Friday, December 4, 2020

Who wins an all-time battle between Team Byng and Team PIM?

Picture a hockey player. Not a specific one, but your version of the archetypal player, the generic one that comes to mind when you think about the sport.

Chances are, you’re picturing some growling menace with a black eye, missing teeth, and an angry expression. Maybe a scar or two, or cartoon-style bandage. That’s hockey, right? It’s a sport that’s all about toughness, where a punch in the face is just part of the deal. Not everyone plays like that, of course, but the real ones do. Gordie Howe for the win, am I right?

Except… lots of the NHL’s best ever players don’t really fit that mold, right? In fact, plenty of history’s top legends stayed out of rough stuff. We even have an award just for players like that: the Lady Byng, which recognizes sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct. And while Gordie wouldn’t have been caught anywhere near that thing, plenty of big stars have won it.

So today, let’s pick a side. The gentlemen vs. the cavemen. Pacifists vs. lotsa fists. Who you got?

Here’s how this will work.

– For Team PIM, we’re picking from all the forwards and defensemen who, at some point in their NHL career, led their own team in regular season penalty minutes. That’s a high bar, especially once we get into the enforcer era, but we can find some good players who managed to do it. (Beyond “leading your own team”, we won’t be using any limits on how many minutes a player needs. I was initially going to, but the problem you run into is that PIM totals fluctuate so much based on era that if you set the bar at, say, 200 minutes, you just wind up with all guys from the mid-70s to late-90s and not much else.)

– For Team Byng, it gets a little trickier. Forwards are easy; we just want guy who won the Lady Byng. But only three defensemen have ever won the award, so we’ll expand the criteria to any blueliner who ever finished in the top five in voting.

– It doesn’t really make sense to use goaltenders for this, but that’s never stopped us before. Team PIM will be looking for goalies who racked up at least 250 PIM in their career, while Team Byng will need guys who played at least five full seasons of 40 or more games without recording a single penalty minute (and only since 1970, since I don’t trust goalie penalty records before then).

We’ll do full 20-man rosters for each team, and see which one looks like the best squad at the end. Let’s get ready to drop the gloves and/or awkwardly mill around afterwards picking them up.

(Thanks to reader Sean D. for sending in this idea.)

First line

Well, I guess we have to start Team Byng with Wayne Gretzky.

The greatest player in NHL history was also the league’s most gentlemanly in five seasons, the most in the modern era. (Frank Boucher won seven times in the 20s and 30s.) And we can give him two familiar linemates: One that he actually played with in Jari Kurri, and one who was his early rival for best player in hockey honors in Marcel Dionne.

Yeah, Team Byng is going to be pretty good up front.

But that’s OK, because true to character, Team PIM isn’t going to be a pushover. Somebody had to do the dirty work for Gretzky and Kurri in Edmonton, which means we can start our tough guy roster with Mark Messier, whose career-high 165 PIMs led the 1983-84 Oilers. And he’ll have two of history’s greatest wingers on his side, as Rocket Richard and Ted Lindsay both qualify. That gives us a solid top line that can…


Something’s wrong. Where’s Gordie Howe?

I mean, that was half the point of this whole thing, right? When you think of a grizzled player who can be the toughest guy on his own team and the best player in the league, Howe’s the standard by whom all others are judged. By the time he retired for the first time in 1971, he’d been the NHL’s active leader in penalty minutes for five years.

Except… in 25 seasons in Detroit, he never led the Wings in PIMs. Not once. I swear, I checked this like five times. Despite being widely recognized as the NHL’s undisputed heavyweight champ for most of the Original Six era – and rightly so – Howe never ranked higher than second on his own team.

How is that possible? Well, we’ve already mentioned the answer. It’s Terrible Ted Lindsay, Howe’s teammate for 14 seasons. Lindsay led to the Red Wings in penalty minutes most years, often racking up well over 100 in a season during an era where that was rare. Howe nearly caught him in 1953-54, when Lindsay took a photo finish with 110 minutes to Howe’s 109, but that’s as close as Mr. Hockey got.

So we can’t use Gordie. I won’t lie, this is crushing for Team PIM. But if anyone can tough it out, it’s these guys, so let’s keep going.

Second line

Team Byng keeps piling up the talent, as they can start their second line with two guys who know each other fairly well: Bobby Hull and Brett Hull. They each won the Lady Byng once, with Bobby taking it in 1965 and Brett earning the nod in 1990, on the way to racking up a combined 1,300+ goals. Not bad for a second line.

So who gets to center these two snipers? My first thought was Stan Mikita, Bobby’s longtime center in Chicago. He won the Lady Byng twice, so he’d be a fine pick. But there’s a problem: before famously transforming his playing style, Mikita was one of the league’s toughest players, and he led the Hawks in PIMs on multiple occasions. That means he could technically be the second-line center on both of our teams, which would be neat but also might feel kind of silly. I think the only reasonable thing we can do here is disqualify Mikita altogether, and find another playmaker to center the Hull. I’d say Ron Francis would fit the bill, so he’s in.

We’ll load up Team PIM’s second line with a few more big names, including two you probably weren’t expecting to see on this roster. We’ll start with our center, Jean Beliveau, a true gentleman off the ice who was a lot more willing to mix it up on the ice than most remember; when he retired in 1971, he was the league’s all-time leader in career PIMs among centers. He managed to rack up over 1,000 minutes, including 143 in 1955-56 to not only lead the Canadiens but place him third in the entire league. It wasn’t the only time Beliveau led his team, and he went his entire 20-year career without ever receiving so much as a Lady Byng vote, so despite a well-earned reputation for pure class when out of uniform, he certainly qualifies for our squad.

So does Alexander Ovechkin, whose career-high 89 PIM in 2009-10 was more than enough to top a Washington Capitals team where nobody else even had 70. (Should he actually be on the first line? Probably. But I’m not putting a guy who’s never cracked 100 minutes on the first-line of Team PIM. Yell at me all you want, it’s about principle, dammit.)

After throwing two minor curveballs, we’ll round off our second line with a name you definitely did expect: Brendan Shanahan, who led the 1994-95 Blues and the 2003-04 Red Wings. Team Byng is still tough to beat, but Team PIM comes close on the second line. Let’s see what happens as we move down the lineup.

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Thursday, December 3, 2020

Puck Soup: This is not a renegotiation (it is)

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Gary Bettman and the owners think the players should renegotiate. They might be right.
- The 25h anniversary of the Patrick Roy trade
- An argument about which sports are sports
- OUFL Christma movies
- A new round of the $25,000 Pierre-amid
- And more...

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, listen on The Athletic or subscribe on iTunes.

>> Get weekly mailbags and special bonus episodes by supporting Puck Soup on Patreon for $5.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Let’s make a deal, with our 20-question NHL trade quiz

We just finished one of the biggest shopping weekends of the year, which means a lot of you have spent the last few days scouring offers, furiously hunting for bargains, and hoping that your expensive new additions will live up to the hype and not become the source of long-lasting regret.

Hey, you’re just like an NHL GM!

Sort of. Maybe not. Look, sometimes these current event tie-ins work and sometimes they don’t, but we’ve come too far now. So let’s celebrate a weekend spent chasing deals with a quiz about NHL trades.

We’ll cover a few decades of history here, with a focus on both the big blockbusters and the smaller, weirder stuff, and maybe even a few trades that were on the table but didn’t end up happening. As always, you’ll have an advantage if you’ve been reading my stuff for the last decade, because that means that a) you’ll have heard some of these stories before, and b) you’re just a smarter, better person than everyone else.

