Steve Yzerman, Wayne Fleming.

Mike Gillis, David Poile and Steve Yzerman receive GM of the Year nominations; Who should win?

3 Comments

(For a breakdown and poll of the three Calder Trophy finalists for rookie of the year, click here.)

The NHL doesn’t add new trophies to its annual awards very often – how about a defensive defenseman award, eh? – but the league was wise to add a trophy for the league’s best general manager starting last year. Sure, some might say that the Stanley Cup might be the truest sign of a great executive, but the league’s champions aren’t always the best example of savvy personnel decision making.

Phoenix Coyotes GM Don Maloney won the inaugural award for his work before and during the 2009-10 season, but this 11-12 candidates are: Mike Gillis of the Vancouver Canucks, David Poile of the Nashville Predators and Steve Yzerman of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Let’s take a quick look at each of their contributions. (The GMs are listed in last name alphabetical order.)

Vancouver’s Mike Gillis

Sure, his predecessors acquired the biggest fish in guys like the Sedin twins, Roberto Luongo and Ryan Kesler. That being said, the Canucks weren’t the deepest team in the NHL before he arrived. The former agent built a team that withstood a ridiculous amount of injuries to its defensive corps and ran away with the Presidents’ Trophy.

Vancouver won three Northwest Division titles during his three years as the GM, but his moves for this season have been particularly successful. Keith Ballard (pre-season trade) hasn’t been amazing, Dan Hamhuis suffered a career-threatening concussion and the team let Michael Grabner go for nothing, but that didn’t matter. He made a great signing by bringing (currently sidelined) faceoff wiz Manny Malhotra into the fold, while his two subtle trade deadline moves (bringing in Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapiere) are working out nicely too.

Nashville’s David Poile

Much like a probable Jack Adams award nomination for Predators coach Barry Trotz, Poile’s nod almost seems like a career achievement award. Both the GM and the bench boss have been impressively stable in building a hard-working, good bang-for-the-buck team in Nashville. Dealing with a marginal budget forces teams to build through the draft, which has been fine with the Poile as he added pieces like Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne that way.

Like Gillis, some moves didn’t work out. Mike Lombardi’s concussion concerns kept him from being the defensive center the team craved, although Mike Fisher (acquired via a trade) is working wonders in that role so far in the playoffs. His best move specifically involved trading for wayward youngster Sergei Kostitsyn, who rode a ridiculous 24.7 shooting percentage to the team scoring lead with 50 points.

Then again, one of Poile’s greatest challenges will come up this summer, as he must find a way to re-sign restricted free agent Weber.

Tampa Bay’s Steve Yzerman

The Lightning already had some pieces in place in Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and more, but Yzerman brought in excellent rookie coach Guy Boucher and generally re-made the team in the image of the Detroit Red Wings (though that is naturally still a work in progress).

Dan Ellis didn’t really work out, even if signing him was a low-risk, medium-reward proposition. Yzerman made a nice move when he traded for veteran goalie Dwayne Roloson, although this summer might determine how well he handles the goalie position as a GM. New addition Pavel Kubina seems fairly comfortable back in Tampa Bay, Simon Gagne rebounded from a slow start to have a solid season and Eric Brewer (trade deadline) provides another helping of veteran leadership.

***

So, which GM do you think deserves this year’s award? Is it the architect for big chunks of the league’s best team (Gillis), a guy who’s done so much with a small budget (Poile) or a former legend who is a breath of fresh air for a wayward franchise (Yzerman)? Let us know your choice in the poll below.

Here’s your TV schedule for the Stanley Cup Final on NBC Sports

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 01:  The Stanley Cup trophy sits on a table during a ceremony before the Chicago Blackhawks tsake on the Washington Capitals at the United Center on October 1, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Capitals 6-4.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Getty
3 Comments

NEW YORK (AP) NBC Sports is switching up its broadcast schedule for the Stanley Cup Final.

In recent years, Games 1 and 2 had been on NBC, with Games 3 and 4 on cable partner NBCSN. If necessary, the final three games returned to NBC.

This season, Monday’s Game 1 will air on NBC, but Wednesday’s Game 2 will be on NBCSN. NBC Sports announced Friday that if the series between Pittsburgh and San Jose is tied 1-1, Game 3 will be on NBC, putting that pivotal matchup on the main network. Game 4 would be on NBCSN.

But if one team leads 2-0, Game 3 will air on NBCSN, with a possible championship-clinching Game 4 on NBC. The potential final three games will remain on NBC.

schedule

The Canucks preached patience, then made a ‘right now’ trade for Gudbranson

2015 NHL Draft - Round One
Getty
1 Comment

A few months ago, when the Vancouver Canucks’ miserable season was drawing to a merciful close, club president Trevor Linden went on the radio and said, “When we look at getting ourselves out of this situation, it’s about drafting and developing, and that’s where our focus lies.”

Linden’s remarks were music to the ears of a large segment of the fan base that felt the Canucks had been too impatient, too focused on trying to make the playoffs with an aging roster that was in dire need of a rebuild.

“What we really need is patience,” Linden said at a season-ticket holders event. “It’s going to require some patience from our fan base and some patience from us.”

And so Canucks fans entered the offseason expecting the Canucks to be patient.

And then, on Wednesday, GM Jim Benning traded one of his top forward prospects in 20-year-old Jared McCannplus he threw in the 33rd overall draft pick this summer — for a 24-year-old, stay-at-home defenseman in Erik Gudbranson.

And how did Benning justify that move?

