Friday May 29th, 2015

Some notes and thoughts heading into a climactic weekend of hockey:

• After a furious week of activity on the coaching front, the New Jersey Devils are the only team still on the hunt for a new bench boss. (Well, there are two if you count the Red Wings, but we're not—it's a given that AHL Grand Rapids coach Jeff Blashill will be tabbed to replace Mike Babcock in Detroit.)

So it’s somewhat curious to hear Devils GM Ray Shero say that none of the hirings that have been done so far have had any impact on his search.

“What’s transpired around the league really hasn’t affected me,” Shero said.

Can’t imagine that comment sits well with fans who would like to believe that the man responsible for moving the Devils franchise in the right direction was at least interested in the top candidates available.

Shero hasn't spoken publicly about the type of candidates that would affect him, but former Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean is thought to be in the mix, as is Washington Capitals assistant Todd Reirden.

The three keys to the Washington Capitals' defense initiative

That last name might not ring a bell but he’d be the most intriguing option. Reirden, like Shero, has a long history in the Penguins organization. He spent a season and a half as the head coach of AHL Wilkes-Barre, then was promoted to the big club where he served as an assistant to Dan Bylsma. He moved on to the Capitals at the start of last season, and is widely credited for overseeing the turnaround in the team’s defensive play. With that mindset, he’d be a nice fit for a New Jersey team that can’t match other teams offensively and will need to maintain a strict defensive structure in order to remain competitive. And as a first-timer, he’d also come cheaper than someone like MacLean—always a consideration for the parsimonious Devils.

• It looks like 1990’s comebacks are all the rage in Hollywood these days. Twin Peaks. X-Files. Full House. So why not in the NHL?

Speaking to Le Journal de Montreal, 42-year-old Alexei Kovalev says he still has something to offer a team and could easily picture himself back in the league. “That's why I keep myself in shape," he said. "Perhaps I will receive an invitation to next season.”

Of course, his idea of staying in shape might not quite be up to pro standards.

Watch: New Stanley Cup finals commercial asks 'What's in a name?'

“I play hockey once a week, [usually] three against three,” he said. “I just do it to move. I train three times a week and I also play tennis three times a week. I'm not the guy who likes to sit around and drink beer. It is fattening!”

Kovalev produced some pretty fat scoring totals during his 19-year career—430 goals and 1,029 points in 1,316 games—and won the Stanley Cup with the 1994 New York Rangers. But outside of a 14-game stint with the Panthers in 2012, he hasn’t been an NHL regular since the 2010-11 season. The chances that he actually gets an invite seem pretty slim but considering the retreads who got looks this past season—Simon Gagne, Dany Heatley, Scott Gomez, among others—he might want to keep his phone charged up, just in case.

• Highly touted Arizona Coyotes prospect Anthony Duclair hasn’t had the impact that was expected of him during the QMJHL playoffs or to this point in the Memorial Cup, but he finally broke through with his first goal of the tournament on Thursday night as Quebec eliminate Rimouski. A scout’s take: “He hasn't looked much like himself [to this point], but he had some jump in his legs [Thursday]. Everything revolves around his skating.  When he’s moving like that, he’s going to make things happen” Duclair’s game regressed this season after he was returned to juniors, but the expectation is that he’ll get a long look in camp next fall and could start the season with the Coyotes. A strong finish in the Memorial Cup could send him to camp with a boost of confidence.

• The same scout on the chances of the North American U-23 squad that reportedly will be in the B Pool at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey: “They should go 0-3 and be out, but you never know. If they’re going to surprise anyone, I bet it’ll be the Russians.”

• World Cup group pairings leaked

• There’s no better judge of a player’s talent than his peers, so it’s worth noting that Teemu Pulkkinen of the Red Wings was honored as the AHL’s Top Prospect by the members of the PHPA on Thursday. The 23-year-old winger led the AHL with 34 goals and added 27 assists for 61 points in 46 games and is expected to challenge for a full-time role with the big club next season. Pulkkinen, who was taken in the fourth round in 2010, was another value pick by the Wings. He was viewed early on as a possible first rounder after an outstanding performance at the spring U-18 world championship, but his stock dropped after a serious wrist injury sidelined him for much of his draft year. There also were questions about his work ethic and maturity, but the Wings gambled on his skill set shining through. Looks like another draft win for the league’s top deep miners. 

Dan Bylsma a great fit as next coach of the Buffalo Sabres

• Bill Foley, the billionaire behind the bid to bring the NHL to Las Vegas, says he now has more than 13,000 ticket commitments from interested locals, including corporate and suite seats. “To me, that’s a statement,” Foley said. “Our goal was 10,000, and we’re still selling tickets."

Foley's bid will never win universal approval, but it sure looks like he’s got the numbers to bring an expansion team to the desert.

“Las Vegas has done its job,” Foley said. “Now we’ve presented the information to the league. I’m very confident, but we have to wait for the league to respond.”

The NHL’s Board of Governors is scheduled to gather next month in Las Vegas around the league's annual awards ceremony, and the status of Foley's bid is expected to be one of the topics of discussion. But Foley, who has learned well from the aggressive missteps of would-be owners like Jim Balsillie, said he’s not looking to take part. “I stand at the disposal of the league,” Foley told the Las Vegas Sun. “I haven’t been invited. I doubt that I’ll attend. If I’m asked, I’ll go but I doubt I will be asked.”

Despite the success of the ticket drive, Foley has revised his estimate on a start date for the club, rumored to be nicknamed the Black Knights. “It’s got to be [the] ’17-18 [season] right now” he said. “We can’t get ready for ’16 in time.”

Gotta hand it to Foley. He’s played his cards right every step of the way. If you’re a betting man, you have to like his chances to land that expansion franchise.

• Mark Hunter hasn’t drafted a single NHL player during his career, but it’s easy to see why Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan and coach Mike Babcock have so much faith in his ability to identify talent. Take a look at his haul from the 2013 OHL draft when he was calling the shots for the London Knights:

Mike Babcock promises pain, reward as Maple Leafs move forward

In the first round, he selected Mitch Marner, a flashy but undersized winger who has drawn comparisons to Patrick Kane and is expected to be a top-five pick in this year’s NHL draft. In the second round he tabbed Zach Werenski. The big, mobile blueliner chose to attend the University of Michigan instead, but there’s no arguing his talent. Werenski was a member of Team USA at the World Juniors and should go top-10 in the NHL draft.

In the fourth round, Hunter selected Matthew Tkachuk, son of long-timer NHL star Keith Tkachuk. Matthew, a rambunctious winger like his father, originally committed to Notre Dame but retracted to sign with the Knights earlier this month. That’s a big loss for college hockey and a big get for the CHL. Tkachuk has won gold at the worlds with Team USA at both the U-17 and U-18 level, so he’s expected to make an immediate impact with the Knights. No telling if Hunter can match those results with the Leafs, but it’ll be interesting to watch him try.

The numbers game

• As of the Rangers-Lightning Eastern finals finale on Friday night, home teams were 94-65 all-time in playoff Game 7s, including 3-0 this year.

• Teams that scored first in a Game 7 were 117-42, including 2-1 this year.

• A total of 40 Game 7s (or 25.2% of 159) had gone to overtime. Home and road teams had split the 40. 

Hot links

• Ben Bishop's problem in these playoffs? It's not what you think.

• The career of Red Wings forward Johan Franzen might not be over after all.

• Should the Winnipeg Jets sign or trade Dustin Byfuglien? With the star defenseman heading into the final year of his contract, it's a question GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will have to answer soon.

• Now that the Buffalo has signed Dan Bylsma, what’s next for top coaching prospect Luke Richardson?

• A documentary on the life of hockey's first million-dollar player? Count us in.

• This former NHLer has decided to stay in the KHL at least one more year.

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