Today the guys go at Toronto and the Olympics. Go!
CUSTANCE: Hey, Pierre. So if we thought the news would slow down once the trade deadline passed, we were sorely mistaken. Just in the last week, there's been a coaching change in Toronto. A serious goaltending injury and interesting possible replacement in Boston and a five-year contract extension for Mikhail Grabovski. (He's from Ontario, right?) But I wanted to start with a little Olympic talk before we dive into the other news. Steve Yzerman was announced as the GM of Team Canada on Monday and I'd be stunned if anybody other than Brian Burke is named as the American GM when USA Hockey eventually makes their announcement after the CBA is finalized. Burke would no doubt accept the offer. "I will always assist USA Hockey in whatever capacity they request," he wrote in an email this morning. To me, the interesting debate centers around the U.S. head coach, a debate I wrote about this morning on the Insider blog. Ron Wilson is loaded with international experience and led Team USA to the silver medal in Vancouver. He's also no longer coaching in the NHL. I might be more inclined to change directions and go with Pittsburgh's Dan Bylsma if I were in charge of USA Hockey. What about you? And any chance anybody other than Mike Babcock coaches Team Canada?
LEBRUN: Babcock would be my choice, just like Yzerman, because why fix something that isn’t broken? He’s one of the best coaches in the league and showed incredible resolve in Vancouver when the team struggled early on, making the tough decision to bench Martin Brodeur. That’s the guy I want back behind the Olympic bench. What I’m hearing, though, is that Team Canada wants to wait until the NHL and NHL Players’ Association agree on a new collective bargaining agreement before announcing its Olympic coach. The U.S. coaching situation is interesting. Bylsma has to be considered, but I don’t think you can overlook John Tortorella, either. Tortorella was in Vancouver as Wilson’s assistant, so he’s got that valuable experience to draw on. My guess is that some combination of Bylsma and Tortorella would make the most sense for the U.S. And what about on the ice? Both Team USA and Team Canada will have fresh faces in Sochi, if indeed the NHL decided to send its players again.
CUSTANCE: The Americans sent a pretty young team to Vancouver, so we should be able to pencil in many of those players for Sochi. But you're right; there's some emerging young talent that will push for spots on both teams. Panthers GM Dale Tallon has been working with USA Hockey for the last year as part of its advisory group, one that will be meeting in Boca Raton the Sunday before the GM meetings. The young American talent is something that has stood out to him over the course of the last year. "I think it's terrific," he said when we chatted Monday. "There's a lot of great young players coming forward. Good young defensemen, a good nucleus of veteran players. It's an exciting group." I'm fascinated by the Team USA goaltending situation. Since the last Olympics, Tim Thomas has emerged as the best American goalie but he'll be 39 in 2014. Ryan Miller has been great lately for Buffalo but inconsistent since leading Team USA to the silver medal in Vancouver. Jonathan Quick certainly is in the mix, and my sleeper choice is Cory Schneider, who should be starting somewhere in the NHL by 2014. Is it too much to ask for a Schneider-versus-Roberto Luongo gold-medal game?
LEBRUN: I can’t believe you’re based in Detroit and you didn’t mention Jimmy Howard as a potential Olympic goalie for Team USA? C’mon, man! If we had to choose the teams today, I’d go Miller-Quick-Howard for Team USA, and I’d be bold enough to say the Americans would have an edge over Canada in goal. Of course, Miller was tournament MVP in Vancouver and it still wasn’t good enough to win gold. What will Canada do in net? I’m not sure Luongo returns. To me it comes down to Marc-Andre Fleury, Carey Price and Cam Ward as the three netminders in Sochi. Because the tournament is still two years away, it will be interesting to see Price’s continued development as a high-end starter in this league and whether he’ll be the main man in Sochi, or if Fleury can hold him off. Up front, Yzerman will have a bunch of new faces to look at, including the likes of Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux, John Tavares and Jamie Benn -- none of whom were in Vancouver two years ago. Tough choices ahead for Yzerman.
CUSTANCE: Sorry, Jimmy. You're right, Pierre; Howard should have been in there. But let's talk about some games that aren't two years away. Huge one in your neck of the woods tonight with Boston traveling to Toronto to take on the rejuvenated Maple Leafs. I hope the Leafs still have their legs after a couple of long practices under Randy Carlyle. While other coaches around the league are being careful to monitor practice time during the grueling stretch run, Toronto is in full training mode right now. The Bruins have absolutely crushed Toronto this season, outscoring the Maple Leafs 23-6 in four wins, but this is a different Bruins team that is reeling a bit. Toronto seems to have all the positive momentum heading into this showdown. It has the energy that comes with a new coach, and center Mikhail Grabovski has a new five-year deal with a healthy but not unreasonable $5.5 million annual cap hit. Does the momentum continue tonight?
LEBRUN: The Leafs are in survival mode, five points out of a playoff spot, and the Bruins are an ornery bunch looking for consistency. It should make for a playoff-type atmosphere tonight at Air Canada Centre between the two Orginal Six rivals. You mentioned the Leafs signing Grabovski. That’s a lot of money for a No. 2 center, especially when you consider the $6.1 million cap hit the Sedin twins carry in Vancouver. Then again, we all know the Sedins gave Vancouver a huge hometown discount. That wasn’t the case here with Grabovski, who had all the leverage on Toronto as a potential UFA on July 1, in large part because of how incredibly thin the UFA market is for centers this summer. The Leafs had few other options but to bring him back. But I’m not sure they’ll like that contract in a few years.