“I come from a scouting background, so to trade second-round picks away, it kills me,” he told Sportsnet’s Hockey Central (audio). “But where we’re at right now, I think we owe it to our fans to try to field the most competitive team that we can right now.”

You’ll note how Benning twice used the phrase “right now.”

And the Canucks wonder why their fans are confused.

To be fair, the Canucks are probably a better team with Gudbranson on it. They had a glaring hole on the right side of their defense, and Benning was determined to fill it. Also, it’s not like Gudbranson is old.

The worry, though, is that the Canucks are trying to serve two masters, the present and the future, and as a result, serving neither master particularly well.

A lot of people in Vancouver — not everyone, mind you, but a lot of people — see what they’re doing in Toronto, and they want the Canucks to do that. Trade veterans. Acquire picks. Lose now to win later, while accepting that there will be some “pain.”

What they don’t want is to travel down the same road the Maple Leafs had to travel — the years and years of mediocrity, or worse — before they finally tore everything down and started again.

In response to that line of thinking, the Canucks have used the Edmonton Oilers as the cautionary, tanking tale. Once a team accepts losing, it can be hard to get that winning culture back, or so the theory goes.

That’s why Benning acquired Brandon Sutter last offseason, and Gudbranson on Wednesday. To him — maybe not to others, but to him — those are “foundation” players, established enough to contribute in the present, while also young enough to be part of the future.

“Once we get the pieces in place from a team-building perspective, we’re going to hold on to those draft picks,” Benning promised.

We shall see.

Currently, Vancouver has just six selections in this summer’s draft, and only two of them are in the first four rounds.

Toronto, on the other hand, has 12 picks, including two in the first round, two in the second, two in the third, and two in the fourth.

Related: McCann’s frustrations illustrate ‘fine line’ Canucks are trying to walk

Need for speed: Sharks, Pens brace for ‘fast hockey’ in Stanley Cup Final

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 29: Brenden Dillon #4 of the San Jose Sharks skates with the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on March 29, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment

It will be speed vs. speed in the Stanley Cup final between the San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins.

San Jose got through the Western Conference the same way Pittsburgh got through the East: with plenty of depth and speed to kill. The final will feature the three top playoff scorers in the Sharks’ Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns against Penguins stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

“It’s going to be fast hockey,” Crosby said after the Penguins beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the East final Thursday night. “Two teams that want to play the exact same way, that want to get their D involved (and) their power play is really dangerous. … It’s going to be quite the series.”

The Sharks are in the Cup final for the first time in their 24-season franchise history and in Peter DeBoer’s first year as coach. The Penguins are back for the first time since winning it all in 2009 and made it after Mike Sullivan replaced Mike Johnston as coach in December.

In his first meeting with them, Sullivan challenged his players to be great and told them that’s how they win in the NHL. They’ve won in the playoffs on the strength of scoring from Crosby and speedy wingers Phil Kessel, Carl Hagelin and Game 7 hero Bryan Rust, not to mention the goaltending of 22-year-old rookie Matt Murray.

Kessel is Pittsburgh’s leading scorer with 18 points on nine goals and nine assists after coming over from the Toronto Maple Leafs in a trade last summer.

“I don’t think you could dream about that. You never could expect this,” Kessel said. “This is a huge moment in my career and my life.”

San Jose is also rolling along thanks to a summer pickup in goaltender Martin Jones, who was the Los Angeles Kings’ backup when they won the Cup in 2014. Couture, Pavelski and Burns are piling up the points, but this run is about aging veterans Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau finally breaking through.

Thornton and Marleau, the top two picks in the 1997 draft, made the playoffs together with the Sharks in nine of 10 previous seasons but had yet to make the Cup final until now.

Crosby and Malkin made it twice, losing in 2008 to the Detroit Red Wings before winning the following season. At the time, it looked like the young core that also featured defenseman Kris Letang would challenge for the Cup every year.

Now they have a chance to add to their legacy, but it won’t be easy even with home-ice advantage in the series that starts Monday night in Pittsburgh. The Sharks are the Penguins’ deepest opponent yet.

“The Penguins should expect a team that’s deeper, quicker than Tampa, and a team that’s playing with a lot of confidence,” NBC Sports analyst Ed Olczyk said.

Confidence isn’t lacking for either team. The Sharks knocked off the Los Angeles Kings, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues to get here, while the Penguins beat the New York Rangers, Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals and defending East-champion Lightning.

Devils sign star French d-man Auvitu

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - MAY 05:  Rapahel Herburger (R) of Austria and Yohann Auvitu (L) of France battle for the puck during the IIHF World Championship group A match between Austria and France at o2 Arena on May 5, 2015 in Prague, Czech Republic.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

New Jersey has won the Yohann Auvitu sweepstakes.

On Friday, the Devils announced they’ve signed Auvitu to a one-year, two-way, entry-level contract for the upcoming campaign. The 26-year-old Frenchman had previously garnered widespread NHL interest, largely due to a ’15-16 campaign in which he won the Pekka Rautakallio Trophy for the best defenseman in the SM-Liiga — an award that’s previously gone to the likes of Sami Vatanen and Brian Rafalski.

Auvitu had six goals and 15 assists in 48 games, then six goals and seven assists in 18 playoff games.

There were only three French-born players were in the NHL this season: Philadelphia’s Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Detroit’s Xavier Ouellet, and Dallas’ Antoine Roussel. It’ll be interesting to see if Auvitu can make it a quartet. He recently played alongside Bellemare for France at the Worlds, scoring three points in seven games.