Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Which first name produces the best starting six in NHL history?

Today, we’re going to try to answer a pressing question: What’s the greatest first name in NHL history?

I’m going to stop right here and acknowledge that you’ve immediately got two thoughts going through your mind. The first is, “Wow, this is dumb. Slow news day, guys? You’re really going to post a whole article about hockey players with the same first names?” Surely you’re tempted to cut-and-paste that in the comment section right now.

The second thought involves you immediately coming up with ideas for names you think should be on the list. You’re already having the debate in your own head.

I get it. If I’m being honest, I feel the same way. This is dumb, and we’re doing it anyway. Embrace the cognitive dissonance.

But first, let’s figure out some ground rules. Most importantly, we’ll group variations of the same name, e.g., Will and Bill and Willie can all come together to form Team William. We’re not going to haggle over minor spelling variations, meaning the Patricks can unite with the Patriks and the Johns and Jons can work together. (One exception: The Shawns will not be invited to join Team Sean, because screw those weirdos. They know what they did.)

And no, we’re not going to try to get clever with middle names or anything like that. Whatever a player went by during his playing days is his name as far as we’re concerned. We’ll use the invaluable hockey-reference.com database to resolve any disputes.

We’re going to assemble a starting lineup from each name, which means three forwards, two defensemen and a goaltender. And we want quality at as many of the six positions as we can get, not one or two superstars and then a bunch of guys you never heard of. That knocks a few famous names out of the running right off the bat. There have been plenty of Gordies, but only Howe and Drillon were truly great. We’ve only had one elite-level Mario, or Dominik or Maurice. There’s only been one really good Wayne, or maybe two if you want to count Cashman. None of those names will make our list. Luckily, that still leaves us with plenty of candidates, enough to form a playoff field of 16 with plenty of honorable mentions.

Let’s do it. Who’s up for wasting a little time in late July? After all, we might as well do this now. Partly because it’s summer, but mainly because I’ve watched enough of the WHL to know that we have a few years left before Team Kayden overwhelms us and makes the whole thing moot.

No. 16. Team Peter

We’ll start with what ends up being a surprisingly European-heavy roster, with three modern-era stars up front. The blue line is probably the weakest on our list, so much so that I considered just using both Petr Svobodas to save space and ended up having to rely on a journeyman defenseman/pro wrestling patriotic hero just to fill the ice time.

But let’s be honest, Team Peter has to make the list largely on the strength of the goaltender, where Petr Mrazek has a solid case but has to give way to a guy who was basically made for this sort of game.

Forwards: Peter Forsberg, Peter Stastny, Peter Bondra

Defensemen: Petr Svoboda, Peter Taglianetti

Goaltender: Pete Peeters

No. 15. Team Chris

As we’ll see, most of the teams on our list end up being heavy up front but light on the backend. Team Chris (and Kris) has the opposite problem. We’ve got decent goaltending and a blue line so stacked that Letang didn’t even get a sniff, but they’ll have to hold down the fort while a decidedly just-OK forward line tries to score.

Forwards: Chris Drury Kris Draper, Chris Kunitz

Defensemen: Chris Pronger, Chris Chelios

Goaltender: Chris Osgood

No. 14. Team Ryan

This one ends up being our most modern roster, with pretty much every notable Ryan from NHL history playing in the last decade. (Apologies to Ryan Walter.) It’s not the most star-studded squad, at least compared to some of the others we’ll run into and the recency bias means there aren’t any Hall-of-Famers. But it’s solid one-through-six with no obvious weak spots, and while the depth isn’t great on the back end, we could at least run a decent second line of Johansen, Nugent-Hopkins and Kesler.

Forwards: Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan O’Reilly, Ryan Smyth

Defensemen: Ryan Suter, Ryan McDonagh

Goaltender: Ryan Miller

No. 13. Team David

Please rise and remove your caps for the playing of the Team David national anthem.

With that out of the way, the actual Davids give us some depth options, but not much more than that. There’s David Krejci, Backes, Legwand and Perron. But the only obvious starter that the Davids can offer up is Pastrnak. Also, this Clarkson guy is ruining our cap.

Luckily, things get better when the Daves show up. The forward ranks include two Hall-of-Famers in Keon and Andreychuk, a quasi-candidate in Taylor, some solid options in Gagner and Christian and plenty of intimidation in Semenko, Williams and Brown. We don’t have any superstars on the back end, but the 1980s and 1990s serve up at least a few solid blue line candidates from the Dave brigade in Ellett, Manson and Babych. So yeah, the Daves are carrying us here. Also, this Bolland guy is ruining our cap.

