Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Seven abandoned plot points from the NHL offseason

The writers in charge of the NHL’s off-season script are struggling.

They spent the last year opening up all sorts of interesting storylines and plot holes, with lots of fun ways they could go. But now the summer is here, the credits are about to roll, and there are still all sorts of loose ends to tie up.

They’ve wrapped up a few. The Dallas Stars finally got that goalie they’ve been hunting for years, the touching Kevin Shattenkirk homecoming played out pretty much like we all expected, and the Connor McDavid contract plotline came together nicely. Some of it feels kind of derivative – haven’t we seen this Blackhawks roster already? – but for the most part it’s been fine.

But as the off-season wears on and things start getting quiet, it’s hard not to notice that several key subplots seem to have been quietly dropped by the league’s writing staff. So today, let’s look at seven NHL offseason storylines that we’re still waiting on.

The Matt Duchene trade

The Duchene trade watch has been on in Colorado ever since his coach, Patrick Roy, ripped him at the end of the 2015–16 season for celebrating wrong. Roy’s surprise August resignation may have bought some time, but as last season wore on a trade started to feel inevitable, with even Duchene himself acknowledging he was open to a fresh start.

The only question was when it would happen. With the Avalanche flatlining, there was plenty of pressure on Joe Sakic to get the best possible deal for the former third-overall pick, and timing was important. The rumoured asking price was high, and as the season wore on, some began to wonder if it might not make more sense to wait until the off-season. When the deadline passed without the Avs doing much of anything at all, the focus shifted to what Sakic could do at the draft.

Well, the draft has come and gone. So has most of free agency. So has almost all of July. And not only is Duchene somehow still in Colorado, but the rumour mill seems to be falling silent.

Maybe that’s a good thing — the calm before the storm, and all that. But with August approaching and the number of teams that could plausibly put together a deal getting smaller, it’s starting to look like not getting a trade done during the season could end up as a costly miscalculation by Sakic and the Avs. Duchene finished the season ice cold, and with cap space disappearing around the league after nearly four weeks of free agency, it’s possible that there just isn’t anyone left out there willing to pay a fair price.

Could Duchene start the season in Colorado? It’s starting to look that way. And since early-season trades have become all but extinct, that would mean yet another year of Sakic waiting for the trade deadline. Or maybe the draft. Or maybe July. Or maybe… well, to be continued, apparently.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Friday, July 21, 2017

Grab Bag: The Bettman Sentence fixes everything

In the latest (and last?) Friday Grab Bag:
- One simple trick for enjoying Gary Bettman sound bites
- The NBA offseason is just way more fun that's the NHL's, and that's OK
- An obscure player with a two-pack-a-day habit who confused Bob McKenzie
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a week after basking in how wonderful Alexei Kovalev could be, we take a look at the other side of the coin.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

In other news: As you may have heard, Vice Sports is apparently shutting down and/or pivoting to video and/or something. Right now, I don't know what this means for the future of the Grab Bag, the Biscuits podcast, the Lozo mailbags or anything else I was doing with Vice (although I think we can probably guess). All I can say right now is that you'll know when I do.




Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Five stars whose bad timing cost them a Cup

You have to feel for NHL stars who never win a Stanley Cup. In most cases, their lack of a championship is hardly their fault. Hockey is a team game, and one player can only carry you so far. But that's probably little comfort to players who finish their career without ever skating a lap with the trophy. And that's especially true for the guys who just missed.

For example, Marcel Dionne is often mentioned as the greatest player to never win a Cup, and he may well be. But he also never came especially close. His team never made it out of the second round, and the three franchises he played for over his 18-year career – the Wings, Kings and Rangers – never won any Cups at all over that span.

Other players have come close in a given year. Gilbert Perrault helped get the Sabres to the final in 1975, and Roberto Luongo was one win away from a ring in 2011 with the Canucks. Brian Propp may have had the toughest luck of anyone -- he went to the Cup final on five separate occasions, but had the misfortune of running into an Islanders, Oilers or Penguins dynasty each time.

But then there's the group of star players who came close in a very different way: the guys who just had bad timing. They were great players, and they played for great teams. But they managed to be just a little too early or a little too late to be part of a Cup team, and ended up retiring without a ring despite most of their teammates getting one.

So today, let's look back at five players who had long and successful NHL careers that didn't include Stanley Cups, but who just missed being in the right place at the right time to win one.

Mike Gartner

Gartner hadn't come especially close to a Cup over the first decade-plus of his career with the Capitals, North Stars or Rangers. But in 1994, he finally found himself on a Cup favorite. By March, the Rangers were on their way to their second Presidents' Trophy in three years. With Mark Messier leading the way, Brian Leetch on the blueline and Mike Keenan behind the bench, the Rangers seemed set to finally break the franchise's 54-year Cup drought.

And as it turns out, they did. But Gartner didn't get to be a part of it. In yet another deadline deal, the 33-year-old veteran was sent to the Maple Leafs in exchange for Glenn Anderson.

Gartner and the Leafs nearly made it to the final themselves, before falling to the Canucks in the Western final. Meanwhile, the Rangers went on to win it all at Madison Square Garden (despite not getting all that much production out of Anderson along the way).

For Anderson, it was his sixth Cup ring. Gartner played until 1998, but never made it out of the first round again. He retired without a championship; in hindsight, he may have only missed by a few months.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News




Friday, July 14, 2017

Grab Bag: Come on down

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Since everyone liked last week's Cliff Hanger idea, let's assign some Price is Right games to more NHL announcements
- I have an incredibly trivial complaint about the Sedins
- An obscure player who once made Patrick Roy very angry
- The week's three comedy stars
- And we travel back to 1994 for a story about Mike Keenan and the greatest shift in hockey history

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports





Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Which NHL stars will end their careers as members of the one-franchise club?

You hear the term “franchise player” thrown around a lot these days, typically as a slightly fancier way of saying a player is very good. But actually playing out your entire career with one NHL franchise isn’t easy. Mario Lemieux managed to do it, but Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe didn’t. Nicklas Lidstrom did, but not Bobby Orr or Ray Bourque. Rocket Richard, Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman made it, but not Mark Messier, Phil Esposito or Marcel Dionne.

And so far, it’s been an especially rough summer for modern-day players looking to join the club. Among the active leaders in games played with one team, as many as four players could have new homes in October. Patrick Marleau has already said goodbye to San Jose after 20 years. Shane Doan has been told that his services won’t be required in Arizona after 22 years with the organization, while Chris Neil got the same message from the Senators after 16. And as of right now, Andrei Markov’s 17-year tenure with the Canadiens appears to be in serious jeopardy.

Some of those players might still get to claim one-franchise status — Markov could re-sign in Montreal, and Doan and Neil could retire rather than sign elsewhere. But this summer has made it clear that playing out a decade or more with one organization doesn’t guarantee anything, and you never know when a player or team will decide that it’s time to sever a long-term relationship.

So today, let’s take a look at the 10 players with the most games played for a single team that they’re still on the roster of, and try to figure out which ones have the best odds of ending their career as a member of the one-franchise club.

Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Canucks

The tenure: 1,248 games for Henrik and 1,225 for Daniel, dating back to 2000

Why they’ll make it: Both sides in this one have been clear: The Sedins will finish their career in Vancouver. The twins have gone on the record to say they don’t want to leave. And the Canucks seem happy to hold onto them, resisting calls to think about moving their two veteran stars to help kickstart a rebuild.

On top of that, there’s another issue in play here: It’s just not easy to take on a pair of high salaries in the same deal. Assuming the twins will want to stay together wherever they play, there just aren’t many teams out there that could add that sort of cap hit. Sticking it out in Vancouver and then retiring as Canucks isn’t just the sentimental choice, it’s the practical one.

Why they won’t: The brothers have just one year left on their contracts, and the Canucks are expected to be a bad team this year and probably a few after that. Trading them today would be all but impossible, but getting a retained-salary deal done at the deadline might be realistic. And even assuming they finish the season as Canucks, the Sedins could head into unrestricted free agency next summer. Maybe they’d want to take a swing at a Stanley Cup somewhere before calling it quits.

Chance of making the one-franchise club: 75%. This will seem low to Canucks fans, many of whom seem to assume that the Sedins playing out their career in Vancouver is a sure thing. Maybe it is. But if Doan and the Coyotes taught us anything, it’s that loyalty has its limits, especially when a rebuilding team wants to go young. Is it really that hard to imagine the twins at least thinking about a discount deal with a contender next summer?

Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings

The tenure: 1,000 games on the nose, dating back to 2002

Why they’ll make it: A lot of what we just wrote about the Sedins would apply here, too. It’s a veteran player on a rebuilding team that probably won’t have a shot at a Stanley Cup anytime soon.

But there are two key differences. First, Zetterberg already has a Cup ring. And second (and more importantly), he’s signed for four more years at a cap hit north of $6 million. Free agency isn’t on the radar, and even if the Red Wings wanted to trade him, they’d have trouble finding anyone willing to take on that deal.

On top of that, this is the Red Wings; no team holds onto its stars like Detroit. They made sure to do it for everyone from Yzerman to Lidstrom to Alex Delvecchio to Pavel Datsyuk. Well, kind of.

Why they won’t: Datsyuk never played anywhere else, but the Red Wings did trade his rights. That was a unique situation, of course, but it shows that Ken Holland is willing to get creative when it comes to dumping bad contracts. Zetterberg’s deal isn’t awful yet, but it’s headed there fast, and dumping it on a floor team down the line could be the sort of painful decision the rebuilding Wings have no choice but to make.

Chance of making the one-franchise club: 90%. In today’s NHL, I’m not sure you ever go higher than 90 until the player is actually making their way to the podium to announce their retirement. But of everyone on our list, Zetterberg is the most likely to retire with his team.

Dustin Brown, Kings

The tenure: 964 games dating back to 2003

Why they’ll make it: He’s been a warrior for the franchise, lifting two Stanley Cups as their captain. But let’s face it, the real reason Brown will retire as a King is his contract. With five years left at a nearly $6-million cap hit, and given Brown’s recent performance, it’s one of the worst contracts in the league. Even if the Kings wanted to trade him, no other team is going anywhere near that deal.

Why they won’t: The contract may be untradeable, but that doesn’t mean the Kings are stuck with it. Brown’s deal isn’t weighted down with bonuses, making it relatively straightforward to buy out. New management will no doubt give him a chance to find his game again before going that route, but this team already stripped him of his captaincy. The writing is on the wall here.

Chance of making the one-franchise club: 30%. Brown is a buyout waiting to happen.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet