Dion Phaneuf, Ron Wilson, Brian Burke

Brian Burke faces tough task if he fires Ron Wilson

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Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke is different from a lot of other NHL general managers for a wide variety of reasons – not just because he’s one of the sport’s great executive showmen.

His fierce – some might say stubborn – loyalty stands out among those qualities. While neighboring GM Bryan Murray seems to shed head coaches like snakes lose skin, Burke has allowed Ron Wilson to stay despite increasing pressure to remove his beloved bench boss.

As Michael Woods reports, it would be more than just a “hockey decision” for Burke (even if he claims otherwise).

Burke and Wilson were born a month apart, were college roommates and teammates on the Providence College Friars hockey team in Rhode Island in the 1970s and have been friends ever since.

(If more details like that aren’t enough for you to follow the link, go there for the mind-blowing photo of Burke and Wilson as co-captains at Providence College.)

Sports front offices base a lot of their decisions on loyalty and familiarity – just look at how wildly predictable Darryl Sutter’s hiring was in Los Angeles – but even with that in mind, Burke and Wilson’s roots go deep.

It’s not like that’s the only instance when Burke’s been a man of his word almost to a fault, either. Personally, his handling of Ilya Bryzgalov in Anaheim was particularly memorable. Instead of holding onto the talented (then) backup, he allowed Breezy to get a real chance to start with another team. He ended up putting outstanding numbers with the Phoenix Coyotes and earning that huge contract with the Philadelphia Flyers in the process.

If you ask me, Burke’s moving the Maple Leafs in a solid direction. There’s the instinct to believe that the two might go off the cliff Thelma & Louise-style if Toronto’s playoff drought continues this season, but it might just come down to Burke firing his friend and coach.

Don’t expect it to be an easy leap, though.

Lightning strikes: Bolts even series with Islanders

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Tyler Johnson began the playoffs as a game-time decision for the Tampa Bay Lightning in their series with the Detroit Red Wings. He’s now among the top point producers this post-season.

Needing a win to even the series before it shifts north to Brooklyn, the Lightning earned a 4-1 win over the New York Islanders on Saturday afternoon. Series tied, 1-1. As for Johnson, the diminutive but skilled forward, he led the Bolts with a three-point night and is up to 10 points in the playoffs.

He opened the scoring versus the Islanders and finished it with an empty-netter to negate any late comeback attempt.

Still without Steven Stamkos, the Lightning got another strong game from Jonathan Drouin, who entered this series without a goal. But he changed that, giving the host team a two-goal lead in the opening period of Game 2. That goal would be the eventual winner.

Corey Perry: ‘I take a lot of blame for what happened’ after Ducks bounced in first round

GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 11:  Ryan Getzlaf #15 and Corey Perry #10 of the Anaheim Ducks watch from the bench during the first period of the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on April 11, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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After a first-round playoff loss that resulted in the firing of coach Bruce Boudreau, players were forced to answer for such a disappointing end to the Anaheim Ducks’ season.

The Ducks were last in the West at the holiday break but went flying up the standings in the second half of the season, claiming the Pacific Division. But they couldn’t close out the Nashville Predators in the opening round, despite a 3-2 series lead, and Boudreau was sent packing.

Ducks GM Bob Murray then let the players have it, blasting the core group and their performance, especially in the first two games of the series, and strongly suggesting there would be some big changes in Anaheim leading up to next season.

“I take a lot of blame for what happened,” said Corey Perry, as per the Ducks’ website. “I didn’t score a goal. I take a lot of responsibility. I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform.”

In seven games, the 30-year-old Perry, who just concluded the third year of an eight-year contract with a cap hit of $8.625 million, had four assists. But, as he said, no goals.

On Boudreau’s dismissal, Perry added: “He did a lot for my game. It’s tough when you know the reason somebody got fired is because we as a team and as individuals didn’t perform to where we needed to perform, and that’s the hardest thing. You lose four Game 7s at home, and he has nothing really do with what we did on the ice. We’re performing, we’re playing and we have to hold ourselves accountable. And I think a lot of guys are doing that.”

 

Marquette, Michigan is your Kraft Hockeyville 2016 winner

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Huge congrats to the community of Marquette, MI and the Lakeview Arena — after an exciting voting process, Marquette has been named the winner of the Kraft Hockeyville 2016 competition.

As a result, Lakeview will receive $150,000 in arena upgrades, and will host an Oct. 4 preseason game broadcast on NBCSN between the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes.

More, from the NHL:

Marquette is rich in hockey heritage and Lakeview Arena stands as a pillar of the community, stimulating the local economy since it opened in 1973. Lakeview Arena’s semi-pro Marquette Iron Rangers signed the first female professional hockey player in North American history, Karen Koch.

Lakeview Arena will prioritize energy efficiency updates with the grand prize money in addition to other arena upgrades to ensure future generations of Marquette players are able to enjoy skating at Lakeview Arena for years to come.

“We’ve seen amazing participation across the country in Kraft Hockeyville USA’s second year,” said Nina Barton, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Kraft Heinz. “This year’s contest led to millions of votes from passionate hockey fans, and we’re so proud America has chosen the spirited, well-deserving community of Marquette as Kraft Hockeyville USA 2016.”

Marquette was just one of more than a thousand communities across the country that submitted stories showing their hockey spirit and passion.

The runner-up, Rushmore Thunderdome of Rapid City, S.D., will receive $75,000 to use toward arena upgrades.

For more on this year’s Kraft Hockeyville competition, click here.

2016 Lady Byng finalists: Barkov, Eriksson and Kopitar

Slovenia forward Anze Kopitar, left, and Sweden forward Loui Eriksson battle for the puck in the second period of a men's ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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The low penalty minutes and high point totals are in, and thus we have the 2016 NHL Awards’ three finalists for the Lady Byng Trophy: Aleksander Barkov, Loui Eriksson and Anze Kopitar.

OK, the actual definition for the award is that it goes “to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

Same difference, eh?

Barkov really made a breakthrough this season with the Florida Panthers, scoring 59 points versus just eight penalty minutes. He only has 34 PIM in 191 career regular season contests.

You can see Eriksson and Kopitar representing their respective countries in this post’s main image. Eriksson enjoyed his best (and maybe last?) season with the Boston Bruins while Kopitar hopes to win the 2016 Selke as the Los Angeles Kings’ defensively adept – yet apparently courteous – forward.

It’s unclear who wins this “fight,” but one would assume it wouldn’t be a dirty one.