Handicapping possible Lightning head coaches


The Tampa Bay Lightning have a vacancy to fill now that Guy Boucher has been fired.

Team GM Steve Yzerman has a big decision to make on who to have take over the reigns of his scoring talented/defensively hampered team. Who are the candidates to pick from? Here’s a short list.

Lindy Ruff — The former Buffalo Sabres head coach is the available veteran. He’s close with Yzerman after the two worked together on the 2010 Canadian Olympic team. His track record in Buffalo is more than solid having coached there from 1997 until this season when he was fired by the Sabres. If Yzerman wants a guy with a wealth of experience, Ruff is there for the taking and TSN’s Bob McKenzie says they could be going for a veteran guy now.

Jon Cooper — The current head coach of the Lightning’s AHL team, the Syracuse Crunch, Cooper has a ton of experience working with many of the guys on the current roster. Cooper led the Norfolk Admirals to the Calder Cup last season and has the Crunch (it’s still the same team, just in a new place) at the top of the standings this year even in spite of all the call-ups.

The only question with Cooper is whether or not Yzerman would opt for another guy with no NHL head coaching experience. McKenzie says some of the Lightning veterans started tuning out Boucher. Would bringing in Cooper just be a continuation of that?

Dallas Eakins — The Toronto Marlies head coach is a guy who could be ready for an NHL job, but the Lightning would have to A) ask the Maple Leafs for permission to interview him and B) Decide a guy without NHL experience is a good fit. It’s not likely he’d be a pick here, but he’ll get an NHL job sometime soon, just probably not in Central Florida.

Mike SullivanLarry Brooks of the New York Post mentions him as a guy who could get consideration. He’s currently John Tortorella’s assistant in New York but his last head job came in Boston back in 2003-04 and 05-06 with the Bruins. Sullivan was an assistant in Tampa Bay in 07-08 so he’s connected to the team there. Question here is whether or not he has his eyes set on going for the head job at Boston University.

Red Wings’ Mike Green to have neck surgery, ending his season

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Mike Green‘s neck has done him few favors this season, and now it’s done his season in.

The All-Star defenseman will undergo cervical spine surgery and will miss the remainder of the 2017-18, the Detroit Red Wings announced on Thursday, right before the puck dropped for their game against the Washington Capitals.

Red Wings fans will recall, and likely bemoan, an earlier neck injury that prevented Green from getting dealt at the trade deadline earlier this season.

Green, 32, was hurt in a Feb. 15 matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning and missed seven games, returning on March 2 against the Winnipeg Jets. On Wednesday, he aggravated the same injury in practice.

Green has eight goals and 33 points in 66 games played.

Per Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press:

The procedure is scheduled for April 5 at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City and will be performed by Dr. Frank Cammisa. A minimum two months of recovery time is expected.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Green this summer. The aging d-man is headed to free agency this summer and what he will command is up in the air. That number, whatever it is, likely took a blow thanks to this latest revelation on Thursday.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Washington Capitals at Detroit Red Wings

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Washington Capitals

Alex Ovechkin / Nicklas Backstrom / Tom Wilson

Andre Burakovsky / Lars Eller / T.J. Oshie

Brett Connolly / Travis Boyd / Jakub Vrana

Chandler Stephenson / Jay Beagle / Devante Smith-Pelly

Dmitry Orlov / Matt Niskanen

Michal Kempny / John Carlson

Christian Djoos / Brooks Orpik

Starting goalie: Philipp Grubauer

[Capitals – Red Wings preview]

Detroit Red Wings

Tyler Bertuzzi / Henrik Zetterberg / Gustav Nyquist

Darren Helm / Dylan Larkin / Anthony Mantha

Justin Abdelkader / Frans Nielsen / Andreas Athanasiou

Evgeny Svechnikov / Luke Glendening / Martin Frk

Niklas Kronwall / Mike Green

Jonathan Ericsson / Trevor Daley

Danny DeKeyser / Nick Jensen

Starting goalie: Jimmy Howard

One reason for Dallas Stars’ struggles? Shaky drafting

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The narrative is becoming almost as much of a trope as the Capitals suffering playoff heartbreak or the Hurricanes not even getting to the postseason. Year after year, the Dallas Stars “win” the off-season, yet they frustrate as much as they titillate when the pucks drop.

For years, mediocre-to-putrid goaltending has been tabbed as the culprit. There’s no denying that there have been disappointments in that area, especially since they keep spending big bucks hoping to cure those ills.

[Once again, Stars’ hope hinge on Kari Lehtonen.]

Checking all the boxes

The thing with success in the NHL is that there is no “magic bullet.”

Sure, the Penguins lucked out in being putrid at the right times to land Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and other key players with lottery picks. Even so, they’ve also unearthed some gems later in drafts (Kris Letang, Jake Guentzel) and made shrewd trades (Phil Kessel is the gift that keeps giving). They’ve also had a keen eye when it comes to who to keep or not keep in free agency, generally speaking.

In other words, the best teams may stumble here or there, but they’re generally good-to-great in just about every area.

The Stars hit a grand slam in the Tyler Seguin trade, made a shrewd signing in Alex Radulov, and enjoyed some nice wins in other moves. You can nitpick the style elements of bringing back Ken Hitchcock, but there are pluses to adding the Hall of Famer’s beautiful hockey mind.