If you have any trouble getting the quiz to scroll properly, especially on your phone, then go yell at Google instead of me, and then try this direct link. Once you’ve submitted your answers, scroll back up to see how you did using this handy guide:

03 right answers: The Milbury zone. Your fellow GMs put you on speakerphone so everyone in the office can laugh at you.

4-7 right answers: The Chiarelli zone. You don’t always miss, but when you do, you miss big.

8-11 right answers: The Poile zone. You have your share of strong moments, just not often enough to win the big one.

12-15 right answers: The Fletcher zone. You’re not perfect, but you’re not afraid to swing for the fences.

16-19 right answers: The Torrey zone. You almost never miss, making you the architect of a near-perfect score.

20 right answers: The Pollock zone. You’re a cheat code, and nobody should ever take your calls.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Friday, November 27, 2020

The Bizarro-meter’s Eastern Conference offseason rankings

Welcome to part two of the annual Bizarro-meter column, in which we grade each team based on just how weird their summer has been. Except this year, the offseason wasn’t in the summer, because it’s 2020 and nothing about the sports world makes sense. Should we just say “weirdest year ever”, give every team a 10/10 and be done with it? Probably, but doing things the straightforward way wouldn’t be on-brand for me, so we’ll grade on a curve.

On Wednesday we did the Western Conference, with Arizona landing the highest score thanks to front office drama, a big name on the trade block and a commitment to finding creative ways to forfeit draft picks. Today’s it’s on to East, as we see whether anyone can wrestle the crown away from the Coyotes.

Metropolitan Division

Columbus Blue Jackets

The offseason so far: The flipped Josh Anderson for Max Domi in a deal that made sense, as did making a cheap bet that Mikko Koivu still has something left. Buying out Alex Wennberg and shipping Ryan Murray to the Devils for next to nothing was less impressive, but necessary to clear salary.

But their strangest story was: You knew that a new Pierre-Luc Dubois deal was going to be a tricky negotiation, but the near total silence on that front is at least a little unnerving.

Bizarro-meter ranking: 3.6/10. There’s also an apparent COVID-19 outbreak, although these days that’s not all that bizarre. Other than that, it was a busy offseason, but nothing too out of the ordinary until the Dubois offer sheet lands.

Carolina Hurricanes

The offseason so far: The big news was the retirement of Justin Williams, which we knew was coming someday but will leave a leadership hole. Other than that, it was pretty quiet, with a nice pickup of Jesper Fast and a handful of veteran departures that won’t move the needle all that much.

But their strangest story was: Not adding a goalie. It will be yet another year of relying on Petr Mrazek, James Reimer, and any random arena workers who happen to be around when needed. On the one hand, you can see why – not many of the goalies who changed teams this year were guaranteed to be better than what they already have. Still, weren’t the Hurricanes pretty high on your pre-offseason list of teams that would be looking for a change here?

Bizarro-meter ranking: 3.9/10. A quiet offseason makes sense for a team on the rise, but there’s going to be plenty of second-guessing if the goaltending lets them down, especially with both Mrazek and Reimer unsigned after this year.

Washington Capitals

The offseason so far: The biggest story was the firing of Todd Reirden after an embarrassing loss to former boss Barry Trotz. Peter Laviolette will inherit a roster that won’t look all that different, although they did add Justin Schultz and Trevor van Riemsdyk to the blueline.

But their strangest story was: Signing Henrik Lundqvist to replace Braden Holtby, because man it’s going to be weird to see him in a different uniform.

Bizarro-meter ranking: 4.6/10. Not that you’d expect it to happen amidst all the financial turmoil, but can we point out that Alexander Ovechkin is eligible for an extension that he hasn’t signed yet?

New York Islanders

The offseason so far: It’s been a rough one, as they’ve had to clear space for an eventual Mathew Barzal contract that still hasn’t come. That’s cost them some veteran depth, and more importantly it meant that they had to move Devon Toews for a disappointing return.

