Dan Bylsma, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Matt Cooke

Dan Bylsma, Dave Tippett will be coaches for 2011 Research Development and Orientation Camp

Just about anyone will agree that the lockout was a stomach-churning disaster. There’s no sense spinning it, whether you’re the NBA or NFL right now or the NHL in 2004-05.

That being said, there were at least a few good things that came from the lockout as far as hockey is concerned. The most important changes came on the ice. Perhaps out of survival or just after some careful consideration, the league decided to limit the amount of obstruction and interference defenders could get away with. (They made other changes to open up the game again, including eliminating the two-line pass infraction.)

Those rule changes helped hockey rebound from the ugly Dead Puck Era and return to its place as one of the more exhilarating professional sports. Hockey’s upward swing seems to come from a combination of factors including those needed tweaks, an influx of young stars and the beauty of HD television.

source: Getty ImagesOne lesson to take away from that situation is that the NHL should be proactive about altering its rules. It shouldn’t take a crisis for the league to ensure that the game is played in a way that allows the most skilled and intelligent players to succeed.

Who knows how much NHL executives actually consider implementing the innovations that are studied at research and development camps, but it’s great to see them take place in general. Last year’s camp provided a look at eventual top prospects such as Ryan-Nugent Hopkins while the league looked at various possible rule changes.*

Last year’s version was the inaugural edition, but information is starting to become available for the 2011 Research Development and Orientation Camp, which will take place between August 17-18. While job-seeking coaches Ken Hitchcock and Dave King ran the last camp, Dan Bylsma and Dave Tippett – the last two Jack Adams Award winners – will run the 2011 edition.

“The National Hockey League is coming off another thrilling season that reinforced our view that our game is thriving on the ice,” said Brendan Shanahan, NHL Senior Vice President of Player Safety and Hockey Operations. “However, we remain committed to observing trends, studying our game regularly and testing new ideas to ensure it keeps getting better. The Research, Development and Orientation Camp provides a perfect environment to do those things while introducing many of our top prospects to pro hockey.”

The camp also provides NHL talent evaluators their first look at some of the best players available for the 2012 draft. Last year’s camp, the first of its kind, showcased eventual top picks Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog and Jonathan Huberdeau.

“While our inaugural Research, Development and Orientation Camp was a great success, we expect to make this year’s event even better,” Shanahan said. “We again will assemble a remarkable percentage of the top talents eligible for the upcoming NHL Draft. And this year, we’re providing them with the guidance of two of our League’s outstanding current coaches, Dan Bylsma and Dave Tippett.”

We’ll share the list of prospects who will be invited to the camp once that is released and keep our eyes peeled for other relevant details. Once the camps begin in mid-August, we’ll be eager to generate discussion for some of the most intriguing (and potentially useful) changes the league might consider.

* – Want to check out a few of those articles? Here’s some discussion for 3-on-3 overtime, adding four extra inches of space behind the net to bring “Gretzky’s office” back to life, moving an official off the ice to get a different vantage point, tweaking the nets and more.

Video: Hagelin goes top shelf to give Penguins the lead in Game 2

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In their quest to even the series, the Pittsburgh Penguins had done a nice job through two periods of suffocating the Washington Capitals, while gaining the lead on a beautiful goal.

Carl Hagelin took advantage of a vast amount of space that opened up in front of the Washington net, finishing off a nice pass from Nick Bonino, burying his shot just under the cross bar on the glove side of Braden Holtby.

Through two periods, the Penguins were outshooting Washington 28-10. Only four Capitals players — Alex Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Matt Niskanen — had registered shots on goal.

Video: Orpik penalized after catching Maatta with late, high hit

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The Pittsburgh Penguins were without defenseman Olli Maatta for most of the first period of Game 2 after he was on the receiving end of a high, late hit from Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik.

The hit occurred early in the first period, well after Maatta had gotten rid of the puck on a rush into the Washington zone.

Maatta, who nearly fell over as he tried to stand back up, was in obvious distress as he went to the dressing room. Orpik was given a minor penalty for interference on the play.

Shanahan: Leafs earned No. 1 pick ‘the hard way’

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It’s been 31 years since the Toronto Maple Leafs had the No. 1 overall pick at the draft.

