Three reasons to wonder if Babcock might pick the Flyers

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We’re not sure if TSN/NBC insiders Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger are just speculating, or if they’ve been told something, but it’s worth mentioning that both have gone on the radio recently and raised the possibility of the Philadelphia Flyers trying to hire current Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who, of course, has no contract with any team past this season.

Some may look at where the Flyers are in the standings and snicker at this suggestion. But here are three reasons to wonder if maybe, just possibly, Babcock could pick Philly over staying in Detroit:

1. The Red Wings’ two core forwards, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, are both well into their 30s. The Flyers’ two core forwards, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, are still in their 20s. While it’s true the Wings have some excellent young wingers on the roster (Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar) and in the system (Anthony Mantha), their long-term future at the all-important center position is less certain. In Philadelphia, the future down the middle could be Giroux, Scott Laughton, and Sean Couturier. That’s pretty promising. Plus, the Flyers also have some good young wingers on the roster (Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn).

2. When Babcock won his only Stanley Cup in 2007-08, he had a blue line that featured Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, and Niklas Kronwall. Only the latter is still around, and he’s 34 now. While the Flyers’ blue line is arguably its biggest current weakness, there are promising pieces on the way, including Samuel Morin, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Travis Sanheim. Those three won’t be NHL-ready overnight, but would there be a better coach than Babcock to guide their development? And, more importantly, might he see more promise in the future of the Flyers’ blue line than Detroit’s?

3. Money. The Flyers aren’t afraid to spend it. As McKenzie noted on TSN 1050, per Nichols on Hockey, “they’ve got an owner who’s not going to worry about putting a 5 in front of anybody’s salary, and a lot of zeroes after it for a coach.” Not saying Babcock is all about the money, and Detroit should at the very least be willing to make him the highest-paid coach in the NHL. But if Ed Snider sets his sights on Babcock, you just know he’s going to open his checkbook in a big way.

Now, having said all that, the consensus is that Babcock will stay in Detroit. Overall, there’s a lot to like about the Red Wings, including their long-term future. But until he picks a team, the speculation will continue. For now, we’ll keep the Flyers on the list of possibilities.

Poll: Are the Preds legit Stanley Cup contenders?

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The Nashville Predators are one of the big surprise teams of the 2014-15 NHL season.

Probably the biggest, actually.

Even with a healthy Pekka Rinne in goal and Norris Trophy candidate Shea Weber on the blue line, we can’t recall anyone who predicted the Preds would be 25-9-4 after 38 games, good for the highest points percentage in the NHL.

In fact, prior to the season, online sportsbook Bovada set Nashville’s point total at just 76.5. To fall short of that now, the Preds would need to finish something like 12-31-1. That’s how good they’ve been, relative to expectations.

So, with a spot in the playoffs seeming all but assured, the question is begging to be asked — do the Preds have what it takes to win it all?

The argument for ‘Yes’

Nashville has the second-best goals-against average in the NHL. And if there’s one thing that recent Stanley Cup winners have shown us, it’s that defense wins championships.

Goals against of past six Stanley Cup champs
2013-14 Kings (1st, 2.05)
2012-13 Blackhawks (1st, 2.02)
2011-12 Kings (2nd, 2.07)
2010-11 Bruins (2nd, 2.30)
2009-10 Blackhawks (6th, 2.48)

And as the Preds showed this weekend, they can also put the puck in the net. Nashville’s offense is now tied for seventh in the league, averaging 2.95 goals per game. Five-on-five, no team has a higher goals for/against ratio than the Preds, at 1.47.

The argument for ‘No’

It’s more of a subjective one. No matter how good Nashville’s numbers look right now, and no matter how much talent they have in goal and on the back end, can a team really win the Stanley Cup with Mike Ribeiro as its first-line center? Because that’s who it is for the Preds — the 34-year-old who signed for peanuts after he got bought out by the Coyotes due to “behavioral issues” and has never entered the conversation when debating the truly elite centers in hockey.

That conversation has been limited to the likes of Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Patrice Bergeron, Joe Thornton, and Anze Kopitar. You know, players that have won Stanley Cups. Or Hart Trophies. Or Selke Trophies. Or Conn Smythe Trophies.

Go ahead and search the list. Try to find a team that’s won the Stanley Cup without a top center with some serious credentials. You won’t find many.

Time to vote!

Get your game notes: Red Wings at Bruins

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Tonight on NBCSN, it’s the Boston Bruins hosting the Detroit Red Wings at 7 p.m. ET. Following are some game notes, as compiled by the NHL on NBC research team:

• Head-to-Head: This is the 3rd of 5 meetings this season between these Original Six teams, and current Atlantic Division rivals. They have split the season series thus far…

• Oct. 9 at DET: DET def. BOS 2-1.

• Oct. 15 at DET: BOS def. DET 3-2 (SO).

• DET F Gustav Nyquist had one goal in each game of the series (both PPGs). G Jimmy Howard was in the Red Wings’ net for both games.

• BOS F David Krejci and F Reilly Smith each had a goal in regulation and the shootout in the Oct. 15 meeting. G Tuukka Rask also started both games in net for BOS.

• 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs: BOS beat DET 4 games to 1 in their First Round playoff series last season…

• Detroit shut out Boston in Game 1, but the Bruins won 4 straight to advance to the Second Round.

• Atlantic Division matchup: Detroit sits 2nd in the division, while Boston is currently 6th…

• With 47 points, Detroit trails only division-leading Tampa Bay (48 points), but the Wings have a game in hand. Detroit stands 4th in the Eastern Conference.

• The B’s (39 points) are currently outside the playoff picture, trailing 5th-place Florida (40 points) by a point in the division standings and Washington (42 points) by 3 points for the 2nd Wild Card spot in the East.

• Detroit back on track: The Wings have now won back-to-back games following a 6-game losing streak
(0-2-4) earlier in the month…

• Detroit entered the holiday break with a 6-3 W vs. BUF, followed by a 3-2 (OT) W vs. OTT on Saturday coming out of the break.

• Their 9 goals in the past 2 games equal the number they scored in the previous 7 games (1-2-4).

• That 6-game losing streak was a season high, but 5 of the 6 were one-goal games and all 4 OT/SO losses came in the shootout.

• DET has the most SO losses (7) in the NHL this season. The Wings are 1-7 in the shootout, and
4-9 in games that go past regulation overall.

• December slump for the Bruins: The B’s have lost twice as many games as they have won this month, going 4-6-2…

• With a loss of any kind tonight, Boston would have its first sub-.500 month since Feb. 2012, when the B’s went 5-7-1 (the Bruins finish their December schedule on New Year’s Eve vs. TOR).

• BOS is coming off a 6-2 loss at CBJ on Saturday, a game in which both starter Niklas Svedberg and Tuukka Rask each gave up 3 goals on 15 shots.

• The B’s had won 2 straight games leading up to the break – home wins over BUF (4-3 OT) and NSH (5-3).

• Boston has allowed more goals (95) than it has scored (91) this season. Last season, Boston led the NHL in margin for outscoring opponents, and it has not allowed more goals than it has scored in a season since 2007-08.

• Special Teams glance: Detroit ranks 3rd in PP% (24.3%) and 2nd in PK% (88.4%), while BOS is in the lower 3rd of the league in both (see team stats section below for all rankings)…

• DET has PP goals in 3 straight games (6-for-13 overall), and is 40-for-43 on the PK in December.

• BOS has just 3 PPG in their last 18 games (3-for-37 overall), but 2 of those have come in the last 3 games.

DETROIT TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• F Gustav Nyquist scored a highlight-reel OT winner against OTT on Saturday – his team-leading 15th goal.

• Nyquist leads the team in PPG (8 – T-3rd in NHL).

• Nyquist has 38 goals in his last 70 regular-season games.

• Against BOS: Nyquist has goals in each game vs. BOS this season, and 4G-1A in 4 career GP vs. the B’s.

• Captain F Henrik Zetterberg has played in all 36 games, and leads the Wings in points (32) and assists (24).

• Zetterberg had 1G, 1A vs. OTT on Saturday, extending his point streak to 4 games overall (3G-3A).

• F Pavel Datsyuk began the season on injured reserve with a separated shoulder (suffered in preseason), and overall he has played in just 25 of the team’s 36 games.

• Despite this, Datsyuk has 13G-13A this season to rank 2nd on the team in points (26).

• Datsyuk enters tonight on a 3-game point streak (1G-2A).

• G Jimmy Howard returned on Saturday after injuring his groin vs. NYI on Dec. 19 (missed 2 starts). He stopped 31 of 33 shots in the OT win.

• Howard has just 1 regulation loss in his last 11 starts (6-1-3, 2.08 GAA, .922 SV%) dating back to Nov. 24.

• Overall this season, Howard is 14-5-7 with a 2.05 GAA and .922 SV%.

• Career vs. BOS: Howard is 5-1-1 with a 1.95 GAA and .937 SV%.

BOSTON TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• With a goal against CBJ, F Patrice Bergeron extended his point streak to 3 games (1G-4A).

• Bergeron leads the Bruins in points (27) in 36 GP.

• According to coach Claude Julien, Bergeron and F Milan Lucic will not play tonight due to injuries.

• G Tuukka Rask had won back-to-back games entering the holiday break, but G Niklas Svedberg started against Columbus on Saturday night in the B’s 6-2 loss.

• Svedberg allowed 3 goals on 15 shots and was pulled in the 2nd period.

• In relief, Rask – the NHL’s reigning Vezina Trophy winner – also allowed 3 goals on 15 shots.

• This season, Rask is 14-10-3 with a 2.59 GAA and .910 SV%

• F David Krejci has played in the last 5 games since missing nearly a month with a groin injury.

• Krejci led the Bruins in scoring in October (9 points), but he has just 1 point in the 5 games since his return.

• F Carl Soderberg is 2nd on the team in points (23), but he has just 1 goal in his past 20 games.

• F Brad Marchand leads the B’s in goals (10).

• Marchand did not record a point vs. CBJ, but he scored twice in the game prior to that (5-3 W vs. NSH).

• Marchand has 9 points (4G-5A) in his last 10 games.

PHT’s top 14 of ’14: Oshie’s shootout mastery in Sochi

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At the time, it seemed like T.J. Oshie’s shootout heroics against Russia would be spoken about in hushed tones as a prelude to something bigger.

Would it spur the U.S. on to greater heights? Could the loss wake up Russia on its way to winning gold?

Nope.

Few would have predicted how poorly things would go for the two proud countries after that thrilling finish. In a way, the Americans’ 3-2 preliminary-round win over the Russians was the unexpected high point for both as far men’s hockey went during the 2014 Winter Olympics.

By the tournament’s end, the U.S. flopped against Finland to fall short of a bronze medal while Russia didn’t even sniff the podium to the shock of hometown fans.

Looking back, all we have is that moment in which Oshie became something of a mainstream star … but oh, what a moment it was.

source: AP
Source: AP

As Russia trotted out high-end stars such as Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk, American head coach Dan Byslma tabbed Oshie over and over. Again and again. Simply put, Oshie’s simple-but-deadly shootout move was the best bet in Bylsma’s mind. Considering the results, it was pretty difficult to quibble with such a thought process.

Oshie scored four shootout goals in that game. He received six total opportunities and five in a row. It was the kind of moment that just begged for “Miracle” references.

Things really took off when he got the “meme” treatment, though.

“It was very surreal,” Oshie told PHT days after that memorable run in the shootout. “I’m very humbled by it. It was a crazy night for me.”

Ultimately, the U.S. fell well short of expectations. Considering their offensive struggles against elite teams (they didn’t score at even strength against Russia, Canada or Finland), there’s something uncomfortably fitting about the fact that the United States’ best moment came in a “skills competition.”

That kind of nitpicking certainly wasn’t happening on the day Oshie became a household hockey name, though.

More on that great moment:

Oshie called it “very surreal”

He was humble about it

Reactions on Twitter

Why Bylsma kept going back to Oshie

Let’s rampantly speculate about where Vermette could land

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If you haven’t read Halford’s interview with Arizona GM Don Maloney, click here. Once you’re finished, come back and participate in some rampant speculation about where the Coyotes could trade Antoine Vermette.

To get things started, TSN’s Darren Dreger reported on the radio this morning that the Bruins and Penguins are believed to have interest. No real surprise there. Vermette is such a versatile player that he could contribute to any lineup, even if he has to be shifted to the wing.

Halford has considered the possibility of Vermette going to the Capitals. I could see that, too.

But before any team considers a bid, I think it has to ask itself two questions.

First question: Are we a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, to the point where we’d be willing to give up significant assets in order to acquire a guy to help put us over the top?

Second question: Do we want — and do we have a good chance — of re-signing Vermette, who’s a pending unrestricted free agent?

The team that can answer yes to both those questions may be willing to give up more than a team that can answer yes to just one.

So, might the Detroit Red Wings be one of those teams? Remember that the whole idea of signing Stephen Weiss was so Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk could play together. Obviously, that plan hasn’t quite come to fruition. The Wings aren’t exactly swimming in cap space, but they could probably find a way to fit Vermette in next season. Buying out Weiss would create some flexibility, for example.

If not the Wings, how about the Tampa Bay Lightning? We all know this team can score, but defensively they’re only average. Imagine then a shutdown line featuring Vermette and Ondrej Palat. Both those guys got Selke votes last season. The Lightning would have to get creative in order to re-sign Vermette, but Steve Yzerman is a pretty creative GM.

If not the Wings and not the Lightning, well, what do the commenters think? The Rangers? The Blackhawks? The Habs? Feel free to speculate below. In rampant fashion.