Undrafted Russian invitee impresses at Carolina prospect camp

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Carolina had a surprise standout at their prospect camp this week in the form of an undrafted Russian invitee from the OHL.

Forward Sergey Tolchinsky surprised many with his play and as Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer reports, Hurricanes management certainly took notice.

“He’s probably the biggest surprise or explosive guy this week who made people look at him,” Kirk Muller said. “He didn’t get drafted – let’s be honest, probably people said it was his size. There’s a good example of you look at him, you get to know him, he’s got a great attitude and is a fun-loving guy and he plays hard and he produces.

“He’s a guy that I would say that really made us turn our heads.”

As for his size, that could be an issue. At 5’8″ 164 pounds, he’s not at all big. Then again, sometimes you don’t need to be big to have success in the NHL. Just ask Tampa’s Martin St. Louis or Ottawa’s Cory Conacher about that.

Last year, his first season with the Soo Greyhounds, Tolchinsky showed he’s got game scoring 26 goals with 25 assists. He’ll have time to develop more and impress other teams should Carolina not move to sign him. At the very least, he’s left a great impression for an undrafted player.

(Photo: OHL Images)

NHL’s head coaching recycling bin is alive and well

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November has not been kind to NHL head coaches.

Edmonton’s firing of Todd McLellan on Tuesday was the fourth head coaching change this month and put him on a list with John Stevens (Los Angeles), Joel Quenneville (Chicago) and Mike Yeo (St. Louis) who have all been replaced over the past few weeks.

This comes after no team made an in-season coaching change a year ago.

All four of the recently fired coaches had been head coaches in the NHL before their most recent stops. History indicates all four of them have a pretty good chance of being head coaches again in the not-too-distant future. Not only because each has had varying degrees of success in the league, but because NHL teams tend to go through the same people when they look for their newest head coach. Three of them (McLellan, Stevens, and Yeo) were replaced by coaches with previous head coaching experience in the league, including Ken Hitchcock in Edmonton who will be getting the chance to coach his fifth different team (if you count his second stint with Dallas during the 2017-18 season, this is actually the sixth different time he has been hired to be the head coach of an NHL team).

Stevens was replaced by former Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins, while Yeo was replaced by former Philadelphia Flyers head coach Craig Berube.

[Related: Ken Hitchcock returns to coaching, replaces Todd McLellan in Edmonton]

The numbers on this are pretty remarkable.

Since the start of the 2005-06 season there have been (including interim coaches) 154 coaching changes in the NHL.

Those changes involved only 102 different coaches getting jobs, meaning 52 of those changes involved someone getting a second or third chance in the league.

In some cases, teams went back to the same coaches that they had previously fired.

Some examples:

  • Randy Carlyle is currently coaching the Anaheim Ducks for the second time after having been fired by the team during the 2011-12 season.
  • Hitchcock was fired by the Stars during the 2001-02 season, and after stops in Philadelphia, Columbus and St. Louis, was hired again by the Stars a year ago for one season.
  • During the 2002-03 season the Montreal Canadiens fired Michel Therrien and replaced him with Claude Julien. The Canadiens eventually fired Julien a few years later and after going through a handful of different coaches went back to … Michel Therien for the start of the 2012-13 season. After four-and-a-half years the Canadiens had seen enough from Therien and fired him. His replacement? Claude Julien.
  • Paul Maurice coached the Carolina Hurricanes from 1996 until the middle of the 2003-04 season when he replaced by Peter Laviolette. Laviolette coached the team for four-and-a-half seasons until he was fired mid-season and replaced by … Paul Maurice.
  • Jacques Lemaire and Larry Robinson both had multiple stops with the New Jersey Devils throughout their coaching careers.

This is pretty unique to the NHL.

It is not that the other sports don’t often times see coaches get second and third chances with different teams, it’s that it happens in the NHL significantly more often than any other sport.

None of the other sports see teams bring back coaches they previously fired as often as the NHL does, either. It does happen on occasion — Billy Martin and the New York Yankees; Jon Gruden’s current madness with the Oakland Raiders — but it is extremely rare.

For comparisons sake, let’s look at the coaching numbers in the other three major North American sports leagues over the same time period mentioned above.

Since 2005 the NBA has seen 137 coaching changes. Those changes have included 94 different coaches, meaning 43 (31 percent of the changes) involved someone getting a second (or third) chance.

Major League baseball teams went through 114 managerial changes since 2005 involving 93 different people. Only 21 (18 percent of the changes) involved a manager getting a second chance.

NFL teams had almost identical numbers, having made 114 changes involving 92 different people. That means only 22 (19 percent of the changes) involved a coach getting a second chance.

Just a little more than 34 percent of the NHL’s changes since 2005 involved a coach getting a second chance somewhere else.

So if it seems like NHL teams keep going to the same people when they are in need of a new coach, it is because they generally do. At least more so than every other sport in North America.

This is not to say it is necessarily a bad decision to go after someone with previous head coaching experience. Any team in need of a coach that is not at least picking up the phone and giving Quenneville a call to gauge his interest, for example, is not doing itself any favors. In the end there are only 31 jobs in the league, and even when you take into account all of the assistants and head coaches at lower levels of the sport (AHL, Junior Hockey, NCAA, etc.) there is still a limited number of options.

It just seems like sometimes even those options get consistently overlooked in favor of the same eight or nine coaches that keep getting hired, fired, and re-hired by different teams.

Sometimes it works. Many times it does not.

Sometimes there is nothing wrong with a fresh voice, a new idea, or a new person breaking into the head coaching ranks. The NHL always seems loathe to explore those options in the name of playing it safe or going with experience.

Even if that previous experience was not always great.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Sabres small favorites on NHL odds hosting Flyers on Wednesday

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The Buffalo Sabres are on their longest win streak in nine seasons, and are at home against a team that has yet to prove it can beat conference opponents regularly.

The Sabres, led by center Jack Eichel, are -120 moneyline favorites on the NHL odds for Wednesday night against the +100 underdog Philadelphia Flyers with a 6.0 total at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The Sabres are 6-0 in their last six games, for their longest win streak since the 2009-10 season, and the OddsShark NHL Database shows that they are 6-3 in their last nine games against Eastern Conference opponents. The Flyers are 0-5 in their last five conference games.

The Flyers might be the epitome of a consistently inconsistent team, with a 9-9-2 record this season which includes being 3-3 as a underdog on the road. There are bright spots aplenty, including right wing Travis Konecny stepping up as a top-end forward alongside center Sean Couturier and left wing Claude Giroux. However, the Flyers have one of the worst goals-against records in the league and are also second-last in penalty killing at 68.6 percent, with the power play not much better at 24th in the 31-team in the NHL.

Media reports indicate that the Flyers will have goalie Alex Lyon make his season debut.

The Sabres are 13-6-2, including a 4-1 record as a home-ice favorite at KeyBank Centre. The -120 moneyline suggests the jury is still out on a team that is fourth overall in the NHL standings on the virtue of a 7-0-2 record in one-goal games, so the time might be ripe to back them while they still keep betting value.

The top line of Eichel with wings Jason Pominville and Jeff Skinner has been productive, while Buffalo has offensive depth for the first time in several seasons. Left wing Conor Sheary, for one, was a Flyers killer during his Pittsburgh Penguins days.

On special teams, the Sabres have been better a man down than a man up, ranking fifth in penalty killing (82.5 percent) but 22nd on the power play (17.4 percent). Sabres goalie Carter Hutton has won four consecutive starts and has a 2.61 goals-against average and .917 save percentage, and one would expect Buffalo to stay with the hot hand.

The total has gone UNDER in seven of the Flyers’ last 10 road games as the underdog. However, the total has gone OVER in seven of the Flyers’ last 10 games against the Eastern Conference.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Panthers’ Trocheck has surgery for fractured ankle

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Florida Panthers forward Vincent Trocheck has had surgery for a fractured ankle and may play again this season.

Trocheck was hurt when twisted his right leg while chasing the puck near the end boards in Monday night’s game at Ottawa. He was taken off the ice on a stretcher.

”It’s never easy to see a player and person like him suffer an injury like this, but we are confident that he will make a full recovery and be back on the ice with our team this season,” Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said in a statement Wednesday.

The 2017 NHL All-Star has three goals and 14 points in 18 games this season.

Florida recalled forward Denis Malgin from Springfield of the AHL in advance of Wednesday night’s game at Tampa Bay.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Jim Montgomery on adjusting to the NHL, the Stars and his ‘process’ (PHT Q&A)

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Jim Montgomery is going to miss Ken Hitchcock around the rink in Dallas. The Stars new head coach, who replaced Hitchcock in the offseason, spent plenty of time around the team’s old bench boss, soaking up his wisdom about the NHL. 

Working as a consultant for the team after “retiring” in April, Hitchcock gave Montgomery plenty of valuable information, which has come in handy since making the jump from the NCAA to NHL.

“His experience in the league, understanding travel, practice time and then understanding the people here, the players, and just him sharing what he thought the players were and what their maximum ceiling was and how to help them get there,” Montgomery told Pro Hockey Talk on Tuesday.

Hitchcock is back behind a bench after the Edmonton Oilers hired him to replace Todd McLellan. It’s his sixth job in the NHL and came only 221 days after his retirement announcement in April. He’s the definition of a hockey lifer.

“That’s right. It’s just in his blood,” said Montgomery. “Most coaches are like that but he’s probably the zenith of that description.”

We spoke with Montgomery this week about his transition to the NHL, how the Stars are adjusting to his “process,” and who really deserves credit for coining the “Legion of Doom” nickname given to the famous Philadelphia Flyers line of Mikael Renberg, Eric Lindros and John LeClair.

Enjoy.

PHT: We’re a quarter of the way through the season. How would you assess your team right now and where they’re at in terms of adjusting to your system?

MONTGOMERY: “I would say we’ve been very inconsistent, which I expected because it’s very different, the way I want us to play than the previous two coaches. Then you factor in this is their third coach in three years and they’re adjusting for the third time to a new system. I just knew it was going to take time, so I expected the inconsistency with the on-ice execution. The inconsistency in work habits and effort has been my biggest surprise to the job. I think the biggest pleasant surprise has been how all these guys are eager to learn and I haven’t gotten the testing that I expected. These guys are good people and they want to do what you want to do. We just need to change the culture of what our expectations of work is on a daily basis.”

How much of an adjustment has it been for you going from the college hockey schedule to an NHL schedule where it’s 3-4 games a week, almost every other night?

“That’s been a huge adjustment. As much as you try and prepare in the summer time and watch other teams and watch film every day, trying to simulate meetings, I did that for two weeks with the staff, nothing compares to the grind; because now you’re combining emotion, results, win, losses, trying to stay even-keel, dealing with players that are confident, players that aren’t confident on a daily basis, and trying to get them charged up again to feel good about themselves within 48 hours — sometimes 24.

“Hitch told me that once you get to the 20-game mark you start to get in a rhythm. I’m starting to feel I’m more in a rhythm of how to prepare, where to spend my time the most efficiently so that I’m not overtaxing myself. And thank God I hired great people in Rick Bowness, Todd Nelson, Stu Barnes and Jeff Reese to help me every day. I don’t know where I’d be without them.”

I’m sure you had one of these as a player, but do coaches have a ‘Welcome to the NHL’ moment? Did you have one of those?

“Yes and no. I don’t know if that was it but when we played Toronto we were playing well. I talked to [Mike] Babcock after the game and he goes ‘You’ve got to be fearful in this league. Every day you’ve got to be scared because every day’s a new challenge.’ And he’s right because what I’ve found from that conversation is it doesn’t matter if you’re playing a team that’s in the bottom of the standings or the top of the standings. You might get their worst or their best, but really it’s about your own team respecting the league and respecting the opponent every night so that you play with fear.”

It’s a small list of NCAA coaches who made the jump to the NHL. You and Dave Hakstol are the only ones since the early ’80s. Why do you think NHL teams are skittish about going down that route?

“We’re getting the opportunities now because percentage of college players in the NHL has grown since I played [at Maine, 1989-93]. Most of the general managers used to be guys that came from the CHL. Now most of your general managers are coming from college-based backgrounds, a lot of them anyways. So that’s changed, and the youthfulness of the league. The young players you’re dealing with they need more information and direct communication and feedback. I don’t know if that’s millennials or just you’re dealing with the average age of a roster that’s much younger than it used to be 20 years ago. Your third and fourth line is not 10-year veterans anymore.”

At what point during your coaching career did you feel ready to make the NHL jump?

“I think after I won at Denver [2017 NCAA title] I thought I was ready. I was very fortunate to have a great job and I wasn’t going to leave unless I was leaving to work with the right people, and that means owners, GM and an opportunity to win because of the roster. I was very fortunate and lucky that Jim Nill thought of me to give me an opportunity to lead the Dallas Stars.”

Your “process”, which many learned about from The Coaches Site article you wrote in 2016, consisted of seven points. Did that need to be tweaked for the NHL level?

“Yeah, I moved it down to five because there’s so many games and with so many games you can only focus on so many things. I narrowed the focus down. When I had seven in college, I moved it from five to seven from junior where I coached 80 games a year with playoffs. I just thought that was the right thing to do and I knew which two were the least important.”

You spoke about the inconsistency in the Stars’ game so far. Do you feel your team is closer to hitting those five areas or is there plenty of work to do?

“Well, those five areas narrow your focus to concentrate on details within the game to possibly give you success. The numbers that we’ve worked out in the process, when we’ve hit the three most important ones we’re 11-1-1. It’s really not subjective. You can see it, the effort in those areas. Special teams is obvious. Three or less odd-man rushes is obvious, and winning the net-front battle is a little subjective, but it’s pretty obvious when you’re watching the game if you’re winning that.

“For the way I want our team to play, those are critical areas. Plus I want to be a possession team, so win faceoffs, and that’s team faceoffs. It’s within five seconds that we have possession, whether it’s a win or a loss. The last one is zero undisciplined penalties. We’ve gotten better in those areas but a lot of it is there’s so many teams bunched up because there’s so many games in so many nights that you can’t have your A-game. Where we’ve got to get consistent is valuing our details that allow us to have success on nights when we don’t have legs. That’s where we have, I think, not embraced the process enough.”

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Finally, you’re credited with coming up with the “Legion of Doom” nickname. Where did that come from? Were you a big wrestling fan?

“My buddy that I grew up with playing [midget] hockey and my linemate [Tommy Cacioppo] was a huge Flyers fan. When I was there I think we had just beaten someone 7-4 and I think the ‘Legion of Doom’ had something like 16 points in the game. He’s like, ‘You can’t stop them. They’re big, they’re strong, they’re skilled.’ I said ‘Tommy, I’ve got the best seat in the house. I’m watching them a lot from the bench.’ I said, ‘You’re doomed. They can beat you any way they want to, so you’re doomed.’ He was the wrestling fan. He goes, ‘It’s the Legion of Doom’ and I said it to a reporter and it took off.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.