FROM THE CREASE with BRUCE BERLET

bruce mug shot 1BY: Bruce Berlet

The Hartford Whalers  NHL Alumni Coaching Tree continued to grow Friday.

Former Whalers wing Randy Cunneyworth and defenseman Randy Ladouceur were reunited as assistants to Montreal Canadiens coach Jacques Martin.

Cunneyworth and Ladouceur worked together for the first time with the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs last season, helping the Canadiens’ top affiliate to a 44-27-2-7 record in the regular season and a trip to the Western Conference finals, where they lost in seven games to the Houston Aeros.

“We are very pleased to have both Randy Cunneyworth and Randy Ladouceur joining our coaching staff,” Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier said in a statement released by the team. “This duo did a tremendous job in their first year with the Hamilton Bulldogs last season. Their experience, dedication and hard work will inevitably contribute to the development of our young players, which is a key factor to the success of our team. We have already started our preparation for the upcoming season and we welcome both Randy Cunneyworth and Randy Ladouceur as the newest members of our coaching staff.”

Cunneyworth spent two seasons as an assistant for the former Atlanta Thrashers (now Winnipeg Jets) before returning to the AHL as a head coach. He held the same position for seven seasons with the Rochester Americans before joining the Thrashers. He was the AHL Coach of the Year in 2004-05 after a 15-year playing career that included most of five seasons with the Whalers (1989-94). He has spent nine seasons as a head coach in the AHL with Hamilton (2010-11) and Rochester (2000-08) and ranks seventh all-time in victories (350-302-68).

Ladouceur has 10 years of NHL experience as an assistant coach with the Whalers, Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs. He was head coach of Oshawa of the Ontario Hockey League in 2005-06, and a 14-year-old named John Tavares, the first overall pick of the New York Islanders in 2009, had 45 goals and 77 points for him. Ladouceur’s 14-year NHL career included 61/2 seasons with the Whalers, where he succeeded Ron Francis as captain.

Other former Whalers players in the NHL are head coaches Joel Quenneville (Chicago), Dave Tippett (Phoenix) and Kevin Dineen (Florida), associate head coach Doug Jarvis (Boston) and assistants Doug Houda (Boston), Dean Evason (Washington), Tom Rowe (Carolina), Jack McIlhargey (Philadelphia), Brent Peterson (Nashville), Dave Barr (Minnesota), Nelson Emerson (Los Angeles), Mark Reeds (Ottawa), Todd Richards (Columbus), Brad Shaw (St. Louis), John Stevens (Los Angeles) and Sean Burke, Doug Sulliman and John Anderson, all in Phoenix.

The Canadiens also announced Clément Jodoin would succeed Cunneyworth as the head coach for Hamilton. Jodoin was a Canadiens assistant for five seasons before spending the past five seasons as head coach for Lewiston and Rimouski in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

“Clément has close to 30 years of experience in hockey, and his reputation speaks for itself,” Gauthier said. “His expertise and knowledge of the game will prove to be valuable assets for our organization. Clément had the chance to work with several young players during his coaching career and we are very pleased that our organization will again benefit from his experience.”

Last season, Jodoin completed his fourth go-round as head coach of the Rimouski Oceanic, where he had a 140-112-8-5 record. In 2008, Jodoin was an assistant coach with Canada’s gold-medal team at the 2008 World Junior Championships in the Czech Republic. Prior to that, he was head coach of the Lewiston Maineiacs from 2004-07 and was honored by the Canadian Hockey League with the Brian Kilrea Coach of the Year Award in 2007.

Jodoin also served as head coach and general manager of the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads from 1994-97 before spending six seasons (1997-2003) in various positions within the Canadiens’ hockey operations department, including assistant coach, scout and director of player development. A native of St-Cesaire, Quebec, he also has been an NHL assistant coach in Pittsburgh (1987-88) and Quebec (1992-94) and was head coach of the AHL’s Halifax Citadels in 1990-92.

RANGERS ABOUT $10 MILLION UNDER THE SALARY CAP

After the New York Rangers signed former Hartford Wolf Pack forward Brandon Dubinsky to a four-year, $16.8 million contract Thursday, they have about $10.2 million left under the $64.3 million salary cap to sign former Wolf Pack wing Ryan Callahan and fill out the remainder of the roster.

Callahan is the only one of the Rangers’ five restricted free agents still be to signed and has a salary arbitration hearing set for Thursday. He is an assistant captain, trustworthy player, a favorite of coach John Tortorella and face of the franchise who is expected to be named the successor of bought-out Trumbull native Chris Drury as captain of the team. Callahan’s agent, Steve Bartlett, said he and his client would like to settle before the hearing, and they seem likely to get their wish. The Rangers have not had an arbitration hearing since they walked away from a $3.9 million, one-year award to Nikolai Zherdev on Aug. 4, 2009.

