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Senators bringing back Guy Boucher with changes in mind

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The Ottawa Senators’ plan is for next season is all about change. But there will not be any change for the man in charge behind the bench as general manager Pierre Dorion said on Tuesday during an interview with TSN 1200 that Guy Boucher — and his full staff — will return.

Dorion and Boucher met on Monday and the result of their chat means the head coach will work the final year of his deal. The decision makes sense since it wouldn’t be like owner Eugene Melnyk to allow a coach to get paid for a year and not be working for him.

“They came up with a game plan and we’re really happy with the direction the staff wants to go,” Dorion said.

The Senators finished with 31 fewer points this past season than 2016-17 when they made it to within a goal of reaching the Stanley Cup Final. Things fell apart quickly, and a three-way deal that sent Kyle Turris to Nashville and Matt Duchene to Ottawa didn’t improved things. Once the season started to slip away, rumors surrounding Erik Karlsson’s future with the franchise bubbled over, but the captain stayed with the team through the trade deadline. This summer, however, could be a different story.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Back to the changes. During their meeting, the GM wanted a gameplan moving forward from Boucher, who will also take over duties running a bottom-five power play. What Dorion heard pleased him, and so the staff stays in place, but not before Dorion passed on a few specific things he’d like to see.

First, Dorion wants the head coach to play the kids more with Colin White, Logan Brown, and Thomas Chabot, among others, seeing the ice more right at the start of the season, rather than after playoff hopes have evaporated. The future is now for the Senators, so rather than treading water with highly-priced veterans, they need to develop those players at the NHL level and determine if they can cut it.

The other change Dorion wants is more practice time, something he mentioned at his end-of-season press conference.“Rest is a weapon. If I hear that one more time I’ll go crazy,” Dorion said in April. He’s going to get that wish after it making it very clear in his chat with Boucher.

“Our intentions, and they were discussed with the coaching staff right after the year, is that we’re a skating team,” he said. “We need to practice. I think speed was Guy’s mantra when he came on board, and I think we derived a bit from it last year and we need to skate hard in practice to play as hard and as fast as much as possible, and they understood that.”

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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.

Hall, MacKinnon, McDavid are 2018 Ted Lindsay Award finalists

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Taylor Hall, Nathan MacKinnon, and Connor McDavid were named the three finalists for the 2017-18 Ted Lindsay Award.

This award often stands as a fascinating alternative (or supplement) to the Hart Trophy, as this is essential the players’ choice. The NHLPA votes on who is “most outstanding player in the regular season,” while hockey media (The PHWA) determines the Hart based on wording (“player judged most valuable to his team”) that fuels many obnoxious debates.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Case for Taylor Hall: Hall carried the Devils on his back this season, with the most obvious evidence being the gulf between his point total (93) and the second-best total on the team (Nico Hischier‘s 52). That might carry a bit more weight in Hart discussions, but it’s still very impressive.

Hall didn’t just hit 30 goals for the first time in his career, he nearly hit 40 at 39. His 54 assists also mark a new career-high, and it’s not as though he didn’t light up scoreboards even when he was scapegoated in Edmonton.

Hall brought his team up with him, certainly making life easier for Hischier during his rookie season.

The Case for Nathan MacKinnon: Nathan MacKinnon was right there (1.31) with Connor McDavid (1.32) in putting up point-per-game numbers relative to this era of scoring, generating 97 points in just 74 games. He mixes McDavid’s per-game brilliance with Hall’s “carrying his team to a playoff spot” factor.

The speedy center tied Brayden Point for the NHL’s most game-winning goals at 12.

Avalanche coach Jared Bednar rightfully gets kudos for turning the Avs around, but MacKinnon is the guy who made it easier to say goodbye to Matt Duchene (and move on from a historically bad 2016-17 season).

The Case for Connor McDavid: For the second straight season, McDavid broke 100 points, setting a new career-high with 108 (41 goals, 67 assists). Consider how he scored those points, too; while other 100+ point men Claude Giroux (103) and Nikita Kucherov (100) both scored 36 of their points on the power play, McDavid only generated 20 that way.

McDavid instead was an even-strength maestro, and even threw in four shorthanded points on top of that.

Much like Crosby and other star athletes adding wrinkles to their skill sets as time goes along, McDavid keeps getting better. That’s a frightening thing for the league, as he’s already the best.

McDavid was last year’s winner, by the way.

2018 NHL Award finalists
Jack Adams Award
Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award
King Clancy Trophy
Calder Trophy

Bill Masterton Trophy
Lady Byng Trophy
Norris Trophy
Selke Trophy
Vezina Trophy

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.

Andrew Hammond to start Game 5 for Avalanche

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When the Colorado Avalanche hit the ice in Nashville on Friday night they will be facing elimination. They will also need to rely on their third-string goalie to help get them a win if they are going to extend their season.

The team announced on Thursday that Andrew Hammond will be getting the start, replacing Jonathan Bernier who had to leave Wednesday’s game after two periods with a lower body injury. Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said Bernier’s injury has been a nagging one and that he could still be available off the bench on Friday if needed.

The Avalanche had been starting Bernier because their regular starter, Semyon Varlamov, is out for the remainder of the season due to a lower body injury of his own.

Obviously, this puts the Avalanche in a pretty tough spot. Not only because they have to go on the road against the Presidents’ Trophy winning Predators, but also because they have to turn to a goalie that, including Wednesday’s brief relief appearance, has appeared in just eight NHL games over the past two years. He has faced only 127 shots in those appearances and managed only an .874 save percentage.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

 Hammond’s career has been a fascinating one to this point.

Late in the 2014-15 season he came out of nowhere as a 25-year-old rookie to lead the Ottawa Senators on an improbable late season run (where Hammond put together a 20-1-2 record) to qualify for the playoffs. Nicknamed “the Hamburglar,” his initial run in Ottawa was highlighted by fans throwing hamburgers on the ice to celebrate his wins.  That run earned him a contract extension with the Senators and a bunch of free hamburgers from McDonalds. It was a crazy year.

After that, though, injuries and a decline in his production have limited him to just a handful of appearances in the NHL.

The Avalanche acquired him from the Senators earlier this season as part of the Matt Duchene trade.

Now he has to jump into the crease in an elimination game.

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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.

Sabres, Senators own top odds in 2018 NHL Draft Lottery

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Now that the 2017-18 NHL regular season has officially come to an end and we know the 16 teams who will vie for the Stanley Cup, we also know the 15 teams who will be hoping ping pong balls fall in their favor in order to win the No. 1 selection in June’s entry draft.

The Buffalo Sabres locked up the top odds earlier this week, and here’s how the rest of the teams look heading into the April 28 (NBC, CBC, TVAS) lottery.

Buffalo Sabres: 18.5%
Ottawa Senators*: 13.5%
Arizona Coyotes: 11.5%
Montreal Canadiens: 9.5%
Detroit Red Wings: 8.5%
Vancouver Canucks: 7.5%
Chicago Blackhawks: 6.5%
New York Rangers: 6.0%
Edmonton Oilers: 5.0%
New York Islanders: 3.5%
Carolina Hurricanes: 3.0%
New York Islanders (from CGY): 2.5%
Dallas Stars: 2.0%
St. Louis Blues**: 1.5%
Florida Panthers: 1.0%

• The Senators, via the Matt Duchene trade, have the option to keep their pick and send the Colorado Avalanche their 2019 first-rounder.

• As per the terms of the Brayden Schenn trade, if the Blues’ pick ends up being in the top 10, they have the choice to keep it and send the Philadelphia Flyers their 2019 first-rounder. If not, Philadelphia will get St. Louis’ first-round choice this year.

2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Schedule, Bracket, Streams and More

Via the NHL, the 2018 Draft Lottery will consist of three drawings: the first Lottery Draw will determine the team selecting first overall, the second Lottery Draw will determine the team selecting second overall and the third Lottery Draw will determine the team selecting third overall.

The odds for the remaining clubs will increase on a proportionate basis for the second Lottery Draw, based on which club wins the first Lottery Draw, and again for the third Lottery Draw, based on which club wins the second Lottery Draw.

The 12 teams not selected in the 2018 Draft Lottery will be assigned 2018 NHL Draft selections 4 through 15, in inverse order of regular-season points.

Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov, Filip Zadina, Oliver Wahlstrom, Quinn Hughes and Brady Tkachuk are among the top prizes in this year’s entry draft. This is the third time in five years that the Sabres have owned the top odds. Will the third time finally be the charm?

More: NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round 1 schedule, TV info

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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.

NHL Playoff Push: Blues look to leapfrog Avs before Saturday matchup

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Only one game on the schedule Friday night has playoff implications, while the other three could have an affect on final seeds as we enter the last weekend of the regular season. Saturday is the big night when clinching scenarios come back into play.

Here’s an updated look at the standings:

EAST

The Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils earned playoff berths on Thursday, leaving the race between the Philadelphia Flyers and Florida Panthers to complete the Eastern Conference field. Philly holds a four-point advantage ahead of Saturday’s finale against the New York Rangers. The Panthers, meanwhile, have a tragic number of 1 with games against Buffalo and Boston remaining.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

WEST

The Chicago Blackhawks get another opportunity to play spoiler against their Central Division rivals in the St. Louis Blues. Following a come-from-behind 4-3 victory on Wednesday night, the Blackhawks — who announced on Thursday that Joel Quenneville and Stan Bowman will be back next season — host Friday night’s meeting at United Center. The Blues, who have a tragic number of 3, have two games remaining and currently sit one point behind the Colorado Avalanche for the final wild card spot. The Avs have one game to play, which comes Saturday against the Blues where things could get real fun.

If The Playoffs Started Today

Eastern Conference
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
Washington Capitals vs. New Jersey Devils
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

Western Conference
Nashville Predators vs. Colorado Avalanche
Winnipeg Jets vs. Minnesota Wild
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Anaheim Ducks
San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

Friday’s Key Game
St. Louis Blues at Chicago Blackhawks, 8:30 p.m. ET

Tank Watch
1 – Sabres
(18.5 percent), 62 points, 80 games, 24 ROW
2 – Senators (13.5), 67 points, 80 GP, 26 ROW*
3 – Coyotes (11.5), 70 points, 81 GP, 27 ROW
4 – Canadiens
 (9.5) 71 points, 81 GP, 27 ROW
5 – Red Wings (8.5) 72 points, 81 GP, 25 ROW
6 – Canucks (7.5), 72 points, 81 GP, 31 ROW
7 – Oilers (6.5) 76 points, 81 GP, 31 ROW
8 – Blackhawks (6.0) 76 points, 80 GP, 32 ROW
9 – Rangers (5.0), 77 points, 81 GP, 31 ROW
10 – Islanders (3.5) 78 points, 81 GP, 31 ROW
11 – Hurricanes (3.0) 81 points, 81 GP, 32 ROW
12 – Flames (2.5) 82 points, 81 GP, 34 ROW (*Pick owned by NYI)
13 – Stars (2.0) 90 points, 80 GP, 37 ROW
14 – Panthers (1.5) 92 points, 80 GP, 39 ROW
15 – Blues (1.0) 92 points, 80 GP, 40 ROW*

• Senators can keep their 2018 first-round pick and give the Avalanche their 2019 first-round pick as part of the Matt Duchene trade.

• Following the Brayden Schenn trade, St. Louis can move their 2018 first-round pick to 2019 if it falls in the Top 10.

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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.