Canada's head coach Babcock directs his team during their men's team ice hockey practice at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics

In praise of Mike Babcock, who doesn’t want you to be confused

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SOCHI, Russia — “Does anybody know who won the scoring race? Does anybody care? Does anybody know who won the gold medal?”

And with that, Mike Babcock stood up and exited the press conference, once again the head coach of the Olympic champs.

Sure, it would’ve been cooler if he’d dropped the mic before leaving, but it was still a pretty great exit, so far as exits from press conferences go.

The only performance more impressive might have been the one his Team Canada gave here in Sochi. Six games. Six wins. The first team to go undefeated at the Olympics since the 1984 Soviets in Sarajevo.

And while Canada, with all that great offensive talent on its roster, only scored 17 times, it only allowed three. All. Tournament. Long.

On top of that, in the two games that mattered most, against the toughest competition, Canada didn’t surrender a single goal. It was a 1-0 win over the United States in Friday’s semifinals, and a 3-0 suffocation of Sweden in Sunday’s final.

Just don’t tell Babcock he played a “defensive” system. Because he doesn’t like that.

“When you talk about great defense, sometimes we get confused,” he said. “Great defense means you play defense fast and you have the puck all the time. We’re always on offense.

“Don’t get confused. We out-chanced these teams big time; we didn’t score. We were a great offensive team. That’s how we coached. That’s what we expected. That’s what we got. We didn’t ask guys to back up.”

Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman concurred.

“It wasn’t strictly playing defense,” he said. “We weren’t sitting in a shell. Part of our defense was being aggressive. Forechecking. Pressuring. Closing gaps. Not letting them get the red line, or get our blue line.”

You may recall a short time ago when Canada’s scoring ability was being called into question. Like after it only managed three goals versus minnow Norway. Or, after it escaped Finland with a 2-1 overtime win. Or, after another one-goal game versus Latvia in the quarterfinals, a 2-1 win that required a late tally from defenseman Shea Weber.

“No matter how hard people were on us that we weren’t scoring goals, we wanted to stick to our game and play hard defensively,” said Weber, crediting Babcock for maintaining the team’s belief in what it was doing.

“He just portrayed the message that’s it going to come. Defense wins championships. You’ve got to shut the other team’s top guys down and get timely scoring and you’re going to win.”

Meanwhile, forward Patrick Sharp praised Babcock for, not only a great game plan, but also infusing some timely good humor.

“He was one of the guys who was loose in the locker room, kept guys on their toes,” said Sharp.

Forward Jonathan Toews, who scored the game-winner versus Sweden, saw that too, and thought Babcock’s demeanor was an important contributor to the team’s success.

“I think that’s a big part of playing well is being loose and confident,” he said. “He wants that and I don’t think he ever overreacts to any situation. He’s always pretty calm on the bench. If you do something wrong, he lets you know right away, and he’s very detailed and to the point.”

Toews also lauded the coaching staff for getting buy-in from all the players, even the superstar offensive types who may have been prone to veering from the plan, if they weren’t convinced otherwise.

“As soon as we didn’t have possession (of the puck), we were working so hard to get it back,” he said. “We had some skilled, skilled forwards and d-men, but everyone was committed to playing a defensive game, and we created offense off it.”

Of course, according to forward Chris Kunitz, there wasn’t much choice but to obey the coaching staff’s rule. Not on a team as deep as Canada.

“They came here, gave you the information, expected you to understand it, and go on the ice and duplicate it,” he said. “And if you weren’t doing that, there was someone else going to be able to take your job.”

Now, let’s face it, Babcock had more great players to deploy than any coach at these Games, and he was more than willing to admit that.

“We had a good team,” he said, slightly understating the fact.

If Dan Bylsma and Zinetula Bilyaletdinov had the roster of Team Canada, maybe it would be one of them who made all the right moves, instead of all the wrong ones, apparently.

Still, coaching Canada has its own challenges. Gold as the only option. A cadre of stars, many of whom need to be used like role players, and need to accept that.

Two Olympics in a row now, Babcock has gotten the job done.

“It started in the summer when we went in there and we played ball hockey,” said Weber. “Everyone laughed at us. We went over systems.

“I think there might be a lot of teams that are going to try ball hockey now.”

PS – Phil Kessel won the scoring race.

With four vacancies, the NHL coaching carousel is ‘spinning out of control’

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Bob Hartley watched bosses come and go three times as coach of the Calgary Flames. He will need one more general manager to believe in him to stay in the NHL.

