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Hurricanes owner on changes, Brind’Amour: ‘Strategy is pretty overrated’

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Hope you like buzzwords. And Rod Brind’Amour.

The Carolina Hurricanes held a press conference to elaborate on their decisions to make Brind’Amour their new head coach and give Don Waddell the title of GM. There were certainly some … interesting comments from the parties involved.

Interesting, but not necessarily all that informative. Just about every “here’s our shiny new head coach” press conference keeps things fairly non-specific. It’s not like you’ll want to lay out every detail of your scheme, and sports teams often guard their ideas as if they’re precious snowflakes and not fairly obvious blueprints.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Still, with plenty of questions about (possibly meddling?) new owner Tom Dundon, it’s tough not to furrow your brow at certain comments, unless you’re a real sucker for talk of intangibles.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that strategy is pretty overrated,” Dundon said, via Canes Country. “I don’t believe the strategy differences are as important as getting the right culture and the right attitude. I think [Brind’Amour] gives us the best chance to get the most out of our players.”

This sort of old-school talk was pretty prevalent. Brind’Amour also vaguely spoke of “getting more out of players.”

That’s all well and good, and hey, you’re probably more likely to fear a coach who’s probably more ripped than just about everyone in the locker room. Perhaps the comparison is that Brind’Amour will be “tough” where Bill Peters was more … analytical? Maybe things are simply going to be more fluid for a guy who was a Selke-level two-way player but hasn’t ever been a head coach?

It’s difficult to shake the impression that the Hurricanes are going “traditional” after years of being possession-driving darlings who sputtered short of the postseason finish line. That’s how the messaging feels, at least.

That doesn’t mean that Dundon, Waddell, and Brind’Amour are guaranteed to pull a Florida Panthers-style takedown of the elements of the roster and team that inspired people to make Carolina a chic dark horse pick for years, though.

For all we know, this franchise might more progressive that it’s leading on. Dundon at least provides good lip service to progressive-leaning mindsets, as Elliotte Friedman noted in an edition of “31 Thoughts” when Dundon sought the sort of thinking that powered the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that boldly goes with analytics when it comes to approaching fourth downs and other decisions.

Wherever the Hurricanes organization falls on the spectrum of “old, stuffy, and obsessed with notions of grit” to “waves of small, skilled players who never dump the puck,” the bottom line is that goaltending will probably still determine Carolina’s fortunes.

There might be some downsides if Brind’Amour struggles tactically; it’s something we seemingly witnessed during this past season with Doug Weight and the porous New York Islanders.

On the other hand, perhaps a regime change might help Scott Darling view 2018-19 as a truly clean slate?

The Hurricanes are locked into the towering goalie for three more seasons at a $4.15 million cap hit, as it’s tough to imagine a trade happening that wouldn’t require Carolina giving up useful assets. The best course of action is to take a “nowhere to go but up” approach, and a new voice might help in that regard.

A rebound might have happened either way, as it’s tough to imagine Darling sporting a horrific .888 save percentage again. And, even if that risk is real, you’d have to hope that the Hurricanes – old school or not – will be smart enough to invest in a “1b” backup and finally move on from their “Cam Ward, shrug” days.

If the goaltending exceeds the “average” they’ve fallen short of for years and instead is downright great, then people will look like geniuses even if all of the buzzword-talk is largely hot air.

There’s also no denying the fact that Hurricanes fans really, really, love “Rod the Bod.” Granted, not everyone is optimistic.

Can Brind’Amour cut it as an NHL head coach? Will the Hurricanes start to get the bounces (more goals, more saves) after years of being on the wrong side of the PDO? Is Dundon going to be the wrong sort of meddling owner?

Today’s press conferences were never going to answer those questions. They provided interesting fodder as this franchise approaches what should be an intriguing summer nonetheless.

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.

What if Predators need more from second line in Game 7?

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It’s remarkable that the Nashville Predators managed to push the Jets to a Game 7, and not just because of the wealth of talent in Winnipeg.

Instead, it’s a testament to how dangerous the top line (Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson) can be and, while there have been some ups and downs, how much of a difference Pekka Rinne and that defense can make. Because, frankly, the Predators’ second line has been a letdown.

