Jason Brough

Hextall gives Giroux a vote of confidence

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Claude Giroux may be nearing his 30th birthday, and he may be coming off one of the worst statistical seasons of his NHL career. But his general manager gave him a vote of confidence today.

“He’s not on the decline,” said Ron Hextall, per CSN Philly. “I know this, I’ll be shocked next year if you guys don’t ask me in January how has G turned this around. He’s a very driven athlete, very driven.”

Giroux finished 2016-17 with 14 goals and 44 assists in 82 games. His 58 points were nine fewer than last year, 15 fewer than the year before, 28 fewer than the year before that, and a whopping 35 fewer than 2011-12, when he finished third in NHL scoring.

Giroux is signed for five more years at a cap hit of $8.275 million, so it’s imperative for the Flyers that he does bounce back. His contract includes a no-movement clause, and he says he’s not leaving Philadelphia.

Related: Flyers fire longtime assistant coach Joey Mullen

In farewell to Vancouver, Desjardins defends his approach to young players

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Willie Desjardins had one last press conference this morning in Vancouver. He spoke about his three years as head coach of the Canucks, a tenure that ended with his dismissal after a 29th overall finish in 2016-17.

For Desjardins, the one thing he kept coming back to was injuries. The Canucks have been decimated the past two years. For a retooling team already short on talent, it was simply too much to overcome.

“Over 450 man games lost. That’s a lot to lose,” said Desjardins. “It’s nobody’s fault. Our roster was thin. … When you have a thin roster to start, you just can’t afford to have injuries and guys missing. You can’t. And that’s not a cop out. It’s just a fact.”

He did not blame the general manager.

“Jim Benning was outstanding,” said Desjardins. “It was a good relationship. Jim and I, we didn’t have one fight. There wasn’t once we blew up at each other. Not once. There’s always a little difference with management and coaches. There just is. Coaches are a little more short term, management’s a little more long term. But it would’ve been hard to have a better relationship with a general manager than I had with Jim.”

Desjardins did take issue with one thing, and that was the notion that he didn’t trust young players.

“There is a misconception,” he said. “I’ve never had a problem playing young guys. You look at (Bo) Horvat, you look at (Brock) Boeser. Boeser’s a young guy, came in, played all the time, played power play. That wasn’t ever an issue with me.

“I knew where the organization was and where we had to go. I have my beliefs in how you develop young guys, and maybe that was a little different than the media thought. I’ve developed a lot of young players in my coaching career, and a lot of my guys have turned out.”

The next coach of the Canucks, whether it’s Travis Green or someone else, will have similar challenges going forward.

“We’re going to be young,” president of hockey ops Trevor Linden said earlier this week, per The Globe and Mail. “Young players make mistakes. There’s going to be some growing pains. We need a coach that understands exactly where we are.”

Related: Desjardins calls out Goldobin, says he needs to work harder

Gallant named head coach of Vegas Golden Knights

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The Vegas Golden Knights made it official today, announcing Gerard Gallant as the first head coach in franchise history.

In a statement, Vegas GM George McPhee called Gallant “an experienced head coach” who’s “had success at multiple levels and has a great reputation amongst the players who have played for him.”

Vegas wanted an experienced bench boss, and Gallant certainly qualifies. He’s twice served as a head coach in the NHL, first in Columbus and most recently with the Florida Panthers, who fired him earlier this season.

“Being named the first head coach in Vegas Golden Knights history is such a tremendous opportunity and one I am extremely grateful for,” said Gallant. “There is a great deal of excitement in the hockey community regarding what is happening with the Golden Knights and I am glad to now be a part of the team.”

Gallant was a Jack Adams Award finalist last season.

Murray takes ‘full responsibility’ for Sabres’ dismal season

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It was an animated and candid Tim Murray today in Buffalo, where he met with reporters for over half an hour, expressing great frustration over his team’s season.

The Sabres missed the playoffs for a sixth straight year. And despite much higher expectations, they actually finished with fewer points (78) than they did last year (81).

“I just want everybody to know that, top to bottom in the organization, we understand it was a very disappointing season,” said Murray. “I’m the general manager of the team, so I guess that’s the top of the food chain when it comes to hockey. I stand here and take full responsibility for our position, our standings and how it finished.”

For those wondering, the plan right now is for Dan Bylsma to remain as head coach. The only way he might not be is if ownership says otherwise.

“There’s going to be a review, top to bottom,” said Murray. “I have to meet with ownership next week in Florida. I’m sure I’m going to be reviewed. I’m sure I’m being reviewed right now, as I should be.”

When asked to clarify, Murray said he hadn’t had “any thoughts of firing” Bylsma, who still has three years left on his contract.

Murray also has three years left on his contract. Assuming he’s still the GM after meeting with ownership, the one thing he knows he’ll have to address this offseason is the defense.

