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NHL retirement sounds right to Paul Vincent

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Paul Vincent played a role in Florida’s development into a playoff team.
Paul Vincent played a role in Florida’s development into a playoff team.Karl B DeBlaker

Paul Vincent has two conditions for resuming his NHL career. First, if Jamaica Plain native John Torchetti lands an NHL head coaching position, Vincent will accompany his longtime friend. Second, if former boss Dale Tallon leaves Florida to lead another hockey operations department, Vincent will go with the former Panthers general manager.

Otherwise, the 69-year-old NHL skills instructor will allow his Panthers contract to expire and decline to chase another opportunity. He will shift full attention to his camps in Saugus and Falmouth through Paul Vincent Hockey, his longtime operation. Acceptable NHL interruptions would be occasional consulting shifts that complement his annual winter migration to Naples, Fla., where the golf is good, the sun is strong, and the fruit is fresh.

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"When they used to come in to play the Florida Panthers, people would go, 'OK, chalk that up.' Now it's to where we were a pretty [darn] good hockey team," said Vincent following a skills session at Hockeytown on Wednesday. "I'd like to think I was somewhat a big part of the young guys getting better. And that's what I'm going to miss — not finishing that task of hopefully, in two years, they'll be contending for a Cup. That's the part that you miss."

If you laced up skates and gripped a stick in Massachusetts, chances are good that Vincent showed you how to wheel around the ice and wield your tool properly. Consider that Vincent taught Joe Sacco (Medford) and Jay Pandolfo (Burlington), the two Bruins assistant coaches, as well as current players such as Torey Krug and Adam McQuaid. Vincent's influence reaches outside the state too, from Adam Oates to Patrick Kane to Shayne Gostisbehere.

The granular work of teasing improvements out of less-starry names, however, is what Vincent enjoys the most and does not intend to halt. On Wednesday, after grinding through Route 1 traffic, Vincent stepped onto the Hockeytown sheet to oversee a 10-player group of NHL dreamers, including Northeastern's John and Nolan Stevens, and Bruins draft pick Matt Benning.

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First, Vincent apologized to the players for his tardiness. But he transitioned rapidly into hard-hat mode, barking at his charges while running them through their paces. Vincent hurried them through one drill where they stickhandled around cones at center ice and one circle, firmly reminding them to keep their heads up, their hands out, and their trunks tucked in athletic positions.

Before a pause to flood the chewed-up ice, John Stevens approached Vincent with good news. This past season, repeated foot-crossing had stymied Stevens on the penalty kill. Vincent's solution was a one-foot stop. Following multiple repetitions, Stevens told Vincent that things were beginning to click.

"That's what I get excited about — when people say, 'Now I understand,' " Vincent said. "It's fun to see those guys start to get it."

So it's been disappointing for Vincent to experience the teardown and reconstruction of an organization that did not appear in need of an orange-cone overhaul. The Panthers won the Atlantic Division. Up-and-comers such as Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad, Vincent Trocheck, and Aaron Ekblad grabbed the wheel. They lost to the Islanders in the first round but gained playoff experience that will serve them well in future seasons.

For all that, Tallon, who employed Vincent in Chicago during the Blackhawks' 2009-10 Cup run, was booted upstairs. President of hockey operations reads like an important title. It does not qualify as such in Florida, where Lynn native Tom Rowe now occupies Tallon's former position.

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Director of player personnel Scott Luce and assistant coach John Madden are out. Eric Joyce and Steve Werier were promoted to assistant GM. Scott Allen, Rowe's former assistant coach in Portland, will join Gerard Gallant's staff. Vincent wasn't interested in an extension.

"The owners are good people," Vincent said. "I think at some point they wanted their own people. They couldn't put Tom Rowe in charge right away. And Tom's not a bad man. But I think by taking away Dale's power and taking away the things he started . . . for the coaching staff that are there — and I've known Scotty Allen — I just want to see those guys succeed, because Gerard Gallant's a great guy."

If Vincent's NHL departure is permanent, the game will be down an important resource. Vincent, known as Mr. V to his disciples, is a throwback. He does not hesitate to tell a player he stunk worse than his gear. He has no time for divas.

In 2014-15, Jimmy Hayes set career highs in Florida with 19 goals and 16 assists. Vincent, who coached Hayes when he was a boy, assumed permanent residence in his former student's ear, emphasizing variables such as takeoffs and net-front footwork. Because of his production, the Bruins acquired Hayes for Reilly Smith and Marc Savard. One season in, it looks like a steal for Florida. Maybe because Hayes didn't have Vincent breaking his chops.

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"There was no one there that said, 'Get your head out of your [butt] and let's go do this,' " Vincent said. "I used to literally threaten him on the ice. I'd say, 'You will do this, and that is all there is to it.' And he would do it. Every day. We just banged away it and banged away at it."

To prove a point of his thinking, Vincent fished a pair of makeshift goggles from his Panthers bag. They do not have lenses. The lower half of the goggles are made of thick plastic to create a blind spot. The San Antonio Spurs sometimes wear them in practice as dribbling aides.

Vincent snatched the idea from the court and brought the goggles to the ice. They serve as reminders for his students to keep their heads up and hands out. If they don't, the blind spot prevents them from seeing the puck when it's on their sticks.

For Vincent, they aren't just goggles. They represent a different way of processing the game to stress skill over systems — the latter being the emphasis of risk-averse coaches, whose priority is to drill teamwide structure more than to express individual improvement.

"All they ever did was systems, systems, systems," Vincent said of the 2015-16 Canadiens under coach Michel Therrien. "Then if he got mad at them, he'd bag-skate them into the ice. That's old school. We have to take our sport, look at it, and trust what we're doing. And say, 'Is there a better way of doing it? Is there something else?' "

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It is a battle that other skills coaches will have to assume. Vincent has his students and grandchildren keeping him busy.

Quite a haul for Gudbranson

Shane Prince (left) and Erik Gudbranson tangled during the playoffs.
Shane Prince (left) and Erik Gudbranson tangled during the playoffs.Joel Auerbach

One of Paul Vincent's pupils was Erik Gudbranson, drafted No. 3 in 2010 after Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin. Vincent's initial impression of the 19-year-old was not good.

"When I first saw him, I kind of went, 'Wow, he was the third pick overall? Holy [expletive].' "

Vincent's duty was to turn Gudbranson into a dependable NHL defenseman. Former Panthers coach Kevin Dineen, according to Vincent, viewed Gudbranson as Bambi on skates.

Five seasons later, Gudbranson has developed into a 24-year-old, top-four defenseman that Vancouver believed was worth a package of Jared McCann and second- and fourth-round picks in 2016. Were it not for Vincent's work, the Canucks may not have considered Gudbranson worthy of such an expensive bundle.

"Guddy was willing to listen, change things, and he just worked his [butt] off to be good," Vincent said.

Canucks GM Jim Benning is trying to turn over an aging roster. On defense, Dan Hamhuis is approaching free agency. Alex Edler has a history of top-two performance, but the 30-year-old is a 620-game veteran who's been injured.

In hindsight, Gudbranson was not worthy of a top-three selection, not with higher-end players such as Jeff Skinner, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Evgeny Kuznetsov lasting until later in the first round. But Gudbranson had become Florida's No. 4 defenseman after Aaron Ekblad, Brian Campbell, and Dmitry Kulikov, one worthy of logging 20:06 of ice time per game in 2015-16.

By the playoffs, Gudbranson's workload increased to 26:54 of ice time per game against the Islanders, highest of all Florida defensemen. In McCann, the Canucks gave up a skilled 20-year-old forward (9-9—18 in 69 games as a rookie). The left-shot McCann could become a second- or third-line wingman for Nick Bjugstad or Vincent Trocheck.

Given his previously limited options, Vancouver coach Willie Desjardins will deploy Gudbranson even more. How Gudbranson performs in harder situations with more minutes remains to be seen. His track record suggests he was slotted accurately: a No. 4 with limited offensive potential.

Meanwhile, the Panthers were dealing from a position of strength. Ekblad projects to be a No. 1. Alex Petrovic should be ready for a top-four role. After leaving Boston College following his junior season, Michael Matheson submitted a solid first pro year, which ended with a five-game playoff stint up top and a good showing for Team USA in the World Championship. The Panthers are also pushing to sign Ian McCoshen, Matheson's former BC teammate, before he enters his senior season and approaches the four-year cutoff date when he could become unrestricted.

Pipeline along blue line thin

Roman Polak shares some similarities with Kevan Miller. Polak is a right-shot, stay-at-home defenseman. He likes nastiness. Polak doesn't score much (1-15—16 in 79 regular-season games this season between San Jose and Toronto), but producing points isn't the primary purpose of his employment. He will be unrestricted on July 1.

But while Miller re-upped for four years and $10 million, Polak is unlikely to do the same with San Jose, even if he helps the Sharks win the Stanley Cup. In comparison to the Bruins, the Sharks have more young defensemen who are closer to becoming NHLers.

Mirco Mueller, the No. 18 overall pick in 2013, spent most of 2015-16 in the AHL, scoring one goal and 10 assists in 50 games for the Barracuda. The 21-year-old Mueller also appeared in 11 games for the big club. Other young blue liners include Dylan DeMelo (22) and Julius Bergman (20). While they don't play similar styles as Polak, they would add more hands and pace to the 2016-17 Sharks at a cheaper price. If the Sharks want a stay-at-home presence, inexpensive defensemen such as Mike Weber, Eric Gryba, and Jordie Benn should be available via free agency.

