Kevin Dineen

New Panthers coach Kevin Dineen could make or break Florida’s renovation

If you ask me, Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon blew a great opportunity this off-season. There’s no denying that the team needed to spend quite a bit of money to get to the salary cap floor, which would justify overpaying a player or five. The problem is that Tallon made those risks grow exponentially by giving long deals to players who are either unproven (Tomas Fleischmann, among others) or over the hill (Ed Jovanovski).

The Panthers aren’t just gambling big on bad bets; they’re doing it over and over again because those contracts won’t go away for quite some time. There are some stomach-churning parallels to Tallon’s miscues with Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet’s contracts in Chicago, right down to the notion that Florida’s best chances for big picture success probably come from their farm system/prospects rather than their pricey acquisitions.

That being said, Florida should improve on offense and defense, at least if you compare their upcoming roster to last year’s groups. (Then again, downgrading from Tomas Vokoun to Jose Theodore might nullify those improvements … but let’s try to be positive here.)

Anyway, I’ve expressed my doubts about these changes, but it’s quite possible that it might all come down to one man. New Panthers coach Kevin Dineen has quite a task at hand considering this drastically altered roster.

“It is a challenge. I don’t think you can underestimate that,” he said. “Chemistry plays a role in everything you do in our business. I like the idea that we play six exhibition games and five of them are in Southern Florida, and after our last exhibition game we have eight days before we start the regular season. I think that’s going to be a real important time period for us. Once we get the core of our lineup together, that’ll be a time we start setting some team goals and that comes from both the coaching staff and the players. I look at that being an important window for getting us all on the same page.”

To review, Tallon added forwards Scottie Upshall, Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kopecky, Sean Bergenheim, Marcel Goc, Matt Bradley and Ryan Carter; defensemen Ed Jovanovski and Brian Campbell; and goaltender Jose Theodore during the offseason.

It’s possible that Dineen might be the right guy for such a drastic change of tempo, though. Dineen points out that he experienced more than his fair share of heavy turnover during his six seasons as the coach of the AHL’s Portland Pirates.

“In my six years there, there’s probably about 70 percent change in your lineup year to year,” Dineen said. “That’s just the nature of the game. There’s players coming up from junior, first-year pros, there’s guys who have played in the NHL that are trying to re-establish themselves at that level. So I think you get used to that in the American league. You have to get everybody on the same page, and that’s what’s really exciting for me, to have that nice window of time to spend some time together as a group before we start the regular season.”

Sheer depth might be the best thing going for Florida, especially in the forward ranks. Aside from Stephen Weiss and David Booth, they don’t seem like a very imposing team on paper. On the other hand, the waves of new forwards might cause some advantageous situations and could also spread the pressure around a bit.

Dineen also pointed out overall team speed as a possible strength.

“I know we have some great team speed. When you have that speed, that’s something you try to take advantage of. With the ability to move the puck to get going and create offense off the rush, I look at that as being one of our strengths.”

If any NHL team goes into 2011-12 as a clear mystery, it’s the Panthers. Dineen has a lot of decisions to make. If Dineen pushes the right buttons, then this moribund franchise might actually be onto something. (Click here for more discussion of who might make the lineup, including prospects such as Erik Gudbranson and Jackob Markstrom.)

Gretzky returns to NHL fold as official ambassador of centennial celebration

EDMONTON, AB - APRIL 6:  Former Edmonton Oilers forward Wayne Gretzky greets fans during the closing ceremonies at Rexall Place following the game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Vancouver Canucks on April 6, 2016 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The game was the final game the Oilers played at Rexall Place before moving to Rogers Place next season. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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The National Hockey League was founded on November 26, 1917. Almost ninety-nine years later, the commissioner of the league, Gary Bettman, was in Toronto to announce that Wayne Gretzky, arguably its greatest player ever, would be the official ambassador of its centennial celebration.

For Gretzky, whose relationship with the NHL was tested during the Phoenix Coyotes’ bankruptcy proceedings in 2009, it marks a return to representing the league in an official capacity. (In 2013, he was reportedly paid around $8 million in a settlement.)

“It’s a tremendous honor,” Gretzky said in a statement. “I’ve said this a million times that everything I have in my life is because of hockey and because of the National Hockey League. I happen to think it’s the greatest game in the world. It was kind to me my whole life. The game just gets better every year, so for me to be involved in just trying to help promote and sell our sport even more it’s a great thrill for me and an honor to be part of it.”

Watch the following video to see what the NHL has in store for 2017, starting on Jan. 1 with the Centennial Classic at BMO Field between the Maple Leafs and Red Wings:

 

Report: Panarin wants six-year deal from ‘Hawks, at least $6M per season

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 22:  Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks poses after winning the Calder Trophy named for the top rookie at the 2016 NHL Awards at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on June 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Artemi Panarin is looking to cash in on his Calder-winning campaign.