As for the Rangers’ salary cap situation, here’s a rundown of those expected to be on the 2011-12 roster, barring injuries:

Goaltenders: Henrik Lundqvist, $6.875 million; Marty Biron, $875,000

Defensemen: Marc Staal, $3.397 million; Dan Girardi, $3.325 million; Ryan McDonagh, $1.3 million; Michael Sauer, $1.25 million

Centers: Brad Richards, $6.667 million; Artem Anisimov, $1.875 million; Brian Boyle, $1.7 million; Derek Stepan, $875,000

Wings: Marian Gaborik, $7.5 million; Dubinsky, $4.2 million; *-Wojtek Wolski, $3.8 million; Sean Avery, $1.937.5 million; Mike Rupp, $1.5 million; Ruslan Fedotenko, $1.4 million; Brandon Prust, $800,000.

Buyout: Chris Drury, $3.717 million.

Bonus overage from 2010-11: $527,000.

Total: $54,098.5 million; Cap space: $10,201.5 million

Unsigned wing: Callahan, approximately $4.2-4.75 million; Vinny Prospal, $1 million.

Unsigned defenseman: Steve Eminger, approximately $750,000-$900,000.

Signed defense candidates: Tim Erixon, $1.75 million; Michael Del Zotto, $1,087.5 million; Pavel Valentenko, $850,000; Tomas Kundratek, $816,666.

Signed forward candidates: Mats Zuccarello, $1.75 million; Erik Christenson, $925,000; Ryan Bourque, $900,000; Carl Hagelin, $663,000; John Mitchell, $650,000; Dale Weise, $605,000; Chad Kolarik, $525,000; Kris Newbury, $512,500.

*-Potential buyout after Callahan contract signing: Wolski, $467,000 charge ($3.333 million saving).

Note: The salary of any player who clears waivers and is assigned to the Connecticut Whale doesn’t count toward the Rangers’ salary cap, as was – and is expected to be again – with the $6.5 million of defenseman Wade Redden. … Thursday was the 15th anniversary of Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky signing with the Rangers as an unrestricted free agent. The NHL’s all-time leading scorer (2,857 points in 1,487 games) was lured to New York by his former Edmonton teammate and close friend Mark Messier for the 1997-98 season. Universally recognized as the greatest player in NHL history, Gretzky finished his storied career with three memorable seasons on Broadway. The most amazing statistic about “The Great One” is that if he never scored any of his record 894 goals in 20 seasons, his assists alone (1,963) would have made him the NHL all-time leading scorer. Messier is second on all-time points list with 1,887, followed by former Whalers greats Gordie Howe (1,850) and Ron Francis (1,798). Yes, believe it or not, two of the top scorers in NHL history played in Hartford. No other sport or team can say that, which is why it would be nice to see the Whale get more support from the local media. And more support from the fans is the first step toward Hartford getting another NHL team. If Winnipeg could do it, why not Hartford?

ISLANDERS, YASHIN REUNITING?

Newsday reported Friday that the New York Islanders are in talks to bring back free agent Alexei Yashin, who played 12 seasons in the NHL (1993-2007). He played for the Islanders from 2001 to 2007, when he was bought out of the remainder of his contract. The 37-year-old forward has played in his native Russia the past four seasons.

Yashin’s agent, Mark Gandler, told Newsday’s Katie Strang that talks were originally exploratory but have been “growing in seriousness.” According to Strang, Islanders general manager Garth Snow also has confirmed the camps have talked about a return for Yashin.

Yashin had 781 points in 850 NHL games with the Islanders and Ottawa Senators. But after the Islanders lost to the Buffalo Sabres in the first round of the 2007 Stanley Cup playoffs, Snow bought out the remaining four years of Yashin’s contract. The buyout will cost the Islanders $2.204 million in cap space through the 2014-15 season and would remain if Yashin signs a new deal with the team.

The Islanders acquired Yashin during the 2001 draft from the Senators for the No. 2 pick (Jason Spezza), Zdeno Chara and Bill Muckalt in arguably the best trade in Ottawa history. Yashin was Islanders captain his last two seasons.

CONNECTICUT HOCKEY HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM COMING

A Connecticut Hockey Hall of Fame and Museum is scheduled to be announced soon. The planned shrine will honor the greats of Connecticut hockey, pro and amateur, and there are about a few dozen shoo-ins that immediately come to mind to this reporter/writer, starting with Howe, Francis, Drury, Hall of Famer Brian Leetch and the man mostly responsible for bringing the NHL to Hartford, Howard Baldwin, the former Whalers owner and managing general partner who is now chairman and CEO of Whalers Sports & Entertainment, which handles the business operations of the Whale.

A hockey Hall of Fame and Museum is a tremendous idea and long overdue since the only major-league team in Connecticut has been a hockey team, the Whalers from 1974 to 1997. And the Wolf Pack and Whale have kept the hockey tradition going in Hartford, with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers joining the Triple-A landscape a decade ago.

As we said, a hockey Hall of Fame is long overdue, and I’d be delighted to help in its creation in any way possible.

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One response to “FROM THE CREASE with BRUCE BERLET

  1. Never forget that New Haven, was THE hockey presence in CT for many years mostly in minor league status with the old Ramblers ( Ranger farm),the Tomahawks in the EHL and then the Blades also in the EHL.
    under Don Perry.