NHL Rink Wrap: Sabres lose, but Sharks stay undefeated

NHL Rink Wrap: Sabres lose, but Sharks stay undefeated
Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images

Top player from Friday in the NHL

Logan Couture, Sharks

Plenty of Sharks players absorb blame for the past couple seasons of futility. Unless you dig deep into “analytics,” you might not realize that Logan Couture hasn’t always been the difference-maker the Sharks hoped for.

So far in 2021-22, Couture’s been absolutely on fire, though.

Couture earned the top star for Friday in the NHL with two goals and an assist, helping the Sharks stay undefeated. Couture filled up the box sheet, earning a +4 rating, firing six shots on goal, and taking his first penalty of the season.

He’s now up to seven points in four games, with only one of those points coming via the power play. Impressive.

Highlights from Friday in the NHL

If nothing else, Erik Karlsson can still wire a shot:

One of these days, Denis Gurianov‘s going to spend a whole season out of the Stars’ doghouse, and have a big year. A few glimpses are better than none:

Every now and then, Zack Kassian shows the sort of touch you’d expect from a former first-round pick. This was one of those times, and it made a difference for Edmonton:

Kings’ Doughty injured by knee-to-knee hit

Could Stars defenseman Jani Hakanpaa receive a suspension for his hit on Kings’ blueliner Drew Doughty? Hakanpaa received a major penalty and game misconduct for his hit on Doughty.

It’s unclear if Doughty will miss additional time, but he was not able to return to Friday’s Kings – Stars game.

Friday’s NHL takeaways

The Sabres’ undefeated streak ends …

We’ve seen Sabres teams fall off after longer winning streaks to start seasons. Yet, considering just how dour things have been for Buffalo, their season-opening three-game winning streak felt like a mirage in a desert of medical disagreements and wider mismanagement.

But, it had to come to an end sometime. It turns out, the Sabres lost their first game of the 2021-22 NHL season by falling to the Bruins. That said, it wasn’t all bad.

Perhaps freed from the defensive-minded Ralph Krueger, the Sabres have been looser and more dangerous under Don Granato. The end of a lost season and the early, yawning stages of this new one don’t provide enough of a sample size to draw lasting conclusions. Yet, for a team that needs every bit of optimism … some positive notes.

Consider the underlying stats from the Sabres’ first loss of the season:

NHL Rink Wrap: Sabres lose, but Sharks stay undefeated streak
via Natural Stat Trick

Don’t chalk those strong “fancy stats” to the Bruins gaining an early lead vs. the Sabres, either. During the first period, the Sabres generated an 8-2 advantage in high-danger chances at five-on-five (16-9 overall).

These impressive numbers don’t erase much of the doubt about the Sabres’ season, overall. Still, if Granato’s system can get the most out of players, imagine how effective things could be if those players improve.

(In other words, the Sabres lost their first game of the season, but it’s OK to call this a moral victory.)

… but the Sharks stay undefeated

While the Sabres lost their first game, the Sharks remain one of the NHL’s undefeated teams (4-0-0) after beating the Maple Leafs on Friday. The Sharks and Sabres reversed narratives beyond a win and a loss, too.

Loss or not, the Sabres actually played a pretty sound overall game vs. the Bruins. On the other hand, the Sharks remained undefeated despite the Maple Leafs carrying much of the play.

To some extent, the Sharks winning less-than-perfectly is about as promising as if they won playing immaculately. “Stealing” victories here and there is plausible for teams with good or great goaltending. That hasn’t been a theme for the Sharks lately, who’ve endured some of the worst netminding in the NHL. Some solid (or even great) goaltending could be huge for this team, sporadic or not.

There are some “buts,” though.

[Which hot-starting teams could be for real?]

Through four straight wins, the Sharks’ power play is at an unsustainable 33-percent. If you combine the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, the Sharks converted at a 15.9-percent rate, fourth-worst in the NHL.

Even more dramatically, their penalty kill’s been perfect (100 percent). As sneaky-strong as the Sharks’ PK has been recently, that penalty kill will naturally sink.

Still, if you close your eyes and imagine a variety of Sharks scenarios, it isn’t that outrageous to picture them nabbing a playoff spot, is it? Bursts of competence won’t make Erik Karlsson’s contract a bargain. At 31, Karlsson’s not necessarily doomed, either.

The Sharks have a long way to go to rebound from two miserable seasons. Friday showed some of the pros (they won!) and the cons (they were outplayed).

Aside from battlers of California, most of us would prefer a semi-decent Sharks team over some sinking bummer. So here’s hoping they at least will be worth watching this season — even after the Sharks’ undefeated streak ends.

Hurricanes: bunch of fun, bunch of jerks … both?

For ages, people have asked NHL teams and players to loosen up. At times, there are “be careful what you wish for” elements to the moments when the damns of cliches break. After your favorite player irritates you, sometimes you grow nostalgic for canned phrases.

Those thoughts come to mind after the Hurricanes elaborately trolled the Canadiens about Sebastian Aho, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and more once again.

The Hurricanes went with some deep cuts to troll the Canadiens, including a “Did the Habs Lose?” website that got hacked or pretend-hacked or … (sighs, shrugs).

Are these cheeky shenanigans, or cruel ones? It’s hard to tell if the Hurricanes are still a bunch of jerks ironically, or are actual jerks now.

Saturday’s big story

Can the Canadiens finally win a game?

All of those Hurricanes quibbles aside, it’s also understandable that some will bask in the Canadiens’ struggles. Even beyond fans of the Bruins or Maple Leafs.

Whether you’re rubbernecking at the Habs car wreck or a fan begging for the agony to stop, it’s hard to look away from the 0-5-0 Canadiens. Saturday presents another opportunity for operatic spectacle.

At 2-1-0, the Red Wings have been friskier than expected. That said, the Red Wings haven’t established themselves as formidable. If the Canadiens drop their sixth in a row, people will be eager to point out that they fell to a team seemingly headed toward the cellar.

The Canadiens aren’t in the best situation to eject Marc Bergevin from the hot seat. Yet, if this keeps up, the rumblings will turn to a roar. Losing to the Red Wings would turn that volume up quite a bit.

Friday’s NHL scores

Sharks 5, Maple Leafs 3
Bruins 4, Sabres 1
Stars 3, Kings 2 (OT)
Oilers 5, Golden Knights 3

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.

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    Penguins name former Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas as director of hockey operations

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    PITTSBURGH (AP) Kyle Dubas wanted to take a breath and take a break after being fired as the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Then the Pittsburgh Penguins called.

    The break ended shortly thereafter.

    Dubas joined the Penguins as the team’s president of hockey operations, less than two weeks after a somewhat ugly exit from Toronto following a second-round playoff loss to Florida.

    The 37-year-old Dubas goes from one type of hockey crucible to another. In Toronto, he was tasked with helping the Maple Leafs emerge from two decades of postseason futility. In Pittsburgh, his mission will be to prop open the Stanley Cup window for Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang a little longer.

    All three are 35 or older and haven’t won a playoff series since 2018. Yet Dubas believes strongly the issue isn’t the age of the franchise’s core but deficiencies elsewhere on the roster. Dubas replaces Brian Burke, who was fired along with general manager Ron Hextall in April after the Penguins failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

    “I heard a lot of people that were highly skeptical of the team’s ability to contend here and the way I view it, if the people want to bet against (Crosby, Letang and Malkin) they can go ahead and do so,” Dubas said. “But I’m going to bet on them and go with them here. I think it is a group that’s capable of contending to win a championship.”

    Crosby and Malkin were excellent for much of last season and Letang showed remarkable resiliency while dealing with multiple setbacks, including a stroke and the death of his father. Yet save for a 14-2-2 stretch in November and December, the Penguins struggled to find consistency and ultimately stumbled down the stretch to snap the longest active playoff streak in major North American Sports.

    While the Penguins do have $20 million in cap space and the 14th overall pick in this month’s NHL draft, significant changes or upgrades could be difficult in the short term.

    Dubas inherits a team that was the oldest in the NHL last season and is littered with question marks, particularly in goal and the forward group outside of Crosby, Malkin and Jake Guentzel.

    Two-time All-Star goaltender Tristan Jarry will become a free agent this summer and was beset by injuries over the second half of the season. Forward Jason Zucker, who served as the emotional sparkplug for long stretches, is also scheduled to hit the open market and may have priced himself out of town.

    Pittsburgh also has several aging players with full or partial no-movement clauses, including 38-year-old forward Jeff Carter, 30-year-old Bryan Rust and 35-year-old defenseman Jeff Petry.

    “I think that those are obviously very real situations, everyone knows that they exist,” Dubas said. “To me the effect on it … is what we can add in terms of depth pieces? What we can add in terms of younger players? That’ll be the real key.”

    Dubas does plan to hire a general manager to fill the vacancy created when Hextall was let go after a short but largely unfruitful tenure. Dubas will serve as the GM on an interim basis until early July.

    Dubas comes to Pittsburgh after nine seasons with the Maple Leafs, including the last five as general manager. Toronto won a postseason series for the first time since 2004 this spring before falling to the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference semifinals in five games.

    Shortly after the Maple Leafs’ playoff exit, Dubas said that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to remain in Toronto. His contract was set to expire on June 30, but team president Kyle Shanahan opted to pre-emptively fire Dubas instead. Toronto hired former Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving as Dubas’ replacement.

    Dubas helped build the Maple Leafs into a regular-season power during his tenure. Toronto set single-season records for wins and points, and went 221-109-42 in his tenure. Dubas also didn’t shy away from big moves – he fired Stanley Cup-winning coach Mike Babcock in November 2019 and replaced him with Sheldon Keefe – but struggled to find the right mix in the playoffs until this spring.

    In the end, advancing beyond the first round for the first time since 2004 wasn’t enough for Dubas to remain in Toronto.

    He joked he was maybe a little “too honest” during his season-ending press conference with the Maple Leafs when he expressed reservations about returning. Shanahan’s abrupt decision to move on came as a bit of a surprise, and Dubas planned to take some time to hit the reset button before looking for another job.

    Yet the Penguins – who’d already been given clearance by the Maple Leafs to interview Dubas – provided a compelling reason to speed up the timetable. Dubas’ due diligence included speaking to Crosby and longtime coach Mike Sullivan to take the pulse of a leadership group that remains firmly in place.

    Dubas called them “some of the best competitors” in hockey. Competitors that have – for one reason or another – been unable to recapture the magic of their runs to back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017.

    Time is running out for Crosby to put his name on the Cup for a fourth time in a career that will almost certainly end in the Hall of Fame. Dubas knows he’ll be judged in part on whether he can make that happen. After taking more than six weeks of searching before landing on Dubas, Fenway Sports Group Chairman Tom Werner believes Dubas is up to the challenge.

    “Our philosophy is giving Kyle and his associates the best possible resources to win,” Werner said. “Kyle’s been very articulate today about his path to success … we’re very confident that Kyle will execute the plan he’s articulated to us.”

    Seattle Kraken sign GM Ron Francis to 3-year extension through 2026-27 season

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    SEATTLE — Ron Francis was initially approached about extending his stay as the general manager of the Seattle Kraken back in the winter, but putting finality to the decision took longer than expected.

    The Kraken kept winning and pushed what was mostly a formality to a secondary need until after Seattle’s unexpected playoff run finally ended.

    “At that point it was kind of verbally done, just kind of a few little small details. And then we get into the playoffs and busy and it kind of got put on the back burner and I didn’t want it to be a distraction with the team and where they were at,” Francis said.

    That finality came when the Kraken announced Francis had signed a three-year extension through the 2026-27 season. Francis originally signed a five-year deal when he became the first GM in franchise history back in 2019 and the new contract will kick in starting with the 2024-25 season.

    “I’ll never forget the day that he said, ‘Yes, I’m ready to do this,’” Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke said. “But today is another great day for our fans because not only did he come and build, he is going to stay here and continue to build this franchise.”

    Seattle reached the second round of the NHL playoffs in its second year of existence, following a challenging first year where it underachieved and was among the worst teams in the league.

    But Francis navigated through that difficult first season and helped land the pieces that turned Seattle into a playoff team in the second year without mortgaging future opportunities or putting the Kraken into challenging salary cap situations.

    “He has been the leader that’s gotten us to where we are today. And he is the leader to take us to the next level,” Seattle co-owner Samantha Holloway said.

    Seattle is the second stop for Francis as an executive after spending seven seasons in the front office of the Carolina Hurricanes. Francis started as director of hockey operations before becoming the general manager in 2014. Francis was let go by the Hurricanes after the 2018 season.

    Seattle jumped at the chance to bring the Hall of Fame player in to lead the front office. Seattle’s expansion season was a major underachievement with the Kraken going 27-49-6 and finishing last in the Pacific Division with 60 points. But Francis was able to move veteran players to stockpile draft picks and left enough salary cap room to make some key moves entering the second season.

    Seattle signed free agent forward Andre Burakovksy, traded for winger Oliver Bjorkstrand and inserted rookie Matty Beniers into the lineup on Seattle’s top line from the first day of the season. The results on the ice couldn’t be argued. Seattle went 46-28-8 and reached 100 points, knocked off defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado in the first round of the playoffs before falling to Dallas in seven games in the conference semifinals.

    “It’s been a real team effort. I’m sitting up here today and they’re saying good things about me, but it’s a much bigger picture than just me,” Francis said. “I’m excited to be here for a few more years and hopefully everybody’s opinion doesn’t change, but we’re going to stick to the plan and continue building it the right way so we can be a great franchise for multiple years.”

    Francis also stuck with coach Dave Hakstol after that difficult first season. He may be the next in line for a contract extension from the team after a season where he was recognized as a finalist for the Jack Adams Award for top coach in the league.

    Maple Leafs hire Brad Treliving as team’s new general manager

    Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

    TORONTO — Brad Treliving has a new job.

    And the Maple Leafs have a new plan.

    Treliving was hired as Toronto’s general manager less than two weeks after firing Kyle Dubas.

    The 53-year-old Treliving left the Calgary Flames in April following nine seasons that included five playoff appearances and two 100-point seasons.

    “Brad brings a wealth of knowledge from his years of experience as a general manager and hockey executive in Calgary, Arizona and beyond,” Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said in a statement. “He has earned tremendous respect amongst his peers throughout his years in the NHL and has built excellent relationships at all levels within the game.”

    Treliving joins the Leafs at a crucial juncture in the wake of Shanahan’s stunning dismissal of Dubas on May 19.

    The Original Six franchise, whose Stanley Cup drought stands at 56 years, won a playoff series for the first time in nearly two decades with a victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning this spring, but then lost to the Eastern Conference champion Florida Panthers in five games.

    Dubas, who had been Toronto’s GM since 2018 and didn’t have a contract beyond June 30, suggested at an end of season news conference May 15 he wasn’t sure he wanted to remain in the role – at least in part because of the stress on his young family.

    A roller coaster five days followed, with Shanahan ultimately firing the 37-year-old Dubas despite previously wanting to keep his GM, and the now-unemployed executive eventually indicating to his boss he wished to stay.

    Treliving is the third GM – joining Dubas and Hall of Famer Lou Lamoriello – hired in Toronto by Shanahan, whose so-called “Shanaplan” aimed at getting the storied franchise back on its feet when he came on board in 2014 has seen unparalleled regular-season success, but just that one series victory in eight attempts.

    “I’m thrilled to join an Original Six team and recognize how much the Maple Leafs mean to this community,” Treliving said. “This is a very exciting day for my family and I.”

    Treliving has a lot to deal with as he settles into his new office at Scotiabank Arena.

    Treliving, who served in the Phoenix Coyotes’ front office for seven seasons before arriving in Calgary, will have to decide the future of head coach Sheldon Keefe, while stars Auston Matthews and William Nylander can sign contract extensions as of July 1.

    Matthews and Mitch Marner have full no-movement clauses ready to kick in the same day. Nylander will have a 10-team list.

