All posts by John Matisz

Kings, Penguins shake things up with Hagelin-Pearson trade

Rob Blake and Jim Rutherford had both seen enough.

The general managers completed the first meaningful trade of the 2018-19 NHL regular season Wednesday, swapping underachieving left wingers to jolt their respective clubs back to life.

Carl Hagelin, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins, is off to Los Angeles in exchange for Tanner Pearson, who earned a ring with the Kings.

“Our team is obviously not in a position that we are comfortable with in terms of how we are playing,” Blake said in a press release announcing the one-for-one swap.

"This could be the start of more changes,” Rutherford warned in a post-trade briefing with reporters. “We'll see how it goes.”

What this means for the Penguins

Pearson, 26, is the younger player in the deal. He’s probably a better finisher than Hagelin, and he's under contract for two more years at a digestible $3.75-million cap hit.

That's the good news.

The bad?

Pearson has struggled mightily through the opening stretch of the season, recording just a single assist - in the Oct. 5 home opener - in 17 games. For the first time in his six-year career, Pearson’s 5-on-5 shot metrics sit below 50 percent, and the Kings were outscored 10-1 with him on the ice over 198 even-strength minutes.

Noah Graham / Getty Images

Yet Rutherford seems to believe Pearson can reinvigorate the Penguins, who have lost six of their past seven games and face the conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.

"He was able to play with their top guys (in L.A.),” Rutherford said, referring to Pearson’s past experience skating alongside Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter. “I believe that a change will be good for him. He will be a good fit for us.”

Pearson bagged 24 goals in 80 games at his peak in 2016-17. The 6-foot-1, 201-pounder contributed solid top-nine value in his other two seasons with the Kings, registering 36 and 40 points.

The talent is there and if he slides into Hagelin’s old spot on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist there will be no excuses. Over to you, Tanner.

What this means for the Kings

By acquiring Hagelin, the Kings - arguably the slowest team in the NHL - have gained one of the sport's premier speedsters. Hagelin is a dynamite penalty killer, too, which should help L.A.’s 21st-ranked unit.

Hagelin’s best NHL season was way back in 2011-12 when he posted 14 goals and 24 assists in 64 games as a rookie for the New York Rangers. Through 16 games this season, the 30-year-old has just one goal and two assists.

2011-12 NYR 64 14 24 38
2012-13 NYR 48 10 14 24
2013-14 NYR 72 17 16 33
2014-15 NYR 82 17 18 35
2015-16 ANA/PIT 80 14 25 39
2016-17 PIT 61 6 16 22
2017-18 PIT 81 10 21 31
2018-19 PIT 16 1 2 3

Given the direction the Kings' season is trending (see: down, way down) and Hagelin's contract situation (pending unrestricted free agent), is this a rent-to-sell situation? It's not a crazy thought.

The last-place Kings are spiraling right now; they've lost three straight, including a 5-1 defeat on home ice Tuesday against the Maple Leafs. The league’s second-oldest roster just got older and, although they could use a boost of some kind and Hagelin’s tantalizing wheels fit the short-term bill, a second deal around the Feb. 25 trade deadline may be the right long-term play.

Suitors surely haven’t forgotten about Hagelin’s performance in the 2016 playoffs, when he starred on the vaunted HBK Line with six goals and 10 assists in 24 postseason games.

(Side note: The Penguins retained $250,000 of Hagelin’s $4-million salary in the trade, eliminating any financial discrepancy between the two contracts.)

The main takeaway

In the grand scheme of things, the Hagelin-for-Pearson deal will not lose or win another Cup for either of these franchises. The players involved, even at their absolute best, are secondary contributors.

But this trade does serve a purpose. L.A. and Pittsburgh both need a kick in the rear end and found their targets in a pair of underperforming vets.

The Kings are in a state of flux under a new, interim head coach. Blake and Co. are navigating the waters between relevant and irrelevant, seemingly unsure of which side of the tide they will ultimately end up on.

Is this the beginning of the end for a core that won two Cups in three years at the start of the decade? Maybe. The departure of John Stevens last week certainly got the ball rolling. Is a full tear-down coming? Perhaps.

The Penguins, while on stronger footing overall, are also feeling the heat, albeit in a subtler fashion. Rutherford, who signed a three-year contract extension hours before announcing the trade, has voiced his displeasure with the current supporting cast around Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and other untouchables, according to The Athletic's Josh Yohe.

Is this a one-off move or a start of a furious shopping spree from Rutherford? It sounds like the former.

"I just think we're in a funk now," Rutherford said. "We're a fragile team. We're struggling. But for the most part, I still believe in this team."

The common thread: Winning is fleeting in professional sports and both GMs seem willing to do everything in their power to keep another championship within reach.

John Matisz is theScore's National Hockey Writer. You can find him on Twitter @matiszjohn.

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GM meeting notebook: On goalie equipment, Europe, and Seattle

TORONTO - For once, a win for the status quo.

As general managers filed out of the NHL's Canadian headquarters on Tuesday, wrapping up a five-hour meeting, it became abundantly clear that homework - not new rule recommendations - had been doled out by the league's bigwigs.

"What you do is take it home and digest a lot of it," Los Angeles Kings GM Rob Blake said, before adding that "other things will be added to the agenda for March" when the meetings commence again in Florida.

While no major rule changes were discussed (a rarity for a league known for its nitpicking), a number of less pressing matters were broached before and after Tuesday's meeting.

On goalie equipment:

Colin Campbell, the league's senior executive vice-president of hockey operations, opened his media availability by joking about making the goalie equipment larger and the nets smaller in an effort to counteract the uptick in goal scoring through the first month of the 2018-19 season.

In reality, despite several goaltenders raising a stink about an increase in bruising due to a decrease in the size of their equipment, the NHL remains satisfied with its offseason adjustments.

"We did discuss the fact that some goalies were complaining. In some instances, the complaints went with their performances too," Campbell said, not naming names. "There are forwards and there are defensemen that get bruises when they get hit with 100-mile-an-hour shots. We brought that to the GMs' attention. They had no concern with it."