Chicago’s prized Russian sniper and the reigning rookie of the year, Panarin is reportedly seeking a six-year contract extension “worth more than $6 million per season,” per the Chicago Tribune.

As the Tribune points out, that figure could be problematic. Nobody’s arguing that Panarin isn’t worth the money — he’s 24, and coming off a 30-goal, 77-point campaign — but people are wondering how the ‘Hawks can afford him. Eight players on the active roster are pulling in at least $4 million per season, which includes Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, they of the $10.5M cap hits.

That said, it sure sounds like Panarin will get done.

Reports last week said his agent and ‘Hawks GM Stan Bowman were well into extension talks, and Bowman seemed confident a deal would be inked.

“I respect Tom [Lynn, Panarin’s agent], he’s a very knowledgeable guy and I know Artemi put a lot of faith in him,” Bowman said. “Tom and I will work to get something done.”

Panarin’s heading into the last of a two-year, $6.775 million deal with a $3.387 AAV — a deal that gained plenty of notoriety as the season progressed. Since it was so performance-laden, Panarin cashed in a couple of times, including a $1.725 million bonus for finishing among the top-10 scorers in the NHL.

That led to Bowman making some tough financial decisions this offseason, including the deal that sent Bryan Bickell — more specifically, Bryan Bickell’s contract — and Teuvo Teravainen to Carolina in exchange for draft picks.

So, this latest situation isn’t anything new for the ‘Hawks GM. He’s been down the financial squeeze road before, and usually found a way to keep his core players in the mix.

If Panarin is considered a core guy — and at this point, it sure sounds like he is — then finding common ground on an extension shouldn’t be too difficult.

Gudbranson-Hutton pairing will be key for Canucks

Vancouver Canucks' defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who was acquired from the Florida Panthers in the off-season, answers questions during a news conference ahead of the NHL hockey team's training camp in Vancouver, British Columbia, Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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There’s a long list of things that have to go right for the Vancouver Canucks if their playoff hopes are to be realized.

One of the biggest is for new addition Erik Gudbranson to form a cohesive second pairing with sophomore Ben Hutton. If that happens, and if Alex Edler and Chris Tanev can stay healthy, the Canucks should have a reliable top-four defense, and that’s something they rarely, if ever, had last season.

Gudbranson, a big stay-at-home type, and Hutton, a puck-mover, have been skating together at training camp. The Canucks believe the pairing has great potential, with each defenseman’s strengths complementing the other’s.

“I want to get his feet moving and hit him in stride and get him up the ice with the puck as soon as possible,” Gudbranson said, per The Province. “I think we’re going to be a good partnership. We’re both on the same page. We’re both excited to play with each other and grow as a unit.”

Vancouver’s third pairing remains to be seen. Luca Sbisa with Philip Larsen is the most likely at this point, though Nikita Tryamkin and Andrey Pedan on the left side, and Alex Biega and Troy Stecher on the right, could make things interesting. Jordan Subban is another wild card. Olli Juolevi too, though he’s a long shot and will likely end up back in junior.

The Canucks were decimated by injuries to their best defensemen last season. Edler only played 52 games, Dan Hamhuis 58, and Tanev 69. Other teams with more depth could survive that, but Vancouver floundered.

That’s why health is another big thing that has to go right for the Canucks. Another injury-filled season and it’s hard to picture them staying in the playoff race.

Vancouver opens its preseason schedule tonight in San Jose.

Boedker to make Team Europe debut in World Cup final

DENVER, CO - MARCH 09:  Mikkel Boedker #89 of the Colorado Avalanche controls the puck against the Anaheim Ducks at Pepsi Center on March 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Ducks 3-0.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Mikkel Boedker‘s first game for Team Europe will be a big one.

Boedker, a healthy scratch throughout the World Cup, will make his European debut on Tuesday, replacing the injured Marian Gaborik (foot) in the first of the best-of-three final.

Head coach Ralph Kreuger opted for Boedker rather than dressing Luca Sbisa as a seventh defenseman, and lamented losing Gaborik’s presence in the lineup.

“We’re losing some leadership and smarts on the puck that were exemplary,” Krueger said, per the L.A. Times.

What the Europeans will gain, however, is speed. Boedker’s one of the fastest skaters in the league and is coming off a good offensive campaign, tying a career-high with 51 points.

The 26-year-old appeared in two of Europe’s exhibition games, both against Team North America. He received a ton of ice time in the first — 19:46 — but had that cut in half for the rematch, when he had 13 shifts for just 9:22 TOI.

Related: Gaborik (foot) to miss eight weeks