Bruce Boudreau wants Caps to have best of both worlds offensively and defensively

4 Comments

When the Washington Capitals seemed to flip a switch last season and go from the high octane run-and-gun offensive juggernaut to a team that would lock you down defensively and win games 1-0 and 2-1, it was a startling shock for both Caps fans and teams around the NHL. After all, you go into a game that features offensive talents like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin you think you’ll be flying up and down the ice trading offensive chances.

Instead, the Caps were able to play a smothering kind of defense that limited opportunities and kept the score down on both sides of the ice as the Caps offense had to adjust to their new brand of hockey. As they head into their second season under the new system led by coach Bruce Boudreau, the Capitals have a few new pieces to play with. Guys like Roman Hamrlik, Joel Ward, and Troy Brouwer bring more of the blue collar gamesmanship to the squad but Boudreau wants a little more.

Tarik El-Bashir of The Washington Post hears from Boudreau that while he likes the commitment to defense, he wants more goals and would love to have the best of both worlds.

“I’m hoping that we can be a hybrid,” Boudreau said. “There’s some parts we changed [last season] that I really loved. But when you’re playing like that, you have score a lot of goals dump-ins and you have to score a lot of goals off the forecheck because the quick-break isn’t there. I’d like to get back to being more of a quick-break team.”

Boudreau would not delve into the specifics of positioning and the responsibilities of individual players in the new system. But he also made it clear that he doesn’t want them to revert to the Caps of 2009-10, with forwards routinely gliding back, or camping out in the neutral zone while the puck is deep in Washington’s end, or more important, feeling that defensive-zone coverage isn’t in their job description.

“I’d like to be a quick-break team but not [have forwards] taking off, waiting at the blue line,” he said.

Getting that sort of attacking team can happen. Take a look at how teams like Vancouver, Chicago, and Detroit can stop on a dime and take a turnover and jet the other way to create offensive opportunities. Teams like that have been working their systems for many seasons, however, and their key components have been in place for years playing the same sort of hockey. If the Caps can get to that sort of level and become a quick strike team in the Eastern Conference with the weapons they have, it makes them all the more dangerous.

Pulling it off while still remaining committed to defense and not getting lost along the way will be the struggle for the Caps. The Caps have a lot of forward possibilities to play with in camp and juggling all these things are a tricky thing for a head coach to handle while also trying to do something new. Boudreau did well with it all last year, but if he can turn the Caps into a quick-strike defensive lockdown team, he might get that Stanley Cup that’s been eluding the Caps all these years.

Burns and Thornton pose nude for ESPN Body Issue, and yes, it’s weird

Getty
1 Comment

Hey, have you ever wanted to see Brent Burns and Joe Thornton essentially line up against each other naked?

Well, ESPN the Magazine interrupted your answer either way, going ahead and doing it for their vaunted Body Issue.

Considering Thornton’s UFA status, there’s at least an outside chance that this will be their final action together as members of the San Jose Sharks.

This is your last chance not to scroll and see Thornton, Burns, beards, tattoos, and not a whole lot else.

/waits

Former teammate Jason Demers captured it on Twitter, making it his background, and generally winning the Internet for the day:

Did anyone else think about Thornton’s line after Tomas Hertl scored four goals? No? OK.

The real highlight might be Burns and Thornton giggling in robes, honestly.

Click here for more on that issue, including information on U.S. women’s ice hockey team members who will also be featured.

Hjalmarsson shocked by Blackhawks trade, but Coyotes could improve soon

Getty
Leave a comment

Who could blame Niklas Hjalmarsson for being surprised that the Chicago Blackhawks traded him? The move blindsided … well, just about everyone outside of the Blackhawks organization, after all.

“It’s going to take some time to get used to that thought,” Hjalmarsson said, according to the Arizona Republic. “At the same time, I’m trying to always be a positive guy.”

Indeed, the 30-year-old defenseman did his best to say all the right things about the Arizona Coyotes, praising a roster that includes “a lot of young and promising players.”

