Report: Dallas Stars will make Glen Gulutzan their next head coach

It’s been quite some time since the Dallas Stars franchise has been at a crossroads like this. Some might even say that they haven’t seen uncertainty like this since they moved from Minnesota because Mike Modano was there to shepherd them to relevance in Texas from day one.

However you look at their predicament from a historical standpoint, GM Joe Nieuwendyk & Co. need to dictate the future of the franchise. The team is still in ownership limbo and must acknowledge life without top scorer Brad Richards, but it sounds like they’ve reached a conclusion on who will take over Marc Crawford’s job as head coach.

Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reports that the team is expected to announce that they have hired Glen Gulutzan as their next head coach later this week. (Note: this post’s main image is of Nieuwendyk and Crawford, not Gulutzan.) While Gulutzan is far from a household name to hockey fans, he should be familiar to Stars devotees and the franchise itself. He was the head coach of the Texas Stars (the team’s AHL affiliate) for two seasons and achieved considerable success in his short time in that position, including taking the Stars to the  2010 Calder Cup finals.

While Paul MacLean represents the trend of hiring experienced NHL assistant coaches, Gulutzan’s hiring follows another pattern of teams hiring successful, young AHL coaches. Brad Gardner of Defending Big D explains that Gulutzan differs from Crawford in various ways.

Coach Gulutzan is said to be more of a players coach and relates to the younger guys, which is surely a key component in the decision. He coached the likes of Jamie Benn, Philip Larsen and Tomas Vincour as well as many others who could be on the short list of call ups next year.

Coach Crawford was thought to be more of a system guy and less of a motivator and was seldom seen interacting with the players one on one, so on one hand, the “players coach” makes sense and that’s supposedly the way things are done these days. On the other hand it was thought that the players needed to be held more accountable, and that will be on him as well as Willie Desjardins (assuming he’ll stay) is not thought to be the “bad cop” kind of guy. Maybe a bad cop assistant is the next hire.

There will be a great deal of talk about the style of play because Gulutzan’s Texas Stars were known as a defense first team that worked from the goaltender out and tried to win low scoring games, but those in Cedar Park say he was working with what he had that first year, and that talent was geared toward defense.

With more offensive tools at his disposal he’ll be able to guide the Stars toward Joe Nieuwendyk’s vision for up-tempo hockey while providing the structure needed to be sound defensively, which he’s been practicing at the AHL level so successfully.

Heika discusses Gulutzan’s likely strengths and weaknesses.

The biggest hurdle Gulutzan might have at the NHL level would be quickly earning the respect of veteran players, but if he can give them a system in which they’re successful then that’s the majority of the battle. He has done that in Cedar Park and earned the respect of the veteran players there.

The guess is that any AHL coach is going to experience a learning curve when moving up to the NHL, but Gulutzan was faced with the same challenge last season in the AHL (a big leap from the ECHL), and stepped forward quickly.

Report: Wings, Hawks, Preds in mix to sign ‘strong two-way center’ Ejdsell

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Keep an eye on Swedish forward Victor Ejdsell in the coming days.

Ejdsell, 21, caught the eye of several NHL clubs following a standout year with Bofors of the Swedish first division — including Detroit (where he visited earlier this week, per MLive.) Reports suggest that Chicago and Nashville are also interested in securing Ejdsell’s services.

It’s easy to see why.

He racked up 25 goals and 57 points in 60 games this year, and he’s got terrific size. At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, the physical presence is there to potentially make the shift to the NHL next season.

“He’s evolved into a strong two-way center,” Detroit assistant GM Ryan Martin told MLive. “His move from wings to center helped his defensive game. He’s got good hands and offensive ability.”

Vlasic joins Canada for Worlds, extending marathon campaign

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Marc-Edouard Vlasic is putting in work this year.

On Friday, Hockey Canada announced that Vlasic — along with Mitch Marner, Brayden Schenn and Chad Johnson — has been added to the 22-player roster for the upcoming World Hockey Championship in France and Germany.

Vlasic’s season started early as a member of Canada’s World Cup of Hockey squad. He appeared in all six games, which included his tournament high TOI (24:04) in final against Team Europe.

From there, the 30-year-old rejoined the Sharks and appeared in 75 contests, averaging 21:14 per evening. He was part of a remarkably durable San Jose defense that saw Brent Burns play all 82 games, while Paul Martin, Brenden Dillon and Justin Braun appeared in 81.

In the playoffs, Vlasic was once again a busy guy. He finished second only to Burns in time on ice (23:16 per) and was often tasked with trying to shut down the Connor McDavid line. The Sharks would eventually bow out to the Oilers in six games.

And Vlasic might have even more to do this summer.

During his end-of-year media availability, Sharks GM Doug Wilson said getting Vlasic signed to an extension prior to September’s training camp was a big priority.

Vlasic’s current deal — a five-year, $21.25 million pact — expires next summer, and carries an average cap hit of $4.25M. Wilson didn’t mince words in describing how good he thinks Vlasic is.

“Vlasic [is] arguably one of the best defensemen in the league,” he said. “Marc-Edouard is still one of the most underrated players in the league in the outside world.”

Stepan: ‘I’ve stunk since the playoffs started’

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Derek Stepan knows he’s not playing very well, and he knows he’ll have to be better if the New York Rangers are going to make it past the Ottawa Senators.

With just one goal (an empty-netter) and one assist in seven playoff games, Stepan’s offensive production has fallen off a cliff after a respectable 55-point regular season, which included 38 assists.

“I’ve stunk since the playoffs started,” Stepan said, per NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “I’ve been not very good with the puck.”

An all-situations center, Stepan is more than just an offensive type. But he’s produced in previous playoff runs, and the Rangers need him to produce now — especially against a tight-checking Sens team that boasts a 2.00 goals-against average in these playoffs.

Stepan has 45 points (18G, 27A) in 92 career playoff games.

To be fair, he’s not the only Ranger who needs to get going offensively. One of the Blueshirts’ big strengths during the regular season was their balanced scoring, with all four lines contributing — and that’s not happening right now.

No Bieksa for Anaheim tonight, but Vatanen could return

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The Ducks will be without their most veteran skater on Friday as they look to even up their series with Edmonton.

Kevin Bieksa, who exited Game 1 with a lower-body injury following a collision with fellow d-man Shea Theodore, has been ruled out for tonight’s Game 2. It marks the first tilt the 35-year-old will miss this postseason.

Bieksa was enjoying a pretty good playoff prior to getting hurt. He racked up four assists in five games, while averaging just under 17 minutes per night. Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle is holding out hope Bieksa could return later in the series.

While this is a loss for the Ducks, it goes a long way in illustrating how much defensive depth they have.

While Carlyle wouldn’t confirm, all signs point to Sami Vatanen drawing in for Bieksa. Vatanen has been out since Game 1 of the Calgary series with an upper-body injury, but has resumed practicing and sounds like he’s ready to go.

“It’s always nice when a player is closer to coming back and you can potentially put them back in the lineup,” Carlyle said of Vatanen.

Anaheim dressed a blueline of Bieksa, Theodore, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Montour in Wednesday’s 5-3 defeat. If Vatanen can’t draw in for Bieksa, the club still has Korbinian Holzer in reserve.