Matthew Tkachuk

Best NHL goals of 2019-20: Ovechkin hits 700; Lots of McDavid, Tkachuk, lacrosse

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Considering all of the hurdles, many wonder if the NHL is wise to embark on its ambitious return-to-play plan. Others simply miss hockey too much to shut the idea down. Wherever you may stand, if you love the sport, you’ll probably be entertained watching more than eight minutes of the best NHL goals from the 2019-20 season so far.

The video of the best NHL goals from the 2019-20 season mixes what you’d expect with what you may have forgotten.

It’s good stuff overall, so check out the video. Which goal ranks as the best from the NHL’s regular season for 2019-20? Did any top candidates miss the cut?

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: Hockey on the Nintendo 64

Nintendo 64 hockey video games
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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 hockey video games on the Nintendo 64.

When people think back to the Nintendo 64, plenty of images come up. Maybe Mario 64 or “The Ocarina of Time” come to mind. Perhaps it conjures memories of Goldeneye, or really good pro wrestling titles, or “Mario Party” wounds.

I’d wager that there aren’t many people who immediately think of hockey video games for that console. Heck, I’d assume that most hockey fans who also play games probably think of SNES/Genesis titles, go back to “Ice Hockey” and “Blades of Steel,” or merely lean toward EA’s modern NHL series.

Even so, there were quite a few Nintendo 64 hockey video games, including ones so obscure they might not make it in this post. (If so, share away.) Let’s look back at the 64-bit console’s most noteworthy hockey video games, then.

Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey (and ’98)

Arcade-style sports games tend to age the best because they’re less ambitious about looking like the real thing, and also about simulating it. So, it’s no surprise that “Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey” seems like it would be pretty fun to play, even today.

Midway churned this one out, which helps to explain the “NBA Jam”-y ness of it all. Goalies could turn into brick walls. Nets caught on fire. You know, the good stuff.

You could see a lot of the DNA of “NHL Hitz” here, which is a series we’ll delve into down the line.

Here are some fun tidbits about the series (which included a sequel):

  • The title’s Wikipedia page alleges that it was the first-ever four-player Nintendo 64 game. As you may recall, the console shipped with four ports for controllers, making it the sleepover machine for nerds cool kids.
  • The series of three Gretzky-helmed titles began on the SNES.
  • Could there have been “Mortal Kombat”-style fatalies during fights? Allegedly.
  • Critics weren’t exactly enthused about the ’98 version getting repackaged as “Olympic Hockey ’98.” IGN even gave it a “zero.” Honestly, I do admire the lazy brashness of just changing trades to “defections,” though.
  • “Olympic Hockey ’98” represented the debut of video game developer Treyarch.

In case the name doesn’t ring a bell, Treyarch currently develops some of the titles for the “Call of Duty” franchise, and also churned out the well-regarded PS2 “Spider-man 2” game, ports for the “Tony Hawk” series, and more. Humble beginnings, indeed.

EA sports eventually brings a hockey title to Nintendo 64 with NHL ’99

As far as I can tell, the Nintendo 64 began a stretch where EA Sports titles were by no means guaranteed to appear on Nintendo consoles. (Or, in some cases, Nintendo fans would get warmed-over rehashes, or only one or two titles in a given series. The Nintendo Switch hasn’t received a modern title in the NHL series, for instance.)

While the Nintendo 64 ranked as a success by some measures, it also didn’t receive the same waves of titles as Sony’s Playstation. While Sony went with CDs, Nintendo stuck with cartridges. Such a decision made it tougher to pirate games for the Nintendo 64, yet it also made it far more expensive to manufacture games.

“Wayne Gretzky 3D Hockey” released in 1996, while EA Sports’ first foray into hockey games for the Nintendo 64 didn’t happen until “NHL ’99” dropped in 1998.

“NHL ’99” featured Eric Lindros on the cover, and was generally well-received. That said, IGN’s Craig Harris noted that the game was farmed out to MBL Research, and was mostly based off of “NHL ’98” for the Playstation and PC.

So it seems like it was better than nothing, but Nintendo fans still got the short end of the (hockey) stick.

Other hockey video games on Nintendo 64

When it comes to two other series on the N64, I’d argue their greatest impacts came in entertaining covers.

Frankly, there’s a charm in Keith Tkachuk being on the cover of “NHL Breakaway ’98,” which I assume will be a precursor to Matthew Tkachuk and Brady Tkachuk teaming up on the latest “Bratz.”

NHL Breakaway '98 Keith Tkachuk hockey video games Nintendo 64
via Youtube/Acclaim Sports

The “Breakaway” series seemed … fine. Really, any hockey game that included icon passing gets bumped up a half-letter grade. But it’s not shocking that the series eventually fizzled out.

While plenty of people at least vaguely recall one of the “Breakaway” titles (the second one featured Steve Yzerman), I’d guess few knew that “Blades of Steel” made a comeback. Jaromir Jagr served as the cover star for both the ’99 and 2000 versions:

 

via CD Universe/Konami

There seems to be some charm to the “Blades of Steel” reboot, but the slow framerate and weird angle likely limit it to being a mere curiosity.

Overall, it’s pretty easy to see why the Nintendo 64 isn’t remembered for hockey video games. Even so, I can’t deny an urge to refresh my memories about “Wayne Gretzky 3D Hockey,” — defections optional.

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.

A best on best mythical tournament: 23-and-under team

Jack Eichel #9 of the Buffalo Sabres prepares for a faceoff during an NHL game against Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold, Pro Hockey Talk will be creating full rosters for an imaginary best on best tournament over the next three Thursdays.

The first team to enter the competition will be a roster comprised of players 23 years of age or younger. Think a Team North America in 2020. In recent years, younger players have made an instant impact at the NHL level and this team is filled with already established superstars.

Line Combinations

First line: Sebastian Aho – Connor McDavid – David Pastrnak

Thoughts: Leon Draisaitl has benefitted greatly from playing alongside McDavid this season and the addition of two dynamic goal scorers (Aho, Pastrnak) should produce an explosive top line. Aho’s ability to light the lamp and create plays should be a perfect fit to round out the group.

Second line: Andrei Svechnikov – Auston Matthews – Patrik Laine

Thoughts: Matthews has the puck-handling skill and on-ice vision to be an elite distributor with Laine alongside him. The size of all three forwards will be tough for most defensive pairings to handle.

Third line: Kyle Connor – Jack Eichel – Mikko Rantanen

Thoughts: Can this line match up with the opposition’s best and still produce offensively? The trio has the skill to be a top line for most NHL teams, but these three will be relied upon to play a smart, efficient, two-way game.

Fourth line: Matthew Tkachuk – Dylan Larkin – Mitchell Marner

Thoughts: The inclusion of Larkin over a Mathew Barzal or Elias Pettersson will raise some questions, but he was the best option to be a fourth line center and contribute on the penalty kill. Matthew Tkachuk will provide some toughness and size to add an important element to the group.

First D pairing: Zach Werenski – Cale Makar
Second D pairing: Thomas Chabot – Charlie McAvoy
Third D pairing: Rasmus Dahlin – Adam Fox

Thoughts: The second pairing will likely match up against the opposition’s best, but each combination has a strong mix of complementary characteristics. I initially thought it would be tough to find a strong group of mature defensemen in this age range, but these players have established themselves as high-end D-men.

Starting Goalie: Carter Hart
Backup Goalie: Ilya Samsonov

Just Missed: Mathew Barzal, Quinn Hughes, Travis Konecny, Elias Pettersson, Ivan Provorov

Captain: Connor McDavid
Alternate captains: Zach Werenski and Charlie McAvoy

Analysis

This team should not struggle to score with a ton of fire power in the offensive unit. With two of the top three and six of the top 10 goal scorers from the current season, it will be hard to contain this prolific group of forwards.

Two areas of weakness for this team are its ability to play a strong two-way game in even strength situations and kill off timely penalties. Players of this ilk have the ability to play any style but the question will be if players like Eichel and Marner could buy in to a defensive oriented role.

Additionally, their goaltenders are unproven but have the talent needed to play against the world’s best.

