Teddy Purcell, Mike Lundin

Five Thoughts: Claude Julien’s non-timeout, Purcell’s awakening, and Steve Downie’s head

Game 4 between Boston and Tampa Bay brought back a lot of things we thought we’d forgotten about the Bruins and Lightning both. We’d forgotten how scrappy and tenacious Tampa Bay can be when they’ve got the motivation to keep working harder. After Game 3, it was easy to forget about that. As for Boston, too many similarities to last season’s playoff run came roaring back.

1. Tampa Bay’s tremendous comeback reminds us that we should know better when it comes to how they play the game. All playoffs long they’ve been the team that just hangs around and gets back into games by whittling away a lead or always sticking close and not allowing their opponents to get comfortable.

Game 4 made us start to believe that perhaps the Lightning were done. After all they were coming off a Game 3 performance that was less-than inspiring and the Bruins blitzed them for a 3-0 lead after the first period. Whatever amount of talking and soul searching that went on in the locker room between periods paid off because they turned play around as if they flipped a switch. They dominated possession of the puck, they kept the Bruins bottled up in their own end and they weren’t afraid to shoot the puck and attack the Bruins defense. Amazing what happens when you maximize your effort, isn’t it?

Making things tougher for Boston is seeing relatively unknown guys like Teddy Purcell and Sean Bergenheim doing the heavy lifting to tie things up before the big name guys took over to win it. That performance by Tampa is more like the Lightning we’ve seen all playoffs.

2. Of course, how things broke down for Boston makes us curious once again about some of coach Claude Julien’s decisions behind the bench. In this case, it was Julien’s choice to not call a timeout after Teddy Purcell scored twice in 1:03 to cut the Bruins lead to 3-2 in the second period. Julien not calling a timeout to slow things down for a second and let his team regain some of its composure after having the game seemingly on lockdown after the first period is a head scratcher. It seemed to be the right place to call the timeout and the Bruins certainly looked shell-shocked after Purcell both made their defense and goalie Tim Thomas look bad with his two efforts to score.

Instead, the Bruins kept trying to forge ahead stubbornly figuring they could just get back to it and lock things down. Then Sean Bergenheim outmuscles Tomas Kaberle for a puck behind the Bruins net and fights his way around the net to slip a shot past Thomas and tie the game. Would a timeout have prevented Kaberle from going soft there? Tough to say but at the very least, you’d hope everyone would’ve come out of the timeout more attentive and ready to battle rather than soaking in their own misery after blowing a big lead.

3. Don’t look now but Tampa Bay’s Teddy Purcell is a legitimate man of interest for the Bruins to worry about. After his two goals in Game 3, Purcell has 15 points in the playoffs with four goals and 11 assists. That puts Purcell third on the team in scoring behind Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis and tied for fifth in the playoffs overall equaling him with the likes of Henrik Sedin, Dan Boyle, and Pavel Datsyuk.

Purcell is a former L.A. Kings prospect who came to Tampa last season in a deal that saw the Lightning also get the Kings’ draft pick where they selected Brock Beukeboom. The Kings got Jeff Halpern in that trade and he left L.A. after the season was over to sign in Montreal. While the deal didn’t stand out at the time, Purcell is showing the talent he had yet to show off at the pro level. He didn’t get much of a shot with the Kings and if Purcell can have this playoff performance help him evolve into a top playmaker from now on, Kings fans will be ruing that deal for years to come. One great playoff performance doesn’t always translate into a great NHL career, but Purcell is carving out a name for himself nicely.

4. We’re hoping that referee Tim Peel feels a bit embarrassed after his inexcusable call of giving Steve Downie a diving penalty after he was crunched into the end boards by Nathan Horton late in the second period. Downie was cross checked in the back and had the top of his head smashed into the glass putting him down on the ice. Watching the play in slow motion looks really bad, but it doesn’t look any better at full speed.

We know that Downie has a poor reputation around the league but sometimes when you seem something as bad as that you have to take it for what it’s worth. It was a very poor decision by Horton that turned into a terrible end result for Downie as he left the game and did not return after that hit. Now his status for Game 5 is in doubt and perhaps even longer than that now. After all the attention on blows to the head this year you’d think they’d err on the side of caution here. Apparently that’s asking too much.

5. If you’re thinking there’s a debate as to who Tampa Bay will start in goal for Game 5, you’re nuts. We know Dwayne Roloson struggled in Game 4 before getting pulled after giving up three goals on nine shots and he’s had a rough go of things in a couple games in this series, but he’s their man. Maybe he could use a breather but that’s no reason to upset the situation in Tampa by creating a goalie controversy.

The Lightning should be happy that Mike Smith has done his part when called upon to stop the bleeding and call it a day after that. Roloson’s the guy that brought them and unless there’s a bigger issue we’re not aware of (read: injury) there’s no reason to throw Mike Smith into the starting role for Game 5.

Oilers sign defenseman Matthew Benning, nephew of Canucks GM Jim

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 23:  Matt Benning #5 of the Northeastern Huskies skates against the Boston University Terriers during the first period of the 2015 Beanpot Tournament Championship game at TD Garden on February 23, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Even with Adam Larsson added to the mix, the Edmonton Oilers’ organization is short on right-handed defensemen.

It remains to be seen how long it will take for Matthew Benning to make the NHL jump, but the Oilers took a step in the right (right-handed defenseman) direction by signing him to a two-year deal on Saturday.

In case you have some jokes at the ready … yes, Benning is related to Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning. The occasionally lampooned executive is his uncle. His father Brian also enjoyed an NHL career.

*Nervous laugh*

The Edmonton Journal’s Bruce McCurdy views the move as the equivalent to landing a “free draft pick.” It might be a nice perk for Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli to land Benning being that he was a 2012 sixth-rounder of the Boston Bruins.

McCurdy indicates that Benning, 22, could rank fairly high among the Oilers’ defensive prospects right off the bat, even if scarce options play a role along with whatever the blueliner brings to the table:

This is the fourth free agent signing of an NCAA player by the Oilers this off-season, though the first involving a defenceman. Previously, highly-regarded forward Drake Caggiula had signed along with right winger Patrick Russell and netminder Nick Ellis. All four are in age 22-23 and well-positioned to make an impact on the pro ranks in the near future, even as their NHL potential is an open book. But collectively they add some meat on the bones of a franchise whose organizational depth has been questionable. 

Interestingly, McCurdy notes that the Canucks were in the running for Benning’s services.

(Waits for a few more Jim Benning jokes.)

Seems like the Northeastern University product received a decent deal, relatively speaking:

Flames management enjoys a rare luxury: a clean slate

CALGARY, CANADA - FEBRUARY 27: General manager Brad Treliving of the Calgary Flames address the media before the trade deadline prior to the team's NHL game against the Ottawa Senators at the Scotiabank Saddledome on February 27, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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This is part of Calgary Flames day at PHT …

During the waning days of the Jarome Iginla/Miikka Kiprusoff years, the Calgary Flames ranked as one of the worst things a sports team could be: both expensive and uninspiring.

There were a lot of bloated contracts connected to those days, but when you look at sites like Cap Friendly or General Fanager, the slate looks a lot cleaner heading into 2016-17.

OK, so maybe you could also argue that there are still a few troubling deals to get rid of.

Dennis Wideman‘s $5.25 million salary cap hit, Ladislav Smid‘s $3.5 million mark and Deryk Engelland‘s bewildering $2.917 million cap hit all expire after next season. Chances are, you have an issue with one or maybe all of those deals, so the Flames must be giddy to close in on all that extra breathing room.

And, yes, there are some deals that Flames GM Brad Treliving may regret. Just consider today’s earlier post about Troy Brouwer.

Still, the point is clear: whatever mistakes or strokes of genius that come, at least those moves will be Treliving’s to make.

Consider some of the important calls that await:

  • Such as, how will they sort out Johnny Gaudreau‘s lingering RFA situation this summer?

The easiest path might be to try to convince him to take a deal that is identical to the one Sean Monahan received, but one or both sides likely want something different.

  • Despite bringing in both Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson, the goaltending future beyond 2016-17 is murky for a simple enough reason: neither netminder is signed beyond that point.

Elliott is receiving a bargain $2.5 million and is currently 31. Johnson, 30, barely comes in behind him at $1.7 million. It’s highly likely that Calgary will spend more money on its goalies in 2017-18, but who might be back?

And how much will the Flames need to see from Elliott and/or Johnson before trying to hammer out extensions?

The good news for Flames management is that they’re not saddled with a goaltending decision they might not have made. The scary part is that, if it doesn’t work out, it’s on them … and could cost someone a job.

  • The Flames ultimately have the power to determine who’s a marquee player and who is a part of the supporting cast.

Gaudreau is key, but it’s unclear if he’ll sign a long deal like Monahan or opt for a “bridge” deal. In addition to Monahan, the Flames signed these players to fairly long deals: Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, T.J. Brodie, Brouwer and Michael Frolik.

Yes, you can quibble with Brouwer and maybe another name, but plenty of teams would be jealous of that list overall.

***

Many general managers must navigate minefields of someone else’s mistakes. There are a lot of challenges to the job beyond that, but Treliving & Co. get to make their own.

It’s a luxury that is unlikely to last, but the Flames stand as an interesting team for armchair (and real-life) executives to follow.

Yahoo’s fantasy hockey position tweaks signal end of a very specific era

WINNIPEG, MB - FEBRUARY 11: Dustin Byfuglien #33 of the Winnipeg Jets prepares for the faceoff in second period action in an NHL game against the Boston Bruins at the MTS Centre on February 11, 2016 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images)
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Few things deepen your hockey geekery quite like playing fantasy hockey.

For sports haters and the sports-oblivious, it’s probably bad enough to see grown adults wearing hockey sweaters out in public. What about when someone is obsessing (and sometimes muttering profanities) about a team that only exists to about 8-15 people?

Still, this is the Internet, where niche obsessions can go really deep. Just fall down a rabbit hole about Star Wars extended universe if you want to get a taste.

Us fantasy hockey nerdy dorks got some understandable but still sad news today: it appears to be an end of an era for Dustin Byfuglien and Brent Burns being considered eligible as both right wings and defensemen.

NHL.com trotted out a list of changes to Yahoo’s popular format on Saturday, and the tweaks generally make total sense.

It’s a bit of a bummer, though, as being eligible for a forward and defensive position provided another example of the unusual natures of both Byfuglien and Burns. Luckily, there are about 1,000 Exhibits for each, especially true oddball Burns.

(The debate regarding where either player should line up has largely died out, though.)

Another thing of interest in NHL.com’s list is the most prominent players who can be placed in all three forward spots. That could be a good thing to keep handy if you’re the last-minute preparation type:

The six tri-eligible players among NHL.com’s top 200, Joe Pavelski of the Sharks, Filip Forsberg of the Nashville Predators, Ryan O'Reilly of the Buffalo Sabres, Tyler Toffoli of the Los Angeles Kings, Patrick Sharp of the Dallas Stars and Jussi Jokinen of the Florida Panthers, have had their eligibilities reduced. Forsberg and Jokinen, who are now only eligible at LW, took the biggest hits from that bunch.

Forwards Robby Fabbri (now C/LW), of the St. Louis Blues, and Sam Reinhart, (now C/RW) of the Sabres, are the two players who have gone from single to dual eligibility in Yahoo leagues.

Check out the full article here.

Expect steps in right direction, not leaps, from Flames’ new head coach

DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 21:  Head coach Glen Gulutzan of the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on November 21, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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This is part of Calgary Flames day at PHT …

If you’re looking beyond the shaky history of Jack Adams winners and going for a more objective approach, it’s not especially easy to break down the impact of a head coach.

Still, we’ve seen examples where a guy really can make a difference. Mike Sullivan is merely the latest to transform a wobbly team into a champion thanks to some deft maneuvers.

What, then, can the Calgary Flames expect from Glen Gulutzan?

Let’s break down some of the factors involved.

Better goalies, more experienced players

As Flames Nation’s Pat Steinberg notes, Gulutzan’s most immediate advantage of fired Flames head coach Bob Hartley is that Calgary made massive improvements in net.

Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson both carry promising numbers into this situation. Elliott’s work with the St. Louis Blues, in particular, strikes you as All-Star-level.

Of course, some will attribute a significant portion of Elliott’s success to being in Ken Hitchcock’s system, so it’s up to Gulutzan to provide a more nurturing atmosphere than the one Flames goalies have experienced in recent years.

Modest improvements

Steinberg delved a little deeper than Gulutzan’s two Dallas Stars teams (2011-12 and 2012-13) missing the playoffs and found that they were a middle-of-the-pack squad from a possession standpoint. Nothing spectacular there, but Gulutzan did improve the Stars from its previous station.

Upon being hired, Gulutzan pointed to experience as much as anything else when explaining how he improved.

(Which makes sense since … the Vancouver Canucks didn’t exactly set the world on fire while he was an assistant.)

Solid match for personnel

“Possession has become a popular word,” Gulutzan said after the Flames chose him. “For me, what possession is, it’s not always having the puck, because you don’t have it all the time. What we want to be is a real connected group here. When I say connected, we want to be connected in fives in all three zones. We want to defend fast, we are going to defend fast. We’re going to utilize the assets that we have here. In defending fast, you want to get the puck back fast, you want to get it out of your end.”

That quote could probably be attributed to a number of new hires. It’s plausible that you could swap out Gulutzan’s name with that of Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar.

Even so, the important thing is that Gulutzan is emphasizing key elements of a modern approach. He’s saying the right things about puck possession and wanting to win the transition game.

When you look at the talent assembled in Calgary, particularly on defense, emphasizing speed almost seems obvious.

From Norris-caliber defenseman Mark Giordano to underrated blueliner T.J. Brodie all the way to the talented guys who could use a boost (Dougie Hamilton especially, perhaps Dennis Wideman as well?), the Flames’ defense seems best suited for an attacking style.

The potential drawback is that Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson could be exposed to some extra “high-danger chances” when an attacking style backfires … but the good might outweigh the bad if Gulutzan’s system can stop the possession bleeding.

Tipping point?

The dream scenario for Calgary is that a series of manageable improvements make for a cumulative jump.

Ideally, Gulutzan’s system combines with in-house improvements to young players with a vastly improved set of goalies to transform the Flames into playoff contenders.

In the limited sample size we’ve seen of Calgary’s new head coach, he doesn’t necessarily strike you as a miracle worker. Instead, he’s lauded for the structure he provides and his ability to communicate.

That might be enough for the Flames, especially if they give Gulutzan some time to work through growing pains.