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.

The Buzzer: Is it too early to give Pettersson the Calder?

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Three Stars

1. Elias Pettersson

What’s easier: giving Pettersson the top star of Sunday, or just cutting through the red tape and handing him the Calder right now?

OK, the NHL can’t do that. After all, someone might close the 11-point gap between Pettersson (30 points) and every other rookie (Colin White‘s in second with 19), especially if the league is robbed of the glory of more Pettersson in the event of an injury.

His special Sunday really highlighted the gap between the Canucks wunderkind and everyone else. Pettersson scored the game-winning goal to go with four assists for a five-point performance. The kid is special, and you really don’t need the “for a rookie” caveat.

2. Brock Boeser

Normally, it might be best to lean away from placing two teammates in the top three, but sometimes you just have to acknowledge the truth. These two forwards are a blast to watch. The Boeser + Pettersson combo doesn’t merely make the Canucks palatable. If you’re not ready to go, they can absolutely dominate, stealing games for Vancouver in the process.

Boeser collected a hat trick as the Canucks bombarded the Blues by a 6-1 score:

3. Josh Morrissey

This is a tough call, as Morrissey’s teammate Mark Scheifele and Ducks forward Ondrej Kase also deserve serious consideration with their own three-point Sundays.

Morrissey gets the nod because his goal was a game-winner (Scheifele had three assists, while Kase’s goal and two assists lacked the GWG). Granted, it was the GWG in a lopsided game but … hey, we’re splitting hairs, here.

There were some nice goalie performances, yet with Mikko Koskinen being the only guy getting a shutout – and a light one, needings 24 saves – let’s hand the bronze to a skater.

Morrissey celebrated his first game in a week by collecting those three points as the Jets routed the Flyers. Along with the goal and two assists, Morrissey managed a +2 rating, three SOG, and one blocked shot.

Highlights

Admittedly, it’s strange to use the word “harmonious” to describe a hockey play, especially when Brad Marchand is involved. Such a description comes to mind here, though, as Marchand, David Krejci, and Torey Krug combine for an absolutely beautiful overtime game-winner:

While it doesn’t match the sheer beauty of that Krug tally, Connor McDavid scored the only goal of Edmonton’s 1-0 win against Calgary on another nice bit of puck movement:

Sunday featured at least a couple throwback “pad-stacking” saves, including this one by John Gibson:

Not hockey, but if you have even a passing interest in the NFL, this Miami Dolphins play is just bodacious. Honestly, “Miami Miracle” doesn’t even feel too over-the-top.

Lowlight

Here’s not how to help Cory Schneider, a goalie who’s been struggling for quite some time: the Devils were guilty of three own-goals on Sunday, with this one possibly being the most egregious:

Factoids

Montreal’s tight win against Chicago is more impressive when you realize the procession of penalties they faced, particularly during a high-stick-happy third period:

Could Mikko Koskinen be the latest goalie to flourish under Ken Hitchcock? He already started off pretty well for Edmonton, but the “low-event” Oilers have really helped him heat up:

More impressive: Marc-Andre Fleury‘s wins total(s), or his sweet, sweet pads?

Scores

VAN 6 – STL 1
WPG 7 – PHI 1
BOS 2 – OTT 1 (OT)
MTL 3 – CHI 2
ANA 6 – NJD 5 (SO)
VGK 4 – DAL 2
EDM 1 – CGY 0

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Milan Lucic gets in heavyweight fight after thunderous hit

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Much to the Edmonton Oilers’ chagrin, Milan Lucic isn’t the all-encompassing threat he once was. To be more precise, he’s not exactly the type who will score enough to justify his $6 million cap hit very often these days.

Lucic is still an enormous human, however, and sometimes you get a taste of what made him such a menacing presence in the past. Sunday stood as one of those examples, as Lucic delivered a thunderous check on Calgary Flames defenseman Travis Hamonic, then went toe-to-toe with Anthony Peluso in what seemed like a pretty even fight.

(You can watch it all in the video above.)

If you’re around an old-school type, you’ll probably overhear something about how this fight somehow propels the Oilers to victory rather than Ken Hitchcock’s patented “Connor McDavid scores the only goal” formula. Lucic kindly obliged following his first scrap of 2018-19:

Either way, the Oilers snagged a 1-0 win against the Flames, and Lucic looked like a beast, at least for that stretch. It hasn’t always been pretty, yet Edmonton will take it, especially when “it” qualifies as a win against their nearby rivals.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Nearly 30K stuffed animals fly during Calgary Hitmen’s Teddy Bear Toss night

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The WHL’s Calgary Hitmen fell short in their quest to reclaim the Teddy Bear Toss world record.

One week after the AHL’s Hershey Bears saw 34,798 teddy bears fly to their ice and break the Hitmen’s 2015 record, the crowd inside the Saddledome made it rain with fur Sunday afternoon after Kaden Elder’s first period goal. The 18,015 fans, many of whom brought large plastic bags filled with stuffed animals, helped break a franchise Teddy Bear Toss record with a total of 29,635, up from the 28,815 collected three years ago.

