Nicklas Backstrom, Martin Brodeur

Are these 10 players primed for bounce back seasons?

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NHL.com’s John Kreiser is something of a maestro when it comes to off-season fodder, so it comes as no surprise that his top 10 list of “bounce back” players is an interesting read. That being said, the beauty of these lists is that they typically lend themselves to wildly subjective (and sometimes fun) debates. With that in mind, I’m going to file his 10 choices into three categories: likely to improve significantly, candidates for a marginal improvement and players who are unlikely to improve.

Let’s stay positive at first by going with the guys who should have a much better season. Again, this is going on the 10 players Kreiser listed; we might provide some other candidates at a later time.

Significant improvement

Nicklas Backstrom – The Swedish pivot’s numbers might be linked to Alex Ovechkin for quite some time, so it’s no mystery that his numbers slid when Ovi scored a relatively low 32 goals last season. Ovechkin isn’t likely to suffer with a shooting percentage at the 8.7 mark and Backstrom isn’t likely to hit just 8.9 percent himself for another season, so I bet Backstrom will be better by the sheer force of better luck. There’s one caveat, though: I think he’ll be closer to the 88-point 2008-09 campaign than his career-best 101 in 09-10 since the Caps are more defensive-minded.

Mark Streit – It’s pretty hard not to top 0 points in 0 games, eh? Streit’s return could make the New York Islanders a dark horse candidate for a playoff run next season.

Martin Brodeur – Actually, I think a better year for Ilya Kovalchuk and a healthier one for Zach Parise – and no John MacLean – will benefit the team as a whole, which will trickle down to Marty. Brodeur is getting long in the tooth, but like Streit, he’ll probably improve by default more than anything else. I still wouldn’t draft him too highly in any fantasy leagues, though.

source: APMarginal improvements

Marian Gaborik – He’d be a significant improver if a Terminator robot came back from the future and informed the world that the injury-prone winger would skate for 82 games with Brad Richards. Sadly, that scenario is about as likely as … a Terminator robot informing the world of a Slovakian winger’s surprising health. He’ll still be better than he was in 2010-11, though.

Sergei Gonchar – Another guy in the “he couldn’t get much worse” files. Don’t expect a significant improvement considering the mediocre roster around him, though.

Scott Gomez – Again, just in this category because he couldn’t get much worse than last year.

Duncan Keith – People overreacted to his struggles last season. The truth is that Keith benefited from a 2009-10 Chicago team whose overload of matchup advantages won’t be duplicated. He’s kind of like Nicklas Backstrom in that his normal expectations should probably rest somewhere in between his best season in 09-10 and his “struggles” last season.

Nik Antropov – The former Toronto Maple Leafs center had a surprisingly strong 09-10 campaign, but I just didn’t buy it. You can attribute much of that hot season to an unsustainable 19 percent shooting percentage. That being said, 41 points is far behind the totals he put together the previous three seasons and his ice time slid substantially in 10-11, so he’ll probably put up better numbers by default.

source: APUnlikely to improve

Niklas Backstrom – This isn’t meant to be an insult to Backstrom; he’s a good NHL goalie. The problem is that the Minnesota Wild defense is really poor so it’s likely he’ll be hung out to dry with regularity. Perhaps you could file him under “marginal improvement” if win-loss record is all you can are about, but I get the feeling his individual numbers might be shaky again. In fact, his .916 save percentage was pretty solid last season, so hanging the Wild’s struggles on his shoulders really isn’t that fair in the first place.

Steve Sullivan – He’ll be significantly improved … in video games. Unfortunately, you can’t turn injuries off in real life, so I fear that Sullivan might be next season’s version of Mike Comrie. This might be my riskiest pick because it could indeed be very wrong if he remains healthy, but he’s been so injury prone that I can’t see it happening.

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So what do you think about these players? Do you have some bounce back candidates of your own? Share your thoughts in the comments.

The Coyotes are going in a ‘new direction,’ and that’s an understatement

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - JULY 08:  (L-R) Head coach Dave Tippett and Assistant General Manager/Analytics John Chayka of the Arizona Coyotes watch the prospect development camp at the Ice Den on July 8, 2015 in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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At the very least, the Arizona Coyotes aren’t afraid to try new things.

Today, they officially named a 26-year-old, John Chayka, as their new general manager.

And that wasn’t all.

The Coyotes also unveiled a new, flatter management hierarchy that will see Chayka working alongside head coach Dave Tippett on player-personnel decisions. Tippett has added the title of Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations. He’s also agreed to a new, five-year contract.

In addition to those changes, one of the Coyotes’ co-owners, Gary Drummond, will now serve as Director of Hockey Operations.

It was reported yesterday that Chayka would replace Don Maloney as GM. The Coyotes fired Maloney in April, citing a desire to go in a “new direction.”

Chayka sure represents that.

“John is among the best and brightest minds in hockey,” Drummond said in a statement. “He is knowledgeable and driven and has an incredible passion for the game. He brings an innovative approach to assessing talent and looking at player development and combined with his strong analytics expertise, we feel that he’s the right choice for the direction we want to go with our franchise.”

Chayka told reporters today at a press conference that he’s open to using “any and all tools” to help turn the Coyotes into a sustainable winner, from traditional scouting methods to statistical analysis to psychological profiling.

And though some may be skeptical about his age, he insisted he won’t be going at it alone. 

“I’m excited to partner with Dave Tippett on this venture,” said Chayka. “I appreciate the experience and knowledge that he brings to the game.”

To aid Chayka and Tippett, the Coyotes intend to hire a “very seasoned” assistant general manager.

The way Chayka explains it, the idea is that all voices will be heard, and all opinions will be considered.

“At the end of the day, the buck stops with me in terms of player-personnel decisions,” he said. “But certainly I’m not someone who’s going to be authoritarian in my views. I’m going to be very open. … The key for me is the best idea wins.”

Suffice to say, it will be interesting to see how all this plays out. There’s always skepticism when a team tries something new, and this is definitely unique:

Chayka, however, believes the Coyotes’ future has never been brighter.

“The positives are endless with respect to the vision and direction of our ownership group, to the influx of young, talented players that are going to excite our fans for years to come, ” he said.

“We’ll have challenges along the way as we continue to grow, but we’ll rely on our increased communication, collaboration and innovation to overcome these issues and achieve our goals.”

Not done yet: Jagr signs one-year extension with Florida

Florida Panthers right wing Jaromir Jagr (68) celebrates his second goal against the Winnipeg Jets during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in Sunrise, Fla. The Panthers won 3-1. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
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Jaromir Jagr‘s assault on the NHL record books will continue.

Jagr, who moved into third all-time in points this season, has signed a one-year extension with the Florida Panthers, the club announced on Thursday.

Per Sportsnet, it’s a $4 million base salary next year, with $1.5M in potential bonuses.

“Jaromir has had a tremendous influence on our younger players and has been a key offensive contributor on our team,” Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant said in a release. “We are happy to have him back as we look to build off this year’s playoff appearance.”

It’s little surprise Jagr came back for another year. At 44, he led the Panthers in scoring, with 66 points in 79 games, and was named a captain at this year’s All-Star Game in Nashville.

Though his playoff performance left something to be desired — no goals and just two points in a six-game loss to the Isles — Jagr’s overall impact on the club goes well beyond the stat sheet.

He’s been credited with mentoring two of the club’s brightest young talents at forward, linemates Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. Jagr, the NHL’s oldest active player, has also been praised for his work ethic and remarkable physical conditioning, which will (presumably) allow him to play at age 45 next season.

Speaking of next season, there will be huge focus on Jagr’s chase of Mark Messier for second all-time in NHL scoring. Jagr needs just 20 points to pass Messier, and trail only Wayne Gretzky as the most prolific point-getter in league history.

One of the two? Sens will interview Boudreau on Friday

Bruce Boudreau
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Ottawa’s search for a new head coach is moving along quickly.

Just one day after owner Eugene Melnyk said the Sens would be down to a two-person shortlist by Friday, the Ottawa Sun reported that Bruce Boudreau would interview for the bench boss gig tomorrow.

Tomorrow… which is Friday.

Boudreau’s the latest in a long line of coaching prospects brought in GM Pierre Dorion. Others include Mike Yeo, Marc Crawford, Guy Boucher, Randy Carlyle and Kevin Dineen.

Boudreau, fired by the Ducks last week, is in hot demand. Bleacher Report’s Adrian Dater reported Calgary has already made an offer, and it’s believed the Minnesota Wild have also reached out, though GM Chuck Fletcher remains unclear what he plans to do with interim bench boss John Torchetti.

As for the Senators, there could be one more coach in the running to crack said shortlist:

Bob Hartley.

Dismissed by Calgary earlier this week, Hartley is seen as a good fit for the Sens gig. He speaks French, which is a bonus for a bi-lingual city like Ottawa, and has ties to player development coach Shean Donovan (Hartley coached Donovan in both Colorado and Atlanta)

Hartley’s also liked by former GM and current special advisor Bryan Murray, who nearly hired Hartley back in 2008 — but instead opted for Craig Hartsburg.

From the Globe:

[Murray] narrowed his search to Hartsburg, former Colorado Avalanche Stanley Cup championship coach Bob Hartley and highly regarded junior coach Peter DeBoer of the Kitchener Rangers. DeBoer beat Hartsburg in the OHL Western Conference final this season, 4-1. They emerged as the two finalists for the job.

Both met earlier this week with Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, who said he wanted to become familiar with both as well as “have a couple of beers and pizza.” The final decision was up to Murray, and Hartsburg became the man.

“I was impressed with all of them,” Murray said. “[Hartley’s]presentation was excellent and I can see why he’s had success.

Other candidates believed to be in the running for the Ottawa job are Kings assistant John Stevens, and Blues assistant Brad Shaw.

If the Stars don’t get some better goaltending, their GM will have some explaining to do

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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Kari Lehtonen was reportedly the first Stars goalie off the ice this morning, meaning he’s your likely starter tonight in St. Louis.

The decision by coach Lindy Ruff to go back to Lehtonen is no surprise after Antti Niemi started Game 3 and didn’t even last half of it. This is the way the Stars have rolled all season — back and forth between their two veteran netminders.

Yesterday, Ruff reiterated his frustration at having to constantly explain the two-goalie system.

“I’m just trying to stay consistent with what we have done all year,” Ruff told reporters. “I know that’s hard for you guys to buy into, because this two-goalie thing is new to you guys and you’d rather just ask me about one goalie, but we’ve had two goalies that have played really well that have got us to where we are.”

Ruff’s frustration is understandable, but then, so are the constant questions from reporters. Because if the Stars don’t get some better goaltending soon, they’ll be out of the playoffs and GM Jim Nill will be left to justify the $10.4 million in cap space he’s got tied up in Lehtonen and Niemi through 2017-18.

No other team has that much cap space allocated to a pair of goalies.

Now, was it all Niemi’s fault that the Stars lost Game 3? Of course it wasn’t. The Blues were the better team.

But the fact remains, Lehtonen and Niemi have combined to give Dallas an .892 save percentage in the playoffs, and that’s not even close to good enough.

Nill said going into the season that the Stars had “two No. 1 goalies.”

Right now, they don’t even have one.

If they did, he’d be playing all the time, and the coach wouldn’t have to explain a thing.