The Chip ‘n’ Chase: Enough with all the shootouts, imagining an all warm-market Stanley Cup Final, and more!

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Every Wednesday we publish a little back-and-forth we have via email. We call it the Chip ‘n’ Chase. Yes, it’s a terrible name. Enjoy.

Jason Brough: Hey buddy, so you know how they say it’s important to have a purpose in life? I’m excited to say that I think I found mine. Something that will get me out of bed every day. Something that will drive me every hour I’m awake. And that something is…KILLING THE SHOOTOUT. Or, at the very least, making sure it’s not deciding so many games. Because it really is getting ridiculous. Did you know that one of the teams we’ll see tonight on NBCSN, the Washington Capitals, has gone to the shootout 14 times this season? That’s almost a third of their games being decided by hockey’s version of the home-run derby, or basketball’s version of the 3-point contest, or golf’s version of the long-drive competition, or football’s version of…I dunno…what do they do at the Pro Bowl — surfing? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the actual act of the shootout, which can be quite entertaining. I just have a huge problem with so many valuable points being awarded to the winner of a competition that proves nothing about the quality of a hockey team.

Mike Halford: Not to be ageist, but that made you sound super old. Like, there’s a good chance you dictated that for your grandson to type out, then wrote him a $13 check for his birthday. I just don’t get what the big deal is. I’ve yet to hear a coach or player from a non-playoff team say, “Our downfall this year? Shootout, 100 percent.” And what’s the alternative? While I greatly respect the opinions of you and John Tortorella, saying you hate something without suggesting a viable alternative is a bit like complaining about the weather. What instead of the shootout — 4-on-4 followed by 3-on-3, then 2-on-2, then bubble hockey?

JB: Like I said, if shootouts can’t be eliminated outright, I would settle for fewer of them. Five minutes of 3-on-3 overtime, if it’s not settled 4-on-4, would accomplish that. Is 3-on-3 still gimmicky? Yeah, maybe a bit. But at least it involves all the elements of hockey, like skating, passing and defending. And while I’m at it, I’d also like to see a different points system, one that gives teams more of an incentive to win in regulation. Give them three points for getting the job done in 60 minutes. Just imagine how fun that would be down the stretch. Picture a team that needs to climb the standings going all out to get the full three points. Am I holding my breath waiting for that to happen? Nope, because that sort of system could lead to a wider gap in the standings between the haves and have-nots. The NHL’s worked so hard to achieve its parity; it probably doesn’t want to be like the English Premier League, where three points are awarded for a win and — let’s see here — after 21 games, first-place Arsenal has three times as many points as last-place Crystal Palace. As an English football announcer might say in his English-football-announcer way, all hope is surely lost now for Palace.

MH: There might be less parity in the NHL than you think, old boy. Anaheim is on 75 points, top of the league, while Buffalo sits bottom of the table with 31. Meanwhile, can Florida escape the relegation zone? One thinks they’ll have to be busy in the transfer window to make a push. (We should write more in English-football-announcer speak. You could call me Nigel if it helps.) Anyway, let’s steer this back towards hockey — well, sort of hockey. Have you seen what they’re putting in Dodger Stadium for the outdoor game between the Kings and Ducks? An ice rink, a street hockey rink, a beach volleyball court, two music stages and a bunch of palm trees. Here’s a rendering:

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The NHL also booked KISS as the headline act. KISS! That’s pretty indicative of how much the league is thriving now compared to a few years ago when, y’know, it had Chaka Khan doing the awards show.

JB: I absolutely love the planned set-up at Dodger Stadium. It’s basically a huge middle finger to everyone back east struggling through awful weather. They should have a tanning area too. And girls walking around in bikinis. Everyone always rips the warm-weather markets for not being true hockey markets anyway. Might as well embrace it. Get a load of the forecast for Jan. 25, the day of the game:

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Sunny with a high of 73 and a low of 54. Just a nice comfortable day. Aaaaaaaand cue all the terrible jokes about the ice melting. The game isn’t until the evening, so I’m pretty sure it’ll be fine. And if the ice does melt, oh well, everyone can just hang out and drink some margaritas.

MH: Now take it a step further and imagine an all warm-market Stanley Cup Final. Because if there’s a year for it to happen, this might be it. The California contingent is obviously in the mix — all three are in the NHL’s top seven — and Tampa Bay has played really well since the Stamkos injury (16-10-4). I think we should be talking much, much more about the Lightning. This is a team that’s played nine rookies and remains neck-and-neck with Boston for second place in the conference. It’s not by fluke, either. According to those fancy nerd stats you’re always droning on about, the Bolts rank pretty high.

