Saturday, April 30, 2016

Draft lottery live chat

Can I watch the Maple Leafs lose the lottery three times to drop down to #4 without swearing on a major media property? Let's find out!

I'll be hosting a live chat on Sportsnet for tonight's draft lottery. We'll start around 6 ET and go for about three hours. In the meantime, you can submit comments or questions in advance by visiting the page and clicking the "comment" link.

>> Visit the live chat now

Friday, April 29, 2016

Friday Grab Bag: New fans, old feuds, and a YouTube clip that ends badly

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- A word about Dan Boyle, Cal Clutterbuck, and when players yell at the media
- The award finalists are being announced, and they're all wrong
- The three comedy stars, including the Blues' newest fan
- An obscure lottery winner
- And a YouTube clip that's light and fun and features the darkest ending in the section's history

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Thursday, April 28, 2016

2016 Draft Lottery power rankings

The NHL Draft Lottery will be held on Saturday night. It marks the debut of a new format — one in which separate drawings will be held to determine each of the top three picks, with all 14 non-playoff teams eligible to win one of those spots.

The stakes are high. Presumptive top pick Auston Matthews may not be a Connor McDavid-level sure thing, but he’s considered an elite prospect with the potential to be a franchise player.

So as we wait for the ping pong balls to start bouncing, let’s set the stage with some pre-lottery power rankings. You already know how the 14 non-playoff teams are ranked in terms of their actual lottery odds, so instead let’s try a few slightly more subjective categories.

The “Who Actually Deserves It?” Rankings

If there’s any justice in the hockey world, here are the teams that should be smiling at the end of the night. (Note: There is no justice in the hockey world.)

No. 5: Toronto Maple Leafs – Hey, they finished last, right? And the fanbase hasn’t had anything good happen to them in roughly 30 years, so they’re probably due.

No. 4: Carolina Hurricanes – A bad team that overachieved all season relative to expectations, then wound up with nothing to show for it besides lousy lottery odds. Besides, it would be nice to see a super longshot win one of these things someday. No, not you, Bruins.

No. 3: Columbus Blue Jackets – You have to give them credit: The Blue Jackets never tank. Oh, they’re always bad. They just never do it on purpose. There’s a certain honour in that.

No. 2: Arizona Coyotes – Matthews is a hometown kid, and we all assumed that the Coyotes would spend the season doing everything short of scoring into their own net to make sure they had the best odds at landing him. But they didn’t. Much like the Jackets and Hurricanes, there’d be a sense of karma behind seeing them rewarded.

No. 1: Buffalo Sabres – They finished dead last in each of the last two seasons, then lost the lottery both times. Sure, they still wound up with Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel. But it could have been Aaron Ekblad and Connor McDavid. A basic sense of fairness says they’re due.

The “Who Needs It Most?” Ranking

Yes, of course, everybody wants Auston Matthews. But who really needs him?

No. 5: Toronto Maple Leafs – Granted, they don’t actually need a first-line centre, since they’re signing Steven Stamkos this summer and Johnathan Tavares in two years. Still, depth is always good, right?

No. 4: Montreal Canadiens – These days, it’s hard to remember that it was just a year ago that the Canadiens looked like real Stanley Cup contenders. Now, some are wondering if they’re on the verge of wasting Carey Price‘s prime. Winning the top pick would wipe out a year’s worth of negativity in an instant. (For a day or two. It’s still Montreal.)

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Round two preview (Western Conference edition)

Oh hey, look who decided to show up.

Thanks to the NHL's annual tradition of always having that one series that drags on a few days longer than everyone else, the Western Conference is a bit late to the round two party. The East is already underway, with the Islanders beating the Lightning, 5-3, in Wednesday night's opener. We previewed the Eastern Conference yesterday.

Today it's on to the West, which suddenly looks wide open with the Blackhawks and Kings knocked out early.

Central Division

The champs are out, thanks to the St. Louis Blues and a pair of posts. That leaves the door open for some new blood in the conference final.

#1 Stars vs. #2 Blues

In this corner: The Dallas Stars (50-23-9, +37 true goals differential), the West's top seed and the league's most productive offense.

And in this corner: The St. Louis Blues (49-24-9, +22), moving on to the second round for just the second time in 14 years.

In round one: The Blues (barely) survived that seven-game war with the Blackhawks, while the Stars had more trouble than expected with the Wild in a six-game series.

Injury report: Dallas center Tyler Seguin's return to the lineup in the opening round lasted one game; his status for this series is unknown. The Blues are no doubt beaten up after the Blackhawks, but don't have any major names on the injury report.

Dominant narrative: Now that the Blues have knocked out the Hawks and at least temporarily slain their playoff demons, is this finally the year that it all comes together and they make a deep run? Despite decades of regular-season success, they've won just a single game past the second round since 1986.

The big question: Can the Stars win this way? Sure, winning 6-5 is all sorts of fun, and it can work in the regular season. But the playoffs are a different beast, we're told, and goaltending and defense are the keys to a Cup. The Stars don't have much of either, and it showed against the Wild. Dallas switched starting goaltenders twice, and might be doing it again to start this series after Kari Lehtonen's third-period meltdown nearly cost the Stars Game 6 in Minnesota. The Stars were still able to overpower the Wild, but it's hard to see them beating a complete team like the Blues without one of their goaltenders stepping up.

One player to watch: Vladimir Tarasenko. The saga of Tarasenko's ice time became a dominant storyline of the opening round, leading to what sure looked like a rift with coach Ken Hitchcock. He may be the most explosive player left in the Western bracket, but Tarasenko just doesn't see the ice as much as you'd expect, and when he does his shifts are kept remarkably short. Like most controversies, it's not a story as long as you're winning. But we know the Stars are going to score, and you wonder if the Blues will eventually have to let their top offensive weapon take the training wheels off.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

History's five biggest first round upsets

The Predators face the Ducks Wednesday night in Game 7 of their opening round series, with an opportunity to complete what would stand as the biggest upset of this year’s first round.

These days, of course, big upsets are relative. The Predators are a wildcard team facing a division winner, but they only finished seven points behind the Ducks in the standings. And the opening round’s other upsets were even closer – the Islanders were three points behind the Panthers, while the Sharks were four back of the Kings. Such is life in the age of parity, where the margin between average and elite is narrower than ever before.

So with all due respect to those plucky underdogs from Nashville, let’s take a moment today to look back at the real thing, by counting down five of the biggest first-round upsets of the 20+ team era.

No. 5 – 2000: Sharks over Blues

The only Presidents’ Trophy in Blues history is one that most of their fans would rather forget. To this day, you can ruin a St. Louis fan’s day by mentioning one name: Roman Turek. That would be the Blues’ starting goaltender during that 1999-2000 season, one in which he posted a career year and finished as the Jennings winner and runner-up for the Vezina while leading the Blues to a franchise-record 114 points.

But then the 87-point Sharks showed up, and things went south. San Jose jumped out to a 3-1 series lead before the Blues fought back with a pair of wins to force a seventh game on their home ice. A tense first period saw the Sharks jump out to a 1-0 lead, one that looked set to hold up as we headed to the intermission. And then this happened:

Owen Nolan’s center ice rocket put the Sharks up 2-0 and sucked the oxygen out of the building. It proved to be the winner, as the Sharks held on for a 3-1 win.

The Blues gained a measure of revenge the following season, knocking off the Sharks in a first-round rematch. They’ve split two more post-season meetings since then. We could be two weeks away from another, this time in the conference final. But if it happens, don’t expect Turek to handle any pre-game faceoff duties. He sometimes struggles with center ice.

No. 4 – 2006: Oilers over Red Wings

The first season after the 2005-06 lockout was one of the most unpredictable on record. Scoring was up, superstar rookies were everywhere, and new rules on and off the ice were changing everything. But there was one constant from the pre-cap era: The Red Wings were dominant. They racked up 124 points and went into the playoffs as a heavy favorite to win their fourth Cup in a decade. And then they ran into Edmonton.

The eighth-seeded Oilers weren’t a bad team, putting up 95 points of their own, and the late-season acquisition of goaltender Dwayne Roloson filled the biggest hole in their roster. Still, not many expected them to be much more than a speed bump for the Wings, and a Detroit win in the opener seemed to confirm that. But the Oilers took the next two, then split Games 4 and 5 to push the Wings to the brink.

The series ended in Edmonton in Game 6, with the Red Wings taking a 2-0 lead into the third period before a furious Oilers comeback leading to Ales Hemsky’s winning goal with just over a minute left.

The Oilers’ run continued all the way to the final, where they fell one game short of winning the Stanley Cup. The Red Wings didn’t lose in the first round again until 2012, including another Cup win in 2008.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News