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Over the Boards

Over the Boards: Leetch enjoying new job

Wednesday, 10.16.2013 / 3:00 AM / Over the Boards

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Over the Boards: Leetch enjoying new job
Brian Leetch is happy to be back in the NHL, now having his voice heard as part of the NHL Player Safety Department.

Brian Leetch was prepared to move back to New York to join Mark Messier on the New York Rangers' coaching staff. He talked it over with his wife, Mary Beth, and their three kids. If Messier got the job, he was going. It was a done deal and Rangers fans would have had two of their favorites back together in blue.

"I felt comfortable moving forward with that," Leetch told NHL.com. "I was definitely on board if it happened. Obviously that didn't work out for Mark."

In some ways it was a blessing in disguise for Leetch. The Rangers hired Alain Vigneault and Leetch not only got to keep his family in Boston, where he and his kids are involved in the local hockey scene, he was able to dive into a different yet still intriguing opportunity with the National Hockey League.

ROSEN'S MAILBAG

Putting aside coaching issues, why do you think teams like the Rangers and Devils are having trouble winning? -- Troy Haas, @Trohaas:

For the Devils, speed on the back end and finishing are issues. Adam Henrique should be used at center instead of on the wing, even though he's versatile and can play both. Patrik Elias has been solid at center, but faceoffs are an issue; he's winning 45.0 percent through Tuesday. That's not good enough. Adam Larsson should be allowed to do more. The leash still is too tight on him.

For the Rangers, there have been too many breakdowns in the defensive zone leading to too much available space in the middle of the ice. That's where they are getting burned. Depth up front has been a problem. The Rangers miss Carl Hagelin's speed and clearly miss Rick Nash in all offensive areas. Goaltending also has been spotty.

How long of a rope do Ron Rolston and Darcy Regier have in Buffalo? -- Zachary Ryan, @ZachRyan23

There was some thought that Regier would be out after Lindy Ruff was let go, but he stayed around and got to hire Rolston and trade Jason Pominville, Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr. Regier's future now may be tied to what happens with Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller.

Rolston is supposed to be a good coach for young players, and the Sabres have a lot of them. They don't look good, but I would imagine that he's got time as long as Regier is in charge.

What do the Islanders need to do to take the next step from a bubble team to a contender? -- Nolan Abrams, @smarbanalon

It's about depth. They could use another front-line scorer to play with John Tavares and Matt Moulson. Maybe it's Ryan Strome. Kyle Okposo likely would be better on the second line and Frans Nielsen, who is playing on the second line, could be one of the best third-line centers in the League if the Islanders got another scoring center. Griffin Reinhart likely has a future on the blue line. They have to determine if Matt Donovan can cut it. They could use a veteran, puck-moving defenseman. Future goaltending has to be a concern because Evgeni Nabokov is getting older.

What are your thoughts on Nail Yakupov this season? -- @PerJa_7

Edmonton coach Dallas Eakins knows he has to get Yakupov on board, but it's early and Eakins is trying to teach Yakupov a lesson. It's his right as the coach. Ice time is the biggest thing a coach has on a player, and it's the best card Eakins can play. And comments like the ones Yakupov made to the Edmonton Journal -- "I really don't like skating all the time, and forechecking, and hitting somebody every shift." -- will not get him on the ice any faster. If he doesn't like those things he needs to score; he has no points in four games.

Do you think the Phoenix Coyotes are pretenders or contenders? - Grant Dingwall, @grantdigwall2h

The Coyotes should be in the mix for a playoff berth all season provided goalie Mike Smith stays healthy. He's obviously the key. They're not a particularly deep offensive team, but they have solid two-way forwards and they understand the way coach Dave Tippett wants them to play. Tippett also is one of the best in the business. Are they a Stanley Cup contender? Too early to say. Are they a playoff contender? Yes.

If you have a question you want answered in Over the Boards, send it in a tweet to @drosennhl. The Mailbag will be a weekly feature here.

He's working with Brendan Shanahan's group in the League's Department of Player Safety.

It's quite a change for Leetch, who for the past several seasons has been mostly on the sidelines. Rangers fans could find him on television delivering analysis on the occasional MSG Network broadcast, but otherwise the Hall of Fame defenseman was living a quiet life, giving opinions on the game and the NHL to friends, family and former teammates instead of current players, coaches, general managers and NHL employees.

"It was a great chance for me to do something different and have a positive impact down the line," Leetch said of his opportunity with the NHL.

Leetch said Shanahan called him shortly after the Rangers chose Vigneault rather than Messier. Shanahan told him that with Rob Blake leaving the Player Safety Department to become an assistant general manager with the Los Angeles Kings, there was an opening and he was hoping Leetch would fill it.

Blake lived in Los Angeles and did the job, so Leetch wouldn't have to move from Boston. He still could be heavily involved in his children's activities. He still could coach youth hockey and be on the ice at least four times per week with his kids. He would be expected to be in New York a few times a month, but otherwise Leetch could handle his job responsibilities remotely.

"You're on call every night and you're expected to be there to watch the clips and give your opinion, but physically you're not expected to be there [in New York] all the time," Leetch said. "That helped out."

So now Leetch watches hockey nightly and is e-mailed every video clipped by the Department of Player Safety, giving him a say in any supplemental discipline decisions handed down by Shanahan. Leetch said there are between 10 and 20 clips each night depending on the number of games. He'll either speak or e-mail directly with Shanahan or discuss decisions with the entire group, including Stephane Quintal in Montreal.

He has found it to be interesting and challenging work.

"What I found is it's not too difficult to figure out if the hit was worthy of suspension, it's just then where do you go from there?" Leetch said. "Once in your mind you realize that that's something that deserves supplemental discipline, it's where do you go from there? How many games?"

Leetch has a seat inside the room at the Board of Governors' meetings and the General Managers' meetings. He has a say in the way the game is played today and should be played in the future.

His voice is being heard again. He matters in the NHL again. He likely will for a long time, either in his current capacity or in another yet-to-be-determined role down the road.

"My oldest is 13 and I can already see he has less reliance on his parents. I know that's going to be happening pretty quickly," Leetch said. "I'm content, but I thought this was one way to remind people, just like when I was doing TV for the Rangers, that I'm still paying attention and I still enjoy it. Maybe at some point an opportunity comes that is right for everybody, but otherwise this is a fun way to stay involved and still have my family life front and center."

Hartley talks Monahan, the first sign he could be special

Calgary Flames coach Bob Hartley said he isn't sure if 18-year-old rookie center Sean Monahan will be around to play a 10th NHL game this season or if he will be returned to his junior team. He's played in five games and has four goals and six points. If he plays in a 10th game, this season will count as the first on his three-year, entry-level contract.

Regardless, Hartley could tell by the eye test on the first day of training camp that Monahan was prepared to play in the NHL. He's seen nothing since then to change his opinion.

"My gosh, is he a mature kid," Hartley told NHL.com. "The way he showed up in camp was Step 1 to send us a message that he meant business. I've seen so many young kids come into their first training camps not ready, thinking their conditioning level of major-junior or college hockey was good enough to carry them. There is such a difference. Monahan really did it. He can work out with all of our guys without any problem."

Hall of Fame opinion: Vlasic vastly is underrated

San Jose Sharks assistant coach Larry Robinson, a Hall of Fame defenseman, is waiting for the rest of the NHL to recognize how good Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic is. It might come this season.

Vlasic has five points, including two goals, in six games. He seems to be adding an offensive flair to his overall defensive game.

"I think he's as complete a defense player as you can get," Robinson told NHL.com. "For us he plays in all key situations. He can kill penalties. We don't have him on the power play because [Dan] Boyle is elite at that position. He's a great skater. He does all the little things extremely well. He's very underrated in the League right now."

He may get more power play time now depending on the severity of the injury Boyle suffered against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, when he left the ice on a stretcher after getting hit from behind and into the boards by Max Lapierre.

Vlasic attended Canada's Olympic orientation camp in August, putting him on the radar for the Olympic team. Robinson, albeit biased, thinks Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman would be wise to take Vlasic to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

"Yeah, especially when you're playing on the big [international] ice you want hockey players that can move the puck, that skate well and defend well," Robinson said. "He does all of those things. He's as good as anybody at defending a one-on-one. He's not going to be the one to come across to make the thundering body check, but he doesn't get beat too often and what more can you ask from a defenseman?"

McDonagh searching for results away from Girardi

QUOTEBOOK



Hartley talking about the success his former player, Patrick Roy, is having in his first season as the coach of the Colorado Avalanche:

"It's absolutely not a surprise. I've talked to Patrick a few times since the start of the year. … Here is a team definitely on the rise. They know how to play and with Patrick they're learning how to win. It gets contagious. Teams have to take them seriously."

Canucks coach John Tortorella talking about why Roberto Luongo's play will be so important on the team's current seven-game road trip:

"Goaltending can win you games when you play god awful. Sometimes goaltending may struggle a bit when you're playing really well and you lose a game. But when you have solid goaltending, and I think Roberto is really coming along here, it takes away some of the problems you're going through when you're building a team concept. You're not going to win in the League if your goaltending isn't tops. I think we have a guy that is right there and continues to work on his game."

Rangers defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi were former coach John Tortorella's go-to pair for nearly two full seasons. They were the Rangers' shut-down pair and deserved the bulk of the credit for holding Alex Ovechkin to one even-strength goal over 14 Stanley Cup Playoff games the past two seasons.

It took new coach Alain Vigneault three games to separate them, but McDonagh is trying not to read too much into the decision other than the obvious. He's a minus-5 on a team that has been outscored 25-9, and 19-4 at even strength. Things change with numbers like that.

"We haven't played well as a [defense] group so the coaches are trying different combinations," McDonagh told NHL.com. "Really I just have to focus on myself and bringing back the style I want to play, proving I can play and it doesn't matter who it is with."

McDonagh has played the past two games with Anton Stralman while Girardi has been with Marc Staal. That's how the Rangers will start Wednesday at Verizon Center against the Washington Capitals (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN). Girardi and Staal likely will get the assignment of trying to shut down Ovechkin.

This and that

* One key adjustment in Philadelphia Flyers goalie Steve Mason's style that has allowed him to be more consistent this season is he's playing deeper in his crease. It's an adjustment made by Flyers goaltending coach Jeff Reese, who told NHL.com that he wants Mason to be deeper because it allows him to be more efficient going post-to-post and it requires less work to do so.

"I always want him in position," Reese said. "I think a guy that big should never be out of position. I want him in position under control."

We'll have more on Mason's adjustment next week in Over the Boards.

* The Flames have some stats through five games that suggest their early-season success is not sustainable unless they improve in four areas: Faceoffs (winning 44.4 percent), shots-against (31.0 per game), goals-against (3.20 per game), penalty kill (66.7 percent).

However, the Flames also lead the League with 18.4 blocked shots per game. Hartley sees that as a positive and among the reasons why his team is 3-0-2 through five games.

"We addressed this last year at the exit meetings," Hartley said. "We gave them a list of things that we needed to get better at and blocked shots was certainly one of them. It's just amazing how everyone is chipping in."

* Robinson offered an interesting comparison when he was asked about Sharks defenseman Matt Irwin.

"He could be like [Jason] Garrison in Vancouver," Robinson said. "He's got that type of shot."

Irwin, 25, is 6-foot-2, 210 pounds. Garrison, 28, is 6-2, 218 pounds.

"He's got great potential," Robinson said of Irwin. "We've only just scratched the surface with him."

* In addition to recognizing the play of goalie Semyon Varlamov, and the speed and pressure the Colorado Avalanche forwards are applying, NHL Network analyst Craig Button noted the following when asked for his thoughts on the Avs so far this season:

"Erik Johnson is playing like a top defenseman," Button told NHL.com. "He is really strong in all areas."

Johnson has been effective this season despite starting the majority of his 5-on-5 shifts in the defensive zone (55.3 percent heading into the Avalanche's game Tuesday against the Dallas Stars, according to data collected by Behindthenet.ca). He's helping the Avalanche keep the puck out of the net and clear the zone, evidenced by the fact that he's finishing nearly 58 percent of his shifts with the puck in the offensive zone.

* For a preview of what will be in Over the Boards each week, catch Dan Rosen on NHL Live between 5-7 p.m. ET every Tuesday on NHL Network.

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Quote of the Day

A piece of scar tissue breaks off, pinches the nerve, and every time you move your leg it's almost like having a root canal in your stomach and groin.

— Detroit Red Wings center Stephen Weiss on his sports hernia surgery