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‘That’s a crock’: Don’t ask NHL coaches to fix stagnant scoring, says Torts

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Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella is a big proponent of the NHL figuring out ways to increase scoring.

His only exception is any discussion that begins with the league placing the burden on coaches to solve the problem.

“That’s a crock,” Tortorella said, bluntly making his case that a coach’s job security relies on victories rather than how many goals a team scores.

“If everybody wants a wide-open game, guarantee the coaches a seven- or eight-year deal, and they’ll let them go play,” he said. “But when you struggle and you lose games, and you’re not winning, they’re looking at the coach. He’s the first one to go.”

Or as Sabres coach Dan Bylsma put it: “I don’t know of any coach that’s been fired because their team gives up zero goals.”

Concerns over a lack of scoring in what’s become known as the “Dead Puck Era” continue after offensive production remained stagnant during the regular season that ended Sunday. Teams combined to score 6,565 goals, just 16 more than the previous year, according to STATS. And it’s the fourth consecutive 82-game season the league has failed to top 6,600, which would mean teams were averaging at least 2.68 goals per game.

More troubling is this year’s total is a whopping 858 goals fewer than 2005-06, when the NHL revamped its rules to eliminate clutching and grabbing in a bid to open up offense. That was the last season goals averaged more than three goals per game.

What’s happened since is coaches have adapted to the new rules by devising ways to clog up the area in front of the net, and teaching defenders to steer puck-carriers toward the boards without interfering.

Another issue, which the league is set to address, is goalies wearing oversized equipment. The NHL is expected to introduce new rules next season in which the jersey and equipment worn by a goalie is based on a player’s individual size.

Talk of placing an emphasis on coaches teaching offense is not a new one.

The topic was brought up by members of the league’s competition committee in 2007, according to the minutes of the meeting released as part of the evidence in the class-action concussion lawsuit filed against the NHL by former players.

Former Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe proposed introducing some type of illegal defense rule to force teams to play differently. Former NHL goalie Marty Turco is noted as saying: “Drastic changes like bigger nets will be hard for most people to swallow. Agrees that illegal defense might be a possible solution.”

Former Atlanta Thrasher GM Don Waddell blamed the coaches in 2007, which is no different than what Sabres GM Tim Murray suggested in November, when he said: “Our coaches have to come up with offensive schemes to match defensive schemes.”

Murray, however, will acknowledge it’s easier said than done.

And like Tortorella, Bylsma said the inherent pressures that come with the job leads to coaches taking a more conservative approach.

“We can give lip-service by saying we need to coach more offense, but that’s not the reality,” Bylsma said. “It’s way easier to coach defense than it is it coach offense.”

Tortorella said reducing the size of goalie equipment should help. He also noted a proposal to redesign goal posts so they’re configured to angle pucks into the net.

The NHL’s offensive decline mirrors the drop in the number of penalties called.

In 2005-06, teams were averaging 5.85 power-play opportunities per game, which resulted in teams averaging 1.03 power-play goals. Last season, teams averaged just 3.11 power-play chances per game, which resulted in teams averaging 0.58 power-play goals.

On the bright side, the NHL’s decision to switch the four-on-four overtime format to three-on-three paid off with a large decrease in games being decided by shootout.

A league-high 168 games ended in overtime, while just 107 were decided by shootout last season. It marked the first time since the shootout was introduced in 2005-06 that more than half the games ended in overtime.

Minnesota Wild forward Jason Pominville called three-on-three good for the game.

“Goalies probably don’t like it, but as fans, we’re all fans of the game, I think it was really intriguing and fun to watch,” Pominville said.

Murray agreed.

“It’s only your better players that get on the ice, so your fans get an extra look at them,” Murray said. “A lot of open ice, so I’m good with it.”

 

Steven Stamkos will not play in Game 4; not ruled out for series

Stamkos Game 4
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Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper announced that captain Steven Stamkos will not be available for Friday’s Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final (8 p.m. ET, NBC; livestream) against the Dallas Stars.

Stamkos has been battling a lower-body injury for months and has only played in one game since the end of February.

That one game was the Lightning’s Game 3 win over the Stars, and his appearance lasted just a little less than three minutes. He made the most of that time on the ice by scoring a goal on his only shot before leaving the game shortly after. He did not return.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Cooper said that even though Stamkos is not playing on Friday the team is not ruling him out for the remainder of the series.

Of course, the series may not have many games left. If the Lightning win on Friday they would have a chance to clinch the series on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC). If Stamkos could not finish Game 3, and is out for Game 4, it would seem to be a stretch to assume he would suddenly be ready for Game 5 on Saturday.

In Stamkos’ absence the Lightning have been carried by All-Star defenseman Victor Hedman, as well as their top two forward lines. The top line, led by Nikita Kucherov and his consistent production, has been especially dominant, as has their newly formed second line that was pieced together at the trade deadline.

Including the Round-Robin phase the Lightning are 16-6 this postseason.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 2-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

MORE: Conn Smythe Watch: Victor Hedman makes his move

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.

Senators waive Bobby Ryan for purposes of a buyout

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The Senators have placed Bobby Ryan on waivers for the purpose of buying out the remainder of his contract.

Ryan came to Ottawa via trade from the Ducks during the 2013 off-season. The 33-year-old forward played 455 games with the Senators, scoring 107 goals and recording 266 points.

Friday marks the opening of the NHL’s first buyout window. It will run through Oct. 8 at 5 p.m. ET.

Buying out the final two years of Ryan’s contract will spread across Ottawa’s cap for the next four seasons. According to CapFriendly, the Senators will have a $3,583,333M cap hit for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 NHL seasons and then a $1,833,333M hit for 2022-23 and 2023-24.

This move will save the Senators $3.67M. GM Pierre Dorion will have plenty of money to spend in free agency in a few weeks, or perhaps take on a bad contract or two if there’s sweetener involved.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Ryan was a four-time 30-goal scorer while in Anaheim but his offense took a dip over his final seasons in Ottawa. He netted 23 in his first year there and then 22 in 2015-16, but he never reached 20 goals again. This past season he took a leave of absence from the Senators to deal with an alcohol problem. He returned in February and recorded an emotional hat trick in his first home game back.

For his efforts, Ryan was awarded the 2019-20 Masterton Trophy by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

Dorion is in makeover mode and his recent moves show he’s preparing for the future. Mark Borowiecki and goaltender Craig Anderson were told they won’t be back, and now Ryan will be gone as well. A youth movement is in place and will be helped by the team owning nine picks in the opening three rounds of the upcoming draft.

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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.

Lightning-Stars stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final

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NBC’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Friday’s Stanley Cup Final matchup between the Lightning and Stars. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. Watch the Lightning-Stars stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Boosted by the long-awaited and “inspirational” return of Steven Stamkos, the Tampa Bay Lightning got goals from all three of their first-line forwards, their top defenseman and their captain in a threee-goal win to move within two wins of the franchise’s second Stanley Cup. For the second straight game, Tampa jumped out to a multi-goal first-period lead before the Stars got on the board. The Dallas Stars cut the deficit to one entering the second period, but the middle frame was all Lightning, outscoring Dallas 3-0 in large part thanks to a 21-4 shot differential.

After Game 2, Kevin Shattenkirk said, “when we play our best game it’s hard for teams to win.” In Game 3, Tampa played one of its best games this postseason, getting major contributions from its usual suspects in the top line trio and Hedman and also a quantifiable (one goal from Stamkos) and unquantifiable lift from the return of its captain.

The top line of Palat, Point and Kucherov carried the day once again, combining for three goals and six points in Game 3, their second straight game with four-plus points. Point leads all players this postseason with 11 goals and with Palat and Hedman also reaching double-digit goals in Game 3, the trio make Tampa the first team in a decade to have three players with 10-plus goals in the same postseason.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Tyler Seguin has struggled mightily in the 2020 playoffs. The 28-year-old has now gone 12 consecutive games without a goal and has just one assist over that span (which was six games ago). His last goal came in Game 3 of the Second Round vs. Colorado

Along with Seguin, some of Dallas’ other forwards have been quiet recently as well:

Jamie Benn: Zero points this series after ending West Final on a three-game goal streak
Denis Gurianov: Zero points, three shots this series (OT goal and assist in series-clincher vs. Vegas)
Alex Radulov: Zero goals, three assists this series

Tampa can become the first team in the NHL expansion era (1967-present) to win the Stanley Cup the season after being swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Friday, September 25, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
ON THE CALL: Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Stars stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 2-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary

Stanley Cup Final Roundtable: Series standouts, surprises

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What’s the biggest thing that’s stood out to you through three games?

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: The flip in special teams execution for both teams. From the start of the First Round through the conference finals, the Dallas Stars‘ power play was dominant (26.5%) and their penalty kill was strong (83.3%). Meanwhile, Tampa’s extra man unit was down 6% from the regular season to 17.9%.

The Lighting’s power play issues were well-documented heading into the Stanley Cup Final, but that unit was woken up since Game 2 and is at 27.3% in the series with three goals in two games. Dallas has only one goal in 11 opportunities. Tampa holds a PK advantage of 90.9% to 72.7%.

Special teams can decide a series, and right now, through three games, they’ve made a huge difference for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: The Lightning’s physicality, particularly though a grinding playoff run, has been unexpected. I truly expected fatigue to be a bigger factor for Tampa Bay. Combined with the Stars’ mix of speed, size, and stinginess, I thought the Bolts would be forced to the outside a lot more. This Lightning team isn’t just skill, and all of the talk about depth additions isn’t out of line. Consider that Tyler Johnson (!) was credited with nine hits during Game 3 alone.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: I want to see that Andrei Vasiilevskiy might actually be underrated. Crazy to say about a goalie that has been a Vezina Finalist in each of the past three seasons, but there are so many other stars on this team (Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos when he is in the lineup) that we kind of overlook the goalie that is also one of the best players in the world at his position. He has literally played every minute for the Lightning in the Return To Play and he has been great while doing so. In any other year on any other team he would be a runaway Conn Smythe favorite, and on this team in this postseason he is just sort of like an afterthought.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/EditorThe thing that has stood out to me has been how the Lightning have been dominating the play. The Stars got off to a quick start in Game 1 but the Lightning came back to outshoot them 22-2 in the third period and with the exception of the middle frame of Game 2 when Tampa Bay took four minor penalties, the Stars have looked rather ordinary. It is obvious to me that Tampa Bay is the best team in the NHL and Dallas needs Anton Khudobin to stand on his head and that could be difficult as he must be tired, playing more games in the last seven weeks (23 games) than he has at any other time in his career.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: The level of play from each team’s top line. For the Lightning, they continue to receive significant contributions from Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point, and Nikita Kucherov. That trio has combined for 10 points in the team’s two victories. On the Dallas side, it’s been radio silence from Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin: zero points through three games for each. Benn was instrumental in the Vegas series, but that production has slowed. Meanwhile, Seguin is mired in a massive slump, with just one point (an assist) over his last 12 games.

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Which player has surprised you (good or bad) so far?

Sean Leahy, NHL writer: They’re good, we’ve known that, but Tampa’s top line has been unbelievable to watch. Kucherov is in beast mode. Point is making a Conn Smythe case. Every goal Palat scores seems to be a big one. Via Natural Stat Trick, through three games of the Cup Final, the Lightning have outshot the Stars 23-5 at 5-on-5 when the trio is on the ice. They’ve combined for three goals to one against in over 34 minutes of even strength time together.

James O’Brien, NHL writer: Besides Stamkos showing how much he could accomplish in a few minutes (reflects for a moment on how long it often takes me to do the dishes), this series has served as a helpful reminder of how good Ondrej Palat is. During the last two games, Palat scored two goals and one assist, pushing him to 10 goals and 16 points in 22 playoff games. While I don’t use plus/minus to condemn a player (or really use it much at all), it can quickly give you an idea of if a player is going through happy or bummer-y times (sorry for the scientific jargon). Palat is a +13 during these playoffs after enjoying a +25 rating during the regular season. Palat doesn’t deserve Kucherov or Point-type attention, yet he’s an all-too-easily forgotten contributor who can fit right in with top linemates.

Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Can I say Steven Stamkos? Because I definitely want to say Steven Stamkos. Here is a guy that did not play a game in more than six months, was clearly not 100 percent, then showed up in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, played two minutes, and scored a huge goal to help set the tone for a win. He not only scored a goal, it was an absolutely beautiful play to dodge a check at the blue line and then pick the corner off the rush against an NHL goalie. It was starting to get to the point where I did not expect to see him play at all, and I still don’t think we will see him play again in this series, and he just showed up for five shifts and did that like it was nothing.

Michael Finewax, Rotoworld Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: I have been surprised by the lack of scoring from Tyler Seguin. He must be injured and playing through it as he has only two goals and six assists in 23 games. That is tied for eighth best on the Stats with Radek Faksa who has not seen the ice since September 10. Seguin is averaging .35 points per game in the post-season, which is better than only his rookie season in the NHL where he averaged .30 points per game as an 18-year-old. The only logical explanation is an injury but his lack of scoring is hurting the Stars a lot as they attempt to win their second Stanley Cup.

Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: Anton Khudobin has come back to Earth. To pin the losses in Games 2 and 3 solely on Khudobin would be unfair, but clearly the level of play he displayed in the Western Conference Final (and even Game 1 of the Cup Final) has dipped a bit. Perhaps the Lightning exposed a weakness, as all five goals in Game 3 were scored on Khudobin’s blocker side. With the back-to-back coming up this weekend, all eyes will be on the Dallas netminder to see if he can bounce back.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 2-1)

Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Game 4: Friday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC

*if necessary