James O'Brien

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 02:  (L-R) Vladimir Tarasenko #91, Kevin Shattenkirk #22 and Jaden Schwartz #9 of the St. Louis Blues celebrate Shattenkirk's goal against the Los Angeles Kings in the third period at Staples Center on December 2, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. The Kings defeated the Blues 3-2.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
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It’s St. Louis Blues day at PHT

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After three straight first-round exits, the St. Louis Blues finally enjoyed an extended playoff run, even if it ended with disappointment against the Sharks.

Going that far saved Ken Hitchcock’s job, at least for one season, while Mike Yeo is positioned to carry the torch going forward.

If the Blues didn’t manage that nice season (107 standings points to finish second in the Central Division, conference finals run), this summer would likely have been one of enormous changes.

Off-season

Instead, it seems like that transition was broken up in to more digestible chunks. That’s not to say that every change will be easy for Blues fans to swallow.

GM Doug Armstrong balked at the notion of giving David Backes the sort of contract that might be risky for such a physical player. That stands as prudent risk-management, but there could be some growing pains as the Blues must go on without their longtime captain and physical force.

Backes wasn’t the only significant loss, either, as the Blues traded Brian Elliott to the Calgary Flames.

One got the impression that management viewed Jake Allen as the goalie of the future, yet Elliott’s early playoff play likely saved Hitchcock’s bacon. Now it’s all on Allen, who received a healthy contract extension and will now see Carter Hutton placed firmly as his backup.

While Troy Brouwer is also out of town, Kevin Shattenkirk is currently still in the mix.

That may change – possibly before the season starts, for all we know – but for now, the defenseman’s return gives you the impression that the keys have been handed over to the younger elements of the team’s core.

There’s plenty of talent to be found with Shattenkirk, Allen, Alexander Steen, Jaden Schwartz, Alex Pietrangelo and especially Vladimir Tarasenko, but the bar is set higher after 2015-16.

Can they reach or exceed that mark? PHT breaks down the Blues on Friday.

Predators’ hopes still rest on Pekka Rinne

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 12:  Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators throws his stick after being pulled from the game after he gave up his fifth goal to the San Jose Sharks in Game Seven of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 12, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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This is part of Nashville Predators day at PHT …

When it comes to goaltending in the NHL, you don’t always get what you pay for.

If teams did, the Dallas Stars would be living off of their expensive duo and Pekka Rinne would probably have a Vezina Trophy or two on his resume.

Unfortunately, as important as the goaltending position is, teams don’t always know what they’re getting. And let’s be honest; only GM David Poile’s most shameless “Yes-Men” would claim that Nashville is getting its $7 million worth out of Rinne.

In 2015-16, Rinne only managed a .908 save percentage, marking the third season in his past four where he generated a mark at or below .910. Far too often, he’s played more like a low-cost backup than even a mediocre starter.

With Jusse Saros likely needs more time to marinate, the Predators are going all-in on Rinne figuring things out (sorry, Marek Mazanec). It’s a little surprising that such a strong team wouldn’t plunk down a little extra money for more peace of mind – Jhonas Enroth, anyone? – but that’s the decision Poile & Co. made.

Many believe that P.K. Subban boosts the Predators’ defense up another level, possibly making them the best unit in the NHL. That fleet defense and a solid group of forwards has a strong chance to give Nashville the sort of balance that will likely maintain the Predators’ spot among the league’s stronger possession teams.

Unfortunately for Nashville, if Rinne unravels once more, the Predators would be stuck lagging behind the league’s true elite.

That’s a lot of pressure, but great paychecks come with great expectations.

 

Crosby part of Penguins’ pitch, Kane helped Blackhawks court Vesey

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When Justin Schultz was the hot draft-pick-turned-free-agent on the market years ago, Wayne Gretzky helped the Edmonton Oilers land that big fish.

Other teams must have been taking notes – about the process maybe more than the prospect – as they’re throwing plenty of star power behind their pitches to Harvard graduate Jimmy Vesey.

Just consider the wide swath of high-level players who sacrificed precious rounds of golf or hours of sunbathing to court the 23-year-old, according to ESPN’s Joe McDonald:

The Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane was in Boston for Chicago’s meeting with Vesey. The Devils’ Cory Schneider and Kyle Palmieri spoke with Vesey, too. The Rangers’ Kevin Hayes, a Boston native, has talked with Vesey numerous times this summer while both work out together. The Islanders’ John Tavares was also in Boston on Tuesday to make his pitch on behalf of the organization. When the Bruins hosted Vesey at the team’s new practice facility, numerous Bruins players were in attendance to greet him. Penguins captain Sidney Crosby also reached out to Vesey.

Also mix in Vesey’s buddy Jack Eichel and the Buffalo Sabres, who has the advantage of knowing him a little better (if nothing else).

(If there’s one thing we can agree on with Vesey, it’s that he can’t say he never had the chance to feel special …)

The NHL’s official account even got in on the act of noting the teams who’ve pitched him recently:

All sorts of strong offers

As McDonald reports, Vesey’s agents are doing everything they can to keep the offers rolling in, even denying that any teams are out of the mix.

Even so, some teams are getting kudos for their efforts, whether those remarks are coming on or off the record.

So … yeah, a lot of teams seem to believe that they have a strong chance.

Backlash, plus backlash to the backlash

OK, let’s circle back to a common question. Is Vesey worth the hype?

If you’re obsessing about this, then maybe not. This time of year, his attention is getting inflated, but that doesn’t mean he can’t help a team. The interest is widespread thanks to Vesey being a low-cost, low-risk asset with a decent chance to yield nice results.

ESPN’s Corey Pronman sums up his potential quite well:

Some people bristle at the way this is shaking out:

Others have no issue with Vesey using that leverage.

With all signs pointing to a Vesey decision coming on Friday (or later), others wait with rapt attention or maybe while rolling their eyes.

Come on, some of this is kind of fun. Right?

More on Veseymania

Additional background on the Vesey-seekers

Again, Friday is most likely the decision day, if that early

What might sway his opinion

Subban’s style is a perfect fit for Laviolette’s attacking system

ANAHEIM, CA - MARCH 02:  P.K. Subban #76 of the Montreal Canadiens looks on during a game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on March 2, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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This is part of Nashville Predators day at PHT…

Maybe Michel Therrien and P.K. Subban got along well as people – despite speculation otherwise – but they sure seemed to be of two very different hockey mindsets.

You never know how things will play out in reality, but on paper, Subban and Peter Laviolette seem like an almost impossibly good match.

Consider how Laviolette explained his mindset back when he was hired in 2014:

“Everywhere I’ve been, I think guys want to work, generally speaking,” Laviolette said, as the Tennessean reported. “They want to work, they want to play hard. Given the choice, they would rather attack.”

GM David Poile noted his aggressive, offense-minded strategies.

When the Predators traded Shea Weber for Subban, Laviolette said all the right things about each blueliner, yet he also painted a picture to the Canadian Press of P.K. seamlessly fitting into his attacking system.

“I think they’re both elite defencemen,” Laviolette said. “P.K., I think when people might talk about him it would be his skating, the fact that he transport the puck himself, the fact that he can distribute the puck, he’s constantly in motion.”

Boy, “constantly in motion” sure seems like the right mindset for someone playing in an aggressive, attacking system, doesn’t it?

Much like with Erik Karlsson, Subban is the type of defenseman who makes a ton of plays, with a small percentage of those moments going the other way in the form of mistakes.

Many onlookers – and coaches – fixate on the gaffes while arguably losing sight of the bigger picture for a player like Subban. That certainly seemed to be the case during Therrien’s moments of exasperation.

On the other hand, Laviolette generally exhibits quite a bit of patience for the give-and-take that comes with pushing the envelope.

(His patience is a little thinner for passive systems like, say, the 1-3-1 trap.)

Subban currently boasts three straight 50+ point seasons, with his 60th from 2014-15 representing his career-high. It’s conceivable that he could accomplish that much or even more in Laviolette’s system, which should fit him like a glove.

And give opponents fits.

Report: Early on, Avalanche’s coaching search focuses on new blood

PITTSBURGH, PA - FEBRUARY 8:  Head Coach Scott Arniel of the Columbus Blue Jackets talks with a referee during a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 8, 2011 at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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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.