Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Five lessons from the 2018 offseason that could help teams in 2019

Hey, remember when the Blues and Bruins were playing hockey? Me neither. The summer is here, we’ve already had a big trade and a major re-signing and it’s all systems go on the offseason. Let’s get wild.

But what kind of wild? The good kind? The bad kind? The hopeless kind? That’s what remains to be seen. Every offseason has its own flavor and we’re not sure what this one will look like quite yet. Maybe we’ll see a ton of trades. Maybe GMs will focus on free agency instead. Maybe we’ll see offer sheets and holdouts and blockbusters or maybe we’ll get none of those things.

Time will tell. But while every offseason is different, that doesn’t mean we should just ignore what’s happened in the past. Recent history can offer some important lessons on what to expect and how best to handle the scenarios we may see develop. Today, let’s look back at five key lessons from the 2018 offseason and how they might apply to what’s going to happen over the next few weeks and months.

The lesson: The draft isn’t the only time for big trades

It’s become conventional wisdom in the hockey world that the days around the NHL draft make for the best time for blockbuster trades. The rest of the year, we constantly hear about how trading is too hard for these poor GMs, who have to deal with a salary cap and analytics and no-trade clauses that they handed out. The deadline isn’t what it used to be, you can’t do anything at all earlier in the season and nobody wants to make a move at training camp. But the draft? That’s the one place you can get things done because all the league’s GMs are together in one building and they almost all have cap room to work with.

And for years, that was all pretty much true. Pick a big offseason trade – Hall for Larsson, Subban for Weber, Kessel to the Penguins, Drouin for Sergachev – and chances are it happened either at the draft or in the days immediately after. By the time we got into July, the window for big deals had closed.

But last year, that didn’t happen. Draft week was actually remarkably quiet on the trading front, with only the Max Domi/Alex Galchenyuk deal on June 15 making any real waves in the days leading up to the draft and the five-player Flames/Hurricanes deal going down on the draft floor. There were a handful of smaller deals, including Philipp Grubauer and Mike Hoffman (twice), but that was about it.

That left several big names still on the block, including Ryan O’Reilly, Jeff Skinner, Max Pacioretty and Erik Karlsson. All four would be dealt, but those trades were spread out over the course of the summer. O’Reilly went first, on July 1, largely because that was the last day the Sabres could move him before having to pay a $7.5 million bonus. Skinner waited until August. And Pacioretty and Karlsson made it all the way to September before their teams finally pulled the trigger.

The results were mixed. The returns on Karlsson and Skinner were viewed as underwhelming at the time. The O’Reilly deal seemed OK for both teams, although it hasn’t aged well for Buffalo. And many of us thought the Habs did surprisingly well on a player they all but had to move. The lesson here isn’t that waiting is the best play, at least in all cases. But it’s an option and maybe a better one than we usually think.

Who could learn it: Any GM with a big-name player who could be moved. That list could include David Poile (Subban again, or Kyle Turris), Kyle Dubas (Nazem Kadri) and Jim Rutherford (pretty much everyone). Ideally, they might prefer to make those sorts of moves before the draft, like Kevin Cheveldayoff just did with Jacob Trouba, since that allows you to nail down your cap situation ahead of free agency and you don’t have to wait a year to use any picks you acquire. But if the offers aren’t there, or the situation still feels unsettled, then waiting is a valid option. It might even work out for the better.

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Monday, June 17, 2019

The chaos lover’s guide to the 2019 offseason

The offseason is here. Let’s bring the chaos.

Longtime readers know that I’ve long been a diehard fan of Team Chaos. If there are multiple possible outcomes, I like to pick the one that will cause the most anarchy and root for that. I want as many people screaming at each other as possible. Let’s get crazy.

The offseason is prime time for Team Chaos. At least a few weird things happen every summer, and if we’re lucky, enough of them will overlap that pandemonium breaks out. The greatest day in Team Chaos history came in 2016, when we had that wonderful hour where the hockey world lost its mind. We may never see anything like it again, but we can hope.

Today, let’s work through what the perfect Team Chaos offseason might look like. We’re going to try to stay within the realm of plausible realism here; Connor McDavid being traded straight-up for Sidney Crosby would certainly bring the chaos, but it has no chance of happening. We’re aiming for something north of zero here, so while all of the options on our list are unlikely, there’s at least a slim chance we’ll see one or two.

With that in mind, here are some of the stories we’ll be rooting for in the weeks to come. Bring the chaos, hockey gods. We’re here for it.

A full-on Erik Karlsson bidding war

It sounds like it’s still possible that Karlsson will re-sign with the Sharks. Maybe he should – he could get that extra year and San Jose seems like a great place to settle down. Locking in a max-length deal to finish his career with the Sharks would make plenty of sense for Karlsson. For Team Chaos? Not so much.

Instead, we want to see a full bidding war, one where Karlsson talks to several teams and none of us know where he’s headed. In a sense, we’ve never had that before with a truly elite player in the cap era. Steven Stamkos made it to the interview period in 2016, but he didn’t switch teams. And while John Tavares did find a new home, many of us had assumed he was inevitably headed back to the Islanders right up until the calendar flipped over to July 1. That turned out to be wrong, but in hindsight, we probably didn’t appreciate the Tavares sweepstakes enough as they were happening.

This time, we could enjoy it from the start. We need Karlsson to declare himself open for bidding, even if the list of potential suitors still included the Sharks. We’d want to see as many teams as possible in the running, with all of them getting a chance to make their case in person. Tavares talked to six teams. Let’s aim for double digits, Erik.

As for where he winds up, well, there are some intriguing options. Watching the Lightning find room to try to assemble a super-team would be fun. A dramatic return to Ottawa would work because anything involving Eugene Melnyk’s money is always a chaos candidate. The Knights could work. And of course, we’d want a few mystery teams thrown into the mix.

But there’s one option here that feels like the best fit for Team Chaos and that’s the Montreal Canadiens. Karlsson and his family coming “home” without actually coming home would be a nice slap in the face for Ottawa fans. We could play up him snubbing his pal Victor Hedman and the Lightning. And adding another highly paid Hall-of-Famer with a history of greatness but also injury to a Montreal roster that already has two would make for a fascinating story.

The fans and media are already talking themselves into it. Team Chaos should too.

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Friday, June 14, 2019

Grab Bag: Post-Cup celebrations are the best, new rules on the way and when fan celebrations get rowdy

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- The best part of the Stanley Cup final is all the stuff that happens a few minutes after it's over
- A minor rule change that might turn out to be important
- An obscure player who scored one of history's biggest goals
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a YouTube breakdown of Calgary celebrating the Flames' first and only Cup

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Thursday, June 13, 2019

Puck Soup: Play Gloria

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- The Blues win the Stanley Cup
- Our reactions to game seven
- Did voters get the Conn Smythe right?
- Breaking down the Cup handoff, including those weird fireworks
- The competition committee meets, so get ready to tinker with faceoff again
- Things get a little heated over Toronto fans and cheering injuries
- Also the USWNT celebration thing
- And more...

>> Stream it now:

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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Seven reasons why the Blues are definitely winning tonight (and also seven why the Bruins are)

We’re hours away from the first Game 7 of a Stanley Cup final in eight years. Are you pumped? I’m a little pumped. This is going to be fun.

So who’s going to win? I have no idea. Really, none at all. I could pretend that I do, but anyone who’s been following my predictions so far won’t be buying it for a second. And can you blame me? The 2019 playoffs have been total chaos. Anyone who tells you that they’ve got it all figured out now, with one game to go, is full of it. I’m not even going to try, because I’ve been trying to predict Game 7s for decades now and I’ve only ever been right once.

So no, I’m not going to be right. But could I get you to settle for half-right? I can come up with seven reasons why the Bruins are definitely going to win Game 7. I can also come up with seven more why the Blues are an absolute lock. If you’re an optimist, pick the team you like best and only read their entries. If you prefer feeling sick heading into a big game, only read the other team. Read all of them, and come away feeling just as confused as when you started. Or just wait until tomorrow, read the entries of the team that won, and then head to the comments to call me a genius.

Your call. There are no wrong answers here. Well, there are – seven out of 14, to be exact. But that’s a better batting average than I normally have, so let’s get to them.

The Bruins will win because: The first line is finally waking up.

The Patrice Bergeron/Brad Marchand/David Pastrnak line – and no, we’re not calling them the Perfection Line, knock that off – has been hit-and-miss for a lot of the postseason. They were broken up against Toronto, reunited, and certainly had their moments. But they never really rolled for long stretches the way we’ve seen in the past. It’s a credit to the rest of the Bruins forwards that they had the depth to keep winning in spite of their top line struggling.

For most of the final, it’s been the same story, with Brayden Schenn’s line winning the matchup. The Bergeron line’s struggles have been so noticeable that there’s been plenty of speculation that some or all of them may be playing through serious injuries.

But on Sunday, for the first time in the series, the Bergeron line looked dominant, while Schenn’s looked outclassed. That’s just about the best news you could get as a Bruins fan. Maybe they’ve made an adjustment, or maybe they’re healthy again, or maybe they’re just heating up. You don’t really care about the why right now. You just know that if the top line can dominate, every other matchup falls into place really nicely.

The Blues will win because: The stats tell us that Jordan Binnington can’t lose in this situation.

We’ve heard about it all postseason. Overall, Binnington’s playoff numbers aren’t all that great, and he’s had a few games in this series alone where he’s looked very ordinary. But after a loss, he gains some sort of weird superpowers where he becomes unbeatable.

In the playoffs, he’s 7-2 with a 1.83 GAA after a loss, which plays into the narrative that the kid has ice in his veins. And it is a narrative to some extent – every goalie who makes it deep into the playoffs has a good record after a loss, because the ones that don’t get eliminated early. But sometimes even a narrative can have value as long as everyone believes it. Under normal circumstances, a team heading into Game 7 with a young goalie who just got shelled in Game 6 might be worried. The Blues don’t have to be.

The Bruins will win because: The stats also tell us that Tuukka Rask can’t lose in this situation.

Wait, did you say Binnington is a 1.83 GAA in these types of games? Rask has that beat.

Can both goalies be unbeatable in the same game? Huh. We may be here a while.

But while we’re on the subject of goaltending, let’s point out that Rask has been the better of the two, both in the series and in the playoffs. I’m not sure I’m willing to give him the Conn Smythe even in a losing cause, but there’s a case to be made. He’s been that good. The Blues have already survived having one goaltender stand on his head in a Game 7 against them, but I don’t like their odds if it happens again.

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