Babcock excited for protégé Paul MacLean’s opportunity

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Tonight’s opening night game between the Detroit Red Wings and the Ottawa Senators was more than just a game between a Stanley Cup contender and a contender for the #1 overall pick in the 2012 Draft. For the men behind the bench, it was an opportunity for Paul MacLean to show what he could do in his first head coaching gig. Behind the Red Wings’ bench, it was a chance to see one of their own trying to make the most of the biggest break of his career.

The bad news is that MacLean had to face his former team in his first game as the Senators’ new head coach. After falling behind 5-0, the overmatched Sens managed to make the final score a much more respectable 5-3 final score. The good news is that MacLean and the rest of the boys in Ottawa won’t have to face Detroit again until next season.

For MacLean, the first game as head coach was the culmination of a long road in the coaching world. After a successful coaching with Mike Babcock in Detroit, he was only a matter of time before he got his opportunity. MacLean explains:

“It’s pretty satisfying to get the opportunity to be a head coach in the National Hockey League. A lot of it has to do with being on a successful team and knowing what it takes to be successful in this League. Todd has done a great job in San Jose getting his team further and making it better and that’s the challenge for me — to do that here in Ottawa, as well.”

When listing people to thank, Babcock should be at the top of the pile. Not only had Babcock given him jobs in both Anaheim and Detroit, but he’s groomed the new Sens bench boss to be a head coach himself one day. There’s a key advantage when a head coach prepares his assistants to move onto better things one day. Just ask Todd McLellan for the Sharks.

Red Wings’ coach Mike Babcock holds no ill-will for MacLean moving onto Ottawa. In fact, quite the opposite. Babcock explains that when assistant coaches get promotions around the league, it’s a source of pride for himself and the organization:

“I’m a big believer that the best CEOs in the country… their people move on and do things. Some people stifle people and don’t let them grow and there’s no succession plan. I don’t believe in that. I believe that not just for players, but for coaches, it speaks highly of your organization if people are growing and developing and moving on. I’m proud of it. I’ve got lots of guys who I’ve coached with who are coaches now. I’m proud of that fact. To me, that’s what it’s all about.”

MacLean is certainly walking into a difficult situation this season. The Sens are trying to mix in prospects with potential, strong AHL players, and aging NHL stars. Last season they were one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference and most people have them picked to finish at the bottom of the Northeast Division this season. MacLean will have his work cut out for him if he wants to follow in Mike Babcock and Todd McLellan’s successful footsteps.

For now, he’s just excited for his opportunity. So is his former boss.

After Stepan trade, Zibanejad negotiations become even more crucial

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For a good while, the center position in New York was largely carried by the one-two punch of Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan.

Now, the Derick & Derek show is no longer.

Stepan was shipped out during draft weekend in a blockbuster deal with Arizona. Brassard exited a year earlier in a move to Ottawa that brought Mika Zibanejad to the Blueshirts.

Zibanejad, 24, was acquired by GM Jeff Gorton in the hopes of one day becoming New York’s No. 1 center. He certainly showed he was capable this season — despite missing nearly 30 games with a broken fibula, he put together a fine offensive regular season and then surged in the playoffs, finishing with nine points in 12 games.

And now, a big negotiation sits on the horizon.

Zibanejad is a restricted free agent coming off a two-year, $5.25 million deal with a $2.625M cap hit. As we wrote earlier, Gorton is “open to anything” with regards to the extension, saying he’d be willing to go either short- or long-term.

One has to think Zibanejad has a ton of leverage. His acquisition price (Brassard) was significant, Stepan is now gone, and so too is depth center Oscar Lindberg, who was acquired by Vegas at the expansion draft. Right now, New York’s center depth consists of Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes and maybe some spot duty from J.T. Miller.

Lias Andersson, taken seventh overall at Friday’s draft, said he wants to make the Rangers this year. But there’s no guarantee he’ll even play in North America this season, as Gorton could opt to send Andersson back to the Swedish League for further development.

The free agent market isn’t especially inspiring down the middle, unless someone thinks they can land Joe Thornton, and there’s no doubt Zibanejad’s seen the paydays scored by some other good, young, top-line centers. Winnipeg gave Mark Scheifele $49 million over eight years, while Calgary gave Sean Monahan $44M over seven.

Is Zibanejad at their level? If you surveyed folks around the league, the answer would be probably no. But he could be soon and, what’s more, the Rangers may be forced to pay him as if he already is.

Sabres bring back defenseman Fedun on two-year deal

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Taylor Fedun, the Sabres depth defenseman that was set to become a UFA on Saturday, has agreed to a two-year, two-way extension, Buffalo announced on Monday.

Fedun, 29, appeared in 27 games for the Sabres last year, splitting time between the NHL and the club’s AHL affiliate in Rochester. He was a very productive player for the Amerks, scoring 23 points in 29 games.

Moving forward, most expect Fedun to continue in the same role he served this year — a guy that can provide veteran stability at the minor league level, and fill spot duty at the NHL level when injuries strike.

Ottawa extends Pyatt — two years, $2.2 million

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Tom Pyatt, the veteran forward who enjoyed some success reuniting with Guy Boucher in Ottawa last season, has re-signed with the Sens on a two-year, $2.2 million deal, per TSN.

Pyatt was a steady contributor for the Sens, scoring nine goals and 23 points while appearing in all 82 contests. He averaged over 15 minutes per night and was a vital part of the club’s penalty kill, leading all forwards in blocked shots.

He also appeared in 14 playoff games, scoring twice.

Prior to playing in Ottawa, Pyatt had skated under Boucher in Tampa Bay. They spent parts of two years together with the Lightning, before heading off to Switzerland — Pyatt with Geneve Servette, Boucher with Bern SC.

Pyatt was set to become an unrestricted free agent on Saturday, but clearly liked the fit in Ottawa. He’ll get a pay bump — up from the $800,000 he made last year — a bit more long-term security, and possibly a bigger role with the Sens moving forward.

Ottawa has already stated it will cut ties with veteran tough guy Chris Neil, and decisions are still looming on UFA forwards Viktor Stalberg, Chris Kelly and Tommy Wingels.

 

 

Kassian gets three-year, $5.85 million commitment from Oilers

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Zack Kassian, after some terrific performances for the Oilers in the playoffs, has signed a three-year contract extension in Edmonton.

The deal is worth $5.85 million, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie. That’s a cap hit just below $2 million.

Kassian, 26, seems to have salvaged his NHL career after missteps in Vancouver and Montreal. The big winger had seven goals and 17 games in 79 games for the Oilers during the regular season. But it was in the postseason where he really made an impact — especially in the first round against San Jose.

Twice Kassian scored game-winning goals against the Sharks. He was also a physical force:

Granted, Kassian was less noticeable in the second round, but the fact he received a three-year commitment from the Oilers speaks to the organization’s belief that he’s truly turned his life around.

Related: Kassian opens up about struggles with alcoholism