Maple Leafs slide past Oilers, become lottery favorite

The Toronto Maple Leafs' odds of winning the coveted first overall pick improved Wednesday.

With the team's dismal 5-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets coupled with the Edmonton Oilers' 6-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks, the Maple Leafs slid into 30th place, giving them a 20 percent chance of landing the first overall pick in this year's draft.

The loss in regulation also means that the Maple Leafs will finish with one of the final two spots in the NHL standings, meaning they are guaranteed no worse than the fifth overall pick in the draft.

Here is how the lottery race stacks up:

Position Team GP Points Chance of Winning Lottery (%)
30 Toronto 80 67 20
29 Edmonton 81 69 13.5
28 Columbus 80 72 11.5
27 Vancouver 80 73 9.5
26 Calgary 80 73 8.5

The Maple Leafs can lock down the 30th spot in the standings with a regulation loss in one of their final two games of the season, according to Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman.

The team last owned the first overall pick in 1985 when they used it to draft fan favorite Wendel Clark.

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Sergei Bobrovsky becomes Blue Jackets’ all-time wins leader

With a 26-save performance against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday, Sergei Bobrovsky won his 97th game as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets, passing Steve Mason to become the franchise's all-time wins leader.

With just two postseason appearances over 15 seasons, goaltending has been one of a number of problems the Blue Jackets have faced in their short history. Bobrovsky, Mason, and Mathieu Garon (84 wins) are the only netminders with over 50 career wins with the club.

Bobrovsky - a Vezina Trophy winner in 2012-13 - is also the only goalie to record a postseason win, recording two during a first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2014.

The 27-year-old has had an injury-plagued season, appearing in just 36 games so far, sporting a 14-19-1 record.

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VIDEO: McDavid gets in on 2nd-period barrage

The future did his part to say goodbye to the past.

Connor McDavid collected the garbage and contributed to a second-period barrage that saw the Edmonton Oilers awake for three goals.

McDavid pushed the loose puck over a sprawled out Jacob Markstrom to give the Oilers a 3-0 lead in the final game at Rexall Place.

The goal was the 19-year-old's seventh on Rexall ice.

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VIDEO: Yakupov snipes to open scoring in final game at Rexall Place

Nail Yakupov got the celebrations started with a pin-point shot Wednesday.

The Edmonton Oilers forward opened the scoring against the Vancouver Canucks midway through the second period of the final game at Rexall Place.

Yakupov took it upon himself to gather the puck with the chance that it could be the final goal scored at the Oilers home rink. Patrick Maroon would strike just under five minutes later, however.

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VIDEO: Fans chant ‘one more year’ as Datsyuk honored before game

Pavel Datsyuk was honored by the Detroit Red Wings before Wednesday's game against the Philadelphia Flyers for recording the 600th assist of his career, and in what may be his final regular-season game at Joe Louis Arena, his fans made it known they want the 14-year veteran to stay.

Red Wings fans chanted "one more year" as recent reports have stated the 37-year-old is considering a return to Russia as soon as next season. Datsyuk has one year remaining on his contract and his agent has said they will have a discussion with general manager Ken Holland at season's end.

Datsyuk recorded his 600th assist during a 7-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 26. He has 48 points in 63 games this season.

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Flint Firebirds owner Rolf Nilsen receives 5-year suspension from OHL

The Ontario Hockey League has issued stiff penalties to Flint Firebirds owner Rolf Nilsen for violating the terms of an agreement made between himself and the league on "several occasions."

Commissioner David Branch issued a statement Wednesday, ordering these sanctions on the Firebirds owner:

  • Rolf Nilsen be suspended by the OHL from being involved directly or indirectly with hockey operations of the Flint Firebirds for five years effective immediately;
  • The Flint Firebirds forfeit a first-round draft pick in the 2016 OHL Priority Selection (third pick overall);
  • A fine be paid by Rolf Nilsen to the League in the amount of Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Dollars ($250,000.00)

If Nilsen doesn't comply with these sanctions, the OHL will order him to sell 100 percent of his ownership interest in the club. He may apply for reinstatement to participate in hockey operations in three years.

Acting director of hockey operations Joe Birch - who has held the position since February - will remain in his current role.

The league took control of the team's hockey operations in February after Nilsen fired the team's coaching staff for the second time that season.

The OHL Priority Selection is scheduled to take place Saturday.

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Gretzky longs for freewheeling hockey: ‘It’s changed completely’

When Wayne Gretzky talks about hockey, people stop and listen.

"The Great One" spoke in a wide-ranging interview with Lucas Aykroyd of The New York Times, one in which he talked about his monumental 215-point season 30 years ago and this season's eventual Art Ross Trophy winner, Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane.

Gretzky also shared his belief that the game has lost part of what made it great, and it all starts with the youth.

"When I was 10 years old, they'd throw a puck on the ice and say, 'Go score.' Now, at 10 years old, the kids are taught to play in their lanes," Gretzky said. "Defensemen stay back. Everybody blocks shots. I mean, my goodness, I don't think I ever blocked a shot, and I killed penalties every single game. I thought goaltenders were paid to block shots, not forwards. It's changed completely. I think the biggest thing we've lost is a little bit of our creativity and imagination in general."

This season in the NHL, 2.71 goals are scored per game. That's down from 2.73 in 2014-15, and 2.74 in 2013-14. We're back at dead-puck era (1995-2004) levels. It was back in 2005-06, coming out of a lockout that cost the league a season, when more than three goals were averaged a game (3.08).

When Gretzky averaged 200 points a season from 1981 to 1986, league averages for goals were between 3.86 and 4.01. The game's certainly changed.

"All in all, it's sort of a grinding game now. You're taught from Day 1 that your role and responsibility is to keep the puck out of your net," Gretzky said.

The NHL's discussed ideas to increase scoring, including talk of making nets bigger. Beginning next season, goaltender equipment will be smaller. But in order for scoring and the game to change, coaching will have to change as well.

The game is played at an ultra-high level by tremendous athletes. Goalies have all but perfected their position. Hockey players train all-year round. Players are bigger, faster, stronger. Teams are using more statistical analysis, employing data wizards in order to gain an advantage over opponents.

The days of saying, "Go score," it seems, are unfortunately done.

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