While the world gets ready to turn its attention to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the majority of players and coaches in the NHL will soon have nothing to do.
The NHL's Olympic break begins after the final buzzer sounds Saturday night and continues until 2 p.m. on Feb. 19. That's when coaches can get their teams back together, or at least the players who aren't still in Sochi, and resume practicing to prepare for the re-opening of the regular-season schedule, which for most teams won't be until Feb. 26 or 27.
For the players it's a chance to unwind away from the rink, get some fun in the sun, maybe take a golf trip or spend some time with family. Most coaches will be doing the same thing, but mentally getting away from the game won't be as simple.
Is there any chance the New Jersey Devils include Eric Gelinas in a package for Mike Cammalleri? -- @BigRomanvL
I wouldn't dare, but it's impossible to tell what Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello is going to do. He always plays his cards very close to his chest. However, Gelinas is a major asset for the Devils as a young defenseman with a great shot. Gelinas, Jon Merrill and Adam Larsson would be untouchables for me. I would let them develop because I think they can be top-four defensemen in New Jersey. Gelinas can be a weapon on the power play. I'm also not sure what Cammalleri would do for New Jersey right now other than add a bit of goal-scoring pop to maybe keep them in the hunt for a Stanley Cup Playoff berth. He's an unrestricted free agent after the season. I wouldn't trade a potential top-four defenseman for a rental when there are no guarantees of a playoff berth.
Do you think the Chicago Blackhawks will get out of this rut they are in? -- @TREIBS_07
They just finished a season sweep of the Los Angeles Kings with a 5-3 win and they are 2-0-2 on their current six-game road trip. I'm certain most teams would take that kind of rut. That said, the Olympic break will be good for them. I know they have a lot of guys going to the Olympics, but I think the Blackhawks will come back re-energized for the stretch run. They're almost going through the motions now, and they're still first in the Central Division. They'll be just fine.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are surging, winners of 11 out of 14. What piece do you see them needing to prime them for a deep playoff run? -- @82JacketsFan
How about Marian Gaborik? And they don't even need to give anything up to get him. Gaborik has had a rough season with injuries, but remember he's an unrestricted free agent this summer so when he comes back he'll be playing for a contract. He's exactly what Columbus needs, another bona fide goal scorer. I think Columbus' balance has been exceptional. The Blue Jackets are getting contributions across the board. Gaborik will take someone's spot in the lineup, but you're adding a three-time 40-goal scorer.
The Colorado Avalanche need to trade for a defenseman. Who makes sense or is possible to get? -- @KennethFABQ
I agree that the Avalanche could use an upgrade on the blue line to make a run in the playoffs. I think they'll have to look into the rental market, but it's thin. There is Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, but the only way he is available is if contract talks go off the rails. Marek Zidlicky of the Devils could be an intriguing option because he would help Colorado's power play, but he comes with plenty of risk in his game. I don't know why the Buffalo Sabres would want to hold on to Henrik Tallinder, so I'd expect him to be an option. If the Vancouver Canucks get healthy it's possible that Raphael Diaz becomes available again. An intriguing one for me is Tom Gilbert of the Panthers. He's actually had a good season in Florida.
Any chance that the Blackhawks make a move before the Olympic roster freeze or at the NHL Trade Deadline? -- @rushing012
Yes. Stan Bowman is never one to stand pat. I think they will make a trade, but I anticipate it will come after the break.
What's the word on Dan Girardi? Any news of a contract? -- @insanesportsfan
Nothing yet, but reports are the sides are talking and it's looking better for Girardi than it does for Ryan Callahan. TSN's Darren Dreger reported earlier this week that the Rangers were hoping to have a contract done with Girardi by now. There is still time before they have to consider anything such as a trade.
What do you think the New York Islanders will get for Thomas Vanek if he's traded, and where will he go? -- @BillyFitzz
Whatever they get for Vanek better start with a first-round pick. The Islanders gave up a first-round pick to get him from the Sabres, so if they trade him they better be able to recoup at least that. They should be able to get more, though. As for places he could land, I'm looking directly at the Los Angeles Kings, and I know I'm not alone on this. The Kings need offense and Vanek brings it. Kings GM Dean Lombardi is clearly not afraid to pull the trigger on a blockbuster (see Jeff Carter), so he'll make the move if the pieces involved make sense. The other team that would make sense is the Minnesota Wild. Vanek may end up there anyway. But Islanders GM Garth Snow should not give up on trying to re-sign him. I doubt he has, at least not yet. Vanek and John Tavares are a perfect match.
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"Your mind is always running with the game a little bit, but you don't really get any time off, so I think the break will be a welcome break for all coaches," Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz told NHL.com. "Most coaches will take a couple of days off and then they will be in coach mode."
Trotz said he's taking his family to Disney World during the break. It's a special trip for his 13-year-old son, who is special needs. But he'll have his computer with him so he'll be able to watch live streams of some American Hockey League games.
"I'll check out Milwaukee's schedule," Trotz said, referring to the Predators' AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals.
Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper is taking his wife and three young kids to the Bahamas. He even said he's hoping to be able to read a book on the trip because he just doesn't have time to do something like that during the season, but Cooper admitted that in addition to family time, he'll be planning out the Lightning's practice schedule for when the team reconvenes on Feb. 19.
"I would say by day three I will be thinking about lots of stuff," Cooper said. "I get pretty antsy, so part of everything we do coming out of the break I'll probably have thought of during the break. It won't just be all play, but I've got three little kids, so I'll be around them and having fun with them."
Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates is planning a trip north to Toronto so he can spend time with his father, David. Oates, though, is bringing his laptop and plans to watch some old Capitals' games with his dad.
"You're used to being at the office all day long, so you're bored," Oates said. "We'll be fighting the boredom. I'll have some games in my computer, re-watch some games, rethink some stuff, then basically just chill and watch the Olympics."
Not everybody is leaving town.
Florida Panthers coach Peter Horachek said he'll be in the office every day, but he'll cut his hours significantly and still get to enjoy the warm weather. Phoenix Coyotes coach Dave Tippett isn't going anywhere either because, well, why would he want to leave the Valley in the winter?
"The intensity of it is preparing for practice and preparing for games, so because we're really not doing that, I won't be here at 6:30 in the morning," Horachek said. "I'll come in later. I won't spend eight hours here. It'll definitely feel like a break, but spending a few hours on something every day, preparing it, breaking it down, looking at different things, will feel good for me."
When practices resume the coaches say they'll put their players through what essentially will be an in-season training camp.
The idea will be to work on individual player skills and to tackle elements of their team game that have slipped through the cracks because of the condensed schedule that doesn't allow for too much practice time.
In most cases the teams will have seven or eight days of practice time available. There will be an off day or two built in, but Oates isn't promising too much fun for his players.
"I'm sure most of the guys will work out [during the break], but they're going to get some sun, go to Vegas, go to Atlantic City, go golfing," Oates said. "There will be at least a week of no hockey, a week of nothing on their mind. Then maybe the Olympics will get them back focused a bit and they'll probably miss the game, so the first couple of days of practice will be easy, but then there are going to be some days of practice that are just terrible. They're not going to want to deal with me, the same drills."
Oates, though, added that he and his assistants are already talking about ways to lighten up the practices, to stimulate the players so they're not dragging by the time the regular season resumes.
Cooper is thinking about that too, which is why he's planning to take his team on the road to Orlando for the in-season training camp. The Lightning went to Naples, Fla., during regular training camp in September. Cooper will stress to the players that bringing their golf clubs is recommended. He wants them to be relaxed.
"You don't want to make it Groundhog Day for the guys," Cooper said. "We'll take the whole team, at least the guys we have together, re-acclimate and get back to our habits. We might tweak things up and do some things we haven't done before this year, more fun things in practice. We're going to try to make it new for the guys when they come back so it's not the same thing. We'll maybe put new wrinkles in our playbook, something to make it like a brand-new training camp."
Until then it's about fending for yourself and making the most of a rare break in the middle of the winter.
"Go somewhere. Go on vacation," Cooper said. "Because it is such a grind, I think the best way to re-energize is just completely to get away from it. If you don't lace up your skates during the break, I'm not going to be bent out of shape about it."
Is Nashville's defense set for years?
Michael Del Zotto is 23 years old, but as soon as he arrived in Nashville, he became the Predators' second-most experienced defenseman behind captain Shea Weber. The only other defensemen who have at least 100 games on their NHL resumes are Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis.
The average age of the Predators' defensemen is 23.4. Weber is the oldest at 28. Seth Jones is the youngest at 19. Victor Bartley turns 26 later this month. Like Del Zotto, Josi, Ellis and Mattias Ekholm are 23.
In addition, the Predators have the balance they were seeking now with Del Zotto coming in as their third left-handed defenseman. Trotz now has three lefty-righty pairs he uses on a regular basis: Josi-Weber, Del Zotto-Jones, Ekholm-Ellis.
The youth coupled with the balance and the fact Weber is signed long-term has Trotz believing the Predators are set on the blue line for a long time.
"That whole right side with Weber, Jones and Ellis is the future for the Preds," Trotz said. "On the left side you have Josi and Del Zotto, both young guys, and then Mattias Ekholm and Victor Bartley. I don't think there is going to be a lot of change on the defense in the next few years unless something were to go awry."
Oates: Ward should think like Ovechkin
Joel Ward has 71 goals in 410 career regular-season games. Alex Ovechkin has 410 goals in 684 games. They don't exactly compare, but Oates thinks the two should think alike.
"I don't know how much people have tried to draw this out of him, but for me, him, Ovi and [Troy] Brouwer should come to the rink every night looking to score," Oates said of Ward. "He protects the puck well, he's a big boy, skates good, so he should get so many shots a night."
Ward is having his most productive season since he was a rookie with the Predators in 2008-09. He has already tied his career high with 17 goals, and he is two points shy of matching his career high of 35 points.
However, Ward has been too streaky for Oates' liking. He's had goalless streaks of 12 and nine games this season, but has also scored goals in three straight games on two occasions. He has four goals on seven shots in the past four games, but had one goal on 19 shots in the previous 13 games.
Oates thinks Ward should be taking more pucks to the net and looking to shoot more.
"Once every blue moon there is a reminder like, 'Hey, you need to take it to the net a little bit more than you have been as opposed to just protecting it and keeping it in the corners,'" Oates said. "I think he has the skills to bring it to the net, not just protect it but bring it to the net."
Boedker knows what's right
As Tippett talked about Mikkel Boedker's maturation into a productive NHL player this season, he started to use the same old clichés about young players getting better, learning more about the League and their abilities, and what they can do here. However, Tippett then paused for a moment before dishing out the biggest reason why Boedker is having a breakout season:
"He told us he felt more comfortable on the right wing," Tippett said. "We put him there and moved [Shane] Doan to the left side. Since then, [Boedker] has really taken off."
Boedker, a left-handed shot, was playing on his natural side at the start of the season, but he was slumping. He started the season with nine points in the first 11 games, but had just six points in the next 15 games. It was during that stretch the Coyotes moved him to the right side. After an adjustment period Boedker started to deliver on his promise of being better on the right wing.
He has nine goals and 13 assists in 30 games since Dec. 3. He had already set career highs with 15 goals, 22 assists, 37 points and 112 shots on goal.
"He's just one of those players who sees the ice a little better from that side," Tippett said. "His skillset of pulling up and making plays on pull-up plays are better. He's just turned into a better right winger. There are certain guys who can do it. Boedker grew up playing on the right side on the big ice and he just feels more comfortable there."
