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Tavares and beyond: Lamoriello has hands full with Islanders

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Let’s be honest. As important a hire as Lou Lamoriello as president of hockey operations is for the New York Islanders, many of us could barely even utter his name before “John Tavares” returned to the forefront of any Isles thoughts.

That’s just going to be the status quo until we find out if Tavares re-signs with the Islanders or if he ventures elsewhere and breaks thousands of hearts on Long Island.

So, there’s no sense denying the all-world elephant in the room. Lamoriello could do great work for the Islanders if, say, he decided to be full-on GM, but a Tavares departure would still make this front office move a footnote. On the other hand, things would be downright intriguing in Brooklyn if Tavares returns (whether it has anything to do with Lou or not).

As much as we’d like to accurately forecast the Tavares sweepstakes, the truth is that few truly know what will happen. Hey, it’s possible that Tavares himself might still be mulling over his decision.

With or without their best star in ages, the Islanders have a lot of work to do. In a way, it seems like Lamoriello is being asked to do a repair job much like he did with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who were able to get rid of pesky contracts and add some key components under his watch.

Get the notion

During today’s press conference, Lamoriello was his usual guarded self, not revealing much about the futures of GM Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight.

The thing is, Lamoriello could make plenty of inferences, even from the outside.

Really, you could argue that everything starts and stops with Snow. He’s been given rare leeway for a GM considering his 12-year reign, especially considering that the Isles have only won a single playoff series with Tavares and since their glory days. (We’ll get to the messy salary structure soon.)

Snow selected Doug Weight to go from interim and then full-on head coach, and while the interim run almost included a playoff berth, the past 2017-18 season was a disaster. Sure, shabby goaltending didn’t help, but how much of that falls on Weight’s shoulders? This Andre Burakovsky quote should shake any manager to the core:

Lamoriello’s not shy about taking over the GM seat, so you wonder if Snow’s days are melting away. He cannot wait too long to make a decision about Weight, as this is the time of year when you enjoy a greater number of opportunities to find coaching replacements. What’s Dave Tippett doing these days?

(Waits for Jacques Lemaire jokes[?].)

Oh yeah, and Lamoriello also must prepare for the 2018 NHL Draft. That could be awfully interesting since the Islanders boast picks 11 and 12, with the latter choice stemming from the Travis Hamonic trade. This figures to be a whirlwind couple of months for Lamoriello and the Islanders organization.

Cleaning up

If you’re convinced the Islanders will retain Tavares and thus feel little sympathy for this team, just take a look at their salary structure at Cap Friendly. Yikes.

During his time in Toronto, Lamoriello helped the Maple Leafs jettison bad contracts from the Phil Kessel days, whether that came via LTIR loophole maneuvering (just ask Joffrey Lupul, though he’ll eventually delete his response) or savvy trades. It says a lot about Lamoriello’s skills that the Maple Leafs didn’t need to retain salary in getting rid of Dion Phaneuf‘s ghastly contract in 2016, yet the Senators were forced to eat $1.75 million of his cap hit in February.

It’s strange to see a 75-year-old executive serving as a rebuilder/repairer of franchises, particularly after he guided the New Jersey Devils for a generation, but the Isles could benefit from his “cleaning” services. There are some odious contracts, so we’ll see if Lamoriello can conjure some magic to move beyond mistakes like the deals handed to Andrew Ladd and Cal Clutterbuck.

(It turns out Lamoriello cleans up more than a team’s facial hair choices. Cue Monty Burns and Don Mattingly.)

Other calls

One rare good thing about the Islanders’ salary structure is a gimme: Mathew Barzal‘s on his rookie deal through 2019-20, so Lamoriello doesn’t even need to worry about extension negotiations during this summer. Worst-case scenario, they’ll still have at least one spellbinding star at center.

Re-signing Tavares stands as priorities one through 91, but there are other choices to make.

Brock Nelson stands out as the most prominent forward alongside noteworthy defensemen (including Calvin de Haan, Thomas Hickey, and Ryan Pulock) who are slated for RFA or UFA statuses. There are some key players approaching contract years in 2018-19, with Jordan Eberle and underrated (and underpaid) scorer Anders Lee headlining the list. Lamoriello must mull over which players to keep, for how long, and for how much.

If Tavares’ situation is the elephant in the room, then goaltending is the massive hole in the wall.

It’s tough to imagine any team taking on Thomas Greiss ($3.33M cap hit through 2019-20) after he submarined his team’s chances a lot like Scott Darling did in Carolina, so Lamoriello’s tasked with finding ways to reduce the damage. He at least has options; the Isles might get more out of Greiss by improving the system around him (replace Weight, or hope Weight improves?) or possibly looking to a different goalie coach. Perhaps Lou would even opt for a sports psychologist?

Either way, Lamoriello must also target another goalie, whether that guy is deemed a true backup, the new starter, or a platoon partner for Greiss.

(Again, a dream scenario would be to somehow move Greiss and get better in net without losing too many other assets, yet that might require Lamoriello to actually become a wizard. Or maybe he’d just need to get Peter Chiarelli on the phone?)

***

That’s quite a brain-full, right?

The scary part is that this is a simplified version of the choices that await. Lamoriello will need to ponder the franchise’s past failures. Did poor pro scouting inspire questionable additions such as Ladd, at least at his price point? Is this team doing enough to develop its draft picks?

Lou Lamoriello faces a ton of questions, with many of them standing as challenges even for a decorated, experienced executive. In some cases, he’ll need to make some key calls soon, and it should be fascinating to learn what the future holds for the Isles.

Of course, the biggest call actually falls to John Tavares, maybe more than all of the other ones combined.

MORE:
• Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Maple Leafs’ Zach Hyman to have hearing for late hit on Bruins’ McAvoy

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Given all of the late hits that have happened around the NHL over the past couple of weeks that did not result in a disciplinary hearing, it was easy to think Toronto Maple Leafs forward Zach Hyman was going to avoid any supplemental discipline for his hit on Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy on Saturday night.

But this one may have been too late to ignore.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced on Sunday that Hyman will have a disciplinary hearing for interference.

Hyman was ejected from the game for the hit, while McAvoy, who just recently returned to the lineup, was injured as a result.

You can see the play in the video above.

[Related: Maple Leafs’ Hyman ejected for late hit on Bruins Charlie McAvoy]

There have been a number of controversial, late hits around the NHL in recent weeks from Ryan Reaveshit on Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson (that left Wilson concussed and still sidelined), to Tom Wilson’s hit on New Jersey Devils forward Brett Seney, to this hit by Dallas Stars forward Brett Ritchie on Pittsburgh Penguins defender Jusso Riikkola.

All were clearly late hits that were initiated long after their opponents had moved the puck.

While Reaves and Wilson were ejected for their hits, they did not rise to the level of supplemental discipline because they did not target the head or result in significant head contact. That is usually the line the NHL draws for late hits unless it is an egregiously late hit. This one did not appear to contact the head, but it was definitely late and sent McAvoy dangerously into the boards.

None of these hits are acceptable or examples of good clean hockey. They are not even examples of a player “finishing their check.” They are reckless hits on players that are not eligible to be hit, and in some cases are resulting in injuries. If those types of hits continue the NHL will have to start doing more than just ejecting and penalizing the players that distribute them.

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.

Devan Dubnyk mired in worst slump since joining Wild

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When he joined the Minnesota Wild during the 2014-15 season Devan Dubnyk helped turn around what was quickly becoming a lost season. At the time of his acquisition the Wild were going through a brutal six-game losing streak, were under .500 for the season, and pretty much everyone around the NHL was waiting for then-coach Mike Yeo to take the fall for the struggles.

Instead of firing the coach, the Wild attempted to address what was at the time their single biggest issue — goaltending.

So they sent a draft pick to the Arizona Coyotes for Dubnyk, and in his first start with the team stopped all 18 shots he faced in a shutout win over the Buffalo Sabres.

From that point on the Wild were fine for the remainder of the season.

Dubnyk more than solidified the goaltending position, recorded a .936 save percentage in his 39 starts after the trade, finished in the top-five in Hart Trophy and Vezina Trophy voting, and even won the Masterton Trophy.

In the three full seasons that followed he has been one of the most consistent and durable goalies in the league. He played at least 60 games each season, he never had a save percentage lower than .918, while his overall mark of .920 was sixth best in the league. His even-strength number of .929 was fourth best in the league.

He has been, by pretty much every objective measurement, one of the best goalies in the league.

That is what makes his current struggles for a suddenly-slumping Wild team so surprising.

After getting benched early in Minnesota’s blowout loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night (he gave up three goals on the first six shots he faced) his season save percentage is down to .907, while he is currently mired in the worst extended slump of his Minnesota tenure.

Following that game Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said it would be sitting there and lying to say he isn’t concerned about Dubnyk. He also added he was concerned about a lot of players on the team, but that his goalie is definitely one of them.

Just how bad has it been for Dubnyk lately?

In his past nine appearances he has managed only an .857 save percentage, a level of play that has been unheard of for Dubnyk in Minnesota. It is not only his worst nine-game stretch since joining the Wild, it is rare for him to have a stretch of play where his save percentage dips under .900.

If you break the past four seasons down to nine-game stretches he has only been under .900 over nine games just 10 percent of the time.

He has been under .910 just 20 percent of the time.

That performance has played a big role in the team’s recent struggles.

The question is how much of a concern this should really be for the Wild?

On one hand, his recent track record is what it is. He’s been outstanding for more than three full years with the Wild, and he was probably a lot better than he got credit for when he was getting crushed behind some abysmal Edmonton teams.

But he’s also 32 years old, and there are a lot of miles on those tires, especially since becoming the starter in Minnesota.

Since Jan. 14, 2015 (when he was acquired) Dubnyk’s 253 games played are 14 more than any other goalie in the league, while only four others have appeared in more than 230. He has played more than 800 more minutes than any other goalie in the league and is one of only three goalies to face more than 6,800 shots (Cam Talbot and Henrik Lundqvist are the other two).

He’s faced 7,137.

That is a huge workload.

Given how good he’s been for so long it’s probably more than a little premature to suggest he is starting to break down. Especially when goalies are just like any other position in the league where players are prone to hot streaks and cold streaks. The NHL season isn’t about consistency for anyone; it’s about peaks and valleys where even the best players go through extended slumps. This is just one of the first times we have seen this extended level of play from Dubnyk in a few years.

But he is also not getting any younger and the Wild are still leaning on him pretty heavily.

If nothing else it is something to watch for the Wild as the season progresses because when he is at his best he is going to give them a chance every night. Lately, though, he hasn’t been at that level and it’s been one of the problems plaguing the Wild.

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.

The Buzzer: Stamkos, Giroux post four-point nights; Holtby blanks Blue Jackets

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Three stars

1. Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

Two goals and two assists for Stamkos, who helped the Lightning crush the Colorado Avalanche 7-1 and win their sixth straight game.

Stamkos scored the first two goals of the game 10:10 apart in the first period and they proved to be all the Lightning needed in the win.

Stamkos has been his steady self all season and has 12 goals and 30 points in 31 games now.

2. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers needed a win. They had just two wins in their previous nine games coming into Saturday.

With Sean Couturier out of the lineup due to injury, ‘G’ made the move back to center and thrived, scoring and adding three helpers as the Flyers picked on the Buffalo Sabres in a 6-2 win. The Flyers scored all six of their goals after the Sabres took a 2-0 lead. Giroux scored the winner in the third.

Giroux now has three goals and four assists in a three-game point streak.

3. Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals

Holtby needed that one after giving up 10 goals over his previous two starts — both losses.

On Saturday, there were no goals given up in a 28-save shutout against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets must be sick of seeing Holtby this year. In the spring, Holtby owned Columbus and he did so again on Saturday.

Holtby has two shutouts on the season now.

Other notable performances:

  • Alex Ovechkin had a goal and an assist to push his point streak to 11 games.
  • Jonathan Huberdeau had a goal and two assists in a 5-4 shootout loss to the New York Rangers.
  • The Kings, as a whole, deserve mention. Drew Doughty‘s ‘pathetic’ comment seemed to spark his team. Jonathan Quick made 29 saves in a 5-1 win against the surging Vegas Golden Knights.
  • Craig Anderson stopped 35-of-36 in a 2-1 overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
  • Louie Domingue had another solid outing, stopping 29 shots against the Avalanche.

Highlights of the night

Bob was pulled on the night, but not before making this ridiculous save:

Yikes:

Making dreams come true:

Patience is a virtue:

Factoids

Scores

Flyers 6, Sabres 2

Kings 5, Golden Knights 1

Bruins 6, Maple Leafs 3

Senators 2, Penguins 1 (OT)

Islanders 3, Red Wings 2

Lightning 7, Avalanche 1

Rangers 5, Panthers 4 (SO)

Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 0

Sharks 5, Coyotes 3

Flames 5, Predators 2


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Maple Leafs’ Hyman ejected after late hit on Bruins’ McAvoy

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Update: Hyman will have a discipline hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Sunday for this hit

We’ve already had one questionable hit on Saturday, and now we have a second.

This one comes at the mid-way point of the third period in the game between the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

With the Bruins leading 6-2, Charlie McAvoy gets the puck from Jaroslav Halak behind his own net and makes the pass to his defense partner. Hyman comes in at an angle where McAvoy can’t see him and drills him with a blindside hit well after the puck had made its way to the other side of the ice.

It appears that McAvoy hits his head on the boards the way down.

You can see the hit here:

The hit is made all the worse given that McAvoy just returned to the lineup on Thursday after missing 20 games with a concussion.

Hyman got a five-minute major for interference on the McAvoy hit, five minutes for fighting Bruins’ Matt Grzelcyk and a game misconduct. Grzelcyk was tossed, too.

The fisticuffs didn’t end there. A minute later, Chris Wagner got a penalty for charging Morgan Rielly which prompted Ron Hainsey to step in and fight Wagner.

McAvoy returned to the bench just prior to the game ending but did not take another shift.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck