Claude Julien

Can Claude Julien maintain his ‘Midas Touch’ in Game 5?

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Whenever one team comes out on top – especially when the results were as uneven as Boston’s two wins over Vancouver were – it makes a coach look brilliant. Moves that would have been subtle and simple seem like strokes of genius if they propel a team to one-sided victories.

While Roberto Luongo’s struggles and the Canucks’ difficulties in finding a proper defensive lineup amid suspensions and injuries cast Alain Vigneault in a poor light, Claude Julien seems to come out smelling like roses.

Even decisions that were once criticized – such as Julien’s reluctance to play Tyler Seguin, which seemed like utter stupidity after two hot games – have been shown to be more logical than expected. Seguin cooled off considerably after that ridiculous six point run in two games, showing that Julien wasn’t totally crazy for scratching him. (Then again, some might argue that Julien simply isn’t giving Seguin the ice time and opportunities he needs to succeed, but that’s a debate for another day.)

While Julien and Vigneault share roots in the Montreal Canadiens organization and are known to be good friends, it seems like Julien is making better moves while Vigneault botched the occasional crucial decision. (One example: Vigneault allowed Luongo to stay in Game 3 when it was 5-1, only to see him allow three more painful goals, taking even more away from his possibly shaken confidence.)

Joe Haggerty goes as far as to say that Julien has had a “Midas touch” in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals.

1) He went with his head and his heart in playing Shawn Thornton during Game 3 to give his team an emotional lift and a dose of much-needed attitude.

2) He rolled the dice a little by taking a chance on Rich Peverley on Boston’s top line in Game 4, and Peverley rewarded the decision with a pair of goals.

It would seem Julien is enjoying the Midas touch over the last few games, and he’ll need to continue if the Bruins are going to bag themselves a road win. While making sure to give a great deal of the credit to the players for the position that the Bruins find themselves in, B’s general manager Peter Chiarelli also points to Julien.

“Everything is magnified in the Finals,” said Chiarelli. “The last change — the significance of the last change is huge, so it’s something we have to battle. But I have confidence in our coach and I have confidence in my players. Those guys have been battling and that’s a testament to the team.”

“[Julien] is doing a good job, and the players are playing too. This is a collective thing. I’ll give credit to Claude for mixing and matching, but the players are also doing terrific in accepting the roles that they’re being placed in.”

Of course, Julien knows better than most how fickle praise can be for NHL head coaches. He was fired from his job with the Canadiens one season after helping the team overachieve their way to playoff berth with a 93-point season, but his most ridiculous firing came with the New Jersey Devils. GM Lou Lamoriello canned him late in his mostly successful first season, which briefly became an odd tradition for the unique executive. Even taking the instability of the job under consideration, few coaches have seen the stark contrast in ups (Jack Adams Trophy during the 08-09 season with Boston) and downs (blowing that 3-0 series lead against the Philadelphia Flyers in last year’s semifinals) quite like Julien.

Ultimately, he’s a steady coach who might help the Bruins upset the mighty Canucks for their first Stanley Cup win since 1972. Let’s face it, too; few things make a coach seem wiser than a gaudy Stanley Cup ring on his finger.

Sabres extend Larsson: one year, $950,000

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 22: Johan Larsson #22 of the Buffalo Sabres warms up before the game against the Detroit Red Wings on January 22, 2016 at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Brenner/Getty Images)
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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) The Buffalo Sabres have re-signed forward Johan Larsson to a one-year contract.

Larsson was eligible to become a restricted free agent once his contract expired this summer. The Swedish-born player is coming off a season in which he set career bests with 10 goals, 17 points and 74 games. He also finished tied with rookie center Jack Eichel in scoring five game-winning goals.

Overall, he has 16 goals and 21 assists in 142 games for the Sabres.

Buffalo acquired Larsson in a trade that sent former Sabres captain Jason Pominville to Minnesota in April 2013. The Wild selected Larsson in the second round of the 2010 draft.

Contractual details, per the Buffalo News:

Burke: Once a team picks first overall, no more drafting first overall (for a few years at least)

Calgary Flames' President of Hockey Operations & acting GM, Brian Burke speaks to the media as team members show up for NHL hockey season-end activities in Calgary, Alberta, on Monday, April 14, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Larry MacDougal)
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Brian Burke isn’t trying to pick on the Edmonton Oilers — no really, he isn’t — but Calgary’s president of hockey ops doesn’t believe any team should get to draft first overall as much as his northern rivals have done the past few years.

“If you’re a team that picks first overall, you shouldn’t be allowed to pick first overall for some specified period … three years or five years, whatever … or even the top two teams, pick in the top two,” Burke told the Flames’ website.

“You could still pick four or five, still get a good player, but you can’t get rewarded for continued failure, or continued luck.”