Year after year, the increase in goals has been minor, with this year's NHL featuring one extra goal every five games. Still, the perpetual tweaking of rules and regulations, coupled with a seismic shift toward skill and speed, has affected the game on a grander scale.

Heading into Tuesday's schedule, the average game has featured 6.14 goals, up from 5.44 in 2012-13.

"The players' association is totally on board with it," Campbell said, referring to the remodeled goalie equipment, namely the much-maligned chest protector. "I think that (alteration) and a lot of the rule changes have opened the game up quite a bit."

On European expansion:

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly energized the NHL news cycle last week when he told TSN that the NHL may one day house franchises - ideally, a whole division - in Europe.

"The number of our players who are born and trained in Europe and add to the talent level of the National Hockey League, the interest in the sport - in a number of countries in Europe - make it almost inevitable that at some point the National Hockey League will have teams in Europe," Daly said, with NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr basically echoing Daly's optimism in a press briefing on Monday.

Patrick McDermott / National Hockey League / Getty

There's a lot to unpack here. The idea of expanding to another continent would be no small task. (By the way, this is just an idea at this point, so don't expect the unveiling of the Helsinki Huskies any time soon.)

Some surface-level questions to consider: Would the NHL's quality of play diminish with the integration of additional teams and players? Would the impact and cost of travel outweigh the benefits of expansion? And would the logical landing spots - Helsinki, Prague, and Stockholm, to name a few - be able to support NHL arenas and clubs?

"I don't foresee any huge issues," Capitals GM Brian MacLellan told theScore, referring to the travel aspect. "I mean, teams will go over and play a few games, come back, and play on the East Coast. It could probably work … There's a good balance between all of the European players (and non-Europeans). And there are cities that are following their guys passionately. I think it makes sense, big picture-wise."

It's not a completely foreign concept, of course. For years, the NHL's held exhibition and regular-season games overseas, including matches this fall in China, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, and Finland.

Actually stationing a division in Europe someday would be an entirely different animal. If the NHL can act quick enough, though, it could capture something incredibly unique.

"We're the first team in pro sports in Vegas," Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said. "I wouldn't be shocked if the NHL's the first (league) that goes to Europe."

On another draft:

Speaking of expansion, the NHL's almost certainly off to Seattle. It's expected that a vote at an early-December board of governors meeting in Georgia will seal the deal.

Campbell noted that the 30 teams eligible to participate in another expansion draft - Vegas would be exempt from the process - will be given a year's notice of the date. It may be the summer of 2020, or the summer of 2021, depending on the progress of arena construction in Seattle.

Whether it's ultimately 17 or 29 months away, teams are already mapping out possible scenarios that may unfold. The rule book for the Seattle draft, after all, projects to be just as advantageous as the one that gifted Vegas a roster full of contributors.

"You always look at it, but we're here to win hockey games also," Bergevin said of keeping tabs on which players might quality for exposure down the road. "We have to manage winning hockey games and exposing young players. At the end of the day, I'm not going to hold (rookie Jesperi) Kotkaniemi back because of an expansion draft.”

Blake admitted that the Kings are viewing the next expansion draft through a different lens simply because it's Round 2. It's familiar. MacLellan shares a similar mindset.

"I think it's important to look at what happened last time. We'll go over the decisions that were made by everybody and how Vegas used their leverage," said the Stanley Cup-winning GM who lost Nate Schmidt to the Golden Knights. "I think you learn from some of the decisions that were made and maybe some new stuff comes up on this one, you don't know."

John Matisz is theScore's National Hockey Writer. You can find him on Twitter @matiszjohn.

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5 things we learned on the Hall of Fame red carpet

TORONTO - There aren't too many dates on the hockey calendar that warrant Hollywood treatment. The Hall of Fame induction night is one of them.

The red carpet was rolled out Monday to welcome dozens of the sport's greats, all on hand to honor the Hall's newest members - Martin Brodeur, Martin St. Louis, Jayna Hefford, Alexander Yakushev, Willie O'Ree, and Gary Bettman.

Here are some things we learned on the carpet:

Gretzky may have a favorite

If anybody can talk a teammate into the Hall of Fame, it's Wayne Gretzky.

Asked to provide the name of someone who deserves to be enshrined but hasn't gotten the call, "The Great One" enthusiastically put forth Kevin Lowe.

Gretzky and Lowe, a rugged NHL defenseman for 19 seasons from 1979 to 1997, played together in Edmonton for nearly a decade. The latter is tied for 10th on the all-time list in NHL titles won.

"I'm biased, I'm a teammate. You win six Stanley Cups and you're an unselfish player and you’re part of a dynasty and part of what makes a team great," Gretzky said of Lowe, now 59.

"When you're kids, it’s all about having fun, scoring goals, and just enjoying it. When you're a professional athlete, it’s about winning. Championships to me are everything."

Lamoriello is in Gary's corner

About an hour before Gary Bettman wisecracked about getting into the Hall despite facing a barrage of boos every time he appears in public, Lou Lamoriello came to the defense of the longtime NHL commissioner.

Lamoriello, a 2009 Hall of Fame inductee, urged prickly fans to consider Bettman's 25-year body of work.

"I think if you take a step back and look at what the commissioner has done for this game, how he's expanded the game, how he’s been aggressive in changing the game as the players changed - the speed and strength of the game - it needed changes to allow the game to be the greatest game it is today," Lamoriello said.

"You have to be special to do that, and you have to satisfy a lot of ownership to get a lot of these decisions made, and he has a way of getting everybody to come together. We hear boos in different buildings, but sometimes I think that's a lot of respect too."

Healy's motivated to help

It was a little odd that the NHL and a group of retired players reached a tentative settlement in a concussion lawsuit on Monday, of all days.

Maybe a coincidence, or perhaps a strategic public relations move by the league and its lawyers to pair the so-called win with Bettman's induction?