An effective second line really helped Nashville win its first Central Division title and Presidents’ Trophy in 2017-18.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

On nights that the top line struggled, or the Predators simply needed to trade goals, the trio of Kevin FialaKyle TurrisCraig Smith often soared. Sometimes they looked like another top line, particularly during Turris’ hot start after being traded from the Ottawa Senators.

Now, it’s true that there have been some moments of brilliance. They came through during one especially big moment when the Predators needed them, as Turris made a nice play to unleash Craig Smith, who fed Fiala for a big overtime goal earlier in the Jets series:

Those moments have been few and far between for this intriguing line, though.

So far during the postseason, Turris has been a bust, only managing three assists in 12 playoff contests. Much like Johansen, Turris tends to pass first, but his minimal numbers stand as maybe the most troubling of that trio.

Smith’s numbers are a bit reminiscent of Rick Nash, as the possession stats and shots are there (29 SOG through 12 games). This moment captures some of Smith’s struggles:

Fiala might represent the most extreme highs and lows for the second line.

On one hand, he scored that huge OT goal, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the speedy winger made some big plays in Game 7. Fiala seems to have a sense of the moment, as he also scored a big OT goal against Chicago during the 2017 run.

The bigger picture is mixed for the young forward, though. He’s been limited to three goals and one assist for four points during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Fiala has even been a healthy scratch during this series.

When you consider these struggles, the Predators have to be pretty happy that they’re a win away from another trip to the third round. Forsberg’s ascent to stardom alongside that lethal top line stands as a big reason why, and Nashville’s seen players like Austin Watson and Colton Sissons step up (particularly during the first round).

[Soak in Forsberg and the rest of the first line’s dominant Game 6 performances]

It’s conceivable that Nashville could survive this huge challenge even if the second line flounders. It’s also worth acknowledging that the Predators are far from the only team that’s wanted more from supporting cast members during this postseason. You can file some of this under “easier said than done.”

Still, whether it’s in Game 7 against the Jets on Thursday, or against the Golden Knights if Nashville manages to advance, the Predators are going to want more from Fiala, Turris, and Smith sooner rather than later. So far, that group hasn’t really been able to deliver as hoped.

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.

Futures of Thornton, Kane among key questions for Sharks

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With long-term commitments to Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Martin Jones (not to mention some mid-term deals for less prominent pieces), the San Jose Sharks are largely “set” on defense and in net. They even have backup goalie Aaron Dell locked up through 2019-20.

Things get almost as fuzzy as Joe Thornton‘s beard when it comes to the futures of their forwards, though.

Plenty of questions lingered as members of the Sharks addressed the media on Tuesday.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

For one thing, it’s more than reasonable to wonder about how viable Thornton can be. This isn’t as much about his age alone (38, turning 39 in July), but how much can be expected of “Jumbo Joe” after tearing up each of his knees.

In 2016-17, Thornton dealt with a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee. It turns out that his 2017-18 season was derailed by a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee, as he told reporters including the Athletic’s Kevin Kurz. Yikes.

On the bright side, it sounds like Thornton is willing to be flexible when it comes to making things work with San Jose. The Mercury News’ Paul Gackle is among those who report that Thornton said he’d be willing to a) take a one-year deal and b) accept a cut from the $8 million he received last season.

And that’s where things get fun, at least if you’re a nerd for armchair GM/”franchise mode” discussions. Via Cap Friendly, the Sharks have about $60.49 million committed to their 2018-19 cap as of this moment. With next year’s ceiling expected to be somewhere between $78-82M, that’s ample room for the Sharks to make some interesting moves.

Joe and Evander

On one hand, that could open the door for the Sharks to bring both Thornton and Evander Kane back while also making some other, smaller moves.

There’s a scenario where that could really work for the Sharks. Considering the chemistry Kane developed with Joe Pavelski, the Sharks could have Thornton carry a line, roll with Kane – Pavelski, and then ask Logan Couture to exploit some matchup issues. They could also load up in different ways, maybe putting Pavelski and Kane with Thornton.

The most tantalizing thing for San Jose is that there’s another scenario that could work out even better, at least on paper.

The inevitable Tavares talk

Now, just about any NHL team with a shot at John Tavares should pursue him. It’s a stance that we might as well copy-and-paste at this point. Still, the Sharks hold some key advantages over other pursuers, and they’ve earned specific mentions as an interested party.

Heck, the connection’s been made for more than a year.

They have ample cap space not only to sign Tavares, but also to make some other moves to supplement their group. If Tavares leaves the New York Islanders – a big if, by the way – he’d likely justify such a decision by trying to give himself the best opportunity to win a Stanley Cup. The Sharks stand among the better “win now” teams who also have space to add Tavares. They don’t need to make trades to clear up space for him, either. That’s rare.

It’s to the point that, to some Islanders fans, it might become an irritating meme.

If the Sharks believe they have a real chance at Tavares, they might find themselves delaying other decisions. That’s what happens when you can add the sort of player who not only has a chance to change your fortunes, but perhaps one who could take up close to 20 percent of your cap space.

There’s some precedent to bigger name free agents taking at least a few days to make their big choices. Brad Richards did it, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter added some suspense, and there were even times when things dragged out months when contract details needed to be ironed out, such as when the Devils loophole’d their way to Ilya Kovalchuk. Tavares might want a few nights to sleep on a decision.

Along with that, the Sharks will probably want to really get an idea of how much Thornton has left in the tank. If Evander Kane believes he can get a great deal on the open market, that might mean that his days with San Jose are numbered, even though there were signs that there was a good fit (especially for Kane).

The ripple effects could go beyond 2018-19, too.

Extensions possible

The Sharks also get their first chances to make extension decisions/offers regarding Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture. The two forwards will see their matching $6M cap hits expire after next season, so if San Jose wants to lock them up long-term, they can do so as early as July.

The relief is that Thornton’s willing to go one year, so those decisions would not need to clash.

A possible Tavares addition makes that more complicated, though such an addition may also help the Sharks to convince one or more parties to take a little less money. Maybe.

(We’ve seen Connor McDavid take less than the max, so hockey players make that call at times, whether they actually should or not.)

San Jose does have to mull over the risk/reward regarding a roster that could get old fast, however. Couture turned 29 in March, so he’d be 30 before an extension would kick in. Pavelski is already 33 and will turn 34 in July. Burns is 33 and Vlasic is 31. Kane is relatively young compared to that group at 26, but sometimes snipers age that much more dramatically.

***

These are all situations for GM Doug Wilson to mull over, although the Tavares situation would be a rubber stamp for any executive even halfway worthy of having the gig.

If Tavares is an unrealistic dream – and, again, it’s very dangerous to assume that he won’t stick with the Isles – then the good news is that the Sharks still have space to bring back some key players, maybe dabble in free agency, and maybe even try to make a splashy trade or two.

Falling to the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round might be the sort of thing that gets the Sharks in a Twitter squabble with the Kings, but there could be some really interesting possibilities in this franchise’s future. Wilson just needs to make the right moves … and maybe enjoy some good luck.

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.

The Buzzer: Capitals bump Penguins; Predators stay alive

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Getting over the hump, getting to Game 7

Capitals 2, Penguins 1 [OT] (Capitals win series 4-2)

Call it later than expected or the right time, but the Washington Capitals finally got the best of the Pittsburgh Penguins in a contemporary series. The overtime-clincher seemed to fit the mood of things, too: Alex Ovechkin was on the ice, setting up Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s series-winner, while Sidney Crosby was on the other side, seeing his team’s push for a third consecutive title end. It wasn’t always the prettiest contest in Game 6, but the result was as pretty as anything Washington’s seen in sports in some time. Ovechkin & Co. finally beat the Penguins, and finally made it to the third round.

Predators 4, Jets 0 (Series tied 3-3)

Three of the four second-round series have been decided, but fear not, for we’ll get a Game 7 (on NBCSN on Thursday).

This contest was often closer than the 4-0 score would indicate, but Pekka Rinne was on the top of his game and the Predators’ first line was absolutely sensational. Filip Forsberg generated two beautiful goals and generously assisted on an empty-netter. That empty-netter was the cherry on top for Viktor Arvidsson, who also scored the 1-0 tally that would be the game-winner (not to mention an assist). Ryan Johansen also added two helpers of his own.

The Predators refused to see their season end, and now the Vegas Golden Knights’ third-round opponent will be determined by a winner-takes-all battle in Game 7. Expect fireworks and probably some catfish.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three Stars

1. Predators top line, featuring Forsberg – Let’s cheat and lump all three into the first star category. Forsberg’s goals were so sensational that you can call him the top star and Arvidsson second if you want to be a real stickler about it.

Either way, Forsberg’s not going to be an “under the radar” star much longer if he continues to dominate the highlight reels night after night.

2. Pekka Rinne, Predators – Again, you might look at the 4-0 score and assume that it was a fairly easy day at the office for Rinne, who bounced back from a rough Game 5.

Rinne had to earn that rebound. The towering Finn made all 34 saves for a shutout with his team’s season on the line, blunting a dangerous Winnipeg Jets offense and silencing that crowd. The Jets received three power-play chances in the first period, yet instead of putting Nashville in an early hole, Rinne helped the Predators maintain that early lead after Arvidsson’s goal.

3. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals – Hey, when you score the goal that officially puts the Capitals over the top against the Penguins, you probably deserve a spot in the three stars. Kuznetsov had his chances earlier in Game 6, but to no avail, sometimes maddeningly so.

Some players sulk and fall off the map. Kuznetsov kept plugging away, and when Ovechkin sprung him for a breakaway in overtime, Kuznetsov scored one of the biggest Capitals goals in recent memory. Quite a nice way to help Washington recover from the loss of Nicklas Backstrom, its other key center.

Factoids

Not much solace for Sidney Crosby, but he moved up the all-time rankings with an assist in Game 6:

Yes, this is a big deal for Washington … not just the Capitals.

A reminder that it’s tough to shut down the Jets, but even more unlikely to blank them at home.

This P.K. Subban factoid might be a bit … anecdotal?

Break point

Game 7 between the Predators and Jets won’t take place until Thursday (at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday). That’s a bummer for sure, but maybe spend time with your picnic, walk your dog, wash some dishes …

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.

Predators, Forsberg force Game 7 with win in Winnipeg

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After seeing the Bruins, Sharks, and Penguins fail to fight off elimination, the Nashville Predators dug deep and gave the second round one Game 7 after beating the Winnipeg Jets 4-0.

That score might make it seem like this was a breeze for the Predators, but Game 6 began with some real challenges. The Jets failed to score on three first-period power-play opportunities, and went 0-for-4 overall, as Pekka Rinne bounced back from a tough Game 5.

Rinne was just one of several prominent Predators to come up big with this team’s historic season on the line.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Viktor Arvidsson scored what would stand as the game-winning goal just 1:02 into the contest, avoiding a high-sticking infraction to score a bit of an odd one. Arvidsson ended up capping the scoring, too, with an empty-netter.

Arvidsson’s linemate Filip Forsberg was the Predators player who really stole the show, though.

It almost seems like the slick Swede “only scores highlight reel goals.” His first was, somehow, the slightly less impressive of the two, even though he fought off defensive work that would have earned a power play and also roofed it against Connor Hellebuyck:

Forsberg really put things out of reach with his 3-0 goal, and he’ll likely dominate highlight reels accordingly. After creating a great chance that was narrowly stopped, Forsberg made an audacious between-the-legs move to score his second tally of the contest:

Just jaw-dropping stuff.

During this series, the Jets have highlighted their quick-strike abilities. Simply put, they have snipers and playmakers who can turn a playoff game on  its head, from Patrik Laine‘s deadly shot to Mark Scheifele‘s all-around play and Blake Wheeler‘s under-the-radar stardom. It’s especially impressive that Nashville contained those weapons in front of what ended up being a despondent Winnipeg crowd.

The Predators, particularly Forsberg, showed that they have the sort of high-end forwards who can turn a coin flip into a laugher, too, though. Forsberg (2G, 1A), Arvidsson (2G, 1A), and Ryan Johansen (2A) came up huge alongside Rinne for the Preds, and now this fascinating series is down to one high-pressure game.

Now that this series is going the distance, the two teams will get a little bit of an extra breather, as Game 7 takes place at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday. You can find out which team will face the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2018 Western Conference Final by tuning in on NBCSN or streaming the action live.

It’s difficult to predict what will happen or which team will come out on top in that big contest, but chances are, it will be absolutely spellbinding TV.

Maybe Forsberg & Co. even have a little extra magic left over for what should be a rowdy home crowd in Nashville?

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.