Caps Making Changes Already / NHL News

May 26, 2009 | Ed Frankovic

Busy Caps Day

Lots of news out of the Nation’s Capital today as the Washington Capitals have announced that assistant coach Jay Leach, after five years with the club, will not return next season. Assistant Coach Dean Evason and goaltending coach Dave Prior, however, will be back working for Head Coach Bruce Boudreau in 2009-10. For anyone who followed this blog and the news from Caps breakdown day after Washington’s game seven loss to the Penguins you knew this type of change was coming as both Boudreau and GM George McPhee did not come out and say immediately that the coaching staff would remain intact. Evason did a good job leading the special teams this season, especially with the power play, and Prior has the quick development of young goalies Simeon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth in his corner. Leach, however, was in charge of the defensemen and this group struggled off and on in the regular season and did not do a good job in the Pittsburgh series. As mentioned in this blog before, the Caps were a team that did not play well away from the puck (this analysis came to me from a former NHL assistant coach) and defense was where they were the most deficient in that category. Therefore, it makes sense that Leach will not be back.

It will be interesting to see who Boudreau and McPhee target to come in and help a very young team learn how to play better in their own zone, something that is critical if they want to win the Stanley Cup. The difference between the Caps and the Penguins in round two was Pittsburgh’s ability to prevent the Caps from getting to their net while the Pens did not have those type of problems against Washington.

Next on the news front are unconfirmed reports that forwards Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov are working on contracts to play next season in the Russian Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). Versus, in tonight’s pregame session, reported that Kozlov has been inked already but according to reports from Tarik El-Basir of the Washington Post, McPhee did not confirm any signings for Kozlov or #91 yet. While I am not suffering any heartburn with #25 leaving because it frees up $2.5M of salary cap room for McPhee to use on another forward who goes to the net on a consistent basis, I would be disappointed if Fedorov left. The three time Stanley Cup winner has said he wants to return to the Caps next season and he has been the best influence on Alexander Semin that this organization has ever had. However, if Fedorov wants in excess of $2.5M then I think McPhee needs to pass on the great Russian forward (Fedorov made $4M this past season and played only 52 games but he did close out the Rangers series with his blistering blast by Henrik Lundqvist).

Finally, McPhee also announced today that the Caps have signed undrafted free agent center Jake Hauswirth to a three-year entry-level contract. Hauswirth, 21, is a 6’5”, 210-pound native of Merrill, Wis., who has spent the last two seasons with the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League (USHL). He scored 28 goals and added 24 assists (52 points) in 58 games this season, tied for the team lead in goals and was fourth in points. He led all Lancer forwards and was second on the team with a +16 plus/minus rating. Hauswirth helped lead Omaha to the USHL championship as a rookie in 2007-08, recording 13 goals and 10 assists (23 points) in 57 games. He participated in the Capitals’ development camp last summer and was one of the surprise standouts of that week long session. When I watched him play last July he had a knack for making big plays and the puck seemed to follow him around. Jake will be in attendance at this summer’s camp as well and a spot in Hershey next season seems like a possible fit.

NHL News

More coaching news today as the Edmonton Oilers have hired Pat Quinn as head coach and former Rangers head coach, Tom Renney, as an assistant coach. Craig MacTavish, who coached the Oilers since 2000, was fired after Edmonton missed the playoffs for the third straight season. Quinn, who worked with current Oilers GM Steve Tambellini in Vancouver, has coached the Flyers, Kings, Canucks, and Leafs as well as leading Canada to the gold medal in the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Renney joins the Oilers after five seasons as Head Coach of the New York Rangers. The Cranbrook, British Columbia native began his tenure with the Rangers organization as Director of Player Personnel before being promoted to Vice-President of Player Development in 2002. Renney was appointed Head Coach with 20 games left in the 2003–04 season. He led the Rangers into the postseason in each of his first three campaigns following the 2004–05 NHL lockout.

Renney began his coaching career in 1990-91 with the Western Hockey League’s Kamloops Blazers. He guided the Blazers to consecutive President’s Cup championships as WHL champions and captured a Memorial Cup title in 1992. During his two seasons with the Blazers, he compiled a .714 winning percentage (101-37-6), which ranks first in CHL history. The coach is a very personable guy and was well liked by the New York media.

Very sad news out of Toronto tonight as Peter Zezel, a center who played 15 NHL seasons after breaking into the league with the Philadelphia Flyers as a teenager, has died. He was 44. Zezel struggled with the rare blood disease hemolytic anemia for the past 10 years and died on Tuesday. Zezel suffered from the ailment off and on, but had rebounded after being in critical condition in 2001. He was admitted to the hospital last week for scheduled surgery, but complications developed and his condition worsened.

“Peter will forever be remembered as a great teammate and a wonderful individual who touched the lives of many both on and off the ice,” Zezel’s family said in a statement released by the National Hockey League Players’ Association. “In his typical character of generosity, Peter donated his organs through the Trillium Gift of Life Network.”

The gritty center was known on the ice for his strong two-way game. In 873 NHL games with Philadelphia, St. Louis, Washington, Toronto, Dallas, New Jersey and Vancouver, Zezel had 219 goals and 389 assists. His matinee idol looks also earned him a small role in the 1986 hockey-based movie “Youngblood” that starred Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze.

Zezel was born in Toronto and played junior hockey with the Toronto Marlies before the Flyers chose him with the 41st pick in the 1983 draft. He made his NHL debut in 1984 when he was 19. Zezel was a great face-off man and a good team guy. He played for the Caps for 20 games in the 1990-91 season before being traded to the Leafs. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Zezel family.