Monday, June 17, 2019

The chaos lover’s guide to the 2019 offseason

The offseason is here. Let’s bring the chaos.

Longtime readers know that I’ve long been a diehard fan of Team Chaos. If there are multiple possible outcomes, I like to pick the one that will cause the most anarchy and root for that. I want as many people screaming at each other as possible. Let’s get crazy.

The offseason is prime time for Team Chaos. At least a few weird things happen every summer, and if we’re lucky, enough of them will overlap that pandemonium breaks out. The greatest day in Team Chaos history came in 2016, when we had that wonderful hour where the hockey world lost its mind. We may never see anything like it again, but we can hope.

Today, let’s work through what the perfect Team Chaos offseason might look like. We’re going to try to stay within the realm of plausible realism here; Connor McDavid being traded straight-up for Sidney Crosby would certainly bring the chaos, but it has no chance of happening. We’re aiming for something north of zero here, so while all of the options on our list are unlikely, there’s at least a slim chance we’ll see one or two.

With that in mind, here are some of the stories we’ll be rooting for in the weeks to come. Bring the chaos, hockey gods. We’re here for it.

A full-on Erik Karlsson bidding war

It sounds like it’s still possible that Karlsson will re-sign with the Sharks. Maybe he should – he could get that extra year and San Jose seems like a great place to settle down. Locking in a max-length deal to finish his career with the Sharks would make plenty of sense for Karlsson. For Team Chaos? Not so much.

Instead, we want to see a full bidding war, one where Karlsson talks to several teams and none of us know where he’s headed. In a sense, we’ve never had that before with a truly elite player in the cap era. Steven Stamkos made it to the interview period in 2016, but he didn’t switch teams. And while John Tavares did find a new home, many of us had assumed he was inevitably headed back to the Islanders right up until the calendar flipped over to July 1. That turned out to be wrong, but in hindsight, we probably didn’t appreciate the Tavares sweepstakes enough as they were happening.

This time, we could enjoy it from the start. We need Karlsson to declare himself open for bidding, even if the list of potential suitors still included the Sharks. We’d want to see as many teams as possible in the running, with all of them getting a chance to make their case in person. Tavares talked to six teams. Let’s aim for double digits, Erik.

As for where he winds up, well, there are some intriguing options. Watching the Lightning find room to try to assemble a super-team would be fun. A dramatic return to Ottawa would work because anything involving Eugene Melnyk’s money is always a chaos candidate. The Knights could work. And of course, we’d want a few mystery teams thrown into the mix.

But there’s one option here that feels like the best fit for Team Chaos and that’s the Montreal Canadiens. Karlsson and his family coming “home” without actually coming home would be a nice slap in the face for Ottawa fans. We could play up him snubbing his pal Victor Hedman and the Lightning. And adding another highly paid Hall-of-Famer with a history of greatness but also injury to a Montreal roster that already has two would make for a fascinating story.

The fans and media are already talking themselves into it. Team Chaos should too.

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Friday, June 14, 2019

Grab Bag: Post-Cup celebrations are the best, new rules on the way and when fan celebrations get rowdy

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- The best part of the Stanley Cup final is all the stuff that happens a few minutes after it's over
- A minor rule change that might turn out to be important
- An obscure player who scored one of history's biggest goals
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a YouTube breakdown of Calgary celebrating the Flames' first and only Cup

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Thursday, June 13, 2019

Puck Soup: Play Gloria

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- The Blues win the Stanley Cup
- Our reactions to game seven
- Did voters get the Conn Smythe right?
- Breaking down the Cup handoff, including those weird fireworks
- The competition committee meets, so get ready to tinker with faceoff again
- Things get a little heated over Toronto fans and cheering injuries
- Also the USWNT celebration thing
- And more...

>> Stream it now:

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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Seven reasons why the Blues are definitely winning tonight (and also seven why the Bruins are)

We’re hours away from the first Game 7 of a Stanley Cup final in eight years. Are you pumped? I’m a little pumped. This is going to be fun.

So who’s going to win? I have no idea. Really, none at all. I could pretend that I do, but anyone who’s been following my predictions so far won’t be buying it for a second. And can you blame me? The 2019 playoffs have been total chaos. Anyone who tells you that they’ve got it all figured out now, with one game to go, is full of it. I’m not even going to try, because I’ve been trying to predict Game 7s for decades now and I’ve only ever been right once.

So no, I’m not going to be right. But could I get you to settle for half-right? I can come up with seven reasons why the Bruins are definitely going to win Game 7. I can also come up with seven more why the Blues are an absolute lock. If you’re an optimist, pick the team you like best and only read their entries. If you prefer feeling sick heading into a big game, only read the other team. Read all of them, and come away feeling just as confused as when you started. Or just wait until tomorrow, read the entries of the team that won, and then head to the comments to call me a genius.

Your call. There are no wrong answers here. Well, there are – seven out of 14, to be exact. But that’s a better batting average than I normally have, so let’s get to them.

The Bruins will win because: The first line is finally waking up.

The Patrice Bergeron/Brad Marchand/David Pastrnak line – and no, we’re not calling them the Perfection Line, knock that off – has been hit-and-miss for a lot of the postseason. They were broken up against Toronto, reunited, and certainly had their moments. But they never really rolled for long stretches the way we’ve seen in the past. It’s a credit to the rest of the Bruins forwards that they had the depth to keep winning in spite of their top line struggling.

For most of the final, it’s been the same story, with Brayden Schenn’s line winning the matchup. The Bergeron line’s struggles have been so noticeable that there’s been plenty of speculation that some or all of them may be playing through serious injuries.

