Author: Mike Halford

Peter Laviolette

Poll: Who will coach USA at the World Cup of Hockey?

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Tonight, USA Hockey will announce its head coach for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, so let’s start speculating.

At first glance, the most likely candidates are two of the NHL’s most well-regarded bench bosses: Nashville’s Peter Laviolette, a reigning Jack Adams nominee, and Columbus’ Todd Richards, who led the U.S. to bronze at this year’s World Championships.

Another pair of veteran NHLers could be in the mix: Isles bench boss Jack Capuano (who, it must be mentioned, is the fourth-longest tenured head coach in the league) and Buffalo’s Dan Bylsma, who seems an unlikely fit after leading the Americans to a disappointing fourth-place finish at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

As for darkhorses?

New Detroit Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill could be considered, though it’d be a real surprise given his only experience at the NHL level was one year as Mike Babcock’s assistant (in 2011-12).

On that note, we should mention new Devils coach John Hynes, who’s even less experienced at the NHL level; prior to the New Jersey job, Hynes had spent six years as the head coach in AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Anyway, have at the poll. Feel free to add unlisted candidates in the comments section and, just so we’re clear, this whole conversation is based on the assumption an American will be the head coach.

NBCSN to host ‘Slap Shot’ doubleheader for Kraft Hockeyville

2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Four
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Next Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Penguins will host the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena in Johnstown, Pa. as part of this year’s Kraft Hockeyville celebration.

If that rink sounds familiar, it’s with good reason — Cambria County War Memorial was the arena featured in the iconic hockey flick Slap Shot.

To celebrate both Hockeyville and the movie, NBCSN is rolling out a special “doubleheader” for the evening of Sept. 29 — pregame coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET, followed by puck drop at 7:30, followed by a special airing of Slap Shot in its entirety following the game.

Highlights will include:

  • Coverage anchored by NBC Sports’ Bob Costas, who got his start in broadcasting in Johnstown in 1973. Costas, who began his career as the play-by-play voice of the Syracuse Blazers of the North American Hockey League, called his first-ever game at Cambria County War Memorial.
  • An interview with the Hanson Brothers.
  • Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick paying homage to legendary Charlestown Chiefs broadcaster Jim Carr.
  • Current NHL players discussing their favorite scenes from Slap Shot.

Liam McHugh, Jeremy Roenick and Mike Milbury will also be part of the Hockeyville coverage, with Milbury providing special insight into “what it was like to play in the era of old-time hockey.” Better tie up your shoes.

Related: Johnstown wins inaugural Kraft Hockeyville USA

‘Open battle’ to back up Lundqvist in New York, says AV

Antti Raanta
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The New York Rangers will have a new backup goalie this year, as one of either Antti Raanta or Magnus Hellberg will look to replace Cam Talbot.

“I’d say you’ve got to earn your spot,” head coach Alain Vigneault said, per the Bergen Record. “It is an open battle. We’ll see how they both do. I think Raanta might have a little bit of an upper edge because he’s got more experience.

“It’s good, internal competition. We’re going to pick whoever helps us win.”

Raanta, 26, was acquired from Chicago at the draft and put up sparkling numbers (.936 save percentage, 1.89 GAA) in limited work for the Blackhawks last season, but was eventually beaten out for the No. 2 job by Scott Darling.

Hellberg, 24, was acquired from Nashville on the opening day of free agency. He first goalie taken at the 2011 draft — one spot ahead of Anaheim’s John Gibson — but has a very limited body of work at the NHL level (a 12-minute relief appearance during ’13-14).

While the backup gig behind Henrik Lundqvist has traditionally been an easy gig — he was one of the NHL’s biggest workhorses for a while — that looks as though it may be changing. A vascular ailment limited the Swedish ‘tender to just 46 games last year and, even prior to that, it seemed the Blueshirts were lessening his workload.

It’s also worth noting that Lundqvist turns 34 this season.

As for the other goalie in all this — Mackenzie Skapski, who made his NHL debut for New York last year and performed well — he’s still recovering from hip surgery and won’t be ready for return until the first week of November. It’s likely that Skapski will be on his way to the American League, though, barring total meltdowns by both Raanta and Hellberg.

Bolts owner won’t interfere in Stamkos situation

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Don’t expect Jeff Vinik to start weighing in on Steve Stamkos‘ contract negotiations.

The Tampa Bay Lightning owner said as much on Sunday, telling the Tribune that, while he appreciates what Stamkos brings to the ice and organization, he won’t meddle in GM Steve Yzerman’s decision-making process.

“We talk about all aspects of the business, we talk about the cap a lot, we talk about how he sees the team looking,” Vinik said. “But I let [Yzerman] run the hockey decisions, and it looks like the plan is working so far.

“He has a green light to do what he thinks is best in the long-term interest of this franchise.”

Stamkos, heading into the last of a five-year, $37.5 million deal with a $7.5M average annual cap hit, will garner a huge payday with his next contract. Yzerman does need to be careful about the financials, however, as he has a slew of important youngsters needing new deals in the near future — Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin are all up in 2017.

Historically speaking, Vinik has been hands-off when it comes to hockey decisions. He threw his full support behind Yzerman when Tampa made the decision to buy out popular captain Vincent Lecavalier — the buyout cost Vinik over $32 million and was one of the largest in NHL history.

Vinik did wade into the Martin St. Louis situation, though, twice trying to convince the team’s captain (seeing a theme here?) to try and change his mind about demanding a trade.

That said, he did pen a letter to Bolts fans saying he was pleased with Yzerman’s handling of the deal.

Extension talks underway between Avs, Johnson

Ottawa Senators v Colorado Avalanche
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The latest on contract negotiations between Colorado and No. 1 defenseman Erik Johnson, per the Denver Post:

[Head coach Patrick] Roy said negotiations for a contract extension with Johnson, the team’s only all-star last season, have been going well, although Roy is not directly involved.

Johnson, 27, is in the last of a four-year, $15 million deal with a $3.75M average annual cap hit.

The former No. 1 overall pick will almost certainly get a significant raise with his new deal. Johnson really seemed to take his game to a new level last season, scoring a career-high 12 goals while averaging a career-high 24:25 before a knee injury ended his campaign in January.

This is a very big contract for both Colorado and Johnson. The Avs don’t have a ton of depth on defense and no real blue-chip prospects on the horizon, so getting Johnson extended is a priority.

Johnson, meanwhile, is on the verge of hitting unrestricted free agency for the first time in eight-year career, so you can bet he’ll be looking to cash in — especially after the monster deals signed by Calgary’s Mark Giordano (six years, $40.5 million) and Dion Phaneuf (seven years, $49 million), who were both older than Johnson when they signed their extensions.