The Bruins believe Miller has second-pair potential, which is part of the reason they brought him back. But they would have considered letting Miller walk pending a greater supply of younger and cheaper varsity defensemen than just Colin Miller.

Zach Trotman, who will be unrestricted, may not be in their plans. Joe Morrow is a mixed bag. Brandon Carlo, Rob O'Gara, Matt Grzelcyk, and Jeremy Lauzon require minor league finishing. The defenseman closest to graduating from Providence is Chris Casto, which reflects the scarcity of NHL-ready blue-line resources in the franchise's portfolio.

The preferred cycle is for teams to find younger and cheaper internal replacements for players who reach free agency. The signing and development of Noel Acciari, for example, will allow the Bruins to say goodbye to KHL-bound Max Talbot and Joonas Kemppainen. Their backfilling effort on the back end has yet to catch up.

Ward brings it again

Joel Ward has six goals and five assists in the playoffs.
Joel Ward has six goals and five assists in the playoffs.Ezra Shaw

It's tricky to make accurate postseason conclusions because of the reduced sample sizes. But by stretching out the window to multiple seasons, it's not a stretch to determine that Joel Ward improves in the playoffs. In San Jose's series-clinching Game 6 win over St. Louis, Ward punched in two pucks, giving him six goals and five assists through three rounds (2.32 points per 60 minutes, compared with 1.9 in the regular season, according to www.corsica.hockey). This is not an aberration.

Last year, Ward scored three goals and six assists in 14 playoff games for Washington (2.02 points per 60 in the playoffs, 1.48 in the regular season). In 2012, Ward scored only one playoff goal, but it was timely — in overtime in Game 7 against the Bruins in the opening round.

Ward's style suits him well in the playoffs. He thinks nothing of taking abuse in the net-front area and flashing his hands to tip pucks and bang in garbage. Ward's highest postseason production took place in 2010-11 with Nashville, when he averaged 3.17 points per 60 (7-6—13 in 12 games).

"I'm a big believer that if you're a clutch playoff performer, that's something that's a gift," San Jose coach Peter DeBoer told reporters after Game 6. "That doesn't go away. I had Mike Richards. He was that type of guy. I've had different guys over the years that have had that ability, and that's not a flash in the pan. That's something that consistently, they have the ability to rise to the occasion this time of year."

Americans in London

Reader Dan Archabal noted the depth and breadth of American talent competing in the Memorial Cup for the London Knights, Dale Hunter's OHL powerhouse. It used to be that Americans playing junior hockey was an aberration. But 10 Americans were in the Knights' lineup for their 6-2 win on May 20 over host Red Deer. The top Yank is Matthew Tkachuk, son of Medford's Keith Tkachuk. The bruising forward is projected to be a top-10 pick at the draft in June. Other draft-eligible Americans include Max Jones, Victor Mete, and Tyler Parsons.

Sharks' run affects Bruins and Leafs

The 2016 first-round pick the Bruins received from the Sharks in the Martin Jones trade could be No. 30 overall if San Jose wins the Cup. Conversely, the Leafs improved their 2018 draft position when San Jose qualified for the Final. The Sharks acquired James Reimer from Toronto for a conditional 2018 fourth-rounder. It became a third if the Sharks made it to the Final. The Leafs have 14 picks in the first three rounds of the next three drafts, according to the website General Fanager.

Loose pucks

Joe Pavelski got the better of former Wisconsin teammate Brian Elliott in the Western Conference finals. Pavelski and Elliott won the NCAA title in 2005-06 by beating Boston College. The championship game highlighted a deep pool of future NHL talent on both sides. Tom Gilbert (Montreal) and Jack Skille (Colorado) were on the winning end, while Brian Boyle (Tampa Bay), Cory Schneider (New Jersey), and Stephen Gionta (New Jersey) came up one win short . . . Ivan Provorov, one of the three high-flight defensemen the Bruins targeted in 2015 as a Dougie Hamilton replacement, likely played his final junior game on Wednesday. Provorov and his Brandon team lost to Bruins 2015 first-rounder Jake DeBrusk and the Red Deer Rebels in overtime, 2-1. The 19-year-old Provorov, a dynamic left-shot defenseman, is expected to make the Flyers in 2016-17. Philadelphia's back-end youngsters are as good as any in the league . . . Chris Phillips announced his retirement on Thursday, concluding a career that saw him dress for 1,179 games as a dependable matchup defenseman. Phillips and the Senators hit their high-water market in 2006-07, when they lost to Anaheim in the Cup Final. Chris Neil is the only member of the 2006-07 team remaining in Ottawa . . . The annual NHL Combine takes place in Buffalo from Monday to Saturday. The question that will send up the most red flags: How many wings have you tucked away at Duff's?


Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.