Saturday, February 24, 2018

Saturday storylines: Deadline weekend

With two days until the deadline, fans have one eye on the transaction wire and one on the scoreboard. We’ve got 12 games on the schedule to look forward to today. As for the number of trades, we’ll have to wait and see.

HNIC Game of the Night: Jets at Stars

We’re starting to get a little bit of separation in the Central. With the Blackhawks falling out of the race and the Jets and Predators pulling away up top, that leaves four teams fighting for what could be anywhere from one to three spots.

The Stars are right in the thick of that group, thanks to a five-game win streak to start the month that finally boosted them from fringe wild-card team into something closer to the contender some of us thought they’d be. They’ve wobbled since then, including bad losses to the Canucks and Sharks, so they’re still well within “need every point they can get” territory, but they kick off a five-game homestand tonight.

For their part, the Jets had a four-game win streak ended on Tuesday by Los Angeles, and followed that up with last night’s win in St. Louis. The Blues’ recent struggles have turned what was shaping up as a three-way race for the division title into a showdown between the Jets and Predators, and those two teams will face each other three times in the next month, including on Tuesday night in Winnipeg.

That might make tonight’s matchup with the Stars a bit of a trap game if the Jets take it lightly. They shouldn’t — the Stars have been neck-and-neck with them since New Year’s and are looming as a potential first-round matchup. Winnipeg has already beaten the Stars twice, but those games both came in November and Dallas seems like a different team now.

Of course, with the deadline looming, lots of teams are about to look different. It remains to be seen whether these two teams are among them. Jim Nill and Kevin Cheveldayoff occupy opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to trading philosophy, with Nill being fairly aggressive and Cheveldayoff typically staying away from major moves.

With David Poile, Doug Armstrong, Joe Sakic and a presumably desperate Chuck Fletcher all still in the Central mix, it’s possible that neither Cheveldayoff or Nill can afford to be cautious. If so, they’ll both have some time to get to work after this one; neither team plays again until after Monday’s deadline.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, February 23, 2018

Grab bag: The shootout debate

In the Friday Grab bag:
- Examining both sides of the Olympics shootout debate
- The secret to getting the trade market moving may be some long-term thinking
- The very rare obscure Montreal Canadiens captain
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a YouTube look at an NHL front office talking themselves into a terrible trade...

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The ten most annoying things GMs say at the trade deadline

It’s trade-deadline week, which means at some point you’re going to be hearing from your favourite team’s GM. Whether it’s a press conference, a segment on the local radio station, an impromptu scrum between periods, or even just an off-hand comment or two relayed through the media, communicating with fans is part of a GM’s job this time of year.

And some of them are better at it than others.

Occasionally, a GM will offer up some real insight into their deadline approach, hinting at a broad strategy and process without giving too much away. But most of the time, we just get clichés and filler, and sometimes stuff that doesn’t even make sense. If you’re a fan hoping for actual insight, that can be annoying.

So today, let’s count down the 10 most annoying things a GM might say in the days leading up to the trade deadline. Feel free to print a copy and check them off as your team’s GM makes the media rounds.

No. 10: “We’re open for business.”

You hear this one fairly often this time of year, although it’s one of those points that’s often fed through the media rather than offered up directly. Either way, it’s always a strange one. When it comes to making trades, NHL front offices are supposed to be open for business. At this time of year, that’s kind of their whole job.

And yet they seem to feel the need to remind us that they are, in fact, open. Maybe someday we’ll get the other side of the coin, and some team will proudly announce that nobody should bother calling because they’re closed for business. They could post one of those signs on the front door, with a little clock and a handwritten note reading “Be back in the off-season.”

Until then, it’s probably safe to assume that everyone is indeed open, and just skip this cliché entirely.

No. 9: “We’re not going to make a deal just for the sake of making a deal.”

This one’s annoying for two reasons. First, and most obviously, nobody has ever suggested that a team should make a deal just for the sake of it. This well-worn quote (and its cousin, the always popular “we’re not going to make a panic move“), is a pre-emptive strike against a scenario that literally nobody is asking for.

And yet GMs still pull it out time and again. Most of the time, they even sound vaguely proud of themselves as they say it, as if they’re reassuring the fanbase that they’re firmly in control of the situation. It rarely works.

All of that is frustrating enough. But then comes the kicker. The deadline arrives, the clock ticks down, and inevitably some team having an otherwise quiet day will beat the buzzer by trading away a career minor-leaguer in exchange for a conditional seventh-round pick. Hey wait, that’s a trade just for the sake of making a trade! You can’t fool us. You knew you were going to get ripped by fans and media for taking the day off, so you cooked up a meaningless last-minute deal to break the shutout.

No. 8: “Only one team wins the Stanley Cup every year.”

We’re cheating a bit here, since this gem typically gets offered up after the deadline. Usually right after, and usually by a GM who couldn’t get much done and wants to preemptively make the case that it probably wasn’t going to matter anyway. If 97 percent of the league isn’t going to win the Cup, the logic appears to go, then what’s the point of even trying?

This is, it goes without saying, nonsense. Put aside the fact that in the age of parity, every team that makes the playoffs has at least some chance at winning it all. “Only one team wins the Cup” implies that every other team is a failure, and that anything else that might happen during a post-season run is worthless. That’s a miserable way to market a product — “Come watch the NHL. There’s a 97-percent chance you’re wasting your time. Eat at Arby’s.”

And it’s not how sports fans think. Sure, we all want our favourite team to win it all. But plenty of great sports moments — from Brad May to Jose Bautista to Stefon Diggs — came during playoff runs that didn’t end in championships. Imagine trying to tell fans that those were all a waste of time.

Make a deal to get better now, and maybe you win the Cup. But yeah, you probably won’t. That doesn’t mean it can’t be worthwhile to try.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Podcast: Trade deadline preview

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- It's an all-deadline edition, as we sort through the big names in play
- Where should the big wingers -- Nash, Kane, Pacioretty -- wind up?
- Does Mike Green head back to Washington, or do the Leafs grab him?
- Will a bigger name like Erik Karlsson be in play?
- Why haven't there been many moves so far?
- Plus thoughts on the Mrazek deal, read questions, and I make a brilliant observation about the Bruins that was outdated within hours.

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Weekend wrap: One week to go

This time last week, we figured that the NHL’s trade market had been a little too quiet. Seven days later, we’ve seen just three more deals, only one of which would be considered significant. That was the Dion Phaneuf/Marion Gaborik salary swap, one that made sense for both teams but was hardly a blockbuster. Beyond that move, all the biggest chips remain in play with one week left before the deadline.

In other words, if it was too quiet before, it’s way too quiet right now.

And that means it’s probably fair to start wondering if we’re facing down a deadline dud. It’s possible. With so many teams packed into the mushy middle of the standings and so few true impact players expected to be moved, maybe everyone just decides to play it safe with what they have. We know that many modern-day GMs would prefer it that way. Some of them might get their wish.

But those best-laid plans can change quickly, based on a streak here or an injury there. The latter situation has played out over the weekend in Philadelphia, where Michal Neuvirth left yesterday’s 7-4 win over the Rangers with a lower-body injury. We don’t know how serious the injury might be, but it didn’t look good. With Brian Elliott already sidelined for several weeks, any extended absence by Neuvirth leaves the team without an established goaltender.

With the Flyers holding down a playoff spot and even finding themselves within range of the Capitals and Penguins for top spot in the Metro, that would seem to leave GM Ron Hextall with no choice but to go out and deal for a goaltender. But who? Detroit’s Petr Mrazek would be an option. Buffalo’s Robin Lehner could be as well. The question will be whether his fellow GMs see Hextall’s situation getting desperate, and adjust their prices accordingly.

Neuvirth’s injury aside, you’d have to think that yesterday’s game will spell the end of any lingering doubt about what Jeff Gorton needs to do. New York looked awful from start to finish; you never want to say a team has quit, but the Rangers sure look like a team that’s waiting for the other shoe to drop. With Rick Nash and Michael Grabner all but sure-things to be moved, the question will be whether performances like yesterday’s will motivate Gorton to think even bigger and deal someone like Ryan McDonagh.

The other sellers aren’t faring much better. Buffalo looks awful, the Canadiens do too, and the Senators, Oilers and Canucks are all treading water. Only the Coyotes are even vaguely hot, and they’re too far back for it to matter. In fact, with the Blackhawks and Red Wings all but out of the race, we’ve got more than enough sellers to make up a decent market. We just need to see when the first domino falls, and who it takes with it.

Road to the Cup

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

5. Vegas Golden Knights (39-15-4, +44 true goals differential*) – We remain a little less bullish on the Knights’ chances than others; some have them as the current Stanley Cup favorite.

4. Boston Bruins (35-13-8, +46) – This was a neat look at a strategic shift that’s helped boost the team’s offence.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet