Predators believe they’re back on track despite playoff loss

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Nashville Predators believe they’re back to playing the way that makes them NHL title contenders despite another early postseason exit.

Winning a playoff series for the first time since 2017 will require more.

“We’ve got to elevate and we’ve got to elevate individually, elevate as a team and organization to be able to get ourselves past this point,” said Nashville coach John Hynes after his first full season with the team.

The Predators salvaged a start that had them in contention for the NHL lottery draft by winning 20 of their final 28 games to reach the postseason for a seventh straight season. Yet they lost the series in six games even as four straight went to overtime including Thursday night’s Game 6 loss to Carolina.

It was just the third series with four or more consecutive overtime games and the first since the 2012 conference quarterfinal between Phoenix and Chicago. The other was the 1951 Stanley Cup Final between Toronto and Montreal.

Hynes said the Predators showed a toughness, style of play and identity they didn’t have a year ago.

Defenseman Ryan Ellis said they had lost the “Predator way” the past couple seasons but got back to playing the way they know they can. He said only a bounce here or there kept the Predators from winning the series.

“There’s a lot of optimism around here, or there should be, because from where we came the last couple of years to to the identity we have now, the way we play now,” Ellis said. “I mean, we just hung with the one where they finished second or third in the in the the whole thing.”

Injuries sped up a youth movement postponed once the NHL announced a condensed schedule for this season during the pandemic. General manager David Poile, 71 and the NHL’s winningest GM, now has to tighten up a roster that featured a franchise-record 12 rookies and a handful of highly-paid veterans.

“We just got to find a way to to be a little bit better in all areas,” center Ryan Johansen said. “I think we can take a lot of confidence as a group in our abilities from these last three, four months and moving forward.”

EXPANSION DRAFT

The Predators have a chance at clearing some roster and cap space if the Seattle Kraken take one of their big contracts off their hands July 21.

Matt Duchene still has five years left on the contract he signed in July 2019 paying him $8 million a year, scored only 13 points in 34 games this season with a minus-12 rating. Johansen also is being paid $8 million a year with four years left, but he led Nashville with three goals this postseason.

MORE ROSTER MOVEMENT

Poile made clear last month he’d like to sign defenseman Mattias Ekholm to an extension, though he has another year for a deal. Filip Forsberg also will need an extension in a year.

Granlund is due to be a free agent after he tied for the team lead with five points in the playoffs and tied for the team-lead with 13 goals during the season. Erik Haula and Brad Richardson also will be free agents. Haula ranked ninth on the team with 21 points during the regular season.

The Predators also have several restricted free agents led by Eeli Tolvanen and Tanner Jeannot. Tolvanen, who was benched for Game 6, had 22 points in 40 games.

RINNE’S FUTURE

Pekka Rinne, the 2018 Vezina Trophy winner, posted an emotional shutout in the regular season finale. He turns 39 in November, and his extension that paid him $5 million each of the past two seasons is too much to pay a backup.

But he also had two shutouts this season. He’s tied for 19th in NHL history with Tom Barrasso with 369 career victories and 60 career shutouts. So an extension bringing him back is possible.

SAROS’ NET

Saros proved he is the Predators’ No. 1 goalie now. A restricted free agent, he’s in line for a pay hike from the $1.5 million of this season. Saros went 21-11-1 during the regular season, and the 26-year-old Finn first tied, then set the franchise record for saves in back-to-back double overtime victories.

“We all know what had happened, how he played really well down the stretch the second half of the year,” Hynes said. “He was a big difference in this series.”

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    Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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    The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

    Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

    John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.

    TORTS REFORM

    Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

    “I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

    Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

    BIG MO

    The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

    The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

    “He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”

    PLAYOFF ROTATION

    Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

    Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

    “I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

    The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

    “He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

    The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

    “This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”

    LAMBERT ISLAND

    Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

    Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

    “Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”

    MORE NEW VOICES

    The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

    Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

    The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

    Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

    “He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

    Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
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    Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

    The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

    Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

    “We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

    Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

    “I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

    Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

    Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
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    OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

    The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

    Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

    The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

    Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

    Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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    Harry How/Getty Images
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    CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

    The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

    The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

    The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.