‘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.

Alfredsson left front office job with Sens to be ‘stay-at-home dad for a while’

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Many people were surprised to see Daniel Alfredsson leave his role as senior advisor of hockey operations with the Ottawa Senators.

The reason for his departure was unclear at the time (he walked away in July), but he finally spoke to the Ottawa Sun during a golf tournament on Monday.

“I have a couple of projects on the go, but nothing major,” said Alfredsson, who added that he wants to be a “stay-at-home dad for a while.”

“Once school starts, it’s full on with activities with the kids. We’re moving into a new house here in the fall, so we have a lot of planning to do with that. So, it’s going to be a quiet year for me, overall.”

The 44-year-old, who has four boys, is moving into a new house in Ottawa, and says the family will live there for the foreseeable future.

Despite stepping away from the NHL for now, he also admitted that he wouldn’t mind jumping back into a team’s front office if the right opportunity presented itself.

“If that opportunity would come back again, I would look at it very hard. It’s what I know best. It’s what I love, as well. I can see that in the future at some point. But when, I don’t know.”

Alfredsson spent all but one of his 17 seasons playing for the Sens. He put up 444 goals and 1157 points in 1246 contests with Ottawa and Detroit.

Poll: Will the Blue Jackets get past the first round of the playoffs?

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

The Columbus Blue Jackets have made the playoffs three times in their franchise’s history, but they’ve never been able to make it out of the first round.

In 2009, when they were still in the Western Conference, the Blue Jackets were swept by the Detroit Red Wings. They scored one goal or less in three of four games.

During the 2014 postseason, they were tied 2-2 in their best-of-seven series against the Penguins, but they dropped Games 5 and 6, and they were eliminated.

Last spring, again, they went up against the Penguins. After a solid regular season, the Jackets dropped the first three games of the series before being knocked out in five.

Despite picking up 108 points during the regular season, Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen made some major changes in the off-season. They bought out Scott Hartnell, and they traded Brandon Saad, Anton Forsberg and a draft pick for Artemi Panarin, Tyler Motte and a draft pick.

There’s no doubt that Panarin adds another dynamic to the Jackets’ attack.

“Artemi Panarin was the best rookie in the NHL two years ago, a second team All-Star this past season and is one of the most dynamic offensive players in the NHL,” Kekalainen told the team’s website. “There is a cost to adding a player like Artemi, as well as a very good NHL prospect in Tyler Motte, but we believe this is a very good move for our team.”

Panarin struggled to produce during the playoffs, but the entire ‘Hawks team seemed to be lacking in the scoring department. He finished the postseason with one assist and a minus-4 rating in four games.

The previous year, he managed to score seven points in seven playoff games, but the Blackhawks were still knocked out in the first round.

The 25-year-old will be surrounded by some other quality forwards on his new team. Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Cam Atkinson, Boone Jenner, Josh Anderson and Alexander Wennberg are all expected to be back.

On defense, Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, David Savard and Jack Johnson provide the Jackets with a solid top-4.

The biggest difference-maker is between the pipes, as Sergei Bobrovsky will look to win his second consecutive Vezina Trophy. Bobrovsky was outstanding throughout 2016-17, and if he can do it all over again, his team will be better for it.

With the Penguins and Capitals still strong options to win the division, any first-round matchup will be tough. Have the Blue Jackets done enough to make a run next spring?

It’s your turn to have your say. Vote in our poll and feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section below.

It’s Columbus Blue Jackets day at PHT

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The Columbus Blue Jackets made franchise history last season, reaching 50 wins and 108 points in a highly competitive Metropolitan Division.

Their campaign included a winning streak of 16 games and putting up 10 goals against the Montreal Canadiens. Consider last season a sizable step forward for this young group and a bounce-back year for goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, the Vezina Trophy winner.

Not only was their goalie recognized, but coach John Tortorella won the Jack Adams Award — several months after oddsmakers stated he’d be the first coach fired last season.

Despite a terrific regular season, the Blue Jackets were bested in the opening round by the Pittsburgh Penguins, who would eventually move on to win the Stanley Cup.

Following their playoff defeat, Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen pulled off a blockbuster deal with Chicago GM Stan Bowman, as Columbus acquired 2016 rookie of the year Artemi Panarin, forward Tyler Motte and a draft pick in exchange for Brandon Saad, goalie Anton Forsberg and a draft pick next year.

In Panarin, the Blue Jackets get a 25-year-old forward that has reached the 30-goal mark in each of his first two NHL seasons while getting to play on a line with Patrick Kane in Chicago. He also has two more years remaining on his current contract, which carries an annual $6 million cap hit, per CapFriendly.

Columbus also acquired Jordan Schroeder from the Wild and signed him to a two-year contract extension, and bought out veteran forward Scott Hartnell. On Monday, the Blue Jackets signed college free agent defender Doyle Somerby.

Right now, the Blue Jackets still have two restricted free agents in Josh Anderson and Alexander Wennberg to get signed.

Today at PHT, we’ll discuss the key storylines facing the Blue Jackets as training camp approaches.

 

Weight hopes Eberle can re-discover ‘eye of the tiger’ with Islanders

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This post is part of Islanders Day on PHT…

Jordan Eberle had a difficult season at times in 2016-17.

Yet he still managed to score 20 goals, hitting that mark for a fourth consecutive season and fifth time in six years. (He put up 34 goals in 2011-12.)

You can understand why having a skilled winger to perhaps play alongside center John Tavares — at least that’s the expectation prior to training camp — would be intriguing for head coach Doug Weight as the new season approaches.

“Jordan, to me, is really, really exciting,” Weight recently told the NHL Network.

Eberle’s first foray into playoff hockey was a struggle, as he recorded only two assists in 13 post-season games and the Oilers made it to the second round.

And that is where Weight’s extended comments get interesting, because it sounds like the 27-year-old forward’s confidence took a bit of a hit during his final campaign in Edmonton and, in particular, during the playoffs, when his offensive production wasn’t there and the public scrutiny intensified.

Several weeks later, Eberle was traded to the Islanders.

“I want him to come in with that eye of the tiger; that fire back that sometimes gets lost,” Weight continued. “It’s tough. You can get cemented in certain roles, you can have some tough times. But Jordan still produced. He’s a helluva talent and I’m excited to get that confidence back in him and excited for him to get here.”

It didn’t take long after the trade for discussions about a possible Eberle-Tavares reunion to begin. Playing for Team Canada, they combined for a thrilling tying goal against Russia in the dying seconds of the 2009 World Juniors semifinal.

One of the Islanders’ top priorities is to get Tavares secured to a new contract, as he enters the final year of his current deal.

Adding a proven scoring winger to Tavares’ line may also help the team’s captain rebound from a season in which his bottom-line production dropped as well, which would certainly boost the Islanders’ chances of getting back to the playoffs.

“[Eberle’s] bringing a right-handed shot as a forward that can obviously shoot and score from anywhere,” Islanders forward Anders Lee recently told NHL.com.

“He’s a playmaker out on the ice and sees the ice extremely well. He can add some extra threats for us on the power play that can really help elevate us.”