Pre-game reading: Laine better than Matthews?

— Up top, Bob McKenzie talks NHL and the Olympics. The Board of Governors is meeting today in Palm Beach, but don’t expect any decision until January.

— TSN’s Gary Lawless believes Patrik Laine will end up being better than Auston Matthews. “Laine is the rarest of talents. Scoring goals is the most difficult thing to do in the NHL and he is well ahead of just about every player in the world right now at the age of 18.” Yep, it’s basically Alex Ovechkin versus Sidney Crosby all over again. One’s a winger, the other’s a center. The prevailing hockey wisdom says the center is more valuable, because a center can make more of an impact at both ends of the ice. And, of course, Crosby’s backers can say he’s won two Stanley Cups. But Ovechkin has scored 537 goals in just 864 games, and that’s incredible in this day and age. We’ll have to wait and see who wins a Cup first between Laine and Matthews, assuming one wins one at all. Connor McDavid will probably have something to say as well. (TSN)

— Here’s Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill on why some NHL owners are reluctant to send players to the Olympics: “February is one of our biggest months and it’s hard to shut down for three weeks. First of all, you are shutting down your business. Period. And there is the risk of injuries and everything that goes with it. So it’s a tough situation. And the other part of it is, we’re not competing against the NFL at that time. We’re not competing against baseball at that time. It’s really just us and the NBA. So it’s really kind of our time. February, it’s hockey time in these types of markets.” (Postmedia)

— Another impassioned plea to change the NHL’s points system and award three points for a win. “A three-point regulation win gives coaches and teams much greater incentive to win in regulation, and discourages teams sitting back in the third period of close games playing just to guarantee their point and hope for two in the extra frame. This would immediately improve the 60-minute NHL product, especially in the third period of tied and close games.” We couldn’t agree more, but the league has shown no appetite for such a change, so don’t hold your breath waiting for it. (Metro)

Matt Duchene remembers former Avalanche teammate Marek Svatos, who died last month of a drug overdose. “Svats, I hope people don’t judge him on that because he was an outstanding guy. He had a tough go — a lot of injuries, a lot of surgeries. As an athlete, it’s hard to not be a little depressed at times. For him, the amount he went through, it’s sad and all I can do is send my condolences to his family and hopefully they can stay strong. We’re all praying for them.” (Denver Post)

— Sean McIndoe has a list of 10 lies all hockey fans tell themselves. We particularly enjoyed Lie No. 5: “Our prospect pipeline is stacked.” Because general managers are guilty of this too. The way the NHL is set up, it’s basically impossible to have zero prospects. Writes McIndoe: “Every team has prospects. Some of those, by definition, will even be the team’s best prospects. But it doesn’t mean they’re any good. And just pointing out that they exist doesn’t mean the future is bright.” (Sportsnet)

Enjoy the games!

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    Canucks GM wants Miller back, bringing rebuild into question again

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    For one fine trade deadline, it seemed like the Vancouver Canucks and GM Jim Benning saw the light.

    They actually moved veterans for assets, and interesting ones in that. They were, gasp, considered one of the winners of the trade deadline. There was the indication that a rebuild might finally be in action. Better late than never, right?

    Well … maybe that was just a brief reprieve.

    The Vancouver Province’s Ben Kuzma reports that Benning threw the word “competitive” around when describing why he wants to re-sign 37-year-old Ryan Miller and why he isn’t looking to trade valued defenseman Chris Tanev and declining blueliner Alex Edler.

    Sensible if debatable

    His reluctance regarding moving the two defensemen is easier to understand. Tanev, 27, is in his prime at a nice cap hit ($4.45 million through 2019-20). A competitive team would want him, and if Benning is convinced the Canucks are close to being just that, then it makes sense.

    Edler staying is a little simpler. He has a no-trade clause and doesn’t want to go.

    Now, one can argue that Tanev would be best served being moved for high-quality pieces. And perhaps Benning should at least try to convince Edler to accept a trade.

    A strange direction in net

    But Miller?

    “As we’re transitioning these young players into our lineup, I feel that if we have solid goaltending on a night-to-night basis, we can be competitive,” Benning said Thursday, according to Kuzma.

    Now, that story discusses why Miller may or may not accept a return, but one would guess that he won’t have a ton of offers. At least not offers that would involve a chance for more “platoon” or even starter-type work rather than explicitly labeling him a backup.

    Really, that’s beside the point, because it’s confounding that Vancouver wouldn’t want to go in a younger direction.

    You can read that sort of discussion as the Canucks once again wanting to have their cake and eat it too. They seemingly want to “reload” instead of “rebuild.”

    Perhaps there’s some smoke-screening going on here. Maybe Benning’s more interested in moving parts than he lets on; it could be that he wants to drive up Tanev’s price by playing coy about moving him.

    Still, on their face, the comments don’t exactly inspire confidence for a fan base that must be getting a little irritated by management that, to many, seems delusional about this team’s potential.

    Penguins’ Sullivan believes resiliency is ‘strength of this team’

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    PITTSBURGH (AP) Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz stood shoulder to shoulder at center ice as midnight approached, crowd on its feet, Prince of Wales Trophy in hand. Another shot at the Stanley Cup in the offing.

    On the surface, it could have been a scene ripped from 2008 when the longtime Pittsburgh Penguin teammates earned their first crack at a championship together, the one that was supposed to be the launching pad for a dynasty.

    A closer look at the weary, grateful smiles told a different story.

    This team has learned over the last decade that nothing can be taken for granted. Not their individual greatness or postseason success, even for one of the NHL’s marquee franchises. Not the cohesion it takes to survive the crucible of the most draining championship chase in professional team sports or the mental toughness (along with a dash of luck) needed to stay on top once you get there.

    So Crosby paused in the giddy aftermath of Pittsburgh’s 3-2 victory over Ottawa in Game 7 of the helter-skelter Eastern Conference finals to do something the two-time Hart Trophy winner almost never does. He took stock of the moment, aware of how fleeting they can be.

    “Every series you look at, the margin for error is so slim,” Crosby said. “We’ve just continued to find ways and different guys have stepped up. We trust in that and we believe in that and whoever has come in the lineup has done a great job. That builds confidence. We’ve done it different ways, which is probably our biggest strength.”

    And they’ll have to do it one more time in the final against swaggering Nashville if they want to become the first team in nearly 20 years and the first in salary-cap era to win back-to-back championships.

    It’s a daunting task. When the puck drops in Game 1 on Monday night in Pittsburgh, the Penguins will be playing in their 108th game in the last calendar year, and that doesn’t count another half dozen for those who played in the World Cup of Hockey and a handful of exhibition games.

    Pittsburgh, however, has survived to do something even Chicago and Los Angeles – who have combined for five of the seven Cups awarded since 2010 – could not in putting itself in positon for a repeat.

    Credit coach Mike Sullivan’s ever-prescient tinkering with the lineups, including his decision to throw Kunitz back into the fray with Crosby as Game 7 wore on, an experiment that ended with Crosby feeding Kunitz for the winner 5:09 into the second overtime .

    Credit goaltender Matt Murray, thrust back into the lineup when Marc-Andre Fleury‘s hot play that helped carry the Penguins through the opening two rounds finally cooled.

    Credit a maturity – or maybe it’s wisdom – from the team leaders who watched the first half of the decade come and go with plenty of gaudy regular-season numbers but no Cup banners to join the one they captured in 2009.

    Pinning down what changed is difficult. General manager Jim Rutherford’s ability to remake the team on the fly to build one of the fastest lineups in the league helped. So did Sullivan’s ability to cut through the noise when he replaced the professorial Mike Johnston in December 2015.

    Yet the Penguins understand there’s something else at work too, a resiliency and accountability they lacked while falling to lower-seeded teams every year from 2010-14.

    “I believe that the resolve and the resilience of this team is the strength of this team,” Sullivan said.

    Both were on full display in Game 7.

    Kunitz, who missed the first-round series against Columbus with a lower-body injury, returned to see himself bumped from the first line to the fourth, scored his first two goals of the playoffs. Conor Sheary, a blurring revelation last spring who suddenly found himself a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 against the Senators, returned to set up Kunitz’s first goal .

    Justin Schultz, who has assumed the as the minute-hogging, puck-moving defenseman role held by the injured Kris Letang, returned from his own health scare and scored a go-ahead goal in the third period.

    If the Penguins were a force of nature last spring while earning the franchise’s fourth Cup, this one is more of a throwback. More blue collar. More anonymous.

    Some of the key cogs that helped Pittsburgh get to this point – rookie forward Jake Guentzel, 37-year-old playoff newcomer Ron Hainsey and career grinder Scott Wilson – weren’t even around last spring. Yet they and so many others not named Crosby or Malkin have become equal partners in pursuit of a title.

    “This year it’s been back and forth, it’s been tough,” Kunitz said. “We’ve had great individual performances. We had great goaltending. It’s something every night.”

    It hasn’t been pretty. So what? Perhaps the biggest sign of the team’s growth is it has abandoned the pursuit of style points for something far more tangible. Like a 34-pound piece of hardware, one Pittsburgh has no intention of handing off anytime soon.

    More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

    Breaking: Predators’ Laviolette has not tried Nashville’s ‘hot chicken’ yet

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    Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette dropped a bombshell on “The Dan Patrick Show.” Some of us are still reeling from the revelation.

    It turns out that Laviolette hasn’t tried “hot chicken” yet.

    Laviolette explained that, if he had the “bird that bites back” before a game, he’d be on fire behind the bench. Sadly, Dan Patrick let him off the hook and didn’t ask “Well, what about off days, Lavi?”

    (They might not be on a lazy hockey nickname basis yet, though, to be fair.)

    All kidding aside, Laviolette provided more insight on the Predators’ Stanley Cup Final run – and not a lot more hot chicken hot takes – in the longer interview below.

    Note: This post’s author may or may not have gone a year in Nashville without trying hot chicken either. Hey, Laviolette’s been there for three seasons now. Way worse.

    ‘Making Gretzky’s head bleed’ wasn’t so easy for ‘Swingers’ filmmaker

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    Remember that classic (and very NSFW) video game hockey scene from “Swingers?” The one where Vince Vaughn espouses the virtues of Jeremy Roenick? It was pretty great, right?

    There was something so organic about two friends getting up to video-game shenanigans (and discussing which 16-bit era game featured the best pixelated violence), but apparently it was easier to set the scene that it was to “make Wayne Gretzky’s head bleed.”

    The Ringer’s Achievement Oriented podcast caught up with Doug Liman (pictured with Jon Favreau in this post’s main image) for some hysterical background information on getting that highly amusing scene right.

    “I had never actually seen Wayne Gretzky draw blood, but Vince [Vaughn] claimed he could do it repeatedly, so we put it in the script,” Liman said. “The actors are reacting to that. And then we’re editing the movie and I bring the [game console] into the editing room and we start playing it and we’re recording it onto a videotape so that when we get the one piece we need we’ll play that back on the TV and shoot it. [We do this] for, like, weeks. Nobody can draw blood. And I’m like [to] Nintendo, ‘Hey, can you give us the backdoor key to doing this?’ It wasn’t like we were having fun playing the game, because all we would do was pass the puck down and set it up for Gretzky to get the puck and then we would, you know, try to slam him into the boards.”

    Like a rare athletic feat, they got it right, but don’t ask Liman to pull it off on a whim. Liman sure made it seem like they were lucky to ever commit that moment to film.

    Liman explained that it was “infuriatingly fleeting” and not the sort of video game trick that you could make work over and over again once you learned the right combination of button presses.

    This is some really funny, fantastic background information on the movie that launched the careers of Favreau and Vaughn. It also helped remind us of that golden 16-bit era of EA NHL games, whether you preferred NHL ’94, ’95, or ’96. (And so on.)

    Liman also shares a very amusing story about how hockey video game skills don’t exactly translate to the real sport, so check out the transcript and the full podcast for more.

    And, if you’re playing a modern game like NHL ’17, don’t pick on “Super Fan 87.” Be nice to your friends. That’s the money move.

    Here’s the scene itself. Again, a warning: there is strong language and 16-bit “gore.”