Nicholas J. Cotsonika

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Nicholas J. Cotsonika is the NHL writer for Yahoo! Sports. He previously worked for the Detroit Free Press, where he covered the Red Wings, Lions and several other subjects. He has written three books, including "Hockey Gods: The Inside Story of the Red Wings' Hall of Fame Team."

  • Ryan O'Reilly: The Factor on 'franchise player' expectations and his future in Colorado

    DETROIT — Forty-five minutes after the first guy had left the ice, the last guy was still out there. Some members of the Colorado Avalanche were already showered, dressed and boarding a team bus while Ryan O’Reilly did one of his funky drills – taking a pass, popping the puck over a stick shaft, maneuvering it around a water bottle, firing a shot. Everyone was gone by the time O’Reilly did the last of his gassers.

    Ryan O'Reilly wants to be a go-to guy in all situations for the Avs. (Getty Images)O’Reilly was doubled over, stick on his knees, when a maintenance man pushed a stepladder across the ice, now an empty, choppy mess. Was it a hint to get the heck off so someone else could work?

    “Guess so,” O’Reilly said with a smile.

    This is who O’Reilly is, in one sense. He’s a first-one-on, last-one-off kind of guy. He’s always staying after practice and coming up with creative drills, developing skills you didn’t know were skills, and he takes pride in his conditioning. Veteran goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere called him the Avs’ hardest-working player “by

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  • Marc Bergevin, Michel Therrien have brought back the mojo to the Montreal Canadiens

    They met for three days early in the summer. Then they met for three weeks leading up to training camp – or what was supposed to be training camp, anyway.

    Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien has brought life back to the Habs. (USA Today Sports)Michel Therrien and his coaches knew what they were getting into. They were taking over the Montreal Canadiens, the 24-time Stanley Cup champions, after the team had fallen to last in the NHL’s Eastern Conference. They were going to a city that expected to win after the team hadn’t won. They would have little time to get to know each other, get to know their players and install their systems if there were a lockout and the season started late. To satisfy the fans, to turn this around, they needed to get to work. Now.

    They studied the roster. They watched video of last year’s team. They went over everything methodically – player by player, system by system. D zone. Neutral zone. Forecheck. Trap. Power play. Penalty kill.

    “We tried to see each guy,” said assistant coach Gerard Gallant, “and tried to figure out how he plays and

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  • Three Periods: The problems with the NHL's realignment proposal – and how to fix them

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika's weekly Three Periods column will appear on Thursdays. This week's topics include solutions for NHL realignment; Andrei Markov’s savvy rubs off on P.K. Subban; the aging Red eight-goal Twitter joke.

    FIRST PERIOD: Unsolicited solutions for the NHL's realignment proposal

    The NHL expects an answer on realignment from the NHL Players’ Association by the end of this week. It remains to be seen what that answer will be, even though the league and the union have been working on the issue for three weeks and the league wants this settled so the schedule-makers can start on 2013-14.

    Columbus and Detroit would move to the East in the NHL's realignment proposal. (Getty)The snag: The NHL’s new proposal did not fix a key problem the NHLPA had with the initial proposal. The league just changed the look of it.

    Under the proposal passed by the NHL’s board of governors in December 2011, there would have been four conferences based on time zones – two with eight teams, two with seven teams. The top four teams in each conference would have made the

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  • Damien Brunner shooting to become latest overlooked European to make it big with the Red Wings

    DETROIT — Did you know Damien Brunner is one of the leading goal-scorers in the NHL? No? That’s OK. Until someone told him the other night, Brunner didn’t realize it himself.

    Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk welcome Damien Brunner (L-R) to Detroit. (USA Today)“I am?” he said.

    He is. He has 10 goals in 19 games for the Detroit Red Wings, tied for seventh in the league, four off the lead. But it has been a blur coming out of nowhere – Switzerland, specifically, where they play two games a week, maybe three, and ride a bus around a little country.

    “I have to be honest with you,” Brunner said with a laugh. “Since I got here, I feel like I have no time to study the stats because I’m always sleeping and recovering and eating. I know that I have 10, but I have no idea who’s leading the league right now.”

    Let’s look. Steven Stamkos entered Wednesday night in first place with 14 goals. No surprise. Next were James Neal and John Tavares with 13, Thomas Vanek and Patrick Marleau with 12, and James van Riemsdyk with 11.

    Then there were seven players with 10. All

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  • The ongoing evolution of Patrick Kane: Blackhawks superstar better on – and off – the ice

    CHICAGO — This much is true: Patrick Kane got sick of buddies texting him: “I hear you’re going to (fill in the blank).” He got tired of critics picking apart his play. And yes, he got embarrassed when more of his off-ice escapades ended up on Deadspin and the Chicago Blackhawks brass sat him down for a talk.

    Patrick Kane had points in 15 of 18 games as the Blackhawks got off to a flying start. (USA Today)“Anytime you hear different things – whether it’s trade rumors or people saying you’re not living up to your complete potential – you’re obviously going to get ticked off about that,” Kane said. “I feel I have a little bit of something to prove this year.”

    Kane has nine goals and 23 points in 18 games, eighth in the NHL scoring race. That’s a 41-goal, 104-point pace over a full 82-game schedule. While the Blackhawks have earned at least a point in each of their first 18 games, an NHL record, he has put up at least a point in 15.

    Last season, opposing coaches whispered that Kane made life easy on them when he stopped skating and cheated defensively. This season?

