BUFFALO SABRES

The Chip ‘n’ Chase: Sabres’ shakeup, Yakupov versus Eakins, Jocks versus Nerds, and more

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This is a new thing we’re trying. Every Wednesday, we’ll publish a little back-and-forth we have via email. We’re calling it the Chip ‘n’ Chase. Yes, it’s a terrible name. Enjoy.

Jason Brough: Hey buddy, so major changes today in Buffalo. Still trying to wrap my head around everything, but looking back on the past couple of seasons, it seems to me the Sabres went off the rails as soon as Terry Pegula came in with his blank checkbook. Which is kind of odd when you first think about it, since the best teams are typically the ones that spend right up to the salary cap. But on the other hand, it’s totally predictable. The Sabres actually remind me of a regular Joe who one day wins a massive lottery and has no idea what to do with all the cash. He buys a huge mansion with mismatching furniture; he starts investing in all his friends’ dumb business ideas; he basically loses all self-control when it comes to money. Which I suppose makes Ville Leino the unused jet ski in the Sabres’ driveway?

Mike Halford: What does that make Tyler Myers then — the 1,000-volume LaserDisc collection? “There’s no way these depreciate in value!” I agree things went off the rails when Pegula arrived with his bags of money, and call me skeptical that these latest moves will get things back on track. I mean, Nolan and LaFontaine aren’t exactly dialed in to the NHL anymore. Nolan has been coaching the Latvian national team for the last two years and LaFontaine wasn’t involved anywhere prior to taking a gig with the league last month. LaFontaine also said at today’s presser that he’s “not ready to be a GM because I lack experience,” which sort of stood out for me, given he’ll be the new GM’s boss.

JB: I’m a little more optimistic. Nolan was only hired on an interim basis, so if he doesn’t work out the Sabres can always choose a new coach in the summer. The key will be LaFontaine’s choice for GM. Whoever it is, he needs to — well, he needs to do a lot of things — but at the top of the list I’d put player development. Case in point, Mikhail Grigorenko. That kid is completely lost out there. He really shouldn’t be in the NHL. The Sabres have a ton of draft picks in 2014. Making the right selections is only the first step. They have to figure out a better way to bring them along.

Speaking of lost kids, did you see that Nail Yakupov media scrum yesterday in Edmonton? It was a bit…how-you-say-my-English-no-so-good…awkward. Listening to Yakupov, it really doesn’t sound like he’s on the same page with Dallas Eakins. Not sure who to blame for that. I guess I respect that the kid wants to play more and help his team win, but I tend to have sympathy for the coach when I see plays like this:

And Yakupov wonders why Eakins has trust issues with him. He wonders why he’s played “lower and lower minutes” in the past few games. Maybe next time put two hands on the stick when you take a pass in your own end and Steven Stamkos is on the ice.

MH: I know we’re focusing on Yakupov here, so I’ll ignore Devan Dubnyk getting beat on a long wrister. Actually, forget that — I wanna focus on Eakins. When he got hired, the words “master” and “communicator” were thrown around so much I thought he actually had a Masters of Communication from a fine online college. So, what happened? The Oilers now have Yakupov saying “I’m not talking about anything with Dallas” and Eakins saying “I won’t search him out, but my door is open.” There are broken pagers that do a better job of communicating than these two. On the subject of trust, do you have any that Eakins can turn this thing around?

source:  JB: Honestly, I don’t. In hindsight, if the Oilers were intent on firing Ralph Krueger, I think they might’ve been better off hiring an experienced NHL head coach to lead their inexperienced group of players, not a first-timer who got constantly talked up by the Toronto media because he was in, you know, Toronto. I don’t mean to discount Eakins’ success with the Marlies, because he definitely had some, but do you think he’d be the Oilers’ head coach today if he’d done the same things he did with the Marlies but he’d done them with, say, the Lake Erie Monsters? I feel like he wouldn’t have received as much positive press coverage in Cleveland. Whatever. He’s not going to get fired, so it’s not worth spending too much time dwelling on whether he should have been hired in the first place. You’re right about the “master communicator” stuff though. It’s pretty funny actually. The way Eakins was talking in June — e.g. “The way you coach players now is you get them one on one. You’ve got to know them inside out” — I figured the Oilers would be getting daily encouragement notes in their cubbyholes. Wait, do they have cubbyholes? Maybe they need some cubbyholes.

