Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Bizarro-meter 2018: Eastern Conference edition

On​ Monday, we dusted​ off​ the​ Bizarro-meter​ to​ begin​ our annual​ look at which​ NHL team had​ the​ weirdest offseason. We​​ covered the west, going through the Central (not all that weird) and the Pacific (significantly more weird). Today, it’s on to the Eastern Conference.

Before we begin, we’ll repeat the reminder: “Bizarre” is not a synonym for “bad.” Sometimes, a quiet and predictable offseason is the last thing a team needs, and sometimes getting creative or even outright strange is just what the doctor orders. At the very least, weird offseasons are entertaining, and there’s usually value in that.

One more quick note: I’ve been doing this feature for five years now, adding up to over 150 team rankings. In all that time, I’ve never handed out a perfect 10/10 rating. I’ve never come especially close – only four teams have ever so much as reached 9/10.

Why do I bring this up? Uh, no reason. Onto the east.

Metro Division

New York Rangers

The offseason so far: Did they even have one? The Rangers may have been as quiet as anyone in the league, with most of their focus spent on re-signing a handful of pieces. Hiring David Quinn as coach was obviously a big move, but roster-wise he’ll inherit pretty much the same group that finished last year.

But their strangest story was: The ongoing debate over whether or not they’re really rebuilding. Recent signs pointed pretty conclusively to yes – you don’t trade Ryan McDonagh for futures if you want to win now, nor do you write letters to your fans about how you’re “building the foundation for our next Stanley Cup contender.” But then they go and trade picks for Adam McQuaid, and you see something like Henrik Lundqvist insisting that “next year has to be about winning and nothing else,” and you wonder. That’s just a case of a veteran saying the right thing, right? The Rangers still know they’re rebuilding, yes?

Bizarro-meter ranking: 3.5/10. Yeah, I’m pretty sure they know – and Lundqvist does too.

Philadelphia Flyers

The offseason so far: They didn’t do a ton, although they made a big splash on July 1 by landing James van Riemsdyk on an expensive (yet reasonable) deal. They also parted ways with Valtteri Filppula, which may or may not be a loss.

But their strangest story was: Heading into camp without an extension in place for Wayne Simmonds. Most GMs see a star player head into the last year of his deal and rush to hand over whatever he wants for eight more years. So far, Ron Hextall is playing it cool.

Bizarro-meter ranking: 3.8/10. I remain completely and utterly frustrated that this guy refuses to do anything crazy.

New Jersey Devils

The offseason so far: They lost a handful of free agents, although nobody you’d consider a major difference-maker.

But their strangest story was: Not really adding anybody. When your big acquisition is Drew Stafford on a PTO, it’s been a quiet summer.

Bizarro-meter ranking: 4.1/10. On the one hand, you can see what the Devils are thinking. They’re rebuilding, and last year was already a big step forward, so they’re staying the course. Still, most playoff teams add… someone.

Washington Capitals

The offseason so far: Not surprisingly, their focus was on keeping as much of the roster together as possible. They paid big to keep John Carlson away from the UFA market and figured out a way to have Brooks Orpik bought out and still return. Other than backup goalie Philipp Grubauer and depth forward Jay Beagle, they’re bringing everyone back.

But their strangest story was: The departure of Barry Trotz, who exercised a contract clause none of us knew he had to hit free agency and eventually make his way to the Islanders. You have to figure that didn’t exactly break Brian MacLellan’s heart, given that he’s had Todd Reirden pencilled into the job forever. But it was still pretty weird.

Bizarro-meter ranking: 5.8/10. What do Capitals players think about Trotz leaving? Honestly, given how most of them spent their summer, I doubt any of them know about it yet.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

Monday, September 17, 2018

Bizarro-meter 2018: Western Conference edition

The​ offseason is over.​ Let’s​ get​ weird.

Or​ more​ specifically,​ let’s remember​ all the various​ ways that NHL​ teams​ got weird over​​ the last few months. It’s time to fire up the Bizarro-meter, a feature I debuted back in 2013 in an attempt to understand whatever it was the Maple Leafs thought they were doing, and have been using since 2014 to round up every team in the league. It’s a high-tech system which evaluates each team’s offseason oddity index by, uh, giving it a score out of ten. Look, we never said this was complicated.

Before we get started, an important annual reminder: “bizarre” doesn’t necessarily mean “bad.” In last season’s list, some of the highest rankings went to the Capitals and Golden Knights, who ended up meeting in the final, as well as to the Avalanche, who shocked everyone by going from dead last to the playoffs. Sometimes, a little bit of chaos can work out well for a team. And maybe more importantly, sometimes a conservative, uninspired, paint-by-numbers offseason is the absolute last thing a team needs.

So with that caveat in mind, let’s dig in. As always, a team’s offseason begins the moment its season ends and stretches until last weekend. We’ll start today with the 15 Western Conference teams; we’ll be back to finish up with the Eastern Conference Tuesday.

Central Division

Nashville Predators

The offseason so far: They locked down Ryan Ellis on a long-term deal, and got future starter Juuse Saros signed at a very manageable number. Mike Fisher retired again, Dan Hamhuis will slot in for Alexei Emelin, and Auston Watson will miss a third of the season pending an appeal of his suspension for domestic assault. But otherwise, last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winners will bring back mostly the same roster.

But their strangest story was: Signing Zac Rinaldo always raises a few eyebrows, even when it’s a two-way deal. But the strangest moment of their offseason probably came when Ryan Johansen and Ryan Kesler appeared to arrange a street fight over Twitter.

Bizarro-meter ranking: 2.2/10. At this point, not being a jerk on Twitter is basically a terms of service violation, so even the Kesler/Johansen spat doesn’t earn many points. We’re not used to seeing a whole offseason go by without a major trade or two from David Poile, but for now it probably makes sense to stay the course with a top Cup contender.

Minnesota Wild

The offseason so far: It started early, with the firing of GM Chuck Fletcher in April. But other than that, it’s been strangely quiet; the biggest headlines were the signing of Matt Dumba to a $30-million extension and a buyout for Tyler Ennis.

But their strangest story was: Not making many moves. The Wild have been spinning their wheels for years now, always good enough to make the playoffs but never quite good enough to feel like a real contender. At some point, they’re going to need to move forward or take a step back. For now, they seem content to plod ahead with the status quo.

Bizarro-meter ranking: 3.7/10. New GM Paul Fenton appears to be taking a wait-and-see approach. Sometimes that works out well. Sometimes it just means another lost season.

Winnipeg Jets

Blake Wheeler. (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

The offseason so far: It’s been largely a case of maintaining the status quo, which makes sense given the season they’re coming off. The only major departure was deadline rental Paul Stastny, and they didn’t add anything major. Instead, the big headlines were around extension for existing players, including an intriguingly long one for Connor Hellebuyck, a disappointingly short one for Jacob Trouba, and an impressively cheap one for Josh Morrissey.

But their strangest story was: Signing captain Blake Wheeler to an extension that will carry an $8.25 million cap hit until he’s 37. That deal was mostly well-received in Winnipeg, although other reviews haven’t been as kind.

Bizarro-meter ranking: 4.2/10. The Wheeler deal may well turn out to be a mistake. But bizarre? Not really. Wheeler is enormously popular in Winnipeg, is coming off a career year, and is the team’s captain. NHL teams almost never play hardball with those sort of guys, even if there’s some evidence that they should.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

That Eugene Melnyk video: The top-secret transcript

It’s​ almost 24​ hours later, and​ hockey​ fans around​ the league are still talking​​ about The Video.

You know the one. Late Monday night, the Ottawa Senators unveiled a video featuring owner Eugene Melnyk being interviewed by defenceman Mark Borowiecki. It was meant as an opportunity for Melnyk to finally lay out a long-term vision for the team’s future. But not everyone was impressed, partly due to Melnyk’s message and partly because the video struck many as, in the words of colleague James Gordon, “deeply weird”.

