Cam Tucker

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After making his NHL debut last season, Oilers re-sign Simpson to one-year deal

The Edmonton Oilers re-signed defenseman Dillon Simpson, who appeared in three games for the big club last season.

On Sunday, the team announced it is a one-year deal for Simpson, worth $675,000 at the NHL level, per CapFriendly.

Originally selected by Edmonton in the fourth round of the 2011 NHL Draft, the now 24-year-old Simpson has spent the vast majority of his professional career in the minors.

Last season, he appeared in 53 games for the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors. He scored three times with 11 points. He was recalled to the Oilers in November, before making his NHL debut against Philadelphia on Dec. 8.

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    Agent: Torts ‘should be among the top-paid coaches’ in the NHL

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    Last season started with John Tortorella as the early favorite to be the first coach fired.

    By the end of June, however, he was the Jack Adams Award winner as the league’s coach of the year.

    The Columbus Blue Jackets underwent quite a transformation, setting single-season franchise records in wins (50) and points (108), while goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was sensational and claimed the Vezina Trophy.

    The success of last season could have an impact on the dollar figure Tortorella may be able to demand for his next contract, according to the Columbus Dispatch, which spoke with Torts’ agent Neil Glasberg.

    Remember, not only was he favored to be fired early last season, he was previously let go by the Canucks after a disastrous single season in Vancouver. Charging down a hallway to the Calgary Flames dressing room to get at Bob Hartley during an intermission — and the subsequent suspension for his actions — was the low point for Tortorella with that franchise.

    That was during the 2013-14 season.

    Three years later . . .

    From the Columbus Dispatch:

    Tortorella’s situation bears watching. He’s entering the final year of his contract, a five-year, $10 million deal signed with Vancouver in 2013. Since the Blue Jackets hired him in October 2015, they’ve paid only $750,000 of his $2 million annual salary, with the Canucks picking up the rest. In other words, the Blue Jackets have been paying less for their coach than just about any other team in the NHL. Even the $2 million figure puts him only in the middle of the pack, but that’s about to change.

    “Who just won coach of the year?” Glasberg said. “It’s not the first time he’s won the Jack Adams Trophy, either. He’s won a Stanley Cup. The Blue Jackets just had the best season in franchise history, and it’s not even close. Yeah, he should be among the top-paid coaches in the league.”

    Mike Babcock of the Maple Leafs, hired by that franchise in May of 2015, signed an eight-year deal worth an estimated $50 million in Toronto. According to CapFriendly, he makes $6.25 million per season, listed as the highest paid coach in the league. Joel Quenneville is second, making $6 million.

    Could Brandon Pirri be on his way to Switzerland?

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    Unrestricted free agent forward Brandon Pirri may be on his way to Switzerland for next season, where he could join fellow former Rangers teammate Kevin Klein, according to reports.

    From the Swiss Hockey News:

    Only one day after the signing of defenseman Kevin Klein, another New York Ranger reportedly joins the ZSC Lions for the upcoming season. According to information from La Regione, the Lions have signed the 26-year-old forward Brandon Pirri. The confirmation of the club should follow soon.

    Two years ago, Pirri scored 22 goals in 49 games with the Florida Panthers. Last season with the Rangers, he had eight goals and 18 points in 60 games on a one-year contract worth a $1.1 million cap hit.

    Pirri had a decent start to the 2016-17 season, with four goals and six points in the first seven games, but couldn’t sustain that pace.

    He became an unrestricted free agent after the Rangers did not extend him a qualifying offer last month.

    Jonathan Drouin goes undercover — which he won’t be able to do much longer in Montreal

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    There is a video making the rounds online right now of Jonathan Drouin interviewing Montreal Canadiens fans about Jonathan Drouin.

    His disguise of choice? A black T-shirt. Equipped with a Habs microphone, Drouin goes around asking folks in both English and French what they think of the team’s new additions this offseason and about how many points their recently acquired and signed 22-year-old skilled forward may get — among other hard-hitting inquiries.

    Based on the video evidence, some fans seem to recognize him after a short conversation. Others don’t before the big reveal is made.

    One fan’s advice: “Don’t take Montreal too seriously.”

    While the premise of the video is for Drouin to be right out in the open acting as a team reporter yet incognito at the same time, it would be foolish to think the pressure on him next season won’t be anything short of immense. He was born in Ste-Agathe, Quebec, which is just a short drive northwest from Montreal. Per the Montreal Gazette, he grew up spending summers on the West Island of Montreal. He’s a hometown player for the Habs.

    As to be expected in a trade of this magnitude, the Canadians paid a price to land Drouin from the Lightning, parting ways with prospect defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, selected ninth overall last year. The Habs then signed their new acquisition to a six-year, $33 million contract following his breakout 21-goal, 53-point season in Tampa Bay.

    The Habs have bulked up on defense over the last few years, acquiring Shea Weber and then signing Karl Alzner this summer. Their success has hinged mostly on the play — and health — of their goalie Carey Price, who was in turn paid a historic amount in his latest contract extension.

    For all their efforts to bolster that element of their game, the Habs need dynamic offensive players. They sent that type of player in P.K. Subban to Nashville last year to get Weber. Montreal’s offensive attack during the regular season was middle of the pack for the NHL, 15th in goals-for per game at 2.72. In the playoffs? In six games, they averaged just 1.83 goals-for per game against the Rangers and were eliminated.

    Keep in mind, as well, that they lost Alex Radulov during free agency. Back in the NHL after a four-year stint in the KHL, Radulov was responsible for 18 goals and 54 points, before he cashed in with the Dallas Stars.

    There are others that can help carry the burden of offensive production. If Paul Byron could duplicate — or come close to duplicating — what he did a year ago, that would be a huge boost. Alex Galchenyuk is only 23 years old but has a 30-goal season under his belt already. Max Pacioretty has five 30-goal seasons, including four in a row.

    But the Habs were in need of another highly skilled and speedy forward and that’s what they have in Drouin. He’s young, which is also a plus. He’s coming off a solid year with the Bolts, with the promise for greater things in the future. He has already discussed the pressure he’ll face playing in Montreal. He believes he will “thrive” in this situation.

    Playing for the Habs, it will be impossible for Drouin to remain anonymous.

    Experience not required: Rookie coaches a growing NHL trend

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    Rick Tocchet is the kind of coach who doesn’t mind if a player calls him at 9 p.m. to share a thought.

    He doesn’t expect that to change as he goes from a Pittsburgh Penguins assistant to head coach of the Arizona Coyotes. Tocchet has done it before, and his 148 games as an NHL head coach make the 53-year-old one of the more experienced hires this offseason as teams look for the next new idea rather than recycling from the past.

    Three vacancies were filled by first-timers: the Buffalo Sabres’ Phil Housley, Florida Panthers’ Bob Boughner and Vancouver Canucks’ Travis Green. Tocchet and the Los Angeles Kings’ John Stevens are longtime assistants with some time running a bench, while the Dallas Stars’ Ken Hitchcock and Vegas Golden Knights’ Gerard Gallant represent the only seasoned coaches.

    Almost every general manager cited communication skills as a major reason for prioritizing youth over experience.

    “It’s clear for me: (Tocchet is) one of the best communicators I’ve come across, not only in hockey but probably professionally as well,” Coyotes GM John Chayka said. “He can just relate to the players. He’s very firm. He can motivate. He can be aggressive in his approach, but he can also be that big-brother kind of approach.”

    Tocchet, Housley, Boughner, Green, Stevens and Gallant all played in the NHL in the 1990s and represent the new-school concept of a players’ coach, mixing positive relationships with accountability. Likable Jon Cooper took the Tampa Bay Lightning to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final in his first go-’round, while other experiments like Dallas Eakins, Claude Noel, Ron Rolston and Mike Johnston didn’t go so well.

    More time is needed to determine the success of some, like the Philadelphia Flyers’ Dave Hakstol, New Jersey Devils’ John Hynes and Colorado Avalanche’s Jared Bednar, but teams are more willing than ever to take a risk on coaching rookies. Ten of the 31 coaches are in their first head jobs in the NHL as some prominent experienced coaches like Lindy Ruff, Jacques Martin, Jack Capuano and Marc Crawford have accepted roles as assistants.

    Florida GM Dale Tallon went through an “exhaustive, extensive search” before Boughner’s interview blew him away, and Chayka talked to over 25 coaches before calling Tocchet the best candidate by a wide margin. Kings GM Rob Blake said “there was literally no search” as Stevens was the natural fit to succeed Darryl Sutter, and the Canucks didn’t interview anyone but Green, who coached their top minor-league affiliate for the past four seasons.

    Buffalo GM Jason Botterill said Housley was “uniquely qualified” for the job based on his playing and coaching careers. Hockey experience on the ice and at other levels may be just as valuable to executives picking coaches.

    “I’ve been a player, I’ve been an owner, I’ve been an executive, I’ve been a head coach, an assistant coach,” Boughner said with a significant nod to his time in junior hockey. “I know this league and I know the game and I’m ready for this challenge.”

    One of the biggest challenges in the transition from assistant to head coach is the different dynamic with players. Panthers captain Derek MacKenzie had Boughner as an assistant in Columbus and considered him approachable but someone who knew when to “put his foot down.”

    MacKenzie acknowledged it won’t be exactly the same with Boughner in charge. After winning the Stanley Cup the past two seasons with the Penguins, Tocchet figures he won’t alter his approach in Arizona.

    “That’s the million-dollar question to me because I don’t want to change as a person,” Tocchet said. “I don’t think that because you carry a title `head coach’ that all of a sudden you’ve got to be distanced from your players.”

    His old boss disagrees. Mike Sullivan, who spent several seasons as an assistant under John Tortorella between head-coaching gigs and was hired by the Penguins midway through the 2015-16 season, and insists there’s a delineation in day-to-day duties.

    “Ultimately I have to make difficult decisions, whether it be playing time or lineup decisions or power-play combinations,” Sullivan said. “I think by nature of the head-coaching position, it’s a very different relationship. … That’s just reality.”

    Tocchet was credited with helping Phil Kessel, Housley with Ryan Ellis and other Nashville defensemen and Boughner with Sharks Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns. But perhaps more in common than their hands-on work in improving players, these first-time head coaches all sold their styles as fast and exciting.

    “I don’t want to take the stick out of guys’ hands,” Tocchet said. “I want them not to think too much. I want them to play. … You have to give players freedom, especially in today’s NHL, to play.”