Unfortunately, goaltending is going to be an issue for Team David. As best I can tell, it comes down to a battle between Dave Dryden and David Aebischer. I guess we’ve got to go with the guy who was at least traded for an MVP.

Forwards: Dave Keon, Dave Andreychuk, David Pastrnak

Defensemen: Dave Ellett, Dave Babych

Goaltender: David Aebischer

No. 12. Team Douglas

Now here’s a classic hockey name. There have been like two dozen notable Dougs in all of human history, and the whole list is basically Flutie, Henning, Adams, Stanhope and then a bunch of hockey players.

Unfortunately, none of those hockey players are goaltenders, so we’re kind of stuck there. Still, we’re pretty set everywhere else, with a few Hall-of-Famers plus a blueliner who should be there. The depth is OK, with Dougs on-call including Jarvis, Risebrough and Smail. Unfortunately, the pipeline isn’t great, with only Dougie Hamilton available among active players. Get to work making more Dougs, hockey parents of the world.

Forwards: Doug Bentley, Doug Gilmour, Doug Weight

Defensemen: Doug Harvey, Doug Wilson

Goaltender: Doug Favell

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Friday, July 12, 2019

Grab Bag: Summer days, an idea for bad GMs and the best Don Cherry soundbite ever

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- It's summer, so we won't be doing these every week
- I have a great idea for how we could mess with the league's worst GMs
- An obscure player with a familiar name
- An offseason confession that I have to get off my chest
- And a look back at the best minute of Don Cherry soundbites you'll ever hear

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Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Playing “What if?” with four of the cap era’s biggest free agency decisions

We’re over a week into the free agency period, which means most of the big decisions have already been made. And we’ve seen plenty. The Canadiens chose to try an offer sheet on Sebastian Aho, and the Hurricanes chose to match. Artemi Panarin chose the Rangers over the Islanders and Blue Jackets. The Panthers chose to give $70 million to a goaltender. And the Predators chose to finally do whatever it took to land Matt Duchene, even if it meant giving up P.K. Subban.

Will some of those decisions turn out to be mistakes? Probably. That’s the beauty of this time of year. The GMs, owners, players and agents make the best choices they can, and the rest of us get to watch and see how it all turns out.

That’s always been the fun part for me, because I love a good round of “what if?” I mean, I really love it. I’m the guy who once wrote an entire alternate history of the NHL based on the Tom Kurvers trade never happening. I may have a problem. But I’m betting at least a few of you are right there with me.

So today, let’s look back on four key free agency-related scenarios from the salary cap era, and how history may have changed if they played out differently. As we’ll see, the decisions that get made at this time of year can have profound and sometimes unexpected impacts – not just on the teams and players involved, but on what does (and doesn’t) happen around the league as a result.

2006: What if the Senators choose Zdeno Chara over Wade Redden?

The situation: One year into the cap era, the Senators were Cup contenders who’d just finished the 2005-06 season with the best record in the East. But they were faced with a tricky offseason dilemma. Each of their two best defensemen, Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara, were on the brink of unrestricted free agency. And the team decided that they only had the budget and cap space to re-sign one of them.

So who would it be? Both players were coming off excellent seasons; Chara had finished fourth in Norris voting, while Redden was fifth. Chara was a rare combination of size and skill who’d taken a while to find his game in the NHL but had developed into one of the best defensemen in the league since being traded to Ottawa, having been named a first-team all-star in 2004. Redden hadn’t quite hit those heights but owned a longer track record, having been a consistent presence on the Ottawa blueline for a decade. Along with Daniel Alfredsson, he was the face of the franchise.

You can pick one. Who do you go with?

What happened: The decision went down to the wire, but ultimately the Senators chose Redden, re-signing him on the eve of free agency to a two-year extension that carried a $6.5 million cap hit. Chara became a UFA, and quickly signed a five-year deal with the Bruins with a $7.5 million cap hit.

Needless to say, it all worked out brilliantly for the Bruins. Chara has had 13 years and counting in Boston; he’s been a postseason all-star five times, won a Norris and been a finalist four other times, and led the team to a Stanley Cup in 2011. He’s almost certainly the greatest free agent signing of the cap era, and maybe even of all-time.