Either way, NHL Alumni Association president Glenn Healy is motivated by the $18.9-million payout, even though it falls way short of the settlement that NFL players received from their league.

"I think the biggest thing for us is that it's a step. It's a real step in the right direction to get hope back to families," Healy said. "The calls that I get are never from the player. They're always from the wives, always from the kids that say to me, 'I want Dad back.' And so, it's a step in the right direction today to try to get some help and some hope for players.

"This is not the end game. We're not done here. The Alumni is going to dig in with this as well. There will never be an out of bounds. There will always be an issue with this. This is a fast, dangerous game, and we're not going to stop until we can help every player."

Brodeur can (or at least could) ball

Martin Brodeur did just about everything over the course of a 22-year career.

He won three Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals, four Vezina Trophies, claimed the all-time wins record, and scored multiple goals.

According to old teammate and ex-Devils captain Scott Niedermayer, Brodeur's athletic accomplishments extended beyond hockey.

"I remember we were playing some basketball one day down in Florida. We had a day off," Niedermayer said. "Most of us are terrible, couldn't make a shot, and there’s Marty. It looks like he's played basketball for 30 years. He was just a natural. He was a heck of an athlete."

St. Louis may never change

Understandably, given the hockey world's resentment towards players his size at the time, Martin St. Louis had a chip on his shoulder when he broke into the NHL.

Dave Andreychuk, one of St. Louis' mentors and a 2017 inductee, insists the Marty-vs-the-world mentality persisted within the 5-foot-8 winger, remaining a part of his attitude through an illustrious career.

"I don't think it ever left. Right until the end, right?" Andreychuk said. "He was trying to prove to the world that he belongs and that’s his demeanor. That's who he is. When you think about the career path for Marty, and what he did, I’m in amazement just like everybody else."

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Enjoy this preview of the Canucks’ potential future while you can

BUFFALO - Nobody was supposed to be talking about the Vancouver Canucks this season. Thanks to "The Alien," "The Flow," "Bo," and sidekicks "Goldy" and "Shotgun Jake," the opposite's the case.

But introducing that cast of characters to NHL fans required saying goodbye to the franchise's stars. While April's simultaneous farewells to Henrik and Daniel Sedin put a bow on the most successful two decades in club history, the twins' exit also signaled the end of an agonizing transition from Generation X to Generation Z.

"They were great players for the organization for a long time but, with their retirement, it's given some other players an opportunity to step up and fill that void," Canucks general manager Jim Benning told theScore on the weekend.

Heading into Monday night's game with the Rangers in New York, the 10-6-2 Canucks have scored more goals than 27 teams and sit alone atop the Pacific Division. It's a strange sight considering that the roster's wildly incomplete and the team's underlying numbers aren't pretty.

But one undeniable truth has emerged in Vancouver: In the Sedins' absence, the kids are running the show - and they're damn good.

"We knew it was going to be a challenge here, with Hank and Danny being gone," said Bo Horvat, the blossoming two-way center and potential future captain. "To lose them was definitely tough, but we have guys that are stepping up and taking their spot."

To properly understand the monumental task Benning and head coach Travis Green are undertaking in the post-Sedin era, recall Vancouver's pitiful recent performance.

From 2015-16 through 2017-18, the Canucks were legitimately the worst team in the league, ranking last or near the bottom in several key statistical categories:

Points % 44.1 31st
Corsi for % 47.6 26th
Shooting % 8.3 29th
Save % 90.7 23rd
Power play % 17.2 28th
Penalty kill % 78.7 29th

So, how are these Canucks doing it, and what might their early-season success say about Vancouver's long-term prospects?

The 1-2-3 punch

OK, about those first few nicknames: Transcendent rookie center Elias Pettersson is "The Alien," or "Petey"; "The Flow" is sophomore sharpshooter Brock Boeser; and "Bo" is Horvat, the trusty leader.

In the wake of Pettersson's blistering start - including 10 goals and seven assists in 12 games, and a spot in the imaginary GIF Hall of Fame - he's already being mentioned in the same breath as Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Peter Forsberg, Patrice Bergeron, and (wait for it) Wayne Gretzky. That's some out-of-this-world company.

"He's going to turn out to be his own player. I'm not going to compare him to anybody," Benning said. "But I can tell you this about him: He has that awareness out there where he seems to know where all the players are on the other team and where all of his teammates are when he has the puck on his stick."

Pettersson's been the talk of the NHL since notching a goal and an assist on opening night. He's already running Vancouver's first power-play unit. And he just turned 20 on Monday.

Lanky at 6-foot-2 and 176 pounds, there's a fluidity to his game; he slithers around the ice, dodging defenders and goalies with deceptive body language and puck protection. Off the rush, at a standstill, moving laterally - whatever the circumstance, he's a threat to unleash his exceptional shot, find an open teammate with a clever pass, or deke through the defensive structure.

"It seems like every game he comes up with something that's unexpected. That's why he's so fun to watch," Benning said. "You can never know, on any given night, what trick he's going to pull out of his bag."

Check out the video above to watch his latest circus act on loop. That behind-the-back, off-the-skate dangle in overtime provoked audible gasps inside KeyBank Center in the dying moments of Saturday's matinee against the Sabres.

"Oh, it was just nasty," linemate Jake Virtanen remarked. "... We see it all the time from him in practice. It's still pretty insane to see it because it's in the game. I don't think I or anyone else would try it."

Though Pettersson suffered a concussion on a hit from Michael Matheson in the Canucks' fifth game, the injury hasn't cramped his style. The 2017 fifth overall pick continues to finesse his way into prime scoring areas while showcasing surprising defensive chops.

"He's as good defensively as he is offensively. And he competes," defenseman Erik Gudbranson said of Pettersson, who's drawn seven penalties. "I'm extremely impressed with that. The way he supports his D-men in his own end is really good and he fights to get into position."

Horvat added: "The stuff he does away from the puck is what has impressed me the most. ... His shot and his point-getting, and his playmaking ability aside, he is creating offense by being in the right position and having a good stick."

With Pettersson and Boeser years away from unrestricted free agency and Horvat under contract through 2023, the Canucks have three foundational forward pieces - "engine players," as Benning puts it - under team control for the foreseeable future.

Boeser, nursing a groin injury at the moment, demonstrated in his injury-plagued rookie season that he's capable of consistently contending for the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy. As long as he can stay on the ice, there's no reason The Flow can't hang with Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews, Gen Z's premier snipers, for the next decade-plus.

And at center, Pettersson's flamboyant style draws attention away from blue-collar Horvat, the squad's leading scorer two years ago and a nine-goal, 16-point man already. The thick pivot is beloved within the organization because he's responsible in all three zones.

"I think when Bo's playing his best, he's strong on his faceoffs, he's good in his own zone, and he's a horse to play against, and it results in scoring chances as well," Green said.

Jennifer Hefner / Getty Images

Since the defensively minded Jay Beagle and Brandon Sutter have managed to appear in a combined 18 games, Horvat's been deployed as the Canucks' shutdown center. The 23-year-old's offensive-zone faceoff rate (43.4 percent) hasn't dipped this low since 2015-16.

“Young players that are wired like Bo feel like they've got to do it all to help the team win, and we've talked to him about that a lot," Green said. "... The emergence of Petey, and Beagle and Sutter going down, it's kinda forced him into that role a little bit. But that's how we envision him playing long term."

Look at the past 10 Stanley Cup-winning groups and you'll find that every single lineup boasted at least three drivers up front. Think Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel/Staal in Pittsburgh for three Cups; Toews, Kane, and Hossa in Chicago for three; Kopitar, Carter, and Brown/Richards in Los Angeles for two; Bergeron, Krejci, and Marchand in Boston in 2011; Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and Ovechkin in Washington last season.

You don't win a championship with just three impact players - the core is bigger than that, and there are 23 names on the roster - but Vancouver may have something special brewing. Pettersson, Boeser, and Horvat each fill critical roles, and time is on their side.

The (incomplete) supporting cast

If the Canucks hope to ride this current wave a little while longer, they must evolve, because the league's fourth-youngest roster is beating the odds. Despite ranking in the bottom five in virtually all shot-related statistics - including Corsi, scoring chances, and high-danger attempts - and owning a negative goal differential, Vancouver's got a .611 points percentage.

Pettersson, Boeser, and Horvat need support, this season and in the future, from all over the depth chart.

“We’re a team that needs to have everyone playing well. We’re not going to just have 13-14 play well (and find success)," Green said following the Sabres game. "When we have our whole team playing well and buying in, we find ways to win."

The Canucks are dangerously thin on defense and in goal due to injuries and, frankly, a lack of talent. Beyond Chris Tanev and Ben Hutton, the back end's something of a patchwork. In another two or three years, Quinn Hughes and Olli Juolevi should be on the blue line with Thatcher Demko between the pipes, and the trio should be making an impact. But during the first season of the post-Sedin era, that area of the roster remains an unlikely source of help or inspiration.

That offers Vancouver's lesser-known forwards a chance to shine. Twenty-three-year-old Nikolay "Goldy" Goldobin and 22-year-old "Shotgun" Virtanen are taking advantage, and not a moment too soon for their NHL careers. Both players are 2014 first-round picks, and they're running out of time to impress Canucks management and coaches with Goldobin on an expiring contract and Virtanen a season behind.

Goldobin, acquired from the Sharks at the 2017 trade deadline, has found a home in the lineup early this season. He's recorded eight assists, already a career high, and seems to be developing some chemistry with Pettersson in an extended audition on the rookie's wing: Four of those helpers came on Pettersson's goals, and they've linked up somehow on seven of Goldobin's nine points, including the Russian's lone marker.

“That’s one of the reasons why we traded for him," Benning said of Goldobin's match with a skilled center. "... We liked his ability when he has the puck, to make plays and bring offense to our group. There are some things as a player that he needed to work on, and he’s working on those things and he’s gotten better."

In Virtanen's case, the Canucks gave him something specific to work on over the summer, telling the 6-foot-1, 208-pounder to find a way to hit the net more often.

Jeff Vinnick / Getty Images

So far, so good: 80 percent of his shot attempts have counted as shots on goal (up from 66 percent in 2017-18), and he's scored seven times after putting up a career-high 10 goals in 75 games last season.

With the Sedins' even-strength and power-play time up for grabs, Virtanen has a golden opportunity to make himself indispensable to a forward group desperate for some versatility.

"Jake can shoot the puck. He has a good release on his shot," Benning said. "He's a unique player because, for a guy his size, he's fast. He can get in on the forecheck and disrupt the play. He can get to the net."

Speaking of that shot: In August, a Vancouver radio host joked about shotgunning (chugging a beer from a hole punctured in the side of a can) every time Virtanen scored this season. For a dedicated but win-starved Canucks fan base, that joke turned into a legitimate movement.

Beginning with Virtanen's goal in the season opener, dozens of people have taken the #ShotgunJake challenge and documented it on social media.

"If people are having fun watching us play hockey, then that’s really what we're working towards," said Gudbranson, who's right in the middle of the old and new guard at age 27. "If he can keep going, beer sales are going up, I guess."

If Virtanen and Goldobin keep making headway, the Canucks could discover that they've already added a pair of wingers to their core. Along with the Big Three, plus Beagle and fellow veterans Loui Eriksson and Antoine Roussel, the Canucks could slowly but surely be developing a respectable four-line group.

For now, the Canucks are young, loose, and promising over the long term, while enjoying every minute of this unexpected and probably unsustainable short-term ride.

"At the core, we're a bunch of buddies playing on a hockey team. We try to keep it that way," said Gudbranson.

"We had our own expectations. We've set our goals that are achievable and we've prided ourselves on getting better every day and every single game."

Bottoms up.

John Matisz is theScore's National Hockey Writer. You can find him on Twitter @matiszjohn.

(Statistics courtesy:,, and

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NHL podcast: Dave Tippett on bringing the NHL to Seattle, his future in hockey

Welcome to Puck Pursuit, a weekly NHL podcast hosted by John Matisz, theScore's National Hockey Writer.

Subscribe to the show on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, and Google Play.

On this episode, NHL in Seattle senior advisor Dave Tippett and hockey historian Mike Commito join John for a pair of segments.

Topics include:

  • Shaping the identity of Seattle's imminent NHL team
  • The timeline for hiring Seattle's GM, other staffers
  • What is 57-year-old Dave Tippett's long-term plan?
  • The awkwardness of Gary Bettman's Hall of Fame call
  • Looking at the HHOF's potential 2019 class
  • Favorite stories from "Hockey 365"

... and more

Copyright © 2018 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

From Sweden to Chicago: How Colliton’s past prepared him to coach in the NHL

It was January 2014 when Peter Hermodsson had seen enough from his underperforming outfit. So, the president of Mora IK in HockeyAllsvenskan, Sweden's second-tier pro league, did what hockey executives do: he found a new leader.

This time, though, Hermodsson bypassed the typical external search process for a coach. The club's savior was hiding in plain sight. Injured captain Jeremy Colliton, who commonly popped into Hermodsson's office to discuss X's and O's, was a no-brainer.

"He was 28 at the time but it was like I was talking to a 50-year-old guy," Hermodsson told theScore. "He had a really strong mind, knew what he would do as the coach."

While Hermodsson believed the cerebral Colliton would transition seamlessly, he had to convince the Mora's board members, business partners, and fan base to take a chance on a Canadian who had never coached in an official capacity at any level of hockey.

Swedish teams tend to be very ingrained in their community, especially in small towns such as Mora, so the optics of hiring an unknown commodity irked stakeholders.

"Sponsors would come by and say, 'What the f--- are you doing hiring a guy who is 28 years old with concussions?'" Hermodsson explained.

But eventually, the tension eased. Colliton's clear and concise plan for on-ice improvement and his knack to "own a room" moved the process along. Within days, Hermodsson says, widespread skepticism had morphed into head-nodding confidence.

A few years later, in Colliton's final season behind Mora's bench, the small-budget franchise earned promotion into the Swedish Hockey League. The town rejoiced, and Hermodsson felt vindicated.

Todd Reicher / Rockford IceHogs

On Tuesday, Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman chose Colliton, head coach of the team's AHL affiliate, to replace three-time Stanley Cup champion Joel Quenneville.

It was another person of authority betting on Colliton's potential in an attempt to mine whatever possible from the roster.

"This is certainly a very difficult decision. But I believe it is in the best interests of the Blackhawks organization," Bowman said in a press release announcing the shocking shift, ditching the league's longest-tenured head coach for the up-and-comer.

"We need to maximize each and every opportunity with our playoff goals in mind and create continued growth and development throughout our roster at the same time. After much deliberation the last several days, with great respect to what Joel has meant to the Blackhawks, we knew we had to make a change."

The Player-Coach

The first thing you need to know about Colliton is he caught the coaching bug early.

So early, in fact, that former teammates aren't surprised the 2003 second-round pick of the New York Islanders needed only five full seasons of coaching - four in HockeyAllsvenskan for Mora and just over one more in the AHL for the Rockford IceHogs - to graduate to the NHL.

"If there's anybody who can handle that job at 33, it's Jeremy Colliton. This guy is so prepared to be a head coach in the National Hockey League," said Jeff Tambellini, who played parts of four seasons with Colliton in the mid-2000s. "Even as a player, at 20, 21, he was writing down drills. He was talking to the coach staff, saying, 'Why were we doing this breakout? This forecheck? What do you think of this penalty kill?'"

Some people are geared to excel in particular roles and environments, regardless of age. In this case, Colliton - who led Rockford to a 40-28-8 regular-season record and a conference final appearance last season - is simply wired to coach. It's second nature.

"Jeremy would sit there and go through tape, but he wouldn't just ask for the clips," Tambellini said. "He'd ask about the philosophy of what we're trying to do and what we're trying to accomplish. 'Why are we doing this?' He wanted to gain a real understanding of not just where he was supposed to go on the ice but the purpose of why the team was doing what it was doing."

Mike Stobe / Getty Images

Colliton's NHL tenure as a player was sporadic and brief. Injuries plagued a promising career kickstarted by back-to-back appearances at the World Junior Hockey Championship. He recorded six points in 67 career games over five seasons with the Islanders, dressing mainly in the AHL.

In the minors, with the spotlight dimmed, the 6-foot-3 forward from Blackie, Alberta, would sometimes grab a whiteboard and play coach between shifts.

"There are a lot of different ways guys carry themselves. A lot of guys just try to get through the game, do their best and try to score, do that whole thing. But I remember him coaching me on the bench," said Justin Bourne, who shared the odd shift with Colliton for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers during the 2007-08 AHL season.

There was no yelling in these teaching moments, Bourne notes, only a fully engaged instructor.

"Instead of being like, 'Ah, whatever, you know, fine play. Nothing bad happened!'" Bourne said. "Jeremy would be on the bench like, 'If you moved that to the middle, we'd kick it back out to the other side ... ' He just wanted everyone to be better around him and he was always thinking about how his line and his team could be better."

The Challenge

Given his immediate transition into coaching, it should come as no surprise that the man tasked with reopening the Blackhawks' window of success offers a blend of the old and new approaches used to lead a pro hockey team.

Colliton, who last played a full season in 2011-12, is years, not decades removed from the on-ice action, and has coached exclusively in the age of speed, skill, and puck possession.

When compared to longtime coaches out of a job right now, such as Alain Vigneault or Darryl Sutter, Colliton offers a fresher perspective on the tactical side of the game and also how to deal with today's players.

"I like my teams to play with a lot of pace, work away from the puck," Colliton said during his introductory press conference. "We want to pressure the puck all over the ice. If you do that, hopefully you have the puck a lot and we want to keep it (and) play in the offensive zone. I think the best way to defend is to do it in the offensive zone."