Fired Tuesday by the Flames, Hartley is itching to get back at it and he’s not alone. The Anaheim Ducks’ last two coaches, Bruce Boudreau and Randy Carlyle, are also in the mix for current vacancies.

“Right now, the coaching carousel is spinning out of control,” Hartley said. “It’s the time of the year. So obviously there’s lots of jobs, there’s lots of names and there’s going to be lots of speculations.”

The Flames, Ducks, Minnesota Wild and Ottawa Senators all have openings. All four teams have different expectations for next season and beyond, and different requirements for their next head coach.

Anaheim is perhaps in the middle of its Stanley Cup window after winning four consecutive Pacific Division titles but failing to reach the final under Boudreau. GM Bob Murray dismissed Boudreau, citing “the way” the Ducks have been eliminated.

A team with star forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, a bright young blue line and goaltender John Gibson is an attractive destination. Winning in the playoffs is the expectation.

Paul MacLean, who coached the Senators to two playoff appearances during three-plus seasons in Ottawa, was on Boudreau’s staff this season, and former Edmonton Oilers coach Dallas Eakins took the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies to the Calder Cup final in 2012. Then there’s Carlyle, who won the Cup with the Ducks in 2007 and has been out of work since the Maple Leafs fired him in January 2015.

Minnesota has also made the playoffs four years in a row and is looking for more. GM Chuck Fletcher fired coach Mike Yeo and replaced him in February with interim John Torchetti, who is a candidate after a first-round exit.

Fletcher flew to California, reportedly to meet with Boudreau, and is looking for a strong hockey person behind the bench.

“I think it’s important that we find a coach that can hold the players accountable and put a system in place and get them to execute the system and hold them accountable to it,” Fletcher said.

In some places, just consistently making the playoffs is the standard.

The Flames missed the playoffs after a surprise postseason run a year ago, and problems that were there all along doomed Hartley. Calgary is the biggest wild card in the entire process because Boudreau knows how to get the most out of young talent, but GM Brad Treliving could think outside the box.

Calgary needs a coach who will improve its special teams. Hartley, who won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year last season, knows his power-play and penalty-killing units weren’t good enough, but he sees the potential of forwards Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, and knows his successor will have success.

“I really believe that this team is just a couple of players away from being a great hockey club despite the fact that they’re still a very young hockey team,” Hartley said Wednesday. “We have done lots of good things that maybe didn’t show in the standings but will show in the very near future.”

Like the Flames, the Senators made the playoffs against long odds in 2014-15 and fell backward in the standings this year, costing Dave Cameron his job. NHL head-coaching experience is a prerequisite, so Boudreau, Hartley, Yeo, Carlyle, Kevin Dineen, Marc Crawford and Guy Boucher are all legitimate candidates.

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said on Toronto’s AM-590 that the team was down to its last couple of interviews.

“It’s gone well,” Melnyk said. “There’s some great talent (available).”

Hartley, Boudreau and MacLean have all been named coach of the year, Carlyle and Crawford have each won the Cup, and Dineen helped the Chicago Blackhawks win it as an assistant.

Then there are hot names like Washington Capitals assistant Todd Reirden and Philadelphia Flyers minor-league coach Scott Gordon, as well as college coaches like Providence’s Nate Leaman of and Denver’s Jim Montgomery.

Of course, Hartley and his counterparts won’t go quietly.

“Coaching is my passion, coaching is in my blood, there’s no doubt that I want to coach,” Hartley said. “I’m only 55 years old, and I believe that I’m in great shape and I love this game, I love teaching, I love competing to win hockey games.”

Related: Sens will interview Boudreau on Friday

Ribeiro likely scratched, again, as Preds look to even series with Sharks

Nashville Predators center Mike Ribeiro (63) celebrates after scoring a goal in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
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If it ain’t broke…

We’ll spare you the rest, but the cliche does appear to be appropriate for the Predators — after getting their first series win against the Sharks with Mike Ribeiro healthy scratched two nights ago, the Preds look as though they’ll keep Ribeiro in the press box for tonight’s pivotal Game 4 at Bridgestone.

Rookie Pontus Aberg made both his NHL and Stanley Cup playoff debut in the Game 3 victory in place of Ribeiro, getting just under nine minutes of ice time.

Preds head coach Peter Laviolette has stressed that this Sharks series is much different from the opening round against the Ducks. Anaheim presented a “heavier” challenge, whereas San Jose’s speed has proven to be an issue.

Aberg is a young, strong skater and gives the Preds more speed — but the move wasn’t just about Aberg.

Ribeiro has been a disappointment this postseason, with no goals and just one assist through nine games, with a minus-3 rating. He’s taken some bad penalties and his Corsi has dropped form 58 percent during the regular season to just 47 in the playoffs.

Part of the disappointment stems from the fact that, last year, Ribeiro had a really effective playoff. He scored five points in six games in an opening-round loss to Chicago, while averaging a whopping 23:22 TOI per night (inflated due to the number of overtimes played, but still.)

Nothing’s official for tonight’s game, and Laviolette could still reverse course and opt to put Ribeiro back in.

But for now, the veteran looks as though he’ll be eating popcorn.

The Coyotes would be ‘shocked’ if there was no arena announcement by June 24

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Anthony LeBlanc doesn’t want to say the Coyotes are getting close to announcing some arena plans, because he’s already said that a few times and there’s been no announcement yet.

But according to LeBlanc, the Coyotes are, um, getting pretty close to announcing some arena plans.

“There’s been significant progress in the past couple of weeks,” the team’s co-owner/president said today after the club unveiled its new management structure.

“Maybe I should learn my lesson; I’ll give myself a longer time line. I’d be shocked if we get to the draft on June 24 without a significant announcement in regards to the new arena.”

Where might that new arena be built?

In what may have been a strong hint, LeBlanc said there had been “substantial discussions with the City of Phoenix over the past week to two weeks.”

And though he didn’t rule out striking a deal with another group, he did say that “we’ve been very impressed with the leadership” that Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton has shown on the matter.

Stanton called last month for the Coyotes and NBA’s Phoenix Suns to come together and make plans to share a new downtown arena.

“You can read into it what you want,” LeBlanc said of his praise for Stanton.

The Coyotes are going in a ‘new direction,’ and that’s an understatement

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - JULY 08:  (L-R) Head coach Dave Tippett and Assistant General Manager/Analytics John Chayka of the Arizona Coyotes watch the prospect development camp at the Ice Den on July 8, 2015 in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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At the very least, the Arizona Coyotes aren’t afraid to try new things.

Today, they officially named a 26-year-old, John Chayka, as their new general manager.

And that wasn’t all.

The Coyotes also unveiled a new, flatter management hierarchy that will see Chayka working alongside head coach Dave Tippett on player-personnel decisions. Tippett has added the title of Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations. He’s also agreed to a new, five-year contract.

In addition to those changes, one of the Coyotes’ co-owners, Gary Drummond, will now serve as Director of Hockey Operations.

It was reported yesterday that Chayka would replace Don Maloney as GM. The Coyotes fired Maloney in April, citing a desire to go in a “new direction.”

Chayka sure represents that.

“John is among the best and brightest minds in hockey,” Drummond said in a statement. “He is knowledgeable and driven and has an incredible passion for the game. He brings an innovative approach to assessing talent and looking at player development and combined with his strong analytics expertise, we feel that he’s the right choice for the direction we want to go with our franchise.”

Chayka told reporters today at a press conference that he’s open to using “any and all tools” to help turn the Coyotes into a sustainable winner, from traditional scouting methods to statistical analysis to psychological profiling.

And though some may be skeptical about his age, he insisted he won’t be going at it alone. 

“I’m excited to partner with Dave Tippett on this venture,” said Chayka. “I appreciate the experience and knowledge that he brings to the game.”

To aid Chayka and Tippett, the Coyotes intend to hire a “very seasoned” assistant general manager.

The way Chayka explains it, the idea is that all voices will be heard, and all opinions will be considered.

“At the end of the day, the buck stops with me in terms of player-personnel decisions,” he said. “But certainly I’m not someone who’s going to be authoritarian in my views. I’m going to be very open. … The key for me is the best idea wins.”

Suffice to say, it will be interesting to see how all this plays out. There’s always skepticism when a team tries something new, and this is definitely unique:

Chayka, however, believes the Coyotes’ future has never been brighter.

“The positives are endless with respect to the vision and direction of our ownership group, to the influx of young, talented players that are going to excite our fans for years to come, ” he said.

“We’ll have challenges along the way as we continue to grow, but we’ll rely on our increased communication, collaboration and innovation to overcome these issues and achieve our goals.”