Dan Muse still considers himself a teacher, like he was at Archbishop Williams (world history for freshmen, US history for juniors) after graduating from Stonehill College.
“I loved it there,” Muse said of the Braintree high school. “I learned a lot of things about coaching that I look back at from that year of teaching. I had to teach myself how to teach.”
But like most people who’ve pulled skates on their feet, Muse felt a pull from the rink that was sharper than the one from the classroom. Muse originally planned to attend Suffolk Law School. But the Canton High School graduate, who played for Buddy Yandle (father of Florida defenseman Keith Yandle), acknowledged that passing the puck had greater appeal than passing the bar.
“At the open house, I spent a whole hour talking college hockey with a law professor,” Muse said.
Coaching hockey, according to its principles, is simply another form of teaching. At the USHL’s Chicago Steel, his previous team, Muse was instructing players not much older than his former Archies freshmen. In 2016-17, the Steel won the USHL’s Clark Cup.
Nashville noticed. After Phil Housley left Peter Laviolette’s bench to run his own in Buffalo, the Predators identified Muse as a replacement. On July 21, Nashville hired the 35-year-old Muse as an assistant coach. He is the first coach in USHL history to jump directly from the junior league to an NHL staff.
Muse is not a traditional hire. He played for East Bridgewater’s Scott Harlow at a Division 3 school. As a player, under Falmouth skills coach Paul Vincent, Muse skated for four years alongside pros and collegians.
“By far the worst player in the group,” Muse said of himself.
That Muse has never coached professionals did not discourage the Predators. Under the leadership of general manager David Poile, the small-market Predators have initiated practices that exceed those of their deeper-pocketed rivals.
Nashville’s small but focused scouting staff, led by chief amateur scout and Framingham native Jeff Kealty, has repeatedly uncovered value picks by emphasizing athleticism, hockey sense, and competitiveness. Poile ceded captain and lifelong Predator Shea Weber when P.K. Subban, a younger, faster, and more dynamic right-shot defenseman, became available.
The Predators have invested deeply in video. Muse, who served as Team USA’s video coordinator at the 2013 and 2014 World Junior Championship, made one of his Nashville connections with video coach Lawrence Feloney, who is from Natick.
In Muse, according to those who have shared time with him at the rink, the Predators landed a rising star. He is an open thinker, receptive to new ideas and eager to learn things he does not understand.
Muse’s first coaching job was as an assistant to Paul Cannata at Milton Academy. Subsequent short-term assistant stops included Williams College and Sacred Heart before joining Keith Allain’s staff at Yale in 2009.
As a child, Muse lived for several years in Worcester, Allain’s hometown. It was not the only connection they would share. A six-year partnership with Allain included an NCAA championship, four Ivy League titles, and guidance of future pros such as Kenny Agostino and Rob O’Gara, now in the Bruins’ system.
“There’s no person out there that’s been more influential in my career than him,” Muse said of Allain. “I learned so much from him. All the experience he’s had coaching at the college level, NHL level, Olympic level, USA Hockey — the six years I worked with him were incredible.”
Muse was not looking to leave. But in 2015, hedge fund executive Larry Robbins purchased the Steel. Via Jamie Cahill, Chicago’s vice president of hockey operations, the Steel identified Muse as the new owner’s first coach. In Muse’s first season, the Steel considered themselves an expansion franchise.
Everything changed, said Muse, save for the team’s logo and colors.
“They bulldozed everything and rebuilt it,” Muse said. “As a head coach, going in there to start the rebuild, to put my fingerprints not just on the team but on the program and culture, that to me is something a lot of guys go through their whole coaching careers and never do.”
It took Muse and the Steel two seasons to complete the turnaround.
The Predators, meanwhile, wanted a sharp assistant to work with their forwards.
Nashville is all set on the back end because of a best-in-class top four: Subban, Mattias Ekholm, Roman Josi, and Ryan Ellis. The Predators’ perpetual challenge has been to tease offense out of a group that has not had as much star power as the defense.
That might be changing. Muse will have Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson, all 24 or younger, under his watch.
Nashville signed Nick Bonino, formerly Pittsburgh’s third-line center, to serve as the No. 2 pivot. They will report to a 35-year-old with no NHL experience as a coach or player.
“I come from a different background, not just with the NHL, but also college hockey,” Muse said. “I wasn’t a D-1 player. Not even a prep school player. But I’ve been around great people.
“I’ve worked hard to make myself better every year. I’ve worked hard to help the organizations I’ve worked for to have success. I’ve been around great people who’ve seen somebody work hard for the organization and been willing to work hard for them.”
Ellis, Arvidsson prime examples
Ryan Ellis is a good second-pairing defenseman. Nashville’s right-side defender, who played mostly alongside Roman Josi, scored 16 goals and 22 assists in 71 games for the Predators in 2016-17.
