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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Prospect Check-In: Stockpile of First Round Picks Leaves Stockton Stacked at Forward

A top six comprised of four first round picks.

For Stockton head coach Ryan Huska, there is a good chance the Heat will open up the 2016-17 season with the rare luxury of having a stacked group of forwards, at least on paper, anyway.

Barring a surprise at training camp, 2012 first rounder Mark Jankowski will be joined up front on the Flames AHL affiliate by a trio of first rounders from 2013.

Having already taken an in-depth look at Jankowski's inaugural eight-game stint in the AHL late last season, now it's time to check in on how the season went with the other three that were taken in a span of seven picks late in the first round of 2013.


Pick No. 28 - Morgan Klimchuk

The consternation is understandable.

Morgan Klimchuk, Calgary’s best hope of salvaging something tangible from the trading away of Jarome Iginla three years ago, finished his first season of pro hockey with just three goals and nine points. That's right, less than 10 points in 55 games.

Yet Huska says don’t be too quick to pass judgement on the 21-year-old.

"When you look at his stats, a lot of people from the outside will probably say it's not quite the year you hoped he would have had, but I thought he had an unreal year," Huska insists.

"A lot of the things he did away from pucks, learning how to compete against bigger people, went in the right direction all year to the point where by the end of the season, he was one of our top two penalty killers. If we were up, protecting a lead, he was always a guy that was on the ice."


Learning to be a Complete Player

It’s not the role we’re accustomed to seeing Klimchuk cast in. This is someone who scored 100 goals over his final three seasons of major junior and averaged 1.2 points per game over that span.

Photo credit: Jack Lima
Yet to make it to the NHL, the areas of his game he improved in are areas that are important and getting good at those defensive details should serve him well moving forward.

"You don't win without people that understand the game and are willing to put themselves in roles that are maybe not the most glamorous such as penalty killing or playing in a checking role, but every day, Morgan was committed to making himself better," Huska says. "He has a very good understanding of the game and has turned himself into a much more complete player.

“Now that he understands, I think you're going to see some of those offensive totals increase next year and I do see a lot of positive things for him ahead because he really has a lot of fire and a lot of want and desire to play the game.”

That said, it wasn’t an easy season.

Twelve games without a point to begin the year. Then no goals and only four assists over his final 33 games. It’s just not the production one comes to expect from a first round pick.


Dealing With the Frustration

“It did wear on him,” Huska admits. “There were times when he was frustrated where we had to have conversations in our office and he would tell us that he wasn't expecting it to be this difficult to generate offence. For us, we're just trying to reinforce the fact that he's doing a lot of things really well and eventually, in time, if he's sticking with it and he has that belief that he can get it done, things will turn.”

Photo credit: Jack Lima
Huska points out that as the season progressed, despite not ending up on the scoresheet, the scoring chances did start to come for Klimchuk.

"He was generating more plays with his linemates and we were using him with more offensive players,” he said. “For us, we're just trying to make sure that he understands that he was going in the right direction and in my opinion, I think you'll see a significant change next year with him."


Pick No. 24 - Hunter Shinkaruk

Working our way backwards, selected four picks earlier by the Vancouver Canucks in 2013 was Hunter Shinkaruk. He's another guy that like Klimchuk, played his minor hockey in Calgary. Shinkaruk came over to the Flames in February in a swap for Markus Granlund.

Flames fans got to see Shinkaruk up close for seven games as once he got called up and inserted into the line-up in late March, his impressive play in which he scored twice and had three points kept him there for the duration of the season.

After coming over from Utica, the Canucks AHL affiliate, Huska had Shinkaruk for 17 games and he liked what he saw from the 21-year-old, who had six goals and 12 points for the Heat.

"The thing that we really liked about him and why we enjoyed having him around was he has a passion for the game,” says Huska. “He goes to the net hard, he was taking hits, he was giving hits, he plays the game with some fire."

That's consistent with the style of play he brought to Calgary when he got called up.


Willing to Pay the Price

"I was impressed with him both as a player and as a young man,” Huska says. “He wants to do well and he'll drive the net knowing full well that he might take some punishment but those are the types of guys that end up scoring goals."

Photo credit: Jack Lima
Scoring goals is one of the hardest things to do in pro hockey, but it’s something Shinkaruk has shown an ability to do.

In 62 AHL games last year, he lit the red light 27 times.

“He likes to score goals. He likes to be around the net and he has that understanding that that's where most of his goals are going to be scored from and if you're going to play in there, you're going to have to take licks every once and a while and in order to gain a little bit of respect, you're going to have to give some back," says Huska.

"That could be just a little stick to someone to let them know, hey, you can't do that to me, or hey, I don't care, I'm still going to go to this area. But that's why he's been able to score in junior and I think that's why he was able to score this year at our level and why he chipped in with some offence with Calgary as well."


Pick No. 22 - Emile Poirier

Lastly we come to the guy that was the first to be selected that year, Emile Poirier.

Poirier burst upon the AHL scene in 2014-15 scoring 19 goals and 42 points in 55 games. It was a promising rookie season that continued the hype that really started to build after he scored 50 goals in 72 games (regular season and playoffs combined) with Gatineau in his final season of major junior.

But his second pro season didn’t go nearly as well, finishing up with just 12 goals and 29 points in 60 games.

"If you were to ask Emile, he'd probably say he was unhappy with his year," says Huska. "He had a hard time getting going consistently.

"When I go back and look at his game last year compared to this year, there were a lot of similarities in regards to how he played. But last year if he would have five breakaways, he scored on three of them. This year if he would have five breakaways, he didn't score on any of them. It seemed to be one of those years where he still had his opportunities but he didn't have the same finish."


Inconsistent From the Start

Poirier's sophomore slump began right away with an unimpressive showing in September at the Young Stars tournament.

"He got off to a slow start in Penticton a little bit. It's probably a good learning lesson for him that every day, he's got to make sure he's prepared and focused to go," Huska explains. "You can't take anything for granted because there are always new people trying to push and steal your job. You have to respond and act accordingly. You have to make sure you're better than everybody else if you want to earn that full-time position."

Photo credit: Jack Lima
Now there were some positive strides taken last year but overall, it was a step-back, which has led to uncertainty about what the future holds for the prospect, who a year ago I ranked as the team's second-best prospect behind Sam Bennett. For the native of Montreal, the bloom is now off the rose.

"He improved in a lot of areas away from pucks but now he has a real challenge and he has to use an inconsistent year as a motivating factor," says Huska. "He has to do more now in the summer. He's getting to the point where he's a guy that has to prove to everybody that he's worthy of playing on the Calgary Flames on a consistent basis."

In a surprise move last season but perhaps a calculated one by Flames GM Brad Treliving, Poirier was one of a handful of forwards called up by Calgary in late March. However, as proof of where his stock is at, it was Poirier and not Shinkaruk, who was shipped right back down again when the extra bodies were no longer needed.

Shinkaruk made an impact, Poirier did not. Shinkaruk stayed on the NHL roster, Poirier did not.

“Sometimes if you do have that success early, maybe you come back thinking it's going to be easy. I know how this is going to work, it's all good. But if that's your mindset, you're asking for trouble,” says Huska.


Hoping his NHL Call-up Rejuvenates Him

While it only lasted two games, Huska hopes that a couple flights on the luxurious team charter and a few nights at five-star hotels will serve as a reminder -- and more importantly a motivator -- for Poirier as to how close he is, but also how much work he still must do.

