Under Pressure: Randy Carlyle

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“If you’re worried about optics in this market, it’s going to be a disaster. I think you have to make a decision based on what you think is the best decision for the organization, and this in our minds was clearly the best option.

“He was a guy we believe can get the job done for us. Whether optics are that it’s the wrong thing to do or not doesn’t really matter to us. If you’re looking at trying to please people, you’re probably going to make some poor decisions.”

That was Toronto GM Dave Nonis this past May, talking about the decision to extend head coach Randy Carlyle. The move came under heavy fire as the optics of retaining Carlyle, who presided over a Leafs team that went 2-12-0 down the stretch and collapsed out of playoff contention, left many scratching their heads. Several other coaches that whiffed on the playoffs met their demise — John Tortorella, Adam Oates and Barry Trotz, to name a few — and Nonis made it clear there was some issue at the coaching level by turfing all three of Toronto’s assistants.

Yet when the dust settled, Carlyle remained. One of the few constants in an offseason filled with change.

The Leafs really shifted course this summer. They hired a new president, Brendan Shanahan, then emerged as progressive club on the advanced analytics front — first, with the hiring of 28-year-old assistant GM Kyle Dubas, known as a fancy stat advocate with OHL Sault Ste. Marie; then, with the creation of an advanced numbers department, spearheaded by the guy that used to run Extra Skater.

Change happened on the ice, too.

Gone, it seems, are the day of trotting out truculent bottom-six forwards like Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren. Toronto had itself a Moneyball-esque summer, signing (slightly) flawed veterans on the cheap in the hope of striking gold — guys like former 30-goal scorer David Booth (signed for $1.1M after getting bought out of a disastrous situation in Vancouver), skilled center Mike Santorelli (inked for $1.5M after last season was cut short by season-ending shoulder surgery) and power forward Daniel Winnik (who fell out of favor in Anaheim, remained unsigned ’til August, then came to Toronto for $1.3M). These additions, along with Finnish forwards Petri Kontiola and Leo Komarov, should give Toronto the most depth it’s had up front in the Carlyle era.

As such, the pressure is on.

By keeping Carlyle after last year’s collapse, the message was loud and clear — this was on the players, not the coach. But from that point forward, the challenge was put on everybody to achieve more, coaches included. Expectations have been heightened and there is a demand for improvement — for example, Toronto could have a wildly competitive training camp, as there are 15 forwards on NHL contracts fighting for 12 spots.

All of this, of course, comes back to Carlyle, who has now been given tools to succeed: new players, new assistants and a new, fresh look at the managerial level. If that pressure wasn’t obvious enough, Nonis ensured it in May by saying his coach needs to get through to this group.

“If you’ve seen it being done before with most of the same players, or a lot of the same players, and with that coach leading that group, I know it can happen,” said Nonis. “I know it has happened with this group before. I know that (Carlyle) has reached them before, reached them at times this year.

“For me it’s not that we’re guessing whether or not he can have success or he can get through to them. We’ve seen it. I know that it’s there and we feel he is the guy that can get through to this group.”

Report: Bruins avoid arbitration with Ryan Spooner

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Heading into today’s arbitration hearing, Ryan Spooner was reportedly looking for a $3.85 million dollar deal. On the other side of this equation, the Bruins were only willing to offer $2 million.

With that kind of gap, it seemed almost certain that this dispute would be settled by an arbitrator, but the two sides have reportedly met somewhere in the middle, per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

Friedman is reporting that the two sides have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a deal worth $2.825 million.

Spooner finished last season with 11 goals and 39 points in 78 games. The 25-year-old scored two less goals and 10 less points in 2016-17 than he did the previous year.

There’s no doubt that he has plenty of offensively ability, but consistency in his own end has always been an issue (just ask former head coach Claude Julien).

If Spooner can put it all together this season, he’ll be able to earn a much bigger pay day next summer.

Brian MacLellan wants you to know that the Caps are still ‘a good team’

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The Washington Capitals will look pretty different when training camp opens.

Alex Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Braden Holtby and Evgeny Kuznetsov will all be back, but players like Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, Kevin Shattenkirk, Nate Schmidt and Karl Alzner are starting new journeys somewhere else.

Some have suggested that the big number of departures will bring the Caps down a notch or two when it comes to regular season dominance. GM Brian MacLellan simply doesn’t see that happening.

“People make it sound like we’re a lottery team,” said MacLellan, per the Washington Post. “I’m shocked by that. We’ve got good players. I want people to know: We’ve got a good team.”

The Caps will have to rely on young veterans and/or rookies to fill the void left by all of those departures. Andrei Burakovsky and Tom Wilson may have to play bigger roles, while rookies like defensemen Lucas Johansen  and Christian Djoos may crack the lineup sooner than expected.

As of right now, the Caps have five defensemen on one-way contracts (Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson and Taylor Chorney), so there’s plenty of room for those youngsters to leave their mark on the team.

“It’s a good team, I think,” MacLellan said. “We have good goaltending. We have skilled players. We’re going to have to see how Djoos plays, how Johansen plays. We might take a little while to get up to speed in that area. I guess there’s a little uncertainty. But I feel good.”

 McLellan’s team might take a bit of a dip because the supporting cast took a hit this offseason, but expecting them to fall off the map because of it is a little premature.

PHT Morning Skate: Terrell Owens owns Kris Letang during training session

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–Minnesota Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau is now the owner of a junior hockey team. “This may sound corny, but I feel I was put on this Earth to promote hockey. So the idea of being involved in a junior team that is the middle void between high school hockey and college was very exciting to me.” (Minneapolis StarTribune)

–The Chicago Blackhawks traded Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes this offseason. The ‘Hawks were the only team Hjalmarsson has ever played for, and changing teams has been emotional for him. He showed exactly how difficult it is for him to play in a different city in a heartfelt Instagram post. (CSN Chicago)

Phil Kessel conducted a “I Will & I Won’t” interview. Will he bring the Stanley Cup to Toronto for the second offseason in a row? Uhhhh not exactly. Also, he’ll be rooting for one of Mayweather or McGregor, but he just doesn’t know who yet. (BarDown)

–Despite the fact that the Rangers and Mika Zibanejad agreed to a long-term contract on Tuesday, The Score believes the Senators still won the trade that saw them ship Zibanejad to New York for Derick Brassard. (The Score)

–The Hockey News continues their “2020 Vision” series on each NHL team. Their most recent piece focuses on the Chicago Blackhawks and what the team will look like in three years. Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith will likely still be around, but youngsters like Nick Schmaltz and Alex Debrincat will take on bigger roles. (The Hockey News)

–Penguins defenseman Kris Letang was working out with former NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens in Montreal. For a guy in his 40s, Owens can still move pretty well:

EA Sports rolls out NHL 18 closed beta, with a lot of 3-on-3 focus

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EA Sports released a closed beta for “NHL 18” today, which gives players on Xbox One and Playstation 4 the chance to test three modes out from July 25 – Aug. 1.*

It sure seems like the beta – if not the full game – will focus on 3-on-3 overtime, and extending that experience beyond the confines of normal NHL action.

For one thing, the established EA Sports Hockey League mode will apparently include 3-on-3 overtime in the beta, and maybe more interestingly, also through full games. EA Sports explains as much:

Bringing authentic NHL 3-on-3 overtime to EA SPORTS Hockey League, you can now choose to play 3-on-3 full matches, opening up more ice for you and your teammates to get creative, pull off big plays, and showcase brand new skill moves. With more space to attack – and to make mistakes – 3-on-3 EASHL is higher stakes with more competition and skills.

Fans of the ailing sub-genre of arcade-style sports video games should take note that “NHL 18” introduces “NHL Threes.” The format hearkens back to the 16-bit days by turning off offside and icing calls, while a penalty will give a player a chance at penalty shot. Interesting. EA provided a little more information about the mode here, and it sure sounds like it could be fully featured upon release. The beta at least provides a taste of that.

(It wouldn’t be surprising if “NHL Threes” apes the previous generations “3 on 3 NHL Arcade,” which became something of a cult classic for some hockey game fans.)

Along with EA Sports Hockey League (note: a mode where you control a single player rather than a full team) and “NHL Threes,” the beta also includes the more vanilla Online Versus Play mode.

While the beta appears to be closed, EA’s NHL account is tweeting out ways to get codes on Tuesday, so it might not be too late if you’re lucky.

Without taking the beta for a test run personally just yet, this sounds like a nice opportunity for people to give the near-complete “NHL 18” a trial before the full game comes out on Sept. 15.

* – Or, as Kotaku’s Jason Schreier recently noted, maybe for a longer period of time.