FROM THE CREASE with BRUCE BERLET

bruce mug shot 1BY: Bruce Berlet

In an extensive interview with “Puck Daddy” at Yahoo! Sports, former Hartford Whalers icon and captain Kevin Dineen discussed his new first NHL head coaching job with the Florida Panthers and his old surroundings in Hartford.

Dineen will have to deal with 12 new faces brought in by Panthers general manager Dale Tallon, who began clearing salary cap space last season and made an extensive overhaul after Pete DeBoer failed to get Florida to the postseason in his three seasons before being fired on April 11 and hired by the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday.

But the moves weren’t made haphazard since Dineen was named coach June 1.

“You can’t just do it to do it,” Dineen said.

But Dineen has got plenty of input from former Whalers teammates, especially when it comes to possible line combinations.

“That’s been going on a lot this week,” Dineen said. “I was playing a lot with it early on. I guess you can say I’m fortunate to have a decent amount of people around the league who can give me feedback. Someone like (Chicago Blackhawks coach) Joel Quenneville could talk to me about three of our players. Or Dave Tippett in Phoenix had a couple of our players. Or (assistant coach) Dean Evason in Washington that had two of our players. The circle of confidants out there made me feel more comfortable, having actually coached these players before.”

Are Quenney, David and Deano honest?

“It’s like anything,” Dineen said. “You get the real positive feedback, and you get the constructive criticism as well. It ain’t all flowers and roses, for sure.”

But Dineen enjoyed discussing two stints with the Whalers and fittingly scoring the final goal in franchise history in a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on April 13, 1997.

Q: Our readers will revolt if I don’t ask a few questions from the Whalers. First: Is “Brass Bonanza” your ringtone?

Dineen: (Laughs) “Brass Bonanza” is not my ringtone, but when you put me six feet under, they might throw “The Brass Bonanza” in there. It’s the one song I’m most associated with.

Q: We’ve been told you scored the last goal in Whalers history. Where is that puck, sir?

Dineen: It’s sitting on a mantle in Lake George, N.Y.

Q: We got the Winnipeg Jets back. Do you ever envision a day when we might see the NHL return to Hartford?

Dineen: There’s some incredible memories in Hartford, that’s for sure. And there are a large group of people who want (NHL commissioner) Mr. (Gary) Bettman to know they’re ready to support a team. But as you know, there’s a lot of work to be done before a team can be put back there. It starts with infrastructure, and I think that’s an advantage that Winnipeg had with the beautiful rink.

(A return to Hartford) would be incredible to see, and I think they have the right person in (former Whalers owner and managing general partner and current Whalers Sports and Entertainment chairman and CEO) Howard Baldwin working for it.”

Q: Finally, I wanted to talk about rivalry. You played for Hartford and Philly, so you know how great rivalries stoke fan passions. The Panthers have never really had that, even against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Have you thought about that at all in coming to this market, knowing that selling tickets is going to be part of the equation?

Dineen: When you played in the 1980s and 1990s, you knew that when Hartford and Boston played, it was going to be an absolute war. When someone’s right across the wetlands (like the Lightning), there’s certainly a rivalry. Give them credit. They’ve done a heck of a job. It starts at the top. There’s good buzz over there. But we’d like to clip them a little bit next year.

And a new Whalers would love to clip the old Bruins in the not too distant future.

SANGUINETTI HOPES TO REALIZE POTENTIAL

Former Wolf Pack and Rangers defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti has been trying to live up to being a first-round pick for five years.

The 21st selection in the 2006 entry draft played only five games with the Rangers before being traded to the Carolina Hurricanes on June 26, 2010 for a sixth-round pick that year and a second-round pick in June. Now the 23-year-old who grew up a Rangers fan idolizing Cheshire native and Rangers Hall of Fame defenseman Brian Leetch is determined to become a permanent fixture in the NHL.

“I’m at the age now where I need to put it all together and not just be content with being good offensively or defensively,” Sanguinetti, who signed a one-year, two-way deal ($600,000 in NHL, $62,500 in AHL) with the Hurricanes on Friday, told Brian Compton of NHL.com. “I’m just going to go out there and play my game and rely on my instincts. Obviously, I’m an offensive guy and that’s what I’m always going to be, but I just need to make sure I’m good on both sides of the puck.”

Sanguinetti had a solid training camp with the Hurricanes last September and accompanied the club on its NHL Premiere Series trip to Helsinki, Finland. But he never cracked the Hurricanes lineup, was sent to the Charlotte Checkers and almost immediately began to experience pain in his hip. He tried to play through it, but by mid-December, he had surgery and was expected to miss the remainder of the regular season.

“He went through a tough year last year with the hip surgery,” said Checkers coach Jeff Daniels, who played wing for the Whalers and Beast of New Haven. “It does take some time to come back from it. To Bobby’s credit, he came back sooner than expected. He was very driven to get back for the playoffs, and he was able to get back a couple of weeks before the end of the season. Now he’s got all summer to train and move forward and push for a job next year in Carolina.”

After missing 47 games, Sanguinetti returned to the Checkers’ lineup in March and finished the regular season with three goals and 12 assists in 31 regular-season games before adding two assists in 10 playoff games.

“It was tough, more mentally than anything,” Sanguinetti said. “I had a really good camp and thought I’d maybe get a chance to play (with Carolina). Going down pretty early in the season was tough. I’m just trying to put that behind me now. I’m healthy and ready to get back at it.”

Sanguinetti made his NHL debut with the Rangers on Nov. 27, 2009 at Tampa Bay. A New Jersey native, he appeared in his first game at Madison Square Garden three nights later when he played about 11 minutes in a 5-2 loss to Pittsburgh. Less than a month later, he was back in the AHL for good, where he was a two-time All-Star for the Wolf Pack. Between 2008 and 2010, Sanguinetti had 15 goals and 65 assists in 139 games.

But Sanguinetti was expendable with the Rangers also having young defensemen such as All-Star Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Michael Sauer, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Del Zotto, Pavel Valentenko and Tomas Kundratek.

“It was just a tough situation … they had a lot of young guys coming up,” Sanguinetti said. “I told them that if I wasn’t in the plans, I understood. That’s ultimately what it came down to.

“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster. You get the first-round tag put on you and things didn’t quite work out in New York. I had two good years in the minors, but I just wasn’t able to crack the lineup. I went to Carolina and had a really good camp and was able to learn a lot from the coaches there. I feel like my game kind of developed. Even with being hurt, I was able to learn a lot about the system and work on things on the defensive side of the puck. Now I have to put it all together. I’m healthy and I’m excited.”

Sanguinetti could be a core player with the Checkers because of his experience, patience with the puck and ability to make plays and run the power play, but he has to make sure he’s not a liability defensively if he’s going to stick with the Hurricanes.

“That’s something I think he’s aware of,” Daniels said. “He’s working on it. It takes some time for defensemen to figure out all the ins and outs of the game. Bobby wants to get to that next level and he’s working at it. He’ll go to training camp in September and we’ll see what happens.”

Sanguinetti has plenty to prove to critics and himself.

“Right now, I’m just focused on my goals and get where I need to be,” he said. “After the tough year I had mentally and physically, I’m ready to get back at it.”

STAMKOS RE-SIGNS WITH LIGHTNING

After weeks of rumors and speculation, the Tampa Bay Lightning and star restricted free-agent wing Steven Stamkos have agreed to a new five-year, $37.5 million contract.

Stamkos admitted the rumors grew “tiresome,” but he never lost a minute of sleep throughout the negotiations that took longer than both he and Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman have anticipated.

“The process takes some time,” Yzerman said. “We started at this last fall and you watch the season unfold. Once you don’t have a deal done prior to playoffs, you take time off there, which delays things. Then the season ends and we all take care of other matters and negotiations. It just does take some time and some compromise on both sides to eventually reach a deal.”

But Yzerman was taking a calculated risk by not getting Stamkos under contract by noon July 1, when the player with the most goals in the NHL during the past two seasons (96) became a restricted free agent and able to sign an offer sheet with another club.

