Mike Collins - Merrimack

Back to Class: Being at the top of the conference doesn’t guarantee anything

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We’re taking you “Back To Class” for our roundup of the weekend’s action in college hockey. Look for more college hockey on NBCSN this Friday night as WCHA rivals Nebraska-Omaha and Wisconsin face off at 8:30 p.m. ET.

Until this past weekend happened, Merrimack College was feeling good and sitting atop Hockey East. With schools like Boston College, New Hampshire, UMass-Lowell, and Providence all in the mix for first as well, it would seem likely that Merrimack would be sitting well for a shot at the NCAA tournament.

Alas, that’s where the fun mathematics of the Pairwise Rankings (PWR) comes into play. Sure, Merrimack is near the top of one of the strongest conferences in the country (they’re now one point behind BC, UNH, and PC) but they sit tied for 23rd in PWR. Getting in the top 16 is what helps you stand your best chances at getting a spot in the tournament and as it stands now, unless Merrimack wins the Hockey East tournament, they’ll be sitting at home.

What’s killing them is their record against teams under consideration (TUC). They’re just 6-8-2 against schools who could wind up in the NCAAs. Compare that with their equals in the HEA standings. BC is 9-4-3 and UNH is 11-7-3. Providence finds themselves in a worse spot than Merrimack as they’re a miserable 4-8-5 against TUCs. Meanwhile, UMass-Lowell sits 11th in PWR with a 5-7-0 record against TUCs but are 18-9-2 overall this year.

What can teams like Merrimack and Providence do now to help their chances? Just win, baby. It’s the simplest of mathematics.

That’s the fun part of all this. With all the acronyms and records and varying ways of breaking things down, it just boils down to taking care of your own business and then hoping you get a little help elsewhere just in case.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… Unless your team is sitting on that PWR bubble or hoping another team doesn’t fall off/climb over the TUC cliff to royally jumble things up.

All right, don’t lose the slide rules just yet.

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Feel-good story of the weekend: Give it up for Colgate’s Spiro Goulakos. The sophomore played in his first game back since undergoing treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma on Friday night and scored the game-winning goal to help the Raiders beat Union College 4-1.

Conferences wrapping up: Both the ECAC and CCHA wrap up their conference schedules this weekend. Atlantic Hockey, Hockey East, and the WCHA are done next week. Let’s look at who gets done this week.

Quinnipiac has the top seed in the ECAC wrapped up. RPI, St. Lawrence, Yale, Union, and Dartmouth are hoping to finish in the top-four to get first round byes. SLU faces Union on Friday and RPI on Saturday.

In the CCHA, Miami, Notre Dame, Western Michigan, Ferris State, and Ohio State all have first round byes in their tourney secured. Miami has the top seed to themselves, but WMU and Notre Dame are duking it out for second and FSU and OSU are battling for fourth.

The rest of the conference is a bit of a mess below that. Alaska is all but certain to face Michigan State in the opening round while Bowling Green, Lake Superior State, Michigan and Northern Michigan could all find ways to jumble their pairings.

(Photo: Hockey East Online)

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.

Miller wants to get another contract in Detroit

DETROIT, MI - FEBRUARY 24:  Drew Miller #20 of the Detroit Red Wings looks on the Dallas Stars on February 24, 2011 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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When healthy, Drew Miller is an effective checking forward and solid penalty killer.

When healthy, that is.

Miller struggled through a nightmarish campaign in ’15-16, missing extensive time with a broken jaw and torn ACL. The result? Just 28 games played, and only two points scored.

Set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, the 32-year-old Miller wants to re-up in Detroit, get healthy, and return to form next season.

“Right now, for me it’s just getting myself healthy and giving myself an opportunity to get another contract,” Miller said, per MLive. “Everything is on the right path. The knee is feeling a lot better every time.”

Scooped off waivers from Tampa Bay seven years ago, Miller has really flourished during his time with the Red Wings and, not unlike a fine wine, got better with age.

He didn’t miss a single game from 2013-15, appearing in 82 contests each season while racking up 15 and 13 points, respectively. Miller was also one of the Red Wings’ best shot-blocking forwards and a staple of the penalty kill.

There are some questions about his future in Detroit, however.

The knee has to be a concern. Miller said the ligament had been partially torn for the better part of a decade but, since it didn’t bother him that much, he never had it addressed. Yet there has to be pause from GM Ken Holland about investing in a guy, on the wrong side of 30, coming off major surgery.

There’s also the potential for Detroit to continue with its youth movement up front. Young guys like Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, Martin Frk and Evgeny Svechnikov could be pushing for full-time NHL gigs next year, which could make Miller expendable.

Of course, the whole thing could simply come down to dollars. Miller’s last contract was a three-year, $4.05 million deal that paid $1.35M annually, and it’s hard to say if he’d score a similar payday if he sticks in Detroit.

Testing free agent waters could ultimately be the play.

The ‘style of play’ difference that Treliving cited ‘was news’ to Hartley

Calgary Flames head coach Bob Hartley gives instructions during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Saturday, March 5, 2016. The Flames won 4-2. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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When Bob Hartley was fired as head coach of the Calgary Flames, GM Brad Treliving left the impression that there was a difference between the “style of play” that Hartley coached and the style that Treliving wanted.

Yesterday, on a conference call with reporters, Hartley called that “news to me.”

“I felt that Brad and I always talked,” Hartley said, per the Calgary Sun, “and I always thought that we were on the same page.”

Now, for the record, Treliving did not say that he and Hartley were constantly butting heads, or that their working relationship had gone completely off the rails. In fact, the GM made a point to say, “I don’t want to characterize this as I’m standing in one end of the corner and Bob’s at the other end, and one’s talking chess and the other’s talking checkers.”

But that’s sort of how it came off — that Hartley had his philosophy, Treliving had his philosophy, and the two were incompatible.

Hence, the coach’s surprise.

“Brad Treliving was a great help to the coaching staff, was very supportive of us, so at no point was there a difference of opinion and everything,” said Hartley.

“So yesterday that was news to me.”

Related: Travis Green thinks he’s ready to coach in the NHL