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Hughes working through tough first season with Devils – TSN

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Jack Hughes already had a full plate coming into this season.

First overall pick, tons of hype, potential face of the New Jersey Devils for the next decade or more.

Things, however, haven’t quite gone according to plan.

The 18-year-old went six games without a point to open his rookie campaign and has struggled to find the scoresheet ever since for a team that’s been stuck in neutral most of 2019-20.

With the franchise flailing near the bottom of the overall standings, New Jersey fired head coach John Hynes in early December, traded its best player in Taylor Hall just 13 days later, and then axed general manager Ray Shero on Sunday night.

That’s quite a six-week stretch for any professional athlete, let alone one trying to handle the weight of expectation from both the outside and within.

“It is what it is,” Hughes said Tuesday as he tried to brush off the roller-coaster campaign. “It’s a business — coach gets fired, GM gets fired, a lot of changes.”

The youngest player in the NHL this season, Hughes has been used to putting up mammoth point totals at every other level. He’s not the first young star to struggle early, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

“That’s obviously my game. I’m supposed to get points,” said Hughes, tied for 10th in rookie scoring with six goals and 17 points in 38 games heading into Wednesday. “With where my game’s at, the points haven’t translated, (but I’m) creating a lot.

“There’s a lot of season left.”

Despite the rocky journey up to now, teammates have been impressed with how he’s dealt with everything since June’s draft.

“It’s amazing, at 18, how demanding he is of himself,” said veteran goalie Cory Schneider, who had Hughes living with him and his family this fall. “When you’re accustomed to scoring three, four points a game your whole life and you come to the best league in the world, it just doesn’t happen that way.”

“He’s handled it really well, just trying to work on other areas of his game and understanding the best players in the world are a point-per-game,” Schneider added. “There’s been some tumultuous moments for him. Losing a coach, losing a GM — the guy that drafted you, the guy that got to know your family.

“That’s a lot … this is my first in-season GM change and I’m 13 years pro and he’s dealing with as an 18 year old.”

It seems Shero’s firing, which came out of the blue to those outside the organization, was the most difficult blow.

“It’s tough,” Hughes said. “He’s a guy that brought me in. I have a lot of respect for Ray and think he’s a great manager.

“It’s how it goes.”

Devils interim coach Alain Nasreddine said he’s seen improvement in his young star’s details since moving behind the bench.

“It’s not easy to be in his shoes,” Nasreddine said. “You can see him getting more comfortable with the league. The experience really helps. The more games he plays, the more he realizes what he can and can’t do on the ice.”

A native of Orlando, Fla., and phenom with the U.S. National Team Development Program, Hughes spent most of his formative years living just outside Toronto when his father, Jim, was part of the Maple Leafs’ front office.

He played at Scotiabank Arena for the first time Tuesday — Hughes was held pointless in a 7-4 loss to the Leafs — but the memories flowed back from his time wandering the halls as a kid.

“I came to so many games over the years,” he said. “Definitely a game I had circled on my calendar.”

Hughes is also proud of older brother Quinn, a 20-year-old rookie defenceman with the Vancouver Canucks set to compete in the NHL all-star game in St. Louis.

“People in Vancouver were praising him before the season,” Jack said of Quinn, who has four goals and 32 assist 46 games. “We were like, ‘Whoa … this is trouble, a lot of expectations.’ But we knew what he was going to be, he knew what he was going to be.

“It’s not surprising to any of us.”

And maybe, when everyone takes a step back, Jack’s early struggles shouldn’t be either.

“I’m happy to be in the NHL right now,” Hughes said. “I’m living out my dream.”

MORE OVERTIME A POSSIBILITY?

Schneider said that while he isn’t a fan of shootouts, he isn’t sure extending 3-on-3 overtime beyond five minutes — which has gained some traction in recent weeks — is the right move either. “You’ve got to end the games, but 10 (minutes of OT is) a lot. You see teams now that have already played 10, 15 overtime games. Your top players are the guys playing most of those minutes.” A member of the NHL’s competition committee, Schneider added there could be “wiggle room” where the extra period might one day be seven minutes in length. “Playing another half period of 3-on-3, that’s one-sixth of the game. That’s a lot more hockey that adds up over the course of the year.”

COACHING CAROUSEL CONTINUES

When the Vegas Golden Knights stunned the hockey world Wednesday with the firing of head coach Gerard Gallant, it marked the seventh change behind an NHL bench since the Leafs fired Mike Babcock on Nov. 20. Add Shero’s dismissal, and that’s eight key positions vacated in less than two months. Some moves weren’t related to on-ice performance — Calgary’s parting of ways with Bill Peters and Dallas canning Jim Montgomery were the outliers — but most were. In all, there have been 14 coaching changes in the 31-team league since the end of last season

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan 15, 2020.

