Thursday, September 9, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: In Rod we trust

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- A Penguins surprise as Sidney Crosby will miss the start of the season
- Is the Pens' playoff spot in danger?
- The most intriguing players for this coming season
- With an Olympics return on the horizon, should we keep the World Cup?
- Pierre Dorion gets an extension and declares the Senators' rebuid over
- Jesse Granger on which teams have seen their Cup odds change the most since July
- A look back on one of the weirdest and most underrated blockusters in NHL history, the Rod Langway trade
- Plus listener mail and more...

The Athletic Hockey Show runs most days of the week during the season, with Ian and I hosting every Thursday. There are two versions of each episode available:
- An ad-free version for subscribers that you can find here
- An ad-supported version you can get for free wherever you normally find your podcasts (like Apple or Spotify)

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Celebrating five of the NHL’s most breakable records (while we still can)

The NHL’s record book is pretty thick, as you might expect from a league with over 100 years of history. Get your hands on a copy, and you can spend hours learning about the players who set all-time marks in scoring, goaltending, and just about anything else you can imagine.

But as most fans know, a lot of those records are unbreakable. Some of them literally so – nobody will ever top Ken Dorarty’s record of three overtime goals in a single game (from back when the extra periods weren’t sudden death). Others are unbreakable from a practical perspective due to changes in how the game is played, like Glenn Hall’s 502 consecutive starts for a goaltender from the bygone era where backups were rarely used. And others, like Wayne Gretzky’s 2,857 career points or Bobby Orr’s +124 or even Dave Schultz’s 472 PIM in a season are all-but unbreakable unless the game reverts to the way it was played in previous eras.

Those unbreakable records are fun. But there’s another category that I like to kick around every now and then: the breakable record. As in, the marks that just don’t seem that impressive, and feel like they should be broken any day now.

Today, let’s celebrate those records while we still can, with five of my favorite breakable NHL records.

Now we could get cute here with overly obscure marks – hey, this guy holds the all-time record for most shot attempts by a left-handed Scorpio on February 29, that sort of thing. We’ll try not to do that here, although we’ll obviously have to dig a little bit beyond that standard records we all know. Let’s see if we can find five reasonably straightforward records that feel like they should be easy enough for somebody to break – then see if anyone in this coming season can prove us right.

Most assists in a season by a left winger

The single-season record for assists by any player is, not surprisingly, held by Wayne Gretzky. He had an unfathomable 163 in 1985-86, plus 10 other years with over 100. Next up for the centers is Mario Lemieux with 114 in 1988-89, and seven other centers have had at least 90 in a season (with Joe Thornton being the most recent). Among defenseman, the assists record is held by Bobby Orr, with 102. For the right-wingers, it’s a tie between Jaromir Jagr and Nikita Kucherov, who both had seasons of 87.

And then, there are the left wingers.

If you’ve followed my various roster-building quests over the years, you know that left wing has historically been the NHL’s weakest position. But it’s not like there haven’t been some legitimate legends who’ve played the position. Bobby Hull was a left winger. So were Frank Mahovlich, Ted Lindsay and Johnny Bucyk. So were members of the 600-goal club like Luc Robitaille, Brendan Shanahan and of course Alexander Ovechkin. And today’s left-wingers include perennial Hart candidates like Artemi Panarin and Bran Marchand.

So it may surprise you to learn that the record for assists in a season by a left-winger isn’t held by any of those guys. The record-holder isn’t a Hall-of-Famer, or even much of a star.

According to most sources, including the NHL itself, the record is held by Joe Juneau, who had 70 assists as a rookie in 1992-93. That was the year he played on a line with Adam Oates and (when healthy) Cam Neely. It was also his only full season in Boston; he’d be traded to the Capitals at the 1994 trade deadline. To give you an idea of how impressed the hockey world was by his record-breaking feat as a rookie, he didn’t receive a single first-place Calder vote that year, and was left off of 11 of the 50 ballots entirely.

You could also make an argument for Bob MacMillan of the Atlanta Flames in 1978-79, as he’s the guy who heads up the hockey-reference list. MacMillan was mostly a right winger in his career, but apparently played the left side for much of that season. He had 71 assists, so whether you give the nod to him or Juneau, the point remains: Left wingers just don’t get many helpers. Despite leading the position, neither Juneau or MacMillan ranks in the overall top-100 for assists in a single season. Connor McDavid had more assists last year, and the season was only 56 games long.

Will the record be broken soon? It’s starting to feel likely. Several active players have come close, including Marchand (64 in 2018-19), Claude Giroux (68 in 2017-18), and a pair of 60+ seasons from Johnny Gaudreau. But the biggest near-miss was Artemi Panarin, who was well on the way to breaking the record in 2019-20 when the season was cut short by the pandemic. He was on pace for 74 assists that year, and last year he was racking up helpers at a record-shattering pace of almost one-per-game. There’s a decent chance he breaks the record this year if he plays close to 82 games.

If so, it would be the first major position-based season scoring record to be broken in decades. But for now, the record remains with a guy you may not even have heard of.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Thursday, September 2, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: Oh sheet

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Thoughts on the Jesperi Kotkaniemi offer sheet, and where it goes from here
- Still no Jack Eichel trade, and is there any good way out for the Sabres?
- Lots of listener feedback on our August debate episodes
- Is Patrik Elias a Hall-of-Famer?
- The 30-year anniversary of the Scott Stevens/Brendan Shanahan ruling
- Plus Lundqvist's popularity, McSorley's high-stick, the 1972 Summit Series opener and lots more...

The Athletic Hockey Show runs most days of the week during the season, with Ian and I hosting every Thursday. There are two versions of each episode available:
- An ad-free version for subscribers that you can find here
- An ad-supported version you can get for free wherever you normally find your podcasts (like Apple or Spotify)

Monday, August 30, 2021

What lessons will the rest of the NHL learn from the Jesperi Kotkaniemi offer sheet?

The Carolina Hurricanes offer sheet to Jesperi Kotkaniemi has become the talk of the NHL. While that’s not an especially high bar in August, this is a pretty irresistible story for a hockey fan. It’s got the novelty of the rarely seen offer sheet, some genuine intrigue over how it will all play out, and a solid dose of pettiness to add to the mix.

That last bit is the angle that’s getting most of the attention these days, and rightly so given how clearly this move was inspired by the Habs’ 2019 offer sheet to Sebastian Aho. NHL front offices are filled with bitter grumps with long memories, but they’re usually not this over-the-top. From the $20 signing bonus to the word-for-for press release, apparently the Hurricanes don’t do subtle.

But while I can appreciate some junior high-level drama as much as the next guy, I’m wondering about a different angle: Where does the NHL go from here? After all, this a copycat league that’s notorious for GMs reacting to anything that happens by immediately shifting strategy to… well, something different. Sometimes they learn the right lesson. Often, they don’t. So what are NHL GMs going to talk themselves into after watching this whole mess unfold from their cottages?

I’m not sure, but I’ve got a few possibilities. Let’s work through how this might play out.

Lesson 1: Offer sheets are too dangerous, never try them

This one’s simple. The Canadiens’ offer sheet to Aho was the first one the league had seen in six years, and the biggest since Shea Weber in 2012. In between, hockey fans were left wondering why nobody was using a powerful weapon that was sitting right there in the rulebook. We could argue over whether Montreal’s move had any chance of succeeding – it didn’t – but at least they tried, which is more than you can say for anyone else.

And now, they have their reward: A retaliatory offer sheet aimed at one of their key young players. The lesson, it would seem, is to stay away from offer sheets entirely. You’ll just about never get the player, you get your fans’ hopes up for nothing, and you might just be putting a target on your own RFAs a year or two down the line.

Let’s be honest, we’re all pretty sure that this is the lesson that NHL GMs will end up learning from all this. But is it the right one?

Maybe, but there’s one problem with that theory: We’ve been hearing about the risk of retaliatory offer sheets for years. It comes up every summer, as yet another crop of top-tier RFAs would come and go without a single attempt. When fans would wonder why GMs were so hesitant to even try an offer sheet, one of the first reasons offered was always the threat of payback. But it basically never happened; before this weekend, the last time a team tried a retribution-based offer sheet was in 2008, when the Blues responded to the Canucks signing David Backes by going after Steve Bernier.

That was it. The Predators never went after a Flyer after the Weber offer. The Avs didn’t target any Flames after Ryan O’Reilly. The Sabres didn’t go after any Oilers after Thomas Vanek. Until this week, a GM who tried an offer sheet had as much chance of being challenged to a barn fight as they did of facing a return attempt. But they kept bringing it up anyway, hiding behind a mostly imagined threat as a reason to avoid doing their jobs.

Now it’s finally happened. But it sure seems like the fear of this kind of situation was already baked into whatever calculations teams were doing. It was the monster under the bed that they were already afraid of. Now that the monster is real, does that really change anything?

It might, which is why we’re all assuming that we’ll hear this excuse even more often in the coming years. But in the interest of encouraging GMs to keep their options open, let’s see if we can flip this one around…

Lesson 2: Offer sheets can actually work, so use them more

All those offer sheets we mentioned in the last section were matched. So was every offer sheet of the last 24 years, with one exception: the infamous Dustin Penner deal in 2007, which led to the Brian Burke/Kevin Lowe feud. Penner was a decent player in his day, but he wasn’t exactly anyone’s idea of a star. The last genuine difference-maker to switch teams after an offer sheet was… geez, does Chris Gratton in 1997 count? Shayne Corson in 95? Do we have to go all the way back to the Scott Stevens/Brendan Shanahan days in the early 90s?

You get the point. Offer sheets just don’t work. The incentive for teams to hold onto their own RFAs is just too high. That’s always been the system’s biggest problem. Why bother signing another team’s star to an offer sheet that won’t work? Sure, you can mess with their cap situation a bit, but that’s about the only benefit. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time, because teams always match.

Except along comes the Kotkaniemi deal, and the Habs… might not?

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Thursday, August 26, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: What if?

On this week's special "what if?" episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- What if Gretzky stays in Edmonton?
- What i the Sabres win the McDavid lottery?
- What if the linesman doesn't miss Duchene's offside?
- What if Patrik Stefan scores into that empty net?
- What if Don Waddell back-stabbed Brian Burke at the Sedin draft?
- And more...

The Athletic Hockey Show runs most days of the week during the season, with Ian and I hosting every Thursday. There are two versions of each episode available:
- An ad-free version for subscribers that you can find here
- An ad-supported version you can get for free wherever you normally find your podcasts (like Apple or Spotify)