‘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: Brossoit leads Jets; Palmieri’s historic double

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Three Stars

1. Laurent Brossoit, Winnipeg Jets. While earning his first win as a Jet, Brossoit stopped 42 shots during a 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. For the fifth time in seven games, the Hurricanes fired at least 40 shots on net, but the 25-year-old netminder stood tall to help Winnipeg to their second win in three games.

2. Kyle Palmieri, New Jersey Devils. Continuing his hot start to the season, Palmieri netted two goals during the Devils’ 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks. His second period power-play goal was followed up by another tally early in the third period even the score at two. Palmieri now has six goals on the season, scoring twice in each of New Jersey’s three games this season. And per the NHL, Palmieri is the fourth NHL player to score multiple goals in three straight games to begin a season, joining Patrick Marleau (2012-13), Cy Denneny (1917-18) and Peter Stastny (1982-83).

3. Ryan Miller, Anaheim Ducks. Miller made 29 saves, including 10 in the final period to help the Ducks to a 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues. Dating back to the end of last season, Anaheim has won its last four games Miller has started.

Highlights of the Night

Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine on a 2-on-0 would result in a goal probably 99.9 percent of the time. Not this time, thanks to Petr Mrazek:

• Patrik Laine. From the circle. One-timer.

Bryan Little‘s first of the season broke a 2-2 tie with 2:09 to go to help the Jets to a victory. What a pass by Josh Morrissey:

Andrew Cogliano also picked the right time to score, breaking a 2-2 deadlock on the power play with 5:16 left in the third period:

Factoid of the Night

Scores
Devils 3, Sharks 2
Ducks 3, Blues 2
Jets 3, Hurricanes 1

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Panthers’ Matheson to have DoPS hearing for slamming Pettersson to ice

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The Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers won’t see one another again until the middle of January, but there will still be plenty of hard feelings following their Saturday night encounter.

Canucks’ stud rookie Elias Pettersson is in concussion protocol, per Sportsnet, after he was body-slammed to the ice early in the third period of Vancouver’s 3-2 victory by Panthers defenseman Michael Matheson.

Pettersson is now in concussion protocol as the team travels to Pittsburgh for a game on Tuesday. Matheson, meanwhile, will have a phone hearing Monday with the NHL Department of Player Safety for “interference and unsportsmanlike conduct.”

The Canucks weren’t thinking retribution following the hit. It was a 2-2 game and head coach Travis Green did not want his players running around and risking giving the Panthers power plays. After the game, though, they sounded off.

“That’s a dirty play,” said Green. “The league is trying to protect the good young players and that’s a dirty play.”

“It’s a long season, we’ll catch them back,” said Canucks forward Antoine Roussel.

The injury put a damper on an historic night for the 19-year-old Petterson. His goal made him the sixth player since 1997-98 to reach at least points in his first five NHL games. He currently has eight, which is one behind what Evgeni Malkin achieved during the 2006-07 NHL season. He also matched a Canucks record for most consecutive games (5) with a point. As of Sunday he leads all rookies in goals (5) and points (8).

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Fleury enters unconscious mode; Dahlin pots first

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Three Stars

1. Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights: I mean, just look at this to see why. Fleury hasn’t started his season on the foot he would have wanted to, but he stopped all 26 shots on Saturday afternoon to perhaps get both of his feet back under him. The shutout was the 49th of his career, tying him for 29th all-time, and some of the saves he made were vintage Fleury. Seriously, check them out.

2. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes: A four-point night for Aho saw the 20-year-old help set up the game-tying goal and then score the game-winner in overtime. Aho had five shots on goal in the game and the Hurricanes put up a whopping 57 as they continued their fine start to the season. Carolina has yet to lose in regulation thus far with a 4-0-1 record.

3. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins: Pastrnak scored his second-career hat trick as the Bruins mauled the Detroit Red Wings in an 8-2 win. It seems like every time the Bruins play, one of Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron or Brad Marchand are putting up insane numbers. The trio is one of the best lines in the NHL — combining for eight points on Saturday — and they have the Bruins cruising to start the season.

Highlights of the Night

Fleury’s start to the season has been less than optimal. This save, however, insane.

Goalies were front and center of some of the best highlights from Saturday. This from Devan Dubnyk.

This isn’t even fair.

Factoids

Scores

Bruins 8, Red Wings 2

Senators 5, Kings 1

Golden Knights 1, Flyers 0

Oilers 2, Rangers 1

Hurricanes 5, Wild 4

Lightning 8, Blue Jackets 2

Maple Leafs 4, Capitals 2

Canadiens 4, Penguins 3 (SO)

Canucks 3, Panthers 2

Predators 5, Islanders 2

Stars 5, Ducks 3

Blackhawks 4, Blues 3 (OT)

Sabres 3, Coyotes 0

Flames 3, Avalanche 2 (OT)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

‘Dirty play’ knocks Canucks’ Pettersson out of game

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(UPDATE: Matheson will have a Monday phone hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety.)

Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green didn’t need to mince words when he was asked about the controversial hit that knocked one of his star players out of Saturday’s game.

“It’s a dirty play,” Green said of the stinging hit by Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson on Elias Pettersson.

Pettersson, as you will see below, put a nice move on Matheson moments before the hit.

Matheson didn’t take too kindly getting beat by the skilled Swede, and on his next opportunity, hit Pettersson and then threw him viciously down onto the ice. It appeared that the 19-year-old’s head bounced off the ice shortly after getting thrown down.

As you can see, Pettersson struggled to get back to his feet, falling over on his first attempt. He was able to get to his feet after waiting a moment, but he definitely looked woozy.

The Canucks refrained from getting retribution on the night, but Antoine Roussel made it clear that they’ll see the Panthers again.

“It’s a long season, we’ll catch them back,” Roussel said after the game.

“Looked like WWE to me,” said Sven Baertschi.

Pettersson had already done what he does best earlier in the game, sniping a shot on the power play that James Reimer had zero chance at saving.

The goal matched a team record for longest point streak by a player to start his career at five games. Pettersson has been a godsend to the Canucks and has five goals and three assists during that span.

Green had no update on Pettersson’s status after the game.

The Canucks held on to win 3-2.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck