‘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.

The Buzzer: Skinner ends Sabres’ skid, Ovi’s hat trick, Oilers win again

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Three Stars

1. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals.  What else can you say about him at this point? He scored three goals in the Washington Capitals’ 6-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night and now leads the league with 25 goals this season. Read about all of it here, including how he has never scored this many goals 30 games into any season.

2. Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres. The Buffalo Sabres snapped their five-game losing streak on Tuesday night with a come-from-behind win against the Los Angeles Kings. It was yet another one-goal game that needed overtime, and it was yet another game where Jeff Skinner came through for them when they needed it. Fourteen of the Sabres’ past 16 games have been decided by just one goal, with 10 of them going to overtime. With that many close games the bounces are not always going to go your way, and the Sabres have experienced both the highs and lows of that randomness during this recent stretch with a 10-game winning streak and a five-game losing streak mixed in. On Tuesday, though, things went the Sabres’ way. Skinner’s goal was his already his 21st goal of the season and his fourth game-winning goal. Three of those game-winning goals have come in overtime, with all of three of those coming since Nov. 23 when this recent stretch of close games began.

3. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers. The Edmonton Oilers won again on Tuesday night and officially moved back into a playoff spot thanks to their 6-4 victory over the Colorado Avalanche. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was one of the stars of the night for them with three points, including a pair of goals. The Oilers are now 8-2-1 under new coach Ken Hitchcock.

Other notable performances from Tuesday

William Nylander is officially on the stat sheet for the Toronto Maple Leafs this season thanks to a pair of assists in their 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

— The Colorado Avalanche did not get the win on Tuesday night, but Mikko Rantanen became the first player in the NHL this season to hit the 50-point mark with a four-point effort. He and Nathan MacKinnon, first and second in the points race, are still chasing some rare feats this season.

— Elsewhere in that game Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl both had three points to continue their outstanding play in the Edmonton Oilers win.

Brad Marchand, playing alongside David Pastrnak and David Krejci on the Boston Bruins’ top line, scored two goals in their 4-3 win over the Arizona Coyotes. All three players on the top line had three points in the win.

Kyle Connor played a big role for the Winnipeg Jets in their win over the Chicago Blackhawks, scoring two more goals to continue his strong season.

Highlights of the Night

It was another bad performance with yet another slow start by the Chicago Blackhawks but at least Cam Ward made one of the best saves of the season.

Charlie Coyle helped lead the Minnesota Wild to a much-needed 7-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens by making Shea Weber look really bad on this play.

The Boston Bruins needed Tuukka Rask to make a big save at the buzzer to secure their win over the Arizona Coyotes.

The Vancouver Canucks rallied late for the win in Columbus with Jake Virtanen‘s goal being the game-winner. Just make sure you get it at the net and good things might happen for you.

For some highlights of the weird check out the glass randomly shattering after a fight in Colorado, and the St. Louis Blues having a goal disallowed on the weirdest play of the season so far.

Factoids

Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have been a huge part of the Chicago Blackhawks’ success over the years, and they made some history on Tuesday night. That was probably the highlight of the night for the team in their 6-3 loss to the Winnipeg Jets.

Alex Ovechkin is a force that will not slow down.

Big start to the season for Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba.

Scores

Boston Bruins 4, Arizona Coyotes 3

Buffalo Sabres 4, Los Angeles Kings 3 (OT)

Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Carolina Hurricanes 1

Vancouver Canucks 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2

Washington Capitals 6, Detroit Red Wings 2

St. Louis Blues 4, Florida Panthers 3

Nashville Predators 3, Ottawa Senators 1

Minnesota Wild 7, Montreal Canadiens 1

Winnipeg Jets 6, Chicago Blackhawks 4

Edmonton Oilers 6, Colorado Avalanche 4

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Glass smacking fan in Colorado accidentally shatters penalty box glass

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The NHL certainly had its share of weird moments on Tuesday night.

In St. Louis, we had the Blues have a goal disallowed because the puck bounced in the net off of referee Tim Peel.

In Colorado, the glass next to the Edmonton Oilers’ penalty box suddenly shattered following a third period fight involving Matt Calvert and Matt Benning.

It’s hard to see what exactly happened, but a fan next to the penalty box appeared to smack the glass only to have it complete shatter into thousands of pieces. It didn’t seem to be a very hard smack so it is entirely likely it was a defective piece of glass that was probably already broken.