Redden finished out his two-year extension in Ottawa, playing reasonably well if not quite at an all-star level, before needing a new deal again in 2008. This time, the Senators couldn’t keep him, and even tried to get him to waive his no-trade clause on multiple occasions. He refused, denting his reputation with some Senators fans in the process, and eventually signed a six-year contract with the Rangers on the first day of free agency. That deal ended up being a bust, and Redden spent much of it in the AHL.

At the time, it had seemed like a tough call. In hindsight, it couldn’t have been more lopsided. And the Senators chose wrong.

But what if… : First things first. A lot of the “Redden vs. Chara” narrative has always felt a little too convenient. We don’t know a lot of what happened behind the scenes, including whether Chara ever really wanted to stay in Ottawa in the first place. It’s possible that the Senators just re-signed the player who wanted to stay to the best deal they could, and the rest of it is just a dramatic storyline slapped on top of some fairly standard cap management.

But that’s no fun. So let’s pretend that the Senators really were faced with an either/or choice. What if they’d chosen Chara, on the same sort of five-year deal he got from Boston?

Well, the first repercussion is that a big chunk of their fan base is furious. That’s the part of the story that gets skipped over these days, but as a hockey fan living in Ottawa at the time, I can tell you that it’s hard to overstate just how popular Redden was. He had his occasional detractors, like any player. But for most of his time as a Senator he was the golden boy, and the fans didn’t want to see him go.

Are the Senators better with Chara instead, even at a higher salary? In hindsight, absolutely, although it’s worth remembering that Redden helped them get to the Stanley Cup final in 2007. Do they win that final with Chara in the lineup? They might. And they almost definitely manage more than the two playoff game wins they had over the following four years. Could they have kept Chara on another deal beyond that? That gets dicey, but even if he’d bolted after five years, they’d have still come out ahead compared to two years of Redden.

Meanwhile, the Bruins lose out on their captain, and probably their 2011 Cup too. More bad news: they would have had an extra $7.5 million to spend in that 2006 offseason. Do they throw it at another blueliner, like Ed Jovanovski or Pavel Kubina? Or maybe one of the big forwards like Alex Tanguay or Martin Havlat? None of those options look great in hindsight. Take Chara off the market in 2006, and the next decade-plus of Bruins history starts to look very different.

On that note, here’s one more what-if to consider: What if Chara had hit the market, but chosen not to sign in Boston? According to reports, the other main bidder was the Los Angeles Kings. Would Chara have been as dominant in Los Angeles as he was in Boston? Probably. But that might not have been a good thing. If Chara improve the rebuilding Kings by just a few wins by Year 2, that moves them out of the second-overall pick in the 2008 draft, and probably makes Drew Doughty an Atlanta Thrasher. Do the Kings win two Cups with Chara instead of Doughty? And if you want to really get crazy, do the Thrashers improve enough after adding Doughty with the second-overall pick that they’re not in Winnipeg today? Bruins fans are happy that we never got to find out.

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Friday, July 5, 2019

The top secret transcript of Gary Bettman’s Fourth of July party

As my longtime readers know, Gary Bettman loves nothing more than hosting the entire NHL world at one of his world-famous parties. This year was no different, as all the most important names in the hockey world were invited to Bettman’s home for a backyard cookout to celebrate the Fourth of July.

Somehow, I didn’t get an invite. But luckily, my spies were able to sneak in, and they sent me a top secret transcript of the entire event.

(Scene: It’s the backyard of a large home in a trendy New York suburb. Gary Bettman is wearing a “Kiss the Chef” apron as he works the grill and welcomes guests. He’s approached by an old friend.)

Bill Daly: Gary, thanks for the invite. How this year’s party shaping up?

Bettman: We’re just getting started, but so far, so good.

Daly: Great. Got enough food?

Bettman: I think so. I’ve got a few packs of frozen burgers, a couple of steaks and sausages, and several hundred hot dogs that Mike Sullivan dropped off.

Daly: That seems like a lot.

Bettman: Apparently all the hot dog carts near the arena were having going-out-of-business sales.

Daly: I see.

Bettman: He seemed pretty happy about it.

Daly: Are all the guests here?

Bettman: Well, not all of them. Gabriel Landeskog been has been standing on the porch for half an hour, waiting for somebody to open the door for him. Jake Gardiner couldn’t make it because he’s waiting for a repairmen to show up and get his phone line working. And Paul Fenton was on his way up the driveway when he thought he saw a lizard, and now he’s trying to sign it to a contract.

Daly: Does that make sense to anybody?

Bettman: Not remotely, no.

Daly: OK, just checking.

Bettman: Anyway, time to start serving up some food. Hey Sebastian Aho, want a burger?

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Thursday, July 4, 2019

The 20 stages of watching your team make a horrible free agency mistake

We’re a few days into the 2019 free agency period, and while there a handful of decent names and useful depth pieces still available, for the most part, the market has been picked clean.

And chances are, your favorite team signed at least one big contract. How are you feeling about that? You might be feeling pretty good, especially if you’re new at this. But if you’ve been around for a while, and you’re familiar with the history of big UFA deals, you’re probably feeling something that ranges from gnawing doubt to outright panic.

If so, that’s to be expected. It’s all part of being a hockey fan in the first week of July. So today, let’s calm those nerves and reassure everyone that what they’re feeling is perfectly normal, as we run through the 20 stages of finding out your team has signed a terrible free agency deal.

Stage 1: The first rumors

You’ll never quite remember where you first heard the original rumor. It might be on Twitter. It could be some talk radio segment. You might hear it from a friend who swears he heard it from a friend whose uncle-in-law used to work with the assistant GM’s former cleaning lady. But at some point, somebody strings together a sentence featuring a player’s name, your favorite team, and a number that is just way too high.

Stage 2: You laugh at those rumors

I mean, come on. That much? For that guy? Nice try. Granted, your team’s GM isn’t exactly crushing it out there. He’s been known to make the occasional mistake. He’s lost a few trades, and overpaid on a few contracts. Also, he once ended a press conference by confidently striding away from the podium and then pulling on a door labeled “PUSH” for half an hour.

So no, he’s not the second coming of Sam Pollock. But he’s also not a complete imbecile. You’re not remotely worried. Besides, if there was any truth to it, one of the real insiders would be reporting it.

Stage 3: One of the real insiders reports it

Uh oh.

OK, that’s a bad sign. Those guys are pretty plugged in, and they don’t make stuff up. If they’re talking about it, there has to at least be something to it.

This is not good.

Stage 4: You talk yourself into the cap hit as long as the term is reasonable

Look, the numbers being thrown around are pretty crazy. But what if this is one of those short-term deals? Those happen sometimes. Your team has a bit of cap room this year, after all. Sure, you were hoping they’d use it to fill one of the roughly nine different holes in the roster, but maybe they could just give it all to this guy on a one-year deal. Aren’t expiring deals for a lot of money a good thing? You could swear you heard your NBA fan friend say that once.

One year would be fine. Two, you could live with. It’s the term, not the cap hit.

Note: This is the point where one of the insiders will break in to report that the term is going to be, and I’m quoting, “for all eternity.” But you’ll probably get some cap relief on the day the sun explodes, so you’ve got that going for you.

Stage 5: The desperate search for any rumors linking the player to any other team

Please, let somebody else be linked to this guy. You don’t even care who. There has to be some other sucker out there.

Social media follows will be tailored. Radio and TV stations will be scanned. Google News alerts will be set up. You will develop a deep and abiding interest in KHL transfer rules. Somebody else out there has to be talking about this guy too, right?

Except they aren’t. And you know what that means…

Stage 6: The deal gets announced

This is always a fun moment, especially if this is one of the rare cases where you’ve skipped steps one through five entirely because the deal is coming out of the blue. You haven’t had the chance to brace yourself at all, and suddenly you get blindsided by a name and a number that don’t make sense. These sort of surprise signings are uncommon these days, especially with the week-long interview window, but they still happen occasionally.

Assuming you’ve had some advance warning and your team is at least a little bit smart, the final deal won’t be quite as bad as you’d been led to believe. It’s a relatively recent phenomenon, but teams are starting to figure out that it can help to let a slightly higher number leak ahead of time so that the actual price seems reasonable by comparison. This will make you feel better for roughly 30 seconds before you run the numbers and realize they’re still awful.

If your team isn’t a little bit smart, then the official announcement will be even worse than you thought and you’ll need to go and lie down in a dark storage closet for the rest of the day.

(Also, bonus points if your team does that adorable “terms will not be disclosed” thing, just to give you an extra two minutes of hope before Pierre LeBrun discloses the exact terms down to the dollar.)

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