The Chip ‘n’ Chase: Holding coaches responsible, it’s not Ovechkin’s fault, CSI: Ottawa, and more!

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Every Wednesday we publish a little back-and-forth we have via email. We call it the Chip ‘n’ Chase. Yes, it’s a terrible name. Enjoy.

Jason Brough: Hey buddy, so I gotta ask — what did you think of Bill Daly’s comments about the Bob Hartley fine and whether that could open the door for more coaches to be held “responsible” for the actions of their players? I’m not gonna go all conspiracy theory here, but it seems to me coaches just have to grin and bear it when the league hits them in the wallet. So what’s stopping the NHL from holding coaches responsible for more than just guys who start line brawls? After all, coaches are the ones who send the players out on the ice. If a player does something bad out there, isn’t the coach, in a way, responsible? It’s like the argument that parents should have to pay for the crimes that their kids commit. Even though it wasn’t the parent who spray-painted the school (or whatever it is that bad kids do these days), in some cases the parent is held responsible.

Mike Halford: Thanks for that link. Now I know that, in Oregon, parents are liable when their child commits an intentional or reckless tort. “Oh for God’s sake, Billy, another reckless tort? You need to find some new friends, young man.” Anyway, there’s definite Pandora’s Box potential here — picture an NHL where the coach bears greater responsibility for his players. Now picture the Toronto Maple Leafs, who’ve racked up 22 games worth of suspensions this year. Don’t you think the Leafs would be a lot more cognizant of their actions if the guy controlling their ice times could be affected monetarily? Imagine costing Randy Carlyle, I dunno, $25K because you got ticked off and nailed some guy in the head. He wouldn’t even have to tell you that you’re a healthy scratch next game. He’d just do the universal “rubbing fingers” money gesture, and you’d slink off to the press box.

JB: Yeah, the most disciplined teams in the NHL would be the ones with the cheapest coaches. Based on the time Darryl Sutter’s day was ruined by the outrageous price he had to pay for new reading glasses, I figure we’d see a slightly less edgy Kings team. Now, I do have to clarify something: I don’t believe the Hartley fine is necessarily a harbinger of things to come. In that particular case, I think it was a matter of the league not being able to prove that Hartley told Westgarth to start something, so they went with an intentionally vague explanation. Still, Daly’s wording leaves the door open: “I would say that there are certain things that happen on the ice that we will automatically ascribe a certain level of responsibility to the coach, and there are other things that happen, where we don’t use that presumption.” Talk about vague. If I’m a coach, I’d want more defined guidelines than that. OK, change of subject. The Washington Capitals. How much trouble are these guys in?

source: Getty ImagesMH: They’re in a lot of trouble, for the following reasons: 1. Outside of Alex Ovechkin, they’re really struggling to score. Washington has just seven goals over its current six-game losing streak, and of their 134 goals this season, 35 have come from Ovi (which is 26 percent of the Caps’ offense, or just over 1/4 for you fractional enthusiasts.) 2. They stink on the road (8-11-4) and are about to embark on a five-game trip. 3. They’re dysfunctional. When’s the last time a team had three separate trade demands in the first half of the season? I know Dmitry Orlov has since backed off, but the Caps still have unhappy campers in Martin Erat and Michal Neuvirth, and those are just the ones we know about. But let’s circle back to Ovechkin, because he’s in a fascinating situation as the star of two teams with high expectations. We’ve already discussed Russia’s potential shortcomings heading into Sochi, and you just know Ovechkin’s going to shoulder some, or quite possibly a lot, of the blame if those high expectations aren’t met.

JB: Look, I don’t believe Ovechkin is beyond criticism, but he’s not the problem in Washington. The Capitals have a flawed roster, and that ultimately falls on general manager George McPhee. If the Caps miss the playoffs, I find it hard to see McPhee back next season. I understand you can’t completely rip the guy for not going out and getting what his roster so dearly lacks — in my opinion, that’s an elite two-way center and an elite two-way defenseman, and those types of players don’t grow on trees — but the fact is, Washington hasn’t made it past the second round of the playoffs since making the finals in 1998. Numerous coaches have come and gone since then, but the GM has stayed the same. And that Erat trade — if you’re a Caps fans, that’s even more infuriating the way things are going now. Even if Filip Forsberg doesn’t pan out, what a complete waste of a top prospect. Heck, the Caps would’ve been better off if McPhee had just given Forsberg to the Preds.

MH: You might say McPhee made an *puts on sunglasses* Erat-ional decision. YEEAAAHHHH! That’s my CSI: Miami segue into Eugene Melnyk, because we really need to talk about his forensic investigation into the Matt Cooke-Erik Karlsson incident. Specifically, the fact it’s still a thing! Honestly, what’s the point in all this? Cooke reportedly won’t be affected, and neither will the Wild. I would love to have been a fly on the wall when Melnyk presented Gary Bettman with his findings. I like to think Bettman responded as if he was judging a 6th-grade science fair. “That is a very nice diagram, Eugene. Now if you’ll excuse me, Daryl Katz wants to show me his baking soda volcano.”

source: Getty ImagesJB: Did Katz’s volcano work? I bet it didn’t. As for Melnyk, I get the sense even Karlsson thinks this whole investigation is kinda crazy. For the life of me, I just can’t fathom how Melnyk’s going to to prove Cooke intended to injure Karlsson. Maybe he’s discovered a way to read people’s minds? If he has, I think the Sens’ money issues are over, because that’s a profitable invention right there. Like most people, I don’t think Cooke had any malicious intent when he hit Karlsson. In a weird way, though, I enjoy imagining he totally meant to do it. It would be like a great twist at the end of a thriller, when everyone realizes the crazy guy was right all along.

MH: Fade out on Melnyk in a padded room, wearing a straitjacket, as he watches a small black-and-white TV showing Cooke being handed the Lady Byng Trophy.

JB: I just got the chills.

Blackhawks fire assistant coach Mike Kitchen

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Stan Bowman promised there’d be changes, and today those changes began.

The Chicago Blackhawks have fired longtime assistant coach Mike Kitchen. A member of Joel Quenneville’s staff since 2010, Kitchen spent seven seasons in Chicago, winning two championships along the way.

“We believe this decision is best for our organization moving forward,” said Bowman, the general manager. “Mike had an impact on two different Stanley Cup championship teams during his tenure in Chicago. We appreciate his many contributions and wish he and his family success in the future.”

Kitchen was in charge of the Blackhawks’ penalty kill, which finished 24th after a terrible start to the regular season.

Though the ‘Hawks only surrendered one power-play goal in four losses to the Predators, Quenneville’s staff was bound to change in the wake of such a disappointing postseason performance.

Quenneville’s other assistant, Kevin Dineen, is still on the staff.

Two days after elimination, Montreal’s focus turns to Price extension

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On Saturday, Carey Price‘s season came to an abrupt end with a Game 6 loss to the Rangers.

On Monday, Price’s offseason got underway.

During his end-of-year media availability, Montreal’s prized netminder was faced with questions about his contract status, foreshadowing what Price will likely be dealing with until pen is put to paper.

Here’s an excerpt of part of the exchange, from Hockey 360:

Q: What are your expectations about your contract situation?

Price: I don’t have any worries about it. I’m sure it’ll all take care of itself.

Q: Would you be open to talk about an extension for July 1?

Price: Yeah, of course. I love playing here. I’m sure we’ll figure something out.

Price, who turns 30 this August, is heading into the last of a six-year, $39 million deal with a $6.5M average annual cap hit. As mentioned, he’s eligible to sign an extension on the first of July, and there’s already been speculation as to what that deal would look like.

Armed with leverage at negotiating table — the 2015 Hart Trophy, nominated for the Vezina in two of the last three years — it’s feasible Price could command similar money to Henrik Lundqvist, currently the NHL’s highest-paid netminder (a seven-year, $59.5 million deal with an $8.5M cap hit).

But there are factors to consider.

The first, of course, is that Habs GM Marc Bergevin has other significant spending to do this summer. Alex Radulov, who finished second on the team in scoring during the regular season and led the Habs in the playoffs, is an unrestricted free agent. Per reports, he’s looking to cash in.

Alex Galchenyuk, the former 30-goal scorer and at one point the club’s No. 1 center of the future, is a pending RFA. That negotiation alone will be fascinating.

Price was asked about his negotiations, and how they might reflect the club’s need to be cost-effective in order to remain competitive. He dodged it artfully — “that’s a tough question to be asking me right now,” he said — but later acknowledged he understood the business side of things, and that the club is currently in its Stanley Cup window.

“I want to stay here,” he explained. “[I want to] figure out a way to make all the pieces fit, and bring a championship here.”

Five impressive stats from the first round

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.976Pekka Rinne‘s save percentage in four games against Chicago, all of them victories, two of them shutouts. Rinne only allowed three goals on 126 shots by the Blackhawks, who had all sorts of trouble generating quality scoring chances against the tight-checking Predators. Though Rinne may not have had the toughest saves to make, he kept the mistakes to a minimum, and he was a big reason for the sweep.

