NHL Week in Review (May 17-23)

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It was another wild week in the NHL but the focus was brought away from the second round of the playoffs.

The Rangers took on the Lighting in a series that has seemed at one point to be leaning far one way and at another point far the other way.

The Ducks took on the Blackhawks and have done much of the same as the Ducks got out to a convincing Game 1 win only to lose a triple overtime Game 2.

Both series are close and are coming as advertised when the matchups were made but as is typical in the NHL one team completely overshadowed everything else in the league.

The NHL’s highest valued team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, took all the headlines away from the playoffs and continue to do so as the elimination games approach.

The reason being that one of the best coaches in the NHL took one of the biggest deals in NHL history to move to the biggest NHL market in the league.

Mike Babcock took a different approach to the coach hunt this year as he played it like a free agent player.

He was the most desirable coach in the league when his contract ran out in Detroit and he announced that he was going to play the field and check out his options before deciding if he was going to return to Detroit or change teams.

He had accomplished all that a coach could want in Detroit winning a Stanley Cup in 2008 and taking them to the playoffs in every season despite not necessarily having the greatest collection of talent.

When his contract ran out it was seen as a great opportunity for any team needing a coach as he had the winning pedigree and the experience to bring a team out of the basement and into the playoffs.

There was plenty of speculation as it seemed clear that Babcock wanted a new challenge and was set to leave Detroit but where was the question.

He was said to be heading to Edmonton until they officially announced that Todd McLellan was their next coach.

Then it seemed like a sure thing that he was headed to Buffalo but a day after those reports came out he signed a mega-deal with the Leafs.

To everyone including Buffalo it seemed like he was going to Western New York but in the end it turned out that he used that potential Buffalo deal as leverage to get his deal with the Leafs.

That worked as the Leafs were already willing to spend a lot of money to get Babcock and ended up making him the highest paid coach in the league.

He signed an 8-year $50-million deal putting him at about the same level as some players in the NHL.

The money will never be an issue with a team that was valued at over $1-billion by Forbes and so they went all out to try to end their long slide.

The Leafs have been one of the worst teams in the last decade making the playoffs only once since the 2005-06 season.

They also hold the terrible distinction of the longest Stanley Cup drought in the NHL as they haven’t won since 1967.

Lately they haven’t been getting any better as they continue to have talent on the team that underperforms and haven’t committed to a rebuild.

That was until Brendan Shanahan took over as the President of the team and went about changing the team.

He left the organization alone for a season to see what he had but with another disappointing season he fired 23 members of the Leafs’ staff and gave strong signs that the rebuild will be in full effect.

The first block in that rebuild is Babcock as Shanahan will need to find a general manager, who will then likely decide his own scouting staff, and then begin work on the roster where stars like captain Dion Phaneuf and leading goal scorer Phil Kessel could be moved to make room for a younger team.

This build will be a long time and Babcock is not the answer for the Leafs as there are a lot more problems to solve if they want to be playing this time next year but it is a great start.

Shanahan has passed his first real test in hiring the best coach available and now he moves on to finding a GM before the draft and beginning to create a team that can win and take the Leafs back to the playoffs.

It is going to be a long path but with the Leafs took one step in the right direction and for that the Leafs took over the headlines while the playoffs continue to be tight.

Overtime
(Extra Thoughts on this week in hockey)

Hamburglar back in Ottawa
Andrew Hammond quickly became a folk hero in Ottawa this season as he guided the Sens to the playoffs throughout the last month and for that performance the man known affectionately as the Hamburglar signed a three-year contract extension

Flyers take a risk
Although Mike Babcock and the Leafs took most of the headlines another coaching move had many interested as the Philadelphia Flyers signed former UND head coach Dave Hakstol as their coach looking to find success with the often tough coach transition from NCAA to NHL

Russians facing sanctions
The Canadians won the World Championship this past week but the story quickly became about the Russians who lost the game and saw some of the players leave the ice before the Canadian national anthem was played in a moment of poor sportsmanship that could lead to sanctions from the IIHF

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