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PHT Morning Skate: Time to make changes to NHL Draft Lottery?

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

Changes for NHL Draft Lottery, CBA, return to play links

• Travis Yost goes deep on possible structural changes to the NHL Draft Lottery after the controversial placeholder results. Could there be some big changes, either weighing odds differently, or something like “The Gold Plan” for the NHL Draft Lottery in the future. I wouldn’t hate the idea of, say, a team only being able to win the top pick every X number of years, or something of that nature. Here’s one thing I’m sure of: people will always complain. Death, taxes, griping. [TSN]

• Depending upon whom you ask, the NHL Draft Lottery is part of the league’s larger “pursuit of mediocrity.” In all honesty, it’s tough to argue with that stance after seeing 24 of 31 teams involved in the potential return-to-play plan. [Faceoff Circle]

As noted recently on PHT, reports indicate that a CBA extension could be brewing. Lyle Richardson breaks down how that might end up looking. [Full Press Coverage]

Other hockey links, including something on EA Sports’ “NHL 95”

• While many players choose jersey numbers for trivial reasons, Canucks forward Zack McEwen has a legit reason to fight for number 71. [Sportsnet]

• The PHWA announced that Tony Gallagher won the 2020 Elmer Ferguson Award for excellence in hockey journalism. PHWA president Frank Seravalli said Gallagher “was never afraid to break a few eggs in writing his daily omelette” while covering the Vancouver hockey market. [PHWA]

• We often focus on how many goals a player scores, but it can be fascinating to dig deeper. It turns out that Max Pacioretty wasn’t just one of three players with 300+ SOG this season. He also topped all players with 192 wrist shots. [Sin Bin Vegas]

• Did the Lightning pay too big of a price in the Blake Coleman trade? The pandemic pause certainly heightens the chances of the answer being “Yes.” [Raw Charge]

• To be clear, it’s been a bumpy first Stars season for Joe Pavelski. In the grand scheme of things, Pavelski ultimately got what he was looking for when he signed with Dallas. [The Hockey News]

• Dan Saraceni provides some wonderful memories of “NHL 95” on Sega Genesis. Saraceni goes into the greatest detail on the game’s GM mode, a truly rare feature for the era.

EA Sports NHL 95 GM PHT Morning Skate Draft Lottery changes
via EA Sports/Lighthouse Hockey

The post is a lot of fun to read, especially if you enjoy PHT’s video game series. [Lighthouse Hockey]

• In case you missed it, Chris Thorburn retired from the NHL after winning a Stanley Cup with the Blues. What’s next? He’d like to mentor other players. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

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.

PHT Morning Skate: NHL won’t restrict coaches if play resumes (even older ones)

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

NHL not restricting coaches and other matters relating to COVID-19/return to play

• ESPN’s Emily Kaplan reports that the NHL will place no restrictions on coaches that would entail “prohibiting them from doing their jobs” if play resumes. Coaches with certain at-risk factors (including advanced age) won’t be restricted from coaching teams. Some of this might boil down to the wishes of the NHL Coaches’ Association. I can’t say I’m pumped that masks aren’t an instant requirement, but I’m also not thrilled that players won’t be wearing full face shields. Why not take the precautions that make the most sense, even in a process that might be risky overall?

Anyway, read on for more from Kaplan. [ESPN]

• Speaking of throwing a debatable amount of caution to the wind, the Rangers stated that Kaapo Kakko looks likely to return to play. This is notable, as Kakko is a Type 1 Diabetic. Rangers president John Davidson claims that the team’s doctors are giving Kakko the green light. I don’t know, gang. Perhaps we’ll just have to get used to players “choosing” to roll the dice? [NHL.com]

• For the first time ever, the Hockey Hall of Fame will induct a class without in-person debates. Instead, there will be a “virtual conference call.” TSN’s Frank Seravalli provides details on this rare process. [TSN]

• Adam Gretz breaks down why the Canadiens could be a tough matchup for the Penguins. And, no, Carey Price isn’t the main reason. [Pensburgh]

