Ken Hitchcock

Three (News) Stars of the Week: Return of the Hitch, What’s up with Reimer?, Staring contest in T-Bay

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“Three (News) Stars of the Week” will run every Friday. It’s our way of acknowledging the week’s big NHL stories that gave us lots of page views, thereby increasing PHT’s attractiveness to advertisers.

Third star: Hitch is back and bluer than ever

The NHL’s first coaching casualty brought the return of Ken Hitchcock. But not to Columbus, where it was rumored he’d replace Scott Arniel. Rather, Hitch took Davis Payne’s job in St. Louis. The Blues started the season as  a young team with playoff potential. Now they’re a young team with playoff potential and a coach that doesn’t mess around. Some think this is a good thing. Others disagree. The Ottawa Senators demoted Nikita Filatov to the AHL on Monday. There was some irony there. Hitchcock says he’s been studying new ways to relate to young athletes. Just don’t expect him to start playing video games with TJ Oshie.

Second star: Goalie conundrum in T.O.

Toronto goalie James Reimer hasn’t played since getting clipped in the head by Brian Gionta on Oct. 22. Reimer has been suffering concussion-like symptoms; however, the Leafs are adamant it’s not a concussion. It’s all very confusing. Even his mom isn’t sure what’s going on. Reimer’s agent says it shouldn’t be long before his client is healthy again. The Leafs sure hope so, because Jonas Gustavsson is lost and Ben Scrivens is a wildcard.

First star: Two teams just standing there looking at each other

The Flyers and Lightning engaged in a curious affair Wednesday in Tampa Bay. It all started in the first period when the Flyers had the puck in their own end looking to break out. The Lightning players responded by dropping into their coach’s infamous 1-3-1 zone, to which the Flyers responded by doing…nothing. They just stood there holding the puck, daring the Lightning players to come after it. But the Lightning players held their positions. The referee eventually blew the whistle because the Flyers failed to advance the puck. But the Flyers had an answer for that, too. They just skated in circles in their own end. No rule against that. Meanwhile, the crowd booed, everyone on Twitter went nuts, and the future of hockey came into doubt. The next day people debated who was to blame for the debacle. Was it Lightning coach Guy Boucher for employing a tactic that was bad for the game? Or was it Flyers coach Peter Laviolette for being a bit of a jerk about it? All sorts of solutions were brought forth. Maybe the NHL should penalize the trap. Maybe it needed a shot clock. The general managers will discuss the issue next week. Nothing’s going to happen though.

Hurricanes extend contract of head coach Bill Peters

Bill Peters
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The Carolina Hurricanes may have missed the playoffs in each of Bill Peters’ two seasons behind the bench, but GM Ron Francis is clearly pleased with the job his head coach has done.

Today, the ‘Canes announced that Peters has been signed to a contract extension through the 2018-19 season.

“Bill is a talented, young coach in the National Hockey League,” said Francis in a release. “We are happy that he has made a commitment to the Hurricanes, and that he will be a major part of the team continuing to grow.”

The ‘Canes still won’t be a popular pick to make the playoffs in 2016-17, but with all the young talent that the organization has amassed, Peters will certainly be expected to get them there before his contract expires. (The ‘Canes were actually a pretty solid possession team last season, but were let down by their goaltending and inability to convert scoring chances.)

Carolina last made the playoffs in 2009.

Related: ‘Canes enjoying stronger ticket sales, but ‘fence-sitters’ still need convincing

Report: Caps draftee DiPauli heading to free agency

PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 23:  Thomas Dipauli, 100th overall pick, walks on the draft floor during day two of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft at Consol Energy Center on June 23, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Just like Jimmy Vesey, Thomas DiPauli appears ready to test the open market.

DiPauli, a Notre Dame forward taken 100th overall by Washington at the 2012 draft, will reportedly hold out past the Aug. 15 deadline to sign with the Caps and head to unrestricted free agency, per ESPN.

A 22-year-old that’s spent the last four years playing for the Fighting Irish, DiPauli scored 14 goals and 32 points in 37 games last year, finishing as the team’s offensive MVP while earning honorable mention Hockey East All-Star honors.

DiPauli was a notable absence at Washington’s recent prospect development camp. More on that, per CSN Mid Atlantic:

[DiPauli] has attended previous Caps development camps, so the club decided not to invite him this summer.

According to a team spokesman the Caps remain interested in signing DiPauli by the NHL’s Aug. 15 deadline.   

ESPN corroborated DiPauli’s interest in signing with the Caps, but it’s not surprising to hear he’s looking for opportunities with another organization.

Washington is fairly loaded at forward, and still has a handful of young prospects in the system — including ’14 first-rounder Jakub Vrana, recent Boston College signee Zach Sanford and 24-year-old Russian winger Stanislav Galiev, who was stuck in healthy scratch limbo for long stretches this season as the club didn’t want to lose him on waivers.

As mentioned above, DiPauli could play the open market like Vesey plans to later next month.

Though Buffalo traded to acquire his rights from Nashville, the reigning Hobey Baker winner has a shortlist of other teams he’s interested in signing with.

Bolts avoid arbitration with Namestnikov — two years, $3.875M

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Tampa Bay has avoided Friday’s scheduled arbitration hearing with forward Vladislav Namestnikov, agreeing to a two-year, $3.875M deal on Tuesday evening, per ESPN.

Namestnikov, 23, had a breakout campaign last year, scoring 14 goals and 35 points in 80 games — all career highs. The former first-round pick also appeared in 17 playoff games for the Bolts, scoring a goal and three points while helping the club to the Eastern Conference Final.

Coming off a one-year deal in which he made $874,125, the diminutive Russian gets a nice pay bump with this latest contract, and a bit of security with the two-year term. He should play a fairly integral role next season, coming off a year in which he finished tied for fourth on the team in goals, with Tyler Johnson.

But while tonight may be about Namestnikov, it’s another Russian forward in Tampa Bay that everybody now has their eyes on — Nikita Kucherov, the playoff scoring sensation that declined to file for arbitration, but still requires a new deal.

Given some of the big-money contracts GM Steve Yzerman has handed out this summer — namely those to Steve Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Alex Killorn — the Kucherov negotiations are definitely ones to keep an eye on.

Talks ongoing between Wild and Dumba, meeting expected soon

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There’s just one piece of business left for Minnesota this summer — a new contract for RFA defenseman Matt Dumba.

And it sounds like that piece of business will soon be attended to.

From the Star-Tribune:

There have been ongoing talks between Wild assistant GM Brent Flahr and [Dumba’s] agent Craig Oster.

The two are expected to meet face to face in Calgary at the Hockey Canada camp.

Dumba, the former No. 7 overall pick, just wrapped his entry-level deal, coming off a campaign in which he set career highs in games played (81), goals (10) and points (26).

He also notched a pair of assists in the Wild’s six-game loss to Dallas in the playoffs.

Dumba, 22, did see his name surface in trade talks this season. There was a report in late January that he was the return piece in a potential swap for Tampa Bay’s Jonathan Drouin, and he’s been tied to teams looking for a blueline upgrade.

A good puck mover with offensive skills — and a right-handed shot — Dumba is definitely a commodity. What’s more, logic suggests the Wild could opt to move him, given the long-term financial commitments to fellow defensemen Ryan Suter (signed through 2025 at $7.53 million), Jonas Brodin (2021 at $4.16M), Jared Spurgeon (2020, $5.18M) and Marco Scandella (2020, $4M).

Minnesota has some other young defensive prospects in the system, too.

There’s former Gophers standout Mike Reilly, Miami of Ohio product Louis Belpedio and Gustav Olofsson, the 46th overall pick in ’13 that’s been honing his game in AHL Iowa (and made his NHL debut last season).

The Wild are in control of the Dumba situation and can slow play negotiations, possibly while re-exploring trade scenarios. Don’t forget the Bruins are still in search of the “transitional” defenseman they desperately want.

But should things go the expected way and Dumba re-signs in Minnesota, the Star-Tribune said a bridge deal is the “likeliest” outcome.