Friday, December 14, 2018

Grab Bag: Expanded playoffs, personal goal songs, and a visit from Adorable Hockey Grandpa

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Should the NHL expand the playoffs? I'm not sure, so I looked at both sides of the debate.
- A word about players getting their own individual goal songs
- An obscure player who bounced around the NHL for a decade but did 77% of his scoring in one season
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a classic YouTube video in which young American players are visited by an adorable old man who wants to teach them about hockey while insulting them and yelling about taxes

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

Thursday, December 13, 2018

A brief history of players being told that they wouldn’t be traded and then being traded

It’s​ been almost two​ weeks​ since​ the​ end​ of​ the William​ Nylander contract saga,​ with its twists​ and​ turns and last-minute​​ buzzer-beater resolution. As the round-the-clock coverage fades into more reasonable daily updates, we’re trying to sort through the various details that are emerging on how this deal was put together.

One of those details is Nylander’s apparent belief that Kyle Dubas has promised not to trade him.

Because of the way the CBA works, the personal word of his GM is the only sort of trade protection Nylander can get; players aren’t eligible for no-trade or no-movement clauses until the reach their UFA-eligibility seasons. So Nylander has to rely on Dubas to hold up his end of the bargain here.

And Dubas probably will – after all, trading Nylander wouldn’t make much sense for the Leafs, and this is a rookie GM who’d no doubt prefer to establish a reputation as a straight-shooter. Assuming Nylander’s version of the conversation is accurate and Dubas really did give his word, there’s no reason to think that the young winger has anything to worry about here.

But just to be safe, he might want to stop reading right about now.

Because as it turns out, NHL history is filled with players who’ve believed they’d been given the same sort of assurance that Nylander says he got from the Maple Leafs. And more than a few times, those promises turned out to not be quite as ironclad as the player would have hoped.

So today, let’s look back at a few of the (many) trade scenarios in hockey history that started with a firm handshake or at least a perceived wink and nudge and ended with a player angrily mumbling about loyalty while packing a suitcase.

1975: The Bruins trade Phil Esposito to the Rangers

We’ll start with what may stand as the most famous example of the genre: the 1975 blockbuster that saw the Bruins trade Esposito and Carol Vadnais to the Rangers for Brad Park, Jean Ratelle and a minor-leaguer. It was a monster deal, one that saw New York acquire the player who’d led the league in goals in each of the last six seasons. And it didn’t make Esposito very happy.

That was because he’d signed a new contract that summer that he assumed would let him finish his career in Boston. He’d reportedly been offered $2.5 million on a five-year deal to join the WHA’s Vancouver Blazers, but took roughly half that to stay with the Bruins. According to Esposito’s version of events, Harry Sinden promised him that he wouldn’t be traded, and even offered to write a no-trade clause into the deal, which at the time was rare. Esposito says he told the GM not to bother, and that his word was enough. Weeks later, he was gone.

The trade, of course, ended up being a steal for the Bruins. Esposito played well in New York, but Park became the best player in the deal. And it got even more lopsided when the Rangers decided to reunite Esposito with center Ken Hodge, and sent a young Rick Middleton to the Bruins to get him. Park and Middleton became key parts of the late-70s Bruins teams that nearly won the Cup.

At the time of the trade, Esposito told reporters that he was “crushed” and that “I thought I had a home in Boston.” But he said he had “no regrets” toward Sinden or the Bruins. That tone would change over the years, as Esposito carried the grudge well past retirement. In 2013, almost 38 years after the trade went down, he was asked about the Bruins facing the Blackhawks in the Cup final and responded that “This series doesn’t mean shit to me.”

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The star-studded UFA class of 2019 aren't signing extensions. That's rare, and history suggests it's bad news for their teams.

One​ of the biggest​ stories​ of​ the​ NHL​ season​ is what’s​ happening with the​ star-studded free agent​ class​ of 2019. And​​ what’s happening is: not much.

That’s a big deal. Every summer, we look ahead to the following year’s potential free agents and get excited over all the big names. And every year, almost all of those big names end up signing extensions long before they get anywhere near free agency. By the time July 1 rolls around, there’s rarely much star power left.

But so far, that hasn’t happened for most of the class of 2019. A few big names have signed, including Max Pacioretty, Pekka Rinne, Blake Wheeler and Ryan Ellis. But that’s left several top stars who still need extensions, and who are now less than seven months away from hitting unrestricted free agency.

We can start with Erik Karlsson in San Jose, who could end up being one of the offseason’s biggest stories for the second straight year. The Blue Jackets have both Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin. Buffalo’s Jeff Skinner is having a career year. And the Senators have both Matt Duchene and Mark Stone.

Those six players would all figure to hit the jackpot if they made it to the open market. But the list goes on, with names like Wayne Simmonds, Jake Gardiner, Joe Pavelski, Jordan Eberle and Cam Talbot all on expiring deals. And then there’s Anders Lee and Eric Staal and Tyler Myers and Mats Zuccarello and Semyon Varlamov and … you get the picture. The list is stacked.

Karlsson is expected to use Drew Doughty’s $11-million cap hit as a starting point. Bobrovsky and Panarin could both be looking at deals that would carry cap hits north of $9 or even $10 million. Skinner won’t be far behind, and Duchene was on track to get there too before his groin injury sidetracked a career year. Stone is in the same ballpark, although he can’t officially sign an extension until Jan. 1. And many of those other names figure to be looking at cap hits that would at least start with a six or seven on a multi-year deal. That’s a ton of talent, and a ton of potential money.

Hockey fans might be wondering whether it’s unusual for this many big-name pending UFAs to make it this far into the season without an extension. The short answer: Yes, it’s extremely unusual. For the longer answer, and what it might mean for 2019, let’s dive into the recent history.

Playing the waiting game

Most star players sign extensions relatively early. Some do it right on July 1, the first day they’re eligible; we saw that this year with Doughty and Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Others take a few weeks, like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in 2014, or even make it past opening night, like Brent Burns last year. But by the time the calendar flips over to December, most of the big names are already locked down.

When a pending UFA does make it this far into the season without an extension, there are basically three ways the situation can play out. The first is that they eventually sign during the season and stay with their team. If you’re a fan of a team that has one of those big names above, that’s the scenario you’re looking for.

The second possibility is that the player doesn’t sign during the season, but avoids free agency by agreeing to an extension during the offseason. In theory, that’s just as good. But these cases often involve the player being traded first, either as a deadline rental or in one of those June deals that sees his rights dealt in exchange for a middling draft pick. It doesn’t always work that way; as we’ll see, there are players who’ve made it through the season without an extension and then re-upped with their team weeks before free agency, and if you’re a contending team like the Sharks or Blue Jackets, maybe you’re willing to roll the dice while you chase a Cup right now. But if you’re the Senators or Flyers, can you take that chance?

And then there’s the third option: The player doesn’t sign during the season, they don’t sign during the offseason and they make it to the free agency period. At that point they’re free to shop their services to any team and the odds of them coming back are slim.

So how common is it for a star player to make it to December without an extension? And when it happens, how often do each of those three situations above play out?

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

Monday, December 10, 2018

Weekend power rankings: You can't touch a Flame when it's red hot

Spoiler​ alert: Even though​ they​ lost​ last​ night​ in​ Edmonton, the​ Flames are going​ to be back​ in​ this week’s top​​ five.

That probably isn’t going to shock you. Calgary remains one of the hottest teams in the league, having won nine of their last twelve to take over top spot in the Pacific. Until last night they’d been filling up the net, raking fourth in goals scored league-wide. But lately they’ve been keeping the puck out too, with David Rittich playing well and Mike Smith suddenly looking like a viable NHL starter again.

That’s a tough combo to beat, as most of the Flames’ recent opponents could tell you. They’d won four straight heading into the weekend, which set up a marquee matchup with the Predators that featured the West’s two top teams facing off with top spot in the conference on the line. It was the sort of game that feels like a test for a surging young team, and the Flames passed it by pouring in three third-period goals, turning a tight game into a 5-2 win.

After that kind of a season-defining win, maybe it was inevitable that last night’s renewal of the Battle of Alberta would be a bit of a dud. The last time these two teams met, it had us giddy for a potential playoff matchup. Last night looked more like a tired team coming off an emotional win travelling to play a rested rival in a tough building. The Flames fell behind early, had a goal waved off for interference and then spent much of the third killing penalties instead of pushing for the comeback. The Oilers earned their 1-0 win and are working their way back into the Pacific title discussion themselves. But it didn’t feel like they got the Flames best last night.

Still, it was a good week for Calgary, especially given that they were missing two players to suspension, including captain Mark Giordano. So yeah, the Flames are going to be in our top five this week. The question is how high they go and which teams they pass along the way. Let’s find out …

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they’re headed towards a summer of keg stands and fountain pool parties.

Hey, remember when I made a big deal out of finally putting the Sabres in the top five, then they won the next night and haven’t won again since? I think that may have been my fault. Sorry, Buffalo, won’t happen again.

5. Washington Capitals (17-9-3, +16 true goals differential*) – This week brought a three-game road trip and four of a possible six points. Not bad, although not necessarily the sort of performance that guarantees a spot in the top five. Still, seeing them face down the Blue Jackets in a battle for top spot in the Metro and come away with a 4-0 road win was impressive. Next weekend brings an intriguing matchup against the Sabres and a chance for the champs to continue to defend their turf against the next wave of contenders.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs (20-9-1, +25) – They’re still sitting second overall. But their last two games have been ugly and Saturday’s loss in a nasty game in Boston had to bring back at least a few memories of playoffs past. It will also cost them Zach Hyman, who earned two games for his late hit on Charlie McAvoy.

There’s no need to panic, but for now we’ll nudge the Leafs down a spot or two until William Nylander finds his legs and the team reminds us that they can show up before the third period starts.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

Friday, December 7, 2018

Grab Bag: Want to be the NHL's next commissioner? Apply now!

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- I got a hold of the NHL's job posting for the next commissioner
- The Hurricanes and Ducks are doing something very cool tonight
- An obscure player who beat Ron Hextall to history by three days
- The week's three comedy stars feature the Habs being very mean to the Senators
- And we welcome Seattle to the NHL by looking back at how the league did expansion 20 years ago in a wild YouTube breakdown

>> Read the full post at The Athletic