Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Five more blockbusters that apparently almost happened

Mark Messier and Brett Hull. (Getty Images)

The 2016 offseason began with a bang, as two of the biggest trades in recent NHL history went down within minutes of each other on June 29. But since then, apart from the occasional move, the trade talk around the league has gone largely quiet.

Or has it? After all, just because blockbuster deals aren’t being made doesn’t mean they’re not being discussed. Hockey history is filled with monster trades that almost happened and that we only find out about after the fact. We covered five of the biggest near-misses a year ago, with names like Steve Yzerman, Corey Perry, Pavel Datsyuk, and even P.K. Subban and Carey Price (in the same deal). Today, let’s look back at a few more.

But first, the obvious disclaimer. While all of these deals were reported by reasonably trustworthy sources, we’ll never know how close they actually came to happening. When it comes to the “near” in near-miss, mileage may vary.

But with that out of the way, let’s get to the fun stuff. Here are five NHL blockbusters that apparently really did almost happen.

Steven Stamkos to the Rangers

Until the one-for-one trades started flying, Stamkos had been the focus of the 2016 off-season. His stay-or-go decision with the Lightning had dragged on all season, and he was reportedly the top target for several teams if he’d made it to free agency. He’s widely considered one of the best players in hockey. So it’s easy to forget that, at one point early on in his career, Stamkos was viewed as a bit of a bust.

The top pick in the 2008 draft, Stamkos arrived in Tampa with plenty of hype. But he got off to a slow start, scoring just twice in his first 21 games. He struggled under Lightning coach Barry Melrose, at one point seeing as little as six minutes of ice time. He just didn’t look ready for NHL action. And within weeks, according to Larry Brooks of the NY Post, the Lightning had decided to trade him.

The deal was struck with Glen Sather and the Rangers, and according to Brooks would have seen the future all-star sent to New York in exchange for “two or three from a wish list that featured Michael Del Zotto, Evgeny Grachev, Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky and Dan Girardi.”

According to Sather, the deal was done and sealed with a handshake. The problem: That handshake was with Lightning co-owner Len Barrie. When general manager Brian Lawton found out about the discussion, he wanted no part of the deal. Barrie still wanted to go forward, according to the report, but co-owner Oren Koules refused, and the deal died.

Melrose was fired, Stamkos was a 50-goal scorer by his second year in the league, and the rest is history.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

Why Canadians don't get all that excited for the Summer Olympics

After four years of waiting, the big moment is almost here. The eyes of the world will be focused on Rio next week, as the planet’s greatest athletes gather and the ceremonial torch is lit for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Do the Games start next week? I’m not actually sure. Look, you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t sound as excited as I should be. Please understand that I have a pre-existing condition: I’m Canadian. And to be clear, we like the Summer Olympics just fine. We watch them. We’ve even been known to win a gold medal or two. But they’re not really our thing, you know? At least not in quite the same way that they seem to be for a lot of you.

So I thought I’d take a shot at explaining why that is. Here are eight key reasons why any Canadians you know probably aren’t quite as hyped for the Summer Games as you might expect.

1) It’s not the Winter Olympics

Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way first, if only because it’s not as big a factor as you might think. Yes, Canada tends to get far more into the Winter Olympics. That makes sense; we’re a country of snow and ice, so we do better in events that take place in the environment we’re used to. We dominate hockey, we’re pretty good at speedskating, and we’ve had our moments in figure skating and skiing. None of those events, you may have noticed, work all that well in August.

But winter sports aren’t all we can do. Despite what your stereotypes may have taught you, we do have summer here in Canada. It lasts for three weeks, and ends with 30% of the population having been carried off by mosquitos, but it does happen. And over the years, Canadians have had Olympic success at traditional summer sports like track and field, swimming, diving and rowing. We may not be an international powerhouse, but we have our moments.

So no, it’s not just a winter/summer thing. There’s a bit more going on here.

2) We’re just not all that good

Look, let’s call it like it is. People like to watch their country win, and Canada doesn’t win all that much in the Summer Games. When they show you the medal table, you typically have to scroll a few pages to find us. There’s a few reasons for that, including a relatively small population and a culture that would rather spend money on things like healthcare than making sure everyone can jump really high. But the bottom line is that we try hard and have fun, and sometimes that’s about it.

And again, we do win sometimes. And when that happens, it’s a big deal. We break out into a little national party whenever somebody medals, especially if it’s an unexpected upset, which it probably is. But that all adds up to a steady stream of occasional nice moments, not a flood of non-stop glory. And we’re fine with that. It’s just kind of tough to get too worked up over finishing 36th.

3) Even when we are the best, we get screwed in weird ways

One of my earliest childhood memories involved staying up late to watch Shawn O’Sullivan and Willie DeWitt win boxing gold at the 1984 Games. But neither did, because they got screwed by the judges. And that tends to happen kind of a lot, in both the Summer and Winter events. Sometimes it’s on purpose, because shadowy forces conspire against us. Sometimes it’s by accident, because somebody pressed the wrong button. Sometimes we even lose based on rules everyone knows, and sometimes it’s based on ones that nobody has even heard of.

The point is that Canada having success at the Olympics is often viewed as some sort of weird glitch, and the world has a tendency to respond by taking the cartridge out and blowing on it until everything works again. That kind of thing wears on you after a while.

>> Read the full post at The Guardian

Friday, July 22, 2016

Grab Bag: Let your body go with the flow

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- The NHL should celebrate it's 100th birthday by bring back celebrity captains
- One key point to remember when fighting the analytics war, which will never end.
- An obscure player who was creatively nicknamed Bussey, and the weird story of why.
- No, signing bonuses won't cause the next lockout. Nothing will.
- And a classic youtube breakdown of the Moog video. You know the one.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Five expected offseason moves we're still waiting for

The dog days of the NHL offseason got a nice jolt on Monday when the Senators and Rangers hooked up on a decent-sized trade. The deal sends Derick Brassard and a seventh to Ottawa in exchange for Mika Zibanejad and a second, improving the Senators’ top six while adding some youth to the Rangers and giving them some additional cap room to work with.

The trade also answered one of the offseason’s lingering questions, which was: When are the Rangers going to get around to doing something? We were all told to expect a busy offseason in New York, as GM Jeff Gorton would look to shake up his aging and expensive core. But until this week, not much had happened aside from a few minor free agency signings. Trading Brassard isn’t exactly a blockbuster, but at least now the Rangers are on the board.

But that still leaves a few more stories lingering in the “still waiting” file. Here are five moves everyone went into the offseason expecting to see that still haven’t happened yet.

The move: The Kevin Shattenkirk trade.

Heading into the offseason, it seemed as if Shattenkirk was the most likely blueliner to be on the move. With UFA status a year away, it just didn’t seem as if he was part of the Blues long-term plans. And with holes in the lineup created by other departures and several teams on the market in the hunt for defensive help, trading Shattenkirk seemed like the most obvious move for Blues’ GM Doug Armstrong.

Why hasn’t it happened yet?: The short answer is that Armstrong hasn’t found the right deal yet. But that just leads to the next question: Why not? It’s not like the market for defensemen suddenly dried up this summer; between P.K. Subban, Shea Weber and Adam Larsson, there’s been as much talent on the move as ever, and maybe more. But in Shattenkirk’s case, the move might get complicated. He’s one year away from free agency, so teams may be reluctant to acquire him without a firm sense of how much they’ll have to pay to keep him.

Odds that it still will: High. It just seems like this one has gone too far down the road to be pulled back now, with Shattenkirk’s agent going as far as calling a deal “inevitable” a few weeks ago. Maybe Armstrong has to lower his asking price, and maybe that brings teams like Edmonton back into the mix.

What if it doesn’t?: It’s going to seem awkward if training camp arrives and Shattenkirk is still a Blue. Still, having him in the lineup wouldn’t be the worst thing in the word for a legitimate Cup contender. Conventional wisdom says that you just can’t let a player like that reach free agency without trading him first, but as the Lightning showed with Steven Stamkos last year, sometimes it’s better to stay the course. Still, that’s risky territory for the Blues, and it’s hard to see how this gets that far.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Ranking the NHL's weird celebrity captains of 1991

The next year will be a big one for NHL milestones. For starters, we’ll see the 100th anniversary of the league itself, dating back to its official formation in 1917. The coming season is also the Maple Leafs’ centennial — one the franchise is celebrating with new uniforms, an outdoor game and a special Hall of Fame exhibit.

If that wasn’t enough, the 1967 expansions teams, including the Kings, Penguins, Flyers and Blues, will all mark their 50th anniversaries. We’ll no doubt see plenty of marketing initiatives in the coming months as the league marks the various occasions.

Here’s hoping they’ve got something good in mind, because the bar has been set high. Twenty-five years ago this summer, in advance of what would be its 75th season, the NHL decided to celebrate the occasion in the very best way it knew how: With a parade of B-list celebrities.

During the 1991 off-season, the league asked all 22 of its teams to name one celebrity captain for the coming season. Some teams rose to the challenge and found a candidate who captured just the right blend of local ties and hockey fandom. Other teams… well, not so much. So today, let’s look back on all 22 of those celebrity captains, as we count them down from worst to best.

No. 22: Montreal Canadiens – Maurice “Rocket” Richard

No. Just… no.

Let’s be clear: Rocket Richard is a legend, one of the greatest wingers of all time, and a defining player of a generation. He inspired children’s books, songs and even the occasional riot. In the world of pro sports, there are superstars, there are Hall-of-Famers, and then there’s that very small group of players who transcend it all to become something even more. Richard is in the group, no question. Rocket Richard ruled.

But asking a franchise to pick a celebrity captain from the entire world of arts, sports and pop culture and then having them come back with one of their own players is the most Montreal Canadiens thing ever. This franchise is so obsessed with its own history that they literally couldn’t think of any other options here. Sorry, Montreal, but that’s too much. Pick a marginally famous folk singer like all the other teams in the country ended up doing.

No. 21: New York Rangers – Marv Albert

This was six years before Albert’s assault trial, so we won’t penalize the Rangers for failing to see into the future. But we will penalize them for a lack of creativity in selecting a “celebrity” from within the sports media world. Albert was best known for his work on NBA games, but he’d worked Rangers games over the years, so this all felt a little too insider-y.

This is New York, after all, home of the world’s biggest stars. With all due respect to Albert, there were probably more famous people wandering by on the street at any given moment. But that would have required the Rangers to actually make it to the street, instead of just wandering down the pressbox hallway and grabbing the first person they recognized.

No. 20: Philadelphia Flyers – Bobby Rydell

Of all 22 captains, this was the toughest one to track down. Most teams were proud of their choices; some had press releases or formal announcements, and everyone else would at least show up in a newspaper article or two. But not the Flyers. Most news coverage just made vague reference to them not getting around to making a pick yet.

As best I can tell, that pick ended up being Rydell, the teen idol pop singer best known for the 1960 hit, Wild One. At least, that’s according to the one line slipped into the end of this article on the Flyers’ opening-night loss to the Capitals. That’s pretty much all the evidence I could find of the Flyers participating in this campaign at all. They just didn’t seem all that in to the whole celebrity captain thing. Which is weird, considering the franchise’s proud history with pop music.

No. 19: Hartford Whalers – Susan Saint James

Saint James might seem like an odd pick, but she was chosen because she’d once attended college in Connecticut. That’s it. The fact that she was married to the president of the NHL’s TV partner was no doubt purely a coincidence.

As a side note, the Whalers appear to have been the only team to name a co-captain, as they snuck in an additional mention of Gordie Howe. Normally, that would fall under the same category as the Habs choosing Richard. But I’m going to give the Whalers a pass, on the assumption that they picked Howe just to troll the Red Wings in hopes of getting them to lose their minds when it came time for their pick.

Spoiler alert: It worked.

No. 18: Calgary Flames – Ian Tyson

When the NHL said “celebrity captain,” half the league’s Canadian teams immediately went “local folk rock singer” and called it a day. Maybe the biggest upset of all here was that, somehow, Stompin’ Tom Connors didn’t get picked by anyone. How is that even possible? I’m assuming he was removed from consideration to make it fair for everyone else, like when you were in a hockey pool in 1984 and nobody was allowed to draft Wayne Gretzky.

Anyway, Calgary’s honour went to Tyson. Personally, I would have gone with then-current WWF intercontinental champion Bret Hart, but let’s be honest, it was the early 90s. The Flames weren’t exactly making great personnel decisions.

No. 17: Toronto Maple Leafs – Gordon Lightfoot

Have I mentioned that the Canadian teams liked singers? They liked singers.

Side note: How much do you think it killed Mike Myers not to get the nod here? He was already a big star on Saturday Night Live by this point, but the Wayne’s World movie hadn’t come out yet so he didn’t quite have that crossover appeal. Then again, given how things turned out when he finally did get to work with the Leafs, that’s probably a good thing.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet