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Playing coach-team matchmaker, the Utah Yetis, and more

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The old saying "NHL coaches are hired to get fired" is definitely ringing true at the moment, with 15 of 32 teams having made a coaching change since the end of the 2022-23 regular season. (Mike Babcock getting hired and fired by the Blue Jackets in the same offseason brings the total count to 16.)

There are currently five vacancies across the league. The Kings, led by interim head coach Jim Hiller, are the lone team of the bunch still in action. If they go on any kind of playoff run, Hiller will probably become the full-time guy in L.A.

The other four vacancies are more interesting. Let's play matchmaker.

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Sharks: David Quinn was fired this week after just two seasons. The move was unexpected since the club's 47 points matched its talentless lineup. What did general manager Mike Grier expect? At any rate, the Sharks are at least 3-4 years away from icing a respectable squad. Winning the upcoming draft lottery would jumpstart the rebuild in a meaningful way.

The hottest name on the coaching market is David Carle of the University of Denver. Carle would be an ideal fit. However, the young father said for now he loves the job security in college. A nice Plan B: Don Granato. The recently fired Sabres coach excelled in a player-development atmosphere in Buffalo. He's optimistic, communicates well with young players, and his system is fun. Granato and Grier both worked for the 2017-18 Blackhawks.

Devils: The 2023-24 season was a frustrating campaign of injuries and underachievement for New Jersey. Lindy Ruff took the fall in March, but he's already been hired by the Sabres. Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald has said he wants his next coach to be a strong communicator and collaborator who will also hold players accountable.

The Devils have superstar talent and a relatively clean cap sheet, so Fitzgerald will have no shortage of qualified candidates lining up for a shot at the job. Travis Green - who went from associate coach to interim head coach after Ruff's firing - is in contention and might be the best fit. Green's proven to be a sharp defensive mind, which is another trait Fitzgerald should be looking for. Familiarity rules in the NHL, and Fitzgerald and Green were teammates three different times as players.

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Senators: D.J. Smith was fired in December and the Jacques Martin experiment was only a short-term fix. What now for a franchise that finally has stability at the ownership and manager levels? The answer could be a veteran coach who can whip a not-so-young-anymore core into shape defensively while simultaneously ridding the locker room of a losing culture.

Craig Berube, Dean Evason, and Todd McLellan are all in the running for the gig in Ottawa, according to reports. Berube's name jumps off the page. The 2019 Stanley Cup champion appears to strike a healthy balance between being a no-nonsense coach and an open-minded one. He helped develop Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou into more well-rounded players. Most importantly, Berube cares deeply about "playing the right way" as a full unit. Sold.

Blues: St. Louis narrowly missed the playoffs and is in retooling mode. This next coaching hire could be the front office's last. Coming up on his 14th anniversary, Doug Armstrong is the league's longest-tenured GM.

That last part is critical. While removing the interim tag from coach Drew Bannister would be justifiable and may very well happen, it feels like Armstrong will go big-game hunting. He likely doesn't want to leave his future in the hands of a rookie like Bannister. With that in mind, Jay Woodcroft, Evason, and McLellan are probably on Armstrong's radar. McLellan's extensive experience (he's 24th all-time in NHL games coached) and attention to detail give him the upper hand.

Canes bend but don't break

The Hurricanes and Panthers have practically moved on to the second round already. A team up 3-0 in an NHL playoff series advances 98% of the time.

One difference between the Eastern Conference rivals: while the Panthers have looked sharp through three games, the Hurricanes have looked just OK.

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Five-on-five shot attempts, shots on goal, and expected goals in the Canes-Islanders series read 205-125, 73-63, and 7.2-5.6 in favor of Carolina. Goalie Frederik Andersen has been excellent, making 71 saves on 77 shots, including a few for the highlight reel. However, we have yet to see the Canes at full bore.

The rest of the NHL should be frightened by this idea.

Here's why: The two things that have haunted Carolina in past playoff runs - a lack of timely scoring and a lack of timely saves - haven't been the problem so far. The mediocre execution of coach Rod Brind'Amour's game plan has been the issue. Yet, if any group can flip a switch and immediately return to playing the smothering hockey its coach demands, it's veteran-driven Carolina.

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The Canes' man-on-man defensive coverage and forecheck-heavy attack can be very effective when executed at a high level. A quick glance at Carolina's immense regular-season success during Brind'Amour's six-year tenure is proof, not to mention trips to the conference final in 2019 and 2023. The missing component in the playoffs has been an outlier performance, which can save the team during a relative lull (like Andersen is doing right now) or elevate it during a relative high (like they hope Jake Guentzel does later on).

The Canes have added layers to the roster over the past year, bringing in blue-liner Dmitry Orlov and forwards Guentzel and Evgeny Kuznetsov. The emergence of sophomore forward Seth Jarvis has been massive, too. It's not ideal that top-four defenseman Brett Pesce is currently sidelined and worker bee Jesper Fast is out for the playoffs, but Carolina has enough depth to patch holes.

As the Islanders series has shown, the Canes have it in them to bend but not break. That elusive trip to the Cup Final has never looked likelier.

Predators not just cute story

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No matter how the postseason unfolds in Nashville, the start of the Barry Trotz-Andrew Brunette era should be viewed as nothing but an epic success.

Many outside of Tennessee probably consider the Predators a cute, fun story, or a team that has simply exceeded low pre-season expectations. I had a similar reaction when Nashville began piling up the wins in early December.

I changed my mind after monitoring them closely in the second half of the regular season. It turns out the Predators' year-over-year improvement goes beyond a seven-point uptick in the standings. Nashville has gotten itself fully together under new general manager Trotz and new head coach Brunette.

To sum up the table above, the 2023-24 Preds leveled up significantly in the goals-scored category while maintaining a strong goals-against rate. They generated far more high-quality scoring chances compared to last season and dramatically decreased quality chances against. Relative to the rest of the NHL, they spent way more time in the offensive zone than the defensive zone.

In other words, Nashville's process improved dramatically.

And the attack is built for playoff hockey. The Preds finished tied for third in scoring chances generated off rebounds and tied for fifth in chances off the cycle during the regular season. The only other clubs in the top five of both categories? The Panthers and Oilers, two very popular Cup picks.

All of this hints at a team on the rise - even though the roster's clearly under construction (remember, Trotz bought out Matt Duchene and retained half of Ryan Johansen's salary in a trade last offseason). Star goalie Juuse Saros had only a decent regular season by his lofty standards. Imagine what the future could look like if Nashville's eighth-ranked prospect pool develops well.

This coming offseason should be fascinating.

Saros, an elite goalie over the past handful of seasons, is an unrestricted free agent in 2025, and goalie-of-the-future Yaroslav Askarov (11th overall in 2020) is ready for NHL duty. Trotz has a long-term decision to make on goaltending.

Nashville owns one first-round draft pick and three seconds this year, as well as two firsts and a second in 2025. Trotz has ammo to pull off a draft-weekend trade or two or he can continue to stockpile promising youngsters.

Parting shots

Oh, baby!: Bob Cole's voice was the soundtrack for several generations of hockey fans. He's the sport's GOAT play-by-play announcer in Canada, a fiery man with what seems like a 100% approval rating. No one will ever replicate his iconic cadence and grandfatherly tone. ("Everything! Is! Happening!" is a personal favorite.) He had an uncanny feel for historic moments, often letting the crowd's roar play a starring role in the narration. It's truly amazing that Cole - who died Wednesday at age 90 - worked for Hockey Night in Canada for 50 years. Doing anything at a passable level for five decades is hugely impressive, and he did it on his industry's biggest stage. Rest in peace, Bob.

Twilight Crosby: 2024-25 will be the final year of Sidney Crosby's 12-year, $104.4-million deal, which means he's eligible to sign an extension with the Penguins on July 1. There's no reason to believe Crosby's leaving Pittsburgh, according to The Athletic's Rob Rossi. Given how excellent he was this season, we can reasonably assume Crosby, if healthy, will remain productive for at least two more seasons. The tricky part for the Pens is surrounding the soon-to-be 37-year-old with enough talent for a deep playoff run. It's a nearly impossible task for general manager Kyle Dubas. The roster is old and flawed, salary-cap space is scarce, and the prospect pool is shallow. That said, Dubas must keep his foot on the gas. He has to find creative ways to improve his team right now. Rebuilding shouldn't even be a thought until No. 87 retires.

Utah TBDs: The Arizona Coyotes have officially moved to Utah, and if Wednesday's welcome party is any indication, the Salt Lake City-based club will have no issue filling the Delta Center. Owner Ryan Smith has said the franchise will be called "Utah" (not "Salt Lake"), with the nickname to be determined through a fan vote. The ownership group reportedly submitted a bunch of trademark applications. Among them: Utah Hockey Club, Utah Blizzard, Utah Venom, Utah Fury, Utah Yetis, Utah Outlaws, Utah Mammoth, and Utah Ice. I'm partial to Utah Yetis for its strong branding and mascot possibilities. Seattle's recent success with another mythical creature - the Kraken - offers an easy-to-follow template. Seriously, look at the potential:

Takes, Thoughts, and Trends is theScore's biweekly hockey grab bag.

John Matisz is theScore's senior NHL writer. Follow John on Twitter (@MatiszJohn) or contact him via email (

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