‘No one will be ashamed of the Russian national team,’ says new head coach


He’s only been on the job for a few days, but new Russian national team head coach Oleg Znarok is already talking a big game.

From RIA Novosti, per Around the Rings:

The new Russian national hockey team coach says fans “won’t be ashamed” of the style of play under his guidance, a thinly veiled dig at his predecessor who oversaw a humiliating quarterfinal elimination at the Sochi Olympics.

Latvian specialist Oleg Znarok was unveiled as the new coach this week after taking Dynamo Moscow to back-to-back Gagarin Cup titles in the KHL.

He replaced Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, who was fired after Russia’s 3-1 defeat to Finland in Sochi, slammed by President Vladimir Putin as “a serious disappointment.”

“I can say that no one will be ashamed of the Russian national team,” the 51-year-old said at a news conference at RIA Novosti. “The guys are going to fight to the end, I guarantee it. Even if the team loses, we need to lose well.”

Znarok, 51, has been the coach of KHL powerhouse HC Dynamo Moscow since 2010 and led the team to consecutive Gagarin Cup (KHL playoff championship) titles in 2011 and ’12. The former Latvian winger had a lengthy playing career in Europe prior to coaching, but did briefly play with AHL Maine during the 1991-92 campaign.

It’s worth noting that Znarok has a history with Alex Ovechkin, having coached the Washington captain at Dynamo during the NHL lockout.

Znarok will face some challenges in his new gig. He inherits a team that’s come under great fire over the last month, culminating with Bilyatendinov’s departure on Mar. 5. The team that finished fifth in Sochi was considered one of the greatest disappointments in Russian hockey history, and Bilyaletdinov’s coaching acumen came under fire in a piece from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, in which Pens center Evgeni Malkin was reportedly frustrated with many of the strategical and personnel decisions made in Sochi.

That hasn’t stopped Znarok from promising big things, though.

“We should win the World Championships,” Znarok said of the upcoming WHC in Belarus. “Other plans simply don’t exist.”

The Worlds run from May 9-23. Russia captured gold under Bilyaletdinov in ’12 but performed poorly at last year’s tournament, finishing sixth after an 8-3 blowout loss to the U.S. in the quarterfinals.

Raffl coverts PTO into one-year, $575K deal with Jets

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There’s another Raffl in the NHL.

On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.

Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.

“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.

With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.

For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.

Flyers to start season with seven d-men; MacDonald sent to AHL

Andrew MacDonald, Matt Calvert
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Seven defensemen will comprise the Philadelphia Flyers’ opening-day roster, which the club finalized today.

Those seven are Radko Gudas, Michael Del Zotto, Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz, Brandon Manning, Mark Streit, and Evgeny Medvedev.

Not on the list? Andrew MacDonald, who has cleared waivers and been assigned to AHL Lehigh Valley. (That move allowed the Flyers to keep both Manning and youngster Scott Laughton.)

Also not on the list were prospects Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim. The first three will start the season in the AHL. The last two have been sent back to junior.

But the opening-day roster is not where this story ends. How the Flyers’ defensive mix changes as the season progresses will be worth watching.

They’d no doubt love to move Schenn, a pending unrestricted free agent with a $3.6 million cap hit. He could also end up in the AHL, a la MacDonald.

Medvedev, the 33-year-old who came over from the KHL and put up five points in five preseason games, is another pending UFA. The club could either look to re-sign or flip him.

Might 37-year-old Streit be a chip worth cashing in at the deadline, especially if the Flyers aren’t in a playoff position on Feb. 29? He’s only got two years left on his contract.

Meanwhile, GM Ron Hextall will be watching pending restricted free agents Manning and Gudas closely. Are they part of the future?

So, lots of decisions to make in Philly as the blue line continues its much-needed transition.