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‘Choosing to lose’ vs. accepting life in hockey’s lower middle class

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The Battle of Alberta hasn’t actually been much of hockey arms race for the last few years, as the Calgary Flames stare mediocrity in the face while the Edmonton Oilers have been downright abysmal. That being said, the two teams might be intriguing counterpoints for the way franchises build their clubs.

On one hand, you have the big-spending Flames – they’re currently eighth overall in payroll – who missed the playoffs two years in a row and haven’t won a playoff round since the lockout. Meanwhile, the Oilers have been atrocious since the messy Chris Pronger trade. They’ve missed the playoffs for five straight seasons – mostly by a wide margin – and appear headed in that direction once again in most peoples’ eyes.

It’s surprising that either side would have boastful proponents, but an entertaining debate cropped up over the weekend. It started when Flames GM Jay Feaster blasted the Oilers’ model of stockpiling lousy seasons and top-end picks.

Feaster (chuckling): “I’m sorry — Edmonton finished where last year, caller? Want to wager on where we finish relative to Edmonton this year? I’m tired of this question, I’ll tell you very honestly. I’m getting a little sour. How many teams . . . every year, for the last 10 years, five years, eight years, have finished in the bottom five, bottom seven, bottom 10? They’ve had a pick anywhere from No. 1 to No. 10 year after year after year after year, and they still wander in the desert. And they’re no closer to getting out than they were 10 years ago.

On Edmonton’s side, David Staples thinks that the Oilers will have the last laugh, claiming that “Calgary is nowhere and going nowhere.” Staples threw down the gauntlet a bit when he claimed that Edmonton should overtake Calgary no later than next season, though.

This drew the ire of excellent blogger Tom Benjamin, who railed against “choosing to lose.”

And I think Feaster is right. Were the Oilers right to blow it all up? No regrets with the Smyth trade and the subsequent moves that brought the Oilers to this point? It has been a four year rebuilding project – five out of the playoffs – with no end yet in sight. Even if Staples is right and the Oilers pass the Flames in 2012-13, that does not necessarily make them a playoff team after six years of wandering in the desert. The St. Louis Blues were the first post lockout team to “blow it all up” and six years later they still look like a team that is going nowhere. Years of pain and lost seasons can only possibly be worth it if the result is a genuine contender and the Oilers are miles away. They may never get there with this crew.

Brian Burke has endured a lot of criticism in the Leaf media for not adopting the Oiler model when he came to Toronto, but as his remake of the Leafs enters its third year, he looks like having an outside chance at a playoff spot. Did the Bruins suck for years to get to where they are? Did the Canucks? The Wings? The Sharks?

source: Getty ImagesHere’s my problem with that argument: most elite NHL teams are founded on getting the right high-end draft picks at the right time (with the Red Wings late draft wizardry being the obvious exception). The Canucks can thank a four-year run of incompetence for their chance to snag the Sedin twins in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. The Sharks straddle the line between those two camps, but it’s telling that their foundation is built upon the first two picks of the 1997 draft (they picked Patrick Marleau second overall and then traded for top pick Joe Thornton).

Those examples also ignore two recent Stanley Cup winners (Chicago and Pittsburgh) and at least one consistently dominant regular season team (Washington) who’ve taken full advantage of the “choose to lose” model.

The Blues are a faulty team for someone arguing against tanking, too. While they’ve taken quite a few first round picks recently, most of those picks are in the dreaded middle of the pack. That makes them more of an example of the uncomfortable spot the Flames might find themselves in under Feaster’s plan: too good to get a lottery pick, too bad to make the playoffs.

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There isn’t a fool-proof solution to building a team. Both sides of this argument have their points, but ultimately it comes down to having the right management to either a) take advantage of top-end picks when they get them or b) make the proper adjustments to build a solid team into a contender.

It’s hard to tell if the Flames or Oilers will end up being a good example of either approach, if their recent histories have told us anything. Still, if I had to choose, I’d rather follow a team with a brighter future like the Oilers than be stuck in quicksand like the Flames.

Video: Maple Leafs lose Morgan Rielly after fall into boards

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Down 2-0 to the Buffalo Sabres, the Toronto Maple Leafs are off to a shaky start on Tuesday. Still, their concerns likely revolve the most around the health of defenseman Morgan Rielly.

As you can see from the video above, the young Buds blueliner was shaken up by an awkward spill into the boards.

It’s too early to know if he avoided injury or might miss some time, but there’s at least some concern that he might have aggravated an issue from before his NHL days:

We’ll need to wait and see, but with his offensive skills and overall importance in mind (average just under 23 minutes a game this season, more or less in line with his breakthrough year in 2015-16), the Maple Leafs are crossing their fingers that this isn’t anything major.

WATCH LIVE: Chicago Blackhawks at Colorado Avalanche

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 23:  Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks controls the puck as he turns against Tyson Barrie #4 of the Colorado Avalanche at the United Center on December 23, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Avalanche defeated the Blackhawks 2-1 in overtime.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Chicago Blackhawks need to put a tough weekend behind them; maybe the Colorado Avalanche are just what the doctor ordered.

Colorado is clearly ranked last in the league, whether they believe they have some assets in the likes of Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog or not. Perhaps there will be a few scouts on hand to see how such potential Avs trade targets perform against a contending team?

It’s rarely a dull night when the Blackhawks roll out talented players like Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin and Jonathan Toews – among others – so it should be a good time on NBCSN on Tuesday.

You can watch online or via the NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream link.

Short-lived return? No Tyler Ennis for Sabres tonight

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 25:  Tyler Ennis #63 of the Buffalo Sabres takes a shot on goal against the Philadelphia Flyers during the first period at Wells Fargo Center on October 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Tyler Ennis‘ return to the Buffalo Sabres lineup on Monday after a 30-game absence seemed like a breath of fresh air. Tuesday, then, represents letting the air out of the balloon.

The Sabres announced that Ennis wasn’t out for warm-ups heading into tonight’s Sabres – Toronto Maple Leafs game. It certainly gives the impression that his groin injury isn’t fully healed.

Ennis contributed a goal to Buffalo’s 4-1 win against the Dallas Stars on Monday and nearly scored another in “lacrosse” style:

When healthy, he’s been a 20-goal, 40+ point player for Buffalo lately, so he was missed. The team tweeted out Ryan O'Reilly‘s comments about Ennis’ return mere hours ago, so you get the impression that it was a surprise for many:

Maybe it’s just a minor setback?

Update: The Sabres deem it a “precautionary scratch,” according to John Vogl of the Buffalo News. So maybe file this under minor setback. We’ll see.

Stars’ Eakin is ‘prepared’ for Rangers retribution for that Lundqvist hit

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The New York Rangers were probably glad that Cody Eakin received a four-game suspension for his “intentional” hit on Henrik Lundqvist, but they might seek a more direct form of justice against the Dallas Stars tonight.

Eakin is aware of that fact, too, as he told the Dallas Morning News’ Mike Heika.

“I’m prepared. If it was our team, there would obviously be words that were shared,” Eakin said. “I’ll be prepared and I’ll continue to play a hard game. Whatever happens, happens.”

Hey, Lindy Ruff apparently hoped that Jamie Benn “emptied his frustration tank” during his outburst following Monday’s loss; perhaps Benn will have a little bit left over to defend Eakin?

The Rangers aren’t playing coy about the hit being a talking point.

“That’s not something you forget about,” Chris Kreider said, according to Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News. “I’m sure someone will have a conversation with him.”

Sounds so civil. Perhaps they will have this conversation over a soothing cup of chamomile tea?