Monday July 20th, 2015

With off-season hiring slowing to a trickle, this is a good time to take a look at some of the best off-ice acquisitions made by NHL teams this summer. Here are our picks for the 10 shrewdest moves so far:

10. Coyotes hire John Chayka as assistant GM

Not everyone has been won over by the value of analytics, but a team with limited resources and even less talent simply can’t afford to ignore them. Chayka, the 25-year-old co-founder of Stathletes, is being tasked with identifying value in the market, particularly of veteran players who can augment a lineup that is expected to skew young for the next several years. He was the driving force behind the signing of Brad Richardson this month. Of course, Arizona also picked up lumbering winger John Scott, who is best known for slinging his fists. We’ll see how those moves, and the ones that follow, pay off.

9. Maple Leafs hire Ari Vuori as director of European scouting

Toronto continued to pillage the Red Wings’ talent base, adding Vuori to run their overseas scouting operations. The Leafs would be hard-pressed to find someone more talented. In his time with Detroit, he was involved with the drafting of Teemu Pulkkinen, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar. Before that, when Vuori was with the Kings, he took part in the selection of Anze Kopitar, Olli Jokinen and Lubomir Visnovsky, among others. Vuori’s ability to identify players in all rounds of the draft hints at better days ahead for Toronto.

Top NHL stories of 2014-15 and revisiting our crystal ball

8. Panthers hire Peter Luukko as executive chairman

Luukko, the former president of the Flyers, has a challenge on his hands in Florida. He not only has to address internal restructuring in an organization that’s still trying to find its way, but he also has to figure out a better way to sell hockey to a market that’s grown indifferent to the sport. He’ll also be expected to consult on hockey matters with GM Dale Tallon. Fortunately, Luukko is one of the most highly regarded executives in the game, and his wealth of contacts should make him a very valuable add at a critical moment in the rebuilding franchise’s history.

7. Sabres hire Dan Lambert, Terry Murray and Andrew Allen as assistant coaches

Not to diminish the signing of coach Dan Bylsma, but Buffalo made more noise with the hires it made for his support staff. Lambert, who coached Kelowna to the WHL title last season, has a strong reputation for developing young players. Murray brings 15 years of NHL coaching experience. Allen was in charge of goaltender development in the Blackhawks’ system, and was instrumental in bringing along Scott Darling and Antti Raanta. Combined, Bylsma’s three assistants offer an ideal mix of voices to help guide a young Sabres team toward contention.

6. Red Wings hire Jeff Blashill as coach

In what may have been the least surprising hire of the summer, Detroit tabbed the coach of its AHL Grand Rapids affiliate to replace Mike Babcock behind the bench. Blashill’s success in the minors—he won the Calder Cup in 2013—and his familiarity with many current Wings should ensure a smooth transition while helping Detroit move on from the aging Pavel DatsyukHenrik Zetterberg core to the Dylan Larkin–Tomas Tatar core of the future.

5. Ducks hire Paul MacLean as assistant coach

If coach Bruce Boudreau didn’t fully grasp the expectations for his team, this hiring should make the point clear. MacLean, the 2013 winner of Jack Adams Award as the NHL Coach of the Year with the Senators, will add another strong, experienced voice to a staff that already includes Scott Niedermayer, Trent Yawney and Dwayne Roloson. And if the team falters at any point, he’s there to slide into the head spot.

4. Oilers hire Todd McLellan as  coach

Edmonton needed an experienced hand who was not also a member of the Old Boys Club. They got both in McLellan, who ranks as the second-fastest bench boss to reach 300 wins in NHL history and boasts a stellar .637 winning percentage with the Sharks. And coming from a team that finished fourth defensively in 2014 and sixth in 2013, he’s also a man who knows how to coach defense, the main problem area for the young Oilers.

3. Stars hire Jeff Reese as goaltending coach

Dallas finished 19th in shots allowed last season, but 27th in goals-against. That speaks loudly to the quality of goaltending the organization received from Kari Lehtonen. His struggles—combined with the stalled development of prospect Jack Campbell and the dismal performance of Jhonas Enroth—pointed a finger at former goalie coach Mike Valley, who clearly had run out of ideas. Reese comes in as not just a fresh voice, but also a proven rehabilitator of broken goalies, having salvaged the career of Steve Mason in Philadelphia. This, not the trade for Patrick Sharp or the signing of Johnny Oduya, was GM Jim Nill’s signature move of the summer.

2. Edmonton hires Peter Chiarelli as GM

Optimism always abounds in July for the Oilers, but this year there’s good reason for it. Not only did they win the Connor McDavid lottery, but they also brought in Chiarelli, a man who not only identified the team’s problems but quickly set about addressing them. He hasn’t knocked it out of the park with every move, but by bringing in Cam Talbot to shore up his goaltending, and acquiring Andrej Sekera and Griffin Reinhart to man the blue line, he’s shown the courage of his convictions.

Mike Babcock's contract with Maple Leafs a game-changer for coaches

1. Maple Leafs hire Mike Babcock as coach

If there's a Salesman’s Hall of Fame then Brendan Shanahan is a sure-fire first-ballot entrant for convincing Babcock to leave the competitive Red Wings, a team he’d coached since 2005, to join a Toronto team that is just entering full-on rebuild mode. Sure, the Leafs threw a truckload of cash at Babcock, but that’s the advantage they possess ... and it’s about time they started using it wisely.

Hot links

• The move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn not only means a new home for the Islanders, but it also introduces an entirely new way of doing business for an NHL franchise.

• Three years on, a look back at what the Shea Weber RFA offer sheet might have cost the Flyers.

• Retired star Bernie Nicholls explains why he’s suing the NHL.

• The Blue Jackets lost 508 man-games to injury last season, but they’re not blaming these guys.

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