James O'Brien

MONTREAL, QC - MARCH 26:  Mike Brown #13 of the Montreal Canadiens skates the puck during the NHL game  against the New York Rangers at the Bell Centre on March 26, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The New York Rangers defeated the Montreal Canadiens 5-2.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Report: Blue Jackets give Mike Brown and his sweet mustache a PTO

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It doesn’t really hurt a team to give a player a look without handing out a full-blown contract, so the Columbus Blue Jackets aren’t leaving many stones un-turned.

They’ve already handed tryouts to veterans such as Jarret Stoll and Marc-Andre Bergeron, and now tough guy Mike Brown is getting a PTO as well, according to Sportnet’s Chris Johnston. (The Globe & Mail’s James Mirtle also reports as much.)

Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella likely approves of the 31-year-old’s rough, gritty style.

He’s only seen sparse reps at the NHL level lately, so his best selling point might be as a depth option when the Blue Jackets anticipate an especially physical encounter.

Most importantly, he usually sports a really sweet ‘stache:

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 17: Mike Brown #18 of the San Jose Sharks checsk Thomas Hickey #14 of the New York Islanders during the first period at the Barclays Center on October 17, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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So there will be NHL versions of those weird Funko pop dolls

funkocrosbyovi
via Funko
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From the Department of Things We Only Vaguely Understand: Funko will release a series of NHL player dolls under their Funko Pop line, appropriately titled “NHL Pops!”

Rolling Stone does a solid job describing the “stylistic guidelines” for such toys, besting PHT’s offering of “creepy.”

Whether it’s Huckleberry Hound, the Incredible Hulk or The Big Bang Theory’s Howard Wolowitz, the average Pop figure adheres to the same template: It stands 3.75 inches tall in a neutral pose. It has a square-shaped head with rounded edges — one large enough to account for half the piece’s height. It should have pupil-free, button-like black eyes, a small nose and no mouth. Most importantly, it should be adorable.

A wide range of NHL players are available, from obvious choices (Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane) to a few surprises (Morgan Rielly, quite a few guys with unexpected facial hair).

Let’s examine a few favorites.

First, perhaps the least handsome we may ever see Henrik Lundqvist:

hankpop

Next, Jonathan Toews with a glaring lack of sideburns:

toewspop

Finally, Ovechkin and Crosby, forever linked:

funkocrosbyovi

The adorable and/or creepy figures are coming out in November. Gotta catch them all.

Poker face: Vegas NHL expansion team has a name, but it’s a secret

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 22:  New Las Vegas NHL franchise owner Bill Foley and commissioner Gary Bettman of the National Hockey League pose for a photo during the Board of Governors Press Conference prior to the 2016 NHL Awards at Encore Las Vegas on June 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The NHL's board of governors approved expanding to Las Vegas, making the franchise the 31st team in the league. The team will start play during the 2017-18 season and play at the newly built T-Mobile Arena.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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In a move that’s just begging for gambling references, Las Vegas expansion team owner Bill Foley is really keeping a card up his sleeve.

(See, it’s tough to avoid doing that.)

It turns out that Foley knows what he’ll call the squad, but he’s keeping it a secret, as he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“The name is definitely set,” Foley said Monday. “But I can’t tell you exactly what it is. That’s a secret.”

Foley indicates that announcement will be made sometime in mid-October.

Plenty of speculation

The Vegas team’s owner admits that he’s been very happy that all of the speculation regarding the team name is keeping his franchise in the news.

First, it seemed like the team would involve “Hawks” in some way. Lately, reports indicate that the team name will include “Knights” instead. The latter Knights seems like it will be in play, barring a swerve by Foley.

Many of us always imagined a Vegas expansion team with some fun gambling reference, but it’s easy to see why Foley and the NHL would resist such a temptation. Here’s hoping they choose the right Knights.

For what it’s worth:

NHL 17 is out today; Here’s what people think so far

nhl17ea
via EA Sports
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NHL 17 is out for Xbox One and Playstation 4 today, so maybe it’s a little early to draw an outright consensus.

Plenty of reviews have already surfaced, however, so those waiting with a sweaty finger over the “purchase” button might get a decent idea of what to expect.

In short? Expect what you normally would from an annual sports release: refinement rather than a revolution. At least, that’s what reviews seem to indicate so far.

Destructoid captured much of that spirit:

When compared to NHL 15, NHL 17 is miles ahead; when compared to NHL 16, it’s incrementally better. That’s the EA Sports way. There are some new features and improvements, but nothing mind-blowingly innovative. That’s perfectly fine. There’s a good hockey game at the core, and a lot of options on the periphery. That’s all we ever wanted.

It’s interesting to see that comparison, as Kotaku’s Mike Fahey seems to indicate that this is a year about baby steps as well:

Sometimes the annual installment of a sports game feels like a brand new experience, sometimes it feels like same thing, different year. NHL 17, available for play now on EA Access ahead of next week’s release, is definitely the latter.

(Pro tip: if you have an Xbox One and you’re really sweating the decision, trying it out on EA Access could be a good option. Yes, you’d be out a Netflix-style monthly fee, but their setup would allow you to play around with the game for 10 hours. That should be a fine gauge for whether or not you want to continue selling hot dogs and maybe get around to playing hockey.)

Thumbing through reviews (Metacritic provides Rotten Tomatoes-like listings of reviews if you want to survey them), reactions seem positive though not necessarily emphatic.

It might be the sort of situation where NHL 17 isn’t going to convert people who don’t like the EA style of hockey, but should be solid for addicts. Those who bought NHL 16 shouldn’t expect a huge improvement.

For some, such as US Gamer’s Kat Bailey, that’s a little frustrating:

NHL 17 has some real strengths, but it still feels like it hasn’t quite made it out of the previous generation. The gameplay is strong but increasingly dated; the feature set feels haphazard, and there are lots of niggling quality-of-life issues.

More NHL 17 fun

Beefing about player ratings

Customization is the key

Vladimir Tarasenko gets the cover

Alex Ovechkin: Not the biggest fan of the NHL’s current playoff format

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Alex Ovechkin-haters aren’t going to like this, but that doesn’t automatically mean his point isn’t valid.

Simply put, Ovechkin believes that the NHL’s current playoff format doesn’t really do a great job rewarding the team that wins the Presidents’ Trophy.

He explained as much to CSN Mid-Atlantic’s Tarik El-Bashir.

“The schedule in the playoffs is kind of weird,” Ovechkin said, “because you play first team and fourth and then you play against Pittsburgh. … Then you think, why [do we] need to win Presidents’ Trophy to play against the best team?

“It’s tough to think about it. It’s kind of weird, but there’s nothing you can do.”

Again, Ovechkin’s critics will do what they normally do with this.

/Waits for them to grumble about excuses.

Even if you believe that he’s just griping, the Washington Capitals star has a point. It’s a little odd that Washington (120 points in the regular season to win the Presidents’ Trophy) faced the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round.

The Penguins didn’t just finish 2015-16 on a hot streak. They collected 104 standings points, second-most in the Eastern Conference. It’s understandable that Ovechkin feels a little bewildered that he wouldn’t take on such an opponent in, say, the third round.

(Which he’s never seen, as his haters will surely scream at their screens.)

The NHL has plenty of reasons to go with the current format, from encouraging rivalries to possibly limiting travel headaches. Just about any setup will inspire some complaints.

Ovechkin’s free to criticize the format, but the bottom line is that his Capitals will need to beat some tough playoff opponents regardless of how a bracket rolls out. If they’re not needing to face the Penguins, there are plenty of other worthy adversaries, such as the Tampa Bay Lightning.