But it was still a bizarre scene that briefly delayed the game.

Here is the fight that started the entire sequence.

The Oilers ended up winning the game thanks to three-point nights from Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Leon Draisaitl, and another strong performance in goal from goalie Mikko Koskinen.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

‘Embarrassing’ first period pushes Blackhawks’ losing streak to eight

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Slow starts have been the calling card for the Chicago Blackhawks this season.

They entered play on Tuesday night in Winnipeg having given up at least the first two goals in eight of their previous 10 games, and it of course happened again in an ugly 6-3 loss to the Jets.

And this slow start seemed to be even worse than all of the previous slow starts.

The Blackhawks not only surrendered three goals in the first period (and a fourth goal just one minute into the second period), they were at one point getting outshot by a 14-0 margin before recording their first shot on goal of the game.

“We didn’t have a shot for like the first what, 15, 16 minutes, maybe even more,” said Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane after the game. “So pretty embarrassing start.”

[Related: Blackhawks hit bottom in this week’s PHT Power Rankings]

“If I had a fix I would have fixed it already,” coach Jeremy Colliton said regarding the starts.

“Compete harder early on. I thought we were late to almost every situation in the first period and they have a really good team. They pressure hard and they make a lot of plays. They play like men out there and we just couldn’t match it in the beginning and we paid a price for it.”

With all of those bad starts the Blackhawks have now lost eight games in a row, 10 out of their past 11, and 19 out of their past 22.

This is already their second eight-game losing streak of the season, and as pointed out by The Athletic’s Mark Lazerus, this is their third eight-game losing streak in their past 63 games.

They are also just 3-12-2 since Colliton replaced Joel Quenneville behind the bench. They were 6-6-3 under Quenneville.

Just about the only positive for the Blackhawks right now is the fact that Dylan Strome continued his strong play since arriving in Chicago via trade with the Arizona Coyotes. He scored his seventh goal of the season in Tuesday’s loss and now has four goals and five total points in his first eight games with the Blackhawks. He only had six points in 20 games with the Coyotes before the trade.

Other than that, though, there is nothing going right for this Blackhawks team.

(PHT’s Scott Billeck contributed to this post)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Alex Ovechkin isn’t slowing down

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At 33 years old Alex Ovechkin is not supposed to be scoring goals at this sort of pace.

He is not supposed to be scoring goals the way he was when he was in his mid-20s.

The typical aging curve for NHL players, even the elites, says they are supposed to be slowing down at this point in their career and seeing their numbers slide south in a downward trend.

But as Ovechkin has shown throughout his brilliant career, he is not typical.

He is also not slowing down.

With three more goals on Tuesday night in the Capitals’ 6-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings, the game’s greatest goal-scorer added to his league leading total and now sits atop the NHL with 25 goals through his team’s first 30 games.

He also extending his current point streak to 12 consecutive games.

[Related: Capitals among NHL elites in this week’s PHT Power Rankings]

These numbers are impressive, even for Ovechkin. Especially when you consider he has never at any point in his career scored more goals through his team’s first 30 games (22 was his previous high at this point) and is currently on a 68-goal pace for the season.

These numbers are downright comical because they are completely unheard for a player this age. They are bordering on absurd.

Since 1987 no player in the NHL at age 33 or older has ever scored this many goals through 30 games (no one had more than 22).

In the history of the league only 13 different players have recorded a 50-goal season over the age of 30, while only three (Jaromir Jagr, Bobby Hull, and John Buyck) have recorded one at age 33 or older.

Ovechkin is now literally halfway there with still 52 games to play this season.

It would not be unfair to say he has had some puck luck on his side so far, and that was especially true on Tuesday night where two of his goals came off of fluky bounces. He also has a 21.5 percent shooting percentage that is seven points higher than his previous career best (14.6 in 2007-08, when he scored 65 goals) and nine points higher than his career average. That sort of pace is unsustainable in the modern NHL, even for somebody as great as Ovechkin.

But even if he shot at his normal career average (12.6 percent) over the rest of the season that would still be another 25 goals based on his current shot output. That would put him at exactly 50 goals for the season, and what very well might be an eighth goal-scoring crown.

It is expecting a lot given that no one has ever really done anything like this at this age, but would you want to bet against him?

The defending champs have now won 11 of their past 14 games and extended their lead in the Metropolitan Division with Tuesday’s win.

(H/T to Hockey-Reference database for historical goal data in this post)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.