Mailbag: Midseason coaching changes, Vegas goalies, Krug’s future

Mailbag: Midseason coaching changes, Vegas goalies, Krug’s future

Here is the Sept. 16 edition of Dan Rosen’s weekly mailbag. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

Craig Berube last year with the St. Louis Blues. Rick Bowness this season with the Dallas Stars. Do you see any similarity between these two coaches who have been hired midseason and yet they were able to lead their teams all the way to the Stanley Cup Final as interim coaches? — @statslotta

Absolutely. They’re each excellent communicators in their own way. Each is good at dealing with players in a direct, professional, respectful and clear manner. They have experience working one-on-one with players from their time as an assistant. And they each took over a team that was ready to win, albeit under different circumstances.

Berube replaced Mike Yeo on Nov. 19, 2018, at a time the Blues were struggling. But they were built to win last season and just needed a new voice, new tactics, and a push in a different direction. They didn’t need a roster overhaul; that was done in the offseason when they acquired center Ryan O’Reilly in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres and signed free agent forwards Tyler Bozak, Pat Maroon and David Perron. Once goalie Jordan Binnington took over in January, the Blues got rolling to the Stanley Cup championship.

Bowness took over for Jim Montgomery, who was fired Dec. 10 because of unprofessional conduct. But the Stars were a good team already, 17-11-3 when the coaching change happened. Bowness had to coach the players’ mindsets more than their physical abilities. He does that as well as anyone in the NHL. It was adversity, and the Stars had to overcome it. They were good enough to be in the top four in the Western Conference when the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. The break allowed Bowness to redirect the Stars to become more offensive, with an emphasis on getting their defensemen more involved in the attack. Then Khudobin got hot, like Binnington last season, and the Stars got rolling to the Stanley Cup Final.

There certainly are similarities between Berube and Bowness, and it reminds me of when Mike Sullivan took over the Pittsburgh Penguins midway through the 2015-16 season, when Darryl Sutter took over the Los Angeles Kings during the 2011-12 season, and when Dan Bylsma took over the Penguins late in the 2008-09 season. Each of those teams was built to win but needed a new voice to get over the hump. They all won the Stanley Cup. The Stars are four wins away.

With the Washington Capitals hiring Peter Laviolette, when do you think Gerard Gallant or Mike Babcock will be getting a head coaching job in the NHL? — @TrishTheMiddle

Let’s wait and see what happens with Bowness in Dallas. If he wants to stay, that will happen. But if the 65-year-old doesn’t want the job, that will open the opportunity for Gallant or Babcock. In that scenario, I think Gallant is better suited. The Stars are at their best when they’re attacking and aggressive, and activating their defensemen. Gallant coached that style well during three seasons with the Vegas Golden Knights.

But if Bowness wants to stay, then the other potential opening to coach next season is with the San Jose Sharks, where Bob Boughner replaced DeBoer on Dec. 11. Again, I’d target Gallant for the Sharks.

I think Babcock would be the ideal first coach of the Seattle Kraken. He knows the Pacific Northwest, having coached Spokane of the Western Hockey League for six seasons (1994-00). I think Babcock would be a great salesman for the Kraken. He’s a Stanley Cup champion, just like general manager Ron Francis. That brings instant credibility to the franchise. I also think an extra season of scouting and watching will help Babcock become fresher as a coach.

What’s next for the Vegas Golden Knights? They [could] sign Robin Lehner to a new contract and just lost to a team that has surprised most in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Is there a possibility we could see one of the core players moved in the offseason? — @theashcity

The worst thing the Golden Knights can do is overreact to losing to the Stars in five games in the Western Conference Final. They lost four games by one goal, two in overtime. They allowed nine goals in five games. They outshot the Stars 166-118. They had 22 power plays, many earned by having the puck for long stretches. They do not need to make any big changes. They didn’t finish enough against the Stars. They didn’t get enough net-front traffic to make it more difficult for Stars goalie Anton Khudobin, who was terrific in the last three games, allowing five goals on 109 shots (.954 save percentage).

The one core player who might be moved out is goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, but that’s only because it looks obvious that coach Peter DeBoer prefers Lehner. If the Golden Knights can sign Lehner, who can become an unrestricted free agent, you have to think Fleury would be traded. It’ll be interesting to see what they could get for him because the goalie market has the potential to be loaded with options. Fleury turns 36 on Nov. 28 and he’s signed for two more seasons with a $7 million annual NHL salary cap charge.

Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon said Wednesday the “first order of business” this offseason is to sort out the goalie situation.

Video: VGK@DAL, Gm3: Lehner shuts down Kiviranta twice

As the reigning General Manager of the Year, what does Lou Lamoriello do to keep the New York Islanders competitive next year? Power play clearly needs help. Do you go for a player change, or an offensive coach change? Who would you consider for either of those scenarios? — @mikeybox

Lamoriello won’t change any piece of the coaching staff unless Islanders coach Barry Trotz wants a new voice and different ideas. I wouldn’t consider making any switch on the coaching staff. Why try to fix what isn’t broken?

As for the power play, yes, the Islanders would benefit from another playmaking forward after they were 24th in the regular season at 17.3 percent. But what team wouldn’t? The Islanders need to work on the nuts and bolts of the power play. It’s too cute at times, too fancy, too much passing. Win the face-off, move the puck, shoot the puck, go to the net, crash, find rebounds, deposit them into the net. Simplify.

The Islanders might have to move a player in order to re-sign center Mathew Barzal and defensemen Ryan Pulock and Devon Toews, who each can become a restricted free agent Oct. 9. It’s going to force them to look inside the organization for help on the power play, perhaps at forwards Oliver Wahlstrom or Kieffer Bellows, who each played most of the season for Bridgeport of the American Hockey League. Bellows scored four power-play goals and Wahlstrom scored three, but Bridgeport was 11.2 percent in 63 games, 30th among 31 AHL teams, so they’re not exactly a model for power-play success either.

The Islanders could be active in the unrestricted free agent market, and a player like forward Mike Hoffman might be exactly who they need, especially for the power play because of his shot. However, to do that, New York might have to find a way to clear more salary cap space.

Video: PHI@NYI, Gm6: Barzal roofs gorgeous wrist shot

What kind of moves do you see the New York Rangers making this offseason? UFA targets? Trade for a young RFA? — @bfeintuch14

They’re most likely going to draft forward Alexis Lafreniere with the No. 1 pick of the 2020 NHL Draft. I think it makes sense for the Rangers to re-sign restricted free agent center Ryan Strome, even if it’s to a one-year contract, if they can’t upgrade at second-line center another way. Strome is a season away from being an unrestricted free agent, so I don’t know if signing a long-term contract would be in the cards or something the Rangers want to do, but another season with Strome, who had great chemistry with left wing Artemi Panarin, would be palatable.

Or perhaps the Rangers can trade for a No. 2 center, with defenseman Tony DeAngelo a potential chip. Defenseman K’Andre Miller, the No. 22 pick of the 2018 NHL Draft, will have a chance to make the opening night roster. If the Rangers trade DeAngelo, they likely will try to find a third-pair right-shot defenseman to replace him.

The Rangers have to live with the salary cap charge on Kevin Shattenkirk‘s buyout going above $6 million next season, but they might be able to save on the cap if goalie Henrik Lundqvist retires or they’re able to move his entire $8.5 million salary cap charge.

Torey Krug to me is the best defenseman for the Boston Bruins based on his offensive production, but I have that gut feeling he won’t re-sign. Give me some hope. — @Tom51816162

Sorry, I can’t offer you hope. I think Krug is going to hit the market as an unrestricted free agent Oct. 9 and sign with a new team. If he was going back to the Bruins, I think it already would have happened. Krug has talked about this being the time for him to maximize his value. He’s 29 years old, he’s proven, and he’s a winner. He’s seventh among NHL defensemen with 335 points (67 goals, 268 assists) in 520 games since his rookie season (2013-14). This likely will be the most important and most lucrative contract he will sign during his NHL career. Krug and Bruins general manager Don Sweeney have spoken publicly about this and each made it sound like the sides are not close to an agreement. If they can’t find common ground soon, it makes sense for the Bruins to trade Krug before Oct. 9 to at least get a draft pick in return.

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