Nevertheless, the amount of skill on this team should help them overcome any obstacles and be a formidable challenge for any opponent. The roster has several established leaders, but young stars of the NHL are always eager to prove they belong in the conversation with the game’s best. Channeling that emotion in the proper way could be the difference between a successful tournament run or an early exit.

Surprising omissions:

Quinn Hughes: The young blueliner has been sensational for the Canucks. He is currently in a tight race with Makar for the Calder Trophy awarded to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the NHL. But the team will need size on the backend and cannot carry three undersized defensemen.

Elias Pettersson: The Swedish center is an excellent talent but didn’t fill a need when creating the lineup. While his talent is immense, this is a player that received the short end of the stick in order to build the most complete roster.


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

Long-term outlook for the Calgary Flames

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Calgary Flames. 

Pending free agents

The Core

The Flames played a little over their heads for much of 2018-19, building some belief that the Flames might possess one of the NHL’s best cores. Unfortunately, Nathan MacKinnon and the Avs rained on that parade during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and things got downright soggy at times in 2019-20.

Overall, though? The Flames’ core still looks quite good. Not best-in-class, but quite good.

If nothing else, they boast some serious value.

Thankfully, they didn’t overreact and trade Johnny Gaudreau, who’s almost insultingly underpaid ($6.75M AAV through 2021-22). Maybe 2018-19 inflated expectations for “Johnny Hockey,” but he’s still an excellent player.

It’s actually difficult to tell how much Sean Monahan and/or Elias Lindholm lean on Gaudreau for production, but both are cheap and covered for years, so it doesn’t really matter.

Matthew Tkachuk? He’s worth every bit of that $7M per year through 2021-22. So the forward group is covered pretty nicely.

And, yes, Mark Giordano‘s age (36) is troubling for the future, but we’ll get to that. For now, consider Giordano pretty fantastic (not quite Norris-fantastic, but fantastic nonetheless), and nicely cost-efficient at $6.75M. Giordano’s contract ending after 2021-22 mitigates much of that aging curve concern, too.

Now, not every long-term dollar is well-spent. While Milan Lucic isn’t as bad of a player as the snark suggests, his contract really is a headache. There are other issues, such as Mikael Backlund‘s troubling term.

Ultimately, though … not bad. Not cream of the crop stuff, but you can bump that group up quite a bit thanks to a mix of bargains and relatively limited risks.

Long-term needs for Flames

Consider Cam Talbot’s resurgence triage for the Flames’ goaltending situation. Talbot provided a short-term fix, but considering his pending UFA status and how unpredictable the position can be, will the Band-Aid slip off soon?

There’s quite a bit of uncertainty there, whether Talbot returns or the Flames find the “next” Talbot. Meanwhile, David Rittich presents an unpleasant form of predictability: he’s been consistently mediocre.

Unfortunately, the Flames face questions about how to insulate their goalies. Their defense lacks clarity beyond aging star Giordano, especially if both Hamonic and Brodie played their last games for the Flames. There are worse groups out there, but the Flames may be stuck with “good” while seeking “great.”

In ranking the NHL’s farm systems for The Athletic in January (sub required), Scott Wheeler placed the Flames 26th. Even at such a low ranking, Calgary’s highest rank prospects were forwards (and goalie Dustin Wolf), not defensemen. If the Flames get help on defense, it might have to come via free agency.

Oh yeah … they might need a coach, too, if they aren’t impressed with Geoff Ward.

Long-term strengths of Flames

While the Flames’ forward group ranks a notch or two behind the best of the best, it’s still quite good. The one-two punch of Gaudreau’s playmaking on one line and Tkachuk’s two-way peskiness on another can be very effective.

The Flames also lack a cap hit above Tkachuk’s $7M. That flexibility could come in very handy if other teams need to shed salary thanks to a coronavirus-related cap squeeze.

Even certain weaknesses could be spun as strengths.

Yes, their goalie situation is uncertain, but the Flames also enjoy flexibility. Before you scoff at that point, consider that Sergei Bobrovsky‘s performing at a sub-backup level for $10M per year at age 31.

Who’s to say that the Flames won’t successfully target better goaltending, at better prices, without the risky term other teams hand out?

Such flexibility opens up lanes for free agency, too. Perhaps the Flames could take that next step by landing, say, Alex Pietrangelo or Taylor Hall?

As is, the Flames mostly show the makings of a good team. Last season showed they could flirt with great, while this one reminded that there’s still work to do. They have a decent shot at getting there, even if they aren’t there yet.

(Then again, there’s also the possibility that they already missed their best chance or chances. Hockey’s fickle that way.)

MORE FLAMES BITS:
Looking at the 2019-20 Flames (so far?)
Biggest surprises and disappointments.

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.

Calgary Flames: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Calgary Flames.

Gaudreau, Monahan have been disappointments for Flames

Johnny Gaudreau enjoyed the best season of his NHL career in 2018-19, setting career highs for goals (36) and points (99). Gaudreau blew away his previous career high of 84 points.

In doing so, Gaudreau might have set expectations too high for both himself and the Flames.

Some might pin Gaudreau’s slippage to a morale-busting first-round loss to the Avalanche during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. After all, Gaudreau failed to score a single goal during that series, managing a measly assist over five games. If there was a shred of doubt about Gaudreau vs. Nathan MacKinnon, that debate was crushed with the speed of an authoritative overtime playoff game-winner.

Maybe Gaudreau is suffering from a minor crisis of confidence, but that armchair psychology likely falls short. Simply put, he was probably playing over his head last season, and then he regressed.

It’s still a disappointment for the Flames, though. With 58 points in 70 games, Gaudreau’s .83 points-per-game average is the third-worst of his career.

And, generally speaking, as Gaudreau goes, so does Sean Monahan.

It’s not surprising that Matthew Tkachuk ranks higher than Monahan and Gaudreau on this GAR chart (via Charting Hockey using Evolving Hockey’s stats), being that Tkachuk is such a five-on-five demon. But the two being run-of-the-mill by their standards made it tough for Calgary to pull away from the Pacific pack.

Flames firing Bill Peters was part of a run of coaching surprises

The series of events that ultimately led to the Flames firing Bill Peters was quite ugly, and there were also surprises along the way.

Frankly, the fact that Peters faced actual consequences — rather than another powerful person’s indiscretions merely being brushed under the rug — was a pleasant surprise. Peters facing repercussions doesn’t delete the unpleasant experiences Akim Aliu and others went through, yet it was a sign of progress in hockey — whether you consider the changes big or merely incremental.

Peters’ firing was part of a series of surprises in the coaching ranks that would probably go down as a bigger story for 2019-20 if COVID-19 hadn’t halted play altogether.

Cam Talbot rebounds for Flames

In a season of slippage for the Flames, Talbot’s lifting Calgary up.

After seeing his save percentage sink below .90 during his final year with the Oilers, Talbot’s been huge for Calgary. Talbot entered the “pause” with a three-game winning streak, and generated a strong .919 save percentage overall.

That’s all been crucial, as David Rittich remained mediocre. If he’s “Big Save Dave,” perhaps Rittich needs to focus a bit more on the small and medium-sized stops?

Flames aren’t getting pleasant surprises from Sam Bennett

Expecting more from Rittich (.907 save percentage in 2019-20) was foolish considering his .908 career average. Projecting a dramatic transformation from Bennett might have been even more foolish.

Yet, even by diminished standards, Bennett’s 2019-20 was extremely meh. Bennett only managed 12 points over 52 games, which translates to a career-worst .23 ppg.

The Flames have tried to hold out for value in potentially trading Bennett. That makes sense, as it would sting to receive very little for the fourth pick of the 2014 NHL Draft. But considering how his numbers (and ice time) are sinking, maybe it would be best for everyone involved if a trade happened?

A change of scenery might be the only thing that leads to pleasant surprises for Bennett and the Flames.

Oh, and as a bonus surprise: Milan Lucic … not as bad as maybe people think. His contract remains bad, but Lucic seems like he can be an OK contributor overall. Yup, life and the Flames are both full of surprises … and OK, perhaps disappointments.

MORE FLAMES BITS

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.