Photo credit: Jack Lima
“A lot of time when a player knows he hasn't had the year he was hoping to have and he gets an opportunity like that, I think it does give them a little bit of a jarring and a reminder that that's where they want to be,” Huska says.

“Also, it reinforces to them that they are close but they have to do more. It's not up to the team to give them the opportunity, it's the player that has to find a way to do more to get themselves there. That's really Emile's challenge at the end of the day. He has to have a really great summer, come back with a great attitude and mindset and he has to prove to everybody that his inconsistent year is in the past and he's ready to have a great year coming up."


Final Word

The organizational depth chart is a fluid place. Every year that passes, where players were selected in the draft carries less and less clout and it's more a case of how are they performing. For Klimchuk, Shinkaruk or Poirier, more forwards are coming so it's time to step up or they're at serious risk of being passed.

Two new faces in particular that are probably bound for the AHL next year will be OHL scoring sensation Andrew Mangiapane and Stars 2014 second rounder Brett Pollock, acquired from Dallas in the Kris Russell trade. The 20-year-old centre led the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings in scoring last season.

“There are always people coming now and while that's the tough part of the business, it's also the great part of the business. You have to make sure that you put in the time every day because there is someone else that is,” says Huska. “If you look at the great players in the game, I don't think you'll find a guy that works harder than Mark Giordano. Does he have to? No, but there's always someone coming from behind. That's why great players are great is the time that they put in.”

There should be a little bit of opportunity at forward in Calgary in 2016-17. There definitely will be in 2017-18. But we're not talking about four jobs, probably one or two.

And it no longer matters that you were a first round pick. If the sixth round pick -- e.g. Mangiapane -- is better, he's going to win that NHL roster spot.

While there is reason to be apprehensive about the development of some of these once highly-touted prospects from three years ago, the thing to remember is that these are still young players with plenty of upside. While the clock is ticking, the alarm hasn't gone off quite yet.

But at some point, you do stop being a prospect and become organizational depth so the time is now for these first rounders to show why they were so highly touted just three years ago.



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

With the Buyout Window Approaching, Five Veteran Flames That Could be Bought Out

Money for Nothing.

The hit song was the most commercially successful single for British rockers Dire Straits. Co-written by lead vocalist Mark Knopfler along with Sting, it peaked at No. 1 in the U.S. for three weeks back in 1985.

It won a Grammy, an MTV Video Music Award and now -- over 30 years later -- it is the theme song for some personnel decisions faced this off-season by Brad Treliving.

Defined as "a very bad situation that is difficult to fix", the dire straits the Flames general manager finds himself in is there are several players on Calgary's roster that make far too much money for what they contribute nightly.

With the NHL's contract buyout window coming up on June 15, does Treliving use this annual opportunity to move on from certain players and pay them to not play in 2016-17?

Or, does he suck it up for one more year knowing that in most cases, these troubling contracts will be off the books for good a year from now.


How it Works

For those not familiar with the buyout process, you can read about all the ins and outs on the salary cap-tracking website General Fanager, which has put together a comprehensive summary. It is the buyout calculator featured on this same website that generated the buyout numbers you'll see below.

In a nutshell, buyouts work like this:
  • If the player is 26 or older, their contract can be bought out at the penalty of two-thirds of the remaining salary of the contract. In terms of impact on the team's salary cap, that two-thirds is spread out over twice the remaining term. So if there's one year left, it's spread out over the next two years.
  • If the player is younger than 26, the contract can be bought out at the penalty of one-third of the remaining salary.
  • There is no limit to how many contracts can be bought out but there is a restriction on when it can happen. The main buyout window runs from after the Stanley Cup Final ends until June 30. In select circumstances, there is a second buyout window that teams qualify for if they have a certain number of arbitration cases. For those specifics, see the link above. 

Also, injured players cannot be bought out unless the player and team mutually agree.


Historically a Rarely Used Option

Going into this summer, Treliving has not before exercised a buyout in his short time on the job so we're still trying to determine where he stands philosophically on the idea.

What we know is it's never been something the organization has done a lot.

The most recent example was Shane O'Brien and that was part of a rash of buyouts that took place around the NHL that were categorized as compliance buyouts. An option of up to two per team were granted to GMs as a get-out-of-salary-cap-jail-for-free offering after the last CBA to help teams get out from under some bad contracts that could prevent them from getting under the new, lower salary cap. O'Brien had one year remaining at $2 million when Jay Feaster bought out the veteran defenceman.

Before that, you go back to Nigel Dawes, who was bought out by Darryl Sutter in the summer of 2010. That one came with Dawes having one year remaining at $850,000.

That said, demonstrating that he's not afraid to cut ties and perhaps serving as a sneak preview of what's to come, Treliving has already done the equivalent of a buyout this spring when he fired head coach Bob Hartley with one year remaining on his contract.


Top 5 Flames Buyout Candidates

Here's a look at five Flames that are buyout candidates. Included is why, pros and cons of such a decision and a prediction for what could happen.


1. LW Mason Raymond

Age - 30
Term Left - 1 year
AAV - $3.15 million

Team Cap Hit

(a) Bury in the Minors

2016-17 - $2.2 million

(b) Buyout

2016-17 - $1.05 million
2017-18 - $1.05 million


Considerations

Raymond's time under Hartley finally ran out in February when he was placed on waivers, cleared, and was demoted to Stockton. In his first action in the AHL in eight years, he put up 15 points (6 goals, 9 assists) in 15 games -- triple his NHL production in half the games.

But despite rediscovering his offensive touch, I still see no trade value for Raymond at his salary, even if the Flames were to retain up to half as they're allowed to do. That leaves two viable options, keeping him around for his final season or buying him out.

Hartley's dismissal could provide opportunity for Raymond to play in Calgary again but that doesn't seem all that likely. Nor does Treliving have the luxury of waiting to see how camp goes under a new coach, the buyout window will long gone by then.

Assuming he would end up in Stockton again, the annual average value (AAV) impact on the team salary cap would be $2.2 million as Calgary would get $950,000 in cap relief with Raymond in the minors. On the other hand, buying him out reduces next year's AAV by a million but then you need to pay back that million the following season.


Prediction - Buyout

While the cap impact nets out at the same, there are still cost savings in actual money for the team by going the route of a buyout. Considering the Calgary economy, a million dollars saved is a million dollars saved. That could be the tipping point.

Plus, if the player doesn't want to be back, that needs to be a consideration also. Faced with a choice between paying him $2 million to not play versus $3 million to play in the minors, I'd go with the former. That would also free up a contract as the team can only have a maximum of 50.


2. D Dennis Wideman

Age - 33
Term Left - 1 year
AAV - $5.25 million

Team Cap Hit

(a) Buyout

2016-17 - $1.25 million
2017-18 - $2 million

(b) Trade

2016-17 - Retain up to $2.62 million


Considerations

Before his suspension last year, there were rumblings of interest trade interest in Wideman. Whether or not that was really true, we are talking about a right-shooting defenceman that gives you a big shot on the power play, who can log a ton of ice time and who is just one year removed from putting up career high totals of 15 goals and 56 points.

Coming off a forgettable year for many reasons -- Don Henderson incident and suspension, season-ending triceps injury -- the reason there could be increased interest in the veteran this summer is simply the fact that his five-year deal has just one year remaining.

That AAV is a big number but if the Flames are willing to retain money, risk is minimal for a GM seeking some blueline depth to bring in Wideman for one season at around $2.8 million.

While paying him to play for someone else may not make sense to some, I would disagree. Retain $2.3 million in salary, replace him on the roster with Tyler Wotherspoon (pending RFA can be qualified at $875,000) and Calgary still enjoys a net savings of over $2 million and you're playing a prospect that is part of the team's future.

While on the buyout side, a $4 million cap savings this season is very attractive, the $2 million in 2017-18 instead of having Wideman off the books is a game-changer.


Prediction - Traded

While his best years are behind him, he's still a capable blueliner that can play special teams and has shown an ability over the years to ramp up his ice time to north of 25 minutes when needed.

Another trade scenario would see Wideman and potentially his entire contract jettisoned out in exchange for a bad contract at a different position from another team.

If the GM can't get anything done in the off-season, a deal could still happen closer to the trade deadline too.


3. D Ladislav Smid

Age - 30
Term Left - 1 year
AAV - $3.5 million


Team Cap Hit

(a) Buyout

2016-17 - $833,000
2017-18 - $1.3 million

(b) Bury in the Minors

2016-17 - $2.55 million

(c) Trade

2016-17 - Retain up to $1.75 million


Considerations

Often injured and limited to 53 NHL games the past two seasons, one wonders about Smid's future, especially after a mid-February season-ending injury again last year. This will sound familiar as his status last summer was also uncertain as he recovered from neck surgery. When he did make it back, his ice time was limited and he was a frequent scratch.

If he's deemed healthy and thus eligible to be bought out (he cannot be bought out if injured-- see Niklas Backstrom last summer), there are three options with Smid, who has one year remaining at $3.5 million: Buyout, a trade, or he remains with the organization. With the latter, mind you, there's no guarantee that is with Calgary. If he is beat out for that 6/7 job, he could easily end up on waivers and demoted to Stockton where he'd still count $2.55 million towards the cap. That would be over $300,000 more than what the net buyout price would be.

I don't see a trade as realistic. For what he can give you, $1.75 million is still a pretty hefty price tag for a depth D and that would be with Calgary retaining half of his salary. Sure, Smid is cheaper than Wideman, but he's also a less serviceable player. Wideman -- in addition to his offensive upside -- has averaged more than 10 minutes of ice time than Smid over the last two seasons.


Prediction Buyout

As long as he's healthy, the best option is to buy him out and move on with a young player like Brett Kulak in that depth role or re-signing Jakub Nakladal, who would come far more economically.

The $1.3 million Calgary would still owe Smid in 2017-18 will sting but coming at the same time as contracts for Wideman and Deryk Engelland come off the books, it's manageable. Meanwhile, that opens up over $2.6 million in cap space for the upcoming season and that could come in very handy in the club's goalie search.


4. C Matt Stajan

Age - 32
Term Left - 2 years
AAV - $3.125 million


Team Cap Hit

(a) Buyout

2016-17 - $958,000
2017-18 - $1.958 million
2018-19 - $833,000
2019-20 - $833,000

(b) Trade

2016-17 - Retain up to $1.56 million


Considerations

Stajan's situation is similar to the others in that he makes far too much for what he shoulders in responsibilities as a fourth line player.

Where his status differs is he's got two years remaining while the others have just one year left. In some ways that makes a buyout even more appealing but when you see the payout being spread out over four seasons, it becomes less palatable.

With that term, I don't envision a trade happening either. Even at half of his salary, he's past the point in his career where he would get the volume of ice time with a new team to justify that amount of money.

If a buyout is pursued, I'd think it would probably happen next summer. Two more years is long enough to pay a bought-out player, doubt there is an appetite to have Stajan being paid for the next four years. While the $833,000 those final two years aren't killers, the $2 million owed in 2017-18 would be awfully stiff to pay someone no longer on the team.


Prediction - Back for another season

My guess is Stajan remains on the team for another year as a veteran leader, penalty killer and depth forward. You saw him moved to the wing for a short time at the end of the season and we could see more of that also. I don't think he's a lock to be in the line-up every night.

Depending on how the season goes, a buyout remains an option a year from now when the term remaining makes it more favourable. If done in 2017, the buyout cap hit would be:

2017-18 - $1.8 million
2018-19 - $666,000

It's still not great money but it would be more manageable. But that's a discussion for a year from now.


5. LW Brandon Bollig

Age - 29
Term Left - 1 year
AAV - $1.25 million


Team Cap Hit

(a) Buyout

2016-17 - $383,000
2017-18 - $433,000

(b) Bury in the Minors

2016-17 - $300,000

(c) Trade

2016-17 - Retain up to $625,000


Considerations

It's questionable whether or not Bollig does enough to be employed in this era of the NHL. In the evolution of fourth lines, he's more of an example of how that trio used to be built versus what is most effective in the league today. Treliving vowing to be a better possession team doesn't bode well for him either.

Considering how frequently he was scratched when games mattered, it's easy to envision Calgary moving on from Bollig in some way. While a buyout seems logical on the surface, when you dig into it, you see that there are better ways to deal with the final year of his three-year deal that pays him an AAV of $1.25 million. By that, I don't mean a trade either.

The only way there's a remote chance a team trades for him is if it comes at around the trade deadline when the money means nothing and it's to a contending team that is looking for a character veteran with a Stanley Cup ring to add to its reserves.


Prediction - Assigned to Stockton

It just doesn't make sense to use a buyout on Bollig.

Rather than buying him out to save a modest amount of 'real' money, the better way to handle it in terms of cap management would be to assign him to Stockton to be a veteran presence with the up-and-coming kids. In that respect, I think he could bring a lot of value. It wasn't all that long ago -- 2012-13 to be exact -- that he was a regular in the AHL with Rockford so it's not new terrain.

Meanwhile, only a thrifty $300,000 of his salary would count against the Flames salary cap.


Final Word

Forty-eight hours after the Stanley Cup Final ends, the buyout window opens and will remain open until June 30 at 3 pm MT.

That said, of all the off-season priorities for Treliving -- and with the draft and free agent courting period going on during part of that time -- I assure you his focus will be on other things.

If buyouts are going to happen and I'd bet on at least one, maybe a couple, those decisions will happen quickly. Heck, they may have already been made and are just waiting to be announced.

For Raymond and Smid, it could indeed be money for nothing. As Knopfler would add, "Now that ain't workin', that's the way you do it. Let me tell ya them guys ain't dumb."



By the way, have you liked Flames From 80 Feet on Facebook yet? Go there and do so now. It's just another way to be alerted to new Calgary Flames articles that I've written.

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Friday, May 20, 2016

The Great Heist: Can 'Bandit Brad' Steal Third Overall Pick Away from the Blue Jackets

The summer of ‘63 was famous for the Great Train Robbery.

Will the summer of 6-to-3 be known for the Great Trade Robbery?

Time for Flames fans to start referring to Brad Treliving as 'Bandit Brad' if he can find a way to swipe 3rd overall pick from Columbus in the upcoming draft, in exchange for 6th overall, and make off with highly-touted Finnish right winger Jesse Puljujarvi.

Rumblings out of Ohio would have you believe that after winning that prime spot in the draft lottery, the Blue Jackets are open to dropping down. That said, it would still be considered a major heist should the Flames general manager be able to pull it off as going 6-to-3 is the type of jump that almost never happens.

In fact, it would be about as rare as a gang of unarmed thieves stealing £2.6 million (equivalent of $71 million USD today) from a train in the middle of the night as famously took place on August 8, 1963 in Buckinghamshire, England.

Now don't get me wrong, trading up in the first round of the draft takes place all the time. In the last 10 years, there have been 30 such trades where two teams swapped picks with one team either moving higher in the first round or moving into the first round. The team trading down receiving an extra second and/or third round pick in the deal.

The caveat is in almost all of those swaps, it's picks later in the first round -- usually much later -- that end up in play, not top-10 picks and especially not picks in the top five.


Last Trade-Up Into the Top 10

Only twice going back to 2005 have two teams -- both in the top 10 -- flip-flopped draft positions in this fashion and both involved Isles GM Garth Snow. They actually happened the same year and just minutes apart.

In 2008, Toronto made a deal with New York to move from 7th to 5th to grab Luke Schenn. In that swap, the Islanders also got a second and third round pick from the Leafs.

Shortly after, Nashville came knocking and arranged to jump from 9th to 7th to select Colin Wilson. In the deal, New York received a second round pick from the Predators.

The Islanders eventually ended up taking Josh Bailey at No. 9 while none of the other three picks panned out.

Over that span, the next closest was in 2007 when San Jose traded up with St. Louis to get into the top 10, jumping from 13th to 9th. Sharks GM Doug Wilson also gave up a second and third rounder in that deal but it worked out nicely as San Jose drafted Logan Couture.

The Blues took Lars Eller at No. 13 and in a similar outcome to above, the other two picks did not work out.

As for moving into the top four as Calgary would be seeking to do, the last instance of that happening was a dozen years ago.


DeJa Vu For the Blue Jackets

The last time in this type of scenario a team traded out of the top four was in 2004 and coincidentally enough, it was Columbus. It would also turn out to be a regrettable decision for then GM Doug MacLean.

In a trade that is not at all indicative of what the cost would be today, Carolina GM Jim Rutherford fired up the hometown crowd (draft that year was in Raleigh, North Carolina) by making a deal with the Blue Jackets to flip-flop picks No. 8 and No. 4. Astonishingly, jumping up four spots and that high in the first round only cost the Hurricanes the 59th pick.

These days, that absurdly low price of a late second rounder is the typical cost to go from something like 32nd to 29th. So don't get too excited, it will take a lot more than that to get the Flames to where they want to go.

As the story goes, the Hurricanes used that 4th pick to choose Andrew Ladd from the Calgary Hitmen while the Blue Jackets settled for Alexandre Picard at No. 8.

Well, one of these did not turn out like the other:
  • Ladd - 769 gm, 466 points (210 goals, 256 assists)
  • Picard - 67 gm, 2 points (0 goals, 2 assists)

To be clear, Picard is not a defenceman either. He and Ladd are both left wings. Picard was a 40-goal scorer in the QMJHL that did not score once in the NHL despite playing parts of five seasons in the league. He's played in Switzerland the past four seasons.

Meanwhile, Ladd has been an NHL captain, he's won two Stanley Cups and he will be one of the most sought after UFAs on the open market this summer.

Now that was a great trade robbery.

While the Blue Jackets have had a couple GMs since -- Scott Howson was at the helm for six seasons until 2013 -- and it's now Jarmo Kekalainen, you can bet that draft day robbery from long ago remains a sore point for the organization.


Why It's a Discussion

As unlikely as it would be for the Flames to be able to pull off such a deal, the reason I broach the possibility is some hinting earlier this week from Sportsnet Analyst Elliotte Friedman in his weekly 30 Thoughts column that Columbus could be open to the idea of trading down.

He wrote:
"The conventional wisdom is the Blue Jackets will go with Jesse Puljujarvi there, as Toronto and Winnipeg are expected to take Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine one-two.
Columbus needs centres as much as anything. If the Jackets believe Puljujarvi can play there long-term, it’s a no-brainer. If not, could they trade down a couple spots, add an asset and still get, say, Logan Brown? Might be something to consider."

While Puljujarvi has apparently played some centre, most project him as a right winger. Similar story for Pierre Luc-Dubois., who most rank 4th or 5th. Potentially he could become a centre but he's viewed for now as a left winger.

After Auston Matthews at No. 1, the next natural centre doesn't come along until you get beyond the top six on most lists and get into players like Logan Brown and Tyson Jost.

With Columbus mostly in need of a top young centre to fill the void left by the departure of Ryan Johansen, who was traded to Nashville for Seth Jones last season, perhaps the play for Columbus would be to pick up one or more assets in a trade and drop down a few picks and still be able to draft that next best centre.

Where this gets interesting for the Flames is top line right wing is a pressing positional need for Calgary and you know they would love the opportunity to head the opposite direction and move up and select Puljujarvi.


What it Would Take

Make no mistake, the Blue Jackets know the stud of a player they're in line to draft with 3rd pick and they are likely just posturing, in case someone comes along and pays an insane ransom to get that pick from them.

Going from 6th to 3rd in some draft years would not be as significant as that jump is this year given everyone in the hockey world is in agreement that in this draft, there is a sizable drop-off beyond the top three.

So, what would the cost be?

It's not like going from 36 to 33, or 26 to 23 or 16 to 13. There's always a sharp curve in a draft once you get beyond the few can't-miss guys anyway. Going 6 to 3 this year could be even more expensive. Plus, the Blue Jackets have all the leverage.

There are also a few teams Columbus could be pitting against each other should it come to a bidding war. Dropping to 5th (Vancouver), 7th (Arizona), 8th (Buffalo) or even 9th (Montreal) could also still get them that young centre they covet while adding some other high-end assets.

One thing history has taught us is that quantity cannot buy you quality. There needs to be quality in that quantity. To that point, I am not even sure the Flames have the right blend of assets to make such a deal but I did come up with a few scenarios to mull over.


Three Possible Trade-Up Scenarios

As I see it, there are three different approaches you could take. Well, there's actually four as multiple players headed both directions, involving a bad contract, etc., there are a myriad of possibilities I'd categorize as 'other'. But keeping it simple, here are three basic scenarios:

1. Three-for-One

a. Flames 2nd round pick - In 2016, 35th overall
b. Prospect - e.g. Mark Jankowski, Morgan Klimchuk, Emile Poirier, Mason McDonald
c. Roster Player - e.g. Jyrki Jokipakka, Joe Colborne, Tyler Wotherspoon, Micheal Ferland

Some fans will feel this is a lot for the club to surrender to move up only three places but is it really? Keep in mind that while all prospects could be great, so often they don't live up to the hype.

I'd say Calgary is more interested in making this deal than Columbus.

If I'm the Blue Jackets, I doubt I pull the trigger. For Kekalainen, there's no assurance that (a) or (b) will pan out and if not, Columbus is left with a lower tier NHLer as the net gain in passing up on what appears to be an elite winger in Puljujarvi.

2. Two-for-One

a. Flames 2nd round pick - In 2016, 35th overall
b. Mikael Backlund

While it would be hard for the team to part with Backlund, who was such an instrumental part of the team last year, you have to give up something to get something. Backlund will be a UFA in two years. There's a good chance the team won't be able to afford him then anyway so this just means moving on a couple years sooner in order to address a huge organizational need.

As a centre, he's probably a little bit older than what Columbus has in mind but he improves their club instantly and with less of a crowd up the middle, perhaps Backlund could be a long term solution there.

3. One-for-One

a. Sam Bennett or Sean Monahan

The real ballsy move to make would be to trade one of the young-stars-in-the-making from a position of depth for hopefully a star-of-the-future at a position of need.

This is a much different scenario. Now I'm no longer talking about swapping 3rd and 6th pick, but instead this would be the Flames adding the 3rd pick while still keeping the 6th pick.

However, it seems extremely unlikely either side would want to make this deal. If you're Columbus and you're feeling greedy, you're still dealing a 3rd overall for what was a 4th or a 6th. Calgary might need to add in a sweetener like a prospect or a pick. The giant payday Monahan is on the cusp of could also be a showstopper for the Blue Jackets.

For the Flames, they know what they have in these two players, they've been moulding them for years and they're happy to have them. Giving up an established young star like Monahan, or Bennett, to draft a player that you hope will be equally good or better would take some guts.

I can't see it happening but to acquire that pick without doing a swap, that would be the price tag.


Final Word

While this makes for stirring debate in the pub over a plate of salt and pepper ribs and a couple pints of the house draught, my advice is don't get your hopes up.

While the possibility does exist that 'Bandit Brad' can pull off an Ocean's Eleven-calibre of theft that nobody saw coming, history is not on his side.

Depending on how much the Blue Jackets' asking price is, what you don't want to do is end up the victim in the Great Trade Robbery of the summer of 6-to-3. Backlund's presence alone will give some people the shakes, never mind the thought of parting with Monahan or Bennett.

Sure, Puljujarvi at 6-foot-4 with tons of skill, looks like he will be one helluva player but if to get him, it involves giving up someone already a helluva player and a core piece of the Flames future, you're taking a big risk.

Personally, I don't think Treliving is the kind to gamble like that but then again, nobody suspected what would shake down on the train tracks that quiet night in England 53 years ago either. Then suddenly all the money was gone, and most of it never to be found again. So, you never know.




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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Geoff Ward: More on the Devils Assistant Coach and Potential Flames Head Coach Candidate

Why settle for one or the other when you can have both.

Up until now, debate swirling around Calgary's head coach vacancy has been around whether Flames general manager Brad Treliving would opt for someone that has been around for a long time and has decades of coaching experience, or go with someone relatively new that has little or no head coach experience at the NHL level.

Well, perhaps he won't have to choose one or the other.

One of the newer names to be bandied about lately came up again on Monday on Calgary's Sportsnet960 radio via Sportsnet Analyst Elliotte Friedman and intriguingly, he's someone that is a combination of both.



Geoff Ward, a 54-year-old former phys ed teacher, is currently at the IIHF World Championships as an assistant coach with Germany, who are third in Group B -- behind Canada and Finland, but ahead of the Americans.

While he says he doesn't speak German, Ward has a long history with hockey in that country having spent three separate seasons over there in the past. His latest stint overseas came just two years ago.


Ward's Recent History

Coaching hockey for over half of his life, Ward described himself as a "career coach" when he was hired last June to be an assistant coach under newly-hired John Hynes in New Jersey.

It was his return to the NHL after a year in Germany. Prior to that, he spent seven seasons as assistant coach to Claude Julien in Boston during which the Bruins made the playoffs every year. That included winning the Stanley Cup in 2011 and reaching the Cup final in 2013, losing to Chicago.

With multiple years remaining on his contract but seeking a fresh challenge, Ward resigned and headed overseas in the summer of 2014, accepting a job as head coach of the Mannheim Eagles in the German hockey league. His one year was a rewarding one as he led his team to its first league championship in eight years.

Content to stay in Germany, Ward was wooed back to North America by Hynes and Devils GM Ray Shero. Upon his return, he told Devils beat writer Rich Chere of New Jersey Advanced Media that his experience in Germany was awesome.
"Extremely positive experience for me all the way around," he said. "The organization is run like an NHL team, the building seats 13,400 and it was sold out most nights. The ownership was outstanding and gave us all the resources we needed. Management was great. I have nothing but good things to say about my experience there. It was really fun. It ended up being an excellent thing for me."

Three trips to league finals in a span of six years, winning twice. That would definitely tick one of the boxes for Treliving, who last week told Michael Traikos of PostMedia that quality of experience was his priority in his coach search, not necessarily quantity of experience.
“To me it’s not as much about where you’ve coached, but what you’ve built and what your piece was in growing it,” said Treliving. “It’s being involved in winning programs."

But if you have the option for both quality and quantity, you can bet that would be especially attractive.


Further Insight into Ward

Boston Globe Bruins beat writer Fluto Shinzawa talked to Julien about Ward's return to the NHL last September prior to a preseason meeting between New Jersey and Boston.

On Ward's strengths:
"Tactically, he’s very good. In New Jersey, he’ll help them quite a bit with the tactical point of it, because he spends a lot of time on it and he enjoys that, whether it’s five on five, power play he worked on, stuff like that.”

In a Q&A last summer with popular Devils website Fire & Ice, you can glean further insight into Ward's character, his philosophy, and what motivates him.

On why he left Boston:
“That was my decision. I still had a couple years left on my contract in Boston and I just really felt I'm a career coach – I've been in it now 27 years or something like that – so I really felt I just needed a change, something new to sharpen the saw so to speak."

On the fit with the staff in New Jersey:
“I'm a relationships guy and I think they are (too) and I was drawn to what they represent as people and how the situation will work more than per se how the structure of the hockey team is going to be. I know John comes from a teaching background and I'm an old phys ed teacher, so there's a lot of exciting things that way and it leads to similar philosophies, similar beliefs, but the part I enjoy the most about coaching is building something."

On his time working under Julien:
"I'm a big fan of Claude's and he's done a lot for me in the game."


The Devils in the Details

With New Jersey, Ward's responsibilities included the power play and the forward group.

On the man advantage, the Devils finished ninth in the NHL. That's a pretty decent accomplishment on a team in which Kyle Palmieri, who had never before scored more than 14 goals, was the team's leading scorer with 57 points (30 goals, 27 assists).

Also having a career season was Adam Henrique (30-20-50) and before being dealt at the trade deadline to Boston, veteran Lee Stempniak had 16 goals, the most he's scored in five years.

Ward was also in charge of the PP with the Bruins. In his final year in Boston, it ranked third.


Life Before Beantown

His stint in Mannheim was not his first experience in Germany. Bookending his time in Boston, he spent the 2006-07 season in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL) as head coach of the Iserlohn Roosters.

He also spent 2000-01 in Germany as head coach of a second division team. It was after that first season abroad that he connected with Julien, who at the time was head coach for the Montreal Canadiens' AHL affiliate in Hamilton.

Ward worked under Julien for a year-and-a-half before taking over as head coach in January 2003 after Julien was promoted to head coach of the Canadiens after the firing of Michel Therrien.

Under Ward's direction, the Bulldogs advanced all the way to the Calder Cup final that season. Ward was named co-AHL coach of the year (with Julien) for his efforts.

His next two seasons before heading to Germany were spent as head coach of the Edmonton Oilers AHL affiliate.


Three Levels of Ontario Hockey

Prior to switching career paths to the pro game, which began with one season in the ECHL in 1999-2000, Ward spent his time coaching in Ontario.

In 1989 at age 27, he started out in his hometown, serving as assistant coach at the University of Waterloo. He spent three seasons there before jumping to the OHL as an assistant coach for Niagara Falls.

One of his team's players that year in Niagara was 16-year-old Ethan Moreau, who would go on to be a first round pick and spend a portion of his 900-plus games in the NHL as captain of the Edmonton Oilers.

Ward returned to Waterloo the next year as head coach of the city's Junior B team and in his one season behind the bench, they went the distance to win the Sutherland Cup as Ontario's Junior B champions.

In 1994, Ward returned to the OHL with Kitchener, taking over as head coach after two months when the coach was fired. He remained in that role the rest of that year and for three additional seasons. In years two and three, his team got progressively better, going two rounds deep in the playoffs both years. Oilers 1996 first round pick Boyd Devereaux was one of his players during those two seasons.

He then spent one season as head coach of the Guelph Storm, leading them to a first place finish in their division. That team featured Craig Anderson in net, who would be selected by Calgary that ensuing summer in the third round of the NHL draft -- although he never signed with the Flames.


Final Word

We keep hearing that Treliving is not in a rush to name a new head coach and given his commitment as Team Canada co-GM for the World Championships and with him being over in Russia at the moment, the logistics have been far from ideal so far.

When he returns to Calgary next week, one can expect the process to kick into high gear.

The one thing we know is if Ward is a legitimate candidate as reported, it's further proof that Treliving is committed to being extensive and thorough with his coach search and in thinking outside the box in terms of the types of candidates being considered. That's not a bad thing either.

Also, given where the Flames are at and with such a key portion of the current roster being young players, a coach with a history of being a teacher as is the case with Ward, could be a pretty decent fit.

Stay tuned as the coach candidate carousel continues to spin.




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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Walking in Shark Footsteps: Flames Look to Copy San Jose's Return to Prominence

Guess the team:
  • Longtime coach has parted ways and the search is on for a replacement.
  • Starting goaltender is a pending UFA and isn't being brought back so a new No. 1 is needed to upgrade goaltending that ranked near the bottom of the league.
  • Despite that, they didn't miss the playoffs by much. Would have got in with four more wins.
  • Fuelling the disappointment, missing the post-season comes after making it the previous season.
  • The bright side is the 30-something team captain and backbone of the team -- an after-thought in his draft year -- just posted two of his best seasons.

If you guessed the 2015-16 Flames, you're close but wrong. Remember that Calgary's goaltending wasn't ranked "near" the bottom of the league. It was right at the bottom. Dead last with one of the worst team save percentages the NHL has seen in the last six years. Oh, and the Flames finished 10 points out of a playoff spot, not eight, so needed five more wins, not four.

The correct answer is the 2014-15 Sharks.

Yet 12 months later, here they are in the Western Conference final, getting prepared to play the St. Louis Blues in game 1 on Sunday night. San Jose is seeking its long-awaited first trip to the Stanley Cup final since entering the league in 1991.


What the Sharks Did

After the team and Todd McClellan mutually agreed to go their separate ways on April 20, 2015, despite the coach having one year remaining on his contract, general manager Doug Wilson cast a wide net in search of a replacement.

It was an exhaustive search that took 38 days but Wilson finally found his man in Peter DeBoer, who had previous coaching experience with the Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils. He reportedly beat out the likes of Dan Bylsma, Randy Carlyle, Adam Oates and Dave Lowry.

Next, they made some noise at the draft. First was the trading of Antti Niemi's rights to the Dallas Stars, confirming that the Sharks goaltender for the past five seasons would not be back. Three days later, Wilson addressed that void by trading for 25-year-old up-and-comer Martin Jones, who had been the back-up to Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles the past two seasons. That trade was swung with Boston, who as part of an elongated three-way deal, had acquired Jones from the Kings four days prior.

With Jones a workhorse between the pipes making 65 starts and posting a .918 save percentage, and with DeBoer reinvigorating the team from his perch behind the bench, the Sharks went 46-30-6 for 98 points last season. The nine-point improvement from one year earlier was good enough to finish third in the Pacific, just five points back of the division-leading Anaheim Ducks.

Wearing the 'C' and leading the way once again was 2005 seventh round pick Joe Pavelski, who had another terrific season with 38 goals and 78 points.


Can the Flames Do the Same?

Mired in a similar situation and armed with an identical shopping list, the question is can Calgary make the same turnaround in 2016-17?

What we know is the coach search continues. Today is day 11 since the firing of Bob Hartley was announced. By all reports, general manager Brad Treliving is being thorough. Currently in Russia as part of Team Canada's management team at the IIHF World Championships, Treliving told PostMedia reporter Michael Traikos on Friday that he was in no immediate rush.

Perhaps the most interesting thing he said was it's the quality of coaching experience that matters to him, more than the actual years of service. “To me it’s not as much about where you’ve coached, but what you’ve built and what your piece was in growing it,” Treliving said. “It’s being involved in winning programs.”

Reading between the lines, that could mean watch out for some of the fresher, younger options of which I tossed out several options in my list of second-chance candidates, guys that coached once before in the NHL and are looking for a second crack at it. As well, keep an eye on guys with successful resumes that haven't yet had an NHL gig like Travis Green (Utica, AHL), Sheldon Keefe (Toronto, AHL) or Dave Lowry (Victoria, WHL).

In net and watching the impact goaltenders have had this post-season in stealing games, one wonders who will end up coming to town and being given the keys to the crease. You'd think it won't be somebody you're gambling on but someone that has shown that they can be the guy. Marc-Andre Fleury has to be an option worth looking into. If you could somehow pry Brian Elliott out of St. Louis, what a nice pick-up that would be. Same goes for either Ben Bishop (pending the severity of Friday's injury) or Andrei Vasilevskiy out of Tampa Bay. Or like the Jones deal, involve a third team if you need to in order to maneuver Frederik Andersen away from the division-rival Ducks.

With an upgrade in net and if the a coach can restore some decency to Calgary's special teams, a 10-15 point improvement shouldn't be an issue for a team whose core is still young and should be getting better every year.

Plus, you have undrafted Mark Giordano as the dressing room leader. Coming off a 2014-15 season cut short by a brutal injury, the 32-year-old just posted a career-best season offensively with 21 goals and 56 points.


History of New Coach/New Starter and the Impact

Over the last 10 years, eight NHL general managers have found themselves in identical situations in the off-season to Wilson and Treliving -- coming off a season of not making the playoffs, and tasked with hiring a new head coach and bringing into the organization a starting goaltender.

Interestingly, five of the eight times those teams that made that high profile double-addition got right back into the post-season the very next year. In addition to the aforementioned Sharks, the other four teams to accomplish that were:

2014- 15 Vancouver Canucks 
- GM Jim Benning
- Fired John Tortorella, hired Willie Desjardins
- Signed UFA Ryan Miller as the new No. 1 goalie
- Returned to the playoffs after missing by 8 points the previous season

2011-12 Florida Panthers
- GM Dale Tallon
- Fired Peter DeBoer, hired Kevin Dineen
- Signed UFA Jose Theodore as the new No. 1 goalie
- Returned to the playoffs after missing by 21 points the previous season

2009-10 Colorado Avalanche 
- GM Greg Sherman (although he was hired at same time as Sacco so did not do the firing/hiring)
- Fired Tony Granato, hired Joe Sacco
- Signed UFA Craig Anderson as the new No. 1 goalie
- Returned to the playoffs after missing by 22 points the previous season

2006-07 Vancouver Canucks
- GM Dave Nonis
- Fired Marc Crawford, hired Alain Vigneault
- Traded for Roberto Luongo from Florida to be the new No. 1 goalie
- Returned to the playoffs after missing by 3 points the previous season
 

As for the other three times, two were last season and involved overcoming a monumental point-differential to the extent that the odds were never realistic. In both cases, the teams still improved significantly, but just not enough to make it into the post-season.

2015-16 Buffalo Sabres
- GM Tim Murray
- Fired Ted Nolan, hired Dan Bylsma
- Traded for Robin Lehner from Ottawa to be the new No. 1 goalie
- Missed playoffs by 15 points after missing by 44 points the previous season

2015- 16 Edmonton Oilers
- GM Peter Chiarelli
- Interim Todd Nelson (after Dallas Eakins fired) not brought back, hired Todd McLellan
- Traded for Cam Talbot from NY Rangers to be the new No. 1 goalie
- Missed playoffs by 17 points after missing by 35 points the previous season

2006-07 Toronto Maple Leafs
- GM John Ferguson Jr.
- Fired Pat Quinn, hired Paul Maurice
- Traded for Andrew Raycroft from Boston to be the new No. 1 goalie
- Missed playoffs by 1 point after missing by 2 points the previous season


What has been consistent is each and every time, the addition of a new coach and goalie resulted in an improvement that next season and in most cases significant.


Final Word

While there are clearly some similarities between the Sharks situation a year ago and the situation the Flames find themselves in this summer, I'll be the first to acknowledge there are obvious differences too.

Missing the playoffs in 2014-15 was the first time in 12 years San Jose had not qualified for the dance. By comparison, making the playoffs in 2014-15 was the first time Calgary had made the playoffs in six seasons. The Sharks have the better team at this moment and certainly have the far more experienced team.

While San Jose is led up front by 36-year-old Joe Thornton, the straw that stirs the drink offensively for the Flames is 22-year-old Johnny Gaudreau. Top-six winger Patrick Marleau is 36 while Michael Frolik is 27. Up the middle, Logan Couture is 27 while Sean Monahan is 21. On the blue-line, the ever-steady blueliner Marc-Edouard Vlasic is 29 while TJ Brodie is 25.

Same in some ways, different in others, what Flames fans hope is next year's regular season performance will mirror what San Jose has been able to accomplish this year because if that's the case, that would mean a re-opening of the Red Mile next spring and maybe not just for a couple weeks but possibly for a month or more. We've seen it often enough, once you get into the playoffs, anything can happen.
   
But key will be the next few months and the most important off-season in the managerial career of Treliving and whether he ultimately ends up filling these two high-profile job openings with the right candidates. And not just getting one of them right, but nailing both choices. So no pressure at all!

Over to you, Mr. Treliving. Good luck.



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Monday, May 09, 2016

Seeking a Second Chance: Plenty of One-Time NHL Coaches Looking for Another Shot

Whether it's assembling a barbeque, having a second child or learning to ride a segway, the second time you do anything in life, you're always much better at it.

By then, you've learned what works. You've learned the hard way what not to do. You've accumulated real life experience that's irreplaceable. No amount of book smarts will ever fully prepare you for that first time.

Same goes for being a head coach in the NHL. While there are exceptions, typically those first stints don't last very long. One year, two years, maybe partially into a third year, that seems to be the typical shelf life for an NHL rookie head coach. After they've moved on, or were moved on from as is usually the case, I'm sure the hindsight machine spins non-stop.

What happens next is these folks move back into an NHL assistant coach role, or head to the minors in a head coach role, apply their learnings, then patiently wait for another crack at it, better prepared for that next time if another such opportunity does arise.

With Bruce Boudreau crossed off the list of candidates, one wonders if the next guy in line for the Flames coaching job won't be someone of this ilk. Someone eagerly awaiting a second chance. A well thought-of coach that due to team performance or a new GM coming in and wanting to start fresh, saw his first cup of coffee as an NHL bench boss cut short.


Three Categories of Coaches

As the coach search continues in two cities -- Calgary and Anaheim, I break the field of potential replacements into three categories:

1. Recycled - These are those older guys that have been around the block a few times. They are household names with multiple stops on their NHL head coaching resume. This was Boudreau. This was Marc Crawford, who was announced Monday as Guy Boucher's new assistant in Ottawa. This is Randy Carlyle, who brought a Stanley Cup to Anaheim. This is ex-Flames skipper Darryl Sutter, whose future in Los Angeles remains uncertain.

2. Second-Chance - These are the guys with less grey that fall in the middle. Coaches that have had one crack at being the head man, who as mentioned are looking for another chance so they can apply their learnings from the first go-round.

3. Rookies - The opposite extreme from the grizzled vets are these guys looking to be an NHL head coach for the first time. This includes guys ripening in the AHL and waiting to make the jump like Travis Green (Utica), Ryan Huska (Stockton) and Sheldon Keefe (Toronto). It also includes a college coach like Nate Leaman (Providence College) and major junior coaches like Dave Lowry (Victoria) or Benoit Groulx (Gatineau).



It's the second-chance guys as I call them, which I am focusing on today. Given the young core of the Flames, the analytical slant the game is taking on, maybe a younger, fresher voice over some of the retreads is a preferred path for Flames GM Brad Treliving. Coming on the heels of Bob Hartley, the club is looking for someone that does things a little differently, not for more of the same.

What you like about guys in this middle group is they've been there and they now know what it takes. They have the experience of knowing what they need to do differently the next time. Most have gone on to do further apprenticing under a seasoned head coach and are now anxious to get their own gig again.


Three Notable Candidates

1. Kevin Dineen, age 52
  • Current - Past two seasons as assistant coach with Chicago Blackhawks 
  • NHL Head Coach - Fired 16 games into 2013-14, his third season with Florida. 
  • NHL Record - 146 gm, 56-62-28 

His Time with the Panthers

Replacing Peter DeBoer, Dineen led the Panthers to a 38-26-18 record and their first division title in 2011-12. It was also their first playoff appearance since 2000. After missing the playoffs during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, a slow start the next year in which free agent goaltender pick-up Tim Thomas struggled and the under-talented team couldn't score, GM Dale Tallon dismissed Dineen just over a month into the season, along with assistant coaches Gord Murphy and Craig Ramsay.

Dineen was offered a different role in the organization but declined. At the time, Tallon said Dineen worked hard but his message was not getting through to the players, who were underperforming. “After 16 games it was clear that our team needed a change in philosophy and direction,” said Tallon in the press release. “We have not met the expectations that we set forth at training camp."

Coaching Background

Less than a month after current Flames VP of Hockey Operations Brian Burke arrived in Anaheim as GM in June 2005, he hired Dineen to coach the Ducks AHL affiliate in Portland. Dineen led the Pirates (featuring Ladislav Smid, Curtis Glencross) to a 53-19-8 regular season record, which was a 34-point improvement over the previous year. They also had a long playoff run before losing in game 7 of the Eastern Conference final. Capping off his rookie season, Dineen was named AHL coach of the year.

Dineen coached at Portland for five more seasons, the final three years they were the affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres. It was in the summer of 2011 that he was hired by Florida.

Just over a month after he was let go by the Panthers, Dineen was hired by Team Canada to coach the women's national team, who went on to win gold at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The next season, operating as an assistant under one of the very best in longtime Hartford Whalers teammate Joel Quenneville, he won a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks.


2. Kirk Muller, age 50
  • Current - Past two seasons as assistant coach with St. Louis Blues
  • NHL Head Coach - Fired after 2013-14, his third season with Carolina
  • NHL Record - 187 gm, 80-80-27

His Time with the Hurricanes

Replacing Paul Maurice a couple months into the 2011-12 season, the club went 25-20-12 under Muller's direction but were unable to make it all the way back into a playoff spot after that bad start. Carolina also missed the playoffs in each of the next two seasons.

When Ron Francis was brought in as the Hurricanes new GM, he waited only a week before firing Muller and most of the coaching staff, saying the team needed a "fresh start". Hurting the team in Muller's final season behind the bench, Eric Staal and Alexander Semin both saw their production drop significantly and Cam Ward struggled in net with a .898 save percentage.

Muller was described as a very positive, upbeat coach and solid communicator. Garnering the nickname of "Kirk is Work", he expects his team to work hard and play an aggressive forechecking style that is much like what his reputation was as a player.