One element that’s come in for some criticism is the choice to have Borowiecki handle the interview duties. But while it may surprise some of the team’s more cynical fans, the Senators actually put a lot of thought into that decision. In fact, we’ve been told that the club even held auditions to make sure they nailed the best choice possible for the role. And as luck would have, DGB spies were there to record the top-secret transcript.

Director: And… CUT!

Mark Borowiecki: Whew. Was that OK?

Director: That was great, Mark. You did fantastic. But Eugene and I were talking, and we’d like to bring in a few other folks from around the hockey world to audition for the interviewer’s role.

Eugene Melnyk: Yeah, we’re just not sure that having an actual Senator do the interview is going to look good. Might seem a little softball-y, you know?

Borowiecki: Sure, I guess that makes sense.

Director: Thanks for understanding. Feel free to stick around while we run through a few more auditions. OK, first up is, let’s see … Henrik Zetterberg.

Zetterberg: Hi everyone.

Melnyk: Wow, thanks for coming out Henrik.

Zetterberg: Hey, my pleasure. I always wanted to try out this whole interviewing thing. Gives me something to do in retirement, you know.

Melnyk: You’re retired?

Zetterberg: Uh…

[Ken Holland appears in the window, making a throat-slash gesture.]

Zetterberg: Something to do while I’m injured. You know, as I work my way back from injury so that I can resume my playing duties under my contract without triggering any cap penalties. Which is totally what I’m doing.

[Holland does the eye-point move.]

Zetterberg [under his breath]: Yzerman’s totally replacing you.

Melnyk: What was that?

Zetterberg: Nothing. You know what, this may have been a bad idea.

Marc Bergevin: Did I hear somebody say “bad idea”?

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Why I'm Joining The Athletic

I​ realized something​ a few months ago​ that​ simultaneously made​ me feel very old and​​ also kind of proud: I’m now into my second decade of sportswriting.

That’s not all that much in the grand scheme of things, and you don’t get a trophy or collectible pin for it, but it’s still kind of neat. And it feels like the sort of milestone that goes well with a major career change. Today, I can share that I’ve reached that point, too. Earlier this summer, I agreed to join The Athletic on a full-time basis.

And now, I’m writing a post about it, because they are making me do that.

It’s kind of a thing around here.

I’m guessing you know the drill. Computer scientists estimate that the internet produces roughly 1,200 petabytes of data per month, and at this point, I think roughly half of that is sportswriters explaining why they’ve joined The Athletic. By now, you’re familiar with the basics – the industry is going through a tough time, new business models are needed, and it no longer feels unreasonable to ask readers to pay for a product that has value, just like they do in almost every other type of business. Not having to fight through ads or auto-playing videos to get to the content is a nice bonus.

All of that is true. I’m just not sure how much I can add to it. But I’ve always believed in a “when in Rome” type of philosophy. When you move to a new neighborhood, you learn the local customs. When you’re in a stadium and everyone else starts doing the wave, you roll your eyes and join in. When you’re traded to the Senators, you immediately demand a trade away from the Senators. And when you join The Athletic, you write a post about why you’re joining The Athletic.

So that’s what I’m doing.

But how? What’s the angle? How do you make something like this feel fresh? I briefly considered posting an adorable childhood photo of myself sleeping under The Athletic bed sheets, but apparently, somebody else already beat me to that idea. So instead, I’m going to stick with the story of how I got here. Because it’s not one that many of my peers can tell.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

Friday, August 17, 2018

Grab Bag: Crazy like a Fox

In the final Friday Grab Bag of the season:
- MLB's "players' weekend" concept could never work in the NHL... unless we made this one simple change.
- Thoughts on NBC's new schedule, and how it disrespects your favorite team
- An obscure player who may or may not be Tommy Salo
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a look back at that time that Michael J. Fox made a hockey movie for David Letterman and it got weird

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports