Getty Images

Brian Gibbons taking advantage of NHL opportunity with Devils

1 Comment

NEWARK, N.J. — Two full seasons in the American Hockey League, after a taste of NHL life, would give some players a mentality that a regular spot in The Show may never come again. Not Brian Gibbons.

The New Jersey Devils forward wasn’t wondering when he’d get another NHL shot after 66 games over two seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets. He was thankful just for the opportunity.

“[I was] lucky to play the game still. It’s not the NHL, but it’s still a lot of fun,” Gibbons, 29, told PHT on Wednesday. “Great guys down there. It’s tough hockey, good hockey.”

The Devils are one of the early-season surprises atop the Metropolitan Division with a 11-4-2 record. It’s not just that they’re having success, they’re actually fun to watch again. The speedy Gibbons is one reason why.

The leading goal scorer for the Devils isn’t Taylor Hall or Adam Henrique or Kyle Palmieri or even last June’s No. 1 overall draft pick Nico Hischier. Gibbons is the one currently holding that title with eight, which isn’t bad for someone whose last NHL goal before this season came on April 3, 2014.

What’s been the secret to his success? The answer is certainly not linemate Blake Coleman’s pickle juice, which Gibbons noted he stays “far away” from.

“I’ve just been trying to play the right way, really,” he said, “skate hard, work hard defensively. Obviously playing in the offensive zone as much as you can, try to get pucks behind their D and then once you’re in the O-zone try and make plays.”

Inconsistency plagued Gibbons earlier in his career, keeping him from earning a regular NHL job. His first professional coach is now his current coach — John Hynes. The two, along with Devils assistant coach Alain Nasreddine, were in Wilkes-Barre together for parts of three seasons from 2011-2014. Gibbons moved on to the Columbus, splitting the 2014-15 season between the Blue Jackets and their affiliate in Springfield. The next year he was in Hartford, trying to impress the New York Rangers for a callup that never happened. When no contract offers came his way in the summer of 2016, he earned a spot with the Devils’ AHL team in Albany after a tryout and planted the seeds for an NHL return.

A 16-goal, 38-points campaign impressed Hynes and Devils general manager Ray Shero (who was GM in Pittsburgh when Gibbons was there) enough that he earned an invite to main camp this fall. He fit into his role on the team and won himself a job.

“He’s really bought in to what his identity is as a player. He’s fast, he’s tenacious, he’s very smart. He’s a very good penalty killer. He understands how he needs to play,” Hynes said on Wednesday. “The biggest difference was when he was in Wilkes-Barre there was lots of pockets like that and inconsistencies, but the consistency level and professionalism he has now is allowing his talent and skill set to come out. It’s nice to see a guy like that come in and earn a job, and so far he hasn’t given it up. You want those things on your team because it helps drive internal competition.”

Gibbons and Coleman had a head start on chemistry development at the NHL level after a year of playing together in Albany. The transition was seamless and each knows what to expect from the other. The trio’s success is a small snapshot of a bigger picture. The Devils are one of the league’s top teams through nearly 20 games because of balanced scoring (14 different players have recorded a goal) and Cory Schneider’s play (.935 even strength save percentage) in net. It hasn’t always looked pretty, but they’ve been able to get the job done.

“[We’re] finding different ways to win games, whether it’s getting a lead and playing with a lead or coming from behind or goalies stealing us a game or power play getting a couple goals late,” Gibbons said. “It just seems, for the most part, that when we’ve needed a big play we’ve gotten it and we’ve gotten it from different guys, which is key when you don’t have to rely on one player and can just do it as a group.”

We’ll see if Gibbons can keep up the productivity and finally establish himself as a regular NHL player. When he was down in the AHL he never viewed his time there as one big tryout, hoping to impress a GM to get called up. He was only concerned with what he could control and that was helping his team.

That perspective can be credited to age and maturity.

“I’m at a different stage in my life,” Gibbons said. “Me and my fiancee have a little one-year-old. It’s nice to be able to share it with them. She was with me when I was in Columbus but he wasn’t around. It’s nice for them to be able to share this with me and just enjoying each day.”

————

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.

Together Again: Red Wings add Bylsma to Blashill’s staff

Getty
Leave a comment

The Detroit Red Wings have added a Stanley Cup-winning head coach to their staff, as they announced the hiring of Dan Bylsma as an assistant coach.

The obvious connection here is that Bylsma was part of Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill’s staff with Team USA at the 2018 World Hockey Championship. They helped lead the U.S. to a bronze medal in the tournament.

“I know that Dan will make a great impact on our team, and we’re excited to add him to the bench,” Blashill said in a team release. “His resume speaks for itself, including the Stanley Cup championship and Jack Adams Award. I also had the unique opportunity to work with Dan at this year’s World Championship, and that experience leaves no doubt that Dan will bring innovative ideas and tremendous attention to detail to our coaching staff.”

Bylsma was out of the NHL last season after being let go by the Buffalo Sabres after the 2016-17 campaign. The 47-year-old failed to make the postseason in both seasons in Buffalo. He has a career record of 320-190-55 over eight seasons as a head coach.

This is a homecoming of sorts for Bylsma, who was born in Grand Haven, Michigan.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Time for Sabres to upgrade in goal

Getty
Leave a comment

Reports have suggested that the Buffalo Sabres will not give starting netminder Robin Lehner a qualifying offer, which means he’ll be a free agent on July 1st. That means there’s an opening for a new number one goalie in Buffalo.

Lehner hasn’t had much to work with since he joined the Sabres, but he’s had plenty of issues with consistency and staying healthy. Again, the inconsistency isn’t all on him because the players in front of him haven’t been good enough. Still, his tenure in Buffalo didn’t go as planned.

The Sabres have a franchise center in Jack Eichel and they’re about to land a franchise defenseman in Rasmus Dahlin, so it’s time they land a goalie that can help push them in the right direction. What are their options?

Last season, the team gave 24-year-old Linus Ullmark a look between the pipes, and he did relatively well over five games. Ullmark will likely be one of the two goaltenders in Buffalo in 2018-19.

For those hoping Botterill will dip his toe in the free-agent pool, you may be disappointed. There’s no number one goalie available this year. Top options include: Kari Lehtonen, Jaroslav Halak, Cam Ward, Jonathan Bernier and Carter Hutton.

Could one of those veterans be paired with Ullmark? Sure, but how much confidence would that give this Buffalo team. Hutton has been one of the better backup goalies in the league over the last couple of years. That would likely be the best free-agent fit for the Sabres. Management might be able to land him if they can sell the idea of him playing quite a bit more than he’s used to.

Hutton could be an option.

The only other way to land a goalie right now is by trading for one.

There’s Philipp Grubauer, who’s currently a Washington Capital. Acquiring Grubauer would cost the Sabres an asset, but he could still be worth looking into if they believe he’s capable of playing at the same level he did in the second half of the season. The 26-year-old has never played more than 35 games in a season, so making him a starter won’t come without risk. At this point though, there are no slam-dunk number one goalies available, so GM Jason Botterill will have to roll the dice on somebody.

If they want someone a little more proven, they have to think outside the box. Would they be willing to take a risk on Cam Talbot in Edmonton? There have been rumblings that he’s available. Sure, he’s coming off a down year, but he was outstanding two seasons ago. He’s scheduled to become a free agent in 2019 and the Oilers might not be willing to pay a 30-year-old netminder the type of money he may command.

Now this is a really “outside the box” kind of idea, but would the Predators be willing to move one of their goalies? Pekka Rinne, who just won the Vezina Trophy, has one year left on his contract and he struggled pretty badly in the playoffs. Juuse Saros, who’s the goalie of the future, is an RFA and he’ll be getting a raise this summer. Nashville doesn’t have to do anything with their goaltenders this year, so this is very unlikely, but it’s just something to think about.

Another veteran option could Sens netminder Craig Anderson, who is available, per TSN’s Frank Seravalli.

No matter how they do it, the Sabres have to find a way to upgrade the roster as a whole, but specifically in goal. They don’t have to find a franchise netminder like a Braden Holtby or a Carey Price, but they need to get better at that position if they’re going to come close to making the playoffs one of these days.

It’s up to Botterill to figure out how he wants to do that.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Gaudreau buys stake in his former USHL team in Dubuque, Iowa

Getty Images
2 Comments

”Johnny Hockey” is getting an additional title: part owner.

Calgary Flames star forward Johnny Gaudreau is a member of an NHL-laden ownership group that purchased an equity stake in the U.S. Hockey League’s Dubuque Fighting Saints on Thursday. The group includes Buffalo Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons, former Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, and Florida Panthers executive chairman Peter Luukko.

Gaudreau and Girgensons were teammates on the Dubuque team that won the USHL championship in 2011. Luukko’s son Nick was also on the team. Their ownership group is titled Saints4Life Acquisitions.

”The first day I stepped into Dubuque, I knew it was a special place,” Gaudreau said in a statement issued by the league. ”I have a lot of special memories in Dubuque, including winning it all in 2011. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

Gaudreau was the USHL’s rookie of the year in 2011, when he was also drafted by Calgary. He eventually went on to win college hockey’s Hobey Baker Award at Boston College.

Girgensons described being part of the ownership group as a way to pay back the team for playing a key role in his development. A year after moving to North America from his native Latvia, Girgensons spent two seasons with the Fighting Saints and was preparing to play college hockey at Vermont before being selected by Buffalo in the first round of the 2012 draft.

”It’s a team that really got me to where I am today,” Girgensons told The Associated Press by phone.

Never envisioning the opportunity to be an owner, Girgensons joked he might need to contact Sabres owner Terry Pegula for a few pointers.

Edmonton Oilers president and general manager Peter Chiarelli will remain a part owner of the team. Philip Falcone, who previously was a part owner of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild, is departing as the Fighting Saints’ principal owner.

The Fighting Saints have won two championships since returning to the USHL in 2010 following a nine-year absence.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

PHT Morning Skate: 8 big questions heading into draft; First buyout of 2018

Getty
2 Comments
Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Sportsnet tackles the eight biggest questions heading into tonight’s NHL Entry Draft. What will the Habs do with the third overall pick? Will anything happen with Columbus’ Artemi Panarin? (Sportsnet)

• Former NHL defenseman Nick Boynton has decided to join the NHL concussion lawsuit. He’ll also be donating his brain to science. Boynton has been battling substance abuse and depression. (TSN)

• There’s no denying that Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds could be on the move in the next hours/days, but will the team actually pull the trigger on a deal involving their talented forward? (Philly.com)

• The Canadiens will have an early selection in tonight’s draft, but will they hit a home run or swing-and-miss again? The Montreal Gazette looks at the Habs’ inability to develop their first-rounders over the last 33 years. (Montreal Gazette)

• Over the course of their history, the Sabres have done pretty well when they’ve selected defensemen in the first round. That run of success should continue on Friday night with Rasmus Dahlin. (WGR550)

• Stars GM Jim Nill confirmed that he expects to sign forward Valeri Nichushkin on July 1st. He’s been in the KHL for the last two years. (NHL.com/Stars)

• Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty has been one of the best bargains in the NHL over the last few years (he’s been making $4.5 million per year). Now that he’s in the final year of his contract, expect him not to leave any money on the table even if it means changing addresses. (Sportsnet)

• You can now check out each PHWA voter’s ballot from this year’s NHL Awards. There’s some head-scratchers on there. (PHWA)

• Speaking of ballots, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Matthew DeFranks explains why he voted for Sean Couturier as his Selke winner instead of Aleksander Barkov. (Sun-Sentinel)

• And we have our first buyout of 2018, as the Edmonton Oilers decided to put an end to their relationship with Eric Gryba. That means that the Oilers will be carrying almost $2 million in dead money next season. (Edmonton Sun)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.