Darcy Kuemper explains that, after being off the ice for months, “you kind of have to re-teach yourself how to play goalie.” If nothing else, Kuemper faces one of the bigger challenges to regain his past form, simply because he’s been legitimately elite since January 2019, basically. [Arizona Republic]

Departures, Sabres firing fallout, and other hockey links

• Now-former Rochester Americans coach Chris Taylor spoke to Bill Hoppe about getting fired. When word surfaced that the Sabres were firing Jason Botterill, Taylor believed that it would be limited to that. Instead, it was a purge where a stunning 22 people were fired. Taylor admits he didn’t see it coming. That’s pretty understandable, being that the Americans finished second in their division for two seasons in a row, and third during Taylor’s first campaign as head coach. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

• Lyle “Spector” Richardson notes that Botterill ranks among assistant GMs who couldn’t find big success as GMs. Interesting stuff, although I’d argue that Ron Hextall did a mostly good job with the Flyers, particularly cleaning up their cap nightmares. He just* made the classic mistake of … um, hiring someone with almost the same last name? [Featurd]

* — OK, there were multiple errors, but I’d still give Hextall a “B” or “B+” overall.

• Why a Connor McDavid rookie card auction already surpassed $70K. It’s on its way to becoming the most expensive modern hockey card. [Edmonton Journal]

• EA Sports downplayed rumblings about “NHL 21” being left out of a video hyping future games. [U.S. Gamer]

• Pondering how Reid Cashman’s departure might affect the Capitals. Check this one out if you want to dive into the pool-o-analytics. [Japers’ Rink]

• Nikolay Goldobin bolting from the Canucks to the KHL represents one last departure for this post. There had been high hopes at times for Goldobin, but it didn’t work out. You could probably argue with Canucks fans on Twitter about Goldobin still, though. [Offside Vancouver]

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Willie O’Ree, others on racism in and outside of hockey

Willie O'Ree racism in hockey
Getty Images

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.

O’Ree and others on racism in and around hockey

• Hockey trailblazer Willie O’Ree described George Floyd’s death and the events surrounding it as “very discouraging.” O’Ree added that, on a larger level, racism isn’t going to go away overnight. That said, after witnessing statements from the likes of Blake Wheeler acknowledging their privilege, O’Ree wonders if the truth about racism is finally “sinking in.” Maybe players can show that they’ve learned such lessons once play resumes? [CBC]

• Michael Traikos caught up with Kevin Weekes for his perspective on racism in and around hockey. On one hand, Weekes celebrates players “without a horse in the race” such as Jonathan Toews and Blake Wheeler for speaking up. On the other hand, Weekes emphasizes that there’s still a lot of work to do. [Toronto Sun]

• Jeff Veillette spots the sometimes-rampant racism in the “NHL 20” community. Unfortunately, it seems like EA Sports has a lot of work to do to improve this area. Also unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the company is putting a lot of resources into fixing this problem, either. [Faceoff Circle]

CBA talks intensify, and other hockey bits

• Both TSN’s Darren Dreger and Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman report that the NHL and NHLPA are intensifying talks to extend the CBA. Stabilizing escrow is a big factor for the players, as the pandemic pause is likely to hit them hard, and for quite some time. [More detail in 31 Thoughts, in particular]

• Read up on the Sens Foundation ending its relationship with the Ottawa Senators. [Sports Daily]

Nick Foligno and his family open up a new chapter with “The Heart’s Playbook.” [The Hockey Writers]

• The Oilers realize that, with the “championship pedigree” of the Blackhawks, an upset isn’t out of the question during the Qualifying Round. [Sportsnet; also read PHT’s previews for the West here]

• Which teams are oddsmakers favoring if action starts up again? [Featurd]

• Emily Kaplan looks at a coronavirus trend for Ducks fans: getting married at the Honda Center. Pretty fun. [ESPN]

• Could the Rangers repair their relationship with Lias Andersson? Such a push could help them as early as the Qualifying Round against the Hurricanes. It certainly beats things only getting bitter and Andersson’s development stalling. [Blue Seat Blogs]

• When you get drafted 34th overall, as Dalton Smith did in 2010, you expect to play in the NHL. You don’t necessarily expect to only do so for one minute and 26 seconds in one game in late 2019 with the Sabres. Smith’s journey is quite the story by Nick Faris. [The Score]

• Grant Fuhr talks about what drove him to become a coach for one of the team’s in the upcoming 3-on-3 hockey league 3ICE. Sounds like it could be pretty wild stuff. [Desert Sun]

• Bill Hoppe goes in-depth on Victor Olofsson‘s chances of having staying power as a scorer with the Sabres. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

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.

PHT remembers video games: Bones-ing up on ‘Mutant League Hockey’

Every Tuesday, PHT will remember a hockey video game (or games). Since we don’t have every console or cartridge, some posts will be recollections, not reviews. This week, we look back at “Mutant League Hockey.”

There probably won’t be another hockey video game quite like “Mutant League Hockey.” In all honesty, it’s kind of hard to believe it ever got released.

Now, in some ways, “Mutant League Hockey” was very much a video game of the times. No, its cartoonish violence didn’t inspire groups to think of the children with the same energy that “Mortal Kombat” did. But it was still a hockey video game where you could eliminate your opponents (with weapons like chainsaws) until you won by forfeit. The crude humor and over-the-top vibe carried shades of “Beavis & Butthead,” “Ren & Stimpy,” and maybe even “Heavy Metal.” It was the unofficial hockey video game of GWAR.

Forfeit in Mutant League Hockey
via Electronic Arts/Hey Poor Player

It’s kind of staggering that “Mutant League Hockey” was published by Electronic Arts in 1994. After all, this was at the same time the company that was churning out beloved, licensed sports titles. Gory parodies didn’t really fit with “NHL ’94” and “NHL ’95,” let alone the increasingly popular “Madden” games.

There’s an alternate reality where maybe, just maybe, EA Sports would be churning out sim series on one side and silly ones on the other. After all, “Mutant League Hockey” wasn’t the first title in the series, as the hit “Mutant League Football” first brought us “Bones Jackson” in 1993.

It’s not like the series lacked any legs. There was even a “Mutant League” cartoon, which it ran for two seasons in the form of 40 episodes:

There were even action figures, possibly pushing the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” connection too far:

Mutant League Bonesykle toy Football Hockey
via Amazon/Galoob

Ultimately, “Mutant League Hockey” ended up being the last video game in the series, rather than a continuation of a sensation. Even so, it’s worth remembering the game, and its place in the landscape of arcade-style sports titles.

Not everyone has the fondest memories of “Mutant League Hockey”

Even series creator Michael Mendheim understands why EA eventually shelved “Mutant League” titles to focus on more grounded sports games. In a 2007 interview with Gamasutra, Mendheim referred to the series as “the crazy uncle who was told to stay in the basement when the important guests arrived.”

“EA made a smart decision to put all their focus and talent on making the best realistic sports games in the industry, in lieu of splitting resources to make a violent sci-fi themed sports game,” Mendheim said. “From a business standpoint, it was the only practical decision to make.”

In deciding to divest from all things “Mutant League,” it meant that there wouldn’t be a basketball game, and this change in gears forced “Mutant League Hockey” to be rushed. Mendheim explained that what should have been about a 14-month development cycle was instead squashed down to about six months.

” … I know what Mutant League Hockey was supposed to be and could have been, so I was always sad and disappointed with that project,” Mendheim told Brett Weiss.

What “Mutant League Hockey” ended up being

Of course, plenty of us hold fond memories of what “Mutant League Hockey” ended up being, as we had no clue what it could have been.

In retrospect, some of the flaws helped make it so memorable. There was sort of a buffet-style, “kitchen sink” feel to the game, and it probably made things too chaotic at times. Yet maybe that excess also helped it stand out?

If you wanted balance, you went with the NHL titles. “Mutant League Hockey” allowed you to bribe refs, included a net that could turn into a puck-blocking beast, and punished losing teams in fights with longer penalties. A slug-like Zamboni didn’t just clean up pixelated ice, but also the bones/whatever of the fallen beasts following each period. The animated fight sequence felt like an evolution/devolution of the memorable bouts in “Blades of Steel.” It was all a lot, and that was the point.

via Electronic Arts/Hey Poor Player

As with most corny humor and puns, some jokes landed better than others. Your mileage will vary on “Smelios” (stifles a giggle), but “Jamina Dagr” isn’t exactly the greatest take on Jaromir Jagr.

Based on Mendheim’s comments about the game being rushed, one wonders if “Mutant League Hockey” could have been as polished as it was off-the-wall if given more time in the oven. Then again, it’s better that it got rushed out than to not exist at all.

Future mutations

If you glance at Mendheim’s career, you can see that there are traces of “Mutant League” in future work.

It’s unclear how involved he was in the 1996 PC title “HyperBlade,” but … I mean, just look at it. This carries some serious “if only it had more time in the oven” spirit:

EA occasionally returned to arcade-style sports games, just not really with the absurd gore. The “EA Sports BIG” line of games captured much of the spirit with “NBA Street” and “SSX.” Mendheim even served as a producer on “Def Jam: Icon.” 

EA eventually dropped “BIG” games, which still stings for me. It makes it that much more tempting to picture how a modern “Mutant League Hockey” might turn out.

Actually, should I picture it as “Mutant Hockey League?”

Back in 2017, Mendheim managed to put out a spiritual pigskin successor in the form of “Mutant Football League.” While it didn’t set the video game sales world on fire, it received reasonably positive reviews. It merely existing is impressive enough.

(The game’s title not prompting litigation is interesting enough in its own right.)

Picturing an unlikely reboot

Considering hockey’s more limited scope, and Mendheim holding sad memories, I’m not holding my breath for anything along the lines of “Mutant Hockey League,” or any similar arrangement of words.

Even so, it’s tempting to picture an unlikely reboot. First, take the adrenaline and sports-adjacent qualities of “Rocket League.” Then, mix in the obstacles and items of, say, “Mario Kart.” Add violence for taste, and you could have a glorious hockey video game.

Honestly, if you need a boredom fix, drum up some dopey replacement NHL player names. Just consider “Mutant Football League” warping Odell Beckham Jr. and apply it to hockey:

via Digital Dreams LLC/Sporting News

Until then, we’ll merely have to dream, and maybe wipe dust off of that Genesis and the nostalgia-tinged cartridges.

via Electronic Arts/eBay

PHT remembers other hockey video games:

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.

Gretzky vs. Ovechkin NHL 20 showdown raises over $40K for coronavirus relief

In the NHL 20 battle between The Great One and The Great Eight plenty of money was raised for important causes.

The NHL 20 charity showdown between Wayne Gretzky and Alex Ovechkin ended in a tie, but more importantly over $40,000 was raised for the Edmonton Food Bank and Monument Sports and Entertainment’s “Feeding the Frontlines” fund, which provides meals to those in the medical community.

Fans were encouraged to donate during the two games and Gretzky and Ovechkin matched the amount, pushing the final tally to $41,041.67.

The two NHL greats faced off on the Capitals’ Twitch channel Wednesday night, with Gretzky aided by his sons, Trevor and Ty, and Ovechkin getting help from John “JohnWayne” Casgranda, who is part of the Capitals’ esports brand Caps Gaming.

It was Gretzky taking Game 1 in overtime, 5-4, and Ovechkin winning a shortened Game 2, 4-1. Both decided not to play a deciding third game. (A rage quit from Wayne? Nah.)

“We both are not very good at this game, but what a great cause, when everybody’s so down and out,” said Gretzky, via NHL.com. “So, a fun night, and hopefully everybody’s having a little bit of enjoyment laughing at us.”

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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.