Babcock WalksMike Babcock, perhaps this summer's most coveted free agent, made his decision today, and it has left two teams reeling in the wake of his decision. If you haven't heard, Babcock opted to sign on as the new head coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs, leaving vacancies in Detroit and Buffalo to fill after he apparently had been talking with both clubs. We'll talk about Buffalo in a second, but Detroit has a rather unique situation on their hands.
I have made the case that Jeff Blashill should be promoted after his tireless work in the AHL with the Grand Rapids Griffins and his work with the various young players who have been promoted to NHL jobs. He once again has the Griffins in the Western Conference Final of the Calder Cup Playoffs, and he continually proves he's an extremely effective and competent coach.
If he doesn't get the job, I would guess that Blashill walks. But Ken Holland isn't that dumb. Once the Griffins are done playing hockey this season, I expect an announcement from the Red Wings within days of the end of the Griffins' season where Jeff Blashill will be the new head coach of the Red Wings. It's the easiest decision that Holland will have this off-season.
The tougher decision? Who replaces Blashill?
Buffalo Is On FireThe Buffalo Sabres are furious regarding Babcock's decision in that they felt they had reached a verbal agreement with the coach. With Babcock now in Toronto, they still need to fill their coaching vacancy, and I'm certain Tim Murray will run home to momma if given the opportunity.
Luke Richardson currently coaches the Binghamton Senators. He and Tim Murray worked together with the Ottawa Senators, so there's a connection. Richardson's work at Binghamton has seen him go 122-82-24 in three seasons behind the bench, and he's seen 12 players make the jump to the Senators to become full-time players. Needless to say, his hockey acumen can't be ignored.
The other aspect? Family. Morgan, his daughter, attends Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. His wife, Stephanie, and he like the area. Moving to Buffalo is a little further from Ithaca than Binghamton is, but he's still easily within a drive of a few hours.
While this might be a little tougher than Holland's decision, Luke Richardson in Buffalo almost seems like a perfect fit.
Calder CuppersThe Manchester Monarchs advanced to the Eastern Conference Final after downing the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 4-1 in their semifinal series. Three games were decided by one goal and two others were 5-2 decisions, but the Monarchs were far too much for the Penguins to handle in this series.
The Hartford Wolfpack, like their NHL affiliate, downed the Hershey Bears to advance to the Eastern Conference Final. Hartford won both overtime games at Hersey in the series, and they say that if you win on the road, the series is yours. Hershey led the series 2-1 before Hartford rattled off three straight wins to take the series 4-2.
Grand Rapids, as mentioned above, is in the Western Conference Final after they sent the Rockford IceHogs packing in a 4-1 series win. Grand Rapids won both games on home before dropping Game Three in Rockford by a 4-1 score, but took the next two games in the series including Game Four in overtime. They had a pile of time to rest as well as they prepared for their next opponents who went the distance in their series.
The Utica Comets, after seven hard-fought games, will advance to their first Western Conference Final to play the Griffins after ending Oklahoma City's run in the playoffs and in the AHL. This was like watching two heavyweights throwing punches at one another as they went back and forth in this series: OKC in four overtime periods, Utica in OT, Utica, OKC, Utica, OKC, Utica. Five of the seven games were decided by a goal including Game Seven's 1-0 victory for Utica. Needless to say, Utica can use the break between series because they're probably exhausted.
What About Jaff?Despite the public desire to see Jason Jaffray come back to Winnipeg to play with the Moose, it appears True North Sports and Entertainment will go in a different direction after they informed the 33 year-old veteran he will not be offered a contract to join the Moose.
"I was surprised and yes, I was a little bit hurt," Jaffray said to The Compass' Brendan McCarthy last Thursday. "It's not a great feeling when anybody tells you they don't want you for their team anymore. It's definitely a shot to the ego, but I still have confidence I can play."
I'm shocked that they aren't bringing the veteran back, but GM Craig Heisinger has stated that the Moose will be a developmental team first. Personally, that kind of sucks as I was always a Jaffray fan, and I hope he doesn't come back to haunt the Moose when they meet where ever he lands. He's a class act and a great guy, and I wish him nothing but the best in his future hockey endeavours.
How About That Hellebuyck Guy?Connor Hellebuyck spent the last couple of weeks making Jets fans salivate as he posted crazy numbers at the IIHF World Championship. The 22 year-old went into the tournament looking to make a good impression, and left the tournament with a bronze medal on the strength of his 7-1 record, 2 shutouts, 1.37 GAA, and .947 save percentage. Gaudy numbers for the youngster!
Ondrej Pavelec is signed for two more years, but Hellebuyck's progression has been nothing short of impressive as he's climbed the depth chart to establish himself as arguably Winnipeg's most important blue-chip prospect. Don't think goaltending is important? Rinne, Price, Lundqvist, and Quick have proven that great goalies can carry teams far.
Connor Hellebuyck isn't on those goalies' levels yet, but he's on his way.
Memorial Cup WatchingThe Jets will have eyes on the Memorial Cup where they have two defencemen play key roles on two teams at the tournament. Josh Morrissey is a major cog in the Kelowna Rockets' success while Jan Kostalek has been nothing short of spectacular in Rimouski's run to the President's Cup in the QMJHL.
I expect Kostalek to play a more offensive role than Morrissey based on the style of play from the two teams, but it will be interesting to see these two highly-skilled defencemen play through the Memorial Cup competition.
Kostalek was named as the best defenceman in the QMJHL this season on the strength of seven goals and 43 points in 57 games, but he showed up when it mattered most as he notched eight goals and 21 points in 20 playoff games. Morrissey, on the other hand, had two goals and 13 points in 10 playoff games to go along with 13 goals and 25 assists in 47 games with Prince Albert and Kelowna.
If I'm the Jets and Moose, I cant wait for these two offensive dynamos to roll into town.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!