Two Eastern Conference teams who struggled last year — Tampa Bay and Atlanta — made the most dramatic moves in the offseason and are looking to return to the playoffs and NHL relevance now.
After bringing in Steve Yzerman as GM, the Lightning struck the Canadiens organization by hiring Guy Boucher as head coach. Boucher’s resume in Hamilton with the Habs farm club included a North Division title and a deep run in the Calder Cup playoffs last season, plus kudos from his players and observers for his cerebral coaching techniques. At season’s end, he was won the Lou Pieri Award for AHL Coach of the Year.
He previously had been an assistant coach for three gold medal Canadians World Junior Championship teams and won the QMJHL regular season once and the Presidents Cup playoff championship twice. This guy can flat out coach and he’s already making an impression in the NHL.
In today’s Tampa Tribune, Ira Kaufman writes a short profile of Boucher, the hook being that the coach likes to keep his players off balance and always thinking, a common trait of many successful coaches.
“I hate that word (comfortable),” said Boucher. “You get in your comfort zone and
you get in your lazy zone.”
So he’s constantly moving players around during the preseason — Vinny Lecavalier to wing, Simon Gagne to centre — in an effort to keep their minds working and better grasp all the parts of his system.
“He’s smart, he brings lots of energy and he’s always pushing guys,” defenseman Pavel Kubina told Kaufman. “The defense has to know what the
forwards do. I might play right defense, but I have to know about all
five guys on our forechecks and breakouts.”
Kaufman wondered how Boucher would deal with Steven Stamkos, who certainly thrived in his comfort zone — the left faceoff circle from where he fired one-timers on the power play. Stamkos led the NHL with 24 PP goals last year.
“I’m not tied to it (set power-play lineup), but I’m not blind to that
part (Stamkos), either,” Boucher laughed. “We’ve got a lot of
guys who are good at different positions. I want to make sure every guy
gets a piece of the cake.”
“For all of us, it’s going to be an adjustment,” Stamkos told Kaufman. “He’s a
smart guy with a major in sports psychology, so he knows what he’s
talking about. Sometimes you sit back and wonder, why hasn’t anyone else
done this stuff? It works. Coach is all about using our speed, and we
have a lot of it. We’re going to be in other teams’ faces, taking away
time and space.
“Put our speed and skill together with the new systems we have and
it’s going to be an exciting brand of hockey – something our fans want
Down in Atlanta, the Thrashers also have a new bench boss in long time NHL coach Craig Ramsay, and new GM Rick Dudley swung some big trades, including a couple that scooped up a chunk of the salary cap-burdened Cup champion Blackhawks — Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eagar, Brent Soppel and Andrew Ladd.
Byfuglien is the biggest name (and the biggest guy) in the group and he generated big headlines this summer when the Thrashers announced they’d play Big Buff on defence, where he sometimes played in Chicago, rather than up front where he made a big impact in the playoffs with 11 goals in 22 games.
Well, that news has rubbed ex-NHLer Jeremy Roenick the wrong way. J.R. (or “P.R.” as his detractors derisively call him) who cried on US national TV after his former team won the Cup in June, felt he had to say so on his radio show.
(You may ask, Jeremy Roenick has a radio show? And aparently he does on Sirius XM. You may also ask, Jeremey Roenick – who cares? It’s a valid question.)
On his show, Roenick unleashed this broadside, as reported yesterday by
“That might be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. Dustin
Byfuglien as a defenseman. I would love to play against Dustin
Byfuglien as a defenseman. I would turn him inside out, left, right and
center every single time. This kid, he made his living in front of the
net scoring goals during the playoffs for the Chicago Blackhawks. Why
on earth would you put him back as a defenseman? This kid is strong,
he’s powerful, he’s a great skater. Put him in front of the net as a
forward. That’s where you want him to do all his damage. Playing him
as a defenseman? Maybe that’s why the Thrashers are 0-3 in preseason.
Maybe that’s why nobody comes to watch their games. It’s crazy. What
are they thinking? They already have a GM that doesn’t know the game
whatsoever. But, hey, that’s just my opinion. Like me or hate me if
you don’t [agree]. I’m not a big fan of Atlanta for a lot of reasons
but the fact that they’re going to play Dustin Byfuglien [as a
defenseman], my goodness gracious.”
To which Vivlamore responded: “So, Rick Dudley ‘doesn’t know the game whatsoever’? Who knew?”
Good ol’ J.R. Age and retirement have not mellowed him at all.
Well, moving Byfuglien back to D does create a pretty good top six for the Thrashers — Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom, Ron Hainsey, Johnny Oduya, Sopel
and Byfuglien — at a time when most of the wise hockey observers say that a strong blueline corps is the key to winning in the NHL today. And who’s to say Ramsay won’t deploy Buff in front of the net on the power play (although he does have a good hard shot from the blue line?).
The Hawks didn’t hesitate to use Byfuglien on defence when they ran into injury problems there last year and he did a good job. The fact is, he can play up or back and at his best, he’s pretty effective in either spot. Atlanta likes him on D, he likes to play D so why not see how it works?
Right now, Byfuglien has a bum ankle so he didn’t practice yesterday and won’t be in the lineup tonight when the Thrashers host the Predators in a preseason game.
And finally, in what has turned into an abreviated tour of the Southeast Division, Alex Ovechkin made his September debut last night in DC, as the Caps won their third preseason game, 3-2 over the Bruins. Ovechkin got a pair of assists and was named first star. “Just give them puck and they score goals. So it was easy,” Ovechkin
remarked (quoted by Chris Gordon on his blog Caps Snaps). Easy for him.
It was a physical game with Ovie throwing his body around pretty well. With about three minutes left, he was boarded by the B’s Gregory Campbell and Ovie retaliated with a slash. The pair each got minors.
“It’s, you know, physical game. It is always nice to just get into it
right away,” Ovechkin said. “In the scrimmage like we don’t hit a lot.
Just try to play more casual and right now it is just time to get into