Friday, February 22, 2019

Grab Bag: An important word about pajamas

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- I wrote a bunch of jokes about players on the trade block, and miraculously none of them got traded overnight to ruin it
- An important word to Islander fans about calling John Tavares Pajama Boy
- An obscure player who Don Cherry is mad at or something?
- The week's three comedy stars, featuring a lot more poop than usual
- And a YouTube look back at a distant past in which the Senators were cheap, losing players and facing arena delays. Sure glad those days are over!

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Puck Soup: Production at both ends

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- So Artemi Panarin apparently pooped his pants
- Lots of trade deadline talk
- I come up with my annual deadline odds, and Greg and Ryan place their bets
- An interview with Scott Hartnell
- Oh good, more Carolina Hurricanes celebration talk
- The Blues and Blackhawks are making the playoffs
- Ryan and I take the "Oscars vs. Cups" quiz
- And lots more...

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

What’s the best starting lineup you could make from a single GM’s trade history?

With​ less than a week​ to​ go​ until​ the​ 2019​ trade deadline,​ all eyes are​ on NHL general​ managers.​ Within minutes of​​ Monday’s 3:00 p.m. ET deadline, everyone will be coming up with their lists of winners and losers. Some GMs will be found wanting, while others will be declared the champions of the day.

But we like to think a little bigger around here. So instead of wondering about who’ll be the best NHL GM of the 2019 deadline, let’s aim higher by trying to determine the best big-game hunter in history. Which GM holds the all-time crown when it comes to going and swinging big deals?

A few months ago, I tried to tackle a similar sort of question from a slightly different angle by following a chain of lopsided trades. I thought it was pretty much perfect methodology, but a few readers didn’t seem to agree with where it ended up. OK, fair enough. So let’s try something else.

Today, we’re going to see which NHL GM from the modern era lets us put together the best six-man starting lineup made up entirely of players that they traded for. We’re looking for a goalie, two defensemen and three forwards, all of them acquired by the same GM in various trades.

We can mix and match between teams for those GMs who’ve held multiple jobs. But we’re looking for trades and trades only – drafting, free agency and other kind of transactions won’t help you here. We’re not really looking for the “best” GM here, and we don’t even really care if they won or lost the deal. One way or another, we’re looking to crown the guy who landed the biggest names.

A couple of key ground rules:

– The GM only gets credit for what the player did with the team that acquired them. Trading for a Hall of Famer at the very end of his career doesn’t get your credit for his entire body of work. But you do get credit for whatever they did with the team, even if you weren’t around to see all of it.

– We’re only counting players who were acquired directly, not picks that were eventually used on star players.

That last rule is important for a couple of reasons. First, it prevents GMs from getting credit for players they lucked into thanks to their scouting department nailing some fourth-round pick. But more importantly, we need this rule to make this any sort of a contest instead of a coronation of Sam Pollock. If we’re counting picks, Pollock gets to start his team with names like Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Steve Shutt and Bob Gainey, and the whole thing is over before it starts. Sam’s too good, so we need a rule to hold him back.

But it’s a tribute to Pollock that while we’re intentionally stacking the deck against him, he still comes through with a solid roster. Let’s make him our starting point.

(GM trading records are via NHLtradetracker.com.)


Team Sam Pollock

Goalie: Ken Dryden

Defensemen: Don Awrey, Jimmy Roberts

Forwards: Frank Mahovlich, Pete Mahovlich, Dick Duff

Team Pollock can’t use Lafleur, Robinson or the other draft pick heists, but still comes out looking pretty good. They start with a Hall of Famer in Dryden, whose rights Pollock stole from the Bruins in one of his very first trades back in 1964. They also get the Mahovlich brothers, plus six years of Duff’s Hall of Fame career. The defense is weak and that’s even after we’re cheating a bit with Roberts, who played more on the wing than the blueline in Montreal, but we kind of have to – even though he made a ton of trades, most of Pollock’s deals were for picks or cash, not established players.

So all in all, Team Pollock is pretty good. But will it hold up as the best? Let’s usher in a new challenger.

Team Harry Sinden

Goalie: Gilles Gilbert

Defensemen: Brad Park, Mike O’Connell

Forwards: Cam Neely, Rick Middleton, Adam Oates

Sinden’s team is just OK in goal – as you’ll see, that ends up being a bit of a theme for a few of his colleagues too. But the rest of his roster is pretty darn good. And he’s got some depth to draw on, as we’ve left off names like Jean Ratelle. The only real weak point is that second defenseman slot, which would look a lot better if our draft pick rule wasn’t keeping Ray Bourque off the team. But having future Sinden protégé Mike O’Connell on the squad makes a certain kind of sense, so let’s go with that.

Sinden’s Bruins didn’t beat Pollock’s Habs all that much when it mattered back in the 1970s, but I think he has the edge here. But he’ll need to get past some other strong contenders.

Team Bill Torrey

Goalie: Chico Resch

Defensemen: Jean Potvin, Uwe Krupp

Forwards: Butch Goring, Pierre Turgeon, Bob Bourne

As with Sinden, goalie isn’t a strong suit, although it’s not bad; Resch basically wins by default, since Billy Smith was an expansion pick and not a trade. Torrey also suffers a bit on the blueline, partly because he was pretty good at drafting them and didn’t need to trade for them as often as other guys. Jean Potvin might not be the best Potvin brother the Islanders ever had, but he put in a solid 400 games for them, and Krupp was decent too. Torrey’s best position is up front, where he could also lay claim to guys like Ray Ferraro and Stumpy Thomas.

Sinden, Torrey and Pollock represent the classic franchise-defining GMs of the 1970s. There’s one more we need to get to, although this one is sometimes better remembered for the work he did in another market.

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Monday, February 18, 2019

Weekend power rankings: A dozen deadline week predictions

One​ week to go.

We’re​ just​ seven​ days​ away​ from​ the trade​ deadline, and historically,​ this is when​ things​ really start to​​ get busy. Fans love to talk about deadline day, and that’s still the main attraction. This time next week, we’ll all be fake-coughing our way through calling in sick to work and settling in to watch the various deadline day shows struggle to fill airtime until the flood gates open. It’s always a fun day.

But in recent years, the process has evolved to the point where we should really be referring to deadline week. We typically see almost as many trades during the week-long lead up to the deadline as we do on the day itself. And that means the wait is pretty much over. It’s go time.

Let’s crunch some numbers. In 2016, there were 21 trades on deadline day and 16 more in the week leading up to it. The 2017 deadline was nearly identical, with 23 deals on deadline day and another 16 the week before. Last year, the numbers dropped slightly, with 18 deals on deadline day and 12 in the week leading up to it. (All totals are from the various NHL.com trade tracker pages.)

So in terms of the number of deals made, last year was quieter than a typical recent deadline, both on deadline day and in the week before. That could be a blip or the start of a trend. And if it’s the latter, we might expect that this week is relatively quiet too.

But something else stands out. In 2016, almost all of the action came in that final week; there were just four trades made around the league in the rest of February. In 2017, there were five. But last year, there were nine. Again, maybe that’s a blip. But it suggests GMs weren’t actually that much quieter last year after all — they were simply getting their deals done earlier.

So what about this year? It looks a lot like last year. We’ve already had eleven February trades. And that’s not counting the unusually busy January, which we talked about at the time. Back then, we wondered if the flurry of moves might predict a busy February. And in a sense, it already has, with more trades than usual over the last 17 days. But does that many deals already being done mean we’re now in for a quiet final week?

There are a few reasons to think we might be. The most obvious is the standings – the Western turtle derby has resulted in a scenario where virtually the entire conference is still in the race, or at least close enough to it that a delusional GM could try to talk himself into it. Thankfully, it doesn’t sound like teams like the Kings and Ducks will make that mistake. But if the rest of the conference still thinks they have a shot, there may not be enough sellers to support a busy market.

This year’s deadline also feels somewhat unique, in the sense that there are at least three or four players on the block who would be considered major stars who are still in their prime. Artemi Panarin, Mark Stone, Sergei Bobrovsky and Matt Duchene are bigger prizes than what we usually see available at the deadline. But they’re also the kind of names who could cause other teams to play wait-and-see. Are you really going to settle for Micheal Ferland as your big deadline acquisition if there’s a chance you could get Stone or Panarin? Maybe, but not until the last minute.

The good news, at least for fans who want to see some action, is that the last minute is almost here. And maybe I’m an optimist, but I don’t think we’re in for an especially quiet week. The situations in Columbus and Ottawa should come to a head soon, one way or another, and most of those Western wannabes are one or two more losses away from having no choice but to get real. The dam isn’t exactly going to burst, because it’s already been leaking steadily for weeks. But it’s probably not going to hold for much longer.

So this week, let’s do the regular top and bottom five rankings. But we’ll mix in a prediction for each of those teams along the way. Will I be right about any one them? Probably not, but that hasn’t stopped me before, so let’s do this.

Road to the Cup

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

The Carolina Hurricanes broke out a few new post-win celebrations this week, and Don Cherry criticized them for it. That meant we all had to spend the weekend playing yet another round of that game where we pretend that this is some sort of raging and divisive controversy, and not something that 95 percent of the hockey world already likes and supports. You’re being criticized by Don Cherry and Brian Burke and like three random dudes on Twitter, Hurricanes fans. Everyone else has your back. You’ll be fine.

In other news, the Hurricanes are going to make the playoffs, which will be good, and somebody is going to try to claim that they did it because they played duck-duck-goose after their games, which will be terrible.

5. New York Islanders (35-17-6, +33 true goals differential*) – Saturday’s win may have spelled the end of the Barclays Center era. The team doesn’t have any more regular-season games scheduled there, and they’ll play the first round of the playoffs at Nassau Coliseum. They’d be back at Barclays for the second round, though, meaning Islander fans are in the weird position of hoping to get a return to an arena they all hate.

As for the prediction, I admit that I love the theory that Lou Lamoriello will go out and land Panarin. It makes more sense than most of the other Panarin rumors.

But as much as I’d love to make that my prediction, I don’t think it happens. The hurdle is the Blue Jackets, who we’re told still want to make a playoff run. Would they really send Panarin to a team they have a good chance of facing in Round 1? Maybe, but I can’t see it. So instead, let’s pencil Lou and the Islanders in for a consolation prize from among the lesser names. Maybe Gustav Nyquist?

4. Winnipeg Jets (36-19-4, +30) – The schedule served up three winnable games, but the Jets only came away with three points. They didn’t lose any Central ground to the struggling Predators, but it was a missed opportunity to build a cushion. And now that Jordan Binnington and the Blues are unbeatable, the division no longer feels like a two-team race.

Prediction: Given their roster and cap situation, the Jets should be all-in on the biggest rentals. I’m with Murat Ates when he identifies Mark Stone as their best fit. It will cost a ton, but I think they might get him.

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Friday, February 15, 2019

Grab Bag: The NHL should have one day of legal tampering per season

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Every sport should make tampering legal for one day of the year
- Your favorite team's GM drops by to reveal his trade deadline strategy
- Another obscure player from the Vancouver Canucks' weird goaltending history
- The week's three comedy stars feature a small child getting repeatedly injured
- And a YouTube look back at the next-day reaction to the Doug Gilmour trade

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