Predators coach Barry Trotz on the improvement of 23-year-old defenseman Ryan Ellis over the past several weeks:
"He's a guy that is managing the puck really well, defending really well. He's exiting the zone effectively and efficiently. A lot of times those things don't show up [on the score sheet] because you end up being the third assist, the guy who gets the puck out to get your team some speed going through the neutral zone, but those things are really good. He's gotten stronger and the pace in his game has improved. He's making good decisions. That's all good stuff for a young defenseman, and he's still a young defenseman."
Tippett said Boedker is strong enough, especially in his lower body, that protecting the puck on the wall is no problem even though he's playing on his off wing.
"He's got big legs, a bit butt," Tippett said. "Skating and balance are some of his attributes."
As with Oates and Ward in Washington, Tippett would like to see Boedker shoot more. He's averaging roughly two shots on goal per game.
"We're trying to put an emphasis on him putting more pucks on net," Tippett said. "He's got a good shot when he uses it, but he's one of those guys with more of a pass-first mentality. We're trying to set up some goals for him on how many shots we'd like to see him get per game, things to strive for."
Less is more for Brewer, Salo
Cooper's plan to make the Lightning better on the blue line this season was to cut back on the minutes Eric Brewer and Sami Salo had been playing in previous seasons, with the idea that it would make the veteran defensemen more productive in the minutes they do play.
He's done it by using seven defensemen and 11 forwards in most games since Steven Stamkos went down with his injury nearly three months ago.
The plan has worked better than expected.
Brewer, 34, is playing 16:59 per game, roughly three-and-a-half fewer minutes than he did last season and 6:17 less than in 2011-12. He's a plus player on a team that is tied for ninth in goals-against per game (2.43) and tied for eighth in shots-against per game (29.1).
"Brewer has been way better this year for the whole stretch than what I saw out of him last year, but my biggest gauge is asking [Lightning GM] Steve Yzerman," Cooper said. "When he says to me that Brewer is playing as well for us as he did when we first traded for him, that this is the best he's seen him play, that's the gauge."
Salo, 39 is playing 18:41 per game after playing 20:59 per game last season. He's also a plus player.
"We didn't expect this. We weren't sure," Cooper said. "We didn't know if [Brewer] was winding down a little bit, and the same with Sami Salo as well. Our mentality was to cut these guys' minutes down and get better production but not in as many minutes. I don't know what [Brewer] and Sami would think about it. I'm sure they're not immensely happy about it, but we've talked it through, about our beliefs of what is going to make them the best players possible, and it's worked out. They're all in on the whole thing. And when you win it makes everything easier."
This and that
* The Chicago Blackhawks have scored five or more goals (not including the goal awarded for a shootout win) in 21 of 58 games this season. It's the most times the Blackhawks have scored five or more goals in a game since 1995-96, when they did it 26 times. Chicago's franchise record for most five-goal games in a season is 39, a feat they accomplished in an 80-game schedule in 1985-86.
* At 29 years old, Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has 279 career wins in 512 games. New Jersey Devils goalie Brodeur had 286 wins in 519 appearances by the time he was 29.
Brodeur's 682 wins in 1,248 appearances are both NHL records and equate to a .546 winning percentage. Fleury has a .545 career winning percentage.
If Fleury keeps up his current pace (a big if, considering the longevity he'll need), he'll have 680 wins by his 1,248th game.
* Cooper said he's not sure yet if he'll continue to use seven defensemen and 11 forwards when Stamkos returns to Tampa Bay's lineup, which could be Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings.
"Hard to say, but maybe," he said. "For a guy like Stammer, he doesn't come into the equation really. It actually helps him more to go 11-7 probably because he'll play more. It's not meant to do that, but it can get him more ice."
* The New York Rangers' game Friday against the Penguins at Consol Energy Center will be only their second true road game since Jan. 8. The Rangers' two games at Yankee Stadium in the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series were considered road games, but the only time they have had to board a plane in the past four weeks was for a game Jan. 18 in Ottawa.
However, the Rangers will play 13 of their final 23 games on the road, including 12 of 18 from March 1-April 3.