But on Sunday, for the first time in the series, the Bergeron line looked dominant, while Schenn’s looked outclassed. That’s just about the best news you could get as a Bruins fan. Maybe they’ve made an adjustment, or maybe they’re healthy again, or maybe they’re just heating up. You don’t really care about the why right now. You just know that if the top line can dominate, every other matchup falls into place really nicely.

The Blues will win because: The stats tell us that Jordan Binnington can’t lose in this situation.

We’ve heard about it all postseason. Overall, Binnington’s playoff numbers aren’t all that great, and he’s had a few games in this series alone where he’s looked very ordinary. But after a loss, he gains some sort of weird superpowers where he becomes unbeatable.

In the playoffs, he’s 7-2 with a 1.83 GAA after a loss, which plays into the narrative that the kid has ice in his veins. And it is a narrative to some extent – every goalie who makes it deep into the playoffs has a good record after a loss, because the ones that don’t get eliminated early. But sometimes even a narrative can have value as long as everyone believes it. Under normal circumstances, a team heading into Game 7 with a young goalie who just got shelled in Game 6 might be worried. The Blues don’t have to be.

The Bruins will win because: The stats also tell us that Tuukka Rask can’t lose in this situation.

Wait, did you say Binnington is a 1.83 GAA in these types of games? Rask has that beat.

Can both goalies be unbeatable in the same game? Huh. We may be here a while.

But while we’re on the subject of goaltending, let’s point out that Rask has been the better of the two, both in the series and in the playoffs. I’m not sure I’m willing to give him the Conn Smythe even in a losing cause, but there’s a case to be made. He’s been that good. The Blues have already survived having one goaltender stand on his head in a Game 7 against them, but I don’t like their odds if it happens again.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

How I’d fix the NHL’s replay review system

I’ve spent a big chunk of the last few months writing about replay review. It’s been unavoidable, because the officiating has become the dominant story of the 2019 postseason, and there’s a growing cry for the league to do something. For many, that something is more replay review, for everything from hand passes to majors and match penalties to (most recently) even tripping minors.

I don’t necessarily agree, at least with some of the more extreme proposals. I’ve laid out my case for why I think replay review for penalties would be a disaster. I’ve outlined the five hard questions the league needs to ask before they go any further down the replay path. I’ve tweeted about it. Lord, so many tweets.

So I’ve made my point. Some would say I’ve beaten it into the ground. But here’s the thing: One of my pet peeves in life is people who complain about everyone else’s ideas without ever saying what they’d do instead, and I’m getting dangerously close to that territory. Anyone can stand on the sidelines and say “this is broken.” At some point, you should be willing to offer up some ideas for how to fix it.

This feels like the right time to do that, since we’re told Gary Bettman will present his plan to the competition committee today. Maybe my ideas are better. Maybe they’re worse. Maybe they’re exactly the same, and Bettman will tweet the Spiderman pointing meme at me and I’ll transform into a corncob.

The point is, I’ve done enough complaining. It’s time to be part of the solution. So here’s my 10-point plan for expanding and also shrinking but mostly fixing replay review. Read it over. Pick it apart. Agree with it, or don’t. Tell me why it is in fact me who has been the idiot all along. Fair’s fair. Here we go.

Step 1: Expanded review for black-and-white calls

We’ll start with the change we can probably get almost everyone to agree on. We’ll expand replay review to include hand passes, like that Timo Meier overtime miss. Today, those can only be reviewed if the puck is batted directly into the net. Now, we’ll be reviewing them anywhere along a play that leads to a goal.

We’ll also add pucks that are directed with a high-stick, which is the same category of play. And while we’re at it, we can include the review of pucks that hit the netting, which we learned this postseason is already on the books but in an extremely limited way. That gets expanded here.

The review would come from the league war room, which is already responsible for automatically reviewing just about everything goal-related, like kicking motions and pucks crossing the line. It’s a little bit of extra work that will occasionally add a few seconds of extra time before we can face off and get back to playing, but it will be worth it.

That all feels like common sense. Those additional reviews would be rare, but they’d be important, and we should be able to do them in a way that avoids any controversy.

Of course, careful readers will notice that there’s one detail we have to nail down first …

Step 2: Define what “leading to a goal” means

This was one of my tough questions from this post. What does it mean for a play to lead to a goal, and where do you draw the line? Is it based on a certain number of seconds? Distance from the net? The puck staying in the zone? Some touchy-feely “we’ll know it when we see it” sense of intuition?

Not in our new system. For us, a play leads to a goal if the defending team never regains possession. If they touch and control the puck at any point after the missed infraction, then we don’t worry about it. You had your chance to make a play, you can’t blame the miss anymore.

In other words, our message here to the players is straightforward: Keep playing hockey. If there’s a glove pass or the puck hits the netting or whatever else, don’t stop and wave your arms around like a tattling first-grader. Keep playing. If the miss causes a goal, we’ll take care of it with replay. Otherwise, keep doing your job. A missed call earlier in the shift doesn’t give you a magical do-over on everything else that happens afterward.

Admittedly, we’re introducing a sliver of subjectivity here, because possession can be dicey. But we already have a relatively common play where officials need to make this kind of judgment: Delayed penalties. We’ll use the same definition here.

Note that simply making contact with the puck isn’t possession, so Meier’s hand pass still falls under this expanded review even though the puck deflected off Jay Bouwmeester’s leg. Our expanded rule would also have waved off the Blue Jackets’ goal in Boston, because the Bruins never got the puck back after it hit the netting. But this play from a few years ago where over a minute of game time and multiple possessions go by while Jack Edwards has a meltdown? Get out of here. Keep playing hockey.

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