    “He

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  • Chicago's spectacular start conjures up comparisons to 2010 Stanley Cup-winning squad

    CHICAGO — He did it once. Then he did it a second time. After the Chicago goaltender made a save Friday night, Pat Foley, the Blackhawks’ beloved broadcaster, said the name Antti Niemi. He meant Ray Emery, of course. Niemi was at the other end of the ice, playing for the San Jose Sharks.

    The record-setting 'Hawks have top-to-bottom depth like they did when they won the Cup in 2010. (AP)To be fair, they weren’t Foley-ian slips. They were Freudian slips. These Blackhawks look like the 2009-10 Blackhawks, the ones who brought the Stanley Cup back to Chicago for the first time since 1961. They are atop the NHL again – 14-0-3 after their 2-1 victory over San Jose, setting a record by starting the season with points in 17 straight games.

    More important, they are a complete team again. What these 17 games have shown is that, for the first time since blowing up half the roster because of a salary-cap crunch after winning the Cup, the ’Hawks have stars and a strong supporting cast – four lines, seven ‘D,’ good goaltending, sharp penalty killing. If there is a nit to pick, it’s that

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  • Three Periods: Searching for the real San Jose Sharks

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika's weekly Three Periods column will appear on Thursdays. This week's topics include the search for the real San Jose Sharks; Marian Hossa’s quick recovery; the Devils and David Clarkson continue to surprise; Lindy Ruff’s legacy in Buffalo; and, the latest on NHL realignment.

    FIRST PERIOD: Are the Sharks a great team, an awful team, or somewhere in between?

    Patrick Marleau, like the entire Sharks team, had a red-hot start and then went off the rails. (USA Today)Who are the San Jose Sharks? Are they the team that started 7-0-0? Are they the team that went 0-4-3 in their next seven? Are they Jekyll, Hyde or somewhere in between?

    “I’d like to think that we’re a little closer to the first seven games rather than in the middle, but we have to prove that,” said Sharks coach Todd McLellan on Thursday. “We can guess and speculate and talk about what’s on paper and what we’re supposed to be, but we are what we are when we play. We’re either an efficient team that can be real effective, or we’re inefficient and we lose games. So the next little bit will tell us what we

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  • After Lindy Ruff's firing, it's time for Buffalo Sabres to take top-to-bottom inventory

    Two years ago, Terry Pegula introduced himself as the new owner of the Buffalo Sabres. He choked up as he called Gilbert Perreault his hero. He declared the team’s reason for existence was now to win the Stanley Cup. He also quoted the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Art Rooney on stability and success.

    The Sabres fired Lindy Ruff after nearly 16 years as the team's coach. (AP)“Panic doesn’t seem to work,” Pegula said at that news conference on Feb. 22, 2011. “Our feeling is that you pick good people and you stick with them. If you have the right people in place, you always have a chance to be successful.”

    Pegula stuck with coach Lindy Ruff and general manager Darcy Regier, a tandem since 1997. He gave them the financial support they had lacked before. He even gave them contract extensions.

    When Ruff was fired Wednesday, it wasn’t panic. It was the opposite of panic. The man outlasted popes and presidents – in pro sports. Ruff was the longest-tenured coach in the NHL. One hundred and seventy coaching changes were made in the league while he was in Buffalo.

    But

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  • From prospect to player, Nazem Kadri is making the most of his time in Toronto

    The key moment for Nazem Kadri came not with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but with the Toronto Marlies, their minor-league affiliate. It came in a meeting with Dallas Eakins, the kind of meeting coaches often have with skilled players about the other side of the game.

    The Leafs have given Nazem Kadri a chance, and he's responded by leading the team in scoring. (USA Today)Simply telling Kadri what to do wasn't working, so Eakins started asking questions: "If you were your opponent in this situation, what would you want Nazem Kadri to do? What would you not want Nazem Kadri to do?" Kadri discovered that he knew the answers – where to go when you don't have the puck, how to manage the puck when you have it, and why.

    "I would say to Naz, 'You should be the best defensive player on our team, because you know every offensive trick there is,' " Eakins said. "Then suddenly it started to click. We just had to teach him a different way."

    So when was this epiphany? When Kadri played for the Marlies during the lockout? Is that why the seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft looks like he's now in

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  • Three Periods: Don't blame Matt Cooke for Erik Karlsson's devastating injury

    Nicholas J. Cotsonika's weekly Three Periods column will appear on Thursdays. This week's topics include Matt Cooke’s culpability on Erik Karlsson’s devastating injury; the latest on NHL realignment and Olympic participation; Blues’ goalie watch; and Ryan O’Reilly vs. the Avs.

    FIRST PERIOD: It’s tempting to blame Matt Cooke, but it was an accident

    The NHL reviewed Matt Cooke's hit on Erik Karlsson and concluded no action was necessary. (AP)“It’s Matt Cooke,” said Bryan Murray, the general manager of the Ottawa Senators. “What would I say? Look at the replay.”

    OK. Let’s look. In slow motion, it’s sickening. Cooke, the Pittsburgh Penguins pest reputed to be the dirtiest player in the NHL, comes up behind Erik Karlsson, the reigning winner of the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman. Cooke lifts his left leg as they battle in the corner for the puck. He brings his skate blade down on the back of Karlsson’s left leg. He draws it across and down.

    Karlsson suffered a lacerated Achilles tendon. He howled in pain and hobbled off the ice, headed for surgery and what is

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