Bruce Boudreau, Dan Bylsma’s personalities may shine in HBO’s 24/7 series, which premieres tonight

If you ask people around the game of hockey, most will probably admit that – for all the game’s many strengths, including the character of its players – it’s not very often that we get to learn much about how much character each player and coach displays.

Most of the time, the game’s biggest stars either lean heavily on cliches (like Sidney Crosby) or struggle a bit considering the fact that English isn’t their first language (like Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin). Sure, every now and then a vibrant talker comes along like Patrick Kane or Jeremy Roenick, but most of the time an interview only illuminates a person’s expertise in saying exactly what the PR staff wants to hear.

Getting to know two of the league’s most talented young teams is one of the main reasons that people are so excited about HBO’s “24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic.” (The other being that it’s HBO, the network that seems like it has a Midas touch right now.)

While there will be some interesting chats with oddballs such as Maxime Talbot, the true stars could end up being coaches Bruce Boudreau and Dan Bylsma. Chris Botta of the New York Times’ Slap Shot blog provides an inside look at the series, which premieres tonight on HBO at 10 pm ET.

If this four-act play features enough drama, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin could see their fame extend beyond hockey nation. The teams both have plenty of funny and insightful “character actors,” from Pascal Dupuis and Eric Godard in Pittsburgh to Brooks Laich and D.J. King in Washington, who will undoubtedly emerge as leading players.

Although the eminently quotable Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau was picked by most pundits to become the breakout star of “24/7,” watch out for the man behind the home team bench. Despite leading the Penguins to the Stanley Cup in 2009, Dan Bylsma is far from a household name — even in Pittsburgh. But he is an original thinker, a charismatic figure and more than a little quirky. So far, he has enjoyed the HBO life.

“We’ve encouraged the guys to make the most of the experience,” Bylsma said of having every word and image captured for broadcast. “This is something we’ll look back on years from now and appreciate. We’re going to enjoy the moment.”

I worked with Bylsma for one season when he was an assistant coach with the Islanders in 2003-4. Although assistants are more comfortable to be themselves than the head coach, Bylsma is quite the free spirit. If, as advertised, HBO’s cameras will be everywhere around the Penguins for these four weeks, you’ll get to see what I mean.

It should be a lot of fun to watch.

Former Oilers tough guy Dave Semenko passes away from cancer

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Former Edmonton Oilers forward Dave Semenko has passed away after a short battle with cancer. Semenko was 59 years old.

The Oilers released a statement earlier this morning:

It is with great sadness we announce the passing of Oilers legend Dave Semenko after a short, but courageous battle with cancer. Dave will be remembered as a fierce competitor, loyal teammate, fan favorite and dear friend to so many. His legendary toughness on the ice is surpassed only by his kindness and caring for others, and his equally legendary wit and sense of humor.

Our hearts go out to Dave’s family and many friends.

Once an Oiler, Always an Oiler

Semenko played for the Oilers for parts of 10 seasons (two in the WHA, eight in the NHL). He also had short stints in Hartford and Toronto.

He finished his NHL career with 65 goals, 153 points and 1,175 penalty minutes in 575 games. Semenko also won two Stanley Cups with the Oilers in 1984 and 1985.

Teams are reportedly lining up for pending UFAs Bonino, Williams

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The free-agent class of 2017 isn’t loaded with quality. There is no star player available, but there are a few guys that will get a lot of attention in the coming days.

Two of those guys are forwards Justin Williams and Nick Bonino.

According to TSN hockey analyst Darren Dreger, both veterans have at least 10 teams chasing them before the market officially opens on July 1st.

It looks like they’ll have no shortage of suitors:

Per Jackets beat reporter Aaron Portzline, Columbus is one of the teams that has serious interest in Bonino.

The 29-year-old suffered a broken tibia during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but that doesn’t seem to be scaring anybody off.

Despite being limited to a third-line role in Pittsburgh, he still managed to put up 18 goals and 37 points in 80 contests.

Expect Bonino to come away with a significant raise whenever and wherever he signs. He had been making $1.9 million over the last three seasons with Vancouver and Pittsburgh.

As for Williams, he may not be searching for the highest dollar amount possible. When he was a free agent two summers ago, he reportedly turned down more money from Montreal to sign with Washington for $3.25 million per year.

Now, the veteran winger is looking at another shot at winning a Stanley Cup.

“First and foremost, at this point, you want your family to be comfortable,” Williams said, per the Washington Post. “That’s probably number one on the list, and then number two is a chance to win. I feel like I’ve got a lot of game left. I’ve got a lot of will to win left in me, and I’m still productive.”

The 35-year-old had 24 goals and 24 assists in 80 games with Washington in 2016-17. He added nine points in 13 postseason games.

PHT Morning Skate: 4 free agents that will need to take a hefty pay cut

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–30 years ago, the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Mats Sundin from the Quebec Nordiques, so The Hockey News lists the five best franchise players that have been acquired via trade. That Joe Nieuwendyk for Jarome Iginla swap worked out pretty well for both Dallas and Calgary. (The Hockey News)

–Free agency opens in two days, so The Score predicts which four players will be the biggest bargains when it’s all said and done. Buffalo goalie Anders Nilsson isn’t a household name, but he might provide some great value for whoever signs him. (The Score)

–The Carolina Hurricanes are loaded with quality prospects, but can any of their young junior players make the leap to the NHL next season? Julien Gauthier, Spencer Smallman and Callum Booth all had nice season with Saint John in the QMJHL, but their head coach thinks they can benefit from a stint in the NHL. (Charlotte Observer)

–Yesterday, we wrote about Connor McDavid‘s potential $13 million per year extension. Some people believe that teams can’t pay one player that much money, but Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman thinks that kind of deal could make sense for both Edmonton and their captain. (Sportsnet)

–TSN’s Gino Reda looks at four potential unrestricted free agents that will likely be forced to take a pay cut on their next contracts. Ryan Miller, Jonathan Bernier, Dennis Wideman and Patrick Sharp can all expect to take home less money in the coming years. (TSN.ca)

–Miller and Bernier will likely need to shave their salaries, but they still made NHL.com’s list of top free agent goalies. Brian Elliott and Steve Mason also find themselves on the list. (NHL.com)

Josh Ho-Sang left quite an impression on Islanders coaching staff

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Josh Ho-Sang received his first taste of the NHL this past season, appearing in 21 games for the New York Islanders.

A first-round pick of the Islanders in 2014, Ho-Sang scored four times with 10 points in that span, but at the age of 21 and packed with skill, he was able to leave quite an impression on New York’s coaching staff heading into the summer.

With the Islanders going through mini camp, coach Doug Weight was highly complimentary about the play of Ho-Sang following his recall from the minors and his NHL debut on March 2.

“Josh was great,” Weight told NHL.com. “We were getting feedback from [Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson] about his attitude down there, and he was playing hard, learning the system and played with some passion. I think he showed that when he came up.

“He easily could have had better numbers than he had. He created a lot of opportunities in games that he was snakebit or the puck wasn’t going in. Ten points in 21 games, but he could have done a lot better than that, and I think his game was good. He had some blips, and he responded well, and I think that’s a key for a young guy, and especially Josh.”

Read more: Josh Ho-Sang scores first career NHL goal

Islanders general manager Garth Snow has been busy, last week acquiring scoring right winger Jordan Eberle from the Edmonton Oilers. New York now has 13 forwards under contract for next season, and more than $42 million committed.

The Islanders have done a nice job in the last few years stockpiling skilled young forwards like Mathew Barzal, Michael Dal Colle and Kieffer Bellows in their system. Ho-Sang has one year of professional hockey under his belt, putting up 36 points in 50 games as a rookie with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers this past season.

But after a strong showing late in the NHL season, Ho-Sang has set his sights on cracking the Islanders roster on a full-time basis next season.

“There’s still a lot of moves they can make, and for me, I just want to come in as strong and as fast as possible and kind of not make it a decision for them . . . just ‘Josh is ready,’” he told Newsday.