July 2 – Influencers, Hires & Kevyn Adams

On Tap For Today — Tampa Bay at Montreal (For Real!); 8 pm EDT; NBC, CBC, TVAS, SN

Thursday’s Tap-in

HAIL TO THE VIKTOR: The Kings acquired veteran forward Viktor Arvidsson from the Predators on Monday in exchange for a second-round pick in this year’s draft, and a third-rounder next year. Arvidsson has 239 points in 385 career games, all with Nashville.

HOWL YEAH: Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong announced André Tourigny will join the team as head coach, taking over behind the bench following former coach Rick Tocchet’s departure on May 9. Welcome to the desert, coach!

NEVER BEN-IER BEFORE: Possible lottery pick Matty Beniers announced Thursday he’s “leaning towards coming back” to the University of Michigan for his sophomore season after the draft, partly because of how the pandemic negatively impacted his freshman season. Whatever he decides, make sure you check out his highlights!

COME ON BACK, JACK: Buffalo Sabres captain Jack Eichel and the team appear to be nearing a resolution about how to treat his injury, according to his agent. Quick refresh: Eichel wants surgery, but the team’s pretty nervous about it since it’s never been done on an NHL player, and the whole situation has gone south pretty quickly.

WELL THAT’S UNEXPECTED: Former NHL goalie Steve Valiquette is taking analytics to the next level, developing metrics such as ::checks notes:: expected assists. Impressive.

What the Actual F*ck, Bettman

My goodness did the NHL drop the ball when it came to the hire of TikTok influencer Josh Richards. On June 30, the NHL announced that Richards — who is described as a content creator — will serve in a special advisor role to the NHL as a “voice of the fans,” with the goal of growing the league’s youth audience. 

Now, I am in my early thirties. Classified by some as “too old for TIkTok,” but young enough to understand and — dare say — appreciate the app as a marketing tool to attract younger audiences. I am not opposed to the NHL using TikTok to expand its audience, but this is not the way to do it.

Richards is a Toronto native and Maple Leafs fan, and has 25.4 million followers on TikTok. The 19-year-old is well received by the Gen Z crowd, but we can’t forget this is the same generation that ate Tide Pods. A quick scroll through his social media page and you won’t find too many videos with hockey content. Most are lip-syncing to various songs and might be described as dancing — well, TikTok’s version of dancing. 

I can probably write an essay about why Richards is not the best choice to work with the NHL, but I’ll keep this brief. First and foremost, on his first day on the job he says “F*ck the Habs” in his video. I’m not quite sure that represents “voice of the fans” in Montreal. He was hired to represent the entire league — not just the Maple Leafs. Second — and most importantly — he is not a hockey content creator. There are plenty of those on TikTok, yet for some reason the NHL decided to go with (and I can’t believe I am typing this) a “big name.” Instead of the NHL riding the coattails of a (again, I can’t believe I am typing this) TikTok influencer, they should discover someone new who actually displays their love and knowledge for the game in a creative way. Those people exist – I have seen them

The NHL can often be considered as the “Gentleman’s Game.” The league and its players do not get the same negative press that we often see in other leagues with more outspoken personalities, like the NFL and NBA — probably because a Kardashian hasn’t dated one, but I digress. During an Instagram Live, Richards flashed his genitals then responded on Twitter by saying “Stop, it’s over,” before adding “Yo, kinda legendary tho.” That is not the image the NHL should be striving for. By all means, use TikTok to your advantage, but pick a better representation of the league, sport, and the fans.

Hell, I will take one for the team and nominate myself as Richards’ replacement. Gary Bettman, you can find me on Twitter @InStilettosBlog. I look forward to hearing from you.

Feature Friday

With more than 150 writers across North America, The Hockey Writers offer something for everyone. While Pat, Kristy, Ben and I love bringing you content every morning, we wanted to spotlight some of our other writers. Below is a special contribution from one of our talented members.

For Sabres’ GM Kevyn Adams, Every Move This Offseason Counts – Brandon Seltenrich

Brandon Seltenrich is a Buffalo Sabres & San Jose Sharks Contributor for THW and Co-Host of THW’s ‘Sabres Scoop,’ who received his Master of Science in Sport Administration from Canisius College in Buffalo, NY, and founded his website, Seltytending, in 2017. He is an avid hockey writer and podcaster with prior work experience in the OJHL, NWHL, and NCAA. Make sure to follow him on Twitter: @BSalts15

The Buffalo Sabres are in a unique position in the franchise’s history right now. The 2020-21 NHL season was not kind to them — much like the previous nine seasons, all of which ended in the team missing the playoffs — as they set a new franchise record for longest winless streak (18 games) and tied the longest playoff drought in NHL history, with 10 straight seasons of missing the playoffs. Needless to say, rookie general manager Kevyn Adams didn’t meet his own expectations for this past season, let alone anyone else’s.