___

Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter

Joshua Clipperton’s weekly NHL notebook is published every Wednesday.

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Marcus Smart Heard Yelling At Teammates Following Game 2 Loss – RealGM.com

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Marcus Smart reportedly yelled at his teammates in the locker room following the Boston Celtics’ 106-101 loss to the Miami Heat in game 2, according to Malika Andrews of ESPN.

The Celtics, who blew their second straight lead in the second half, are now down 2-0 in the series.

“Y’all on some bulls—,” Smart yelled while leaving the locker room. Several other teammates were also reportedly heard yelling following the game.

Smart did not talk to reporters after the game.

Brad Stevens, Kemba Walker, and Jayson Tatum all downplayed the situation, chalking it up to the emotion of the loss.

“It really just, a lot of emotions just flying around. Obviously we feel like we could have won, we should have won, but we didn’t. So just a lot of emotions flying around. That’s it,” said Jaylen Brown. 

The Celtics were outscored 37-17 in the third quarter.

Walker added that the Celtics were simply outplayed during the third. 

“Man, they outplayed us. They outplayed us. It’s really unacceptable on our behalf. It was just a really bad quarter for us. We didn’t continue to do the things that we did to get us up and get us that lead. I think we got kind of comfortable and those guys, they took great advantage of it. They played hard. They played really hard. They played a lot harder than us. They wanted it.”

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Lightning cherishing every moment of opportunity for Cup Final redemption – Sportsnet.ca

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EDMONTON — What I’ll remember most was the pure guttural scream.

It echoed up through Rogers Place when the Tampa Bay Lightning gathered 48 of the 52 members of their travelling party on the ice with the Prince of Wales Trophy to take a photo here Thursday night.

You’d never know that a celebration could be so emotional in an empty building because, until three days ago with the Dallas Stars, this was completely unprecedented.

The Lightning left their hearts out there. This was a moment six years in the making, or more, for so many members of this organization. And it was clear that booking a trip to the Stanley Cup Final was no less rewarding under these circumstances than it would have been before any of us had ever heard of COVID-19.

“It is so hard to explain, because regardless if there’s fans in the building or not, the exuberance and relief, it’s unparalleled how you feel inside,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “When you look back at this — and it’s not over — but we’ve been in a hotel for 54 straight days. And when people said this might be one of the hardest Cups to win, it might be one of the hardest Cups ever to win. There’s two of us left standing, they’re going through the exact same thing we are.

“You want your fans there, but it’s not about the fans, it’s about the players and the effort and dedication and perseverance they’ve put into this. And they’re the ones that deserve this, because they’ve done all the work.”

For the Lightning, it was also about Steven Stamkos, even though the captain hasn’t played a game since late February. He’s been rehabbing an undisclosed injury inside the NHL bubble without playing a game and was called out to join Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh and Alex Killorn for the trophy presentation with deputy commissioner Bill Daly.

The pride on Stamkos’s face was unmistakable. He let Hedman and the others who played in the six-game series victory over the New York Islanders touch the trophy — at least until Hedman skated it over to him with instructions to carry it into the team’s dressing room.

“It was obviously a great feeling,” said Hedman. “Even though Stammer’s not playing, he’s still the leader of this team and he’s such a good influence on the room. During practices and morning skates. He’s still a big reason that he’s here where we are.

“I’m just so happy for the whole group obviously to once again — you know, a few of us went there in 2015. To go back in the Final with the Lightning again is an unreal experience.”

They had good reason to believe this would have happened sooner. It was a young team that lost the 2015 Stanley Cup Final to Chicago in six games.

Tampa has been the NHL’s top team in basically every measurable category since that happened but they’ve experienced nothing but heartbreak. A Game 7 loss in the Eastern Conference Final in 2016 and 2018, and then a record-breaking 62-win season last year followed by a sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Losing this would have been the ultimate gut punch.

The Lightning were the better team against New York, but there’s a price to be paid against the Islanders. Brayden Point was in and out of the series, Ondrej Palat took a shot off the foot during Thursday’s series-clinching 2-1 victory and Anthony Cirelli left for a time after an accidental knee-on-knee collision with Anders Lee.

It was Cirelli who finally froze the clock in overtime with his first goal and first point of the season.

The celebration was incredible. These guys understood on a fundamental level what this meant.

“You have to cherish these moments and try your best to take advantage of them,” said Cooper. “We’ve been knocking at the door and it can get frustrating. It can make the summers, time-wise they’re so short, but mentality-wise they’re long. You just have to believe in your process and you have to believe in what you’re doing and you have to have players that jump on board.

“In the end, it’s a player’s game.”

The players celebrated this one together. The Lightning brought every extra skater they have here on the ice for this Eastern Conference Championships photo. There was Mathieu Joseph and his wonderful hair, Braydon Coburn and his thick playoff beard, Stamkos and his ever-present smile.

“Definitely a special moment for that group and then to get the whole team involved,” said veteran defenceman Ryan McDonagh. “Great moment.”

Hedman is always the last player on the ice after a Tampa victory and had to wait out a four-question Killorn interview with NBC after they eliminated the Islanders. You could hear him banging his stick while Killorn spoke with Pierre McGuire inside this empty building.

He knew his teammates were celebrating without them but still wouldn’t skate off.

What a cool scene, all of it.

The Lightning will be back out here against the Dallas Stars in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night and they didn’t shy away from the fact they may have emptied a couple veins just to get the opportunity.

“As for gas in the tank, I guess we’ll see,” said Cooper. “This is unlike any other Stanley Cup Final where we’d get days rest. If you don’t go seven, you usually get days rest. We’re not here, but if you were going to tell me, ‘Hey Coop, you get to play in the Stanley Cup Final.

“You’re only going to get 45 hours to rest before the game but you’re going to get to play in it,’ I’m taking that all day.”

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Toronto Maple Leafs add Manny Malhotra to coaching staff – TSN

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It’s been a whirlwind few days for Manny Malhotra, who on Thursday officially left the Vancouver Canucks organization to become the Maple Leafs’ newest assistant coach.

“I had a lot of conversations with [Canucks’ head coach Travis Green] here and then after talking with [Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe], I was left with about two days to make the decision,” Malhotra told TSN on Thursday.

“For me, it came down to [the fact] this is an opportunity to advance my coaching career and be a part of a really good organization with a lot of good talent to work with. So I’m very happy at the conclusion of this whole process, but it was a very hectic four or five days.”

Malhotra comes to the Leafs after a three-year stint as an assistant coach in Vancouver, joining Dave Hakstol in rounding out Keefe’s staff. A native of Mississauga, Ont., Malhotra’s French-Canadian and South Asian background make him one of the few visible minority coaches in the NHL.

He replaces the recently departed Paul McFarland, who became general manager and head coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs in August.

TSN Hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun reported that the Leafs also spoke with Rocky Thompson and Bruce Boudreau about the job before landing on Malhotra. Thompson had been the head coach of the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves and is now joining the San Jose Sharks’ staff for next season, while Boudreau has been a free agent since the Minnesota Wild relieved him of head coaching duties in February.

Malhotra, 40, will bring plenty of experience with him to the Leafs’ post, having segued into roles behind the bench after his 16-year playing career ended in 2016.

Originally selected seventh overall by the New York Rangers in the 1998 draft, Malhotra developed into a strong two-way centre over his 991-game tenure with seven different teams. He retired with 295 points (116 goals, 179 assists) and an impressive winning percentage in the faceoff circle (56.4), making a quick transition from there to a one-season development coach role with the Canucks. Malhotra became a full-fledged assistant in 2017.

“The work ethic, character, intelligence and attention to detail that made Manny the ultimate teammate when he played are all assets that have translated to his coaching. That, combined with his charisma and communication skills, make us really excited to have him join the organization,” said Keefe in a press release.

Malhotra hopes to help Toronto’s top offensive players, like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, become stronger two-way players.

“First and foremost I’m really looking to just get to know those guys and try to understand their make-up and what makes them tick, what motivates them,” Malhotra said. “I think it’s most important to find out who they are as a player, and then find out their mindset and where they are in their career, and then just try to relay some of those messages on the details of your game and sharpening up the small, finer points that everybody always harps on from a young age. It’s a matter of putting those into play on a regular basis that separates guys and allows guys to grow in your career.”

Malhotra learned the benefits of focusing on those little things from Green – not just with individual players, but in coaching as a whole.

“He really likes to analyze things, overanalyze, overcook,” Malhotra said. “And initially you think it’s probably a little bit of overkill, but you realize when you put that type of thought into decisions, into systems, into lineups, that it shows you care. It shows that you’re putting the proper time in to make those key decisions.”

Malhotra can apply all that while taking over the duties vacated by McFarland, who spent one season in Toronto primarily running the Leafs’ power play.

McFarland and Hakstol were hired under former head coach Mike Babcock in May 2019, but remained on with Keefe after Babcock’s firing in mid-November and Keefe’s subsequent promotion into the role.

Malhotra is now the second coaching appointment Toronto has made under Keefe’s direction. The club had parted ways with another of Babcock’s hires – video coach Andrew Brewer – in August, and brought in Samuel Kim as his replacement on Sept. 1.

Malhotra said the opportunity to work with Keefe was a driving force behind his choice to change coasts.

“His credentials and his accomplishments as a coach speak for themselves,” he said of Keefe. “There’s nothing but complimentary things said about him and his character and his personality and his knowledge of the game, so I’m excited to work with [Keefe and Hakstol].”

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