Looking back at Nolan’s first tour in Buffalo

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On Wednesday, the Buffalo Sabres made a major organizational shakeup by firing GM Darcy Regier and head coach Ron Rolston, bringing aboard new president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine, and new interim bench boss Ted Nolan.

It’s the latter announcement that raised most eyebrows. Nolan, who hasn’t coached in the NHL since 2008, rose to prominence with the Sabres from 1995-97, capturing a Jack Adams award (at the tender age of 39) while leading the ’97 team to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

That’s not all Nolan is remembered for, though.

His departure from the Sabres organization was ugly, a public spat littered with allegations, feuds (most notably with Dominik Hasek) and bitterness that saw both Nolan and former GM John Muckler — who would be replaced by Regier, ironically enough — lose their jobs.

Here’s more on the ugliness, from Sports Illustrated (July ’97):

The Sabres, who won the Northeast Division last season, have decided to entrust their future to $4 million-a-year goaltender Dominik Hasek, the league’s most valuable player, instead of the NHL’s coach of the year, Ted Nolan. During the playoffs the volatile Hasek attacked a Buffalo columnist who questioned the severity of an injury that had kept him out of two postseason games (SI, May 5); Hasek later made it clear that he wanted Nolan out of town, saying he did not respect him. Nolan, whose contract expired on June 30, had the support of nearly every other Buffalo player, but management listened to Hasek. “I honestly don’t know what made Dom feel the way he does,” Nolan said last week. “I tried to treat everybody fairly, but as far as kissing up to players, I’m not one of those guys.”

General manager Darcy Regier, who was hired only last month, took a slap at Nolan when, at a June 26 press conference, he offered him just a one-year contract for an undisclosed amount. Nolan instantly rejected the offer, which was subsequently withdrawn. In the two days after the press conference, there were a pair of pro-Nolan rallies in Buffalo, each of which drew hundreds of fans. Jean Knox, widow of the franchise’s founder, Seymour Knox, attended one. “This never would have happened if Seymour were alive today,” she says of Buffalo’s failure to re-sign Nolan. “Ted Nolan would have a long-term contract.”

Nolan has no immediate job prospects. The Jack Adams Award as the top coach is a splendid line on a résumé, but there aren’t many NHL coaching opportunities available. Moreover, Nolan’s feud with former Sabres general manager John Muckler, whom team president Larry Quinn fired after the playoffs, might make potential employers queasy. “There could be that perception of me [as a G.M. killer],” the 39-year-old Nolan said, “but I’ve had a pretty good history of working with people.”

It appears Nolan was right about perceptions — despite winning the ’97 Jack Adams, it took him nearly 10 years to find another NHL gig before getting hired by the Islanders in 2006.

Despite this, it’s easy to see why LaFontaine opted to bring Nolan back into the fold. The two have a history of working together in Buffalo — in ’95-96, LaFontaine had one of his finest offensive campaigns, leading the Sabres with 40 goals and 91 points. What’s more, the 91-point campaign came after LaFontaine’s career was derailed by concussion issues and represented his last hurrah in Buffalo.

It’s worth noting that none of the Sabres regime from Nolan’s first tour remains. Regier is gone, ownership has changed and Hasek — while still a franchise legend — had his comeback effort rebuffed by the Sabres in June of 2012.

Report: Rangers goalie Hellberg to sign with Chinese KHL team

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Magnus Hellberg, the once-touted netminder that came to New York from Nashville two years ago, has reportedly left North America to join the KHL’s Chinese club, Red Star Kunlun.

The deal, per Russian news outlet R-Sport, is of the one-year variety and it comes after Hellberg appeared in a pair of games for the Rangers last season, spending most of his time in AHL Hartford.

Hellberg did fare well in his limited action with the Blueshirts, posting a .929 save percentage and 1.53 GAA.

As mentioned above, Hellberg came into the NHL with some fanfare. Selected in the second round (38th overall) by Nashville at the 2011 draft, Hellberg was first goalie off the board, taken one spot ahead of Anaheim’s John Gibson. There was some thought he would be Pekka Rinne‘s eventual successor in goal, but never panned out and was later surpassed by Juuse Saros as the team’s goalie of the future.

In New York, Hellberg was stuck at No. 3 on the depth chart behind Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta.

Pekka Rinne’s been the Predators’ backbone during run to final

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Knocking the smile off Pekka Rinne‘s face right now is nearly impossible.

The longest-tenured player with the Nashville Predators, the 34-year-old goaltender finally will play in his first Stanley Cup Final in his ninth full NHL season.

“As a player, I feel like I’ve had a fairly long career and never had this opportunity,” Rinne said. “So very fortunate and really appreciate this opportunity. I guess as a player you just enjoy being in this position. Enjoy the chance that you get, and you put your body on the line every night and give everything you have.”

Teammates call the 6-foot-5 Finn the backbone of the Predators, and he’s probably the best goalie in the world at the moment. He handles the puck like an extra defenseman. He foils the dump-and-chase efforts of opponents. And, oh, is he good in front of the net, aggressive with forwards in the crease, seeing seemingly everything and occasionally making saves with a Dominik Hasek-like contortion.

Not only is Rinne a playoff-best 12-4, his .945 save percentage ranks third all-time for a single postseason behind a pair of Conn Smythe Trophy winners in Jean-Sebastien Giguere for Anaheim in 2003 and Jonathan Quick for Los Angeles in 2012, according to HockeyReference.com. Rinne’s 1.70 goals-against average is 10th all-time for one postseason.

“What he does every night, you can’t put into words,” Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban said.

The 19-year-old franchise has reached its first Stanley Cup Final behind Rinne’s standout performances.

After Nashville ousted Anaheim in six games Monday night , Rinne now is even stingier on home ice with a 7-1 record, 1.54 GAA and .947 save percentage. He made 38 saves on a night where Nashville took only 18 shots.

“Anytime you need to close a series out, you know that as a goalie you got to be good and as a team you got to be good,” Rinne said.

The native of Kampele, Finland, has been better than good. He also has the skill to skate out to play the puck. With coach Peter Laviolette’s team clogging the neutral zone to slow opponents, Rinne is an extra (tall) layer of frustration waiting at the end of the ice for opponents who dump the puck in – even those high on the glass.

Anaheim defenseman Kevin Bieksa said Rinne will throw his body against the glass to knock the puck down so he can pass it out to a teammate essentially turning the goalie into another defender.

“You don’t see many goalies that aggressive,” Bieksa said. “And he’s gone out, he’s played a lot of pucks. And he’s good at it. One of their strengths, for sure.”

Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle noted Rinne had eight plays on the puck alone in the first period of Game 5, a 3-1 Nashville win that put the Predators up 3-2 in the Western Conference finals.

“You can’t give him that type of opportunity,” Carlyle said.

Laviolette calls goaltender the most important position on the ice and he said Rinne’s confidence is a huge benefit for the team.

“And it gives you opportunities,” he said.

Rinne now has 34 playoff victories and is no longer at the top of a list no goalie likes. Washington’s Braden Holtby (29) is now the active goalie with the most postseason wins who hasn’t reached the final.

The only surprise was that it took Rinne this long. He’s a three-time finalist for the Vezina Trophy, finishing second in 2011 and 2015. He led the league with 43 wins in 2011-12 and was MVP of the 2014 world championships.

Rinne bounced back from a hip injury that required arthroscopic surgery and later an E. coli infection that limited him to 24 games in the 2013-14 season. With him out of the lineup, Nashville just missed the postseason, leading general manager David Poile to replace coach Barry Trotz with Laviolette.

“I think David and the owners have done a really good job providing Peter more tools and maybe higher quality players and more talent,” Rinne said.

Defenseman Mattias Ekholm says Rinne’s competitive streak comes out on the ice.

“He will put his foot down, and say, `Hey, this is my crease. This is where I am,”‘ Ekholm said. “So I wouldn’t say he’s as polite on the ice vs. our opponents. He’s always a competitor, and he always wants to win.”

The next chance for a win comes Monday night in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

 

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule for Thursday, May 25

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Well, here we are.

Game 7 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators. The loser will go home, while the winner will take on the Nashville Predators in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final.

It doesn’t get much better than this.

Here’s what you need to know:

Ottawa Senators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (series tied 3-3)

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream live here)

Check out the highlights from Ottawa’s 2-1 win in Game 6

Related:

Pretty or not, Sens aim to play their game vs. Pens in Game 7

Penguins prepare for another Game 7, this time as favorites

Modern-day Senators have never won a Game 7

It’s “reasonable” to expect Schultz and Hornqvist will play Game 7

PHT Morning Skate: Top 5 Game 7s in Conference Final history

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–We’re getting closer to the opening of the buyout window, which means that certain teams are getting ready to pay players to stay away from their organization. Sportsnet looks at the top 12 buyout candidates of the summer. A pair of Rangers defensemen are at the top of the list. (Sportsnet)

–The Sens and Pens will do battle in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final tonight, so Sean McIndoe listed the top 5 memorable Game 7s in Conference Final history. One of the classic moments in hockey history occurred between the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens in 1979. (The Hockey News)

–The Washington Capitals underachieved again this spring, and that’s led to some people believing they’ll trade Alex Ovechkin. CSN Mid-Atlantic breaks down the five reasons the Caps won’t be dealing Ovechkin. (CSN Mid-Atlantic)

–Almost 14 years ago, the Calgary Flames landed Miikka Kiprusoff from the San Jose Sharks for a second-round pick. The deal proved to be incredible for the Flames, as they were one win away from a Stanley Cup title. The team’s website looks back at the big deal. (NHL.com/Flames)

–The Edmonton Oilers have some interesting decisions to make in the coming years. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will need to get paid in the near future, which means there might not be room for Jordan Eberle and his $6 million salary. Oilers insider Drew Remenda thinks it’s time to move on from the winger. “People can say what they want about me, but I’ll be honest with you in what I think about hockey, and what I think is happening is on the ice. To me I don’t think Jordan Eberle gave you enough or showed you enough to deserve to get another chance.” (Edmonton Journal)

–Congratulations to Maple Leafs forward Brian Boyle and his wife on the birth of their little girl: