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Just how big is the rift between Eichel, Bylsma?

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First, the major news out of Buffalo this morning — per WGR 550 radio, sophomore sensation Jack Eichel reportedly isn’t interested in signing an extension if Dan Bylsma remains head coach.

Eichel’s agent, Peter Fish, shot the rumor down, saying his client is “100 percent” on board with an extension, adding the decision has nothing to do with Bylsma’s status.

“I don’t know where anyone is getting these reports,” Fish said, per the Buffalo News. “But they are ridiculous.”

Fish’s remarks may snuff out reports about an extension, but questions remain about the coach-player dynamic.

Eichel, the team’s best player and face of the franchise, just wrapped year two of his three-year, entry-level deal and is eligible to sign on July 1.

In his end-of-year media address last week, Sabres GM Tim Murray said extending Eichel was a massive priority, adding that if he didn’t hear by Fish on July 1, he’d be calling him the very next day.

But now it appears Murray’s in quite the bind.

Bylsma has three years left on his contract at $3 million per, according to CapFriendly. He was hand-picked by Murray as head coach just weeks before Buffalo selected Eichel second overall in 2015 and, at the time, people were already connecting the dots: Bylsma’s experience coaching superstars, like Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh, made him uniquely qualified to coach Eichel.

“You understand immediately the spotlight that is on those types of players, the star quality players,” Bylsma said of his experience coaching elite talent. “I think you understand the pressure they’ll be going through, the analysis and the little eyes on them from just about everybody.”

Two years in, there are obvious problems with the Bylsma-Eichel dynamic.

This latest report comes after widespread speculation the 20-year-old was both displeased and frustrated with his head coach throughout the season. Eichel seemed to be at odds with how Bylsma conducted things, right down to player discipline. When teammate Sam Reinhart was benched for an entire game after showing up five minutes late to a team stretch, Eichel suggested the punishment didn’t necessarily fit the crime.

“We’re obviously not going to hold it over his head here,” he said. “[Reinhart] really didn’t do too much wrong.”

Which brings us back to the headline. How big is this rift? And can Murray fix it?

He has several reasons to do so. The first, as mentioned above, is that Bylsma is his guy. The hire was a signature moves of Murray’s GM tenure and, in order to get Bylsma, he had to dismiss Ted Nolan — with Nolan still owed two years on his contract.

Which brings us to another reason Murray needs to make this work.

Bylsma’s five-year, $15 million deal made him one of the NHL’s richest coaches. Paying him not to work for the club could be a large request — especially, as many have pointed out, since Murray would have to ask owner Terry Pegula for permission. Pegula, remember, is already shelling out substantial bucks for Rex Ryan not to coach the Bills.

This could be why Murray’s putting the heat on Bylsma. There were some telling comments at the GM’s end-of-year presser, especially when he said players had “legitimate gripes” about the coaching, before dropping his now-infamous ‘coffee’ line.

“The video that they do and the preparation is exhausting,” Murray explained. “I do have an opinion, and think that sometimes maybe they’re stuck in that room preparing and working hard, but maybe they can put a coffee in their hand once in a while and do two hours of video instead of three, and get out and get to know our players and talk to our players.

“It’s about coaching individuals a little more and coaching system a little less. That’s my opinion and I believe that’s the right way.”

Reading between the lines, it sure sounds like Murray was telling Bylsma he needed to change — and, in doing so, told Eichel he’s confronted the coach about adjusting his style.

This might help in repairing the Eichel-Bylsma relationship.

Unless it’s past the point of repair.

Longtime Berenson assistant Pearson named new Michigan coach

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Michigan went the familiar route in replacing legendary head coach Red Berenson.

Mel Person, who spent 23 years as Berenson’s assistant before taking the head gig at Michigan Tech, has been named the ninth head coach in UM Hockey history, the school announced on Monday.

“I am thrilled to select Mel to lead our hockey program and for him to return home to U-M following tremendous success in leading the Michigan Tech program,” said director of athletics Warde Manuel. “I’ve known Mel for years and experienced his leadership ability when I was the sport administrator for hockey and he was an assistant under Red (Berenson).

“Mel’s qualifications are well known throughout the hockey community and reach far beyond his ability to coach. Simply put, I couldn’t have selected a finer person to lead our ice hockey program into the future.”

Pearson, 58, took Michigan Tech to a pair of NCAA Tournaments during his six years on the job. Several players advanced to the NHL on his watch including Chicago’s Tanner Kero, Edmonton’s Jujhar Khaira and New Jersey’s Blake Pietila.

Two weeks ago, Berenson stepped down from his post at Michigan after 33 years on the job. Together, he and Pearson captured two national championships together.

Backstrom believes Caps are ‘underdogs’ against Pens

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The Washington Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy by seven points over the Pittsburgh Penguins this season, but someone forgot to tell Nicklas Backstrom.

Heading into their second-round matchup against Pittsburgh, Backstrom believes the Capitals are the underdogs in the series, per beat reporter Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Well Nicklas, that’s one way to look at it.

Backstrom is clearly trying to take some of the pressure off of his team’s shoulders, but maybe he’s onto something.

As you may remember, a similar situation arose last year. The Capitals had more points than any other team in 2015-16, but that didn’t stop them from being eliminated by these same Penguins in the second round. Eventually, Pittsburgh went on to hoist the Stanley Cup.

This time, the Capitals won’t have to worry about star defenseman Kris Letang, as he’s out with an upper-body injury. Pittsburgh was able to overcome the Letang injury (Matt Murray too) in round one against Columbus, but Washington is a different animal.

Even without Letang, getting by Pittsburgh won’t be easy, especially when stars like Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby are rolling.

Malkin finished the first round with two goals and an incredible 11 points in five games, while Kessel and Crosby had eight and seven points respectively against Columbus.

Things were a little more difficult offensively for Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, as they posted six, three and three points in six games against the Leafs.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who has the most points and it doesn’t matter who the underdog is in the series either. All that counts is advancing through to the next round.

PHT Morning Skate: Are Thornton and Marleau done in San Jose?

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–After reaching the Stanley Cup Final last year, the San Jose Sharks lasted just one round in 2017. With both Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1st, could their time in San Jose be over? We know that Logan Couture wants both players to come back, but would that be the right decision? Allowing them to leave could thrust young players into roles they’re not ready for, but keeping them around and icing a similar team could lead to another first-round exit. (Mercury News)

–The Philadelphia Flyers took a step back this season, as they failed to make the playoffs, but at least the future appears to be bright. They’ve managed to stockpile quality prospects and their farm team finished with the second best record in the AHL. (Philly.com)

–Former NHLer Brandon Prust spent a couple of months hanging around the Leafs earlier this season, but he never ended up getting a contract so he went off to Germany. Prust said the experience was great, but he was a little frustrated that Toronto decided to acquire players like Eric Fehr and Brian Boyle instead of giving him a shot. “I feel I belonged there and I could have helped that team; but what are you going to do? That’s hockey. I felt they really needed a guy like me; and I know I could have helped them. Then they go and make trades for players similar to me. It’s tough.” (Yahoo)

–Justin Bieber made an appearance at the ACC last night. He was wearing a custom Leafs jersey, and he seemed to be pretty into it. Unfortunately for Biebs, his team couldn’t extend the series to seven games. (BarDown)

–The Toronto Maple Leafs pushed the Washington Capitals as much as they could, but they just ran out of steam in Game 6. Check out the highlights from the Caps’ 2-1 OT win by clicking the video at the top of the page.

Braden Holtby, Sergei Bobrovsky and Carey Price were named finalists for the Vezina Trophy. The Hockey News makes a case for each of the three goaltenders, but Bobrovsky’s gotta be considered the favorite.  Jared Clinton writes: “It’s not just Bobrovsky’s base numbers that are impressive, either. His underlying numbers makes his case further. The only goaltending with 1,000-plus minutes at 5-on-5 to post a better SP than Bobrovsky’s .939 mark was Craig Anderson.” (The Hockey News)

–It sounds like Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski is pretty confident that Auston Matthews is going to walk away with the Calder Trophy this year:

2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs second-round schedule

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Time to get your ducks in a row (Anaheim or otherwise), as the second-round schedule has been released.

As you can see, the West series begin on Wednesday while the East ones kick into gear on Thursday. Read up on the matchups here.

For the sixth consecutive year, every Stanley Cup playoff game will be presented nationally across the platforms of NBC Sports Group and select NBCUniversal networks.

(Games listed by date, start time, teams and network.)

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Date TIME (ET) #1 Washington vs. #2 Pittsburgh Networks
Thursday, April 27 7:30 p.m. Pittsburgh at Washington NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Saturday, April 29 8 p.m. Pittsburgh at Washington NBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Monday, May 1 7:30 p.m. Washington at Pittsburgh NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Wednesday, May 3 7:30 p.m. Washington at Pittsburgh NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Saturday, May 6 TBD Pittsburgh at Washington TBD
*Monday, May 8 TBD Washington at Pittsburgh TBD
*Wednesday, May 10 TBD Pittsburgh at Washington TBD

Date TIME (ET) #2 Ottawa vs. #4 NY Rangers Networks
Thursday, April 27 7 p.m. NY Rangers at Ottawa CNBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Saturday, April 29 3 p.m. NY Rangers at Ottawa NBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Tuesday, May 2 7 p.m. Ottawa at NY Rangers NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Thursday, May 4 7:30 p.m. Ottawa at NY Rangers NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Saturday, May 6 TBD NY Rangers at Ottawa TBD
*Tuesday, May 9 TBD Ottawa at NY Rangers TBD
*Thursday, May 11 TBD NY Rangers at Ottawa TBD

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Date TIME (ET) #1 Anaheim vs. #2 Edmonton Networks
Wednesday, April 26 10:30 p.m. Edmonton at Anaheim NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Friday, April 28 10:30 p.m. Edmonton at Anaheim NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Sunday, April 30 7 p.m. Anaheim at Edmonton NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Wednesday, May 3 10 p.m. Anaheim at Edmonton NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
*Friday, May 5 TBD Edmonton at Anaheim TBD
*Sunday, May 7 TBD Anaheim at Edmonton TBD
*Wednesday, May 10 TBD Edmonton at Anaheim TBD

Date TIME (ET) #3 St. Louis vs. #4 Nashville Networks
Wednesday, April 26 8 p.m. Nashville at St. Louis NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Friday, April 28 8 p.m. Nashville at St. Louis NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Sunday, April 30 3 p.m. St. Louis at Nashville NBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
Tuesday, May 2 9:30 p.m. St. Louis at Nashville NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
*Friday, May 5 TBD Nashville at St. Louis TBD
*Sunday, May 7 TBD St. Louis at Nashville TBD
*Tuesday, May 9 TBD Nashville at St. Louis TBD

Starting time and national broadcast information for games listed TBD will be announced when available.