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The NHL’s bye week experiment is still a work in progress

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One of the big changes in the NHL this season has been the introduction of the bye week, giving every team in the league one stretch of at least five consecutive days where it plays no games.

The theory behind it was simple: The NHL season, 82 games, plus two months of playoffs if your team is good enough to keep advancing, is a grueling grind and a five-day break in the middle of the season would be a welcome break.

One of the big problems has been the fact that nearly every team that has returned from its bye week has not only lost, but hasn’t even really been competitive in its first game back as they try to shake off the rust and get back to game speed.

After all five teams returning from their bye weeks on Saturday (Montreal, Washington, Chicago, Tampa Bay, Nashville) lost their games, NHL teams are only 3-12-4 this season coming off of their bye.

The 16 teams that have lost their first games back have been outscored by a 60-23 margin (that is a minus-37 goal differential!). Eleven of those losses have been by multiple goals, including seven that have been by three or more.

Even if you include the three teams that won their first game back, NHL teams have a minus-30 goal differential (outscored 37-67) in that first game back.

This has not gone unnoticed with the NHL.

The issue was discussed during Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada broadcast with Kelly Hrudey talking about a couple of the options that have been proposed, including an extended holiday break (which NHL teams are not in favor of). One of the other ideas mentioned was a suggestion by Calgary Flames assistant general manager Craig Conroy where the each conference takes its bye week at the same time, and when they return from that bye week they only play teams from that conference so nobody has a competitive advantage over the other team.

But while the record of teams coming back from the bye week has been the key talking point, the other unintended consequence that seems to slip under the radar is what that bye week in the middle of the season does to the rest of the schedule.

If your 82-game season is going to cover the same amount of time on the calendar, and you are giving teams an entire week off in the middle of the season, it is going to condense everything else the rest of the way. It is going to force teams to play more back-to-backs, have more weeks where they play three games in four nights, and add to the wear and tear at other times during the season. Making matters worse this season was the World Cup of Hockey that preceded the season, pushing the start date back an additional week later than it normally is.

Several NHL coaches have expressed some frustration with this, not only with what it does to the schedule itself and for player safety, but also for the way it has cut into practice time. Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News wrote about the subject this week, quoting Bruce Boudreau of the Minnesota Wild at the All-Star game saying that he has never had fewer practices in the league as a head coach because, “you can’t kill the guys, especially your best players.”

Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock was even more direct.

“I think it’s 100 percent wrong for player safety,” Babcock said, via Harrington. “You’ve got so many games in such a short period of time and you’re jamming in more. To me, the more days rest you can have by not playing back-to-backs and jamming it in, the healthier you have a chance to be.”

Given the amount of attention this current set up has received, it seems like a strong bet that the NHL is going to at least look at the way the bye week is set up and how it is utilized next season and beyond.

PHT Morning Skate: Zdeno Chara shot catches emergency goalie in a sensitive spot

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–Sean McIndoe looks at five players who became the unlikeliest first 50-goal scorers in their franchise’s history. McIndoe chose Rick MacLeish (Flyers), Rick Vaive (Maple Leafs), Vic Hadfield (Rangers), Guy Chouinard (Flames) and Mickey Redmond (Red Wings). (The Hockey News)

–A lot of people think hockey players are the toughest athletes, but Islanders forward Anders Lee is here to tell you that they aren’t tough at all. In his story for The Players’ Tribune, Lee writes about a tough, young friend, who is battling cancer. “In the seven years since he has been diagnosed, he has gone through multiple surgeries. He’s had countless radiation treatments. He’s gone through chemotherapy, immunotherapy and stem cell transplants. And he does it all with a smile on his face. So when I hear people refer to me as tough because I play hockey, I think of Fenov and kids like him.” (The Players’ Tribune)

–The Boston Bruins needed an emergency goalie for their practice yesterday, and they settled on Massachusetts state trooper Kevin Segee. Surely, it was the experience of a lifetime for him, but it didn’t come without pain. Segee was clearly shaken up after getting a Zdeno Chara in the…well, you know. (CSN New England)

–Blackhawks forwards Artemi Panarin, Patrick Kane and Tanner Kero each had multi-point games in Wednesday’s 5-1 thumping of the Pittsburgh Penguins. You can watch the highlights from the game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–What was the world like the last time the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs? Thanks to Sports Illustrated, we don’t have to wonder. In 1990, J.K. Rowling had just started writing the Harry Potter series, Donald Trump walked out of an interview with CNN because they were asking tough questions about his casino, the first known webpage was written and much, much more. (Sports Illustrated)

–Edmonton Oilers players and their significant others came together to make 400-500 bowls of homemade soup for charity. It’s pretty cool to see most of the team be involved in such a nice event, even though the onion chopping station gave some of the guys a hard time. (Edmonton Oilers on Twitter)

–Sportsnet has assembled the top hits of the week for your viewing pleasure. Hits from that Toronto, Columbus game made the video a couple of times:

Milbury, Jones: Tkachuk walked the walk; Kings’ response was embarrassing

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The Los Angeles Kings got revenge on Matthew Tkachuk and the Calgary Flames on the scoreboard on Wednesday. But was that 4-1 win enough?

Mike Milbury and Keith Jones provided a lengthy “overtime” segment on NBCSN that brought about some really fascinating takes on the situation between Tkachuk and the Flames versus Drew Doughty and the Los Angeles Kings.

Watch the full video above, as it’s worth your time.

A few interesting lines if you’re (tsk tsk) skipping it:

Milbury: Believes that Doughty didn’t “do enough,” noting that star players sometimes have to stick up for themselves. On the other hand, Tkachuk showed that he can “walk the walk.”

He also gave the Kings a “C-, D+ if not worse” for their overall response. “Fight your own battles,” Milbury said of Doughty.

Jones disagreed to some extent, believing that Kings teammates won’t look at Doughty differently. But Jake Muzzin? He believes that Muzzin’s frequent defensive partner (at least over the years, maybe not this season) backing down from a fight was an embarrassment.

Spicy stuff.

For what it’s worth, Drew Doughty has one career fight (against Joe Thornton [!] in 2011-2) while Jake Muzzin’s lone bout came against Andrew Desjardins in 2012-13, according to Hockey Fights. Does that mean they shouldn’t have dropped the gloves on Wednesday? Milbury and Jones seem to believe that they should have answered the bell.

For more, check out a collection of the early violent moments and Tkachuk’s attempted shot at Doughty. The Kings win is summarized in greater detail here.

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

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It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.