- Coyotes goaltenders Darcy Kuemper and Adin Hill will be Canada’s tandem for the upcoming World Championships, TSN’s Darren Dreger reports (Twitter link). This will be Kuemper’s second time at the Worlds after playing in the 2018 event while Hill will be playing at the international level for the first time. It’s worth noting that Hill is a pending restricted free agent and several players have declined offers from their respective countries as a result of the nearing expiration of their contract.
The Arizona Coyotes and head coach Rick Tocchet have mutually parted ways and the team announced they will begin the search for their next head coach immediately. However, knowing that Arizona is struggling financially, it’s seems likely that the team will be looking at cheaper options for their head coach.
TSN’s Pierre LeBrun points out that the team has as many as 10 candidates already for their open head coaching position with a strong likelihood they will reach out to several interesting hires, including New York Islanders assistant Lane Lambert, San Jose Sharks associate coach Rocky Thompson and Providence College’s Nate Leaman, who recently coached Team U.S.A to a gold medal at the 2021 World Junior Championship.
All three come with interesting resumes if the Coyotes can convince them to leave their current posts.
- It looks like the season is over for two Dallas Stars. Head coach Rick Bowness said that forwards Tyler Seguin and Roope Hintz will not play in the team’s final two games, according to Dallas Morning News’ Matthew DeFranks. With no playoffs this year, the team will allow both players to rest. Seguin has appeared in three games after missing most of the season due to hip and knee surgeries. Hintz has been playing with a lower-body injury for months, so now that the team has been eliminated from a playoff berth, both will be held out to prevent any more injuries.
- When asked whether Tampa Bay Lightning defensemen Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh and Jan Rutta, who are all considered day-to-day, would be ready for Game 1 of the playoffs, head coach Jon Cooper didn’t give a convincing answer, according to The Athletic’s Joe Smith (subscription required). “I don’t know,” Cooper said. “I hope so. We’re planning on it. But we’ll have to see.” Hedman is dealing with a lower-body injury, McDonagh with an upper-body injury, while Rutta is dealing with a lower-body injury. There is a report, according to Smith, that Hedman, who missed his first game of the season Saturday, was injured in a collision against the boards against Columbus on March 30 and had to be helped off. While he came back to the game not too long after, the rumor is that he might require surgery after the season, although Smith was not able to get that confirmed by Tampa Bay staff.
- Despite briefly considering retirement before his triceps surgery, Detroit Red Wings forward Bobby Ryan said he is eager to return for a 15th season and hopes it can be with the Red Wings, according to MLive’s Ansar Khan. The 34-year-old, who signed a one-year deal last offseason with Detroit and will now be an unrestricted free agent, scored seven goals and 14 points in 33 games before going down with an injury on March 28. “I want to play hockey next year. I hope it’s Detroit,” Ryan said. “I haven’t had those conversations yet. I expect they’re going to come sometime down the line.”
With their season complete, the Arizona Coyotes announced they have parted ways with head coach Rick Tocchet. The two sides opted to mutually part ways as the team failed to reach the playoffs this year after Tocchet, whose contract was set to expire on June 1, led them to a 24-26-6 record. The Coyotes will begin their search for a new head coach immediately.
“After meeting with Rick, we have agreed that a coaching change is in the best interest of the club,” said general manager Bill Armstrong. “This was a very difficult decision, but we believe that it is time for a new direction and new leadership. Rick is a very good coach and an incredible person, and we sincerely appreciate all his hard work and dedication to the Coyotes the past four years. We are grateful for everything that he has done for our organization and wish him the best of luck in the future.”
The 57-year-old Tocchet is the second head coach to hit the free agent market. The Columbus Blue Jackets mutually agreed to part ways with John Tortorella late Saturday as well. The coach was hired by Arizona back in 2017 and spent four years as the team’s head coach, reaching the playoffs last year, but losing in the first round. He was a highly sought-after coaching candidate back in 2017 after serving as assistant coach with Pittsburgh during their 2016 & 2017 Stanley Cup Champion runs. Tocchet finished his tenure as Arizona’s head coach with a record of 125-131-34 in 290 games.
“It’s been an honor to coach the Coyotes the past four seasons,” said Tocchet. “I have great respect and admiration for all the players I coached in Arizona, along with my coaching staff, the medical staff, the equipment managers, the PR staff and the team services staff. They are the best in the NHL, and I appreciate all their help and hard work. I also want to thank the fans of the Valley for all their support. I have loved living, playing, and coaching in Arizona and this place will always be special to me.”
Like Tortorella, Tocchet could be a highly sought-after commodity on the coaching free agent market, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger, as several teams could consider him, including the expansion Seattle Kraken. Other teams had been in the mix in hiring him back in 2017, including the Buffalo Sabres, who also will be looking for a head coach this offseason.
Veteran defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson is nothing if not loyal. In his 14-year NHL career, Hjalmarsson has never once tested the free agent market. Instead, he has always signed an extension with his current team, each time arguably below market value as well. Hjalmarsson spent a decade in Chicago to begin his career, playing a key role in three Stanley Cup championships. Then, after the team traded him to the Arizona Coyotes, Hjalmarsson again decided to re-sign with his team, despite an unfamiliar rebuild underway in the desert. This season, in the final year of his current contract, Hjalmarsson even told the Coyotes that he would not waive his No-Movement Clause, opting instead to stick it out with his team.
It should come as no surprise then that, with the 33-year-old finally expected to become a free agent this summer, he is considering a return to a former team. No, not the Blackhawks. Swedish new source AftonBladet reports that Hjalmarsson is considering a return to the SHL’s HV71, the club with whom the blue liner played his developmental hockey. Hjalmarsson spent four seasons with HV71 before making the move to North America in 2007, but clearly the club has not forgotten their star alumnus. The report quotes the club’s GM, Johan Hult, as stating that Hjalmarsson is a “dream recruit”. Hult also notes that he has met with Hjalmarsson multiple times – at his home near HV71’s Jonkoping no less – to discuss the possibility of this move.
Of course, Hult admits that the move is dependent on Hjalmarsson not being blown away by an NHL offer this summer. It will be interesting to see what kind of attention, if any, Hjalmarsson draws in the off-season. Formerly a dominant two-way defenseman, Hjalmarsson’s game has slipped over the past few years. With two games left in his 2020-21 season, the veteran defenseman is on pace to record career-lows (among his full NHL seasons) in points per game, plus/minus, and time on ice per game, while his blocks, hits, takeaways, and possession numbers are all down as well. With that said, veteran presence still has value and contenders could still see Hjalmarsson as an experienced third-pair option – at the right price. However, the potential to return home to HV71 to play a major role may be more enticing to Hjalmarsson than chasing a fourth Cup as a depth piece. With the regular season ending soon, we could know shortly what Hjalmarsson’s next step may be.
It seems that Rick Tocchet’s days as the head coach of the Arizona Coyotes could be numbered. TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that there is growing speculation that Tocchet and the ’Yotes will part ways this off-season. Tocchet’s contract expires at the end of the season and Dreger does not believe that it will be extended. If not for the NHL’s expanded playoff structure last season, Tocchet would have failed to make the playoffs in each of his four seasons as the bench boss in Arizona. The team was statistically eliminated from contention this season with last night’s loss to the Los Angeles Kings, marking the end of what at one time looked like a promising playoff push. However, this is the third consecutive season that the ’Yotes have remained in the playoff picture until the very end of the season. Last year, it earned them a play-in series berth which the team turned into an upset win over the Nashville Predators and a first-round match-up with the Colorado Avalanche. Considering that Tocchet took over a team that finished last in the Pacific Division in his first season, three years of fringe contention and a play-in series win is far from failure for the veteran coach. Dreger does not definitively state that the separation is a unilateral decision by Arizona and it could be that this is an amicable breakup coming between Tocchet and the team. A highly-regarded assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins before joining the Coyotes, Tocchet should have no problem finding a job this summer and it could be that both sides equally want a fresh start.
- Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green is still waiting for his contract extension. TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that a resolution is expected to come before the end of the season – which for the Canucks is still almost two weeks away – but he adds that there has not been any change to the status quo of late. Green, like Tocchet, took over a struggling team in 2017-18 and has improved the group, including finishing third in the Pacific Division last season and advancing to the second round of the playoffs. While the current campaign has not gone as planned, with Vancouver on the verge of statistical elimination even with a number of games in hand on their North Division competitors, the organization is happy with Green and LeBrun notes that there continues to be mutual interest in a new multi-year deal. With that said, Green is among the bottom-third of coaches in terms of compensation and is seeking a raise, but LeBrun reports that the Canucks have not improved their offer recently. If the two sides truly want to get a deal done before the end of the regular season, they need to get to work.
- Rod Brind’Amour is another coach who is awaiting a contract extension and there is little doubt that the leader of the President’s Trophy favorites will get a new, long-term deal. However, Dreger notes that the Hurricanes want to get the new deal done before the postseason, which leaves little time to work out the details. Brind’Amour has previously stated that he wants all of his fellow coaches and support staff to also have new deals finalized before he inks his own deal, so the Carolina Hurricanes have a number of negotiations to complete over the next week or two.
After falling in the SHL semifinals, Swedish powerhouse Skelleftea AIK is already moving forward with their plans for next season. The team has announced a list of players who will not be returning in 2021-22 and it includes some notable NHL names. Edmonton Oilers’ defenseman Philip Broberg, Detroit Red Wings’ forward Jonatan Berggren, and Carolina Hurricanes’ defenseman Roland McKeown are all among those who will not return to Skelleftea next year and all are expected to instead be in the NHL. Broberg, 19, has in fact already made the jump, as he was recalled by the Oilers earlier this week. The 2019 No. 8 overall pick has been in Skelleftea on loan for two years since being drafted, but the big two-way defenseman is ready for the next step in his career. Berggren appears to be prepared to make that leap as well. Detroit’s 2018 second-round pick was Skelleftea’s leading scorer this season, recording 45 points in 49 games. The 20-year-old skilled play-maker is one of a number of promising Red Wings prospects, but Berggren’s dominance at the pro level this year should give him a leg up in training camp battles. McKeown is the outlier of the group; the 25-year-old blue liner made his European debut this season on loan from the Hurricanes. The former top prospect out of the OHL had faded from relevance among the Hurricanes’ deep defensive group and wished to stay in Sweden this year rather than play yet again in the AHL. While McKeown may join Carolina as a depth option in the playoffs now that his SHL season is over, his days with the organization are numbered. Slated for Group 6 unrestricted free agency this summer, McKeown may not be back with Skelleftea but he certainly won’t be staying in Raleigh either. He will have other options on the open market to find a more clear path to NHL opportunity.
- Another prominent name in Europe who won’t be returning to his current team is Boston Bruins center Alexander Khokhlachev. The 27-year-old center was a key cog for Gagarin Cup champions Avangard Omsk this season, recording 34 points in 59 games as a top-six forward, but the team has nonetheless announced that Khokhlachev has decided to leave the club. This could very well mean that Khokhlachev is finally eyeing a return to North America after five years away, and the timing of the move is key. The Bruins’ rights to Khokhlachev finally expire on June 30th. While it’s not impossible that Khokhlachev could give the Bruins another shot under his old AHL head coach Bruce Cassidy, there are certainly better opportunities for an NHL role elsewhere if he instead waits to become a free agent this summer.
- One player who isn’t rushing back to his NHL rights holder is goaltender Marek Langhamer. Despite the possibility that the Arizona Coyotes could have some more opportunity in net next season with Antti Raanta headed for free agency, Adin Hill expected to be exposed in the Expansion Draft, and Darcy Kuemper still a hot name on the rumor mill, Langhamer won’t be involved. Even after two strong seasons in the KHL, Langhamer has decided to stay in Europe, signing a one-year-deal with the Liiga’s Illves. It’s unclear if Langhamer is averse to re-joining the ’Yotes or just the NHL overall, but regardless he will see his rights expire on June 30th of next season and can then return to North America as a free agent if he chooses.
May 5: The Coyotes have officially announced the contract for Vejmelka, confirming that it will start in the 2021-22 season. GM Bill Armstrong released a short statement:
We are very pleased to sign Karel. He is a talented young goaltender with the combination of size and quickness. We look forward to working with him next season and will monitor his development.
May 4: The Arizona Coyotes have come to an agreement with a goaltending prospect as CapFriendly reports (Twitter link) that they’ve signed goalie Karel Vejmelka to a one-year, entry-level deal. The contract is for next season and carries a $750K base salary, a $92.5K signing bonus, and $82.5K in performance bonuses for a $925K AAV. CapFriendly originally reported that Nashville had signed Vejmelka but subsequently revised that report.
The 24-year-old was drafted by Nashville all the way back in 2015 when they selected him with the 145th overall selection but they lost his rights by not signing him by 2019. Since then, he has played with HC Kometa Brno of the Czech Extraliga. This season, Vejmelka posted a 2.79 GAA along with a save percentage of .911 in 35 regular season games, numbers that were actually below his career averages in that league (2.56 GAA, .913 SV%).
With Antti Raanta and Adin Hill both on expiring contracts this season, there appears to be a potential opening for someone to step in, especially if Hill moves up to Arizona to back up Darcy Kuemper. Vejmelka joins Ivan Prosvetov and David Tendeck as other goalies under contract for next season. Prosvetov has split his time between the AHL and NHL while Tendeck has exclusively played in the ECHL so on the surface, it appears as if Vejmelka will be battling Tendeck for a spot in AHL Tucson next season.
The Ottawa Senators won’t be making the playoffs so some of their young players are already getting calls about the upcoming IIHF World Championship. Joshua Norris told reporters that he’d been contacted by USA Hockey recently and today Drake Batherson told Bruce Garrioch of Postmedia that Hockey Canada has reached out to him as well and he is interested in playing.
Interestingly enough, Batherson was actually born in the U.S. when his dad was playing for the Fort Wayne Komets (then of the IHL). The young forward has always competed for Canada internationally though, including a World Junior gold medal in 2018. If he does end up going to the World Championship, Canada is getting quite the player. Batherson broke out this season with 17 goals and 32 points in 51 games, establishing himself as a legitimate top-six option for the Senators moving forward. The 23-year-old will also be a restricted free agent this offseason, making it quite the busy summer even if he’s not in the NHL playoffs.
- First-round pick Peyton Krebs has joined the Vegas Golden Knights in Minnesota and could be making his NHL debut at some point down the stretch. Still just 20, Krebs won’t burn the first year of his entry-level contract unless he plays in seven games this season, which, given the Golden Knights have just six regular season games left, would require him suiting up in the playoffs. Selected 17th overall in 2019, Krebs dominated the shortened WHL season this year and has five points in five games for the Henderson Silver Knights of the AHL.
- Speaking of prospects getting the call, the Arizona Coyotes have added Victor Soderstrom to the taxi squad. The 20-year-old Soderstrom is one of the top defensive prospects in the league, selected 11th overall in 2019. He has recorded nine points in 30 games for the Tucson Roadrunners this season but went scoreless in his first two NHL appearances. The Coyotes still technically have a shot at the playoffs, but it will be quite difficult to catch the St. Louis Blues, who sit three points ahead with three games in hand.
The KHL off-season opened today and the league did not waste any time in making moves that have meaning to NHL fans. A number of familiar names have hit free agency today and some are already agreeing to new deals. Meanwhile, others are being traded on the first day to do so, including the rights to some players currently in North America. Keep up with all of today’s action as the KHL’s clubs get their summers started early with significant moves:
- One of the first players to sign with a new team early this morning was former NHL forward Teemu Pulkkinen. A Detroit Red Wings draft pick who also spent time with the Minnesota Wild, Arizona Coyotes, and most recently the Chicago Blackhawks in 2017-18, Pulkkinen will be entering his fourth season in the KHL and is already on to his fourth different team. After splitting this season between Dynamo Moscow and Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, collecting 30 points in 46 games, Pulkkinen has signed a two-year deal with Traktor Chelyabinsk. The 29-year-old has scored at a .67 per-game clip in his KHL career and shows no signs of slowing down.
- SKA St. Petersberg and Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod have made an interesting futures swap, trading the rights of two current NHLers. Torpedo received the rights to Edmonton Oilers winger Jesse Puljujarvi (as well as minor league forward Danil Voyevodin) while SKA landed the rights to young San Jose Sharks goalie Alexei Melnichuk. The deal is tricky on a number of levels; while Puljujarvi is undoubtedly the biggest name in the trade, it is Melnichuk who commanded the larger side of the return. It was also KHL powerhouse SKA who received the prospect netminder and gave up the established scorer. This could be a simple case of different likelihoods of those player rights having any value. While Puljujarvi previously left the Oilers for Europe, he has finally found his NHL stride in his return this season and is unlikely to leave again. Even if he does, Puljujarvi may just return home to the Finnish Liiga as well. On the other hand, Melnichuk was born and bred in the SKA system and the team may have some insight into his future plans. The 22-year-old keeper is valued by the Sharks and even made his NHL debut this year in his first season in North America, however his AHL play has underwhelmed and he doesn’t look like a realistic full-time NHL option for San Jose next season. If the young goalie grows tired of playing in the minors in North America, he would probably be happy to jump back to his old team and take on a starting role in the KHL.
- Former Boston Bruins forward Joonas Kemppainen has signed a one-year extension to remain with SKA. The Finnish power forward didn’t work out in his lone NHL season back in 2015-16, recording five points in eleven games with Boston, but has been a productive player in the KHL for five years now. That includes a 15-goal, 29-point campaign with St. Petersberg this year that earned him an extension. The 33-year-old veteran is not a candidate to ever return to North America, but still has plenty to offer in Russia.
- Vladimir Zharkov feels like ancient New Jersey Devils history at this point, but the former top prospect continues to produce in the KHL. Zharkov, 33, spent four seasons with the Devils early in his career and was a nice fringe piece, but lacked starting upside. In the KHL since 2012-13, Zharkov has become a reliable two-way forward and locker room leader, spending many years with top programs like CSKA Moscow and Salavat Yulaev Ufa. Now he’s off to the top team in the league, signing a two-year deal with recently-crowned Gagarin Cup champions Avangard Omsk, replacing the veteran presence of the departed Ilya Kovalchuk.
- Torpedo jumped right back into the action, signing an exciting forward to a one-year deal. Marek Hrivik gave his all to a career in North America, developing in the QMJHL and spending six seasons primarily in the AHL for the New York Rangers and Calgary Flames. However, he never could earn a full-time opportunity and returned home to Europe in 2018. Even then, his first go-round in the KHL did not go all that well. However, after back-to-back stellar season in Sweden, he is ready to give it another try with Torpedo. Hrivik totaled 81 points in 90 games with the SHL’s Leksands IF these past two years and if that can translate to the KHL then the 29-year-old could become a star in Russia.
- Another trade involving NHL property has landed, but this one could have more immediate dividends. Defending champions Omsk have acquired the rights to Boston Bruins prospect forward Peter Cehlarik from Yaroslavl in exchange for the rights to Anaheim Ducks defenseman Kodie Curran. Cehlarik, 25, is already in Europe, having left Boston this past off-season to join Leksands IF in Sweden. Cehlarik always showed great promise in the AHL, but couldn’t translate it to the NHL for the Bruins. After recording 20 goals and 40 points in 45 SHL games this season, Cehlarik may want to return to Boston, who continues to hold his rights, in an attempt to prove himself once more. However, the talented winger could be tempted to join the KHL’s current kings this off-season instead. As for Curran, 31, he already did his stint in Europe and made his return to North America. The Calgary native spent the previous four seasons in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden before earning his first NHL contract with the Ducks this past off-season. While he hasn’t see any action in Anaheim just yet, he has 11 points in 17 AHL games this season and his one-way, $1MM contract still has another year remaining. However, if Curran is still not being utilized by the Ducks after next season and doesn’t draw any other NHL offers as a result, he has a new home to return to in Europe in Yarolslavl.
- After signing his entry-level contract with the Carolina Hurricanes, Pyotr Kochetkov has inked another deal – a one-year extension with Torpedo. The 21-year-old landed in Novgorod late in the season, but excelled down the stretch and in the postseason with save percentages of .931 and .932, respectively. Kochetkov could very well be in line for the starting role for Torpedo next season while playing on loan from Carolina.
April 27: Nothing is official yet, but Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet writes that the Coyotes are indeed the frontrunner to sign Jaskin and that it could actually be a two-year deal.
April 21: Apparently, Dmitrij Jaskin can score anywhere but the NHL. That doesn’t mean he won’t give it another try. The former St. Louis Blues forward is eyeing a return to North America after two outstanding seasons in the KHL. After a report out of Russia emerged that had Jaskin signing a one-year deal with the Arizona Coyotes, Craig Morgan of AZ Coyotes Insider spoke to his agent Allain Roy. Roy confirmed that the Coyotes are one of the teams they are talking to, but that no decision has been made yet.
Jaskin, 28, has dominated the KHL the last two years, scoring 69 goals and 123 points in 117 regular season games. He’s been nearly a point-per-game player in the playoffs too, registering eight goals and 14 points in 16 postseason contests. That performance correlates with the incredible scoring numbers that Jaskin put up in his one season of CHL hockey–46 goals and 99 points in just 51 games with the Moncton Wildcats. He was a strong offensive player in the AHL too, but just couldn’t ever seem to find that consistency with the Blues. In 327 career NHL games, all but 37 of them coming with St. Louis, Jaskin scored just 73 points.
Still, you can understand why an NHL team would be interested in giving the 6’2″ 224-lbs forward another shot. His last contract carried just a $1.1MM salary and it’s hard to believe he’ll be able to land substantially more than that upon his return–at least not right away. Even though his KHL numbers have been off the charts, there’s still a lot of proving Jaskin would have to do to convince an NHL team he can be a regular in the top-six. Blues fans that don’t want to go down that road again need not worry; Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic tweets that the Blues are not on Jaskin’s list of interested teams.