And, to hear team president Brendan Shanahan explain it, getting back to that top spot wasn’t easy — on anybody.

“We earned this the hard way,” Shanahan told Sportsnet on Saturday, moments after winning the draft lottery. “It wasn’t a whole lot of fun this year, but our guys and our coaching staff and our management staff did a lot of really good things here in Toronto.

“This [the No. 1 overall pick] will certainly help.”

It’s easy to see why optimism is high within the organization.

The last time Toronto had the No. 1 pick it selected Wendel Clark, who went on to become a revered player. He played for the Leafs on three separate occasions, served as team captain and now works for the organization in a public relations and community ambassador role.

This year, the opportunity to make a similar impact is there.

Auston Matthews, viewed as the odds-on favorite to go first overall, possesses the elite-level talent that could turn a franchise around. And there are few teams in more need of a turn than Toronto — as Shanahan alluded to, this was a very difficult year, as the Leafs finished dead last in the standings and were the only NHL club not to crack the 30-win plateau.

Part of that was by design. The Leafs dealt away Phil Kessel prior to the season, Dion Phaneuf during it and jettisoned a host of other productive players: James Reimer, Roman Polak, Nick Spaling, Daniel Winnik and Shawn Matthias, to name a few.

By the end of the year, the Leafs were a mishmash of AHLers, spare parts and a few future pieces.

Speaking of the future…

Assuming the Leafs go the Matthews route, it’s expected he’ll make an immediate impact on the lineup. TSN already has him penciled in as the No. 2 center — playing the middle on a line with the club’s other top prospect, William Nylander — and Matthews’ head coach in Switzerland this season, Marc Crawford, used L.A. Kings star Anze Kopitar as a potential comparison.

Of course, there is a chance Matthews isn’t the pick.

Finnish sensation Patrick Laine has been making waves recently, thanks in large part to capturing SM-liiga playoff MVP honors this week. Laine has the kind of goalscoring ability and booming shot that would translate well — and, immediately — to the NHL level, though he is a winger.

Not a center, like Matthews.

Regardless of who the Leafs pick, this much is clear — they bottomed out this season with the intention of getting a high draft pick and, while the process was very painful at times, everything worked out in the end.

“When you have an opportunity to pick first overall, it’s an important moment for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and it’s an important moment for our fans,” Shanahan explained. “Our ownership group has given us the support to do this build the right way.”

Tank you very much: Leafs win NHL Draft Lottery, retain No. 1 overall pick

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The Toronto Maple Leafs have gone from worst to first.

The Leafs finished dead last in the NHL’s overall standings, giving them the best odds of winning Saturday’s draft lottery. And when the big show ended, Toronto had landed that top pick for the draft on June 24.

Outside of Toronto, the biggest winner Saturday had to be the Winnipeg Jets. They entered the day with the sixth best odds of getting the top pick at just 7.5 per cent. They were able to move all the way up to the second overall pick, which could certainly land them a franchise player and one that could definitely be ready to make the jump into the NHL next season.

The biggest loser? You could definitely argue it was the Vancouver Canucks. They finished 28th in the overall standings, giving them an 11.5 per cent chance of winning the No. 1 pick. But they fell all the way to fifth.

The Edmonton Oilers? Well, they didn’t win. Had they won the lottery, it would’ve given them the first overall pick for the fifth time in seven years.

Here is the 2016 draft order:

  1. Toronto Maple Leafs
  2. Winnipeg Jets
  3. Columbus Blue Jackets
  4. Edmonton Oilers
  5. Vancouver Canucks
  6. Calgary Flames
  7. Arizona Coyotes
  8. Buffalo Sabres
  9. Montreal Canadiens
  10. Colorado Avalanche
  11. New Jersey Devils
  12. Ottawa Senators
  13. Carolina Hurricanes
  14. Boston Bruins

Now that the order is set, who will go No. 1, 2 and 3 in that opening round?

Auston Matthews has long held the title as the top-ranked player heading into this draft. But there’s been increasing chatter that Finnish winger Patrik Laine has at least closed the gap between him and Matthews for that first overall selection, according to Bob McKenzie of TSN.

Meanwhile, fellow Finnish forward Jesse Puljujärvi likely rounds out the top three, following a sensational showing at the 2016 World Junior Championships.