jesse Puljujärvi.

For all the blue collar talk, the Blue Jackets aren’t exactly a cheap team, with the 2016-17 version coming in at a cap hit of about $69 million.

In a multitude of ways, Columbus is paying a premium for intangibles and toughness, with Torts carrying that focus to an extreme. It should be fascinating to see how this all shakes out … even if Sergei Bobrovsky‘s play could ultimately be the real make-or-break factor for the Blue Jackets.

Predators give Laviolette a two-year extension

NASHVILLE, TN - MAY 09:  Head coach Peter Laviolette speaks to referee Kelly Sutherland #11 during the third period of Game Six of the Western Conference Second Round against the San Jose Sharks during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena on May 9, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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The Nashville Predators have been on a roll lately, and keeping Peter Laviolette around seems like it keeps things going in a positive direction.

The team announced a two-year contract extension for Laviolette during Saturday’s State of the Union event.

During his first two seasons behind the bench in Nashville, the Predators have managed two playoff berths, beating the Anaheim Ducks in the first round during this last postseason trip. The Predators have managed to stay competitive in the Central Division, which is no small task.

With P.K. Subban added to the mix, it makes great sense to retain Laviolette’s services. You never know how a situation will work until it plays out, yet on paper, his system seems like a seamless fit for the star defender.

Nashville’s shown some promise already under Laviolette’s watch, particularly in quietly putting up some promising possession stats. At this moment in time, the future looks even brighter.

It can’t hurt that the guy has a Stanley Cup on his resume, either.

Goalie mask tour: Seinfeld references, tributes and more

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 23:  Actor Patrick Warburton attends The Apartment VIP Party on June 23, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for Hulu)
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As difficult as it is to believe, it’s October already. You know what that means*; hockey season is rapidly approaching.

Along with stories about guys who might still be a little injured claiming they’re “100 percent” and teams carrying in optimism that will eventually look foolish, we also get fun stuff like new goalie masks.

We’d already seen Petr Mrazek pay tribute to Joe Louis Arena a month ago, but with the preseason in high gear, we’re seeing more masks.

While there will likely be some other fun entries before the games start to count in 2016-17, PHT is kindly saving your delicate fingers a few extra clicks by collecting a few choice masks in one post.

To start things off, Michal Neuvirth paid tribute to late Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider:

Michal Neuvirth knew what he wanted on his new Philadelphia Flyers mask. He wanted it transformed into an epic tribute to the one and only, Mr Flyers himself, Ed Snider🙏🏻. Michal and I we brainstormed together and a plan emerged how to create the painting. I just love to create Storyteller masks📕. I wanted this to be truly special❤️. Put a lot of thoughts into every detail. We wanted it to be subtle and clean design that live and breath Flyers in the core. It was an honor to create this piece. On the side is also the wonderful logo of Ed Snider created by fellow artist David E. Wilkinson. In the design you will also just as always find a painting of the castle from Michal's hometown. Thank you Michal, we have worked together for so many years and it always a joy to create your mask paintings😊🎨 Thank you! #neuvirth @philadelphiaflyers #nhl #DaveArt @nhl #DaveArtCreativity #aflyerforever

A photo posted by David Gunnarsson (@davidofdaveart) on

This Miami Herald video shares Roberto Luongo‘s very-cool concept: the old Panthers cat on one side, the new one on the other. Here’s a shot from George Richards:

(Anyone else get a little John Vanbiesbrouck nostalgia from that lid?)

Thankfully, no birds were harmed in the making of Louis Domingue‘s mask, which features Arizona sports figures from Randy Johnson to more obvious Coyotes choices:

Nitpick: Steve Nash’s hair could have been floppier. Just saying.

Finally, hockey and Seinfeld once again mix better than a black-and-white cookie in Scott Wedgewood’s mask, which features a Puddy reference:

If you want more goalie masks, DaveArt.com’s list should keep you entertained for some time.

* – Barring all-too-frequent lockouts.

Malkin is ‘not happy’ with the way he’s been playing lately

CALGARY, AB - NOVEMBER 7: Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on November 7, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Evgeni Malkin is back in Penguins training camp after a stint with Team Russia at the World Cup.

Malkin and his team reached the tournament’s semifinal before being knocked out by the eventual champions, Team Canada.

The Pens forward collected three points in four games, but he wasn’t satisfied by his overall performance.

“I need to start now,” Malkin said on Saturday, per the Tribune. “I’m not playing great. I’m not happy with my game at the World Cup. I will play better here and now.”

When he’s at his best, Malkin is fully capable of taking over games. That’s easier said than done in a best-on-best tournament, but those are the standards he’s set for himself.

So, what does he have to do to get back to that elite level?

“Play more with the puck. That’s my game always, if I have the puck and I spend more time with the puck. The last four, five games in the World Cup, I tried to use my partners, but my confidence when I play with the puck.”

The 30-year-old dealt with some injuries last year, but still managed to produce 58 points in 57 games during the regular season and 18 points in 23 games during Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup playoff run.