11 — Points for Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, who had two goals and nine assists in five games against Columbus. Malkin is now just seven points shy of the 18 he registered in last year’s playoffs, and that took 23 games. His career high in the postseason is 36 points, which earned him the 2009 Conn Smythe Trophy.

29.4% — Washington’s power play in six games against the Maple Leafs. That’s not the highest success rate in these playoffs — Calgary’s was 37.5 percent, Pittsburgh’s 33.3 percent — but in a series that saw five games go to overtime, the Caps could’ve easily been eliminated if they hadn’t converted five times with the man advantage. Alex Ovechkin scored twice on the PP, while T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, and John Carlson got the other three.

9 — Different goal-scorers for the Edmonton Oilers, who showed they can be more than just Connor McDavid in defeating the Sharks in six. True, McDavid led the Oilers with four points (2G, 2A). But it was bottom-six winger Zack Kassian who played the hero early on, with back-to-back winning goals in Games 2 and 3. Then David Desharnais notched the winner in Game 5, followed by Anton Slepyshev in Game 6.

5 — Points for Ducks rookie defenseman Shea Theodore (2G, 3A) in four games against the Flames. Only Erik Karlsson has more points (6) among d-men in these playoffs, and Karlsson played six games against the Bruins. Theodore downplayed his postseason production, telling reporters, “You get good bounces every once in a while.” But the 21-year-old put up piles of points in junior, and he did the same in the AHL. So really, we shouldn’t be all that surprised that he’s doing it in the NHL now.

Wild owner confirms Fletcher safe as GM

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After a disappointing first-round playoff exit, Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold has given GM Chuck Fletcher a vote of confidence.

Per the Star-Tribune, Leipold confirmed on Sunday that Fletcher’s job was safe, potentially to quiet speculation about the longtime GM’s job security in the wake of a disappointing finish.

But Leipold’s vote of confidence also provides an interesting backdrop for when Fletcher meets with the media this week.

There’s no denying that, after a 49-win and 106-point campaign, crashing out in five games to St. Louis — and to former head coach Mike Yeo — is unacceptable. But how Fletcher positions this will be telling. There’s a chance he could pin the Wild’s lack of success on the tremendous goaltending of Jake Allen, much like head coach Bruce Boudreau did. He could also argue Minnesota was, by nearly every metric, the better of the two teams over the course of the series, and chalk up the loss to a lack of puck luck.

But that won’t be easy.

This marks Minnesota’s second consecutive first-round exit, having been bounced in six games by Dallas last year. And it comes after Fletcher went big at the trade deadline, acquiring Martin Hanzal and Ryan White from Arizona in exchange for a bevy of draft picks.

“We’re just putting our chips in the middle of the table for this year,” Fletcher said at the time, per NHL.com. “We like our group and we think our players deserve the best chance possible to compete [and want to] see what we can do. Again, nothing’s promised and we know it will be tough, but I think our thought is we may as well take a swing and see how far we can go.”

More: Fletcher went all-in at the deadline, and now… this

At this stage, the GM has some serious questions to ask of his team. How much longer can things revolve around the aging core of captain Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter? All have been quality players during their time with the Wild, but two facts cannot be ignored: 1) Koivu just turned 34, while Parise and Suter turn 33 later this year, and 2) the trio has never made it past the second playoff round.

Interestingly, Leipold has suggested the current group might not be championship caliber. “I don’t know, they could surprise me,” he said in January. “But I don’t think we’ve got that type of team. We haven’t built it yet.”

And to be fair, the Wild do have building blocks in place for the future.

Four of Fletcher’s draftees starred on the international stage at the 2017 World Juniors — Kirill Kaprizov, Joel Eriksson-Ek, Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin — and it has to be exciting that a pair of young skaters, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter, took significant leaps forward this season.

Granlund, 25, led the team in scoring with 69 points and emerged as one of the club’s most important players. Niederreiter, 24, posted career highs in points (57) and goals (25), suggesting he’s also ready to embrace a bigger role with more responsibility.

And to that end, Fletcher has huge decisions to make on both players, who are pending RFAs. The Wild don’t have a ton of financial flexibility, and it’s fair to suggest Granlund (who made $3M last season) and Niederreiter ($2.66M) will both need significant raises.

There’s a lot of work for Fletcher to do this summer.

But at least he’ll get a chance to do it.