Mike Halford

PHILADELPHIA - OCTOBER 22:  Trent Whitfield #42 of the Boston Bruins skates against the Philadelphia Flyers on October 22, 2009 at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers won the game 4-3 after a shootout.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Getty

Bruins add Leach, Whitfield to AHL coaching staff

2 Comments

Boston has added a pair of coaches to Kevin Dean’s staff in AHL Providence.

From the club:

The Bruins have hired Jay Leach and Trent Whitfield as assistant coaches of the Providence Bruins. Leach and Whitfield will serve on the coaching staff of head coach Kevin Dean, who was named to his position on July 18, 2016.

Leach will be working primarily with the team’s defensemen while Whitfield will work primarily with the team’s forwards.

Leach, 36, most recently served as an assistant coach in AHL Wilkes-Barre. Prior to coaching he enjoyed a lengthy, journeyman career that included 70 games at the NHL level.

Whitfield, 39, is a familiar face, having suited up for both Boston and Providence during his playing career. He spent last year behind the bench with WHL Calgary.

Washington got better down the middle, which is vitally important in the East

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 07:  Caps senior vice president and general manager Brian MacLellan of the Washington Capitals speaks with the media prior to the game against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on January 7, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty
8 Comments

Given that Washington has the reigning coach of the year, goalie of the year and goalscorer of the year, it’s tough to say the addition of a third-line center will make a huge difference.

But Lars Eller isn’t just another third-line center.

And the hole he’s filling isn’t just another hole.

“We identified Lars probably a year ago,” Caps GM Brian MacLellan said upon acquiring Eller from Montreal at the draft. “We’ve been asking about him. We’re trying to fill a third-line center with a good two-way guy that can give us a little offense and play defense. Little PK and probably a little power play too.

“We identified him probably over a year ago, and he was on our list this year.”

Then — when asked if he’d finally solved Washington’s longstanding problem at 3C — MacLellan smiled, and gave a one-word reply.

“Yes.”

The importance of depth down the middle cannot be understated. Last year’s Eastern Conference Finalists, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, had it in spades — the Penguins rolled Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen, while the Bolts had Tyler Johnson, Steve Stamkos, Valtteri Filppula, Brian Boyle and, when Stamkos was sidelined, cycled in a quality fifth option in Vladislav Namestnikov.

Washington, conversely, was top-heavy.

Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom did most of the lifting, which was fine during the regular season. But when the playoff clamp down began, and Kuznetsov faded, it was up to Jay Beagle and Mike Richards to give something more.

And no offense to either of those guys… but they are what they are.

The Eller acquisition essentially ended Richards’ time in Washington, and will (presumably) push Beagle back from 3C to 4C, where he’s better suited.

Eller, 27, will also increase Washington’s team speed. And this is another big deal in the East.

Following the loss to Pittsburgh in Round 2, MacLellan acknowledged the Pens’ speed “took over” at times. This was a familiar refrain.

Jon Cooper, the coach of a pretty speedy Bolts team — the only team to push Pittsburgh to seven games — said the Pens were just too fast. Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer, who’s team looked outmatched in the Stanley Cup Final, called Pittsburgh the fastest team in the league.

Eller should combat this. He has good speed, and captured the fastest skater title at a number of Montreal’s skills competitions.

Eller also has some nice offensive upside, scoring 13 goals in 79 games last year. Comparatively, Beagle and Richards combined to score 10.

But will it be enough?

As stated at the top, Eller’s not going to be a front-line guy for the Caps. And the speed he brings might only offset the loss of Jason Chimera, who was arguably the team’s fastest skater last season.

Whatever the case, one thing is clear. MacLellan knew he needed to fix his 3C problem, and he believes he’s found the perfect solution.

Vegas hires former Capitals scout as player development director

NEW YORK - APRIL 20: George McPhee, VP and GM of the Washington Capitals speaks with reporters following the National Hockey League Board of Governors meeting at the Westin New York Hotel on April 20, 2005 in New York City. Representatives from all 30 NHL teams met in New York for the second time in seven weeks. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty
1 Comment

Nice timing on this news, breaking during PHT’s Washington Capitals day — Las Vegas announced that former Caps scout Wil Nichol has been hired as the club’s first-ever director of player development.

Nichol, 42, had been with Washington since 2011, where he worked under current Vegas GM George McPhee.

Prior to the Caps gig, Nichol served as head coach with two different outfits — USHL Chicago and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point — and pulled double duty with the Steel, working as the club’s GM as well.

Long story short, he’s worn several hats during his front office career.

Which seems to be a theme with McPhee’s hires thus far.

Earlier, Vegas announced that Kelly McCrimmon would serve as McPhee’s assistant GM. McCrimmon joined the expansion outfit after a do-it-all career with WHL Brandon, where he was the owner, general manager and head coach.

More on McPhee’s hiring process, from Sports Illustrated:

Five more contracts have been signed to fill various high-level roles, McPhee told SI.com via telephone, including a salary cap expert, a director of hockey operations, a director of player development (former Capitals scout Wil Nichol was announced on Aug.4), and an organizational goalie director.

He hopes that directors of pro and amateur scouting will be found within the week.

Related: McPhee wants to play ‘attack’ hockey in Vegas

 

 

Poll: Are Washington’s Cup chances better or worse next season?

Washington Capitals head coach Barry Trotz, top center, shouts to his players during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils Friday, March 25, 2016, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
AP
8 Comments

This is part of Washington Capitals day at PHT…

At February’s trade deadline, Caps GM Brian MacLellan had a very clear outlook on his team’s chances of capturing a Stanley Cup.

“I view it as a two-year window,” MacLellan said at the time. “We’re going for it this year, we’re going for it next year, and then after that we’re evaluating where we’re at.”

Year one, obviously, wasn’t Washington’s year. The Caps again failed to advance past the second round, and are now faced with the pressure of trying to win a championship in the final salvo of their GM’s imposed window.

Which begs the question — did the Caps miss their best shot?

It’s hard to look at the ’15-16 campaign and feel like something wasn’t left on the table. Washington had the most wins (56), the most points (120), the best coach (Barry Trotz), the top goalie (Braden Holtby) and the No. 1 goalscorer (Alex Ovechkin).

It finished second in goals for per game, second in goals against, second in penalty killing and fifth with the power play.

Many saw it as the year the Caps were finally going to break on through. But instead, they ran in to the buzzsaw that was the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And it’s those Penguins that loom large in this conversation. They’re returning nearly all of the Cup-winning team from a year ago, only this time they’ll have a full year of Matt Murray, Carl Hagelin, Trevor Daley, Justin Schultz, Bryan Rust and Connor Sheary (remember, none of those guys played more than 53 games last season).

There are potential roadblocks outside of Pittsburgh, too. Tampa Bay is a big one. Florida could be another. Same with the Islanders and Canadiens, the latter especially if Carey Price returns to form.

And, as mentioned above, there’s always the weight of expectation. While MacLellan was candid with his “two-year window” remarks, they could come back to bite him. It stands to reason Ovechkin and the rest of his teammates will be subjected to the “is there a sense of desperation this season?” narrative, and all the questions that come with it.

So with that said, let’s turn it over to you.

It’s Washington Capitals day at PHT

Washington Capitals right wing Alex Ovechkin (8), from Russia, celebrates his first goal in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Calgary Flames, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP
14 Comments

The Caps were the class of the league during the regular season, finishing atop the standings with 56 wins and 120 points.

Yet in the playoffs, they met a familiar fate.

In what’s become a repeat trend throughout the Alex Ovechkin era, Washington failed to advance to the Eastern Conference final, bowing out to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Penguins in Round 2.

The end result was disappointing, no doubt.

But it’s hard to look at the ’15-16 campaign and not pull some positives.

Year two of the Barry Trotz era — which ended with Trotz winning the Jack Adams as coach of the year — saw eight different capitals score 17 goals or more. Ovechkin hit 50 for the third consecutive season, while newcomers T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams netted 26 and 22 respectively.

Evengy Kuznetsov had a breakthrough campaign, leading the team with a career-high 77 points, and Braden Holtby was terrific all season, capturing his first Vezina Trophy as the league’s top netminder.

The club’s special teams were also a force to be reckoned with, finishing with the fifth-best power play and second-best penalty kill.

Which explains why GM Brian MacLellan was relatively quiet this summer.

MacLellan’s biggest move came at the draft, when he appeared to fix the club’s third-line center issue by acquiring Lars Eller from Montreal. Though Eller did face criticisms during his time as a Canadien, he is coming off a 13-goal, 26-point campaign and should be an upgrade over last year’s bottom-six centers, Jay Beagle and Mike Richards.

The Caps then added some decent depth up front by signing Brett Connolly and Brad Malone in free agency, and MacLellan took care of business with RFA forward Marcus Johansson with a three-year, $13.75 million extension.

The end result?

Next year’s Caps will look an awful lot like this year’s Caps.

The most notable departure is Jason Chimera, the veteran speedester who racked up an impressive 20 goals and 40 points last year.

Outside of that, though, it’s largely the same group returning — no big surprise, given MacLellan said the current group had “a two-year window” to try and win the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.