Author: Mike Halford

Alain Vigneault

Your Lightning-Rangers Game 7 officials are…


A familiar duo!

Referees Wes McCauley (No. 4) and Kevin Pollock (No. 33) have been given yet another important assignment, with Derek Amell (No. 75) and Brian Murphy (No. 93) working the lines.

Standbys are referee Chris Rooney and linesman Michel Cormier.

Some notes on tonight’s zebras…

• Pollock and McCauley have clearly emerged as the league’s “go-to” tandem for Game 7s this postseason. This will be their third time working a series finale together, having called both Red Wings-Lightning in Round 1 and Capitals-Rangers in Round 2.

• Game 7 of the Detroit-Tampa Bay series was the first shared assignment  for Pollock and McCauley this postseason. That game, a 2-0 Tampa Bay victory, featured 18 pretty evenly distributed penalty minutes — 10 for Detroit, eight for the Bolts.

• Their second Game 7, Caps-Rangers — which New York won 2-1 in OT — was also pretty even in terms of PIM; eight for Washington, and six for the Blueshirts. It is worth noting, however, that McCauley and Pollock put their whistles away with seven minutes to go in the second period, going penalty-free for all of the third frame and overtime.

•McCauley and Pollock have worked one game of this Eastern Conference Final already: New York’s 5-1 win at Tampa Bay in Game 4. That was the game in which the Rangers capitalized on two power plays early in the third period to put the game out of reach; things got chippy in the final three minutes, with 50 PIM being dished out.

Toronto’s Ross, suspended for PEDs last season, signs in German League

Toronto Maple Leafs Headshots

After a tumultuous season, Brad Ross is trying his luck overseas.

Ross, the Toronto Maple Leafs farmhand slapped with a 20-game suspension this year for using performance-enhancing substances, has signed with Iserlohn of Germany’s Deutsche Eishockey Liga, the club announced on Friday.

Picked 43rd overall by the Toronto at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft (four spots ahead of Tyler Toffoli, if that sort of thing interests you), Ross never played a game for the Maple Leafs and has spent all of his professional career shuttling between the Marlies and the ECHL.

The 23-year-old was hit with his suspension in January. The development was noteworthy as Ross was the second player in the Leafs organization to be busted for PEDs last season; in November, it was forward Carter Ashton who was suspended 20 games by the NHL.

Following his suspension, Ross returned to the Marlies lineup and appeared in 11 games, scoring one point.

Jackets keep another d-man, extend Falk

Toronto Maple Leafs v Columbus Blue Jackets

Just one day after re-upping with one of their young defensemen, the Blue Jackets have retained another.

Justin Falk, acquired at the deadline in exchange for Jordan Leopold, has been signed to a one-year, two-way extension, the club announced on Friday.

“Justin is a good, young defenseman who was a solid addition to our hockey club late last season,” Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen said in a statement. “We are pleased that he will continue to be a part of our group on the blue line next season.”

Falk, 26, scored two points in 18 games last year while averaging 15:13 TOI per night. News of his signing comes just one day after Columbus also re-upped with another d-man — 25-year-old Cody Goloubef — on a two-year, $1.5 million extension.

The Falk deal pretty much locks in the Blue Jackets’ defense for next year, barring a trade of some sort. The club now has eight NHL defensemen under contract: Falk, Goloubef, Jack Johnson, Ryan Murray, Fedor Tyutin, David Savard, Dalton Prout and Kevin Connauton.

Bylsma praises ‘elite’ Eichel, cites experience of coaching star players


Sidney Crosby is a star. So is Evgeni Malkin.

Jack Eichel might become one too and, if he does, there’s a chance it’ll be under the tutelage of new Sabres bench boss Dan Bylsma — the same guy Crosby and Malkin called coach for six years.

“You understand immediately the spotlight that is on those types of players, the star quality players,” Bylsma said on Thursday of his experience coaching elite talent. “I think you understand the pressure they’ll be going through, the analysis and the little eyes on them from just about everybody.

“I probably learned as much from working with those players — Sidney and Evgeni — as they learned from me. I think it’s going to be applicable to the likes of Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel, who are going to be viewed in that same light, that same scope that star players are put into.”

Eichel, barring a remarkable turn of events, will become Sabres property when they select second overall at this June’s entry draft. Dubbed a generational talent, Eichel is one of the most ballyhooed prospects in recent memory and while Bylsma’s experience coaching young stars (Crosby was 21 when they won a Cup together in Pittsburgh, Malkin was 22) is important, so too is his experience with the Boston University phenom — Bylsma was Eichel’s assistant coach at the recently-wrapped World Hockey Championships, where the two combined to capture bronze with Team USA.

“Having coached [Eichel] at the World Championships, you have a chance to see a guy who’s going to be an elite player,” Bylsma explained. “He’s got outstanding skill.

“You see him play against men, a lot of NHL players he matched up against — Malkin when we played against Russia, Tomas Plekanec when we played against the Czechs. He’s playing against NHL players and he stacked right up there with his skill, his size and his ability to play the game.”

Bylsma then broke into a smile.

“Jack’s going to be a good pick for anybody who does take him.”

Aside from Eichel, Buffalo has other talented youngsters for Bylsma to teach, like Reinhart, Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov, Zemgus Girgensons and Mikhail Grigorenko. “Teach” really is the key word here; in explaining why he hired Bylsma, Sabres GM Tim Murray said the 44-year-old had all the necessary skills to educate the kids through the ongoing rebuild.

“[He’s a] great communicator,” Murray explained. “Obviously we’re going to be a young team, and we need somebody that knows how to teach, knows how to communicate. It’s not just telling someone what to do — it’s why they have to do that. There aren’t a lot of coaches that can do that, and I think Dan is one that can.

“We can talk about Xs and Os and all that later. It’s communication, it’s teaching, it’s understanding young people, understanding what they’re going through. I think he’s very good at those aspects of the game.”

Jackets sign d-man Goloubef to two-year, $1.5M extension


Columbus has re-upped with one of its young defensemen.

Cody Goloubef, the 37th overall pick at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, has agreed to a two-year extension that will keep him with the Blue Jackets through 2017, GM Jarmo Kekalainen announced on Thursday.

“Cody is a mobile, puck moving defenseman who makes good decisions on the ice and we’re excited about his future as a Blue Jacket,” said Kekalainen. “He has shown steady improvement in his game and we believe there is more room for growth in the coming years.”

Goloubef, 25, had nine points in 36 games last year while averaging 15:33 TOI per night. After spending most of the last four years shuttling between Columbus and AHL Springfield, Goloubef was set to become a UFA on July 1 after making $625,000 annually on his last deal; per the club, financial details of this new contract were not disclosed (the Dispatch reports it’s a one-way deal worth $1.5 million, a $750K annual cap hit.)

The signing gives Columbus seven defensemen under contract for next year: Goloubef, Jack Johnson, Ryan Murray, Fedor Tyutin, David Savard, Dalton Prout and Kevin Connauton. Dillon Heatherington, the club’s second-round pick (50th overall) at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, could challenge for a spot in Columbus, but seems more likely destined for Lake Erie, the club’s new AHL affiliate.