Just how big is the rift between Eichel, Bylsma?


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.

Blues move closer to playoffs with OT win; Bruins clinch

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Maybe the St. Louis Blues aren’t dead in the water after all.

In fact, despite selling off Paul Stastny at the trade deadline following two brutal loses that were part of a larger free fall at the time, the Blues have found another gear with just weeks left in the NHL season.

The Blues pulled themselves to within one point of the second and final wildcard spot in the Western Conference with a 2-1 overtime win against the depleted Boston Bruins on Wednesday Night Rivalry on the NHL on NBCSN.

The Bruins held the lead for two periods and change before Jaden Schwartz scored mid-way through the third period to tie the game and then 30 seconds into overtime to seal the win and move one-point behind the Anaheim Ducks (who were still in action against the Calgary Flames.)

That’s three straight OT wins for the Blues, who were without Vladimir Tarasenko due to injury.

The point for the Bruins was important, despite the loss, as they have now clinched a playoff spot, moving four points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Atlantic Division lead.

The Bruins were still missing Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and Rick Nash on Wednesday, yet still figured out a way to obtain something despite a stacked infirmary.

And part of that help is coming from a surprising place.

Last week at this time, Ryan Donato was a Harvard student, fresh off a five-goal performance at the Olympics for Team USA.

By Sunday, he was still a Harvard student but had signed an entry-level NHL contract with the Boston Bruins. On Monday, still a Havard student and now an NHLer for 24 hours, Donato scored his first NHL goal and added two assists in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

On Tuesday, Donato was back in class — you guessed it — as a Harvard student, an NHL player who had been excused from practice by the team that signed him two days earlier and scored his first NHL goal a night before.

On Wednesday, Donato scored again.

Meanwhile, the NHL could take a deeper look at a second-period hit to the head Brayden Schenn by on David Krejci.

Schenn was handed a two-minute charging penalty on the play, and Krejci stayed in the game, but judging by the above video, there was definite contact to the head and it appears Krejci was fortunate to be able to get up and skate away.

NBCSN’s Jeremy Roenick and Keith Jones talked about if Schenn deserves to be suspended for the hit.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Sidney Crosby scores incredible goal, again (video)

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Oh, Sidney.

Just when you thought you’ve seen everything from Crosby, he has this uncanny knack and making sure you haven’t forgotten who he is and makes sure, once again, that you never will.

Crosby did Crosby things one again on Wednesday night against the Montreal Canadiens. I can save you the explanation of the second-period goal, since it’s pretty incredible and, as a consequence, tough to explain in words.

Let’s roll some of the footage here, shall we?

And another angle:

Carey Price didn’t have a chance.

Crosby has grown pretty good at batting pucks out of mid-air. Poor Antti Niemi:

Remember this from John Tavares?

It was pretty special too and done in similar fashion:

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Panthers hold keys to playoff fate

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Few teams have been hotter than the Florida Panthers down the stretch, something that had to be the case for the Cats to be in the spot they are currently in.

No, they’re not in a playoff spot at the moment — as a Wednesday they sit one point back of the New Jersey Devils for the second and final wildcard spot into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But a massive game awaits them on Thursday against one of the few teams that have been hotter than them in the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have strung together nine straight wins.

The Panthers hold two games in hand over the Devils, who squandered an opportunity to increase their slim lead in a 6-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday. New Jersey has struggled as of late, going 4-6-0 in their past 10, including back-to-back losses now. The Panthers, meanwhile, eviscerated the Ottawa Senators 7-2 to pull within a point of them. Florida is five points back of the Philadelphia Flyers and six points behind their opponents on Thursday in Ohio. To thicken the plot, Florida holds three games in hand on Philly and Columbus.

Since the All-Star break, the Panthers have gone 18-5-1, have scored more 5-on-5 goals than any other team with 35 and are third in expected goals percentage during that time. The Florida Sun-Sentinel also points out that the Panthers have more points since the ASG out of any Eastern Conference team and the great goal differential (plus-27).

With 11 games to go, the Panthers sit in the driver’s seat when it comes to their own playoff fate.

Panthers coach Bob Boughner slightly downplayed the Columbus game in a conference call with the media on Wednesday.

“This time of year, it’s easy for these guys to get up for games, obviously how important they are,” he said. “It’s not going to be nothing over-the-top, extra special than what we normally do to prepare for a team. Obviously, it is an important game, but we have 10 more important games coming in.”

Despite losing key pieces in Jonathan Marchesseault and Reilly Smith over the summer — both are having career years with the Vegas Golden Knights — the current crop for the Panthers appear to have bought into Boughner’s message. And with Roberto Luongo healthy after missing two-and-a-half months with a groin injury, Florida is peaking at the right time.

“I think if you ask the guys, they’re having the time of their lives, having lots of fun,” Boughner said. “Let’s face it, we’ve been playing playoff hockey here for the last couple of months, just trying to dig in and scrape for points every night.”

Coming into Tuesday’s game, Luongo had gone 8-2-1 with a 2.51 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage with two shutouts in his past 11 starts — vintage Luongo, who’s been down this road before.

“Lu means everything to our team, obviously,” Boughner said, adding that Luongo will be in the driver’s seat in Florida’s last 11 games.

“He’s going to play a lot of hockey,” he said, saying it will be in the realm of an 80/20 split between Luongo and backup James Reimer.

Boughner said Aleksander Barkov — who has eight goals and 26 points in his past 19 games — is his vote for the Selke Trophy and that Keith Yandle is the glue that helps keep the room together. Evgenii Dadonov, who has 12 goals and 13 assists in his past 19 games, shouldn’t be forgotten.

Boughner said when the team was struggling earlier this season, consistency was the most frustrating part — noting that the team couldn’t string together more than two wins in a row.

“There was too much individual work going on,” he said. “It took us a long time to sort of get the team convinced with sticking with the process and playing as a team… less selfishness and more about the team.”

That changed with a five-game winning streak in the last half of December.

“That’s probably where the light went on,” Boughner said.

It’s burned brightly ever since.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Wednesday Night Rivalry – Bruins at Blues

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[Puck drop at 8 p.m. ET, CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE.]


Boston Bruins

Brad Marchand / Riley Nash / David Pastrnak

Ryan Donato / David Krejci / Danton Heinen

Tim Schaller / Sean Kuraly / Tommy Wingels

Jordan Szwarz / Noel Acciari / Brian Gionta

Torey Krug / Brandon Carlo

Matt Grzelcyk / Kevan Miller

Nick Holden / Adam McQuaid

Starting goalie: Anton Khudobin

[Bruins – Blues preview]

St. Louis Blues

Jaden Schwartz / Brayden Schenn / Alexander Steen

Patrik Berglund / Kyle Brodziak / Vladimir Sobotka

Dmitrij Jaskin / Ivan Barbashev / Tage Thompson

Nikita Soshnikov / Oskar Sundqvist / Chris Thorburn

Carl Gunnarsson / Alex Pietrangelo

Vince Dunn / Colton Parayko

Joel Edmundson / Robert Bortuzzo

Starting goalie: Jake Allen