After the Chicago Blackhawks were swept out of the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Nashville Predators, general manager Stan Bowman was brutally honest in his assessment of the team’s performance and insisted that changes were going to come this offseason.
One of the first changes to be made was the firing of Mike Kitchen, a long-time assistant on coach Joel Quenneville’s staff. That move was perceived by some to be a warning shot directed at Quenneville. But on Saturday at the World Hockey Championships in Cologne, Germany, Bowman told Brian Hedger of the Chicago Sun-Times there is absolutely zero truth to that theory.
‘‘People think that’s the case, even though there’s no validity to it,’’Bowman told Hedger. ‘‘I learned a long time ago that you can’t control what other people are going to think or say. We know what the truth is, and none of that is accurate. But that’s OK. That’s the way it goes.’’
Bowman also said that Quenneville will work with him when it comes to hiring Kitchen’s replacement because, “he’s going to be working with that person day-to-day.’’
Kitchen’s role with the Blackhawks included working with the team’s penalty kill and defense. The penalty killing unit was a major point of concern early in the season but showed steady improvement over the course of the season and only allowed a single power play goal in the four playoff games against the Nashville Predators. The unit still only ranked 24th in the entire NHL, mostly due to the disastrous start they had to the season.
Making significant changes to the roster is going to be a challenge for Bowman this offseason given the team’s current salary cap situation and how much of that money is tied up in players that the team will either not want to move (Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith) or simply will not be able to move due to no-trade clauses or other teams not being willing to take on the money.
It’s not like the Blackhawks had a bad season, finishing as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. But it was the second year in a row they were bounced from the playoffs in the first round and this time they did not even manage to win a single game. That is always going to be disappointing and lead to some changes given the expectations the Blackhawks have set for themselves.
His numbers in the KHL jump right off the page.
And he just won a silver medal with Canada at the Worlds.
So it’s no huge surprise to hear, via Aivis Kalniņš, that defenseman Chris Lee has left Magnitagorsk Metallurg to pursue a shot in the NHL.
Lee, who turns 37 in October, had 65 points (15G, 50A) in 60 games for Metallurg this season. He was partnered with Viktor Antipin, the 24-year-old who will reportedly join the Sabres next season. Predictably, there has been speculation that Lee could be on his way to Buffalo.
A late bloomer, Lee was never drafted and has never played an NHL game. He spent most of his North American pro career in the AHL, after getting his start in the ECHL following four years at SUNY-Potsdam. He left for Europe in 2010 and played in Germany and Sweden before arriving in the KHL.
Lee was the only non-NHLer on Canada’s roster at the Worlds.
“Lee fit,” coach Jon Cooper said, per Sportsnet. “You wouldn’t have thought he wasn’t an NHL player.”
Here’s a name to keep an eye on as this summer progresses: Dominic Toninato.
Toninato, 23, was Toronto’s fifth-round pick way back in 2012. From there, he went the collegiate route and put together a strong four years at Minnesota-Duluth. His NCAA career culminated with a senior season in which he served as team captain, set a personal high in points and led the Bulldogs to the Frozen Four final.
Though his rights are currently owned by the Leafs, Toninato would become an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 16 if he and the club don’t reach an agreement. You’d think, based on his body of work, Toninato would be a major priority for GM Lou Lamoriello, but it’s not that simple. Thanks to years of stockpiling draft picks, Toronto has a ton of prospects — but can only have 50 players under contract at the NHL level.
Adding to the complexity? There are other teams lined up to make Toninato an offer.
“Dom’s a good player. Will teams be interested? Yes. There will be many teams interested in him,” agent Neil Sheehy told the Star. “The process right now is working with the Leafs. They hold his rights till Aug. 16.
“They have a lot of things that they’re trying to figure out.”
Reading between the lines, it doesn’t sound especially promising in Toronto. The club offered Toninato a deal last summer, which he turned down to return to school. They could offer him an AHL contract — there’s no limit on those — but Sheehy said his client isn’t interested in that.
Sheehy said he hopes to have more clarity in late June, following the expansion and entry drafts.
Bob Murray managed to keep the Anaheim Ducks together for a shot at the Stanley Cup.
But after losing to Nashville in the Western Conference Final, Anaheim’s general manager will now have to make some big decisions — especially with the expansion draft looming.
If the Ducks decide to protect seven forwards and three defensemen, the blue line will definitely be worth watching. Hampus Lindholm will be protected for sure, and Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour are each exempt. But that only leaves two spots for Sami Vatanen, Kevin Bieksa, Cam Fowler, and Josh Manson.
Bieksa, 35, has a no-movement clause, so unless the Ducks find a way to get around that, they’ll need to protect him. (Chances are, they’ll seek a way around it, either via trade or buyout or just convincing him to waive.)
Fowler, meanwhile, only has one year left on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent. And after the season he just had, with 39 points in 80 games, the 25-year-old won’t be cheap to re-sign. For that reason, it’s possible Murray may choose to shop Fowler instead. Or perhaps it’s Vatanen that goes on the block.
Yes, there is the option to protect four defensemen and four forwards. But Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler all have NMCs, and the Ducks won’t want to expose Rickard Rakell or Jakob Silfverberg.
In goal, the Ducks have John Gibson under club control for years to come, but they’ll need to choose a backup. Jonathan Bernier is an unrestricted free agent, and even though he played well during the regular season, his performance against the Predators wasn’t great. Murray may want to at least consider his options there.
Related: Fowler surprised he wasn’t traded
Call it sour grapes if you wish, but Randy Carlyle thinks the Anaheim Ducks got screwed by the NHL’s schedule-maker.
The head coach launched his complaint last night after his Ducks fell to the Nashville Predators in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final.
“I don’t think we played poorly in the series,” said Carlyle. “I think that the toughest part I have about the whole thing is that this was our seventh game in 13 days.
“Now, there’s various reasons for that, but I think there’s got to be some consideration in the scheduling in the future between series. We finished on a Wednesday and had to open again on Friday, whereas other teams had to open on Saturday. An extra day would have given us a chance to recover. And we know how tough these games are. And that was a tough hand that was dealt to us.”
The “other” team to which Carlyle was referring is Pittsburgh. The Penguins beat Washington in Game 7 of the second round on May 10, then opened against Ottawa on May 13.
The Ducks, on the other hand, knocked out Edmonton in Game 7, also on May 10, then had to start against Nashville on May 12.
Fatigue may, indeed, have been a factor early in the series against Nashville. In Game 1, the Ducks were badly outshot, 46-29, and lost, 3-2, in overtime.
Carlyle said afterwards that the extra rest had made a difference for the Preds, who’d eliminated the Blues in six and gone four days without a game.