Friday, July 3, 2020

Mailbag: Could a team of 20 Zdeno Charas beat a team of 20 Johnny Gaudreaus, and other important questions

Welcome to another edition of the mailbag, in which you ask me very strange questions and I put way too much thought into coming up with the right answer. This week, we’re going to figure out how to trade Jack Eichel, rank the teams that had the most luck picking first overall, induct a placeholder into the Hockey Hall of Fame, and figure out whether a team full of Zdeno Charas could beat a team full of Johnny Gaudreaus. No, I don’t desperately need hockey to come back, why do you ask?

Note: Submitted questions have been edited for clarity.

What franchise has gotten the most value out of the first overall pick in NHL history? It has to be the Penguins, correct? They chose the second-best player ever, the best player of the 2000s, and a goalie that took two teams from worst to first. – Michael O.

Oh yeah, it’s the Penguins for sure. I can’t even come up with a contrarian take here. In fact, you could make a decent case that the two best first overall picks in history both went to the Penguins. Mix in a decent goaltender and the fact we all know they’re getting Lafreniere this year and it’s a no-brainer.

But you got me thinking about who would be next on the list. So let’s rephrase the question as “Which team other than the Penguins got the most value out of the first overall pick?” Here’s my top five:

Not ranked: Montreal Canadiens – They’ve actually had more first overall picks than anyone with five, but only ever hit on one of them. That was Guy Lafleur with the Seals’ pick in 1971, and he was a legend, but the other four guys were Garry Monahan, Michel Plasse, Rejean Houle and Doug Wickenheiser.

Also not ranked: Ottawa Senators – Three first overall picks in four years, and they turned them into a bust (Alexandre Daigle), a guy who refused to play for them (Bryan Berard) and a solid stay-at-home defenseman (Chris Phillips). When the guy who didn’t crack 300 points is easily your top pick, that’s rough.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning/Toronto Maple Leafs (tie) – The Lightning have had the top pick three times and got a solid defenseman in Roman Hamrlik, a guy who looked like a Hall of Famer for the first decade of his career in Vincent Lecavalier, and a legit franchise player in Steven Stamkos. The Leafs have somehow only had it twice, but they used them on Auston Matthews (who’s been one of the most productive young goal scorers in NHL history) and Wendel Clark (who was this guy).

4. Buffalo Sabres – They’ve had three, and they produced one slam dunk Hall of Famer (Gilbert Perrault), one guy who has a borderline case (Pierre Turgeon) and a kid who might be on the way (Rasmus Dahlin).

3. Edmonton Oilers – I thought they’d be higher, but despite four top picks in six years, they didn’t end up with as much as you’d hope. They’ve got the very best player in the world in Connor McDavid, so they have to crack the top three, but other than that they got a future MVP they gave up on too early (Taylor Hall), a solid player who’s never been elite (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) and an all-time bust (Nail Yakupov).

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free 90-day trial.)

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

What’s the best roster you could make out of NHL stars who were clearly not the best player in history to have those initials?

What’s the best possible roster you could make out of NHL stars who were clearly not the best player in league history to have those initials? Let’s find out!

A few ground rules:

  • We’re going to let be our guide on the question of the “best” players. This turns out to be deceptively simple since their search engine defaults to sorting by a player’s importance. I think this is based largely (but not entirely) on point shares, which isn’t a perfect stat but will work well enough for our purposes. We search for a set of initials, and the first result that matches them is the best player and can’t be on our roster.
  • Except … I know this is all subjective, but I did run into a few cases where the search engine was just wrong, or at least where it felt like the top two guys were too close to call. When that happens, I reserve the right to overrule the site and disqualify a player we could otherwise use. This will make things harder, but it also means I won’t have to wade through 100 comments from people who think I took the easy way out because Mats Sundin is clearly better than Martin St. Louis no matter what some computer says. Remember, we said “clearly not the best,” so we only want guys where there’s no real case to be made that they could be at the top of their list.
  • Active players are in play, but we only get credit for what they’ve done in their careers so far. Connor McDavid has two Art Ross trophies, but with less than 500 career points might not make the roster yet. (And he’s already the best C.M. in league history, so we couldn’t use him anyway.)
  • We’re using whatever was considered a player’s most common name during their playing days.
  • We’re filling out a 20-man roster with four centers, four right wings, four left wings, six defensemen and a goalie.

Sounds like fun? (Crickets chirp.) Awesome, let’s do this!

We’ll start with the obvious problem: By definition, we’re not going to be able to use any of the NHL’s true all-time greats. Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, Mario Lemieux … they’re all out.

That applies to pretty much all of the second tier too. It would be nice if a pair of top 10 players had been considerate enough to double up on initials, but that doesn’t really happen. There isn’t an NHL equivalent to the NBA’s Michael Jordan/Magic Johnson combo.

Well, except for maybe one: Who’s the best player in NHL history to have the initials D.H.?

That’s a tough one. You could make a case for Dominik Hasek, who might be the best goaltender of all-time. But there’s also Doug Harvey, who won seven Norris Trophies in eight years and was almost universally ranked as the best defenseman ever during the pre-Bobby Orr era.

I’d lean to Hasek, but the hockey-reference results go with Harvey. It’s a tough one because whichever way I go I’m going to have a big chunk of hockey fans mad at me. So I’m not going to pick at all, and instead, declare this one a tie – neither Hasek nor Harvey clearly fit our criteria, so neither can make our team.

The good news is that the D.H. listing still offers some possibilities, including Dany Heatley and Dale Hunter. But I’m going to go with 1980s legend Dale Hawerchuk, who can’t lay claim to a place in Hasek or Harvey’s tier but will slot in nicely as one of our centers.

And while we’re building from the middle, we should grab another obvious choice: Adam Oates, who brings us 1,400 points and a reputation as one of the greatest setup men of all time but still can’t get near the A.O. title when Alexander Ovechkin is around.

Let’s fill in a few more forward spots. Jean Beliveau is a consensus top-10 player of all-time, which means we can safely grab 500-goal man Johnny Bucyk at LW. And we find another strong LW choice in former MVP Taylor Hall, who’s available thanks to the 24-year career of Hall-of-Famer Tim Horton.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free 90-day trial.)

Monday, June 29, 2020

Puck Soup: Placehold my beer

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- So that draft lottery sure was something
- Yeah, it was weird. But is that bad?
- Ranking the Lafreniere worthiness of each of the playoff teams
- Artemi Panarin weighs in as a new CBA nears
- The latest on hub cities, the biggest story in hockey that you secretly don't care about
- A new quiz
- Our favorite Arnold Schwarzenegger movies

>> 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.

Call for mailbag questions

Hey folks...

I'm probably going to do a mailbag either this Friday or next. Please send over some questions we can have some fun with, via email at Feel free to get creative. What-ifs, would-you-rathers and all-time bests (and worsts) work well. I don't think my editors actually read these so let's get weird.


Saturday, June 27, 2020

The winners and losers from the NHL Draft lottery

The NHL held its annual draft lottery Friday night. Well, one of them. We’re going to need another one to figure it all out.

Did I mention this gets weird? It gets weird.

Here’s the short version: We don’t know who’ll have the first overall pick in this year’s draft because it was won by one of the placeholder teams. We’ll have to wait for the play-in round to be over, at which point the eight teams that lose will go into a second drawing. One of those teams will get the top pick and presumably use it to draft blue-chip prospect Alexis Lafreniere.

This is, it should go without saying, not how things normally work. You probably have strong thoughts about whether this is how it should work, and those views are probably heavily influenced by which team you cheer for. And that’s fair because while we still don’t know who won the first overall pick, it’s fair to say that Friday night worked out better for some than for others. So let’s try to sort it all out, as we break down the winners and losers from the strangest draft lottery in NHL history.

Loser: Detroit Red Wings

It’s a winner/loser format, and tradition says we should start with the winners and alternate from there. But since we don’t know who the winners are yet, let’s go right to the one part we can all agree on.

Detroit… ouch, man.

Look, Red Wing fans knew the odds. There was a roughly 50 percent chance this could happen. That’s the way it’s worked since 2016, and we’ve seen the last place overall team drop all the way to number four on multiple occasions, including a Colorado team in 2017 that might have been even worse than this year’s Wings. If you’re a Detroit fan and you were blindsided by what happened on Friday, you weren’t paying attention.

But that doesn’t make it any easier. This team was awful, not just losing but getting their doors blown off with regularity. They desperately need a stud prospect to build around. They need some hope. The draft lottery was all they had from about November on. And then Bill Daly flips over that card at number four, and… gut punch.

So yeah, it sucks, and there’s no way to sugar coat it. You can point out that those 2017 Avs ended up with a pretty decent kid named Cale Makar with the fourth overall pick, but that doesn’t really soften the blow.

Red Wings fans are mad, and they should be mad. They get to be unbearable for the next few days. Save them your lectures about lucking into Pavel Datsyuk or getting to watch Nicklas Lidstrom. They don’t want to hear it right now, and that’s the way it should be. This hurts, a lot.

Winner: Team Chaos

We asked for chaos. We got it.

OK, we didn’t quite get the ultimate chaos scenarios, like having all three lottery spots taken by play-in teams. But Friday’s result was a decent substitute, one that adds a new dynamic to an already unprecedented play-in round. How will it all play out? Nobody knows because none of us could have even conceived of this set of circumstances just a few months ago.

Of course, not everyone will appreciate that. Plenty of fans are shaking their heads today, wondering why the NHL couldn’t have figured out a way to just do all of this in a normal way like a normal league. We’ll get to that in a bit. But at some point, maybe you just have to accept that there’s nothing normal about 2020 and steer into the skid. The NHL held a lottery and the winning team was TBD. Be careful what you wish for.

Still, the reaction on Twitter when Bill Daly flipped that card on Friday night was glorious. And in a way, it felt like the old days. How long has it been since your timeline turned into a steady stream of people going “WHAT?” and “WOW!” and “NOOO!” over something sports-related? Too long. It was nice to see a team get to celebrate a big win again. Even if it was Team Chaos.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free 90-day trial.)