Mike Halford

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With Sutter out, here’s a list of coaching candidates for L.A.

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After yesterday’s stunning overhaul in Los Angeles — the firing of GM Dean Lombardi and head coach Darryl Sutter, who combined to win a pair of Stanley Cups — attention has now turned toward the future.

Lombardi’s role has been filled by the tandem of Luc Robitaille (president) and Rob Blake (VP and general manager).

Their first job will be to find Sutter’s replacement.

Based on multiple reports, the primary goal is to get the team playing faster. There’s been a huge emphasis on speed — specifically, the Kings’ lack of it — and while that’ll be partly addressed with personnel addition/subtractions from Blake and Robitaille, part of it will also be addressed with systems, philosophy and a new style of play.

Sutter was a proponent of hard, heavy hockey that relied on big, physical forwards and a strong forecheck. He had tremendous success with it but, as the rest of the league trended towards skill and speed, the Kings failed to adapt.

The result was an anemic offense this past season, one that finished 25th in the NHL with 2.43 goals per game.

So with that in mind, who might be on the coaching shortlist? Some ideas:

John Stevens

On paper, Stevens ticks a lot of boxes. He’s got extensive experience, having served as a head coach in Philly and an assistant in L.A. for the last seven seasons. That’s a tremendous amount of familiarity with the Kings organization, an organization that might not want to lose him. Stevens has been in demand over the last few summers, and has reportedly been in the running for a few head coaching jobs, including the Carolina gig that eventually went to Bill Peters.

Of course, the 50-year-old’s familiarity with the Kings might be why he won’t get the job. The club had a massive shakeup yesterday, and it’s safe to assume Blake and Robitaille will want to go in a different direction from Sutter. Hiring his longtime assistant doesn’t exactly accomplish that.

Mike Stothers

Stothers is another nod to familiarity, albeit in a different fashion than Stevens. Stothers has been the head coach of L.A.’s AHL affiliate for the last three years and enjoyed tremendous success, winning the Calder Cup in 2015 while sending a number of minor-leaguers to the bigs. This year alone, Adrian Kempe, Paul LaDue and Johnny Brodzinski all made their NHL debuts.

Stothers is an interesting candidate because, as Sutter stressed last summer, some of the Kings’ young prospects need to make an impact at the NHL level. Who better to integrate the kids than the guy that’s coached them for the last few years?

Tony Granato

Yes, Granato only recently left the NHL for his dream job at the University of Wisconsin and yes, he was named a finalist for national coach of the year. So it would seemingly take an awful lot to leave the Badgers (of note, he inked a five-year, $2.75 million contract with UW.)

With that said…

Granato, at least in terms of the aforementioned checkbox, makes sense for the Kings. He’s got a wealth of NHL experience, serving as the head man in Colorado with lengthy assistant stints in Detroit and Pittsburgh. He’s also got deep ties to both Blake and Robitaille, having played together in L.A. (the three all went to the ’93 Stanley Cup Final together).

Granato was on hand at Blake’s jersey retirement ceremony, and both he and Robitaille — along with Barry Melrose — were honored on the same Legends Night back in ’14.

Others…

ESPN’s Scott Burnside floated the idea of Caps assistant Todd Reirden, which makes sense. He’s been described as a head coach in the making… Gerard Gallant’s name has come up though, to be fair, his name has been attached to almost every coaching vacancy since his dismissal from Florida last year… Dallas is believed to already have a shortlist to replace Lindy Ruff, consisting of Gallant, Ken Hitchcock and recently dismissed Canucks bench boss Willie Desjardins. Per TSN, Stars GM Jim Nill wants to make a decision quickly, meaning the two leftover candidates could be courted by the Kings.

Blashill to coach USA at Worlds

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Yesterday, USA Hockey announced the management group that would assemble the American entry into this year’s World Championships.

Today, the organization named its head coach — Detroit Red wings bench boss Jeff Blashill.

“We’re extremely pleased to have Jeff lead our men’s national team at the world championship,” USA Hockey’s Jim Johannson said in a release. “He’s been successful at every step of his career and we know our team will be well prepared when the puck drops.”

This will mark the first time Blashill’s led the senior national team. He’s previously been involved with USA Hockey at the junior and U-18 levels.

This selection is a nice ending to what’s been a difficult year. Detroit struggled to a 33-36-13 record this season and Blashill, fairly or not, will always be remembered as the guy at the helm as the franchise ended its quarter-century playoff streak.

USA Hockey has yet to announce the remainder of Blashill’s staff for the tournament. On Monday, the big announcement was the addition of Bill Guerin and Chris Drury to the National Team Advisory Group.

PHT’s first round playoff predictions, featuring the Random Thing Picker

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Predictions are hard.

And in a league that prides itself on parity, predictions are really hard.

That’s what your fearless PHT staffers — me, Brough, O’Brien, Gretz, Tucker and Alfieri — are faced with heading into Wednesday, when Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs officially get underway.

The field is tight. Per online oddsmaker Bovada, 10 of the 16 entrants have better than a 17/1 shot at winning it all, and the lone “longshot,” St. Louis, is still only at 33/1.

In playoffs past, to prove the randomness of NHL postseason predictions, we’ve enlisted the services of a coin — one real, one digital. Both flipped their way to glory, often doing a better job of prognosticating than their sentient, animate counterparts. (The ’72 Eisenhower Dollar so thoroughly embarrassed the humans that it was chucked into the ocean as punishment.)

This year, we’ve turned the job over to the Random Thing Picker — which, as the name suggests, picks random things. You give the Random Thing Picker two things, and it’ll pick one. It’s perfect for the job. 

On to the predictions… 

Washington Capitals versus Toronto Maple Leafs (Stream here)

Brough: Capitals in 5
Halford: Capitals in 7
O’Brien: Capitals in 6
Gretz: Capitals in 5
Tucker: Capitals in 5
Alfieri: Capitals in 6
Random Thing Picker: Maple Leafs

Pittsburgh Penguins versus Columbus Blue Jackets (Stream here)

Brough: Penguins in 7
Halford: Penguins in 6
O’Brien: Penguins in 7
Gretz: Penguins in 6
Tucker: Penguins in 6
Alfieri: Blue Jackets in 7
Random Thing Picker: Penguins

Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers (Stream here)

Brough: Canadiens in 5
Halford: Canadiens in 6
O’Brien: Canadiens in 7
Gretz: Rangers in 7
Tucker: Canadiens in 7
Alfieri: Canadiens in 7
Random Thing Picker: Rangers

Boston Bruins vs. Ottawa Senators (Stream here)

Brough: Bruins in 6
Halford: Senators in 7
O’Brien: Bruins in 6
Gretz: Bruins in 6
Tucker: Senators in 7
Alfieri: Senators in 6
Random Thing Picker: Senators

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators (Stream here)

Brough: Blackhawks in 6
Halford: Blackhawks in 6
O’Brien: Predators in 7
Gretz: Blackhawks in 6
Tucker: Blackhawks in 6
Alfieri: Blackhawks in 7
Random Thing Picker: Predators

Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues (Stream here)

Brough: Wild in 6
Halford: Blues in 7
O’Brien: Wild in 6
Gretz: Wild in 7
Tucker: Blues in 7
Alfieri: Wild in 6
Random Thing Picker: Blues

Anaheim Ducks vs. Calgary Flames (Stream here)

Brough: Ducks in 7
Halford: Ducks in 5
O’Brien: Flames in 7
Gretz: Ducks in 5
Tucker: Ducks in 6
Alfieri: Ducks in 6
Random Thing Picker: Ducks

Edmonton Oilers vs. San Jose Sharks (Stream here)

Brough: Sharks in 7
Halford: Oilers in 7
O’Brien: Sharks in 6
Gretz: Sharks in 5
Tucker: Oilers in 7
Alfieri: Oilers in 7
Random Thing Picker: Sharks

Add in your picks below!

Nolan Patrick tops NHL’s final draft rankings

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Despite missing significant time to injury, WHL Brandon center Nolan Patrick has finished atop NHL Central Scouting’s final draft rankings of the season.

Patrick, who sat out nearly 40 games this season while dealing with a sports hernia, still managed to put up a whopping 46 points in 33 games this season, and ends his campaign as the first Western League forward to top the draft rankings list since Ryan Nugent-Hopkins did it back in 2011.

Sitting closely behind Patrick on the list is Nico Hischier, who is looking to become the highest-drafted Swiss player in league history (previous high was Nino Niederreiter, who went fifth overall to the Islanders seven years ago). Hischier is coming off a terrific campaign with QMJHL Halifax, scoring 86 points in 57 games while capturing the league’s rookie of the year award.

More on the remainder of the rankings:

Joining Patrick and Hischier among the top five-ranked skaters from North America are a group of skilled forwards: No. 3 Casey Mittelstadt (Edina, Minn.), a center for Eden Prairie High School (HIGH-MN); No. 4 Gabriel Vilardi (Kingston, Ont.), a center for the Windsor Spitfires (OHL); and No. 5 Michael Rasmussen (Surrey, B.C.), a center for the Tri-City Americans (WHL).

Forwards Klim Kostin (Penza, Russia) of Dynamo Moscow and Elias Pettersson (Sundsvall, Sweden) of Timra maintain their ranks of first and second, respectively, among international skaters.

Jake Oettinger (Lakeville, Minn.) of Boston University (H-EAST) ranks as the top North American goaltender, while Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (Espoo, Finland) of HPK’s junior team (FINLAND-JR) tops international netminders.

This year’s draft will be held at the United Center in Chicago on June 23-24.

Bylsma expects to be Sabres coach next season

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Dan Bylsma says he’s “going forward” under the expectation he’ll be back as Buffalo Sabres coach for a third season based on recent conversations he’s had with general manager Tim Murray.

Bylsma shared his stance Monday when asked if he’s received any assurances he’ll be retained a day after the Sabres closed their sixth consecutive season without making the playoffs. The coach’s job security has been in question following a season in which Buffalo finished last in the Atlantic Division standings and 15th out of 16 teams in the Eastern Conference.

Murray wasn’t available for comment and is scheduled to address the media on Wednesday.

With a 33-37-12 record, the Sabres also finished with two fewer wins and three fewer points than last year despite make several roster improvements last season.

Related: Eichel vents frustrations after disappointing year