Each Friday throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs Kevin Weekes will be bringing you his Friday Four. He will be blogging about four players, teams, series, plays, trends or really four of whatever from the playoffs that have caught his eye.
Everybody was waiting for the coaching carousel to start turning and everybody was waiting on Mike Babcock, but interestingly enough, a few hires were made before the Babcock hire became official.
It started with Dave Hakstol to the Philadelphia Flyers, went to Todd McLellan to the Edmonton Oilers, and then to Babcock turning the hockey world upside down with his decision to go to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Here's my take on all three of them, plus a bit on a wide open Eastern Conference Final:
1. Hakstol is the real deal
I spoke to Miami University coach Enrico Blasi the other day. He was one of Hakstol's most staunch rival coaches in the NCAA. Blasi, like Hakstol had at the University of North Dakota, has an amazing program as well and has tons of success. He was the right person to talk to about Hakstol, and he was simply just raving about him.
Enrico said Hakstol is ultra-prepared, very hard working, a good communicator with high standards and someone who knows how to build a culture. He really believes that if Hakstol is given the flexibility and the latitude to do those things in Philadelphia he will be really successful there.
I only bring this up because obviously a lot of people are saying, 'Oh, well, he did it at North Dakota, in college, but this is the NHL and he's never done it here.'
But again, a very successful college coach who is bright in his own right and has done very well was glowing about Hakstol when I asked him about it.
Another point to be made on Hakstol is he has put players in the NHL, including a few Stanley Cup winners. His alumni include Matt Greene, T.J. Oshie, Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, some guy in Chicago that goes by the name of Jonathan Toews -- he's OK.
I'm talking about some impact players, guys who rave about Hakstol.
2. Credibility in Edmonton
I think McLellan had an amazing run with the San Jose Sharks, a lot of success for a long time. He is very bright and he treats his players with respect. He treats his staff with respect. He's very organized. He's very structured.
From Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, to Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Brent Burns, to Tomas Hertl, McLellan taught all of them how to play the 200-foot game without sacrificing what they do best.
Dealing with Burns going from defense to the first forward line with Thornton to going back to defense, that takes a lot of creativity in your coaching style and it takes a lot of open-mindedness as a coach as well. I give him a lot of credit for all of that. He did an outstanding job in what wasn't always an easy situation.
McLellan isn't walking into an easy situation in Edmonton, but for the Oilers now it's about credibility and he brings that to them. This isn't about young assets, young talent anymore. This is about McLellan coming in to change things there and to win with this team.
For McLellan, the message is quite simple. All he has to say is, "We know what you guys can do individually, but it's not about what you can do individually, it's what we can do collectively. What we can do collectively will be greatly enhanced by your commitment to what you want to do as an individual within the team concept."
If I'm McLellan I'm telling these players that I had Thornton, one of the greatest scorers in NHL history, playing a 200-foot game. I'm telling them that I had Pavelski and Couture and Marleau playing that way.
These players in Edmonton are talented the future is bright. McLellan will enable them to make plays, but if they want to have real success at this level and if the Oilers are ever going to get out of this perpetual rebuild, they need more commitment from them all.
That's what McLellan has to get out of them. It's about respectful tough love. He's such a good people person and I think he'll be able to do it. The fans deserve it. They have been so patient that they deserve to have some success, they deserve for their players to step up.
3. No more excuses in Toronto
As far as Babcock is concerned, I saw this coming last year. I figured as soon as Brendan Shanahan was hired and Babcock never agreed to an extension with the Detroit Red Wings, and the longer this lurked, I saw it pointing to Toronto.
This certainly brings a lot of legitimacy and credibility to the Maple Leafs and what Shanahan is trying to accomplish there, but it takes away every layer of excuse.
I live in Toronto. I'm from here. I've seen it. I live it. I know that these guys that play for the Maple Leafs are treated like kings. Good on them, but ultimately you've got to have a playoff run to get a candy. Everybody is getting free cars, free suits, free whatever. That's all great when you have a track record. I can see Henrik Lundqvist getting that in New York because he's earning it. Same with some of the other Rangers' players. They're earning it. They've been to the Stanley Cup Final. They're in the Eastern Conference Final again. There is a lot of candy that comes with playing in Toronto, there always has been, but these guys have to step up and earn that candy.
Now there is accountability, a guy behind the bench who won't accept excuses, so there are no more excuses in Toronto anymore.
Now all that being said, as far as Babcock, this is about him and putting his fingerprints on this team, but it's also going to warrant a lot of patience because you've got to keep in mind that there are a lot of assets in Detroit that go into keeping that team great.
You start with Ken Holland and Jim Devallano. They have Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby. Go to their head European scout Christer Rockstrom. Go to Hakan Andersson. They had Jim Nill and Joe MacDonnell for so many years. They had Steve Yzerman.
There are a lot of people involved in the success that Detroit has had. That's not to take anything away from Babcock, but they all worked in concert. Well, right now Toronto is in the process of trying to build all of that. Patience is required.
4. Goals galore in the East
We knew it could be explosive, but I don't think we thought it was going to be this explosive. We knew the Tampa Bay Lightning could score, but I didn't know they could score like this, not against the Rangers. And I knew that the Rangers could score even though they were playing all those low-scoring, one goal games, but I didn't think they'd score five and lose, as they did in Game 3.
This series has been wide open the past two games and it's one where now the team that owns the neutral zone will win the series. It's that simple. Yes the Rangers have speed, but they're giving up a lot of speed and positioning in the neutral zone.
In a way the Rangers have to slow the game down and that goes against every fiber of their being. So they have to make an adjustment, but I don't know that they're prepared to make it. I don't know.
You may ask me how a team can possibly change its style, or make an adjustment from its style, after playing one way for 95 games? Great question. Ask the Chicago Blackhawks. They did it in 2013 against the Boston Bruins and they won the Stanley Cup.
The Blackhawks said, "Hey, we can punch you in the mouth offensively, we love to attack off the rush, we love to make plays, but if you want to take that away from us we'll do things differently and still beat you." To win the series against Boston in 2013 the Blackhawks had to play in the alleys. The Bruins forced them to the outside and the Blackhawks had to embrace basically running the football, which is a lot of cycle on the offense, slowing it down.
The Rangers can do that. They can do it well. But they can only do it well if they win the neutral zone. If they don't do it, they won't win.
That's what the Lightning are seeing. They know the Rangers can stretch them out, but they can stretch out the Rangers. They're doing it. Now the onus is on the Rangers to adjust.