Yeo focused on more than ‘revenge’ against Wild

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) This was not quite the plan the St. Louis Blues had for Mike Yeo.

He was supposed to take over as head coach next season, after Ken Hitchcock’s retirement, not in the middle of this one. The plan certainly didn’t include a first-round matchup for Yeo and the Blues against the Minnesota Wild, who fired him just last year.

Well, here they are, Yeo and his new team pitted against his previous charges in one of the most intriguing pairings of the NHL postseason that opens on Wednesday night.

“My goal is not to beat the Minnesota Wild for me,” Yeo said. “My goal is for us as a group to keep getting better and keep seeing what we’re capable of.”

Stream Blues vs. Wild on NBC Sports

Hardly a plan in this league is fail proof, as those teams who’ve changed coaches before playoff runs and even Stanley Cup wins can attest. Perhaps the Blues, who dismissed Hitchcock on Feb. 1 to trigger Yeo’s early promotion, will be the latest group to ride the momentum spurred by a winter shakeup deep into the spring.

The Blues, who were two wins away from reaching the Stanley Cup finals last year with Hitchcock on the bench, went 22-8-2 after the coaching change. Over that 32-game stretch, they were the best team in the NHL in several statistical categories after enduring the sluggish start.

The same went for the Wild over a three-month stretch from December through February. They led the Western Conference from mid-January through mid-March, until their skid got the best of their perch and the Chicago Blackhawks surged ahead. The Wild recovered in time to reach a franchise-record 106 points in Bruce Boudreau’s first season behind their bench.

So after Yeo guided the Wild to a six-game victory over the Blues in the first round two years ago, he’ll be on the opposite side when the series starts in Minnesota. Instead of scheming to slow Vladimir Tarasenko, Yeo will be sending his 25-year-old star out on the right wing to try wear down stalwart defensemen Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon, guys he used to call “Suts” and “Spurge” when he coached the Wild.

“We know their identity, the way they play. They know us,” Wild captain Mikko Koivu said. “We’re familiar with each other, so it’s not about who’s behind the bench and all that. It’s about the team right now, and we’ve got to make sure that we worry about ourselves.”

How, then, can this matchup not become a little bit personal for Yeo, who described the experience of being fired “gut-wrenching” when he was replaced on Feb. 13, 2016, following a 1-11-2 stretch by the Wild?

“There’s something much more at stake, something that’s way bigger in my eyes than a little revenge here,” Yeo said.

TARGETING TARASENKO

Tied for fourth in the league with 39 goals, Tarasenko has the greatest ability to take over a game in this matchup He had six goals in the 2015 series against the Wild and 15 points in 20 games during the 2016 postseason run by the Blues.

Tarasenko went without a goal or an assist in the first five games of the Western Conference finals against San Jose. With forward lines as well-balanced as the Blues, the Wild have the type of team with the ability to shut Tarasenko out like the Sharks did.

“This is going to be a real tough challenge for Vladi. Let’s be honest,” Yeo said. “They’re going to really key on him. He’s going to have tough matchups, and it’s going to be hard to get away from them because they’re such a deep team.”

DUBNYK’S PERFORMANCE

Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk was a making a strong case to be the Vezina Trophy winner until he began to struggle in the net during the March nosedive. With a 6-10 career playoffs record and 20 goals allowed in a six-game loss to the Dallas Stars in the first round last year, Dubnyk has yet to prove his postseason credentials. But the 6-foot-6 Dubnyk has the confidence to match his exceptional height.

“Just like every parent worries about his kid when he plays in any important situation, yeah, we always worry about the goalie,” Boudreau said, “but I’ve got all the confidence in the world in Dubie, and that’s where the worry stops. I think he’s going to be great.”

AT THE OTHER END

Blues goalie Jake Allen, with the job to himself now after largely sharing it with Brian Elliott the previous three years, was a completely different player after the coaching change. He went 11-2-2 in his last 15 starts with just 26 goals allowed.

“Through all that I think we maintained our confidence in him knowing what he’s done in the past and the way he’s capable of playing,” defenseman Jay Boumeester said. “It just kind of all came together. I’m sure after you get a couple of wins and a couple big saves, that sort of thing, everything becomes a little easier.”

 

Report: McDavid’s next cap hit will be in $13 million range

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The Edmonton Oilers continue to be busy this off-season. Not only are they looking to bring in new players to help improve their squad, they also have to look at re-signing their two best players.

Leon Draisaitl‘s contract comes to an end on July 1st, while Connor McDavid‘s entry-level deal expires next summer, but it sure sounds like both contracts will get done in the near future.

According to TSN’s Ryan Rishaug and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, McDavid is about to become the highest paid player in the NHL by a wide margin.

Both are reporting that McDavid’s new deal is going to be for eight years and over $13 million per season.

Those are big numbers, but it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t deserve that kind of salary.

