James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.
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Report: Early on, Avalanche’s coaching search focuses on new blood

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It’s very early – the team calls it “the preliminary phase of the interview process” – but so far, the Denver Post reports that the Colorado Avalanche are mainly focusing their head coaching search on fresher faces.

Three of the top four candidates listed by Terry Frei and Mike Chambers haven’t held a head coaching job at the NHL level before. Jared Bednar (currently with the Lake Erie Monsters), Lane Lambert (Washington Capitals assistant) and Travis Green (Utica Comets) are those first-timers.

Former Columbus Blue Jackets and current New York Rangers associate head coach Scott Arniel is the only candidate who’s been an NHL bench boss before.

Bednar received top billing in the Denver Post article because of his connections in the Avs organization:

Many people reasonably throw more recognizable names around, with former Avalanche head coach Bob Hartley getting a lot of buzz.

It’s possible that Hartley will be in the mix, but he wasn’t mentioned as one of the four candidates who are currently receiving the most focus.

Also, it’s important to note that it’s unlikely that the Avs will go on the record all that often when they don’t need to. Frei and Chambers mention that GM Joe Sakic isn’t expected to comment on the matter until a new head coach is named.

In most cases, the Avalanche will need to receive permission to interview candidates. There’s not much/any precedence for a search to go on this deep into the summer, especially with Patrick Roy voluntarily stepping down, so it’s unclear if Colorado will even get the chance to interview everyone on that list.

It may not be just about who the Avalanche want the most, but also which candidates they can gain access to.

Shortly following Roy’s departure, the team stated that it isn’t planning on promoting from within. That’s an understandable plan … but finding a great fit in mid-to-late August will be easier said than done.

KHL brawler Damir Ryspayev gets a ‘lifetime’ ban

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Remember that jaw-dropping KHL rampage from earlier in August? Well, it sounds like the KHL is doing what it can to make sure there won’t be another Damir Ryspayev rampage.

You can see Ryspayev (“playing” for Astana Barys) going after members of Chinese KHL expansion team Kunlun Red Star in the video above, which Puck Daddy’s Sean Leahy unearthed.

Last we heard, Kunlun Red Star was pressing charges against the 21-year-old defenseman. It’s unclear how that will play out, but the KHL announced a “lifetime ban” for Ryspayev on Thursday.

Looking through the full release, it’s clear the league isn’t happy with the action of Ryspayev’s team, either:

In addition the KHL paid close attention to the fact that neither the training staff nor the directors of Barys Astana took adequate measures to stop Damir Ryspaev from acting in a manner that violated the rules of the game of hockey.

Here’s the meat of the release, at least once you get to personal statements rather than the drier legal language:

Gennady Timchenko, representative of the KHL’s Council of Directors:

It goes without saying that hockey is a contact sport. But above all, it is a fair contest in which rival players are guided by the rules of the game and spirit of sporting ethics. The League acts as a guarantor of these rules and laws, and cannot allow them to be systematically and grotesquely violated. It is utterly unacceptable to intentionally endanger the safety and fitness of opposing players. Every player’s professionalism is demonstrated by the ability to play a hard, uncompromising game while maintaining full respect for fellow sportsmen and their fans.

Dmitry Chernyshenko, KHL president:

In hockey there has always been space for a fair fight between equal opponents under the principles of fair play. But in hockey, as in any other professional sport, the can be no place for the outright violence displayed by Barys defenseman Damir Ryspaev in the game against KHL newcomer Kunlun Red Star. We are constantly working to attract a new audience and broaden the game’s geographical reach and Ryspaev’s behavior is not merely harmful in a sporting context, it also blackens the image of the league. As directors of the league, we could not allow this incident to go unpunished and so we have taken this decision.

For whatever it’s worth, “lifetime ban” isn’t the only phrasing used by the KHL:

“Term-less” also surfaced:

The message seems clear enough: the KHL doesn’t want him back.

Ryspayev’s agent Shumi Babayev told Sovsport.ru that, while he doesn’t condone his client’s actions, a lifetime ban is too severe and they’ll look to appeal the decision in some form.

Here’s the brawl in another format, if you’d prefer:

Well, if this sticks, he’ll at least be banned from the KHL.

It’s Chicago Blackhawks day at PHT

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For the first time since 2011-12, the Chicago Blackhawks failed to win at least one playoff series.

They actually finished the season with one more standings point (103) than they did in 2014-15 (102) when they won the Stanley Cup, so anyone calling this past campaign a failure is shoveling in some serious hyperbole.

That’s the thing when you set the bar as high as this Blackhawks group has, though; a season where Patrick Kane runs away with the Art Ross Trophy and seemingly random signing Artemi Panarin wins the Calder Trophy is still a disappointment.

Off-season

Another off-season, another round of Blackhawks going out the door because of salary cap concerns.

To GM Stan Bowman’s credit, he did his best to make the best of things.

While he had to stomach the painful concession of giving up Teuvo Teravainen to get rid of Bryan Bickell‘s contract and needed to move Andrew Shaw after dealing with sticker shock, the Blackhawks did end up with three second-rounders and one third-round pick for their troubles.

Honestly, if Brian Campbell still has something left in the tank at 37, it’s quite possible that the Blackhawks managed to improve this off-season, even after some painful moves.

(Especially if that glut of 2016 second-round picks generates a gem or two. With Bowman’s track record in mind, it’s not out of the question.)

While Marian Hossa has lost a step or three, the Blackhawks’ core remains among the best in the league, and most guys are still in their prime range.

Maybe they don’t boast the same borderline-unfair surplus as they do in more robust years, but it’s more than reasonable to peg them for another deep run.

Report: Radim Vrbata, Coyotes could be reunited once again

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Radim Vrbata and the Arizona Coyotes just can’t stay separated for too long.

Arizona Sports’ Craig Morgan reports that the two sides are closing in on a one-year contract.

Morgan didn’t specify how much money might be involved, but even for a budget-conscious team like the Coyotes, a single season can only do so much damage. It’s a low-risk proposition that, considering Vrbata’s past in the desert, could bring nice rewards.

While Vrbata made a nice first impression riding shotgun with the Sedin twins in Vancouver, his 2015-16 season was rough, solidifying the notion that things just seem to go better for him in Arizona.

Three of his four career 20+ goal seasons came with the Coyotes, and it’s not outrageous to picture him flirting with 20 or more on a team that could use his shooting skills.

A power play with Vrbata, young talents like Max Domi and quality scoring blueliners Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Alex Goligoski might just help Arizona steal some extra wins next season.

Vrbata seems aware of Arizona being something of a comfort zone, and has been for some time. Back in 2012, he told the Chicago Tribune that “it seems like it’s a good place for me.”

Arizona would be a perfectly sensible place for Vrbata in 2016-17 now, too, so we’ll see if it becomes official.

Sell tickets and appease demanding owners in NHL 17’s Franchise Mode

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In an ideal world, a sports video game’s multiple season mode – whether you call it Be a GM, Dynasty Mode or Franchise Mode – should be engaging even if you simulate the games.

While other series get Spike Lee to write scripts for storylines in modes or go in-depth in other ways, EA’s NHL series has been a little bare bones.

Honestly, when NHL 16 tried to incorporate locker room politics with chemistry considerations, it mostly fell flat.

So, it’s important to keep optimism guarded … but NHL 17’s revamped mode – now named Franchise Mode rather than Be a GM – sure looks promising, as you can see from the video above this post’s headline.

EA goes into almost exhaustive depth about the changes here, but let’s pick out a few highlights.

  • While previous versions involved owner’s expectations, they seem a lot more detailed. Some are more profit-oriented while others want team success. Their patience for rebuilds also range, which could be fun if it means you’ll have to weigh immediate improvement vs. better long-term planning.
  • As we discussed before, relocation is possible.
  • Dynamic Attendance seems interesting, especially in the way it might prompt fans of various teams to further claims that certain fans merely hop on bandwagons:

Going on a winning streak will bring in more casual fans, having a hardcore fan base will minimize fans deciding not to show up if you are on a losing streak.  Having a high-profile team or a division rival can bring in extra walk up fans, but playing against a basement dweller in the standings or pricing your tickets too high can drive away potential attendees.

Many of us enjoy turning a moribund franchise into a winner in these video games, so adding more interesting variables could really make for a better simulation.

  • You’ll be able to tweak ticket prices and promotions, meaning you can have Johnny Gaudreau bobblehead nights and enjoy the corny jokes that would come with them. (“It’s to scale!”)
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via EA Sports

Different people play games for different experiences. Some want to be a general manager, others want to go deep into the card-collecting HUT mode or play as a single player in EASHL.

If NHL 17 can make big improvements with Franchise Mode, it could really appeal to management types who might not even enjoy the actual gameplay.

We’ll see if it works out, but the potential is there.

More looks at the game

Customization is key

Mockery, tweaked goalies