JB: Oh man, Canada would lose its collective mind if there was an all warm-market final. As if it wasn’t bad enough that the last time a Canadian team won the Cup was 1993, when Montreal beat Gretzky and the Kings — since then, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Anaheim, and L.A. have each celebrated championships, and a team from Canada has lost in the final five times. I agree with you about Tampa Bay, by the way. The Lightning might be the most underrated team in the NHL. If I had to vote for a coach of the year right now, it would be Jon Cooper. And if I had to vote for the Vezina, it would be Ben Bishop. I was also pretty surprised Sweden left Victor Hedman off its Olympic roster. True, Pittsburgh and Boston probably have a better shot of coming out of the East than T-Bay, but does any Canadian squad have a better chance of making the final out of either conference? You could argue Montreal or even Ottawa in the East, but I don’t think so. Tom Sestito’s Vancouver Canucks are still probably the best Canadian team out of all seven, but their chances in the West look awfully grim.

MH: Even with Tom Sestito?

JB: Even with Tom Sestito.

WATCH LIVE: Lightning seek Stanley Cup Final berth in Game 6

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Game 6: Tampa Bay Lightning at Washington Capitals, 8 p.m. ET (Lightning lead series 3-2)
NBCSN
Call: Mike Emrick, Mike Milbury, Pierre McGuire
• Stream here
Series preview
Capitals vs. Lightning: Three questions facing each team

Capitals have to conquer postseason demons one more time
Lightning ready for a ‘desperate’ Capitals team in Game 6
Vasilevskiy turns East final around for Lightning

MORE:
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

Paul Fenton hired as new Minnesota Wild GM

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Almost exactly one month after firing Chuck Fletcher, the Minnesota Wild have found his replacement as general manager. During a Tuesday press conference, the franchise will introduce Paul Fenton as the man who will take over the job.

Fenton, who was the first person owner Craig Leipold interviewed last month, will also oversee the team’s hockey operations department and act as alternate governor

“It is my distinct pleasure to welcome Paul Fenton as the General Manager of the Minnesota Wild,” said Leipold in a statement. “Paul is uniquely suited for this job having played 10 years of professional hockey and holding 25 years of management experience in the NHL. His gift of evaluating talent is obvious in Nashville’s roster and recent success. My relationship with Paul goes back to my early days in Nashville and I know that Wild hockey fans are going to love Paul’s infectious passion for the game and unsurpassed work ethic. He’s the right person to deliver a Stanley Cup to the State of Hockey.”

It took a while — 20 years to be exact — but Fenton finally decided to leave the Nashville Predators where he spent the last dozen years as the team’s assistant GM. He played a role in building that franchise into a Stanley Cup contender and turning around their minor league system. Now in Minnesota he’ll have his work cut out for him.

The Wild made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of the past six seasons, but could not get past the second round. This spring they were knocked out in the first round for the third straight season, costing Fletcher his job after nine years.

Fenton will have to deal with restricted free agents Jason Zucker and Mathew Dumba with this summer, as well as face plenty of challenges in carving his roster into something that could look like a perennial contender. The long-term, cap space-eating contracts of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter won’t help things. According to Cap Friendly, the Wild have about $7.5 million in cap space for next season, and that’s before new deals for Zucker and Dumba and potentially a $3 million increase in the ceiling.

“We want to win a Stanley Cup,” Leipold said last month via the Pioneer Press after the Wild’s first-round exit. “That doesn’t mean that that’s going to be next year. I want someone to help me with a plan for the next three or four years to win a Stanley Cup. That’s what I’m looking for.”

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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.

Islanders to hire Lou Lamoriello to run hockey operations: report

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It’s expected this week that the New York Islanders will officially announce the hiring of Lou Lamoriello to run their hockey operation department, according to Arthur Staple of The Athletic.

It’s unclear at the moment what specific role the 75-year-old Lamoriello will have within the organization. It’s possible he takes over the role of president of hockey operations or general manager, or potentially both. His son, Chris, is the Islanders’ assistant GM.

Last month, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced that Lamoriello would not return as their GM after three seasons at the helm.

Staple also confirmed a Hockey30 report that Lamoriello met with Islanders captain John Tavares last week ahead of this move. Tavares is set to become an unrestricted free agent only July 1.

There are many questions to be answered as we wait for the Islanders to announce this move. First, what does this mean for the beards of Nick Leddy and Andrew Ladd, as well as the mustache of Cal Clutterbuck?

Next, where does current GM Garth Snow stand? He’s been running the show since 2006 and has a contract for at least four more seasons. The team has made the playoffs only four times during his tenure and advanced out of the first round once. The fan base demanded change once this season went off the rails, with billboards purchased in Brooklyn calling for Snow’s firing. During an end-of-season press conference in April, Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky said Snow and head coach Doug Weight would be staying for now, but that he would be “evaluating all aspects of our hockey operations.”

The next question is the biggest and that has to do with Tavares. He’s said time and time again that he wants to re-sign, but hasn’t inked an extension and hasn’t given any indication what factors would sway him one way or the other. A new arena on Long Island is coming. But is this change in management and whatever Lamoriello told him in their chat enough to convince him to not explore free agency and commit to staying with the franchise? Only time will tell. But this change could be a good first step forward for the franchise.

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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.

Capitals have to conquer postseason demons one more time

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Let’s just start with this statement of fact: Sports fandom is all about dealing with failure and disappointment.

At the end of every season there is only going to be one team that is celebrating a championship which means everybody else is left stuck in the same pit of misery. The odds are overwhelmingly against you and your team. Just consider that there are currently 123 professional sports teams in the four major North American sports leagues, and that over the past 30 seasons only 60 of them (just a little less than half) have actually experienced a championship season. That is over three decades. If you have seen your favorite team win a championship in your lifetime, you are incredibly lucky. If you have seen them win more than one … well … don’t take it granted.

The numbers and that reality do not mean it is any less disappointing when your team loses. Even with that there are different levels of anguish that sports fans can experience in a given season or playoff.

There is the anger that comes from a team that is so incompetently run that it never gives itself a chance to consistently compete for a championship and never gets close to it. Eventually that leads to apathy where you just stop caring and become numb to the losing.

Then there is the soul-crushing disappointment that comes from having a team that is consistently good enough to win, consistently competitive, seems to have all of the ingredients every year, gets right to the edge of winning the whole thing … and then finds a way to completely fall flat on its face for one reason or another.

Sometimes it is bad luck. Sometimes the other team is just a little bit better. Sometimes things just happen that are beyond a team’s control.

No team has done this more to its fan base than the Washington Capitals, and they are on the verge of finding a way to have it happen again if they can not come back in the Eastern Conference Final series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

They enter Game 6 on Monday night (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, live stream) facing a 3-2 series deficit, having dropped three games in a row after winning the first two games of the series in Tampa.

It is at times difficult to comprehend just how good the Capitals have been at times throughout their history, and how close they have come to reaching the top of the mountain, and how they can just never seem to get there.

They have won the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s best team three times in the past 10 years. Each time they ended up losing in the second-round of the playoffs. In 2010 they were the superior team only to run into one of the best individual goaltending performances in recent memory. The past two years they lost what were basically coin-flip series to a Pittsburgh Penguins team that has tormented them in the playoffs for more than two decades.

Over the past 10 years the Capitals have won more regular season games than all but one team in the league (Pittsburgh). They are one of just two teams in the top-10 that has yet to reach a Stanley Cup Final during that run (St. Louis being the other). The other teams in the top-five have combined to win seven of the past 10 Stanley Cups.

Their top players have performed admirably in the playoffs. Alex Ovechkin is one of the most productive players in the league when it comes his playoff production, while Braden Holtby has some of the best individual numbers of any goalie in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Usually that level of play from two superstars — including a goalie! — and the overall team success in the regular season results in more playoff success.

They have had what seemed to be commanding leads in playoff series time and time again only to have them slip away, losing 3-1 and 2-0 leads with stunning regularity that it leads to a stat like this.

It is remarkable because it is never the same cast of characters involved.

Coaches change. Players change. General managers change. Everything changes. Everything except the result and the heartbreaking method in which it is reached. It is one thing to be a team stuck in a championship drought. It is something else entirely to keep getting that close and losing the same way over and over again. When that happens it builds a reputation. It builds a narrative. It follows that team — and its best players, no matter how well they perform as individuals — around relentlessly until something happens to finally change it.

What has made this run by the Capitals seem so different is that, for once, things finally seemed to be going their way in the playoffs. Everything seemed to be falling in place no matter what obstacle jumped in front of them.

In the first-round they lost the first two games to the Columbus Blue Jackets on home ice (while losing multiple goal leads in both games) and seemed to be teetering on the edge of a disastrous early exit. Then, where past Capitals teams would have totally fallen apart, this group roared back to win four consecutive games setting up yet another second-round matchup with Pittsburgh, the point where their season had come to an end so many times before (10 of the previous 11 postseason matchups with them, to be exact). Then they exorcised that demon in Game 6 when Evgeny Kuznetsov‘s overtime goal sent them to the Eastern Conference Final.

Finally, things were different. This really was going to be the year. But even after all of that the Capitals still find themselves facing their playoff demons one more time and trying to avoid the soul-crushing disappointment that comes with potentially blowing a 2-0 series lead (after winning the first two games on the road), something that only two teams have done in a Conference Final series since 1975.

Already this postseason these Capitals have shown that they have been able to conquer those long-standing playoff demons. They did it in the first-round when they overcame the crushing losses on home ice in the first two games. They did it in the second-round when they finally beat the Penguins. Now they have to do it one more time in the Conference Final against Tampa Bay and avoid what would be another crushing collapse.

They have to start by winning Game 6 on Monday.

MORE:
• 
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• 
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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.