Handicapping possible Lightning head coaches

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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.

‘Dialed in’ Hurricanes could add more drama to playoff race

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At first glance, Carolina’s potential playoff push seems like a longshot.

The ‘Canes head into tonight’s action five points back of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, and would need to leapfrog both the Bolts and Isles just to get there.

BUT!

The ‘Canes have a game in hand on both New York and Tampa Bay, and two on Boston. They also get to play six of their last nine at home, and are currently riding a terrific streak in which they’ve collected 17 of a possible 20 points (7-0-3 in their last 10).

“Guys are playing well, guys are dialed in,” head coach Bill Peters said, per the Raleigh News & Observer. “You’ve got to continue to keep pace. Around the league everyone seems to find a way to win, so you’ve got to keep pace and then hopefully somebody falters.”

Looking ahead, the next 48 hours will decide if this dream becomes a reality. Carolina begins a crucial back-to-back set against the Red Wings tonight, with both games to be played at PNC.

Tonight’s game, you may recall, is the makeup date for the Dec. 19 postponement due to unplayable ice.

As such, the ‘Canes now get a Red Wings team playing its third game in four nights, following Friday’s 2-1 OT loss to Tampa Bay and yesterday’s 3-2 OT win over Minnesota. Veteran Detroit d-man Niklas Kronwall isn’t expected to face Carolina, and the club is unsure if Darren Helm (lower body) can go.

The ‘Canes, meanwhile, are pretty healthy and firing away. Jeff Skinner has a five-game goalscoring streak, Elias Lindholm has points in each of his last 10 contests and Sebastian Aho in each of his last six. The club has also received terrific netminding from Eddie Lack, who has gone 5-1-1 in March with a .931 save percentage.

If they can get a result tonight, attention will be turned to the out-of-town scoreboard. The Isles are at home to the streaking Nashville Predators (6-1-0 in their last seven), and the Bolts host the Blackhawks, who are coming off an embarrassing 7-0 loss in Florida.

The Bruins aren’t back in action until Tuesday, when they host the Preds.

Report: Coyotes majority owner has a ‘potential new partner’

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The Arizona Coyotes’ ownership group may be getting a new member.

According to Sportsnet’s John Shannon, Randy Frankel is a “potential new partner” for majority owner Andrew Barroway.

Frankel, who made his money on Wall Street, is already a part owner of MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays.

Shannon also reported that the Coyotes required a mid-season cash call, to the tune of $20 million, from their ownership group. Arizona has averaged just 13,020 fans at home games this season; hence, the revenue shortfall.

The Coyotes, of course, are trying to get a new arena built in the greater Phoenix area. So far, their efforts have been for naught.

Related: Arizona lawmaker suggests Coyotes pledge more money for new arena

Report: Rangers land Gophers standout Lettieri

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University of Minnesota senior Vinni Lettieri has agreed to join the Ranger organization, per the Star-Tribune.

Lettieri, 22, finished second on the club in goals this year, with 19, and third in scoring with 37 points in 38 games. The Star-Tribune’s Mike Russo reports Lettieri is joining New York’s AHL affiliate in Hartford, and that he and the Blueshirts are closing in on a two-year, entry-level contract.

Lettieri has some interesting bloodlines. His grandfather is former Minnesota North Stars player/head coach/GM Lou Nanne, and his father is former professional soccer netminder Tino Lettieri, who represented Canada at the 1986 World Cup.

The younger Lettieri went undrafted, and was a free agent following Minnesota’s NCAA championship loss to Notre Dame.

Zetterberg on pace to play 1,000th game in Joe Louis Arena farewell

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Barring injury, Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg will get the opportunity to make his 1,000th NHL game even more special.

Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill confirmed today that Zetterberg will play tonight and tomorrow in Carolina, putting the 36-year-old on pace to play his 1,000th game on Apr. 9, the date of the final Wings game at Joe Louis Arena.

The Wings, who will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990, have eight games left in their regular season. They host New Jersey on Apr. 9.

Tonight’s game was originally scheduled for Dec. 19, but had to be postponed due to poor ice conditions at PNC Arena.