Adams is no stranger to adversity though, and knows what it takes to win in the NHL. He’s a Stanley Cup champion himself, after all, he won the Cup as a member of the 2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes, so he knows what a winning culture looks like. That’s why, as a western New York native, he’s determined to bring a winning culture to the city of Buffalo and show the fans that this team can be successful once again.

To get the Sabres back on track is no easy ask, but Adams has assured fans and front office staff alike that he’s up to the task. In order to right the ship, Adams has to make a number of tough decisions this summer, as this offseason in particular poses its fair share of problems to get this team back on track. The first item was scratched off his to-do list this week when Don Granato was named the new full-time head coach, shedding his interim status after winning out over other candidates in what Adams repeatedly called an “extensive interview process.”

But securing a head coach isn’t the only item on Adams’ to-do list this summer. Also on the docket is addressing trade rumors surrounding star player and captain Jack Eichel, as well as centre Sam Reinhart. If those players can’t be convinced to stay, fetching a proper return for them is going to be key to the Sabres’ future. Adams also needs to make sure the Sabres don’t lose a valuable piece in the Seattle Expansion Draft, and that they choose wisely with the first-overall pick in the 2021 Entry Draft — as which player they select could make or break the next few seasons for the team, not to mention have a lasting impact years down the road.

All in all, there’s one underlying thing to consider when it comes to this Sabres offseason — every single decision matters, and in a big way. The legacy Adams leaves on the Sabres during his tenure as GM will most certainly depend on how he navigates the treacherous waters in these coming weeks and months. How the Sabres come out on the other side of it will depend on his decisions as well.

Coach Surfing

With the announced hiring of former Ottawa 67’s bench boss André Tourigny as the new head coach of the Arizona Coyotes, it appears as though each of the league’s 32 top jobs are now filled ahead of the 2021-22 NHL season. Technically, Dominique Ducharme still carries an interim label in Montreal, but surely a trip to the Stanley Cup Final should make the full-time role all but a formality.

That the off-season coaching carousel didn’t even really make it to the off-season highlights how stability seemed to be the order of the day. The biggest coaching “free agent,” Carolina’s Rod Brind’Amour, agreed to remain with the Hurricanes. Apart from interim situations, only four clubs — the Coyotes, Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers, and, of course, Seattle Kraken — had vacancies to fill.

Now that the 2021 version of NHL head coach musical chairs has finalized, we know the identities of the new faces who will be behind the benches come next season. Let’s break down each hire and what’s expected of them:

André Tourigny – Arizona Coyotes

Apart from holding head coaching experience at the NHL level, Tourigny checks every box for Arizona. He previously served as an assistant with the Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators, earned consecutive OHL Coach of the Year honors with the 67s, and led Team Canada to gold at the 2020 World Junior Championships. As always in the desert, Tourigny’s potential for success will be tied to the support and financial commitment he gets from ownership.

Brad Larsen – Columbus Blue Jackets

Say this for Columbus’ hiring of Brad Larsen — they know what they’re getting. Larsen has spent nine years ascending the coaching ranks of the Blue Jackets’ organization. GM Jarmo Kekäläinen acknowledged that none of the candidates he interviewed could surpass what he termed “the Lars Bar.” Larsen may seem like an underwhelming hire, but his best qualities could be that a) he’s not Tortorella and b) that he’s readily familiar with the young club’s pipeline.

Gerard Gallant – New York Rangers

It’s hard not to root for Gallant, who was — almost literally — kicked to the curb in Florida, then dumped after an incredibly successful run in Vegas and replaced by a bitter rival. Now, after leading Team Canada to an unlikely gold medal at the World Championships, he takes over in the Big Apple with a roster that features Artemi Panarin, Alexis Lafrenière, and Norris winner Adam Fox. Things might just work out for Gallant, after all.

Dave Hakstol – Seattle Kraken

Kraken GM Ron Francis is incredibly well connected throughout the league, so it came as some surprise that he went with a coach he had no obvious professional history with. It has been reported, however, that they forged a bond during a car trip from Slovakia to the Czech Republic, sharing ties to Hockey Canada and a common attention to detail. What that means for the NHL’s 32nd franchise is anyone’s guess, but the former Philadelphia Flyers head coach is likely hard at work already.

Don Granato – Buffalo Sabres

For all that went wrong in Buffalo last season, Don Granato was clearly not the problem. Stepping in as interim head coach at the season’s halfway mark following Ralph Krueger’s firing, Granato led the Sabres to a marginal improvement — turning in a 9-16-3 second half record after starting the season 6-18-4. Now comes the part where he figures out who he gets to coach, with the Jack Eichel trade watch and the club’s No. 1 draft pick looming. Patience, Don, patience.