MORE on the trade here

Described by some as the NHL’s best pure defensive defenseman, Hjalmarsson also gives the Coyotes good reason to be excited by a blueline that’s suddenly quite competitive. Consider the quartet that GM John Chayka helped assemble:

Hjalmarsson: An often-underrated part of the Blackhawks’ run. Consider some of the praise he received even before this move was made.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson: One of the league’s best-kept secrets, “OEL” ranks as one of the most dangerous scoring defensemen. At 25, he’s still deep in his prime.

Alex Goligoski: When you consider the Dallas Stars’ lost 2016-17 season, don’t dismiss the absence of “Gogo.” He might not be perfect, but the 31-year-old is the sort of puck-mover you need to excel in the modern game.

Jakob Chychrun: At 19, he’s already getting reps at the NHL level. The Coyotes could pair him with a veteran and watch him grow.

***

When you look at those four, in particular, it’s easier to see Hjalmarsson’s excitement as more than just lip service. It probably doesn’t hurt that the Coyotes also added Derek Stepan, another sign that this franchise is taking the next step after absorbing other franchises’ problem contracts in the likes of Dave Bolland and Pavel Datsyuk’s last year.

Granted, it will still be an adjustment, as the Coyotes are likely aiming for “respectable” while anything less that a deep run was unacceptable for the Blackhawks.

Still, Hjalmarsson has plenty of power to make this move more palatable than it may have initially seemed.

And, hey, who would blame him for circling Oct. 21 on his calendar?

Report: Coyotes to talk to Todd Nelson about coaching vacancy

Getty
4 Comments

The Arizona Coyotes had a somewhat unexpected shakeup this past week when the team and long-time head coach Dave Tippett mutually agreed to part ways after nine seasons together.

The search for a replacement began immediately and according to Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal the Coyotes will be speaking to former Oilers coach Todd Nelson about the vacancy.

Nelson spent 51 games behind the Oilers bench during the 2014-15 season replacing Dallas Eakins. Nelson was replaced at the conclusion of that season by former San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan. While his NHL head coaching experience is limited to that brief time in Edmonton, he has an extensive track record in the American Hockey League with the Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton’s top farm team) and currently the Grand Rapids Griffins (the Detroit Red Wings’ top farm team).

He has spent the past two seasons in Grand Rapids — replacing Jeff Blashill after he was promoted to the Detroit job — and has had a ton of success, leading the team to the Calder Cup this past season.

Predators won’t trade defense for forward help

1 Comment

After losing James Neal to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft this past week the Nashville Predators have a pretty glaring hole in their top-six that is going to need to be addressed. Along with that, captain Mike Fisher is an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and is also considering retirement.

Because of those two developments general manager David Poile has made adding a top-six forward a priority for this summer, and he certainly has the salary cap space to get something done.

One thing he is not going to do, however, is trade one of his defensemen to find that help up front.

“We’ve traded enough defensemen in my recent history,” Poile said on Saturday, via the Tennessean. “I think everybody would be pretty much on the same page that our defense drives our team and our corps is as good as any in the league. We will not be touching our defense in the near future here.”

Over the past two years Poile has traded Shea Weber and Seth Jones off of his blue line but has still managed to assemble the NHL’s best defense. The quartet of P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm is so good that Poile made sure to protect all four of them in the expansion draft and leave Neal — a consistent 25-to 30-goal scorer signed for one more year on a pretty good contract — exposed for Vegas to take.

Without dealing one of their top-four defensemen it might be difficult to find an impact winger via the trade route, which might force them to turn to the free agent market.

But even that is going to be difficult because it is such a limited market. Now that T.J. Oshie has re-signed with the Washington Capitals Alexander Radulov would probably be the top winger available, but given his history with Nashville there is virtually no chance of that reunion happening. Justin Williams would be an intriguing veteran option, while Joe Thornton could help fill the void at center if Fisher does not return.

Still, not trading from the defense is the absolute right path for Poile and the Predators to take. Not only is that group the backbone of the Predators’ organization and one of the driving forces behind its success, it is also an extremely young group that is all signed long-term on cap friendly deals.

Even with the loss of Neal Nashville still has a deep group of forwards, while youngsters Pontus Aberg and Kevin Fiala could get an increased role and an opportunity to shine.