Shea Weber

Nashville signs Swedish league standout Alm

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The Nashville Predators have inked Swedish league defenseman Johan Alm to a two-year deal, the club announced on Wednesday.

Alm, 22, was a key member of the Skelleftea AIK team that won back-to-back Swedish Hockey League championships in 2012-13 and ’13-14, finish fourth among all skaters in the 2014 SHL Playoffs in plus/minus rating (+9). Alm’s also established a winning pedigree, having either won titles or been part of runner-up team at the under-18, junior or senior Swedish league levels six times in the last six years.

At 6-foot-2, 209 pounds, Alm will add more size to a Nashville blueline that already includes the likes of captain Shea Weber (6’4, 233), Seth Jones (6’4, 205) and Mattias Ekholm (6’4, 204).

The Preds announced Alm is expected to play in North America this coming season, though it’s unclear if he’ll start in the NHL or with Nashville’s AHL affiliate in Milwaukee.

Trotz: ‘I don’t want to take anything away from the Capitals offensively’

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Barry Trotz was introduced as the 17th head coach in Washington Capitals history on Tuesday, and one of his first objectives was to clarify that the Caps won’t sacrifice offense for defense.

“I don’t want to take anything away offensively at all. I didn’t have enough of that [offense] in Nashville,” Trotz explained. “The team takes on the identity of the top players — in Nashville it was Pekka Rinne, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber.

“The strength of this team is dynamic forwards, size, good depth, leadership and good people in the room. I don’t want to take anything away form the Capitals offensively.”

These quotes, obviously, will be of interest to Washington captain Alex Ovechkin, who has become one of the league’s most polarizing players due to his dynamic goalscoring ability — arguably the best in the NHL — and his lacklustre defensive efforts (like when ex-head coach Adam Oates called him out for quitting on a goal against Dallas, seen here):

To further illustrate the disparity between offensive and defensive abilities, Ovechkin finished with an NHL-best 51 goals this year… and the league’s third-worst plus-minus rating, at minus-35.

Trotz said that while he’s yet to speak about Ovechkin and his role on the team, he does have some ideas about how No. 8 can be successful “within the group.”

“Ovi scores a lot,” Trotz said. “But he can contribute in many ways.”

Despite remarks about keeping the offense intact, it’s pretty obvious Trotz was brought aboard to adjust how the Caps play the game — or at least approach it — from a defensive perspective. New GM Brian MacLellan spoke at length about the club needing to change certain facets of its identity, and said a big reason Trotz was brought aboard was due to the stability and consistency his teams displayed in Nashville.

“One of the things I like about Barry’s coaching style is it’s a consistent, disciplined style for 82 games a year,” MacLellan explained. “They don’t veer off it.”

There’s also the not-so-small issue of Washington getting back into playoff and Stanley Cup contention. The Caps missed for the first time in six seasons this year and while Trotz doesn’t have a wealth of postseason runs — his Preds teams never advanced past the second round — he was adept at getting Nashville into the dance, as it qualified for seven of his last 10 seasons on the job.

Trotz said that the key was to qualify for the playoffs because once the team’s in, anything can happen. And as for how long he thinks it’ll take for Washington to get back to being a Cup contender?

“With a couple of adjustments,” he said, “I don’t see why we can’t be in the mix right away.”

If Penguins want to focus on scouting and development, how ’bout Paul Fenton as GM?

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From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, on the Penguins’ search for a new general manager to replace Ray Shero:

Penguins ownership is said to prefer the new general manager to have a successful background in scouting and development, believing the franchise needs to improve most in those areas.

No real surprise there. As we noted here, the Pens have not drafted a player that’s appeared in more than 100 NHL games since 2007 (Jake Muzzin and Dustin Jeffrey).

In fact, Pittsburgh’s situation — i.e., not getting that all-important “support from the bottom” — closely mirrors that of Vancouver’s. The Canucks hired Jim Benning as their new GM, based largely on the success he’s had as a “talent evaluator.” Back in January, the Sabres went a similar route with Tim Murray.

Among the potential candidates for the Penguins job, if drafting and developing is indeed where ownership wants to focus, current Nashville AGM Paul Fenton might be a fit.

From Fenton’s bio on the Predators’ website:

He has assisted in player acquisitions since joining the Predators and managed the club’s Entry Draft efforts from 2003 (when the team selected Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, Kevin Klein and Alexander Sulzer) until 2008 when he passed the torch to Chief Amateur Scout Jeff Kealty.

In 2012-13, the Predators used 17 players drafted and developed by the team – which included 10 of the team’s top 12 point getters – and five more who were acquired by Nashville before making their NHL debut, meaning 22 of 34 players used by the Predators in each of the last two seasons have been “homegrown.”

Now is the time to explore trading Letang

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This isn’t to say the Pittsburgh Penguins should trade Kris Letang. Let’s get that clear right off the bat. It all depends on the return. Letang may not be the best defensive defenseman in the game, and of course he’s had some serious health issues that may make potential trade partners wary. But he still logs almost 25 minutes a night, and since 2010-11, only Erik Karlsson has averaged more points per game among regular NHL blue-liners.

Which is to say, if the Pens do trade Letang, they better have a plan to replace him, both in the short- and long-term. We imagine re-signing Matt Niskanen would be part of that plan, and extending Paul Martin for a few more years might be a good idea as well. Oh, and they’d probably have to get a decent d-man back in the trade.

So if all that has to happen and it’s such a big risk, why explore dealing him in the first place? Well, for starters, as we wrote just last week, there’s a real demand around the NHL for right-handed d-men who can play regular minutes and help a team’s power play. Would Detroit be interested? You can bet Ken Holland would at least answer Ray Shero’s call.

Letang, 27, is also about to start an eight-year, $58 million contract, which comes with a cap hit of $7.25 million. Only Shea Weber and Ryan Suter have higher hits among NHL d-men. And remember, the Penguins already have two of the three highest cap hits in the league, with Sidney Crosby ($8.7 million) and Evgeni Malkin ($9.5 million) also on the books. Bottom line: having three of the league’s top 16 cap hits presents a challenge when it comes to improving the rest of the team, and teams that lack depth don’t win Stanley Cups.

Finally, let’s not forget Olli Maatta, 19, and Derrick Pouliot, 20, a pair of blue-chip youngsters from the 2012 draft. The former is already with the Pens; the latter was recently named the WHL’s top defenseman. If all goes well, both will be excellent NHLers. Again, if all goes well. No guarantees.

Crosby, Getzlaf, Giroux are your Hart Trophy finalists

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Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf, and Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux are the three finalists for the Hart Trophy, awarded “to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team.”

From NHL.com:

Crosby posted 36 goals as well as a League-leading 68 assists and 104 points to capture his second career Art Ross Trophy and lead the Penguins to their second consecutive division title. He registered points in 60 of the 80 games he played in (75.0%), including 30 multi-point performances, and never went more than two consecutive games without registering a point.

Getzlaf scored a career-high 31 goals and ranked second in the League with 87 points to power the Ducks to the top record in the Western Conference for the first time in franchise history. He posted a 14-game point streak Nov. 15-Dec. 15 (6-11—17), the longest in the NHL since the 2011-12 season.

Giroux matched a career high with 28 goals and finished third in the NHL scoring race with 86 points to help the Flyers bounce back from a 3-9-0 start to the season to qualify for the playoffs for the sixth time in the past seven years. After being held pointless in his first five games and not scoring a goal until his 16th contest, Giroux totaled 28-51—79 in his final 67 outings of the season, an average of 1.18 points per game.

Let’s face it, it would be a shock if Crosby doesn’t win, given he led the league in scoring by a mile, with 17 points more than second-place Getzlaf.

Crosby has only won the Hart once, back in 2007. Alex Ovechkin has won it three times since then, with Henrik Sedin, Corey Perry and Evgeni Malkin nabbing one each.

As for the so-called snubs…

— Semyon Varlamov. Pretty darn valuable to the Avalanche, who would’ve struggled to make the playoffs without excellent goaltending.
— The Selke Trophy types: Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron, and Anze Kopitar all had fine seasons for playoff teams.
— No defensemen made the final three, but we’d be surprised if Duncan Keith didn’t get a few votes from the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association. Meanwhile, Ryan Suter played almost 30 minutes a night for Minnesota, more than two minutes higher than any other player in the NHL averaged. Nashville’s Shea Weber — the leader among d-men in goals, with 23 — got at least one vote.