POINTS % T-20TH (.500)
GOALS/GAME 15TH (3.07)
SHOTS/GAME 10TH (32.8)

Accountability is important to Colliton, Rockford assistant coach Sheldon Brookbank says, but his preferred communication method is closer to a conversation than a yelling match. While he is personable, it's obvious he's still the boss. There is an intensity to Colliton.

"When you're doing a drill, or when you're playing in a game, you better do it right. Otherwise, he's going to notice. There's not many things that get past him," Brookbank said.

"You can tell when his blood gets flowing a little more. He's not a guy who snaps, someone who yells and screams at everybody, but he definitely has a little edge to him. If you're not paying attention, not doing it right, he's going to let you know."

Four Hawks players - goalies Corey Crawford and Cam Ward, forward Chris Kunitz, and defenseman Duncan Keith - were born before Colliton. Will that crew and $10.5-million men Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews be coddled by the new guy or will they know who's in charge in the post-Quenneville world?

"He's not going to hold back or be intimidated," Brookbank said of Colliton's integration into the 6-6-3 squad's dynamic.

"He finds a way to get his best players and his older guys to buy into his philosophy and concepts he wants to bring to the team," Tambellini added. "If you can do that and sell that to the top group, it funnels right through the entire lineup. That's a real strength of his."

Icon Sportswire / Getty Images

The year in Rockford is a tremendous plus. Recent call-ups Erik Gustafsson, Alexandre Fortin, and Luke Johnson are already well-acquainted with Colliton's schemes as a coach and boundaries as a leader. But similar to the challenge ahead for Willie Desjardins in Los Angeles, winning over a veteran core who grew up under a certain voice (Quenneville in Chicago, Sutter and John Stevens in L.A.) won't be so automatic.

Colliton's depth of personality, which several former teammates mentioned, should help bridge the gap.

"He's a little bit of a mad scientist," said Peter Mannino, another ex-Bridgeport teammate, referring to Colliton's active mind and knowledge in various non-hockey areas, including the stock market, country music, and politics.

"It's really tough to be deadly serious about your work and hold people accountable, and still be likeable," Bourne pointed out.

A crucial part of Colliton's leap to the NHL, and how he will ultimately be judged by Bowman and the Blackhawks' fan base, will revolve around how this team looks as a group. Wins are important, so are steps in the right direction.

"I want every guy in the room to play for the team, put team success before individual success," said Colliton, who debuts Thursday at home against the Carolina Hurricanes. "We've got a lot of good players. If they all have team priorities, then there's going to be a lot of good things happening on the ice."

John Matisz is theScore's National Hockey Writer. You can find him on Twitter @matiszjohn.

Copyright © 2018 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

NHL podcast: October disappointments and a chat with Tampa’s Cory Conacher

Welcome to Puck Pursuit, a weekly NHL podcast hosted by John Matisz, theScore's national hockey writer.

Subscribe to the show on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, and Google Play.

This week, Postmedia national hockey writer Michael Traikos and Cory Conacher of the Tampa Bay Lightning join John for a pair of segments. First, Michael serves up his October disappointments and surprises. Then, Cory sheds light on his difficult journey to the NHL, his favorite coaches along the way, and what it's like to play for Julien BriseBois.

Copyright © 2018 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

Will Stevens firing trigger more change for beleaguered Kings?

If it wasn’t already, the clock is officially ticking on this iteration of the Los Angeles Kings.

Head coach John Stevens, fired Sunday morning by general manager Rob Blake, has taken the fall for a 4-8-1 squad sitting last in offense and 23rd in defense a month into the 2018-19 NHL season. (Don Nachbaur, one of Stevens' handpicked assistants, was also fired.)

Promoted to his post in April 2017 following the dismissal of longtime bench boss Darryl Sutter, Stevens made it through only 13 games of his second season. For perspective, it took until the end of the 2017-18 regular season before a coach (the Rangers' Alain Vigneault) lost his job. November firings just don't happen often.

So, why now? On a conference call, Blake emphasized the 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup champions have struggled with emotional investment since training camp, and the sluggish attitude had to be addressed "immediately." As is tradition, the coach is the first one out the door.

Andrew D. Bernstein / Getty Images

Willie Desjardins, who led Team Canada at the Pyeongchang Olympics following three years behind the Canucks bench, has been tabbed as the interim head coach. According to Blake, the "interim" period for Desjardins spans the rest of the regular season and, if successful, possibly longer.

"You know, right from the start of camp, we’ve been keeping an eye on the team and it hasn’t gone the way expected it to and we haven’t played the way we expected to," Blake said Sunday afternoon, 15 days after the club held a closed-door meeting without Stevens.

"Fast forward here today, I think what Willie will bring, what we want to bring back is we’ve got to get the compete level up on our players and we’ve got to get the passion back in our game and we expect fully that he can right that and take us in that direction."

Desjardins, 61, will be joined by new assistant Marco Sturm next week, once the ex-NHL forward finishes up his duties with the German national team. The Kings will continue to employ assistant Dave Lowry and goalie coach Bill Ranford.

The players, meanwhile, are not off the hook. If anything, the pair of firings amid a seven-game homestand serve as a warning of sorts. "The evaluation going forward continues," Blake said.

Icon Sportswire / Getty

This is where the situation gets tricky for L.A.’s brain trust, because relieving Stevens of his duties does not solve the recent Western Conference titan’s primary issues.

It doesn’t make the second-oldest roster in the NHL any younger. Nor does it rid the Kings of their continued struggle to play even remotely fast, a matter which is on display seemingly every time they take the ice and was underlined this past spring over the course of their first-round playoff loss to the speed-happy Golden Knights.

After inking 35-year-old sniper Ilya Kovalchuk to a three-year deal but doing little else to beef up, the hockey world seemed hot and cold on the Kings heading into camp. Kovalchuk would help their scoring woes, the typical line of thinking went, but, man, that lineup screams average. Split the difference and L.A. was a projected fringe playoff team in a top-heavy Pacific Division.

So far, the Kings have been a mess at even strength - with and without the puck - and mediocre on special teams. Goalie Jonathan Quick is out indefinitely to recover from knee surgery. And losses to three rebuilding clubs (the Islanders, Sabres, and Senators) could really sting down the stretch.

Making matters worse, the attack, led by premier center Anze Kopitar and all-world blue-liner Drew Doughty, is having a hell of a time penetrating the middle of the ice. It turns out that not only are the Kings old and slow, they’re also easy to tame.

Below are two heat maps illustrating 5-on-5 shot volume and location. The Pittsburgh Penguins, tied with the Washington Capitals for first in goals per game heading into Sunday's slate of NHL games, are shown first. The Kings, 31st in goals per game, are second. Red is good, blue is bad.

Micah Blake McCurdy /
Micah Blake McCurdy /

Basically nothing but blue in front of the goalmouth and in the slot area for the Kings. It’s no wonder L.A. ranks 29th in all-situations shooting percentage, converting on just 7.5 percent of their 371 shots on goal.

Perhaps, like Blake said, this team has a serious compete problem. Not just in regards to penetrating the middle of the ice; a general compete problem. However, it is surely not the lone factor sending the Kings down a path of irrelevance. Now on their third coach since winning the 2014 Cup, they are in danger of missing the playoffs for the third time in five years.

The roster, first and foremost, is in need of major reconstruction. While Doughty and Kopitar are locked up for nine and six years, respectively, a healthy Jeff Carter is still a force, and the prospect pool is solid, the list of long-term positives is a short one.

Eleven players remain from the 2014 team, with nine over the age of 27. It may be time to finally pull the plug on this group and press the refresh button, signaling a semi-rebuild. It's up to Blake to determine if that's the prudent play.

Some of the work will be done organically, thanks to a few expiring contracts. As for the rest, if he's truly motivated to move on from the old guard, Blake will be forced to get creative (see: term and money still owed to Dion Phaneuf, Dustin Brown, others).

The Desjardins era begins Tuesday when the Kings host the Anaheim Ducks. How different will the coaching staff and lineup look next Nov. 6?

Tick. Tock.

John Matisz is theScore's National Hockey Writer. You can find him on Twitter @matiszjohn.

Copyright © 2018 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

Raving about Rasmus: Dahlin’s impact already extends past the obvious

BUFFALO - Turning around to face a reporter after sliding his helmet onto the top shelf of his KeyBank Center stall, it took Jack Eichel milliseconds to reply to a question about Rasmus Dahlin’s adjustment to the NHL.

“I think he’s been pretty good,” the Sabres captain and No. 1 center told theScore. “You watch our games? He’s been pretty good, eh?”

While it was a run-of-the-mill quote, Eichel’s body language said something different. A straight face and suggestive eyes accompanied the second “pretty good," as if Eichel was downplaying Dahlin in an effort to keep the rookie’s rising stock under wraps a tad longer.

It was the look a person gives when they know something and you don't.

“He’s been as advertised. He’s been tremendous,” Eichel said following some prodding. “If he’s not one of the best defensemen in the NHL in a few years, I’d be extremely surprised.”

In selecting Dahlin with the No. 1 pick this past June, the Sabres - who have been entrenched in Rebuild 2.0 ever since Jason Botterill took over for Tim Murray as general manager a year and a half ago - landed the perfect piece to complement Eichel. Armed with an 18-year-old future franchise defenseman and a 22-year-old star center, second-year bench boss Phil Housley now has premier building blocks at two key positions.

Harry How / Getty Images

The early returns are promising, too. The Sabres recorded at least one point in eight of their 12 games in October, and Dahlin whistled past the nine-game rookie audition period. Appearing in every contest and earning 19 minutes per outing, he's been showcasing a diverse toolbox headlined by breezy skating.

“Effortless. Floating. At the same time, so fast, so powerful,” veteran winger Jason Pominville said of Dahlin’s trademark skill. “It doesn’t seem like he’s really breaking a sweat when he gets moving out there. It’s fun to watch, but sometimes it’s frustrating as players. You’re like, ‘How does he do that!?’ He just blows by guys.”

Pominville and the rest of the hockey world were acutely aware of Dahlin’s tantalizing abilities long before the 2018-19 season began. Since opening night, the team has transitioned from drooling over his offensive wizardry to being enthralled by the nuanced contributions Dahlin brings. Yes, he's far from a finished product, but the big Swedish blue-liner, who's recorded a goal and three assists, is on his way to mastering the small things.

“Maybe in the first five games he was a little hesitant, didn’t want to mess up, didn’t want to turn the puck over,” defenseman Jake McCabe said prior to a game against the Canadiens on Oct. 25. “But, with how much skill and talent he has, you can tell he’s starting to go back to his instincts and let those take over. These next 10-to-20 games, he’s really going to take off.”

As for those subtleties - the plays you might not notice unless you’re really glued into the action - well, for starters, Dahlin has flashed some impressive dexterity when handling the puck. He tends to shift his weight from one leg to the other and enjoys mixing in a head shake or two.

Below, focus on No. 26 in white, the guy holding the line at the bottom right of the screen. He's in constant motion, even while not skating forward:

Known for always playing with his head up and banking 80 Swedish Hockey League games before coming to North America, Dahlin says the shimmy-shake has been part of his arsenal for a while now.

“It’s an old thing. It’s helpful,” said the modest, soft-spoken teen who spent part of his minor hockey career playing forward.

Center Casey Mittelstadt doesn’t care if it’s second nature to Dahlin, he’s still impressed.

“It looks small, but it sends most guys in an absolute twirl,” he said.

Similar to how young snipers Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, and fellow rookie Elias Pettersson are finding new ways to score by firing the puck from different release points and angles, Dahlin is also incorporating an element of unpredictability to his game.

While less boisterous than, say, a quick-twitch snap shot from Matthews, those Dahlin fakes - which seem to emerge mostly when he’s quarterbacking the first power-play unit - serve a similar purpose.

“Deception is one of his best assets - getting a forward leaning the wrong way and going around him, or making no-look passes on the tape, or getting pucks through guys’ sticks,” McCabe said, later praising the rookie's hockey sense.

“It’s also a mental thing,” added fellow defenseman Casey Nelson, stopping to snap his fingers. “He just comes on very quick to things, just gets it, you know what I mean? He’s a very smart hockey player.”

Dahlin’s elite hockey brain has given Housley and assistant Steve Smith - who runs the defense - lineup flexibility. It's extremely rare for a defenseman his age to play regular minutes in the NHL, as entering the season Aaron Ekblad, Jakob Chychrun and Dahlin's teammate, Zach Bogosian, stood as the only 18-year-old rookie blue-liners to dress in more than seven NHL games during the salary-cap era. Even better, Dahlin can also be moved up and down the depth chart and not miss a beat.

Jake McCabe 84:18
Casey Nelson 51:25
Rasmus Ristolainen 19:42
Zach Bogosian 10:52
Nathan Beaulieu 10:18
Marco Scandella 3:25

Some might suggest the absence of a consistent partner reflects poorly on Dahlin, perhaps hinting he's difficult to play with. Housley and Smith would disagree.

Dahlin’s seven-game stint with McCabe, for instance, illustrated the youngster’s adaptability.

“Quite frankly, we asked Jake to go to the right side and Dahlin to go on the left,” Smith said of the now-injured McCabe, who, like Dahlin, shoots left. “We found Jake was struggling a little bit on the right side, so we put him back on the left side and his game took off. It didn’t matter where Dahlin was; he was playing just as well on both sides of the ice.”

“I actually like the right side a lot,” Dahlin said, eliciting images of Red Wings great Nicklas Lidstrom. “I can play both, so it doesn’t matter.”

The Sabres' defense has been struggling for years, finishing 29th, 21st, 15th, 29th, 25th, and 23rd in goals against since the 2012-13 lockout. In shots against, they’ve ranked 21st, 30th, 22nd, 30th, 28th, and 30th. Though part of the problem can be traced back to poor goaltending, the core issue has been defensive personnel.

Enter Dahlin, a spunky three-zone player from Trollhattan who genuinely cares about defending. Suddenly, Buffalo's defense has a second player worthy of top-pairing minutes. Over time, Rasmus Ristolainen, who's been tasked with carrying the group for the past few years, should be able to breathe a little easier.

Dahlin, who has a 52.2% Corsi rating heading into Thursday night's game against the Senators, asserted himself physically during his debut NHL shift, engaging with Bruins power forward Jake DeBrusk before he could hit the hash marks.

There's a difference between making a big hit for the sake of making a big hit, and making a big hit when the situation calls for physical force. Dahlin often opts for swiping at pucks with his stick while gaining a positional advantage through his efficient lateral movements.

“He’s a guy who is reliable defensively because of his skating, because of how good his stick is,” Pominville said. “He can get away with (riskier pinches) because of that - even if he gets caught, he can still get back.”

Added Smith: “When we first drafted him here, everybody - of course - had an opinion. And I remember listening to a guy who I do respect an awful lot in the game, (NHL Hall of Famer) Denis Potvin. ‘Teach this kid defense first, the offense will come.’ The crazy part is, this kid is so sound defensively that we’re almost pushing him in the other direction.”

Here, Dahlin beats the Calgary forward to a loose puck along the boards and immediately hits teammate Tage Thompson with a clean backhand chip pass:

No edginess was needed, and the crisis was averted through subtle movement.

That combination of heads-up defense, quick decision making, and next-level skating makes Dahlin dangerous to the opposition. Excellent at anticipating what may happen a second or two down the line, the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder selectively activates, cruising through the neutral zone and into the far end of the rink to support Sabres rushes.

“When the situation comes up,” Dahlin said, “I will try to do something. But (I try to) not force it.”

That part of his game proved vital when Dahlin scored his lone NHL goal, a tap-in against Arizona. He weaved his way to the red line before dishing to crafty puck-carrier Jeff Skinner. Following Skinner's drive to the net, Dahlin buries the rebound amid a group of defenders.

Twelve games in, Dahlin is a work in progress. There are shifts when he looks precisely 18 years old (maybe that's why he wasn't named a finalist for Rookie of the Month in October?), and there's a chance he'll hit the dreaded rookie wall at some point, considering he's never completed an 82-game season.

Then again, no matter what transpires between the boards, whether it’s during practice or a game, Dahlin wants to learn more. That aspect of his personality blows away Smith, who was an NHL defenseman himself from 1985 to 2001, and said the young D-man is showing a "thirst for knowledge."

“I find that his maturity is overwhelming for such a young player," he said, later adding, "It's after every shift. He’s not adverse to turning around and saying, ‘Hey, was I OK there? Should I have been there?’ Sometimes I’m initiating, sometimes he’s initiating.”

A projected superstar with a willingness to learn after every shift? What a start.

“I think it’s sorta scary to think about how good he’s going to be in the future,” Skinner said.

“We’re super lucky to have him,” Eichel said, this time cracking the slightest smile.

John Matisz is theScore's National Hockey Writer. You can find him on Twitter @matiszjohn.

Copyright © 2018 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

NHL podcast: Early 2019 draft chatter, fantasy risers and fallers

Welcome to Puck Pursuit, a weekly NHL podcast hosted by John Matisz, theScore's National Hockey Writer.

Subscribe to the show on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, and Google Play.

Hannah Stuart and Josh Wegman, both of theScore, join John to talk about the 2019 NHL draft and fantasy hockey, respectively. Topics include:

  • The incredible traits of projected top pick Jack Hughes
  • Why you should remember the name Kaapo Kakko
  • Lesser-known prospects worth keeping tabs on
  • Fantasy risers and fallers after the first month of action
  • How to handle William Nylander in your fantasy league

... and more

Copyright © 2018 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.