The Oilers, of course, picked first overall in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2015. And after yet another dismal season in 2015-16, they have a 13.5 percent of winning’s tomorrow’s lottery and getting the same privilege again

“Everyone thinks when you talk about the draft having flaws, that you’re picking on Edmonton,” said Burke.

“There are a lot of teams that have followed this path and have repeated high, high picks for a number of years. Chicago did it. Florida’s done it. Buffalo’s done it. You can argue we did it in Toronto, certainly by not any effort of ours. We were just not successful in the lottery. This is not an indictment of any one team and it’s not an indictment of the system.

“This is saying, ‘Okay, if 30 reasonable people got into a room and said, how do we best award amateur talent in the draft without having abuses,’ I’m not sure this is the system we’d come up with. That’s all I’m saying.”

And many would agree with Burke.

In fact, many would go a lot further, suggesting the entire system should be rethought.

But the question will remain, what’s a better system? The current one incentivizes losing, and so some teams tank. They may not use the word “tanking,” but they’re sure not trying to win. Not in the short term.

Now, is it a good look for the NHL when teams are built to be bad and we see fans openly rooting for losses? No, it’s not a good look.

But would it be preferable for each team to have the same odds of drafting first overall. Even the Stanley Cup champion?

Imagine for a moment a system that didn’t take the standings into account. You just know there’d be some poor franchise that was chronically unlucky, year after year after year. And you just know there’d be some ultra-lucky franchise, too.

The fact is, as long as the NHL wants to maintain its competitive balance — and remember, there’s nothing the NHL is prouder of than its precious parity — losing teams will be rewarded in the draft.

Burke is fine with that.

All he’s saying is the current system could use a few tweaks.

And if the Oilers win the lottery tomorrow, you can bet there’ll be some.

After firing Boudreau, Ducks GM unloads on core players

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When the Ducks were struggling this season, GM Bob Murray took some not-so-thinly veiled shots at the team’s core players.

And after the club’s disappointing first-round playoff exit to Nashville, he was at it again.

The juicy stuff, from today’s presser following the Bruce Boudreau dismissal.

(Video here):

“Let’s face it: I’d like to know where they heck they were in Games 1 and 2. The players are going to have to answer that the next four or five days. Where were they? They showed up in Game 7, but where was the passion, the controlled emotion? Where the heck was that? They’re going to have to be held accountable, too.

“There’s definite concerns in that area, and I think the core has to be held responsible, and they have to be better. Maybe I haven’t been hard enough on them in the last few years, but they’re going to hear some different words this time.”

Murray then shared a few of those “different words” with the assembled media.

If you’re looking for one of the core guys Murray may be referring to, consider Corey Perry.

Having just wrapped the third of an eight-year, $69 million deal with a $8.625M cap hit (that’s a long-term contract, right?), Perry failed to score over the seven-game series against the Preds, and had a team-worst minus-7 rating.

Say what you will about the merits of plus-minus, but minus-7  is minus-7. It’s not good. Hard to see how it could be viewed positively.

Of course, there’s no doubt other core guys are in Murray’s crosshairs. But it’s not just about core guys making big money and failint to produce in crunch time. It’s also about core guys making big money, failing in crunch time and not going anywhere.

Because that affects the futures of the players around them.

Some of Murray’s anger — justifiably — comes with the long-terms deals he’s got on the books, and how they’ll likely hamstring the Ducks this summer. He’s already on record saying this will be an “interesting” offseasonHampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Rickard Rakell and Frederik Andersen are all RFAs, and it’s quite conceivable one or two won’t be with back in Anaheim for the start of training camp.

Had the Ducks made a legit playoff run, it would’ve taken the sting away from (potentially) losing players.

But now?

Consider what Murray said about retaining Rakell, who finished fourth on the team in scoring.

“In keeping certain people, other people may have to go,” he explained, per the Associated Press. “That’s what you get forced into. A couple of big contracts get signed, and you end up following because that’s what you get pushed into, and that’s what they expect.

“We are all guilty of that.”

Blues, Capitals to play exhibition game in Kansas City

Pedestrians walk past the Sprint Center, Sunday, March 24, 2013, in Kansas City, Mo. The city was preparing for the third round of the NCAA college basketball tournament at the arena after the region received 6-10 inches of snow overnight. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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Kansas City is going to host another NHL exhibition game.

The St. Louis Blues announced today that they’ll take on the Washington Capitals on Oct. 5 at Sprint Center. Both Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Ovechkin will be there, at least according to the press release.

The Blues last played in K.C. a couple of years ago when they took on the Stars in exhibition play. In 2011, a sellout crowd watched the Penguins and Kings at Sprint Center.

A market once considered a candidate for expansion or relocation — particularly after Sprint Center opened in 2007 — the NHL-to-Kansas City buzz has since died down. Last year, there was no interest from Kansas City when the league called for expansion applications.

Sensing an opportunity to make their team a favorite of all Missourians, not just the ones in St. Louis, the Blues have said they’d like to cultivate their fan base across the state in Kansas City.