“It was an awesome experience and something I’ll never forget,” Elder said via the Hitmen website. “The atmosphere in the rink was unbelievable with all the fans and the teddy bears. It was definitely an adrenaline rush and when it went in I was thinking about the celebration and kind of zoned out because I was trying to just take in the moment and enjoy every second of it. It just a surreal moment.”

After a 41-minute cleanup delay, the Hitmen went on to win 6-3 over the Kamloops Blazers.

The Hitmen have now collected a total of 377,583 stuffed animals since their first Teddy Bear Toss promotion in 1995.

The event helps benefit 70 local agencies, including the Salvation Army, Calgary Food Bank, Siksika Nation and Hospice Calgary. The Hitmen will spend Monday delivering some of stuffed animals to Alberta Children’s Hospital.

MORE: Teddy Bear Toss season is the best season

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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.

Can Coyotes keep playoff hopes alive without Raanta?

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One of the saddest phrases in sports is “[Player X] would really have been something, if only they could stay healthy.”

Some argue that avoiding injuries counts as a “skill,” and it’s plausible that certain players may simply be better at staying healthy than others, but there are still instances when the injury gods feel awfully cruel.

We’re rapidly approaching that point with Arizona Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta.

Even with a challenging start to 2018-19 (just a .906 save percentage over 12 games), Raanta’s been fantastic for the Coyotes so far … when he’s been able to actually play.

That caveat was frustrating last season, as Raanta missed crucial chunks of time – most painfully being unhealthy as the Coyotes went without a win in October 2017 – yet was essentially elite when he could play, generating a splendid .930 save percentage in 47 games.

Unfortunately for the Coyotes, it’s looking like 47 Raanta appearances would have been a gift compared to the likely reality. The team announced that the 29-year-old goalie is out “indefinitely,” while The Athletic’s Craig Morgan provided a more detailed (and more troubling) update: Raanta might miss the rest of this season.

Brutal.

It’s fair to wonder if this might become the story of Raanta’s career.

Again, the Finn fought nagging injuries last season, and this year’s been even worse. At 29, he’s not ancient, but Raanta isn’t exactly a spring chicken, either. (If you need a glum example of how quickly a goalie can start looking older-and-more-fragile, look at all of the injury headaches Carey Price has been dealing with at just 31.)

That said, Raanta’s limited starts pre-Arizona came from him being a backup, not necessarily from injuries. There’s the hope that, in hindsight, these past two years will look like speed bumps rather than Raanta’s promising career hitting a brick wall. If nothing else, Raanta is listed at just 6-0, so he’s not one of those prototypical towering goalies whose huge frames only increase odds of additional injuries.

Either way, Raanta’s lengthy absence deals an enormous blow to the Coyotes’ fledgling playoff hopes.

You could argue that they’d be in tough to land a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs even with a keyed-in Raanta. As of this writing, Arizona’s record is 13-13-2 for 28 points in as many games, leaving them in 12th place in the West (five points behind Vegas for the final wild card spot, and seven behind Anaheim for the Pacific’s third seed).

Various projections aren’t totally dismissing the Coyotes’ chances of waging a comeback, but few give them much better than a 20-percent shot to pull that off … and those odds likely only drop once you factor in Raanta’s absence.

The Coyotes haven’t just been without Raanta, who’s been sidelined since Nov. 27. Backup goalie Darcy Kuemper has been hurt, too, making way for Adin Hill and waiver claim Calvin Pickard. To Hill’s credit, he began with a four-game winning streak and currently boasts a .939 save percentage, but his larger history indicates that he probably won’t be able to produce such results over the long haul.

All of this leaves Coyotes GM John Chayka in a tough spot.

If you’re the Coyotes, do you try to trade for a more seasoned goalie, particularly one on an expiring contract?

Or, do you do the uncomfortable and all-too-familiar, and punt on the season?

This Coyotes team is structured largely to compete, with an increasing number of longer-term contracts crowding the team’s salary cap.

Granted, the Coyotes have an interesting player or two. Would someone pay up some futures to land, say, Alex Galchenyuk? The 24-year-old’s endured a quiet first season with Arizona (just 11 points in 21 games), but there’s plenty of talent there. While Galchenyuk isn’t on an easy-to-move expiring contract, his deal doesn’t last much longer, as his affordable $4.9 million cap hit runs out after 2019-20. If you’re a contender, would you hand the Coyotes some futures to add some skill for Galchenyuk, particularly if the Coyotes absorbed a contract you wanted to get rid of (and/or retained some of Galchenyuk’s salary?).

It’s not pleasant to discuss who the Coyotes might sell off in a trade, and it’s even more unpleasant to wonder if Raanta will be injury-prone for the remainder of his career, but Arizona at least needs to ponder these scenarios. They might not have much of a choice, even if Raanta technically finds a way to play a bit toward the end of this season.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.