Coaching Background

After his 19-year NHL playing career ended, Muller spent the 2005-06 season as a CIAU head coach with Queen's University. The next year, he was hired by Montreal as an assistant coach under Guy Carbonneau. He was in that role for five seasons, the last couple years under Jacques Martin. His primary responsibility with the Canadiens was special teams and the power play and penalty kill were both in the top half of the league all five of his seasons. In particular, the PP was one of the league's very best over that time:
  • 2010-11 - 7th PP, 7th PK
  • 2009-10 - 2nd PP, 12th PK
  • 2008-09 - 13th PP, 11th PK
  • 2007-08 - 1st PP, 15th PK
  • 2006-07 - 1st PP, 13th PK

After interviewing for a few open NHL head coaching jobs in the summer of 2011 but failing to get hired -- most teams looking for someone with previous NHL head coaching experience -- Muller set out to try and get head coaching experience in the AHL. He contacted Nashville Predators GM David Poile and landed the job as coach for the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals. His time coaching in the minors only lasted a couple months before Maurice was fired by Jim Rutherford, GM at the time, who brought in Muller.

After being dismissed by the Hurricanes, Muller was snapped up by St. Louis just eight days later where he joined Ken Hitchcock, one of his former coaches while he was a player.


3. Glen Gulutzan, age 44
  • Current - Past three seasons as assistant coach with Vancouver Canucks
  • NHL Head Coach - Fired after 2012-13, his second season with Dallas
  • NHL Record - 130 gm, 64-57-9

His Time with the Stars

Gulatzan was hired in June 2011 by GM Joe Nieuwendyk. He replaced the fired Marc Crawford. Interestingly, one of the people interviewed that he beat out for the job was Muller. Gulutzan was a known commodity to Dallas as he had spent the previous two seasons coaching the Stars AHL affiliate in Texas. At the time, Nieuwendyk said, "He just gets it. He understands players. He understands how to mesh players and how to get the most from their ability... We were highly impressed with the structure and the style of play."

After missing the playoffs both years behind the Stars bench, he was fired two weeks after Jim Nill took over as Stars GM for a dismissed Nieuwendyk. Also let go was Gulutzan's assistant coach Paul Jerrard.  "They are both quality coaches and men, but we have decided to go in a different direction," said Nill in the press release. He would go on to hire veteran Lindy Ruff.

In that second season with the team struggling, Nieuwendyk traded Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy and Branden Morrow at the trade deadline. With the younger roster, the re-invigorated team played some of its best hockey of the season but weren't able to make it all the way back and ended up missing the playoffs by seven points.


Coaching Background

In 2003, he was named GM and head coach of the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL. As is typical of teams in the lower minors like that, he did a little bit of everything and worked some awfully long hours. Eventually while he was in charge, the Wranglers became an affiliate of the Calgary Flames. In the coach profile video below, Gulutzan said that stint in Las Vegas taught him a lot and opened up connections in the NHL.



In 2009-10, Gulutzan took over the Stars AHL affiliate in Texas, leading the team to the Calder Cup final in his first season. He got the team back to the playoffs again the next season.

Less than three weeks after his stint as the head man with Dallas ended, Gulutzan was hired by Vancouver as an assistant to John Tortorella. When Tortorella was let go, the club liked what they had in Gulutzan, who was retained to work under new coach Willie Desjardins. It was an interesting plot twist considering Desjardins had previously worked as associate coach for one season in Dallas while Gulutzan was the Stars head coach.

Responsible for the Canucks penalty killing, Vancouver has ranked 9th, 2nd and 17th in his three seasons. He was also was touted as the possible interim coach when Desjardins looked to be on shaky ground in February.


Other Second-Chance Candidates

While I've cherry-picked a few names you're hearing more often, there are many others that fit into this bucket. Here are six more:
  • John Stevens, 50 - Took over in Philadelphia for Ken Hitchcock eight games into 2006-07. Flyers made the playoffs in his first two full seasons, losing to Pittsburgh in the first round both times. He was fired 25 games into 2009-10, replaced by Peter Laviolette. He joined the Kings as an assistant coach in the summer of 2010 and has been there ever since in the same role, other than a brief four-game stint as interim head coach between the exit of Terry Murray and entrance of Darryl Sutter
  • Mike Yeo, 42 - After a successful first year at the helm of Minnesota's AHL team in Houston, reaching the Calder Cup final, Yeo was promoted to the NHL and became the league's youngest coach. His first crack at NHL head coach lasted much longer than most and included modest success. Three out of four seasons Minnesota made the playoffs, each time being eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks. Yeo was fired 55 games into this past season, his fifth year behind the Wild bench. He's currently an assistant coach under Bill Peters with Canada at the IIHF World Championships, a team in which Treliving is the co-GM. 
  • Paul MacLean, 58 - Fired 27 games into 2014-15, his fourth season with Ottawa. In his first two seasons after replacing Cory Clouston, he got the Senators into the playoffs, reaching the second round in 2012-13. He spent the past season as an assistant coach with the Anaheim Ducks under Bruce Boudreau. The Ducks had the league's best power play and penalty kill last season. 
  • Todd Nelson, 46 - Coached Edmonton for the final 51 games of 2014-15 after taking over for the fired Dallas Eakins. Was not retained when the Oilers hired Todd McLellan. Prior to his stint in Edmonton, spent four seasons with the Oilers AHL affiliate in Oklahoma City. Nelson coached Grand Rapids (AHL) last season. Nelson has been a very successful coach in the minors.
  • Brad Shaw, 52 - Hired as an assistant coach with the New York Islanders under Steve Stirling in 2005-06, he took over as head coach after Stirling was fired. He went 18-18-4 and was dismissed at the end of the season. He was hired that same summer of 2006 as a Blues assistant coach and he's still there today. He was elevated to associate coach in June 2012. 
  • Scott Arniel, 53 - Fired 41 games into 2011-12, his second season as head coach with Columbus. After spending the next year as coach of the AHL's Chicago Wolves, he has spent the last three years as associate coach with the New York Rangers under Alain Vigneault

It would not be a surprise if most of these guys eventually get another shot in the NHL. It's just a matter of when. For Stevens and MacLean, it could be this upcoming season in Los Angeles and Anaheim. They're all coaches in and around a similar age range that carry some appeal given their overall track record. I wouldn't view any of them as colossal failures in their first shot at the NHL either. Some were more just victims of a new GM being hired and wanting to bring in his own coach as is so often the case.


Final Word

Given the volume of candidates out there, I don't see a need for the Flames to rush this important hire. With the Ducks vacancy the only one remaining at the moment, Treliving has the luxury of taking his time and interviewing as many possible candidates as he feels might be the right fit.

He has already said he'll be thorough and extensive

When he fired Hartley, he didn't elaborate on what he was exactly looking for in a head coach but did say he had a profile in his mind. He also said he'll know he's found the right match when he finds it.

With potential candidates operating as assistant coaches on teams still alive in the Stanley Cup playoffs, waiting for those teams to be eliminated could result in a delay to the process and that's fine. Given Treliving's involvement with Canada at the World Championships at the moment, that also adds a logistical hurdle.

I'd fully expect the coach to be in place by the draft but depending on how things go, maybe it's not until mid-June before an announcement comes. We'll see.

Bottom line is this is Treliving's first coaching hiring and it's an important one. It's a move he needs to get right so I don't seem him rushing it, unless as mentioned, the right candidate comes along and he sees no reason to interview any others.

Hire a coach, find a goaltender or two, re-sign his two star players. The Flames GM has quite a few projects on the go this summer. Hopefully he also doesn't have to assemble a barbeque because all joking aside, that's a weekend killer.



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