Phoenix Coyotes v Los Angeles Kings

2011-2012 season preview: Los Angeles Kings

2010-2011 record: 46-30-6, 98 points; 4th in Pacific, 7th in West.

Playoffs: Lost to San Jose 4-2 in Western quarterfinals

If you believe fans and the actions of management, the time is now for the Kings. After building expectations last season, the team acquired former Flyers captain Mike Richards (for a package that included prized prospect Brayden Schenn) in an offseason trade and signed Simon Gagne as an unrestricted free agent. After signing 21-year-old restricted free agent Drew Doughty to an 8-year deal worth $56 million in the final days of training camp, management signaled that the Kings are clearly in ‘win now’ mode.

Offense

Over the past few seasons, the main question marks around the Kings forwards have been their left wings and second-line center position. Despite expectations at the beginning of last season, the voids at both positions made some insiders wonder if they’d have what it took to make the next step. They didn’t. But management has done their best to address the void in full: Richards steps in as the undisputed No. 2 center behind Anze Kopitar, while Gagne and deadline acquisition Dustin Penner  fill the top two spots on the left wing. Combined with the likes of Dustin Brown and Justin Williams, the Kings have a legitimate top-six that can compete with just about any team in the league.

Defense

There were clouds of uncertainty as the Kings prepared to head to Europe for their first two games without Doughty. Just about all of the clouds disappeared when Doughty and the Kings reached a last-minute agreement. He’ll join defensive stalwarts Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi on the blue line as the Kings are built on strong defensive play. For the Kings to take the next step though, they’ll need Jack Johnson to step up and play like the player everyone thought he’d be when he was drafted No. 3 overall by Carolina in 2005. He was undoubtedly the weak link on a strong blue line last season — if he can take the next step mentally, the Kings could have the strongest defense in the Western Conference.

Goalies

There aren’t many young goalie tandems like Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier. Quick was given the reins to start last season and never did anything to allow the coaching staff to pull him from the crease. His 2.24 goals against average was among the league’s best and his .918 save percentage was a career best. He’ll need to continue the stellar play because Bernier is breathing down his neck. After a slow start to begin last season, Bernier pulled his game together and was a rock down the stretch. For people that say that healthy competition is a good thing — the Kings are in a good spot.

Coaching

Terry Murray has helped the young players within the organization mature from a collection of NHL hopefuls to a team coming off back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in a decade. The next step for Murray will be to teach the players within the locker room to be able to play with expectations. Murray has proved that he knows how to lead teams to the playoffs at every spot throughout his long coaching career — now he’ll need to help them grow into a dangerous playoff team.

Breakout candidate

Penner was an absolute disaster after he was acquired by the Kings in a deadline deal from Edmonton. Most people forget that he scored in six of his first seven games with the Kings because he went the final 12 games of the season without a point. Between learning a new system, losing his playmaking center, and horrific conditioning, Penner fell apart and eventually found himself in a fourth-line role in the playoffs. This season, he’s in the best shape of his career (as he enters a contract year), he’ll have Kopitar feeding him the puck and he has a better idea of what the organization expects of him on the defensive side of the puck. Look for a career year for the reenergized and motivated Penner.

Best-case scenario

For the first time in their 44-year history, the Kings don’t have any glaring weaknesses. If newcomers like Richards and Gagne can smoothly make the transition to the Western Conference, Kopitar can continue his assent to elite center status, and Doughty can rediscover his Norris Trophy finalist form of 2009-10, the Kings will have all the pieces to make a deep run in the playoffs. If everything falls into place, this team could have fans in Los Angeles having flashbacks to the memorable run to the Stanley Cup finals in 1993.

Reality

The reality is that the Kings have never had these kinds of expectations. They’ve had times when they were expected to be one of the better teams in the Western Conference, but this season the Kings are looked at as possible Stanley Cup contenders. It’s a different animal for a team to play with expectations. Assuming all of the new players can seamlessly fit into their new roles and the team can avoid the ill-timed injures of a season ago, the Kings have the type of team that can win the Pacific and finish second in the conference.

Poll: Will Jaromir Jagr lead the Panthers in scoring again?

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 14:  Jaromir Jagr #68 of the Florida Panthers signals a teammate during the third period against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on March 14, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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This is part of Florida Panthers day at PHT…

At age 43 Jaromir Jagr was the oldest player in the NHL last season by more than four years.

You would have never known it when watching him play.

He was still a dominant top-line player and on many night was the best player on the team. His 66 points were more than any player in NHL history age 43 or older, and he finished as the team’s leading scorer.

While he has obviously slowed down from where he was during his peak years in the league when he was one of best players ever, he is still playing at a level that almost no other player in NHL history has been able to match at this age. And there doesn’t seem to be any sign of him dramatically slowing down in the near future.

Because of that, the Panthers are bringing him back in 2016-17 for at least one more year.

So with Jagr back in the mix for another year, will he end up leading the Panthers in scoring once again even though he will be 44 years old? Jagr is one of just three players in NHL history that has ever finished as his team’s leading scorer over the age of 40, a list that includes only him, Gordie Howe and Teemu Selanne. He is the only player that has done it over the age of 43 and the only one that has done it for two different teams (New Jesrey in 2013-14 and Florida in 2015-16).

The one player that seems to be a significant challenger is Aleksander Barkov. He finished just seven points behind Jagr in 2015-16 (in 12 fewer games) and spent most of the season playing on a line with Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau, a trio that was one of the most dominant lines in the league when they were together. But given how Jagr still seems to be in great shape and was still a 60-point player a year ago he is not going to be easy to overtake.

Report: Rangers close to inking Pirri

ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 01:  Brandon Pirri #11 of the Anaheim Ducks jumps over Ben Hutton #27 of the Vancouver Canucks during the first period at Honda Center on April 1, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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One of the most intriguing UFAs left on the open market has reportedly found a new home.

Brandon Pirri, the 25-year-old forward that’s scored 36 goals over the last two seasons, is set to join the Rangers on a one-year, $1.1 million deal, per Sportnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

Taken 59th overall by Chicago in 2009, Pirri’s always been high on offensive ability and shown a consistent knack for finding the back of the net, even with limited opportunities.

In ’13-14, he scored 13 times despite only appearing in 49 games.

In ’14-15, he scored 22 times despite only appearing in 49 games.

(This is not a typo. For some reason he hit that 49 game mark with regularity.)

Last year, Pirri had 11 goals in 52 contests before the Panthers flipped him to Anaheim. He proceeded to score three goals and five points in nine games as a Duck — missing a good chunk of time with a serious ankle injury — but failed to crack the lineup during an opening-round playoff loss to Nashville.

In New York, Pirri will be part of a remodeled forward group that includes GM Jeff Gorton’s other pickups this summer: Jimmy Vesey, Michael Grabner, Josh Jooris and Nathan Gerbe.

The group also got a new look via trade, as Gorton flipped Derick Brassard to Ottawa for Mika Zibanejad.

Avalanche hire Jared Bednar as new head coach

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All 30 NHL teams now have a head coach for the 2016-17 season.

Just a couple of weeks after Patrick Roy abruptly left the Colorado Avalanche organization, the team announced on Thursday afternoon that Jared Bednar will replace him behind the bench.

“After profiling the type of coach I wanted for our team and going through an interview process with several good candidates, I believe that Jared Bednar is the best person to lead this team behind the bench,” Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic said in a team statement. “Jared’s track record of success as a head coach in the American Hockey League speaks for itself and he is considered to be one of the top up-and-coming coaches in our business.”

“Even though we had to accelerate the process with training camp approaching, we feel we met some real strong candidates with a lot of potential to become head coaches in the NHL in the near future, continued Sakic. “I would like to thank the general managers who gave us permission to talk to key staff members at such a precarious time.”

This will be Bednar’s first head coaching job in the NHL, but he boasts a pretty impressive resume in the minors that includes a couple of championships at two different levels.

Prior to joining the Avalanche, Bednar coached the Lake Erie Monsters, the AHL affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and led the team to a Calder Cup championship this past season thanks to a 15-2 run during the playoffs.

He also won the ECHL’s Kelly Cup in 2008-09 when he was behind the bench for the South Carolina Stingrays.

Bednar is taking over an Avalanche team that had regressed in each of the past two seasons under Roy and has some pretty significant holes on its blue line. He is also taking over the team less than a month before training camps are set to begin. That is a pretty tall order for a first-time NHL coach.

On the plus side, he does have a lot of talent to work with. The Avalanche have a strong core of young forwards that includes Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, and potentially Mikko Rantanen, the No. 10 overall pick in 2015 that dominated the AHL in his first pro season. Tyson Barrie is also one of the more underrated defensemen in the league, while he also has a No. 1 goalie in Semyon Varlamov. So the cupboard isn’t entirely bare, and perhaps a fresh approach that plays to the strengths of the core players can get even more out of them.

Under Pressure: Keith Yandle

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 30:  Keith Yandle #93 of the New York Rangers skates against the Washington Capitals in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 30, 2015 in New York City.  Capitals defeated the Rangers 2-1.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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This is part of Florida Panthers day at PHT…

After a 2015-16 season that saw the Panthers take a huge step in their development and surprisingly win the regular season Atlantic Division crown, they spent the summer loading up their roster in an effort to become a Stanley Cup contender. The centerpiece of that roster movement was the seven-year, $44.45 million contract they gave defenseman Keith Yandle after acquiring his free agent negotiating rights from the New York Rangers.

Yandle can be a bit of a polarizing player because of his style of play.

Statistically, he is one of the most productive defenders in the NHL and is pretty much a lock for at least 45 points every season.

But he also isn’t a player that is viewed as a true shutdown defender, and instead is looked at as one that needs to be in more of a sheltered role to really excel. That can lead to scrutiny and criticism when he isn’t putting points on the board. That always seemed to be the case during his 103 regular season games with the Rangers, a team that never fully seemed to embrace the positives he brings to the ice.

If he is going to face any pressure in Florida it is probably going to be the result of that reputation, as well as the $44 million price tag he carries.

That type of salary brings a lot of high expectations.  It is going to be especially true in Florida because the Panthers lost perhaps their most reliable defenseman over the summer when Brian Campbell left in free agency to return to the Chicago Blackhawks. Campbell played a ton of big minutes and was a rock alongside Aaron Ekblad on the team’s top pairing over the past two seasons. That is a big hole to replace in the lineup, and with Yandle’s salary there is going to be an expectation for him to be one of the top guys on the blue line.

The problem with that is Yandle is the type of player that tends to stand out no matter what he does, and that isn’t always a positive for defensemen.

When he is at his best, he is making an impact with the puck and creating offense. A lot of offense.

But when he makes a mistake, whether it is a turnover or simply getting beat in the defensive zone, as defenders that play his style of hockey do from time to time, it will stand out like a sore thumb. And even though the positive play usually outweigh the mistakes, the mistakes are usually the ones that get most of the attention.

Yandle is a very good player and the Panthers are a better team with him on the roster. He is the type of mobile, puck-moving defensemen that is starting to reshape the way teams think about and build their defense. But as he experienced in New York after the Rangers gave up a huge return to acquire him in a trade from the Arizona Coyotes,  the cost to acquire him might create level of expectation that will be difficult, if not impossible, to reach.