“We were prepared to deal with that,” Yzerman said. “We have the right to match an offer sheet and as long as we have the right to match it we know we’re not losing the player.”

But, to Stamkos’ knowledge, no offer came and he never thought of playing for another team. So Stamkos wasn’t going anywhere, and now he’s with the Lightning for at least five more years at an average annual salary of $7.5 million, which puts him in the top 10 in the NHL in terms of cap hits but second on his team behind captain Vinny Lecavalier.

Stamkos’ new contract takes him until he’s 26 years old. He said a five-year deal “just made sense.”

“It takes me one year past being eligible for unrestricted free agency, and that’s usually the year that if teams want to lock you up again they work on an extension,” Stamkos said. “It was comfortable from the team’s point of view and for me it was comfortable as well. It keeps you motivated and wanting more.”

Stamos, 21, said he appreciated all the work that Yzerman and team owner Jeff Vinik have done in transforming the franchise. He was second in the NHL last season with 45 goals, and his 91 points were fifth. He added six goals and seven assists, including three three-point games, in 18 playoff games to help the Lightning make the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2004.

Stamkos also was second in the league with 17 power-play goals, and his eight game-winning goals set a single-season franchise record. The Lightning was 26-6-3 when he scored and 8-0-0 when he scored more than once. He was honored by the NHL at the end of the season with a spot on the 2011 NHL second All-Star Team.

Stamkos became the sixth player to reach 100 goals before his 21st birthday when he scored against Carolina on Dec. 20, 2010. In 2009-10, he tied for the NHL lead with 51 goals and won a share of the Rocket Richard Trophy. At age 20, he was third-youngest player in history to score 50 goals in a season. His 96 goals the last two seasons are the most in the League.

The first pick in the 2008 draft, Stamkos played all 82 games last season for the second straight season and has missed only three games in his career, all during his rookie season.

“Steven is extremely important to this franchise and is part of the foundation of our hockey team,” Yzerman said. “We are very pleased to have him signed and look forward to seeing him in a Lightning uniform for years to come.”

Especially after the Lightning reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. Stamkos said the experience of playing in 18 games in a single postseason is “invaluable” and something he hopes to build on with Tampa Bay’s core returning virtually intact.

Yzerman said he’s most impressed with Stamkos’ competitive level when the games get bigger.

“He really asserts himself,” Yzerman said. “The excitement of a big game brings out the best in him. Regardless of statistics, when games were important, he looked comfortable and was very assertive in those games.”

DUBINSKY ARBITRATION HEARING THURSDAY

Barring a last-minute agreement, former Wolf Pack forward Brandon Dubinsky, the Rangers’ leading scorer last season with personal NHL highs for goals (24), assists (30) and points (54), will have his salary arbitration hearing Thursday.

The length of the contract, not money, reportedly is the sticking point, with the Rangers’ second-round pick in 2004 looking for something in the $5 million range for three or four years. The Rangers are said to be offering two years at $4.5 million per, so the happy medium usually settled on by an arbitrator would be in the $4.75 million range for two or three years.

Complicating the matter is a pending new collective bargaining agreement and former Wolf Pack wing Ryan Callahan’s arbitration hearing scheduled a week from Thursday. Callahan, the leading candidate to be the Rangers’ new captain and their second-leading scorer last season despite missing 20 games, is another homegrown franchise cornerstone who also excels at killing penalties and is an emerging influence in the locker room.

Callahan’s agent, Steve Bartlett, told the New York media that he understands Dubinsky is a higher priority because of the timing. “There’s a pecking order,” Bartlett said.