MH: I could see Nugent-Hopkins liking the cubbyhole idea. Give him a place to store his Pokemons. You know what’s crazy? We haven’t even mentioned Ilya Bryzgalov yet. That’s how many other issues the Oilers have. I don’t want to get into the whole “Mr. Universe” thing or how he’ll react to the Edmonton media… but I do want to talk about all the flawed logic and, frankly, blatant denial in that move. Bryz and his agent ripped the Flyers for having a weak defensive system, right? So now he’s going to Edmonton, which doesn’t exactly have an Iron Curtain on the blue line and is giving up a league-worst 3.90 goals per game. What’s more, the Oilers had to dump a pretty useful d-man in Ladislav Smid just to make room for Bryz’s contract! That might be best part in all of this, though I’m reserving judgment until reporters can ask about his “November months, minus-32!” remarks.

Okay, that’s enough about the Oilers. Let’s talk about tonight’s game between Toronto and Minnesota. I’m calling it Jocks versus Nerds. The Leafs, who are skeptical of advanced statistics, taking on the Wild, who apparently are not. All I know is this — whoever scores more Corsis is going to win.

source:  JB: I’m pretty pumped, too. Tonight may be the most talked-about jocks-nerds showdown since the Alpha Betas battled the Tri-Lambs in the Greek Games. Although I have to admit I’m having a bit of trouble picturing Dave Nonis in the cool fraternity. Or Chuck Fletcher drunkenly riding a tricycle. In all seriousness, I really don’t get the Leafs’ skepticism — if not downright disdain — for hockey’s new stats. Unless they’re playing coy, which I don’t think they are. Based on his comments, it seems like Nonis is searching for some magical statistic he can use to break the code, and until that magical stat is presented to him on a silver platter, everything else is useless. Is Corsi perfect? No, it’s not. A team can win games without having the puck more than its opponent. But here are the top five teams in that stat: Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis, San Jose and Minnesota. You’re telling me that’s a coincidence? Now here are the bottom five: Washington, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, and Buffalo. Hmmm. Maybe I get the Leafs’ problem with it now.

Need for speed: Sharks, Pens brace for ‘fast hockey’ in Stanley Cup Final

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 29: Brenden Dillon #4 of the San Jose Sharks skates with the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on March 29, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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It will be speed vs. speed in the Stanley Cup final between the San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins.

San Jose got through the Western Conference the same way Pittsburgh got through the East: with plenty of depth and speed to kill. The final will feature the three top playoff scorers in the Sharks’ Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns against Penguins stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

“It’s going to be fast hockey,” Crosby said after the Penguins beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the East final Thursday night. “Two teams that want to play the exact same way, that want to get their D involved (and) their power play is really dangerous. … It’s going to be quite the series.”

The Sharks are in the Cup final for the first time in their 24-season franchise history and in Peter DeBoer’s first year as coach. The Penguins are back for the first time since winning it all in 2009 and made it after Mike Sullivan replaced Mike Johnston as coach in December.

In his first meeting with them, Sullivan challenged his players to be great and told them that’s how they win in the NHL. They’ve won in the playoffs on the strength of scoring from Crosby and speedy wingers Phil Kessel, Carl Hagelin and Game 7 hero Bryan Rust, not to mention the goaltending of 22-year-old rookie Matt Murray.

Kessel is Pittsburgh’s leading scorer with 18 points on nine goals and nine assists after coming over from the Toronto Maple Leafs in a trade last summer.

“I don’t think you could dream about that. You never could expect this,” Kessel said. “This is a huge moment in my career and my life.”

San Jose is also rolling along thanks to a summer pickup in goaltender Martin Jones, who was the Los Angeles Kings’ backup when they won the Cup in 2014. Couture, Pavelski and Burns are piling up the points, but this run is about aging veterans Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau finally breaking through.

Thornton and Marleau, the top two picks in the 1997 draft, made the playoffs together with the Sharks in nine of 10 previous seasons but had yet to make the Cup final until now.

Crosby and Malkin made it twice, losing in 2008 to the Detroit Red Wings before winning the following season. At the time, it looked like the young core that also featured defenseman Kris Letang would challenge for the Cup every year.

Now they have a chance to add to their legacy, but it won’t be easy even with home-ice advantage in the series that starts Monday night in Pittsburgh. The Sharks are the Penguins’ deepest opponent yet.

“The Penguins should expect a team that’s deeper, quicker than Tampa, and a team that’s playing with a lot of confidence,” NBC Sports analyst Ed Olczyk said.

Confidence isn’t lacking for either team. The Sharks knocked off the Los Angeles Kings, Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues to get here, while the Penguins beat the New York Rangers, Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals and defending East-champion Lightning.

Devils sign star French d-man Auvitu

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - MAY 05:  Rapahel Herburger (R) of Austria and Yohann Auvitu (L) of France battle for the puck during the IIHF World Championship group A match between Austria and France at o2 Arena on May 5, 2015 in Prague, Czech Republic.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
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New Jersey has won the Yohann Auvitu sweepstakes.

On Friday, the Devils announced they’ve signed Auvitu to a one-year, two-way, entry-level contract for the upcoming campaign. The 26-year-old Frenchman had previously garnered widespread NHL interest, largely due to a ’15-16 campaign in which he won the Pekka Rautakallio Trophy for the best defenseman in the SM-Liiga — an award that’s previously gone to the likes of Sami Vatanen and Brian Rafalski.

Auvitu had six goals and 15 assists in 48 games, then six goals and seven assists in 18 playoff games.

There were only three French-born players were in the NHL this season: Philadelphia’s Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Detroit’s Xavier Ouellet, and Dallas’ Antoine Roussel. It’ll be interesting to see if Auvitu can make it a quartet. He recently played alongside Bellemare for France at the Worlds, scoring three points in seven games.

Dethroned? Kings reportedly strip Brown of captaincy (Updated)

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Dustin Brown
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Dustin Brown, who captained the Los Angeles Kings to the only two Stanley Cups in franchise history, has been relieved of his leadership duties, per TSN.

Brown, 31, was named the 13th captain in team history back in 2008, and has worn the “C” ever since. He’s also served as an alternate captain for Team USA’s silver medal-winning side at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

While there’s been no confirmation or report, one has to think this paves the way for Anze Kopitar to assume the club’s captaincy. Kopitar signed an eight-year, $80 million extension with L.A. in January, and has been Brown’s alternate captain since ’08.

While Brown achieved great things during his run as Kings captain, the tenure ended badly. He’s been largely ineffective over the last two seasons, and his lackuster play has been called out by head coach Darryl Sutter on a number of occasions (see here and here and here.)

Compounding things is Brown’s contract. Despite the fact he’s now essentially a bottom-six forward, he’s still owed a whopping $5.875M annually through 2022. That’s a lot of scratch for a guy that’s posted career-lows in goals (11) in back-to-back seasons.

Compounding that is the fact L.A. doesn’t have a ton of cap space moving forward. Brown’s hit could prevent them from re-upping with pending UFA Milan Lucic, or finding some blueline help in free agency.

Perhaps we should’ve seen the writing on the wall for Brown a couple weeks ago, when Kings GM Dean Lombardi extended Sutter’s contract.

Lombardi admitted the Kings are in “uncharted waters,” and “not where we want to be.” He also suggested there would be significant changes throughout the team, and that those changes would be difficult.

“To get this back on track,” Lombardi said, “there’s going to be some minor punches in the gut as we fight our way through.”

If TSN’s report holds true, the first punch has already been thrown.

Update:

For Pete DeBoer, San Jose was the perfect landing spot

San Jose Sharks Name Peter Deboer Head Coach
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In Pete DeBoer’s first season as head coach of the New Jersey Devils, he went to the Stanley Cup Final with a roster that was headlined by two pretty talented players in Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise.

For DeBoer and the Devils, it never got better than that. By the time he was fired, the team had missed the playoffs two years in a row, Kovalchuk and Parise were elsewhere and the roster was looking pretty, darn barren.

Now, in his first season with San Jose, DeBoer is once again off to the final, this time with a Sharks team that’s headlined by Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Brent Burns, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Why, you could almost draw the conclusion that a head coach has a much better chance to win with a roster full of talented players.

Certainly, the teams DeBoer had in Florida wouldn’t hurt that theory.

A motivated roster is nice to have as well, and DeBoer definitely had that when he took over in San Jose.

“I inherited a similar team in New Jersey when I went in there,” DeBoer said Wednesday. “First time they missed the playoffs for a long time the year before I got there.

“I think when you go into that situation, when you have really good people like there was in New Jersey when I went in there, like I was with this group, they’re pissed off, they’re embarrassed by the year they just had, and they’re willing to do and buy into whatever you’re selling to get it fixed again.”

DeBoer was also the benefactor of some fine work by GM Doug Wilson, who signed veterans Joel Ward and Paul Martin in free agency and got goalie Martin Jones in a trade. Wilson also signed Joonas Donskoi out of Europe, a year after he did the same with Melker Karlsson. Throw in a few draft picks that have come along — youngsters like Tomas Hertl, Chris Tierney, and Matt Nieto — and it’s hard to find a real weakness on the roster.

“The additions that Doug made, it just came together,” said DeBoer.

“They were coming off a down season, but they were coming off a decade of great hockey. They’d been well-coached. Todd McLellan and the previous staff are as good as there are in the business. These guys had a great foundation. Right place, right time.”

Related: DeBoer predicts ‘big bounce-back’ in San Jose