Flames/Kings, Tkachuk/Doughty feud is what the NHL needs more of

Not unlike his father Keith, who logged 1,201 NHL games from 1992-2010, Matthew Tkachuk is a big, skilled forward who plays with an edge and thrives upon getting under the skin of opponents. He refuses to back down from anybody.

The game of Big Walt’s first-born was best displayed last season when he laid a dirty hit on Kings defenseman Drew Doughty then responding by going right at the Norris Trophy-winning blueliner the next time out while taking on Brayden McNabb early in the game.

Doughty and the Kings don’t care for the 19-year-old, who was selected by Calgary with the sixth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. Chances are better than not the Kings are not alone in that sentiment, and the list will only grow as the years go on.

It all exploded on Wednesday night, the first meeting between the two clubs (which Calgary won, 4-3, in overtime), when Tkachuk did a little digging after Kings goalie Jonathan Quick covered the puck late in the third period. A post-whistle scrum ensued. Doughty and Tkachuk went onto exchange pleasantries from their respective penalty boxes in the aftermath.

This is what the game needs more of. Player feuds, heated rivalries, heated emotion from a game that is built more on emotion than any sport on the planet. And here you have this feud surrounding two of the better players on division rivals. It’s the perfect storm.

Don’t get me wrong, I love where the NHL has gone. There’s more skill, more speed, more talent from top-to-bottom in the league as there has ever been. It’s as fun to follow as ever. And I’m not looking for games with 150 penalty minutes, and five line-brawls, or guys going around slew-footing and running guys from behind. The Tkachuk elbow on Doughty last season that started all this has no place in the game.

But the back-and-forth drama, teams hating each other? There’s not as much of it right now. The league is better and more entertaining when it has that.

PS – Tkachuk’s younger brother, Brady, is a freshman at Boston University and is projected to be selected high in the first round of next year’s draft. If Matt plays like he has a bee in his bonnet, Brady has a full hornets net. The Tkachuk brothers should be fan favorites for a long time.

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Defensemen: 1-5

1 – Erik Karlsson

They say when you go to a baseball game, there’s a good chance you’ll see something you’ve never seen before. I think you can apply that same thing to Erik Karlsson. The Senators ace blueliner has been manipulating hockey pucks in ways many wouldn’t believe possible since coming into the league. Over the past couple seasons, Karlsson has rounded out his game to the point where he’s not just defenseman in the world, but one of the best players.

2 – Victor Hedman

It took a while for the former second overall pick to develop, but Tampa Bay’s patience has paid off. Hedman broke out for 72 points last season – his 56 assists were fourth in the league – but in recent seasons the Swede has come on as an elite two-way, all-situations defenseman, with the Lightning’s 2015 run to the Stanley Cup Final serving as his coming-out party.

3 – Brent Burns

Burns was one of the league’s most valuable players last season, finishing fourth in the Hart Trophy race. Burns literally carried the Sharks at times in 2016-17, and over the past two seasons has been the league’s premier offensive defensemen, with 56 goals and 151 points since the start of 2015-16.

4 – Drew Doughty

Doughty is an absolute workhorse, playing more than 28 minutes per game over the past three seasons, playing all 82 games in each of those three campaigns. Doughty, who won the Norris Trophy in 2016, has never missed more than six games in a season.

5 – Alex Pietrangelo

Pietrangelo is one of the game’s most overlooked stars. The 27-year-old has been the Blues’ go-to guy on the back end since his first full season of 2010-11. He’s averaged 25 minutes per night each of the last five years and has put up 40 points in five of the last seven seasons.

Pacific Division: Facts, Figures, Predictions

*Doug Weight is the only Oiler to post 82 points in a season since 1992. He did it three times; 104 in 1995-96, 82 in 1996-97, and 90 in 2000-01.

*A fifth consecutive playoff appearance for the Anaheim Ducks next spring would set a new franchise record.

*The Ducks were the class of the league last season on both the powerplay and penalty kill. Five-on-five wasn’t Anaheim’s strong suit, however, as its 127 even strength goals ranked 26th in the NHL.

*Among 34 goalies who have appeared in 100 games over the last four seasons, Mike Smith is tied for 27th in save percentage (.911) and 32nd in GAA (2.80).

*Drew Doughty is just the second player to average 28 minutes per game in back-to-back seasons for the Los Angeles Kings. He joins Rob Blake, who did so in 1999-00 and ’00-01.

*Joe Thornton and Henrik Sedin are second and third, respectively, behind Jaromir Jagr on the assists leaderboard among active players; Thornton with 948 and Sedin with 748. Fourth place? Jarome Iginla, at 662.

Predictions

1- Anaheim: The Ducks aren’t deep up front, but loaded on the back end. John Gibson shines in first full season.

2- Calgary: On paper, the Flames had no business being the worst defensive team in the league last year. Expect much better results with bounceback year on blue line plus addition of Brian Elliot.

3- San Jose: It’s time we begin acknowledging Joe Pavelski as one of the 10 best players in the league.

4- Edmonton: McDavid is the main attraction, but Peter Chiarelli is building something special. The Oilers will win a Stanley Cup within five years.

5- Arizona: Don’t count out the Coyotes as a surprise playoff team.

6- Los Angeles: After Team USA debacle, things don’t get better for Dean Lombardi as slow decline in LA continues.

7- Vancouver: The Canucks showed up at the Hashtag-*INSERT QUIRKY SYNONYM FOR BEING BAD*-For-*INSERT NAME OF PRESUMPTIVE FIRST OVERALL PICK* party two years too late.