    The NHL draft is also set for the end of June in Nashville, Tennessee, while the Leafs have 12 roster players primed to hit free agency at noon EDT on July 1.

    The Flames, who missed the playoffs this season, won the Pacific Division in 2021-22 under Treliving before falling to the Edmonton Oilers in the second round.

    Johnny Gaudreau then stunned the organization by leaving Calgary for the Columbus Blue Jackets in free agency last summer. Fellow star forward Matthew Tkachuk added another wrinkle by informing the team he didn’t plan to re-sign.

    Treliving subsequently dealt the winger to Florida as part of a package that included forward Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar heading to southern Alberta.

    Huberdeau then signed an eight-year, $84 million contract extension with the Flames that kicks in next season.

    Tkachuk, a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate as playoff MVP, and the Panthers open the Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights.

    Despite the departures of Gaudreau and Tkachuk, the Flames looked like contenders ahead of the 2022-23 season.

    The acquisition of Huberdeau and the signing of center Nazem Kadri was expected to fill the void left by Gaudreau and Tkachuk, but the mix wasn’t right for a group led by hard-nosed coach Darryl Sutter.

    Huberdeau and Kadri finished well off their career-high points totals of the previous season – the former went from 115 with Florida to 55 in Calgary – while subpar goaltending was an issue much of the season.

    Treliving now turns his attention to Toronto.

    Just like last summer, he has lots of work to do.

    Nashville Predators hire Andrew Brunette after firing John Hynes

    Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

    NASHVILLE, Tenn.– The coaching shuffle in Nashville is complete, with Andrew Brunette officially hired as the Predators coach a little over 12 hours after the team announced that John Hynes was fired.

    The moves are the first being made by incoming general manager Barry Trotz and come about six weeks after the Predators missed the playoffs.

    The 49-year-old Brunette spent the past season as a New Jersey Devils associate coach under Lindy Ruff and has previous head-coaching experience.

    He was promoted to interim coach of the Florida Panthers during the 2021-22 season and oversaw a team that set franchise records for wins (58) and points (122) in claiming the Presidents’ Trophy before being eliminated in the second round of the playoffs. Brunette finished second in the Jack Adams Award voting for the NHL’s coach of the year.

    He becomes just the fourth coach in the history of a Predators franchise and returns to Nashville, where Brunette played for the Trotz-coached team during its inaugural season in 1998-99. Their relationship goes back to 1993-94, when Brunette played under Trotz, who was head coach of the Washington Capitals’ American Hockey League affiliate in Portland, Maine.

    “I feel like this is coming full circle for my career – from pulling on the jersey for the first time 25 years ago to returning now to take care of some unfinished business,” Brunette said in a statement. “It has been awesome to see how this city and its fanbase have grown since I played here and I look forward to continuing the legacy and the culture behind the bench that Barry cultivated that inaugural season.”

    Trotz, meantime, has an eye on building on the Predators’ youth and offensively skilled players as he takes over as GM for David Poile, who is retiring at the end of June after 26 years overseeing the franchise.

    “We want to become more of an offensive team and Andrew specializes on that side of the ice – he lived it as a player, and he coaches it as a coach, Trotz said. “He is as good of an offensive teacher and power-play coach as there is in the game today. He will be great with our young players, and I know, because of his background as a player, he will connect well with our top, skilled players.”

    In Florida, Brunette coached a Panthers team that led the NHL with 337 goals and had the league’s fourth-best power-play unit.

    The Predators missed the playoffs for the first time in nine years, and the first under Hynes, who took over as coach during the 2019-20 season after Peter Laviolette was fired.

    Brunette, who is from Sudbury, Ontario, spent 16 seasons playing in the NHL, ending with a one-year stint with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011-12. He finished with 268 goals and 733 points in 1,110 career games split among six teams, including two separate stints in Minnesota. Brunette is one of 25 players selected in the seventh round or later to appear in more than 1,000 NHL games.

    Upon his retirement, Brunette spent seven seasons with the Wild in various off-ice roles, including assistant coach and assistant GM, before being hired by the Panthers as an assistant coach in 2019-2020.