Beyond goaltending, the Stars’ struggles in drafting and/or developing players really seems to be holding them back.

Not feeling the draft

Now, that’s not to say that they never find nice players on draft weekend. After all, they unearthed Jamie Benn in the fifth round (129th overall) in 2007 and poached John Klingberg with a fifth-rounder, too (131st pick in 2010).

Still, first-round picks have not been friendly to this franchise. When they’ve managed to make contact, they’ve managed some base hits, but no real homers. (Sorry, Radek Faksa.)

The Athletic’s James Gordon (sub required) ranked the Stars at 28th of 30 NHL teams who’ve drafted from 2011-15, furthering the point:

Imagine how great the Stars would be — what with Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov — had they managed to get another core piece or two with one of their many mid-first and second-round picks. Instead, they’ve nabbed mostly role players who don’t move the needle much.

Actually, it’s quite staggering just how far back the Stars’ struggles with first-rounders really goes. Ignoring 2017 first-rounder Miro Heiskanen (third overall) and 2016 first-rounder Riley Tufte (25th) as they’re particularly early in their development curves, take a look at the Stars’ run of first-rounders:

2015: Denis Gurianov, 12th overall, 1 NHL game
2014: Julius Honka, 14th, 53 GP
2013: Valeri Nichushkin, 10th, 166 GP; Jason Dickinson, 29th, 35 GP
2012: Radek Faksa, 13th, 196 GP
2011: Jamie Oleksiak, 14th, 179 GP
2010: Jack Campbell, 11th, 6 GP
2009: Scott Glennie, 8th, 1 GP
2008: No first
2007: No first
2006: Ivan Vishnevskiy, 27th, 5 GP
2005: Matt Niskanen, 28th, 792 GP

Yikes. Even if Gurianov and Honka come along, that group leaves … a lot to be desired. (And those struggles go back past 2014 and beyond, honestly.)

Blame scouting, development, or both, but the Stars aren’t supplementing high-end talent with the depth that often separates great from merely good.

This isn’t a call for perfection, either. Even a team with some high-profile whiffs can also get big breaks. Sure, the Boston Bruins passed on Mathew Barzal three times, but they also got steals in Charlie McAvoy and David Pastrnak.



If the Stars want to break through as more than a fringe playoff team, “winning the off-season” will need to start in late June instead of early July.

And, hey, what better time to do that than when they’re hosting the next draft?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Playoff Push: Big bubble battles

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On a busy Thursday in the NHL, there’s at least one big matchup in both the East and West. While there are cases where playoff teams merely need to take care of business against lottery fodder, the most fun could come in tests of might with considerable stakes.

Western Conference

The most intriguing contest could be Los Angeles Kings at Colorado Avalanche, a battle between the West’s two wild card teams.

As you can see, the Avalanche currently hold the first wild-card spot, and they’re only two points behind the Wild for the Central’s third seed. The Kings could leap over the Ducks for the Pacific third seed, as Anaheim only holds one point over Los Angeles.

The San Jose Sharks host the Vegas Golden Knights in another interesting contest, which airs on NBCSN at 10 p.m. ET as part of a doubleheader. Here’s the stream link.

San Jose faces low odds in catching Vegas for the Pacific crown, but the Sharks are hot enough that a win tonight could strengthen such a drive. If nothing else, they hope to improve their chances of holding onto the second seed.

With Auston Matthews likely to return tonight, the Maple Leafs visiting the Predators should be a lot of fun, even if the two teams seem fairly locked into their spots in respective playoff races.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Eastern Conference

Alongside Kings – Avs, Florida Panthers at Columbus Blue Jackets is the other big game of the day.

With two games in hand on the Devils and three on the Flyers/Blue Jackets, Florida could really climb the ranks. They do face a road-heavy haul, however, and that includes one of the toughest tests of that run tonight, when they face the red-hot Blue Jackets. Artemi Panarin is one of the driving forces of a squad riding a nine-game winning streak, and making the Metro races congested in the process.

If Columbus wins, they would really push the idle Penguins and even the Capitals, who hope to maintain or increase their lead for the Metro title as they face the Red Wings in Detroit. You can watch those teams, and maybe see Alex Ovechkin increase his Maurice Richard Trophy lead, in an NBCSN game. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. ET, while you can also catch the stream here.

There are also two “take care of business” games. The Lightning could really fatten their Atlantic title edge by beating the Islanders, while the Flyers hope to increase their margin of error over the Panthers/Blue Jackets if they can win against the Rangers.

The rest of the night features games between teams who are either eliminated from the playoffs or hurtling toward that fate.

If the playoffs started today

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New Jersey Devils
Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Nashville Predators vs. Los Angeles Kings
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Colorado Avalanche
Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
San Jose Sharks vs. Anaheim Ducks

Noteworthy games

Tampa Bay Lightning at New York Islanders, 7 p.m. ET
New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers, 7 p.m. ET
Florida Panthers at Columbus Blue Jackets, 7 p.m. ET
Washington Capitals at Detroit Red Wings, 7:30 p.m. ET
Toronto Maple Leafs at Nashville Predators, 8 p.m. ET
Los Angeles Kings at Colorado Avalanche, 9 p.m. ET
Vegas Golden Knights at San Jose Sharks, 10 p.m. ET

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.