Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Podcast: Put your skates in the air like you just don't care

In the Vice Biscuits podcast:
- On Andrew Cogliano's suspended streak
- Making the case for Nathan MacKinnon as MVP
- These offside reviews are so stupid that even the NHL has to do something
- Why isn't Willie O'Ree in the Hall of Fame?
- Dave and I agree to move in together
- Plus the reader questions get R-rated and lots more

>> Stream it now

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

Assembling the NHL's all-time snub team

With the all-star rosters announced last week, everyone has spent the last few days compiling their lists of snubs. That’s pretty much an annual tradition at this point, and it’s all in good fun, even though a lot of the “snubs” are players who probably didn’t want to go in the first place.

But what if we aimed a little higher? What’s the best all-time roster you could assemble out of players who went their entire career without ever being recognized with a significant NHL honour?

We’re not talking midseason all-star picks here – with the one-player-per-team rule, those don’t really tell us much about who deserved what. Instead, let’s go with the big stuff. We’re looking for players who went their entire NHL career without ever:

1) Being a finalist for one of the major awards: Hart, Norris, Vezina or Calder; or

2) Being voted a first- or second-team all-star at the end of the season

You can call them the all-snub squad if you want to. Personally, I’m going to go with the Flying Federkos, in honour of the player who pretty much epitomizes the concept. Longtime Blues centre Bernie Federko scored 1,130 points over a 14-year career, which was good enough to get him into the Hall of Fame. But he never finished higher than fourth in all-star voting, and a 10th-place finish in 1986 was his best Hart Trophy showing.

So Federko’s our captain. But without getting ahead of ourselves, he’s not our best player, or even our first-line centre. And he’s far from the only Hall of Famer who’s going to make our squad. Let’s start up front, where there’s plenty of firepower to go around.

(All award-voting data comes from the invaluable Hockey Reference site.)


Centre: Ron Francis

Yes, despite a 22-season career that left him holding down spots in the all-time top five for points, assists and games played, Francis qualifies for our team. He did win some secondary honours, such as a Selke and three Lady Byngs. But he was never a post-season all-star, and never even finished in the top five in Hart voting.

How is that possible for a guy widely regarded as an all-time legend? For one, Francis was a two-way player, and they often don’t get the respect they deserve. But the bigger problem here can be summed up in two words: Gretzky and Lemieux. The two greatest centres of all time dominated the ’80s and early ’90s, leaving players like Francis and Federko — whose career overlapped theirs — with a tough path to recognition.

Winger: Mike Gartner

Despite finishing as one of only seven members of the 700-goal club, Gartner never earned so much as a single Hart Trophy vote during an 18-season career. And his best finish in all-star voting was fourth, which he managed twice.

Winger: Glenn Anderson

We’ll finish off our first line with another Hall of Fame winger who never received a Hart vote. It’s not hard to see why — during the Oilers glory years, Anderson was typically only the fourth-best forward on his own team. He came close to earning an all-star spot in 1986, but finished just behind Mats Naslund for second-team honours. It was one of five top-five finishes in Anderson’s career.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Monday, January 15, 2018

Weekend wrap: You can't touch a flame when it's red hot

It’s been a rough season for the two Alberta teams. The Oilers are responsible for most of that, as we may have mentioned once or twice. But while they haven’t been a disaster on anywhere near the same level, the Flames have at least been a disappointment, the kind of underachieving team that can give a coach fits. Literally.

So when an opportunity presents itself to go a few paragraphs saying almost entirely positive things about these two teams, let’s jump on it. The weekend was a very good one for the province, with each picking up a pair of road wins as they head into their bye-week break.

For Calgary, the wins continued a recent streak that now stands at seven games. The weekend visits to Florida and Carolina spelled the end of a four-game road trip, and make the Flames the hottest team in the league right now. At this point the Flames would probably rather skip their mandated bye and just keep playing, but since that’s not an option, they’ll have to settle for at least temporarily passing the Kings for second place in the Pacific. That’s probably going to be temporary – the Kings have two games in hand – but it’s still a pretty stunning achievement given the Flames were 11 points back of L.A. on Jan. 4.

It’s too early to start worrying about playoff scenarios, so we’ll just say this: With the Kings fading, the Knights still at least somewhat of a question mark and the rest of the division looking underwhelming, the Pacific is looking very winnable right now if a team wanted to hit the gas in the second half. Right now, the Flames are that team.

The Oilers haven’t been quite as hot, and they’re still well out of the playoff race. But if the season ends up being the write-off it looks like it will be, this weekend may stand out as the high point. The Oilers went into their bye week on a high note, earning road wins in Arizona and Las Vegas to string together their first win streak since they briefly showed signs of a turnaround before Christmas.

The weekend didn’t start off well, with the Coyotes scoring twice in the game’s first few minutes to chase Cam Talbot and take an early 2–0 lead on Friday. But Al Montoya closed the door the rest of the way and Edmonton fought back to earn a 4–2 win, with Darnell Nurse getting the winner in the third period. The Saturday-night game was even more fun, as the Oilers seemed to figure out a counter to the growing legend of the Golden Knights’ home-ice advantage: Just have your fans show up and take over the whole building.

The invasion served as a celebration of Connor McDavid’s 21st birthday, one that even included a first-period serenade. And the fans were rewarded with a third-period comeback capped off by an overtime win, with Nurse playing the hero once again.

It’s not all good news. The Oilers lost Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to injury and came within inches of losing Milan Lucic, too. Meanwhile, the Flames were missing Sean Monahan for the first time all season, and captain Mark Giordano was ejected from last night’s win and could face further discipline for this hit on Sebastian Aho. But for two teams that have already handled their share of negativity, we’ll skip over that and let Alberta’s fans enjoy a productive weekend, and a quick break to gear up for whatever comes next.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they’re headed towards Stanley Cup–favourite status.

5. Winnipeg Jets (26-13-7, +26 true goals differential*): They head into the break with two straight losses, but still hold first place in the Central.

4. Washington Capitals (28-14-3, +11): A Jay Beagle buzzer beater in Carolina sent them into their bye on a winning note.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Saturday storylines: Happy birthday Connor

We’ve got nine games on the schedule tonight, including several teams coming off their bye week and a few more about to head out for theirs. We’ll start our roundup with one of those teams, as they get ready for a break under some interesting circumstances.

HNIC Game of the Night: Oilers at Golden Knights

Happy birthday, Connor McDavid.

Well, OK, you’re an Oiler. “Happy” probably isn’t in your vocabulary these days. All the best on your special day? Wait, “best” doesn’t work either. Look, just have some cake and be done with it.

In one of those scheduling quirks that was either a fun coincidence or somebody at league headquarters with a strange sense of humour, McDavid will be spending his 21st birthday in Las Vegas. And to make matters more interesting, this is the last game before the Oilers’ bye week. If things were going well, this would probably be a great time for the players to decide to stick around town and kick off a well-earned vacation by helping their captain celebrate the milestone.

Things are, as you may have noticed, not going well for the Oilers, which will probably put a bit of a damper on the party. You know that classic image of a sad child in a tilted birthday hat, sitting at an empty table because he invited all his friends and nobody came? That’s McDavid these days, except instead of friends it’s competent wingers.

This is the part where we’d normally start running down some facts and figures to paint a picture of how a team’s season has been going, but at this point that’s starting to just feel cruel. The Oilers season is a write-off. “Thanks for pointing that out,” Edmonton fans are no doubt thinking — nobody else had mentioned it except for literally every hockey writer on Earth.

So we’ll skip the autopsy and just head straight to the burial. The Oilers are basically done heading into the second half, and they get to head into their bye against one of the league’s best teams, in the league’s toughest building. The Knights are fun, fast and good, kind of like what we all expected the Oilers to be. At the very least, they might serve as a reminder that there should be brighter days ahead in Edmonton. If you can build a Cup contender out of spare parts you found scattered around in one off-season, surely you can do it with the best player in the world.

Somebody will. Whether it’s Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan or some other combination remains to be seen. How the Oilers perform over the second half will have a lot to do with how that turns out, which makes this game worth watching. Even if it won’t be the sort of going-away party the Oilers were probably expecting when they first saw the schedule.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, January 12, 2018

Grab bag: Cowboy up

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- These skate-in-the-air offsides are a mess, but the fix is so simple even the NHL can't screw it up
- Winnipeg reacts to a rare moment in the spotlight
- An obscure player from the last Jets playoff win
- The week's three comedy stars, featuring a butt goal
- And a YouTube look back at happier times for the Oilers, starring weird card-playing cowboys

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports