Jeff Skinner

Ralph Krueger back in NHL as Sabres head coach

5 Comments

Buffalo Sabres general manager Jason Botterill has made his decision and has chosen Ralph Krueger to be the team’s next head coach.

“As we sat down with Ralph, we liked what he has from an NHL background, the fact he worked with Carolina as a consultant for five or six years while he was head coach with Team Switzerland,” Botterill said Wednesday morning. “We liked the fact he was on the bench for three years in Edmonton, but we also put a lot of stock into his experience at the World Championships and the World Cup at the Olympics. Those are high-pressure situations where you have to make adjustments and you have to make quick decisions and he got results in those situations. That was impressive from our standpoint.

“When we did the follow up from talking with different players who had worked under Ralph they felt he was a very good communicator with them. That ability to get the most out of a group and communicate with a group we felt was a very good fit for our situation in Buffalo.”

Botterill reportedly had a thorough search for Phil Housley’s replacement and settled on Krueger, who was last behind a bench guiding Team Europe to a runner-up finish at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Jacques Martin and Dave Tippett were reportedly among the finalists for the job.

Since 2014, the 59-year-old Kruger had been chairman of English Premier League side Southampton F.C. It was announced last month that his contract would not be extended.

Krueger’s last presence in the NHL was as head coach with the Edmonton Oilers during the lockout-shortened 2013 season. He was fired — over Skype — after a 19-22-7 record, three years after he was brought into the organization as an associate coach.

Months after his surprising success at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, Krueger’s name entered the head coaching rumor mill and remained whenever a new job opened up. He told Pro Soccer Talk in May 2017 that he had turned down two NHL jobs, citing his happiness with his role at Southampton.

Speaking with The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun in April, Krueger spoke about the experience he gained in the role as chairman, something he could certainly bring to his new job with the Sabres.

“Now I’ve had the opportunity to be that person who creates a culture where you try to have it that everybody can really find their potential and find out what they’re made of,” Krueger said. “So my evolution has been neat that way. Now six years into this, if someone is asking me about the NHL, your brain goes to a similar role.’”

Krueger, who will be the Sabres’ fifth coach since 2013, has plenty of work ahead of him in turning around the franchise’s fortunes. Buffalo finished with the fifth-worst record in the NHL in 2018-19 and won 16 of their final 57 games after a 10-game winning streak earlier in the season gave hope that The Queen City would see playoff hockey again.

There are good pieces in Rasmus Dahlin, Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, and possibly Jeff Skinner, should he re-sign, to build around, and Botterill will add another with the No. 7 overall selection in next month’s entry draft.

MORE: Who should coach Ducks, Oilers, Senators?

————

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.

Hurricanes trade top prospect Fox to Rangers

Getty
8 Comments

The New York Rangers’ added another significant piece to their rebuild on Tuesday afternoon when they acquired the rights to defense prospect Adam Fox from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for the Rangers’ second-round pick in 2019 and a conditional third-round pick in 2020.

The condition on the third-round pick is that it will become a second-round pick if Fox plays in at least 30 games for the Rangers during the 2019-20 season.

Originally drafted by the Calgary Flames in the third-round of the 2016 NHL draft, the Hurricanes acquired Fox as part of this past summer’s Dougie Hamilton trade.

Fox had been a prized prospect in the Flames’ farm system but they included him in the deal because there was serious concern as to whether or not he would actually sign with the team.

It hasn’t exactly been a well kept secret that the 21-year-old Long Island, N.Y.  native had his sights set on signing with the Rangers as soon as his draft rights had expired, allowing him to become a free agent. Because of that it is kind of surprising that the Hurricanes, given what little leverage they almost certainly had in trade talks, were able to get as much they did out of the Rangers.

The second-round pick in 2019 is the 37th overall pick in the draft and there is still the potential for next year’s pick to also become a second-rounder.

The Hurricanes now have three second-round picks in 2019, already possessing their own pick and the Buffalo Sabres’ pick as part of the Jeff Skinner trade.

Fox spent the past three seasons playing his collegiate hockey at Harvard where he recorded 21 goals, 95 assists, and 116 total points in 97 games. He was a runner-up for the Hobey Baker Award this past season, finishing as a runner up to now-Colorado Avalanche defender Cale Makar.

There is no telling at this point what type of career Fox has ahead of him, but this is still a nice piece for the Rangers to add to their organization simply due to the potential he has. It also comes just a couple of weeks after the Rangers won big in the draft lottery by moving up to the No. 2 overall pick where they will likely end up with Kaapo Kakko (assuming Jack Hughes goes No. 1 overall to the New Jersey Devils). 

Related: What Rangers gained in draft lottery

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.

Where it went wrong for Predators, and how they could fix it

Getty
6 Comments

There has been a changing of the guard in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins? Out without winning a single game between them.

The Winnipeg Jets, a Western Conference Finalist a year ago and a popular Stanley Cup pick this season? They are finished.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Now the Nashville Predators, one of the top teams in the Western Conference for a couple of years now, have joined them. Just like the Jets, it probably should not be a huge surprise to see them go out as early as they did because something just seemed to be off with this team for much of the season, and especially in the second half.

It’s not hard to find the biggest culprit in their demise this season, either, and it begins with an inconsistent offense that was dragged down by the league’s worst power play unit. It was a unit that hit rock bottom in their Round 1 loss against the Dallas Stars.

To say it was bad would be an understatement.

It wasn’t just bad, it was historically bad. The type of performance that would make even an objective third party with no rooting interest scream at the TV at its overall incompetence.

After finishing the regular season converting on just 12.9 of their power play opportunities, one of the worst marks the NHL has seen over the past 15 years, the Predators went 0-for-the-series against Dallas, failing to score on even one of their 15 power play attempts. This is not something that just happens. The NHL has tracked power play success rates as far back as the 1933-34 season, and the Predators were just the 11th team during that time to get at least 15 power play opportunities in the playoffs and fail to score a single goal. You probably will not be shocked to learn that none of those 11 teams advanced beyond Round 1. You don’t need a great power play to win the Stanley Cup, but you need to get something out of it on occasion.

The Predators got nothing, continuing what turned out to be a season-long trend.

Dallas’ PK deserves a lot of credit here, and especially starting goalie Ben Bishop, but Nashville’s struggles on the power play weren’t a new thing in this series, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest it wasn’t just a run of bad luck — it was simply a bad unit that needs drastically improved.

Not only did they have the NHL’s lowest success rate, but they were only 19th in the league at generating shot attempts on the power play and even worse (24th) at actually getting those attempts on net. If you can’t generate shots, and if you can’t get them on net when you do, you’re not going to score many goals.

Now comes the question on how to address it.

Injuries were a big problem for the Predators throughout the season, with Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, P.K, Subban, and Kyle Turris all missing significant action, and when Turris was on the ice, his production took a cliff dive. It is worth wondering if they are in need of another big-time forward. Forsberg and Arvidsson are outstanding, but they might still need another impact player up front. Maybe a full season from Mikael Granlund will help (he was mostly silent after coming over from the Minnesota Wild in a pre-deadline trade), but even he is not really a player that is going to put the fear of God in an opposing defense. He is very similar to what the Predators’ forward group is already made of — really good and really productive players, but not really a game-changing, impact talent.

If there is one thing to be said about general manager David Poile it is that he is not afraid to swing for the fences in trades. He has made several blockbusters over the past few years and it has played a significant role in building the roster the Predators have today. Would he be willing to make another one, and would he consider dipping into his pool of star defenders and flipping one for another impact talent up front to help strengthen an offense that went stale this year and a power play unit that collapsed on itself from the very beginning of the year?

He already did it once when he traded Seth Jones to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Ryan Johansen, and it might be worth at least considering again. It is a delicate balance to strike because the Predators’ defense, especially their top-four of P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm is a huge part of what has made the team so good. But it is also a very clear strength and could be used to maybe help address what is now looking like a pretty significant weakness.

The other option is to keep your All-Star defense, shed salary elsewhere on the roster (Turris, if you think he is done as a top-six performer; maybe a Craig Smith or Nick Bonino?) and try to position yourself for a run at an Artemi Panarin or Jeff Skinner in free agency.

Whatever path they choose, it would be awfully difficult to come back next season with the same collection of forwards after they struggled so much this season and helped assemble such a dreadful power play unit. They simply need another finisher somewhere on the roster that can bring a level of consistency to the offense and improve a power play that failed the team all season.

Related: Stars eliminate Predators in overtime thriller

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.

Svechnikov making huge impact for Hurricanes

1 Comment

For the better part of the past decade there have always been two things consistently holding the Carolina Hurricanes back.

The obvious one that always got the most attention was the fact they could never get their goaltending situation quite right.

Cam Ward never recaptured the magic he had during his rookie season Stanley Cup run, and there always seemed to be a revolving door of potential replacements that just could not fill that role.

The other big factor, one that always seemed to get overlooked in an endless barrage of “why can’t this team ever find a goalie,” was the fact that for all of their dominance as a puck possession team on the shot chart, they never really had any forwards that were great finishers. Jeff Skinner was really good for a few years, but he was always the only one and he could never do it all on his own.

The emergence of Sebastian Aho as a bonafide star, as well as the in-season trade for Nino Niederreiter, have helped address that issue in the short-term. But there is another player on the roster that might make an even bigger impact in that area in the future, and he is starting to make his presence felt as the Hurricanes enter the stretch run of the regular season and look to secure their first playoff berth since the 2008-09 season.

That player: No. 2 overall pick Andrei Svechnikov.

When the Hurricanes picked Svechnikov at the top of the 2018 draft there was obviously a great deal of hope that he could become a superstar player for the organization, and maybe the type of elite goal-scorer every contending team needs to win.

His performance as a rookie should give Hurricanes fans — and the team itself — a lot of hope that he can blossom into that type of player.

Perhaps sooner rather than later.

He is not going to win the Calder Trophy because Vancouver Canucks phenom Elias Pettersson seems to already have that award locked up (while goalies Jordan Binnington and Carter Hart are making pretty strong runs of their own), but we should not overlook just how good his rookie season has been. Because it has been outstanding, and probably better than you realize.

His overtime goal on Sunday night, lifting the Hurricanes to another come-from-behind win where they turned what looked to be a frustrating loss into an improbable victory, was his 20th of the season, a mark that is good enough for third on the team behind only Aho and team captain Justin Williams.

That alone is impressive for a rookie, but also consider the fact that he is still only 18 years old.

Hitting the 20-goal mark at this stage of his development puts him in some pretty exclusive company.

First, he is just the 22nd player to ever score at least 20 goals in the NHL as an 18-year-old.

Eleven of those previous instances took place between 1980 and 1993 when goal-scoring in the NHL was at its peak. He is one of just eight players to do it since 1994, a list that includes only Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Steven Stamkos and Patrik Laine.

Not impressive enough?

Consider that his shooting percentage of 11.6 is the second lowest of any of the previous 18-year-olds to top the 20-goal mark, which should really be seen as a positive sign for the future as it indicates that he isn’t really benefitting from a strong run of good luck, or that any of this early success is a fluke. He is generating more than 2.30 shots per game, which is the fourth most of any rookie in the NHL this season regardless of age even though he is only averaging around 14 minutes of ice-time per game.

When you take his ice-time into account his ability to generate shots and chances (and goals) looks even better.

Of the 150 forwards that have played at least 900 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey this season, Svechnikov ranks 33rd in total shot attempts per 60 minutes, and 22nd in shots on goal per 60 minutes. The biggest part of scoring goals is actually putting yourself in a position to take shots and having the ability to get them on net. At 18, he is already showing that he has the ability to do that at a top-line level. 

Over Carolina’s past seven games, he has five goals, including Sunday’s game-winner and two in a 3-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche where he had a hand in every goal the Hurricanes scored (he scored two of them himself).

The Hurricanes have been one of the NHL’s best teams for three months now and have an exciting young core of players in place.

Out of their top-12 scorers this season, only four of them (Justin Williams at 37, Michael Ferland, Nino Niederreiter, and Jordan Martinook all at 26) are over the age of 25.

Six of them are age 24 or younger, including the 21-year-old Aho and still 18-year-old Svechnikov.

Together, those two are looking they could be one of the league’s most exciting duos for years to come and be the foundation of a team that might finally put hockey in Carolina back on the NHL’s map.

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.

Karlsson, Panarin, Bobrovsky can close strong and cash in

3 Comments

Many NHL teams have plenty to play for down the final stretch of the regular season, trying to get in the playoffs or to improve their positioning, before 16 teams compete for the Stanley Cup.

Some players have a lot at stake, too.

Erik Karlsson, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky are a few of the potential free agents in the league with a chance to close strong and cash in by re-signing with their teams or on the open market.

The top trio of stars and some other standouts with a lot to gain financially when the season is finished, if not sooner:

KARLSSON

The San Jose Sharks acquired the two-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman from Ottawa before the season started, hoping they would have him for more than a year. To keep Karlsson off the market as an unrestricted free agent, San Jose may have to at least match the eight-year, $88 million deal the Los Angeles Kings gave defenseman Drew Doughty to stay last summer.

PANARIN

Dynamic scorers like the Russian winger rarely are available in free agency and a team that wants to spend a lot of money over many years may be able to land an 80-point scorer. Panarin has already said he wants to see if there are better options in the summer than staying with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are simply hoping he helps them win at least a postseason series for the first time.

BOBROVSKY

Big-time goaltenders, like the two-time Vezina Trophy winner, usually stay with their teams and off the market. Like his teammate and fellow countryman, the 30-year-old Bobrovsky will probably want to make the most of his opportunity to make as much money as he can with his next deal while being at or near the prime or his career.

Matt Duchene

It was a good time for the center, and his bank account, to have one of the best years of his career. He’s averaging more than a point per game this season, starting with Ottawa, before being dealt to Columbus . If Panarin and Bobrovsky appear to be leaving in free agency after the season, the Blue Jackets may give the 28-year-old Duchene a lot to stay before the market opens.

Jeff Skinner

The center has a shot to surpass the 63 points he has reached twice before the team he plays for, the Buffalo Sabres, are relegated to watching the postseason for an eighth straight season. The Sabres want to re-sign Skinner, but he might be willing to take a seven-year deal – instead of the eight he can get to stay – and join a Stanley Cup contender.

Jake Gardiner

He has been out for nearly a month with a back injury, but barring it lingering into the playoffs to cast doubt on his long-term health, one of the best defensemen available will be paid well to stay in Toronto or to go play for another team.

Wayne Simmonds

The winger has not produced much offensively with Nashville, which acquired him from Philadelphia, and yet he will have a chance to make a lasting impression when it matters most in the playoffs. Simmonds has a rare combination of scoring ability, toughness and durability.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

There is an excellent group of players eligible to be restricted free agents, including: forwards Mikko Rantanen, William Karlsson, Brayden Point, Mitch Marner, Sebastian Aho and Matthew Tkachuk along with defensemen Jacob Trouba and Zach Werenski. Teams, though, rarely extend offer sheets to other franchise’s restricted free agents as Philadelphia did in 2012 with a $110 million, 14-year deal for Shea Weber, only to have the Predators match it.