Friday, April 19, 2019

Puck Soup: Mistakes were made

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Greg, Ryan and I look back on our broken brackets and try to figure out what went wrong
- What happened to the Lightning, and where do they go from here?
- The Islanders' sweep the Pens, the Flames and Sharks on the ropes, and all the other series
- Thoughts on the Kadri suspension and Ovechkin vs. Svechnikov
- Two new coaches get big deals, but what about Buffalo?
- I give the guys a quiz on a subject I'm an expert on: Playoff misery
- I also get to do an ad read, but my transitions may need work

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Thursday, April 18, 2019

Grab Bag: Penguins/Lightning excuses

In a special Thursday edition of the Grab Bag:
- Penguins and Lightning excuses
- Breaking down a week of first-round outrage
- An obscure player who was at least consistent
- The week's three comedy stars
- And our old friend Alan Thicke helps us remember when the Lightning were just starting out...

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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

A brief history of really good teams that didn’t win a playoff game

What​ the hell is​ happening​ to​ the​ Lightning?

That’s​ the​ big question​ in the NHL​ these days, and​ honestly,​ I have no​​ idea. None. I know there are easy narratives we can grasp at – They’re not built for playoff hockey! They don’t want it bad enough! They haven’t had to face enough adversity! – but I think we all realize on some level that it’s nonsense. Teams that rack up 62 wins don’t suddenly become fatally flawed in the playoffs.

Except that yeah, the Lightning sure seem flawed. A month ago I wrote about pretty much this exact scenario, where the Lightning suffer through a shocking exit and we all race to slap an explanation on it. But even then, I was working under the assumption that a Lightning upset would feel like, well, an upset. That they’d run into a hot goalie or have a bunch of bad bounces or whatever. That’s not what’s happening. They’re getting their butts kicked. The Blue Jackets have been the better team since the first period of Game 1. This is some history-making madness.

So yeah, I’m as lost as you are. But the reality is that there’s a good chance that the series ends tonight, and the Lightning season will end without so much as a playoff win to their name. And they may not be alone – the 100-point Penguins are also staring down a sweep tonight. Those are two pretty good teams, and they might combine for zero wins in the postseason.

That’s hard to explain. But it’s not unprecedented. So today, let’s try to make Lightning fans feel better – or let’s face it, probably worse – by looking back at eight of the best regular season teams in NHL history who didn’t win a single playoff game.

The team: 1992-93 Chicago Blackhawks

The regular season: Under rookie head coach Darryl Sutter, the Hawks had one of the best regular seasons in franchise history. They finished the year with a record of 47-25-12, good for a conference-best 106 points that set up a first-round meeting with the 85-point Blues. Easy, right?

The disaster: Curtis Joseph has a weird tendency to show up in these stories. This one was the 24-year-old’s first time performing what would become his trademark move for the rest of the ’90s: pretty much single-handedly winning a playoff series.

After making 24 saves in a 4-3 win in Game 1, Joseph went on to shut out the Hawks in back-to-back games, making 81 saves in the process. That pushed the Hawks to the brink, and while Chicago would find the net again in Game 4, the Blues finished the job in overtime. That goal came with a bit of controversy, and an appropriately heated Ed Belfour meltdown.

The epilogue: This was the second stunning first-round exit in three years by the Hawks; they’d lost to the North Stars in six games in 1991. They’d followed that with a trip to the final in 1992, but there was no similar rebound here. The Hawks would win just three more rounds in 15 seasons until reemerging as Cup contenders in the Jonathan Toews/Patrick Kane era.

The team: The 1980-81 Canadiens

The regular season: By 1981, the Habs dynasty of the late-70s was essentially over. For the first time in five years, they hadn’t won the Cup in 1980, and key pieces like Scotty Bowman, Jacques Lemaire and Ken Dryden were gone. But they still had guys like Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson and Steve Shutt on a roster that featured seven Hall of Famers, and they rolled to a conference-best 103 points. That earned them an easy first-round matchup against a 74-point team that had never won a playoff game.

The disaster: That first-round opponent was the Edmonton Oilers, and they turned out to have a few Hall of Famers of their own. Even though they’d only won 29 of their 80 games during the season, the Oilers stunned the Canadiens by pumping home 15 goals in a three-game preliminary round sweep.

The epilogue: Those early-80s best-of-five openers were tricky – they also saw sweeps of 100-point teams like the 1982-83 Flyers, 1983-84 Sabres and 1983-84 Bruins.

As for the Canadiens, they finished first again in 1981-82, only to suffer yet another first-round upset, this time to the Nordiques in five. Montreal wouldn’t win another playoff round until Steve Penney showed up in 1984, and some other rookie goalie who arrived a year later helped them get back to winning Cups. And those upstart Oilers went on to win a few of their own.

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Monday, April 15, 2019

The 2019 OGWAC rankings

OK,​ kids. Hike up​ your​ pants​ around​ your​ armpits,​ hang an​ onion from your​ belt and park​ your​ walker over by​​ rotary phone, because it’s time for the annual OGWAC rankings.

For you newbies, an OGWAC is that beloved species of hockey player whose story everyone loves to hear during the playoffs: the Old Guy Without a Cup. He’s the grizzled veteran who’s been around forever and has probably come agonizingly close a time or two, but he doesn’t have a ring and he’s running out of time. Everyone’s rooting for him, and if his team does win it all, he usually gets the honor of being the first in line for the Cup handoff.

The greatest OGWAC story of all-time is Ray Bourque in 2001, one that still makes the toughest hockey fan you know cry a little. Others include Teemu Selanne in 2007, Lanny McDonald in 1989 and Kimmo Timonen in 2015. Last season’s OGWAC story was Alexander Ovechkin, who was a little young for the honor but has somehow had grey hair for five years, so we’ll allow it.

I’ve been breaking down the annual OGWAC rankings going back to the Grantland days and the format hasn’t changed much. It doesn’t need to, because the OGWAC is timeless. Or so I thought. Because this year, I’m starting to wonder if we don’t need something new.

I think we might need to introduce the OGWACWIT: The Old Guy With a Cup Who Isn’t Thornton.

After all, there isn’t really a ton of suspense about the top spot in these rankings. Joe Thornton has emerged as one of the league’s most lovable characters and will be a no-questions-asked Hall-of-Famer as soon as he’s eligible. But he’s about to turn 40 and has battled injuries in recent years. He’s almost at the end of the road and still doesn’t have his ring. He’s pretty much the archetypal OGWAC right now.

Even as wait to see if last night’s high hit on Tomas Nosek gets him suspended, Thornton is going to rank at the top of our list. Sorry for the spoiler. But there are plenty of other guys who are worth a mention too. Let’s count down the best stories of the Cupless guys who a.) are at least 33 years old; b.) have played at least ten seasons; c.) are in the playoffs and either playing or at least have a chance to at some point.

With the criteria set, let’s get to the rankings. We’re going to need a top 15 this time, because for reasons I’m not quite clear on, there are just a ton of great OGWAC candidates this year. And even a few OGWACWITs.

15. Dan Hamhuis, Predators

Hamhuis is a nice starting point because he’s basically the classic OGWAC story. He’s 36, has played 15 seasons and won’t have too many more shots at this. And of course, he had an agonizing near-miss in 2011 with the Canucks. That loss was especially tough for Hamhuis, since he was hurt in the first game of the final and didn’t play again. He hasn’t won a playoff round since.

This year’s Predators are an especially loaded OGWAC team, as we’ll see a little bit further down. That hurts Hamhuis’s standing just a bit, but he’s still worthy of a spot on our list.

14. Matt Hendricks, Jets

Hendricks is a bit of a tricky call. On the one hand, he’s a 37-year-old role player and his teammates love him. And unlike some of the other players on this list, this really does seem like his last shot at a Cup. On the other, there’s a good chance we won’t see him suit up for the Jets during this run – he barely played down the stretch and is really here to be a veteran leader as opposed to an on-ice contributor. In terms of the Jets who matter during this postseason, Hendricks doesn’t rank that high.

Still, it’s a long way to a Stanley Cup, and if the Jets can get past the Blues and go deep, you never know who they might need. And if Hendricks was in the lineup for a Cup win, he’d be close to a guaranteed first handoff. We’ll rank him here and hope against hope that his case gets stronger in the weeks to come.

13. Blake Comeau, Stars

Comeau’s the youngest player on our list, having just turned 33 in February. But he’s had the classic journeyman career that can make for a great OGWAC story, playing 13 seasons for six teams and never having seen the second round of the playoffs. In fact, he’s only ever been part of six playoff wins, including Game 1 against the Predators.

We can’t rank him too high since he’s presumably got more runway left than most of the other guys on this list. But let’s consider him an OGWAC prospect to keep an eye on.

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Friday, April 12, 2019

Grab Bag: Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's a bed sheet

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- A deeper look at that amazing NBC playoff portrait
- A word about postseason trolling
- An obscure player who knew how to start a playoff series
- The week's three comedy stars, featuring a victory lap from Mr. Lottery
- And a YouTube breakdown of the Leafs setting a playoff record exactly 40 years ago today, and celebrating it very weirdly...

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