The 26-year-old Ellis is Nashville’s equivalent of John Carlson (27), Tyson Barrie (26), and Justin Faulk (25). Last season, Carlson scored 37 points, one fewer than Ellis. Barrie tied Ellis with 38 points. Faulk (17-20—37) was one off Ellis’s pace.
The difference between Ellis and his cohorts is price. Nashville is paying the bushy-bearded defenseman $2.5 million annually for two more years. Barrie is coming off his first season of a four-year, $22 million contract. Carolina has Faulk under contract for three more years at $4,833,333 annually. Carlson is entering the final season of a six-year, $23.8 million extension.
In that context, the Predators are enjoying more value for Ellis than their competitors are for their right-shot defensemen. It’s something Nashville has done quite well.
The organization has offered an inviting mix of culture, opportunity, fit, and lifestyle. Its younger players have bought in.
Nashville’s latest example is Viktor Arvidsson. On July 22, the right wing said no to an arbitration hearing and yes to a seven-year, $29.75 million extension. Last year, in his first full NHL season, the high-energy Swede busted out for a 31-30—61 line. His previous best was 16 points in 56 NHL games in 2015-16.
Only 20 players scored more goals than Arvidsson last year, from Patrick Kane ($10.5 million annually) to Patrik Laine ($925,000 yearly base salary).
The teams with snipers on entry-level contracts (Winnipeg with Laine, Toronto with Auston Matthews) are enjoying maximum value. But Arvidsson will now be earning $4.25 million per season, still pretty good coin, from a team’s perspective, compared with the paychecks St. Louis writes to Vladimir Tarasenko (39 goals, $7.5 million AAV).
Arvidsson, the No. 112 pick in 2014, will enjoy seven-year security unprecedented for any other fourth-rounder from that class.
The Predators locked up Arvidsson, as well as buying four years of unrestricted free agency, at a reasonable cost per season assuming repeated rates of production.
Arvidsson and Ellis have company. Josi ($4 million annually) and Filip Forsberg ($6 million) are other examples of players who have signed reasonable second contracts with the Predators. They help GM David Poile afford P.K. Subban’s $9 million annual payday and the megabucks due to land in Ryan Johansen’s wallet.
Nashville has been good about identifying players who are worthy of long-term extensions out of entry level. That requires foresight. But it also calls for good drafting. The Predators have done well at both.
Sabres’ Okposo is back on the ice
In a post on the Sabres website, Kyle Okposo revealed that a concussion ended his 2016-17 season and landed him in intensive care. Okposo’s final game was on March 27 against Florida. He put three pucks on net in 15:57 of ice time, despite playing through an undiagnosed concussion, suffered in an earlier practice. Okposo’s symptoms included fatigue, weight loss, mood changes, and trouble sleeping.
The last symptom was the one that put him in danger. Okposo did not react well to a sleep medication. The team placed the right wing in Buffalo General Medical Center.
He has since recovered to the point where he is participating in Da Beauty League, an offseason gathering of high-end players in Minnesota. It is the equivalent of Foxborough’s pro league.
Whether Okposo will be ready for training camp and the 2017-18 season is unknown. The 29-year-old is under contract for $6 million annually through 2023. He scored 19 goals and 26 assists in 65 games as a first-year Sabre. If Okposo is healthy, Phil Housley could deploy him as Jack Eichel’s right wing on Buffalo’s first line.
Zibanejad does well
On Tuesday, the day of his arbitration hearing, Mika Zibanejad agreed to a five-year, $26.75 million contract. Zibanejad’s $5.35 million average annual value is spot-on with the yearly ask he requested in arbitration. It’s fair value for the 24-year-old ex-Senator, acquired for Derick Brassard. Zibanejad is five years younger than his left-shot counterpart, who is on his own five-year deal ($5 million annually). As a first-year Ranger, Zibanejad was limited to 56 games because of a broken leg. But the right-shot pivot scored 14 goals and 23 assists to average a career-high 0.66 points per game. Zibanejad should start 2017-18 alongside top-liners Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello. Given his skill set, Zibanejad will be a dependable No. 1 pivot. Expectations will rise for Dorchester’s Kevin Hayes, who will also move up a line and become the No. 2 center, perhaps with fellow widebody Rick Nash in tow.
No chances of walkaways
Zibanejad, Tomas Tatar, and Colton Parayko had no trouble asking for awards of more than $4 million annually. Zibanejad ($5.35 million ask, according to Sportsnet, $5.35 million settlement) will be the Rangers’ first-line center following the offseason trade of Derek Stepan. Tatar ($5.3 million ask, $5.3 million settlement) is a top-line producer. Parayko ($4.85 million ask, $5.5 million settlement) could overtake Alex Pietrangelo as the Blues’ No. 1 defenseman. As such, there was no scenario in which the Rangers, Red Wings, or Blues would lift their noses at arbitration awards above $4 million, the baseline for which a team could walk away from a ruling. In 2006, when the threshold was lower, the Bruins walked away from David Tanabe’s $1.275 million arbitration award, making him unrestricted.
Hellebuyck still in contention
Connor Hellebuyck didn’t have the season he wanted. In his first season as a go-to puckstopper, the former UMass Lowell goalie appeared in 56 games and posted a .907 save percentage, not good enough for NHL standards. The number doesn’t live up to Hellebuyck’s pedigree either. As a Lowell freshman, Hellebuyck recorded a .952 save percentage. He didn’t dip much as a sophomore, when he turned back 94.1 percent of the pucks he saw. Hellebuyck is 24 years old, perhaps even several seasons away from hitting his expected sweet spot. So while the Jets signed veteran Steve Mason to a two-year, $8.2 million contract when free agency opened, it would be no surprise if Hellebuyck won his way back into Paul Maurice’s favor. On Monday, instead of proceeding to arbitration, Hellebuyck signed a one-year, $2.25 million extension. One more season should give the Jets more data on whether Hellebuyck can grow into a long-term ace.
Penguins lock up Dumoulin
According to Sportsnet, Pittsburgh asked for a $1.95 million average annual value in arbitration for Brian Dumoulin. In retrospect, that request looks more like a punchline. The former Boston College defenseman avoided arbitration by signing a six-year, $24.6 million extension. Dumoulin’s $4.1 million average annual value comes in slightly under his arbitration ask of $4.35 million. Dumoulin’s new deal puts him in the classification of top-pairing defensemen such as Jake Muzzin ($4 million annually), Mattias Ekholm ($3.75 million), and Jonas Brodin ($4,166,667 million), which is good company to keep. Dumoulin scored one goal and 15 assists while averaging 20:33 of ice time last year. Dumoulin’s 16 points were fewer than his comparables’ totals (9-19—28 for Muzzin, 3-20—23 for Ekholm, 3-22—25 for Brodin), and he allowed more shot attempts per 60 minutes of five-on-five play than all three. So for Pittsburgh, Dumoulin may represent a slight overpayment. But with two Cups in their rearview mirror, it’s hard to say the Penguins are doing much wrong.
Paille under Olympic consideration
Daniel Paille, last seen Stateside in 2015-16 with the Rangers, could be pulling on the maple leaf in the 2018 Winter Games. The ex-Bruin, a native of Welland, Ontario, is on Team Canada’s roster for the Sochi Hockey Open, which begins on Aug. 5. The six-team tournament includes four KHL teams: Metallurg Magnitogorsk, SKA St. Petersburg, Kunlun Red Star, and HC Sochi. Team Russia, a roster of Olympic hopefuls, will also play. If Paille, a left wing, makes the Canadian Olympic entry, it would not be the first time he represents his country. In 2015-16, Paille participated in the Spengler Cup, the annual European tournament that counts former NHLers among its numbers. Former Bruins fourth-line mate Gregory Campbell played in the tournament last year for Canada. Paille played in the World Junior Championship twice, winning silver on both occasions. Paille is under contract with Brynas of the Swedish Elite League, where he played last year, scoring 12 goals and 13 assists in 45 games. The 33-year-old is the last active member of the Bruins’ Cup-winning fourth line.
Price needs pacing
Carey Price started 62 games last year and logged 3,708 minutes of time in the crease. Both numbers are in line with how Montreal would prefer to proceed with its ace in 2017-18. Price set career highs in 2010-11 with 70 starts and 4,206 minutes of playing time. The question is whether coach Claude Julien will trust Al Montoya enough to rest Price when needed. Julien did not have enough faith in Anton Khudobin, Jonas Gustavsson, or Niklas Svedberg, Tuukka Rask’s last three backups in Boston. Accordingly, Rask played beyond his preferred threshold. Rask started 58 games in 2013-14, when he won the Vezina Trophy. Rask’s number of starts in the last three seasons: 67, 62, and 64.
The Canadiens brought back Mark Streit on Tuesday. The 39-year-old Streit, Montreal’s ninth-round pick in 2004, made his NHL debut in 2005-06. Not only will Streit return to Montreal, he’ll be reunited with Julien, his coach for part of his rookie season. Streit should be a depth defenseman, perhaps contending with ex-Bruin Joe Morrow for playing time . . . Streit will be taking some of the shifts that belonged to Andrei Markov. The lifelong Canadien will sign in the KHL instead of staying in Montreal. Markov ends his NHL career 10 appearances shy of the 1,000-game threshold . . . Pity the commuters whose trips involve the Commonwealth Ave. Bridge, now under headache-producing construction. Rumor is the current project spooked Charlie McAvoy so badly that it was the primary reason the ex-Terrier turned pro.
Patrick Marleau opted to leave the Sharks in free agency and join the rising Maple Leafs. After 19 seasons with San Jose, Marleau is the franchise leader in games (1,493), goals (508), points (1,082), and numerous other categories. It’s quite rare that a player with that much tenure leaves his franchise and lands elsewhere. Only five others have played at least 19 seasons with one NHL team and moved on, and free agent Shane Doan (21 seasons with the Jets/Coyotes) could make it six this offseason.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.