But their strangest story was: Signing Cory Schneider… we think? It was reported everywhere, but doesn’t seem to have officially happened, and there are rumors of handshake deals for Andy Greene and Matt Martin too. Did we mention that the Islanders don’t seem to need a goalie?

Bizarro-meter ranking: 5.2/10. The phantom signings are weird, but I’m deducting a point for the Islanders’ reverse retro jerseys, because Lou Lamoriello refusing to let anyone have fun is the least bizarre thing ever.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The Bizarro-meter’s Western Conference offseason rankings

One of the tough parts of writing about hockey is adjusting for era. A 50-goal season is a very different thing today than it was in the high-scoring 1980s, which was very different than it was when Rocket Richard was doing it in a 50-game season in the 1940s. It makes it a challenge to compare one season to another. Some years are just different than other years.

Which brings us to trying to figure out what qualifies as bizarre in 2020.

This is my seventh year of doing a bizarro-meter column that covers every team in the league, and it’s usually good fun. The idea is to figure out which teams had the strangest offseasons – not the best or the worst, but the most confusing, odd or unexpected. Most years, that makes for a pretty straightforward concept.

But now it’s 2020, the dog days of the offseason are in November, and we don’t even know when camp will start because nobody’s figured out how next season will work. Every team in the league is having their weirdest offseason ever.

So what do we do? I guess we adjust for era and judge every team by 2020 standards, if only because giving every team a 10/10 rating would feel like it was too easy. We’ll do this by conference, with the West up today and the East on Friday. We’ll also break it down by division, even though we don’t know what division anyone will actually be in, because it’s 2020 and nothing makes sense. Screw it, let’s get weird.

Central Division

Dallas Stars

The offseason so far: They mainly seemed to want to keep the band together, locking up Rick Bowness and Anton Khudobin but not (so far) Corey Perry.

But their strangest story was: Losing Tyler Seguin and Ben Bishop for a reported five months. We knew both guys were hurt, but not that Seguin would be out so long.

Bizarro-meter ranking: 2.5/10. When you almost win the Cup, you try to stay the course, get everyone healthy and come back for another shot. It rarely works, but it’s really the only reasonable way forward, and it’s not remotely bizarre.

Nashville Predators

The offseason so far: Plenty of guys moved in and out, although none were major names. Losing Craig Smith and Mikael Granlund hurts, while the Kyle Turris buyout was a tough pill to swallow but probably inevitable.

But their strangest story was: Not giving $8-million to a second-line center for a change. (Although there’s still time.)

Bizarro-meter ranking: 4.1/10. The Predators still feel like a team that’s built to win now, or at least thinks it is, but they’re coming off a disappointing year and I’m not sure they’re any better.

Colorado Avalanche

The offseason so far: Joe Sakic made a good trade to land Brandon Saad and a better one to add Devon Toews, without losing anyone who was especially important.

But their strangest story was: The emergence of Sakic a a near-consensus pick as one of the best GMs in the league, just three years after he had a terrible trade deadline with a terrible team and looked completely overwhelmed as a former GM campaigned for his job. Were we all wrong back then? Are we all wrong now? Were we right both times, and Sakic has just improved so much in a few years? Nobody knows, but history suggests it’s the probably one of the options where I’m wrong.

Bizarro-meter ranking: 4.4/10. I’m still kind of bummed that they didn’t use their limited cap space to chase a big-name free agent, but Sakic probably knows what he’s doing.

Winnipeg Jets

The offseason so far: They kept Dylan DeMelo, signed some cheap depth, and added Paul Stastny for next-to-nothing beyond cap space. They also hired a player’s dad as assistant coach, because what could go wrong.

But their strangest story was: The whole Patrik Laine saga, where he went into the offseason as the biggest name on the trade block, churned up all sorts of intriguing rumors, then ultimately didn’t get moved even though it still feels like he eventually will.

Bizarro-meter ranking: 5.4/10. The Laine rumors got all the attention, but the lack of work on the blueline was also weird.

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