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NHLPA 2017-18 poll: Crosby, McDavid dominate; Underrated Backstrom

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Between September and the end of January, the National Hockey League Players’ Association polled its members on a number of topics, from best player to worst arena ice to best referee.

Over 500 players participated and some results are what you’d expect while there were a few surprises along the way. Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid, as you’d expect, dominated such categories as “Fastest Skater,” “Most Difficult Player to Play Against” and “Which player would you select to start a franchise?” But there were a few other topics of interest.

Which goalie is the most difficult to score on? Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens won this handily with 41 percent of the vote, and when he’s healthy, it’s tough to argue.

Who is the toughest player? Ryan Reaves, now of the Vegas Golden Knights, was a big vote-getter, earning 44.7 percent of support. He beat out the likes of Milan Lucic (14.8 percent) and Zdeno Chara (4 percent). Reaves is certainly a tough SOB, but it’s hard to imagine Chara not winning this title every year until he retires.

Who is the most underrated player? There was a time when the prevailing thought was that Loui Eriksson was the guy here. But for a long time many in the hockey world agreed with the players this year and chose Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom (8.6 percent). Playing under the shadow of Alex Ovechkin will do that, but maybe this will be the thing to give him a bit more love around the league. Right behind Backstrom was Jaden Schwartz of the St. Louis Blues (6.8 percent).

Do you like the way points are currently awarded for a win or a loss in the regular season? A whopping 77.7 percent of players said yes, which makes sense when you think about it. As the league loves to promote parity in the standings, if you’re a player, you should be happy that the loser point exists because it keeps your playoff hopes alive a little longer than the old way of two points for a win and zero points for any loss did.

Who is the best referee? The viral referee, Wes McCauley, was a big winner with 47.8 percent of votes. A willingness to conduct a calm dialogue on the ice during tense times and the ability to let players vent at the right time goes a long way to earning respect. McCauley is one of those officials. (Tim Peel at 4.4 percent, eh?)

Which rink has the worst ice? While Bell Centre earned the title of “best rink to play” in and “best ice,” among players, the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida wins worst ice (16.8 percent), followed up by Gila River Arena in Arizona (10.7 percent). In third place, and no real surprise, is Barclays Center in Brooklyn. We imagine most of the New York Islanders chose their own rink considering some of their quotes over the last few seasons.

You can check out the rest of the results at the NHLPA website.

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: Caps-Leafs Stadium series update; Poile the winner

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Check out the time-lapse video above showing how the NHL has changed Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium into a big hockey rink for Saturday’s Stadium Series game between the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

• High winds have canceled Friday’s outdoor practices for the Caps and Leafs, so both teams will skate this morning at Washington’s practice facility. They’ll try to hit the outdoors for Saturday’s morning skate. [Washington Post]

• A look back at the career of David Poile of the Nashville Predators who last night became the NHL’s all-time winningest GM. [Tennessean]

• “The Blues are a passionless mess with few answers” Yep, that’s about right. [St. Louis Gametime]

Shayne Gostisbehere of the Philadelphia Flyers has invited the state champion Marjory Stoneman Douglas High hockey team to Sunday afternoon’s game against the Florida Panthers. Ghost Bear attended the school for two years. [Philly News]

• Was the price paid for by the Vegas Golden Knights for Tomas Tatar too much? [FanRag Sports]

• What direction are the Vancouver Canucks going in? [Canucks Army]

Loui Eriksson’s season comes to an end, thanks to a fractured rib. [Sun]

• “First Nations celebrate as Indigenous player Ethan Bear makes NHL debut with Oilers” [Globe and Mail]

• “Henrik Lundqvist Deserves Better Than The Rangers” [Five Thirty Eight]

• If the Rangers are going to do this rebuild the right way, it’s time to play the kids. [Blue Seat Blogs]

• The Montreal Canadiens aren’t just bad on the ice, they’re bad for business around the city. [Montreal Gazette]

• Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson on her Olympic gold medal winning shootout move. [The Players’ Tribune]

• A look at Eric Lindros’ history as hockey’s first investible player among memorabilia and sports card collectors. [Puck Junk]

• After leaving the Rangers in the summer to play in Switzerland, Kevin Klein is expected to announce his retirement after the season. [Swiss Hockey News]

• Diving into NCAA hockey and asking the question how much production do you need from your defense to be successful. [College Hockey News]

• Here is the full stream of “The Nagano Tapes,” a documentary about the 1998 Olympic gold medal winning Czech team featuring Dominik Hasek, Jaromir Jagr and others. Well worth your time. [Olympic Channel]

• Finally, Claude Giroux is on quite the roll:

For better or worse, Canucks extend Benning, want to bring back Sedins

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Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.

If you’re the type of person who expects life to be a “meritocracy,” the NHL has probably upset you quite a bit in the last week.

Not long after the hockey train wreck known as the Ottawa Senators rewarded one of the architects of their mess, GM Pierre Dorion, with a contract extension while embracing a rebuild, the Canucks basically did the same thing with GM Jim Benning.

The team announced a multi-year extension on Wednesday, leaving fans in dismay and onlookers flustered. They also put out a “Yep, we’re rebuilding” press release this week, following the lead of the Rangers and Senators.

The thing is, this is probably the toughest of the moves to defend. While the Senators dealt with budgetary limitations and leftover mistakes from before Dorion’s days, Ottawa enjoyed some recent successes. After all, they were within a goal of advancing to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, and Dorion was nominated for GM of the Year, with the hiring of coach Guy Boucher proving instrumental in that run.

Under Benning’s watch, the biggest wins have … basically been when the Canucks play against type and actually rebuild a bit or draft well (on paper). There have been serious gaffes in trying to avoid the reality that this team was past its prime, with Loui Eriksson‘s contract (that $6 million cap hit still runs through 2021-22, somehow) being the most glaring example.

By no means is Benning solely responsible for the Canucks’ downfall, but it sends a strange message that he’s getting an extension.

On the bright side, Benning’s performed reasonably well, at least when everyone’s on the same page about rebuilding.

The not-so-bright side is that there still seems to be a tone of denial in Vancouver. From reports of management wanting to bring back polarizing defenseman Erik Gudbranson – who could bring back a nice return – to not moving on from Henrik and Daniel Sedin, there are some signs that the Canucks might parallel the Detroit Red Wings in trying to have their cake and eat it too.

(That approach has really just clogged their arteries, honestly.)

Ultimately, it’s tough to ignore that the NHL is a tight-knit community, and sometimes that means that people who are part of the “inner circle” tend to get more chances than those with fresher voices.

Maybe the Canucks will turn things around, maybe they won’t. More progressive teams might be licking their chops at moves like these, though.

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.

Watch Tyler Seguin beat the Bruins in OT with incredible individual effort

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This one has to sting a little bit for Boston Bruins fans.

The Bruins fell to the Dallas Stars in overtime on Monday afternoon by a 3-2 margin after scoring a pair of goals to erase what had been a two-goal deficit. It helped the Bruins pick up a point in the standings for the 13th consecutive game and 16th time in the past 17.

They were unable to get a win, however, because Tyler Seguin did this in overtime.

Oh man. He literally skated around all three Bruins defenders, left them all in the dust, and then scored his 22nd goal of the season to win the game.

This one has to be a little painful for Bruins fans because, if you remember, the Bruins traded Seguin to the Dallas Stars just a few years ago for a package of players that included Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith, and Joe Morrow. Today, the Bruins have none of those players remaining in the organization and nothing to show for any of them. All for a player signed to a bargain contract that is just now entering the prime of his career.

It is not all bad for the Bruins because they still have one of the best teams in the NHL right now, but just try to imagine what they would look like with Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin down the middle.

Scary.

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.

A deeper look into the Bruins’ 11-game losing streak against the Caps

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There are some streaks in professional sports that simply don’t make sense. How some teams continue to dominate others year after year even though coaches and rosters change is kind of weird.

One of those strange streaks was extended on Thursday night, as the Washington Capitals defeated the Boston Bruins for the 11th straight time. The last time the Bruins took down the Caps was in March of 2014. The B’s have made a coaching change, they’ve altered the roster, but they still can’t beat the Caps.

As Washington’s Barry Trotz pointed out earlier this month, every squad seems to have a “unicorn team”. On Dec. 5, Trotz’s team beat the San Jose Sharks for the first time since 2009. Fine, the Capitals and Sharks might not play each other that often, but that’s still an eight-year losing streak.

“Every team has a unicorn team, you do,” Trotz said at the time, per the team’s website. “I was talking to the Columbus broadcasters [on Saturday], and they said, ‘Do you know what your record is against Columbus?’ And I said, “I have no idea.’ They said, ‘It’s pretty good.’

“For years, Nashville was [the Blue Jackets’] unicorn. They could never beat them. I think every team has that. The ones that come to mind for me with this club are San Jose and Dallas. We’ve been a unicorn for a few franchises, too. I just think everybody has one of those.”

Trotz is right. The Capitals have definitely been Boston’s unicorn.

The last time the Bruins took down the Capitals, Claude Julien was still their head coach, Jarome Iginla was the third-leading scorer on the team, and Milan Lucic, Reilly Smith, Loui Eriksson, Carl Soderberg and Andrej Meszaros were still on the roster.

Also, Barack Obama was still the president of the United States, the hoverboard scooter wasn’t invented yet, Nico Hischier was just 15 years old, and Tom Brady was “only” a three-time Super Bowl Champion.

“At some point you definitely want to get it over with and win those games,” Patrice Bergeron said after last night’s 5-3 loss, per NHL.com.  It’s not something necessarily that I was thinking before the game … we knew it was a challenge and we had to be good and be smart. A few breakdowns and a little lack of discipline [and they] made us pay is the bottom line.”

Here’s the game-by-game breakdown of the 11-game losing streak:

• Oct. 11, 2014: 4-0 loss at home (Alex Ovechkin scored twice, Braden Holtby had the shutout)

• Mar. 15, 2015: 2-0 loss on the road (Nicklas Backstrom assisted on both goals, Holtby had the shutout)

• Apr. 8, 2015: 3-0 loss on the road (Backstrom had two more assists, Holtby had the shutout)

• Nov. 5, 2015: 4-1 loss on the road (John Carlson had a goal and an assist)

• Jan. 5, 2016: 3-2 loss at home (Evgeny Kuznetsov had a goal and an assist)

• Mar. 5, 2016: 2-1 OTL at home (Matt Niskanen scored the game-winning goal)

• Dec. 7, 2016: 4-3 OTL on the road (Justin Williams scored twice, Backstrom netted the OT winner)

• Feb. 1, 2017: 5-3 loss on the road (Backstrom had three points)

• Apr. 8, 2017: 3-1 loss at home (Kevin Shattenkirk scored the game-winning goal)

• Nov. 4, 2017: 3-2 loss at home (Tom Wilson had two goals)

• Dec. 14, 2017: 5-3 loss at home (Alex Chiasson scored twice, Ovechkin had a goal (empty-netter and an assist)

These two teams will play each other one more time (Dec. 28) this season. Will the Bruins be able to figure out how to beat their “unicorn” by then?

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.