“I’m not trying to (expletive) on the defensemen that are here by any means,” he said.

But whether it’s via trade or free agency or drafting, Murray intends to explore “any avenue” to improve the blue line, which he blamed for surrendering too many scoring chances and failing to transition the puck well enough.

“Give me an option and I’ll listen,” he said.

Finally, there’s the matter of the Sabres’ culture and commitment to winning, something Jack Eichel called into question a few days ago.

For Murray, it’s about demanding more from everyone, from the GM to the coaches to the players.

“We have to make more demands,” he said. “So I have to make more demands of Dan, Dan has to make more demands of the players, I personally have to make more demands of myself. And we intend to do that.”

Related: Major roster holes remain in Buffalo

Yeo focused on more than ‘revenge’ against Wild

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) This was not quite the plan the St. Louis Blues had for Mike Yeo.

He was supposed to take over as head coach next season, after Ken Hitchcock’s retirement, not in the middle of this one. The plan certainly didn’t include a first-round matchup for Yeo and the Blues against the Minnesota Wild, who fired him just last year.

Well, here they are, Yeo and his new team pitted against his previous charges in one of the most intriguing pairings of the NHL postseason that opens on Wednesday night.

“My goal is not to beat the Minnesota Wild for me,” Yeo said. “My goal is for us as a group to keep getting better and keep seeing what we’re capable of.”

Stream Blues vs. Wild on NBC Sports

Hardly a plan in this league is fail proof, as those teams who’ve changed coaches before playoff runs and even Stanley Cup wins can attest. Perhaps the Blues, who dismissed Hitchcock on Feb. 1 to trigger Yeo’s early promotion, will be the latest group to ride the momentum spurred by a winter shakeup deep into the spring.

The Blues, who were two wins away from reaching the Stanley Cup finals last year with Hitchcock on the bench, went 22-8-2 after the coaching change. Over that 32-game stretch, they were the best team in the NHL in several statistical categories after enduring the sluggish start.

The same went for the Wild over a three-month stretch from December through February. They led the Western Conference from mid-January through mid-March, until their skid got the best of their perch and the Chicago Blackhawks surged ahead. The Wild recovered in time to reach a franchise-record 106 points in Bruce Boudreau’s first season behind their bench.

So after Yeo guided the Wild to a six-game victory over the Blues in the first round two years ago, he’ll be on the opposite side when the series starts in Minnesota. Instead of scheming to slow Vladimir Tarasenko, Yeo will be sending his 25-year-old star out on the right wing to try wear down stalwart defensemen Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon, guys he used to call “Suts” and “Spurge” when he coached the Wild.

“We know their identity, the way they play. They know us,” Wild captain Mikko Koivu said. “We’re familiar with each other, so it’s not about who’s behind the bench and all that. It’s about the team right now, and we’ve got to make sure that we worry about ourselves.”

How, then, can this matchup not become a little bit personal for Yeo, who described the experience of being fired “gut-wrenching” when he was replaced on Feb. 13, 2016, following a 1-11-2 stretch by the Wild?

“There’s something much more at stake, something that’s way bigger in my eyes than a little revenge here,” Yeo said.

TARGETING TARASENKO

Tied for fourth in the league with 39 goals, Tarasenko has the greatest ability to take over a game in this matchup He had six goals in the 2015 series against the Wild and 15 points in 20 games during the 2016 postseason run by the Blues.

Tarasenko went without a goal or an assist in the first five games of the Western Conference finals against San Jose. With forward lines as well-balanced as the Blues, the Wild have the type of team with the ability to shut Tarasenko out like the Sharks did.

“This is going to be a real tough challenge for Vladi. Let’s be honest,” Yeo said. “They’re going to really key on him. He’s going to have tough matchups, and it’s going to be hard to get away from them because they’re such a deep team.”

DUBNYK’S PERFORMANCE

Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk was a making a strong case to be the Vezina Trophy winner until he began to struggle in the net during the March nosedive. With a 6-10 career playoffs record and 20 goals allowed in a six-game loss to the Dallas Stars in the first round last year, Dubnyk has yet to prove his postseason credentials. But the 6-foot-6 Dubnyk has the confidence to match his exceptional height.

“Just like every parent worries about his kid when he plays in any important situation, yeah, we always worry about the goalie,” Boudreau said, “but I’ve got all the confidence in the world in Dubie, and that’s where the worry stops. I think he’s going to be great.”

AT THE OTHER END

Blues goalie Jake Allen, with the job to himself now after largely sharing it with Brian Elliott the previous three years, was a completely different player after the coaching change. He went 11-2-2 in his last 15 starts with just 26 goals allowed.

“Through all that I think we maintained our confidence in him knowing what he’s done in the past and the way he’s capable of playing,” defenseman Jay Boumeester said. “It just kind of all came together. I’m sure after you get a couple of wins and a couple big saves, that sort of thing, everything becomes a little easier.”