The 20-year-old was the only player in the league to put up 100 points in 2016-17. His effort on the ice led him to his first Hart and Art Ross Trophies.

Edmonton currently has just over $17.1 million in cap space. Obviously, their two franchise centers will eat up that entire number, but McDavid still has one year left on his current deal, so a new contract would only kick in for the 2018-19 season.

PHT Morning Skate: Crosby would ‘love to’ be a goalie for a game

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Sidney Crosby has accomplished so much in his career, but there’s still one thing he wants to cross off his bucket list. In an interview with Dan Patrick, Crosby admitted that he’d like to be a goalie for a game. “I’d love to play one game in the NHL (as a goalie). We’ll see. There’s still some time left if it ever came down to it. I’d love to get that.” Just a hunch, but I don’t think the Pens would go for that. (Top)

–The Score looks at three 2017 draft prospects that will have the most long-term value to their respective teams. The first two picks of the draft are on the list, but the third name may surprise you. (The Score)

–As you may remember, Connor McDavid took an awkward looking picture with two strangers hugging him pretty tight. The picture, which took place at an airport, immediately went viral. Now, McDavid explained exactly how everything unfolded. Well, that story is pretty stupid. I was walking into the security line and I had actually walked past them. And then they say ‘hey Connor can we get a picture?’ and I say ‘sure’ and sure enough they come up to me and start hugging me. (Yahoo)

–Devils beat reporter Chris Ryan sat down for a Q&A with top pick Nico Hischier, who has a pretty busy summer ahead of him. “I’ll go back (o Switzerland) and practice and do my workouts every day, then I’ll come for Development Camp, and they’ll sit together and tell me what I still need, what I need to improve. Then I’ll go back again and work on those things.” (NJ.com)

–Speaking of Hischier, did you know that he didn’t start playing hockey full time until he was 12 years old? That’s only six years ago. “What you’re looking at is a guy who has a big upside and isn’t even close to reaching the ceiling,” Devils head coach John Hynes said. (New York Times)

 –Kyle Beach was selected 11th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks back in 2008. Unfortunately for Beach, he never made it to the NHL and he still isn’t over that. “Whenever you get as close as I did and don’t make it, there are going to be a lot of questions that never can be answered. I was a player growing up who never had to work that hard because I was always a top player. It was a rude awakening. Could I have been more prepared? Absolutely.” (Chicago Tribune)

Video: Crosby to Dan Patrick – Subban fight ‘wasn’t as bad as it looked’

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Listerine, the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, and a growing rivalry. Sidney Crosby and P.K. Subban battled it out at the highest level not so long ago, but some of that action looked worse than it actually was.

At least, that’s the message Crosby sent on “The Dan Patrick Show,” as you can enjoy in the clip above.

As a bonus, Crosby also discussed his favorite Stanley Cup traditions – hey, there can be traditions when something happens three times – and how Mario Lemieux inspires some especially creative ideas:

Rebuild on hold? Red Wings reportedly eye Girardi, Hainsey, Daley

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For the first time in ages, the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs. To some, the sliver lining was that this might send a message to management to truly commit to a rebuild.

Perhaps GM Ken Holland & Co. aren’t quite ready for that.

Look, one or even a couple of potential free agent signings won’t disqualify the Red Wings from going younger. Still, the rumored defensemen they’re targeting aren’t exactly spring chickens.

Three names floating out there are Trevor Daley, Dan Girardi, and Ron Hainsey.

Daley was mentioned by The Athletic’s Craig Custance, MLive.com’s Ansar Khan, and the Detroit Free-Press’ Helene St. James. Khan and Custance both mention Hainsey and Girardi, too.

Even in one-case mentions, the “veteran” theme continues, with Brian Campbell‘s name coming up while forward Thomas Vanek seems like at least a remote possibility to return to Detroit.

Let’s look at the ages of the defensemen mentioned, noting that Daley is older than some might have expected.

Daley – 33
Girardi – 33
Hainsey – 36
Campbell – 38

In the case of Daley and Girardi, you could also argue that each blueliner also has a lot of “mileage” for their age. Girardi, in particular, plays the sort of grinding, shot-blocking style that might have accelerated his troubles with the Rangers.

As great as experience might be, even for a “final push,” this sends a troubling signal. In Mike Green (31), Jonathan Ericsson (33), and Niklas Kronwall (36), the Red Wings already have an aging group of defensemen. Kronwall and Ericsson are dealing with injuries that may hinder them for the remainder of their careers, too.

When you also note that Holland exposed 25-year-old goalie Petr Mrazek instead of 33-year-old Jimmy Howard, the picture isn’t especially pretty.

Maybe the Red Wings can have their cake (push for a playoff rebound) and eat it too (start to transition to youth), yet it’s not necessarily the aggressive move toward a rebuild that many likely hoped to see.

At least there’s time for Holland to prove these early worries wrong.

Note: In other Red Wings news, the team signed Ben Street to a one-year extension.