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Who should coach Sabres, Ducks, Oilers, Senators?

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When you look at the four conference finalists remaining in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, you’ll notice a variety of coaching stories.

There’s quite a mix with a midseason replacement (Craig Berube for the Blues), a rookie breakthrough (Rod Brind’Amour for Carolina), someone who’s been effective with an established team (the Bruins’ Bruce Cassidy), and a veteran running a star-packed squad (Peter DeBoer with the Sharks). There are many ways to skin the cat, and that point becomes clearer when you zoom out to other success stories, such as Barry Trotz’s fantastic work with the New York Islanders.

With Joel Quenneville readying his sunscreen for Florida, Alain Vigneault leading a band of former head coaches in Philly, and Todd McLellan landing his second California gig with the Los Angeles Kings, you’d think that the game of musical chairs that is coaching hiring would be mostly done for the NHL, but that’s not really so. As of Tuesday, the Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres, Edmonton Oilers, and Ottawa Senators are still looking for new head coaches.

Let’s take a look at the decisions these four teams face, from a broader look at what type of coach they should look for, to a more concrete set of targets they should prioritize.

Anaheim Ducks should seek: An innovator

GM Bob Murray needs to face reality: “old-school” just isn’t working so well for the Ducks any longer.

This team ignored warning signs that Randy Carlyle’s work was behind the times, and those warts really sprouted up during a pretty disastrous 2018-19 season. If you look at the Ducks’ salary structure, you’ll see some troublingly aging core players like Ryan Getzlaf and the injured Ryan Kesler (both 34) and Corey Perry (33).

We’ve seen teams face a slump where they miss the playoffs before getting back on track, though, and there’s a chance the Ducks could join that group if thing swing back in their favor.

That’s especially true if John Gibson remains an all-world goaltender. Combine Gibson with a still-solid group of defensemen and decent forwards (Getzlaf’s getting old, but he can still move the needle), and maybe the Ducks’ outlook can go sunnier quickly.

Ducks targets:

  • Dallas Eakins – The breath of fresh air Anaheim needs could be right with the AHL’s affiliate, as Eakins seems forward-thinking when it comes to resting players and analytics. He’s also had success basically everywhere he’s been … except Edmonton. Even there, it’s not as if he had a lot of time to fix all the leaks for the Oilers.
  • Todd Nelson – Another briefly-former-Oilers coach who’s had success basically everywhere else he’s been. Nelson’s both reasonably young and well-traveled, making him a worthy consideration for multiple teams, really.
  • Sheldon KeefeIn Elliotte Friedman’s latest edition of “31 Thoughts“, he reported that Keefe wouldn’t leave the Toronto Marlies, unless it was for a better situation. Maybe the young coach wouldn’t view the Ducks as an upgrade, although you rarely see perfect teams making coaching searches, right?

The Ducks could also go for an older coach if they believe that bench boss would drive immediate results in a way that a fresher face wouldn’t … but personally, I’d lean toward youngsters.

Sabres should find: Structure

For years, there’s been an uncomfortable question lingering for Buffalo: is this team underachieving, or is the talent simply not there?

Either way, the optics haven’t been great, as the Sabres have often looked rudderless. They’ve really struggled to find stability since the lengthy Lindy Ruff era ended, and it sure feels like Buffalo needs to find this year’s version of Barry Trotz: an experienced coach who can install systems that won’t collapse under the pressure of competition.

Sabres’ best target:

  • Dave Tippett – At 57, Tippett has already coached two teams (the Stars and Coyotes) for a combined 1,114 regular-season games and 74 playoff contests. His squads have been structurally sound, and Tippett often found ways to get the most out of limited Coyotes rosters. He won a Jack Adams Award in 2009-10, and while he hasn’t had a head coaching job since 2016-17, Tippett remains focused on the game.

There are other options, with Friedman reporting that another former Oilers coach Ralph Krueger possibly being the frontrunner but … frankly, I just really like the fit for Buffalo. Maybe Tippett wouldn’t view the Sabres the same way, though.

(UPDATE: The Sabres have decided to hire Ralph Krueger.)

Oilers need: An exorcist

Just kidding. Plus, you could argue the same for the Senators, and to an extent, the Sabres.

My impression is that the Oilers could use optimism and positive, forward energy as much as anything else. It says a lot about their organizational dysfunction that you can almost forget that they have Connor McDavid, as well as some other key pieces.

Yes, the roster has issues, but maybe a more offensive-minded coach could get things going in a more modern direction, rather than trying to squeeze every drop of defensive potential out of this mix, as both Ken Hitchcock and Todd McLellan generally aimed to do? Considering how grim the atmosphere seemed to be, these players may benefit from a pat on the back after being barked at for some time.

Oilers’ options:

  • Sheldon Keefe – Would Keefe value having McDavid and Leon Draisaitl enough to risk leaving the Marlies for the Oilers? If so, what better way for Edmonton to show that its not some “old boys club” than to hire such a young head coach?
  • Todd Nelson– Ken Holland observed Nelson’s success with the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate for years, so maybe that would inspire Holland to allow Nelson to get another, more “real” shot with Edmonton this time around?
  • Scott Sandelin/Nate Leaman – I’d be surprised if the Oilers went bold with Keefe or either of these two NCAA coaches, but I also think they’re worth mentioning. Rather than going for a retread in the form of a former head coach (who’s had more legitimate chances than a Nelson or an Eakins), why not see if one of these coaches has a higher ceiling?

Tippett seems to be a rising choice for Edmonton, and the Oilers could certainly go in worse directions. It feels a bit more of the same, though, as bringing in Hitchcock. Maybe Nelson would be the best compromise between bringing in fresher ideas and appeasing … well, that old boys club?

Senators should look for: An optimist … and a stopgap

In the above cases, teams are hoping to finally take big steps forward, or in the case of the Ducks, to reverse a downward spiral.

Honestly, the Ottawa Senators are better off tanking in 2019-20, and probably for a year or two beyond that. They purged a ton of talent by trading away Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, Mike Hoffman, and others in recent seasons, and it’s tough to imagine overachieving doing much for the team’s bigger picture outlook beyond messing up their draft lottery odds.

With how dark things have been for the Senators, they could use a positive presence, preferably a coach who’s patient enough to help develop the Brady Tkachuks of the world. Put some smiles on some faces … just don’t win too much.

Ottawa’s options:

  • Marc Crawford – Becoming something of a coaching journeyman’s likely given Crawford some perspective. He served as interim head coach, so he already has some knowledge of the players and franchise, which can’t be underrated when you consider how … polarizing owner Eugene Melnyk can be.
  • Troy Mann– Carries much of the appeal of Crawford, as he’s coached the Senators’ AHL affiliate. He’d probably be cheap as a first-time NHL head coach too, which is, erm, appealing to Melnyk.
  • Scott Sandelin/Nate Leaman – A more sensible scenario for an NCAA coach to take over. Expectations would be low, so Sandelin or Leaman would get some time to acclimate to the NHL. Theoretically, at least. Might be a tough sell for either one to leave successful programs to try to fix the Senators, though.
  • Lane Lambert – Plenty of experience (and potential?) as Barry Trotz’s assistant, and hey, if you’re going to be bad, at least distract yourself with his amusing hair. (Note: Sportsnet’s John Shannon reports that the Ducks have also shown interest in Lambert.)

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None of these situations feel like easy or obvious fixes, and the best options might not be listed above. Then again, things didn’t seem very optimistic for the Islanders when Trotz took over, or for Berube when the Blues were ranked last during this season, and those scenarios ended up being wild successes.

Who would you go after if you were running those teams?

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.

Ducks’ Kesler ‘unlikely’ to play next season after hip surgery

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Anaheim Ducks forward Ryan Kesler underwent right hip resurfacing surgery last week, putting his 2019-2020 NHL season in doubt.

According to the Ducks, the 34-year-old could resume his playing career “following a lengthy recovery” and that the procedure is a “bone-preserving hip replacement that can provide pain relief and increase function in normal activities of daily living.”

“At this point in my career, this surgery was the best option for my quality of life,” said Kesler in a statement. “The pain I was suffering has been greatly reduced since the procedure, and I’m grateful for that. While my playing future is unknown, I’m in a good place. I want to thank all the doctors and trainers as part of ‘Team Kesler,’ my teammates, my agent Kurt Overhardt, the Ducks organization, the fans, and most importantly, my family, for their support. I’m extremely appreciative of everyone that has helped me through the process. I look forward to spending more time with my family and doing everyday activities without pain.”

“As we all know, Ryan has been fiercely battling his condition for quite some time,” said Ducks general manager Bob Murray. “I’ve been extremely impressed by his determination to play despite being significantly injured. At this point, Ryan needs to think about his life and family. The pain he felt was significant and we agree with his decision to have this surgery. While it’s unlikely he will play in 2019-20, we will support any decision he makes about his future playing career. He deserves the utmost respect, which he will receive from the entire Ducks organization as he contemplates his future.”

Kesler’s contract runs through the 2021-22 NHL season and carries a $6.875M cap hit, per Cap Friendly.

Over the last two seasons, Kesler has played through injury and suited up for only 104 games with the Ducks, scoring 13 goals and recording 22 points over that span. He missed the final 15 games of this season as the pain in his hip got worse. During the team’s locker clean out day last month, he said the hip pain made even the simplest things, like putting socks on, difficult.

“I was in a good spot, and it’s just the grind of the season,” said Kesler. “The back-to-back games, and the four games in six nights. That’s what broke me down and broke my hip down over the course of the year.”

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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.

WATCH LIVE: 2019 NHL Draft Lottery and NBCSN playoff preview

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The 2019 NHL Draft Lottery will be held Tuesday night in Toronto with 15 teams hoping luck is on their side as they vie for the chance to select either Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko.

For the last four years, the draft lottery has taken place during the first-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The NHL announced last month that it is going back to the old way and holding it the night before the opening round begins.

Per the NHL, here’s how it will work:

The 2019 NHL Draft Lottery will consist of three drawings: the 1st Lottery Draw will determine the club selecting first overall, the 2nd Lottery Draw will determine the club selecting second overall and the 3rd Lottery Draw will determine the club selecting third overall.

The odds for the remaining teams will increase on a proportionate basis for the 2nd Lottery Draw, based on which club wins the 1st Lottery Draw, and again for the 3rd Lottery Draw, based on which club wins the 2nd Lottery Draw.

The 12 clubs not selected in the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery will be assigned 2019 NHL Draft selections 4 through 15, in inverse order of regular-season points.

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Via the NHL, the allocation of odds for the first Lottery Draw of the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery is as follows:

(Fewest Points to Most)               Odds
Colorado Avalanche (from OTT)  18.5%
Los Angeles Kings                         13.5%
New Jersey Devils                         11.5%
Detroit Red Wings                           9.5%
Buffalo Sabres                                 8.5%
New York Rangers                          7.5%
Edmonton Oilers                             6.5%
Anaheim Ducks                               6.0%
Vancouver Canucks                        5.0%
Philadelphia Flyers                          3.5%
Minnesota Wild                                3.0%
Chicago Blackhawks                       2.5%
Florida Panthers                              2.0%
Arizona Coyotes                              1.5%
Montreal Canadiens                        1.0%

Following coverage of the Draft Lottery, NBCSN will host a playoff preview show analyzing all of the Round 1 matchups of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The 60-minute program will include live interviews and reports with analyst Mike Milbury in Boston to preview Maple Leafs-Bruins, NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May to discuss the Hurricanes-Capitals series, and NBC Sports California host Brodie Brazil to examine the Golden Knights-Sharks matchup.

Liam McHugh will anchor the program alongside analysts Keith Jones and Anson Carter. Kathryn Tappen will serve as an on-site host in Toronto for NBC Sports’ coverage of the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery.

MORE: NBC Sports 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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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.

Ducks expect return to playoff form after disappointing year

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Cam Fowler are the only Ducks left from the last early summer in Anaheim.

The Ducks’ six-year streak of Stanley Cup playoff appearances has ended, but their veterans are determined to make sure this disappointment leads Anaheim right back to the postseason.

”It’s the worst thing to have to go out every night and know you’re not competing for a playoff spot,” Getzlaf said after the Ducks finished their worst regular season since 2012 with a 5-2 win over rival Los Angeles. ”We’ve got to build off of that.”

Before it all fell apart during a profound winter slump, the Ducks had won five Pacific Division titles and reached two Western Conference finals in a six-year span of consistent excellence. Anaheim clearly had more talent than its 35-37-10 record suggested, yet none of it mattered during a 5-21-4 midseason stretch that proved too large to overcome.

”This whole year has just been a roller coaster of emotions and new experiences,” said forward Jakob Silfverberg, who led the Ducks and hit a new career high with 24 goals.

The Ducks got off to another solid start to their season: After they beat Pittsburgh on Dec. 17, they sat comfortably in second place in the Pacific, just three points off the Western Conference lead.

Anaheim also finished strongly, racking up an NHL-best 23 points from its final 17 games (11-5-1).

In between was some of the worst hockey played by this franchise in the past 15 years.

Anaheim’s misery included a 12-game skid, a separate seven-game losing streak, seven shutout losses and individual defeats by scores of 6-2, 6-1, 9-3 and 7-4.

Coach Randy Carlyle was fired during that drought, and general manager Bob Murray moved behind the bench to examine his franchise up-close. With a few tweaks of their system and a fresh start, the Ducks returned to playing postseason-worthy hockey under Murray, including a 7-2-1 finish with the playoffs out of reach.

”The wins and losses down the stretch don’t mean a whole lot at this point,” Getzlaf said. ”But getting back to the way we wanted to play … in training camp next year, the guys in this room that are back will have a good idea of what we need.”

Barring major trades – which Murray has been historically reluctant to make – the Ducks could return with most of this season’s core, including stellar goalie John Gibson and a solid group of players near their prime including Silfverberg, Rickard Rakell, Adam Henrique, Ondrej Kase, Fowler and Hampus Lindholm.

The Ducks’ productive farm system also has another burgeoning crop of young talent, much of which got a chance to play late in this lost season. Forwards Troy Terry, Sam Steel and Max Jones all appear NHL-ready, along with defenseman Jacob Larsson and young trade acquisition Daniel Sprong.

Getzlaf and Perry are under contract for three more high-priced seasons apiece, and both contributed decently through injuries this season. But the Ducks must figure out what to do with Ryan Kesler and Patrick Eaves, two well-paid veteran forwards who have five months of rest and rehabilitation coming up after their careers were ground to a halt by health woes.

Murray also must replace himself as the Ducks’ coach. Dallas Eakins, the former Edmonton coach currently finishing his fourth year in charge of the Ducks’ AHL affiliate in San Diego, is thought to be the favorite.

The Ducks’ 5-1-1 finish to the season culminated with a comfortable win over their biggest rivals in a sold-out Honda Center. The players and their fans all expect to have much more to celebrate next spring.

”We’ve been playing pretty good lately, and we’ve been feeling pretty good in this room,” Silfverberg said. ”So I wouldn’t say it’s a shame, but it’s tough that it ends here. … We’ve had a good team all year. We had a team to compete against all the teams in this league, and if we play to our level, we can beat anyone. We have a bright future here, and we’re going to set our standards high for next year. We’re going to be a team that’s pushing hard for the playoffs.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

John Gibson deserves to be Vezina candidate, if not the winner

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If there’s one travesty come June when the NHL’s awards are handed out, it’s that John Gibson won’t be up on stage receiving the Vezina Trophy for the NHL’s best goaltender.

Yes. John Gibson. An NHL goaltender on one of the worst teams in the league, a team that’s fighting for the right to pick first overall rather than raise a second Stanley Cup banner in Anaheim.

It might seem like insanity. Maybe it is.

The Vezina’s three finalists will probably look something like this: Andrei Vasilevskiy, Ben Bishop and Frederik Andersen.

Vasilevskiy, of course, because he’s an incredible goaltender playing on perhaps the best regular-season team in NHL history in the Tampa Bay Lightning. There’s a solid case to be made for a guy with six shutouts, a .927 save percentage and 37 wins entering Friday.

Bishop, because he leads the league with a .933 save percentage and has given a low-scoring Dallas Stars team every opportunity to be in the playoff position they’re in.

Andersen, because despite the milk carton defense in Toronto, has put together an impressive season sans help from his Maple Leafs teammates.

Their numbers are the shiny ones you see when you Google goalie statistics. Their names are atop the rankings of basic goaltending statistics.

They’re all elite goalies, don’t get me wrong, and this is taking nothing away from what they’ve accomplished.

But what John Gibson has done trumps them all.

Gibson’s numbers, on a surface level, look pedestrian. He’s posted a .915 save percentage and a 2.89 goals-against average in 56 appearances this season. There are several guys ahead of him in that category and likely where the wheels begin to fall off in his Vezina case.

Are the NHL’s 31 general managers, who vote on the Vezina, going to dig much deeper? Probably not, and that’s where Gibson’s case comes to a screeching halt.

Here’s some truth: Gibson has saved more goals above the league average than any other goalie in the NHL this season. His goals-saved above average is 17.8, nearly a full goal and a half above Jaroslav Halak and more than a goal and a half more than Bishop. Andersen? Gibson’s got him beat by over 10 goals. Vasilevskiy? 16.

More truth: Among the 37 goalies this season that have played 1,500 minutes or more, Gibson ranks lowest with an expected save percentage of .913 in 5v5 situations when you factor in the type of shot quality he’s faced. His adjusted save percentage when look at the difference in his actual save percentage of .927 and the expect numbers, you arrive a 1.37, fourth best in the NHL, meaning that Gibson is well above the average of what he should be given the quality of shots he’s faced.

Speaking of quality and the number of shots faced, Gibson has seen more high-danger shots fired his way (299) than any other goalie in the league, and despite this, he’s managed a .823 save percentage, good for ninth best — higher than Andersen and Vasilevskiy. Bishop (.854, 207 shots against) is third, but has seen 92 less high-danger shots.

One more thing: Gibson has seen the fifth-most shots against per 60 minutes played, just slightly behind Andersen, both of whom are well ahead of Bishop and Vasilevskiy.

All these numbers aren’t just for show. They’re important statistics that show just how incredible Gibson’s season has been with the Ducks.

Recency bias won’t help his cause. People will say his season was front-loaded as the Ducks surprised a lot of people with their playoff positioning early on. Does Andersen get the same treatment? Does Vasilevskiy get dinged for the fact he’s blessed by an offensive and defensive juggernaut in front of him?

But don’t blame Gibson because his back broke from carrying the team so hard. Without him, the lowest scoring team in the NHL might be giving the 1974-75 Washington Capitals a run for their money for worst record ever.

Look, all four of these goalies deserve Vezina recognition. There are others, too. Robin Lehner on Long Island, Pekka Rinne in country music’s capital, Marc-Andre Fleury in Sin City.

The point of this exercise is this: often we write off great players on bad teams. Connor McDavid not deserving the Hart Trophy because he plays for the Edmonton Oilers is just one example. The problem with this mindset is we miss the exceptional that gets neglected because of it.

People will brush off a season like Gibson is having, saying his surface statistics are nothing to write home about and will continue along their merry way.

And that’s a shame, because if the Vezina is truly an award for the best goalie in NHL, then Gibson deserves to be, at the very least, in the room in Las Vegas later this June, if not on the stage saying his thank yous.

(Stats courtesy of Corsica)

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck