Under pressure: Randy Carlyle

Getty
3 Comments

This is part of Anaheim Ducks day at PHT…

The big move for the Anaheim Ducks this summer was the decision to fire coach Bruce Boudreau and bring back Randy Carlyle to run things behind the bench. Even though the decision to fire Boudreau wasn’t entirely unexpected given the way the Ducks season ended (yet another Game 7 loss), it is still an extremely risky move given the resumes — and reputations — of these two coaches over the past few years.

In terms of on-ice success and team performance, they have been at very different ends of the coaching spectrum.

The Ducks won a lot of hockey games during Boudreau’s tenure, not only making the playoffs in each of his four full seasons behind the bench, but also winning a division title every season.

Since the start of the 2012-13 season, Boudreau’s first full season in Anaheim, the team won 181 out of 294 regular games (62 percent) and had a pair of 50-win seasons during that stretch. They are just one year removed from being in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals.

But because of that Game 7 loss, combined with all of the other Game 7 losses during the Boudreau era (including the one that knocked them out of the first round this past season against the Nashville Predators), the Ducks made the decision to move on and bring back Carlyle, the man that coached them to their 2007 Stanley Cup championship.

If nothing else, it showed where the level of expectation is with the Ducks front office right now. Simply winning a lot of regular season games (more than just about any other team in the league over the past four years) and losing Game 7 is not going to be good enough. This is a team that feels it can win the Stanley Cup right now, and they expect to get closer to that goal than they have been. That is certainly a fair expectation.

That is also where the pressure on Randy Carlyle comes in, because even though he does have his name on the Stanley Cup as a coach, it is a pretty distant memory at this point. Everything that has come since that championship has, well … it has not been great.

He is also following a coach that, again, has had an extremely impressive resume in the NHL, and even though it hasn’t resulted in a Stanley Cup Final win (or even in a Stanley Cup Final appearance) it is still a consistent and sustained level of success with two different teams. You can certainly criticize his team’s postseason shortcomings, especially when it comes to all of those Game 7’s, but he still puts his team in a position to win every single year.

Carlyle, on the other hand, has qualified for the playoffs just four times in his past eight seasons behind an NHL bench. He has made it beyond the first round only once during that stretch. To be fair, a lot of that time came in Toronto where the talent level on the ice was definitely lacking. But even there the team didn’t quite play as well as it probably should have. Two of his last three seasons in Anaheim (including the 2011-12 season where he was replaced by Boudreau early in the year) also resulted in no trips to the playoffs with a significantly more talented team than what he had to work with in Toronto.

Talent should not be an issue this season because he is going to have a great team to work with.

The Ducks have an outstanding young defense, really good goaltending (even after trading Frederik Andersen to Toronto), and a couple of superstar players at forward. This is a team that this past season was the top team in the league in goals against, had the best power play, the best penalty kill, was top-five in terms of preventing shots on goal, and a top-five possession team.  It should be a top Stanley Cup contender.

If it’s not, and if it takes a step backwards from where it was a year ago, that is not going to be a good look for Carlyle or the decision to replace Boudreau with him.

That is the pressure Randy Carlyle is going to be facing this season.

Sometimes making a change just because you feel like you have to make a change ends up doing more to set the team back than it does to help it get ahead. That is the risk the Ducks are running with this move.

Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

avalanche injuries
André Ringuette/Getty Images
1 Comment

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

“Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

“He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

“I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

“I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

“I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

“It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

“Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

“I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.