Stars, Devils, Senators, and Wild still looking to fill coaching vacancies

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The first move in this year’s coaching carrousel has been made as the Florida Panthers are officially announcing Kevin Dineen as their 11th coach in franchise history this morning. For those keeping track at home, that would be ONE coaching vacancy filled almost two full months after the end of the regular season. Maybe they were waiting to see if Claude Julien would become available after the first round? Either way, there are still job openings in four difference cities for the any potential head coaches. Some names have been floating around since the beginning of the season and some names like Saint John Sea Dogs head coach Gerard Gallant have caught fire over the last few months. Here’s a snapshot of the four teams still looking for a bench boss.

New Jersey Devils: After John MacLean failed so spectacularly to start the 2010-11 season, Devils boss Lou Lamoriello is taking a methodical approach this time around. Jacques Lemaire proved during the 2nd half of last season that the team has enough talent to win—they’ll just need the right coach to point the team in the right direction. The three candidates who are getting the most attention are Binghamton Senators head coach Kurt Kleinendorst (played under Lamoriello at Providence College and was with the Devils organization for nine years), Montreal assistant Kirk Muller (played his first seven seasons with the Devils), and respected, defensive-minded, former head coach Ken Hitchcock.

Dallas Stars: The Stars are a little further along in the interview process. Joe Nieuwendyk has interviewed Ken Hitchcock, Peter Horachek (Predators assistant), Glen Gulutzan (Texas Stars head coach); plans to interview Kirk Muller, and one final candidate who could possibly be Saint John Sea Dogs head coach Gerard Gallant. Since the day Marc Crawford was fired, that speculation has been that Nieuwendyk’s strong ties from his playing days with both Hitchcock and Muller would make them the leading candidates. Until both find jobs in competing cities or someone else is hired, they’ll continue to be the leading candidates.

Minnesota Wild: GM Chuck Fletcher has confirmed that he has interviewed Michel Therrien (Wild scout), Craig MacTavish, and Ken Hitchcock (asked for permission). Aside from each of those worthy candidates, Houston Aeros head coach Mike Yeo is another name that is likely to be considered as he recently lead the Wild’s AHL affiliate to the Calder Cup Final.

Ottawa Senators: Bryan Murray told the Ottawa Citizen that he started his coaching search last week. The Sens job is interesting in that so many candidates have ties to the owner or organization. Former Florida Panthers head man Peter DeBoer was in the mix for Ottawa’s job last time around, Kurt Kleinendorst is the head coach of their AHL affiliate in Binghamton, Dave Cameron is the head coach of the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors (owned by Eugene Melnyk), and Hamilton’s head coach Randy Cunneyworth is a former Senators captain. On top of all those names, Red Wings assistant Paul MacLean has already been given an interview.

Aside from each of the candidates mentioned for each job, Hawks assistant coach Mike Haviland, Manitoba Moose coach Claude Noel, and Thrashers assistant John Torchetti have all had their names bouncing around the rumor mill. When the music stops, there will only be chairs for four candidates; but with the Panthers kicking off the hiring season, it looks like the coaching vacancies will start to get filled.

Eddie Lack expects to be released from hospital on Monday night

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As scary as the situation was for Carolina Hurricanes goalie Eddie Lack, the good news continues to pour in.

First, the Hurricanes provided an update that he had “full feeling in his extremities” while under observation at a hospital. This followed the promising sign that he was able to give a “thumbs up” gesture while being taken off the ice on a stretcher after the Hurricanes’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

The best news came late on Monday night, however, as Lack himself tweeted that he expects to head back home as early as this late evening/early morning:

That’s fantastic news. Video of that scary collision with Andreas Athanasiou can be seen in the video above this post’s headline.

Blues, Flames take care of business (Islanders … do not)

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For a while there, it seemed like the idle Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs would be Monday’s “winners.” That changed when the Carolina Hurricanes salvaged a standings point and the Tampa Bay Lightning stormed back to beat the Blackhawks.

Still, there were some teams who came through (beyond the Lightning) and those who fell flat, so let’s cover some of the results in short.

