Mike Halford

2012 NHL Entry Draft - Rounds 2-7
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No chemistry issues or character problems here, says Wild GM

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Reflecting on a year in which pundits saw mostly regression and a lack of team cohesion, Wild GM Chuck Fletcher took to the podium on Thursday to reflect on what he called a “disappointing” campaign.

Among the key takeaways:

There’s no chemistry issue on our team.

Not surprising Fletcher had to go here.

In mid-February, the club was forced to fire head coach Mike Yeo amid rumblings the players had tuned him out — which, not coincidentally, came amid a horrific losing streak.

There were also major, season-long issues with veteran players like Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek, both of whom woefully underachieved.

Vanek, in particular, was a healthy scratch under Yeo and interim bench boss John Torchetti. The 32-year-old’s effort level repeatedly came into question, and now buyout rumors loom.

Elsewhere, team leaders Ryan Suter and Zach Parise were embroiled in controversy when, following his dismissal, Yeo took issue with the two working with skills coach Adam Oates during the season.

The Star-Tribune’s Mike Russo noted that Oates showed up at a Wild morning skate in January, so he asked Yeo about it:

When you say things never felt right, did this start with the Adam Oates stuff? “Yeah. I thought we dealt with it. We talked with Zach, and we had no issues with it after that. And talked with some players, and … Whether it’s something like that, whether it’s the trade rumors, whatever it is, when there’s things that might cause a little unrest, they kind of sit there and they hang out. When things are going well, they’re forgotten and pushed to the side. But when things don’t go well, quite often they come back.”

Did it bother you that Oates came to the Buffalo morning skate? That was at the start of the tailspin? “I’m not going to even comment on it. But I would say, that I would not do the same thing.”

Yeo went on to add he felt there was a divide in the Wild locker room.

“It just felt like there were almost two groups,” he explained. “There were younger guys and there were the older guys. It wasn’t just a group.”

He’s definitely a very serious candidate for the head coach position.”

That was Fletcher on Torchetti, who’s currently holding the interim tag. The Wild GM praised Torchetti for being “able to push and pull this team into a playoff position,” but stopped short of promoting him to full-fledged head coach.

Why?

Well, the Wild weren’t that good under Torchetti.

They went 15-11-1 during the regular season and bowed out to Dallas in six playoff games. Granted, they showed some fight and spirit at times, and a few players definitely played better under Torch than Yeo (Erik Haula was exhibit 1a).

But there were also some alarming moments of apathy and poor play, like a late-season drubbing in Winnipeg which led goalie Devan Dubnyk to remark, “we’re going to get throttled if we’re going to play like this.”

This is probably why Fletcher fielded so many questions about his team’s character and chemistry on Thursday.

He’s done almost everything within his power as a GM with this group — big trades, coaching changes, free agent splashes — yet the club is still potentially headed in the wrong direction.

That’s why it was time to start questioning the group.

Related: Wild owner says Fletcher’s not on the hot seat

What’s going on with the Avs and NCAA standout Butcher?

TAMPA, FLORIDA - APRIL 07:  Will Butcher #4 of the Denver Pioneers celebrates his goal with teamamtes on the bench in the third period against the North Dakota Fighting Hawks during semifinals of the 2016 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Championships at Amalie Arena on April 7, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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There’s plenty to like about University of Denver junior Will Butcher.

He was one of the top defenseman scorers in the country this season, with 32 points in 39 games, and was named a Second-Team (West) All-American.

What’s more, Butcher — Colorado’s fifth-round pick in 2013 — is regarded as one of the organization’s top prospects, per ESPN.

So how to explain this, from the Denver Post?

Butcher will remain at DU for his senior season. He might be more likely to have his rights traded or become a free agent in 2017 than sign with the Avalanche.

Just have to sit back and see how this one plays out, but the 5-foot-10 Butcher is certainly an excellent NCAA defenseman.

The concern about players going back to school for their senior campaigns is that, once they’ve finished, they’re eligible to go to unrestricted free agency.

(Like what happened between the Nashville Predators and Jimmy Vesey.)

In the same article — titled “Avalanche signs one All-American but might pass on the second” — the Post said there would be more on the Butcher story in Sunday’s paper, while posting this tweet from College Hockey News:

It’s probably worth noting Butcher, now 21, was from one of the last draft classes of the Rick Pracey era. Pracey, Colorado’s longtime scouting chief that was turfed in 2014, didn’t exactly go out on the greatest of terms.

Colorado’s first-round pick in ’14, Connor Bleackley, was widely panned before getting dealt to Arizona in the Mikkel Boedker trade. The other piece of the Boedker trade — Kyle Wood, taken in the same year as Bleackley — was sent packing in part because the Avs had yet to sign him to an ELC.

At the Frozen Four, Butcher discussed his status with the Avs in a Q&A with Hockey’s Futures. He said the proximity between DU and the NHL club made it easy for the Avs to monitor him, and that he was in frequent contact with player development consultant Brett Clark.

When asked about where he saw himself slotting in with the Avs, Butcher had this to say:

“I think the Avs have got some deep prospects on their blueline, so there’s definitely going to be some competition there. But I haven’t really focused on that because I’m just focused on the Frozen Four right now.”

Condra ‘doing a lot better’ after crushing Cizikas hit

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Overall, Thursday had mostly positive developments regarding the health of Tampa Bay forward Erik Condra.

Condra, who was knocked out of Game 1 of the Bolts-Isles series on a huge Casey Cizikas hit, is reportedly feeling well — though the club remains unsure of a potential return date.

“He’s doing a lot better than the actual hit looked,” head coach Jon Cooper said, per NHL.com. “Whether he’s going to skate in the next couple days I’m not too sure.”

Condra went flying into the end boards early in the first period and, while laying on the ice with his eyes open, looked to be in bad shape. He didn’t appear to lose consciousness, but displayed very little motion before getting helped off the ice.

The Bolts came into this series already down the services of captain Steve Stamkos, key d-man Anton Stralman and energy forwards Mike Blunden and J.T. Brown — the latter’s injury actually paved the way for Condra to draw into the lineup.

No word yet on who would draw in, should Condra miss Saturday’s Game 2 in Tampa.

Will the Sens take a run at Kevin Dineen?

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 08:  Head coach Kevin Dineen of Canada looks on against Switzerland during the Women's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group A Game on day 1 of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Shayba Arena on February 8, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
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With the Chicago Blackhawks’ season now over, it’s assumed assistant coach Kevin Dineen will be asked to interview for vacant head coaching gigs across the NHL.

Of course there’s only one gig currently vacant — Ottawa’s.

From the Sun:

Because Dineen’s season ended Tuesday in a Game 7 loss to the Blues, [Sens GM Pierre] Dorion should soon be expected to ask permission from the Blackhawks to speak with him.

Dineen, 52, checks a lot of boxes.

He’s familiar with the organization, having played the 1999-2000 campaign in Ottawa. He was a teammate of Daniel Alfredsson — who, last year, was named the Sens’ senior advisor of hockey ops — and has a ton of coaching experience: six years as a head coach in the AHL, three as a head coach in the NHL (with Florida) and the last two working as Joel Quenneville’s right-hand man in Chicago.

Dineen’s also done international duty, having coached Canada’s women’s team to gold in Sochi, at the Canadian U18s to bronze in 2014.

Dorion’s on record saying he wants to bring in an experienced head coach, rather than someone cutting their teeth at the NHL level. The club has gone the latter route in its recent hires — Dave Cameron, Paul MacLean, Cory Clouston — which could be why the Sens have already spoken to ex-Wild bench boss Mike Yeo.

(It’s also partly why Ottawa released respected AHL bench boss Luke Richardson, who wasn’t in line for the big-league gig.)

Of course, if the Sens want Dineen, they’ll have to pry him out of Chicago — and, according to the Tribune, Quenneville said he expected his coaching staff to return next season.

“I like our staff in all areas,” Quenneville said. “(We’re) very fortunate with the group we have around us and … you’re looking at special teams, goalies, I think they did a really good job.”

Bolts sign six-year extension with AHL Syracuse

Steve Yzerman
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At a time where several NHL teams are moving their AHL affiliates closer to home, the Lightning took a different course of action on Thursday, inking a six-year extension with Syracuse.

“We are pleased to be extending our affiliation with the Syracuse Crunch,” Bolts GM Steve Yzerman said in a release. “The Crunch and [owner] Howard Dolgon, along with the city of Syracuse and Onondaga County, have been, and continue to be, an excellent place to develop our prospects.

“We look forward to what will hopefully be many successful years to come on and off the ice.”

In 2012, the Lightning moved their affiliate to Syracuse from Norfolk — which is where current head coach Jon Cooper led the team to the ’12 Calder Cup. Some of the key contributors on that championship team included Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn.

Cooper then moved with the team to Syracuse, before getting promoted to the parent club in ’13. The Lightning note that since the affiliate move four years ago, 36 players have appeared with both the Crunch and the Bolts.

All told, 14 former Crunch players are currently on the Lightning’s current playoff roster.

Related:

Coyotes to purchase Springfield Falcons, move them to Tucson

Report: Sens thinking about moving AHL team to Belleville