Monday, January 24, 2022

The Flyers finally land in the bottom 5, a new team enters the top 5, and is the East just way better than the West?

If you took a look at the NHL standings heading into the weekend, you may have noticed something kind of weird. Based on points percentage, six of the seven best teams in the league were from the Eastern Conference. If you were looking for Western representation, only the Avalanche were among the elite; you had to scroll down the list for a bit, past not just the Panthers and Hurricanes and Lightning but also the Leafs, Rangers and Penguins to get to the Wild and Blues. The Bruins showed up next, giving the East 70% of the top ten.

Does that mean anything?

It might not. “Top seven” is a pretty arbitrary cutoff, after all, and the Wild are .001 percentage points back of the Rangers, which is basically a rounding error. On the other hand … I mean, the idea kind of passes the eye test, right? Do you trust the Wild or Blues as elite teams? What about the Predators or Flames? Other than the Golden Knights, who’ve lost five of seven, does anyone else in the West seem like a legitimate Cup contender?

Yes actually, you might say, followed by a comment about typical Eastern bias, which is fair enough. The Wild are scoring a ton but are still the boring team because nobody out here updates their priors other than Dom. The Blues won a Cup in a year everybody counted them out just a few seasons ago, and we’re making the same mistake again. The Predators look good and maybe we don’t want to acknowledge that because it would mean all the experts were wrong. Sure, that’s possible.

It’s also possible the standings aren’t lying, and the East is just a lot more top-heavy. That means it’s also worse at the bottom end, which also seems to pass the eye test. The West has two truly bad teams, the Coyotes and Kraken, maybe Chicago too if you want, and everyone else is still in the mix. The East has the Habs, Senators, Devils, Sabres, Blue Jackets and Flyers, and all eight playoff spots wrapped up. Maybe that’s our answer right there. The East has more bad teams, which is padding the records of the good teams, and it will all sort itself out once the playoffs get here.

I guess we’ll see. In the meantime, I’m not really sure what to do with the rankings. If the East really does have better teams, then I should move the Avalanche into the top spot because they’ll have a far easier playoff path than the Lightning, Panthers or Hurricanes. If this is just some random noise in the standings, then I should see through it and have more Western teams up high. I could also split the difference and hope you don’t notice. That’s always an option.

Fair warning: We’re also going to mix things up with this week’s rankings, and it’s about time. It’s been a month since we’ve welcomed a new team to the bottom five, and two months since someone has debuted in the top five. Both of those streaks end this week, as both lists enter a state of flux. And that state is Pennsylvania.

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Thursday, January 20, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: How 'bout them Cowboys

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- There was a 49ers/Cowboys game this week and I'm trying to remember who won...
- We break down the Leon Draisaitl's pissy media feud
- Remembering other great player/media showdowns
- Goalie trades: Not as hard as they seem
- On Granger Things, Ian tricks me into ranting about the Panthers ruining hockey
- A weird unbreakable record that could be broken this year, introducing The Wendel Line, 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)

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Puck Soup: Buy, sell or hold

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- The Oilers get pissy
- The Habs find a new GM
- The Bruins finally honor Willie O'Ree
- Should O'Ree's number be retired leaguewide?
- We play "buy sell or hold" for all 32 teams

>> 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.

The ten most successful midseason goalie trades of the cap era, ranked

You can’t trade for a good goaltender during the season.

It’s become conventional wisdom in the NHL’s cap era, and it’s not hard to see why. If your team finds itself needing a goaltender, you’re almost by definition dealing from a position of weakness, so prices will be high. And the market is never all that exciting, for the simple reason that contending teams aren’t trading their goalies, and bad teams are usually bad because their goaltending stinks to begin with. So if find yourself needing an upgrade in net, you’re better off waiting for the offseason.

You’re hearing it again this year, as teams like Edmonton, Buffalo and Colorado could be in the market for a goalie, and teams like Boston, Columbus or Dallas could be shopping one. You’d think there could be a match there somewhere, but apparently not, we’re told. Reigning Vezina winner Marc-Andre Fleury? Sure, it sounds nice in theory, but those deals just don’t work out in the middle of a season.

The classic example is Ryan Miller. He was a fantastic goaltender, one who won nearly 400 games while building a resume that might get him into the Hall of Fame discussion. He won a Vezina in Buffalo, had a solid run in Vancouver, and finished his career as a dependable veteran option in Anaheim. But in the middle of all of that, there was the 2013-14 season, when the Sabres made Miller the rare star goaltender to hit the midseason trade market. The Blues won the bidding war, only to see Miller struggle down the stretch on the way to a first-round exit that spelled the end of his brief stint in St. Louis. The deal is widely viewed as a bust for the Blues, and as the cautionary example that midseason goalie trades are futile.

Except… what about when they’re not?

We can listen to GMs complain about how hard their job is, and we can hold up the Miller trade to prove them right. But the reality is that there have been several mid-season goalie trades during the cap era that worked out just fine. A few of them worked out great.

That seems like the sort of thing that calls for a ranking. So today, we’re going to look back on ten mid-season goalie trades that worked out best for the team making them. We’re looking for NHL goalies here, not prospects, which is to say that we want guys who played at least one big league game for each team that year. Trades only, not waivers (sorry Ilya Bryzgalov and Michael Leighton). And we’ll look at both the immediate impact a trade had on that season as well as whether the guy stuck around.

We’ll count down ten through one, based on a strict criteria of me just making this up as I go. And we’ll start with one that I didn’t even remember until I started digging into the research…

10. Cristobal Huet to Washington in 2008

The goalie: Huet was always a longshot to have an NHL impact. He was drafted in the seventh round in 2001 at the age of 25, and had a couple of solid years with the Kings. But a trade to the Habs during the 2004 offseason opened the door to more playing time, and he ended up leading the NHL in save percentage during the 2005-06 season. He was named to the all-star team in 2006-07, and was on his way to another strong year as the 2008 deadline approached.

The trade: With a young Carey Price emerging, the Canadiens sent Huet to the Capitals for a second-round pick.

The results: Huet took over the Caps’ starter job from a struggling Olaf Kolzig and played well enough down the stretch to get them into the playoffs by two points. They’d go on to lose to the Flyers in seven in the opening round, although Huet was fine. There was no long playoff run and Huet left as a UFA in the offseason, so this deal was hardly earth-shattering. But you could make a good case that it was the difference between the Capitals making or missing the playoffs.

9. Mike Smith to Tampa Bay in 2008

The goalie: Long before he was the 39-year-old expected to save the Oilers season, Smith was a promising 25-year-old goalie with 44 career appearances. He’d played well, even making the all-rookie team in 2007.

The trade: On the very same day as the Huet trade, the Stars included Smith in a package that also featured Jussi Jokinen, Jeff Halpern and a pick to pry Brad Richards and Johan Holmqvist away from the Lightning.

The results: Smith struggled when he first arrived in Tampa, but established himself as the starter for most of the next three years. In all, we won over 100 games for the rebuilding Lightning, helping them get back to the playoffs. He’d depart as a free agent in 2011, leaving the Lightning with a need for a new long-term goaltender that they’d end up addressing a little later in this list.

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Monday, January 17, 2022

Did we just see rock bottom for the Oilers? Plus thoughts on the Panthers, Bruins, Islanders and more

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but it’s not going well in Edmonton.

Oh, you have heard that one. For pretty much the last decade-and-a-half or so. Right, that does ring a bell.

Just in case you’re new to this, let’s round up where we’re at right now with this team. They have the best player in the world, by a mile. They have, arguably, the second-best player in the world. They have a former first-overall pick and a former fourth-overall pick who are both on pace for career years, a shiny new UFA on an eight-year contract that probably won’t age well but has been fine so far, a good young defenseman with a massive extension about to kick in, and a new guy with three Cup rings who can sprinkle magic leadership dust all over the dressing room.

They also have no bottom six, a big question in goal, Cody Ceci for some reason, a coach on the hot seat, and a GM who not only seems completely out on answers, but actually appears to have lost track of the questions.

Also, tomorrow will be the one-month anniversary of their last win. So there’s that.

Saturday night saw them on home ice to face Ottawa, a bottom-five team with little to play for. We all made our jokes about the Sens sickos, but it was a game that the Oilers absolutely had to have. They took a 3-1 lead into the third period, then gave it up by the midway mark on the way to a 6-4 loss that may have been their worst of the season, all things considered. Honestly, the score may have flattered them.

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