Author: Mike Halford

Phoenix Coyotes v Pittsburgh Penguins

Scuderi calls Pens ‘fragile’ after Ottawa collapse


As the second-oldest player on Pittsburgh’s roster and a two-time Stanley Cup winner, Rob Scuderi’s words tend to carry weight.

The ones uttered after Tuesday’s stunning OT loss in Ottawa certainly did.

“I think we’ve been a fragile group for the last couple of weeks,” Scuderi said, per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “This is depressing right now.”

Tuesday’s game, in which the Pens blew a 3-0 lead, continued a disturbing trend in which Pittsburgh plays well, suffers a bit of adversity and then — well, they sort of unravel.


— April 4. Pens jumped out to 2-0 lead on Columbus. The Jackets scored two quick goals just over two minutes, and went on to win 5-3.

— Mar. 24. Pens jump out to 2-0 lead on St. Louis. The Blues scored two “greasy” goalmouth scramble goals to tie it up, and won in OT.

This trend, inevitably, circles back to a larger-scale discussion about Pittsburgh’s lack of composure. History has a way of repeating itself with the Penguins, especially when it comes to keeping it together — though there’s been wholesale changes at various levels of the organization, the Penguins keep falling apart at the first sign of adversity.

“It seems like a couple of bad breaks,” forward Brandon Sutter said, “is all it takes to get us off our game.”

It has to be asked if certain moves by GM Jim Rutherford have played a role. Steve Downie, currently sidelined with injury, has been a penalty magnet and doesn’t appear any more disciplined now than he was during his controversial junior career. Noted pest Maxim Lapierre, less-than-affectionately known as Yappy Lappy, isn’t exactly a paragon of composure either.

The counter to that argument, though, is that Downie and Lapierre are bit players, role guys. Pittsburgh’s fragility is more of a team-wide epidemic and can’t be pinned on one or two players — nobody played well over the final 40 minutes of the Ottawa game, and you could almost feel the Pens collectively sink when Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s “shot” caromed in off Derrick Pouliot’s skate for the Sens’ opening goal of the game.

Despite all this, Pittsburgh has a positive to cling onto. It can still orchestrate its own playoff fate — if the Pens get three points from the final two games, they’re in.

“It’s time to let it go,” Scuderi explained. “We still control our destiny.”

Dallas GM Nill to lead Canada at Worlds

Jim Nill

The last two times Jim Nill was part of the management group for the World Hockey Championships, Canada won gold.

So no surprise he’s been asked to go for a third.

On Wednesday, Hockey Canada announced that Nill has been named general manager for the 2015 Worlds, which will be held in the Czech Republic from May 1-17. He’ll head up a management group loaded with NHL experience, featuring former Washington GM George McPhee, current Arizona assistant Sean Burke, Tampa Bay AGM Pat Verbeek, former Leafs assistant Claude Loiselle and Scott Salmond, Hockey Canada’s VP of operations.

Nill captured gold as Canada’s GM at the 2004 Worlds and in 2003 while serving as the director of player personnel. Hired to replace Joe Nieuwendyk as Dallas’ GM in April of 2013, he led the Stars to their first playoff appearance in five seasons in his first year on the job.

McDavid, Eichel top NHL’s final draft rankings


In news that won’t come as much of a surprise, OHL Erie’s Connor McDavid and Boston University’s Jack Eichel finished one-two in the NHL’s final rankings for this June’s entry draft.

“At the start of the year McDavid and Eichel were considered Nos. 1-2,” NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said. “I don’t know if it’s a surprise that it ended up that way but I think a lot of credit has to go to Eichel in the way he was able to at least keep it interesting.

“But McDavid has clearly shown himself to be the No. 1 prospect.”

There’s been plenty of hype around the ’15 Draft, though not just because of McDavid and Eichel. This is regarded to be one of the deepest, strongest classes in quite some time with a number of prized talents available at the top of the first round.

Joining McDavid and Eichel in the top six North American skaters are Boston College d-man Noah Hanifin, McDavid’s teammate with the Otters, Dylan Strome, OHL Kingston forward Lawson Crouse and OHL London scoring sensation Mitch Marner.

“There’s a good group of guys there,” Central Scouting’s John Williams said. “If you look at the top 10, it’s a really good group compared to some other years. That’s just the way it is sometimes and I think you can see it flipping back and forth from now until draft day for sure.”

The European side of the ledger has an influx of talent as well, headed by Finnish winger Mikko Rantanen. At 6-foot-3, the 18-year-old spent this season playing professionally with SM-liiga outfit TPS Turku, scoring 28 points in 56 games while serving as an alternate captain.

“Rantanen is in a class of his own at present in Europe,” NHL Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb said. “After Mikko you can pick almost anyone for the next spots.”

As for goalies, OHL Barrie’s Mackenzie Blackwood tops the North American list, while Russian junior Ilya Samsonov is No. 1 on the European list.

For all of the NHL’s final draft rankings, click here.

McLellan mum on future with Sharks

Todd McLellan, Joe Thornton, Tomas Hertl, Brent Burns

The Sharks were officially eliminated from postseason contention Monday night, meaning that — for the first time in 12 years — there’ll be no playoff hockey in San Jose, and the club’s final two games of the season hold zero significance.

Well, that’s not entirely true. They seem to be significant to head coach Todd McLellan.

“The teacher and his classroom, the last few days of school and we’ve got two games left,” McLellan said, to the Mercury-News. “Those are important days.”

That’s pretty much all McLellan was willing to say on the matter of his future in San Jose, deflecting questions about whether he’d be back next year.

“I don’t want to talk about anything until we’re done,” he explained. “There’s a lot of evaluation that has to go on. Now, I want to enjoy the team for a couple of games and then we’ll deal with that after.”

There are major rumblings that McLellan will be turfed at season’s end. Though he’s achieved a remarkable level of success over the last seven years — the Sharks went 310-162-66 on his watch — the team suffered a significant blow during last year’s playoff collapse to the Kings and never seemed to recover. San Jose appeared to be a rudderless ship for long stretches of this season, with McLellan often questioning his club’s identity.

There are also suggestions McLellan will be part of a large-scale housecleaning.

Given how badly things went both on and off the ice in San Jose, GM Doug Wilson is under fire as well. The fifth longest-tenured GM in the league, Wilson’s held his post since 2003 — in lockstep with the organization’s consecutive playoff appearance streak — and the Sharks owe most, if not all, of their identity to his vision and handiwork.

And that’s what might cost him his gig.

San Jose lacked consistency and leadership this season, and Wilson’s fingerprints were all over it. He called the Sharks a “tomorrow team,” but also said the goal was to make the playoffs. Joe Thornton was stripped of his captaincy, reimplemented as an alternate, to which Wilson gave a hamfisted explanation in front of a group of ticketholders in mid-March, to which Thornton replied “Doug needs to shut his mouth.”

Last week, a report from Sportsnet claimed that McLellan — who has one year remaining on his contract — had an opt-out clause should Wilson be fired. Though the accuracy of that report has been called into question, it only fueled the fire that the Sharks could be in line to hire both a new GM and head coach this summer.

As such, it’s not surprising to hear McLellan dodge questions about his future in San Jose. Though the writing may be on the wall — lest we forget, he’s already been tabbed as one of the premier coaching candidates for teams in need this summer — McLellan probably figures it’s best to leave the talking to the players, like Joe Pavelski, who addressed the HP Pavilion fans after the team’s final home game of the season on Monday.

“I just want to say that nobody on this bench is satisfied with the position we’re in right now,” Pavelski following a 5-1 drubbing to Dallas, also per the Merc. “It’s disappointing for us. We expect more out of each other.

“But with that said, we really appreciate the passion and energy you guys bring to the Shark tank every night for us. And we’ll do better next year.”

Zucker (broken clavicle) returns to Wild lineup, one month earlier than expected

Tampa Bay Lightning v Minnesota Wild

When Jason Zucker suffered a broken clavicle that required surgery back in early February, the Wild said he’d be sidelined for three months.

Zucker made it two.

The 23-year-old drew back into the Minnesota lineup on Tuesday night for the first time since Feb. 9, marking a fairly impressive return from an injury that, originally, looked as though it’d rule him out for the remainder of the regular season.

When news broke of Zucker’s injury/surgery, team doctors gave a 12-week timetable for recovery. But he was back on ice four weeks after sustaining the break and, tonight in Chicago, will make his return in a pretty prominent role — on a line with Chris Stewart and Mikko Koivu.

It’s not surprising Minnesota wants to get Zucker right back into the mix. He was second to Zach Parise in goals at the time of his injury (18 to Parise’s 21) and was the team’s leading sniper at even strength. Wild head coach Mike Yeo praised Zucker’s maturation as a player this season, saying the 23-year-old’s progress “was so high this year.”