That also applies to unrestricted free-agent defenseman Steve Eminger, who would be third in line but reportedly is close to a one-year, $750,000 contract after earning $1.1 million last season. The Rangers have already re-signed restricted free agents Brian Boyle and two former Wolf Pack players, defenseman Michael Sauer and center Artem Anisimov … If Whale fans want to get an early look of some of their favorites this season and in the future, they’ll be able to see them in mid-September when MSG Network televises the prospects tournament in Traverse City, Mich. The Rangers will play in the Gretzky Division against St. Louis on Sept. 10 at 7 p.m., Dallas on Sept. 11 at 6 p.m. and Carolina on Sept. 13 at 3:30 p.m. There also will be a classification game on Sept. 14 based on records from the Gretzky and Howe Division, which includes teams from Detroit, Buffalo, Columbus and Minnesota. The final day will feature the top seeds in the championship game, as well as the other teams in the third, fifth and seventh place games. Coverage will include behind-the-scene access to the Rangers coaches and scouting teams and interviews with the prospects. Among the Rangers prospects expected to play are goalies Jason Missiaen and Scott Stajcer, defensemen Dylan McIlrath and Tim Erixon and forwards Carl Hagelin, Ryan Bourque, Christian Thomas, Tommy Grant, Andrew Yogan, Jason Wilson and J.T. Miller, the Rangers’ first-round pick in June. The previous 13 tournaments have included future Rangers such as Dubinsky, Callahan, Sauer, Anisimov, Derek Stepan and former Wolf Pack players Marc Staal, Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh. The NHL Network also might show some games. … Goalie Chad Johnson won’t be in the prospects games, but he told Howlings that he is working out a contract with the Rangers and expects to be back with the NHL team or in Hartford with the Whale. The Rangers qualified the 25-year-old Johnson, who was 16-19-3 with a 2.72 goals-against average, .901 save percentage and two shutouts with the Whale last season before being called up by the Rangers on March 2 to back up Henrik Lundqvist after Martin Biron sustained a season-ending broken collarbone when hit by a shot in practice. Johnson allowed two goals on 11 shots in one period of relief in a 6-2 loss to the Islanders on March 31. Johnson is 40-37-5 in two seasons with the Wolf Pack/Whale and 1-2-1 with the Rangers since being acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins for a fifth-round pick in 2009 draft on June 27, 2009. He was a fifth-round pick of the Penguins in 2006 while playing at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.

CONKLIN BECOMES RED WINGS BACKUP GOALIE

A day after former backup goalie Chris Osgood retired to become goalie coach, the Detroit Red Wings signed former Wolf Pack goalie Ty Conklin to a one-year contract Wednesday.

Conklin, 35, will back up Jimmy Howard in his return to Detroit after spending the last two seasons with the St. Louis Blues. Conklin had a 25-11-2 record with a 2.51 goals-against average, .909 save percentage and six shutouts in 51 games with the Blues. He is 91-61-4 with a 2.64 GAA, .908 save percentage and 16 shutouts in 91 NHL games with the Penguins, Blue Jackets, Sabres and Oilers. He was 1-0-1 in two shootouts with the Wolf Pack in the 2005-06 season while on loan from the Oilers. … The Blackhawks named Ted Dent coach of the Rockford IceHogs, replacing Bill Peters, who was recently named an assistant coach with the Red Wings. A 41-year-old native of Toronto, Dent is entering his sixth season in the Blackhawks organization and fifth with Rockford. He spent the previous five seasons as an assistant under Peters and Mike Haviland with the IceHogs (2007-11) and team’s previous AHL affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals (2006-07). His teams have compiled a record of 216-145-17-22 and qualified for the playoffs in four of the five seasons. Following a collegiate career at St. Lawrence University, Dent played professional hockey for parts of four seasons before becoming an assistant with the Capitals and ECHL Kelly Cup champion Trenton Titans (2004-05) and head coach of the ECHL’s Columbia Inferno (2005-06) before joining the Blackhawks organization. …The Winnipeg Jets named Mark Morrison the assistant coach of the team’s new AHL affiliate in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Morrison, 48, joins newly appointed head coach Keith McCambridge after spending the last five seasons coaching the ECHL’s Victoria Salmon Kings, coaching two seasons against McCambridge when he was the head coach of the Alaska Aces. Morrison was a third-round pick of the Rangers in 1981 and had one goal and one assists in 10 games on Broadway before helping Team Canada win the gold medal in the 1981 World Junior Championships and a bronze medal in 1982 and then playing 15 years in Italy and Scotland.

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