West teams get it done

Unlike their counterparts out East, West teams jockeying for position avoided “unforced errors” in losing to non-playoff teams.

The St. Louis Blues beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-1 while the Calgary Flames topped the Colorado Avalanche 4-2. Johnny Gaudreau generated his 200th point (and 201st) in Calgary’s win, while Alex Steen generated four assists. (Vladimir Tarasenko also enjoyed a three-point night.)

This keeps the Blues and Flames in position to advance. St. Louis is one point behind the Nashville Predators for third in the Central while the Flames are a point behind both the Sharks and Oilers for second and third in the Pacific (while remaining in shouting distance of the division title).

East teams stumble, some get over it

Again, the Lightning fought through hurdles to win and the Hurricanes managed that “charity point.”

Overall, East teams struggled. The New York Islanders fell to the Predators by a score of 3-1. Your mileage may vary on the Florida Panthers’ chances, especially after they fell 4-2 to the Buffalo Sabres.

Brian Gionta scored in his 1,000th game as Buffalo won, by the way.

Here’s what the race for the final spot in the East looks like after tonight:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Victor Hedman might just force his way into the Norris argument

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For quite some time this season, the Norris Trophy race felt a bit like “Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and [insert token finalist].” As it turns out, Victor Hedman is making it a pretty interesting three-horse race.

With Burns and Karlsson idle on Monday, Hedman continued to go on the best offensive tear of his already-impressive career, contributing three assists to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 5-4 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks.

As much credit as forwards Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin deserve in pushing Tampa Bay in Steven Stamkos‘ absence, Hedman has been an all-world blueliner for a Lightning team with a defense that isn’t really surrounding him with great talent.

He’s serving as a workhorse when his team needs him the most:

Now, when you look at the numbers, it’s probably fair to say that Hedman comes in third among the likely finalists in simple categories:

Brent Burns: 27 goals (!), 72 points in 75 games, +16 rating, 24:52 time-on-ice average

Erik Karlsson: 14 goals, 67 points in 74 games, +7, 26:53 minutes per game (fourth highest average in the NHL)

Victor Hedman: 15 goals, 65 points in 72 games, +2 rating, came into Monday with average of 24:15 minutes per game.

Looking at those breakdowns, you might wonder why someone wouldn’t just flippantly hand Hedman the “bronze medal” and a pat on the back … but things get more interesting if you ponder the all-around impact of those three.

Now, traditional-thinkers who slam risky defensemen for their mistakes often overstate such arguments. Both Burns and Karlsson tilt the ice in their teams’ favors, usually to profound degrees.

Still … Hedman locks opponents down to a truly elite degree and scores at a similar rate. Hedman could very well own the “two-way” argument; you could perhaps see his case most clearly when you compare his “HERO” chart to those of Burns and Karlsson, especially from the perspective of conceding shots.

Again, Burns remains the likely winner, and he would be a deserving one. You could make a solid Hart Trophy argument for Burns, in addition to tabbing him as the Norris frontrunner.

Even so, voters would be wise to take Hedman’s case seriously, especially as the Lightning continue their improbable playoff push.

Lightning storm back against Blackhawks, finish one point out of playoffs

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Who would have thought that the Tampa Bay Lightning would rally back from a 4-1 deficit tonight? Then again, who expected them to be so close to a playoff spot mere weeks ago, when they were sellers at the trade deadline?

The Lightning continue to show that they won’t just roll over and die, scoring four unanswered goals to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 in overtime on Monday.

While Jonathan Drouin was a catalyst for the second-period rally, it was an unlikely scorer who clinched the victory, as Yanni Gourde ended a thrilling run of 3-on-3 chances with the overtime-winner.

Really, it might have been fitting. Things looked glum when Tomas Jurco scored his first goal of the season against the Lightning, then the mood was totally flipped when Gourde’s second tally of 2016-17 grabbed a huge win.

With the Islanders losing to the Predators, the Hurricanes only managing a “loser point” against the Red Wings and the Bruins idle, Tampa Bay is a breath away from a playoff berth:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Yes, all of a sudden, a long-shot postseason run seems quite attainable.

Maybe the Lightning would prefer it if we kept counting them out, though?