Jason Brough

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Kings will explore ‘different philosophies’ to help scoring woes

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The Los Angeles Kings had great possession stats again this season, but for whatever reason, all that time with the puck didn’t translate into many goals.

The Kings’ ineffective offense is the single biggest problem for new general manager Rob Blake to fix heading into next season, after Dean Lombardi was fired Monday along with head coach Darryl Sutter.

“We don’t score,” Blake said today. “There needs to be some emphasis on how we’re going to do that. There’s time now through this offseason to come up with those different philosophies. Whoever the head coach, when he is hired, will have a major impact on that.”

Blake will also seek input from the Kings’ core players. Drew Doughty, Jeff Carter, and Anze Kopitar were all at today’s press conference.

“I’m going to lean on these players to find out,” said Blake. “They’re the ones on the ice delivering that, and we’re going to share ideas here, and they’re going to direct us in the right way.”

It remains to be seen if a style change can help the Kings. It’s not going to make Marian Gaborik or Dustin Brown any younger, but it could help Doughty and Kopitar unlock some more of their offensive abilities.

That being said, Sutter’s philosophy delivered two Stanley Cups to Los Angeles. The real problem with the Kings these days might be their roster, which hasn’t been infused with enough youth to stem the declines of Brown and Gaborik, or the outright loss of players like Justin Williams.

Read more: Kings facing identity crisis

In other news from today’s press conference, there’s been no decision yet on the future of assistant coaches John Stevens and Davis Payne, and Blake expects to find a new position for VP hockey ops Michael Futa.

 

Preds counting on Subban to be ‘big-time player’ in playoffs

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The adjustment period is over for P.K. Subban along with the regular season, and now expectations for the All-Star defenseman could not be higher.

The Nashville Predators swapped their captain and own All-Star defenseman Shea Weber to Montreal last June , believing that Subban could provide both a boost to the offense and help a franchise that has never gotten out of the second round finally win its first Stanley Cup.

Well, the playoffs start Thursday night with the eighth-seeded Predators in Chicago against the Blackhawks.

Watch Predators vs. Blackhawks on NBC Sports

The former Norris Trophy winner, who had to get used to living in the United States for the first time in his life, understands that for all the fun of learning about Music City and his new teammates that the postseason is the biggest reason why he is here.

“Me coming into this team was about helping us win a Stanley Cup and being a part of that,” Subban said. “And now we have our opportunity, so I’m really excited about everything.”

So are the Predators and their fans. This franchise has reached the postseason 10 of the past 13 years, advancing to the second round three times.

They came closest to the Western Conference Final a year ago by pushing San Jose to seven games . The Predators start this postseason Thursday night in Game 1 against the West’s No. 1 seed, the Chicago Blackhawks.

With Subban, the Predators are scoring more goals (238) than a year ago (224), a two-spot jump to 11th in the league. Subban ranked 22nd among defensemen with 40 points in 66 games. Weber finished with 42 points over 78 games.

The Predators’ biggest improvement came after Subban returned from an upper-body injury that kept him out 16 games . After the All-Star break, the Predators were the NHL’s seventh-best scoring team with 102 goals.

Subban wasn’t the only injury Nashville dealt with in its defensive group. Roman Josi missed 10, while Ryan Ellis was out 11. Playing with new defensive partners also slowed the process.

“He’s been a great addition,” Josi said of Subban. “I mean we know he’s a big-time player, so we’re looking forward to him to be a big player for us in the playoffs.”

That’s where Subban is expected to make the biggest impact. He has 38 points in 55 playoff games – 10 more than Weber in 59 postseason games – and was nearly a point a game player for Montreal in 2014, scoring 14 points in 17 playoff games.

Nashville captain Mike Fisher said the Predators are excited to see that part of Subban.

“He brings a lot of enthusiasm and offensive ability to our team, and he’s had a great year,” Fisher said Monday. “I think he’s poised for an even better playoff.”

Nashville doesn’t see Subban only as an offensive threat. Coach Peter Laviolette has been impressed by Subban’s defensive skills too so much that the Predators regularly pit Subban and Mattias Ekholm against an opponent’s heaviest players.

“He’s delivered for us from an offensive standpoint, and our defensemen scoring is still in a good place and he’s a big part of it,” Laviolette said. “I think he and Eky have done a great job defensively handling the other team’s biggest customers.”

Now that the postseason is here, general manager David Poile and Laviolette want to make clear that this isn’t a one-man show.

“It’s not just hinging on him,” Laviolette said. “I’ve said Chicago has got a good team. We’re going to have to play good hockey. P.K.’s going to have to play well. All of our guys are going to have to play well.”

 

‘Not much positive’ to take from Avs’ miserable season

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DENVER (AP) Defenseman Erik Johnson neatly summed up the Colorado Avalanche’s dreary season.

“Not fun,” he said. “Don’t want to go through it again.”

Here’s how far the Avalanche tumbled: Their 48 points were the lowest in a full season since 1999-2000, when the expansion Atlanta Thrashers had 39. Colorado was pretty much out of the playoff race by Christmas.

Now, the real work begins for Hall of Fame forward-turned-general manager Joe Sakic. Colorado will have a high draft pick – maybe even the top pick – but some big decisions to make. Namely, whether or not to completely overhaul this team by possibly trading captain Gabriel Landeskog or forward Matt Duchene after a third straight season of missing the playoffs.

“I want to be here and figure this thing out,” Landeskog said. “From the bottom of my heart, I want to be here and build this thing, because this is truly rock bottom.”

The season got off to a rough start before it even began when Patrick Roy surprisingly stepped aside in August. Taking his place was first-time NHL coach Jared Bednar.

Colorado’s unraveling started in late November, when the team went 0-4-1 on a homestand. Soon after, the Avalanche endured a 2-18-1 stretch. They finished 61 points behind Central Division winner Chicago.

“It shouldn’t happen, with the players we have here. It’s unacceptable to have as many losses as we did,” defenseman Francois Beauchemin said.

Asked about any positives he can take from such a downtrodden season, Beauchemin paused.

“I can’t think of anything,” he said. “There’s not much positive.”

Well, maybe a few things, like the development of 19-year-old Tyson Jost, who was taken with the 10th overall pick in 2016, signed a three-year entry contract on March 29 and scored his first NHL goal last week. Or the play of Mikko Rantanen, the Finnish forward who earned his 20th goal in the season finale.

“We have a lot of good, young players coming up,” said the 21-year-old Nathan MacKinnon, who led the team with 53 points and played in all 82 games. “It’s going to take some work, but I think the future is bright.”

Colorado has a 17.9 percent chance of earning the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft lottery and won’t finish lower than fourth. The team also has until Aug. 15 to negotiate a deal with University of Denver standout defenseman Will Butcher, who recently won the Hobey Baker Award and a national championship. He was a fifth-round selection by Colorado in 2013.

Johnson doesn’t think this team is all that far from being a contender again.

“It’s not like we re-gutted it and took on a new team. It’s just one of those years,” said Johnson, who missed 36 games with a broken leg. “Just have to hit the reset button and come back hungry and remember what this feels like.”

Related: Fixing the Avs won’t be easy

Here are things to know about the Avalanche’s worst full season since moving to the Mile High City in 1995-96:

RUMORS, RUMORS: Duchene’s name will surface in trade speculation this offseason – just like it did at the trade deadline. “Whatever happens, I’m grateful for the opportunity to be an Av,” said the 26-year-old Duchene, who moved into the top 10 this season in franchise scoring. “We’ll see what happens.”

HARD TO FATHOM: Colorado was in contention for a playoff berth down the stretch in 2015-16, so the sudden deterioration is a surprise. “They’ve got some great talent there. To me, it’s a mystery why they’ve not had the success they should’ve had,” Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau said.

NO EASY ANSWER: One quick fix to get the Avalanche back on track? Probably not that simple. “We’ve proven we can play some good hockey at times,” Bednar said. “We have to get there more consistently.”

VARLY’S RETURN: In 2013-14, goaltender Semyon Varlamov was a candidate for the Vezina Trophy after a 41-win season. This season, Varlamov was limited to 24 games before undergoing season-ending hip surgery in late January. “I’m looking forward to getting a fresh start in September,” he said. There’s a chance Varlamov could be left unprotected by the team in the upcoming expansion draft with Las Vegas set to join the league.

FREE AGENTS: The Avalanche’s most notable unrestricted free agents are John Mitchell, Rene Bourque and Fedor Tyutin. The restricted free agents include Matt Nieto, Mikhail Grigorenko, Patrick Wiercioch, Nikita Zadorov and Sven Andrighetto.

A ‘single voice’ is back running the Florida Panthers

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In hindsight, the Florida Panthers had too many cooks in the kitchen, trying to run a team that ended up being one of the NHL’s most disappointing in 2016-17.

So today, the Panthers put the old head chef back in charge, naming Dale Tallon general manager and vowing that every hockey decision will go through him.

“Everything was done with the best intentions,” team president Matthew Caldwell said, per the Miami Herald. “We want to win. We want to look at a lot of things that were out there, a lot of voices, but I think what we learned is that having a singular voice who listens to everything — listens to analytics, listens to scouts, listens to his gut for many, many years — and have one single voice that reports to ownership is most important.”

It’s a far cry from what we heard a year ago, when Tallon was “promoted” to president of hockey ops, with Tom Rowe taking over GM duties, assisted by Eric Joyce and Steve Werier.

“I wasn’t a big fan of doing contracts,” Tallon said at the time. “It frees me up to do what I think I do best, and that’s go scout, evaluate talent, mentor our young guys, and help develop them. That’s basically what I like to do. I like going to rinks. I like freezing my rear end off in these little rinks. That’s what I enjoy most about this job.”

Rowe, of course, ending up coaching the Panthers after Gerard Gallant was fired in November. The team is not keeping Rowe behind the bench for next season, though he’ll remain with the organization as a special advisor.

Tallon said the Panthers have “a list of young coaches that we’re interested in and we’re going to go in that direction.”

Nill wants experienced coach, could make a hire ‘pretty quickly’

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Jim Nill wants an experienced coach who can get the most out of the Dallas Stars.

“This isn’t a rebuild,” Nill told the Dallas Morning News after it was announced Sunday that Lindy Ruff would not be back behind the bench. “I think we’ve got a lot of good pieces in place.”

Nill already has a few names in mind.

“Right now I’ve had three people I’ve been talking to,” he said. “May get expanded here a little bit more. I’m hoping this is going to happen pretty quickly. These guys are all good coaches. This league moves pretty fast. I know there’s other teams looking at things also. I hope that this happens pretty quickly.”

Given Nill’s desire to hire an experienced coach, Ken Hitchcock would seem to be a potential candidate. That being said, Nill also wants a coach who can bring the most out of the Stars’ “skill” players, and Hitchcock’s reputation is built on defense and physical play.

Read more: Who’s going to coach the Stars?

As for the team’s perceived biggest weakness — goaltending — Nill did not offer any clarity regarding what might happen this offseason.

“I thought the goaltending early in the season probably kept our head above the water when we had six of our top nine forwards out,” said Nill. “And then they had their moments I think from January on where they were very inconsistent.”

Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi are both signed for one more year.