Jason Brough

Wayne Gretzky

Gretzky laments the ‘grinding game’ that the NHL has become


Last week, we wrote about the possibility that the NHL could have no 100-point man or 50-goal scorer this season.

And then Patrick Kane went wild, piling up eight points in three games to get to 102.

Alex Ovechkin could still reach 50 goals, too. He’s got 47 with three games to go.

But their totals will be nothing compared to the numbers Wayne Gretzky used to amass with the Oilers. In 1981-82, he scored 92 goals and 212 points. In 1985-86, it was 163 assists and 215 points.

How times have changed.

In an interview with the New York Times, the Great One lamented the “grinding game” that he sees today in the NHL.

“When I was 10 years old, they’d throw a puck on the ice and say, ‘Go score,'” he said. “Now, at 10 years old, the kids are taught to play in their lanes. Defensemen stay back. Everybody blocks shots. I mean, my goodness, I don’t think I ever blocked a shot, and I killed penalties every single game. I thought goaltenders were paid to block shots, not forwards. It’s changed completely. I think the biggest thing we’ve lost is a little bit of our creativity and imagination in general.”

Of course, it’s hard to blame NHL coaches for coaching the way they do today. The evidence clearly shows that defense wins championships, and that’s what coaches are paid to do — win. Go back and watch some hockey from the 1980s and you’ll regularly see defensive lapses that would get players benched in 2016.

And for the record, it wasn’t all beautiful run-and-gun hockey back in the ’80s. Often it was just plain sloppy, full of hooking and holding and slashing. Compared to today, the players in Gretzky’s era weren’t as fast, they weren’t as strong, and they sure weren’t as fit.

But Gretzky’s words have already struck a chord with many, and that’s something the NHL may want to investigate further.

AHL announces all-rookie team, and there are some interesting names on it

2015 NHL Draft - Round One
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The AHL announced its 2015-16 All-Rookie Team today, and here it is:

Goalie: Juuse Saros, Milwaukee (Nashville)
Defenseman: Brandon Montour, San Diego (Anaheim)
Defenseman: Robbie Russo, Grand Rapids (Detroit)
Forward: Austin Czarnik, Providence (Boston)
Forward: Mikko Rantanen, San Antonio (Colorado)
Forward: Frank Vatrano, Providence (Boston)

Click here to read more about each player.

Rantanen is arguably the most well-known of the bunch. The 19-year-old was the 10th overall pick in the 2015 draft, so it’s no surprise to see his name on the list.

As for the other names, one wonders if Montour’s progression — along with Shea Theodore’s — could allow the Ducks to make Sami Vatanen available this offseason. Not because they’d want to trade Vatanen, but rather because he’s a pending restricted free agent and there’s only so much cap space. For the record, Vatanen has said he wants to remain a Duck “for a long time.”

Russo, 23, is another interesting story. He was originally drafted by the Islanders, but after four years at Notre Dame signed with the Red Wings as a free agent. That’s looking like a nice get for Detroit, which needs to keep getting younger on the back end.

Meanwhile, the Bruins have to be pleased to have two of their prospects honored — both Czarnik and Vatrano were undrafted, by the way — and it’ll be interesting to see what the Preds have planned for Saros. He’s only 20 and that’s young for a goalie, so even though Pekka Rinne‘s backup, Carter Hutton, is a pending unrestricted free agent, chances are Saros will get some more time in the AHL next season.

‘Too early’ to say if Seguin could be back for playoffs

Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin (91) yells after scoring a goal agains the Montreal Canadiens during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Tyler Seguin may not be able to picture himself missing the first game of the playoffs, but his coach, Lindy Ruff, was sounding a more cautious tone today.

“He’s skating in a limited fashion, I would say somewhere between the 50 and 75 percent range,” Ruff told reporters, per team beat writer Mark Stepneski.

Seguin suffered a partial cut of his Achilles tendon on March 17. His original timeline was 3-4 weeks.

When asked if it was realistic that Seguin could be ready by the start of the postseason next week, Ruff replied, “I don’t know. It’s too early for me to even comment whether it is or not.”

The Stars have managed well without their star forward, going 6-2-0 in his absence. They’ll win the Central Division if they beat the Avs tomorrow and the Predators Saturday.

Ruff also provided injury updates on defensemen Kris Russell and Jason Demers. The former could return tomorrow versus Colorado, the latter is progressing but remains questionable for the start of the playoffs.

The ‘message has been received loud and clear’ — Oilers promise better effort in final game at Rexall Place

Fans wait to get into Rexall Place as players from the Edmonton Oilers 1984 team reunite to mark the 30th anniversary of the team's first Stanley Cup in Edmonton, Alberta, Friday, Oct. 10, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jason Franson)

The Edmonton Oilers are hoping to end the old barn’s NHL era on a high note.

Tonight, they’ll host the Vancouver Canucks in the final game at Rexall Place, before moving downtown to a new arena next season.

On Saturday, the final Battle of Alberta at Rexall didn’t go so well for the home team. The Oilers got thumped, 5-0, by the Flames — a loss that Edmonton’s increasingly beleaguered-sounding head coach, Todd McLellan, called “freaking embarrassing.”

The players have vowed that won’t happen again.

“The message has been received loud and clear how that last game went,” said rookie phenom Connor McDavid, per the Edmonton Journal. “As a whole group we want to play our best here for the final game. There are a lot of people going to be in the building, special alumni, great fans, we want to put our best foot forward and play a solid game.”

So many memorable hockey moments have occurred inside the arena that used to be called Northlands Coliseum. The 1980s Oilers hoisted the Cup four times there. Wayne Gretzky broke all sorts of scoring records there.

Of course, it’s been a long time since Gretzky, Kurri, Messier, Fuhr, Coffey, and Anderson ruled the league. There hasn’t even been a playoff game at Rexall Place since 2006, a decade ago.

And there never will be again.

“You look up and you see the banners and the names in the rafters, it’s a special place,” McDavid said. “It’s really hard to picture what it would have been like winning a Stanley Cup here with how everything has gone this year, but I can only imagine what it must have been like.”

Memorable moments

Dec. 30, 1981: Gretzky scores five goals against the Flyers to reach 50 goals in 39 games.

May 19, 1984: The Oilers win their first Stanley Cup, defeating the Islanders in Game 5 of the final.

April 30, 1986: Steve Smith scores the most famous own goal in hockey history, allowing the Flames to upset the Oilers in seven games.

May 31, 1987: Glenn Anderson’s goal clinches the Oilers’ third Stanley Cup, as they defeat the Flyers in a thrilling seven-game series.

Oct. 15, 1989: Gretzky becomes the NHL’s all-time leading scorer, as a member of the Los Angeles Kings.

June 10, 2006: Oilers fans belt out the Canadian national anthem prior to Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final versus Carolina.

Related: Changes are coming in Edmonton — ‘We haven’t been good enough’

Reports: Russian U-18 team replaced due to positive meldonium tests

Tablets and vials of meldonium, also known as mildronate, are photographed in Moscow, Tuesday, March 8, 2016. Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova says she failed a drug test for meldonium at the Australian Open. The drug was only banned in January and there has been a string of failed tests by athletes in several sports since. (AP Photo/James Ellingworth)

Details are still emerging, but it’s been reported that the entire Russian team that was headed for the under-18 World Championship in Grand Forks has been replaced due to positive tests for the banned substance meldonium.

The head coach of the team has also reportedly been fired.

Russian sports writer Slava Malamud shares more via Twitter:

Meldonium is the same drug that Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova tested positive for.

The World Anti-Doping Agency only recently added the drug to its list of banned substances.

From the New York Times:

Meldonium is most commonly used in Eastern European and ex-Soviet countries as a drug for people with heart conditions, but it’s also offered for sale online. There are also signs that a sizable minority of athletes were using before it was banned.

The World Anti-Doping Agency monitored the effects and use of meldonium before announcing in September that it would be declared a banned substance from Jan. 1, 2016.

WADA declared the decision on its website more than three months before the ban, and it was also announced by the Russian anti-doping agency.

Russia is scheduled to open the tournament next Thursday against the United States at Ralph Engelstad Arena.