In the grab bag: Comedy stars; Alan May learns not to fight Wendel Clark; debating whiny GMs; trade call delays; and a YouTube breakdown of Luongo vs. Schneider.
Friday, March 7, 2014
Thursday, March 6, 2014
The NHL’s trade deadline passed Wednesday, with 38 players moved in 20 separate deals. It was a busy day, thanks in part to an unusually high number of players who reportedly asked to be traded.
While there’s a thin line between a request and a demand, and we may never know for sure who really asked for what, various reports indicated that stars such as Martin St. Louis, Ryan Kesler, and even Martin Brodeur told their teams they wanted out.
All of which got us wondering: How does an NHL player actually make that sort of request? Does he go through his agent? Does it involve a face-to-face meeting with the GM? Are there mountains of paperwork to fill out?
As it turns out, the whole process is much simpler than all that. The player just has to complete an application form. And luckily, our top-secret sources had one handy they could share with us.
First name: __________________
Last name: __________________
Nickname among local media (current):
Nickname among local media (the second you’re gone and they start throwing you under the bus):
Is is true that you would like to be traded?
( ) You know, I’d rather not get into all that right now.
( ) I just want to focus on tonight’s game, you guys.
( ) I have no comment at this time.
( ) I have no comment at this time, but this super-anonymous source who happens to have the same phone number as my agent sure does.
Once the news of your request leaks, what will be your publicly stated reason for wanting a trade at this time?
( ) I just want more playing time.
( ) I just want to play for a winner.
( ) I just want to be closer to my family.
( ) I just want to play more for a winner near my family. [Blinks eyes innocently while hugging a puppy.]
And what is your actual reason for wanting a trade at this time?
( ) My current GM won’t agree to my extension demands because it turns out he’s actually seen me play; hoping new one somehow hasn’t.
( ) My GM didn’t originally pick me for the Olympic team and I’m being a big baby about that, even though nobody will call me on it because I’m so adorable.
( ) Oh, I don’t want to name any names, but let’s just say their initials are “John Tortorella.”
( ) Other: _____________________ (Additional sheets of paper are available for members of the New York Islanders.)
The NHL’s trade deadline passed Wednesday, and as always, it was capped off by a hectic few days. There were 20 deals made yesterday, and a total of 33 in the week leading up to the deadline.
Some teams, like the Sabres, were very busy. Others, like the Maple Leafs, were … uh, not especially busy. And some teams probably wish they’d just sat the whole thing out.
Here are 10 thoughts on some of the biggest moves and non-moves from the past few days.
It took two years, but Roberto Luongo finally got his wish: a trade out of Vancouver. He even wound up going to what had long been reported as his preferred destination, the Florida Panthers, in exchange for Jacob Markstrom and Shawn Matthias.
At last season’s deadline, Luongo was devastated over not moving and infamously told reporters, “My contract sucks.” The contract didn’t get any better, but apparently the Canucks’ asking price came down enough that new ownership in Florida was willing to pull the trigger.
The deal is risky for the Panthers, but it offers a clear upgrade in goal for a team that has been seeking stability at the position for some time. The bigger spotlight is on the Canucks and general manager Mike Gillis, who spent the last year turning one of the league’s best goaltending duos in Luongo and Cory Schneider into some spare parts and future pieces. They alienated Luongo, traded the other guy instead, made up with Luongo, and then incomprehensibly alienated him again. The entire scenario would have seemed impossible 12 months ago, but here we are.
But while it’s tempting to point and laugh in the direction of Vancouver, it’s worth remembering that the Canucks still got out from under a bad contract that was supposed to be untradable. (Well, mostly out from under it — they could still get burned by recapture penalties down the road.) As others have pointed out, if a new GM had come in and made this deal, the perception might be different. When it’s Gillis cleaning up his own problem, though, the standards change, and this isn’t playing well in Vancouver.
But hey, if Canuck fans were disappointed, at least they could look forward to reaping a windfall for Ryan Kesler. More on that in a second.
Martin St. Louis Turns Heel
Let’s get this out of the way: Martin St. Louis screwed the Tampa Bay Lightning.
St. Louis was reportedly upset about being snubbed from Team Canada when the selections were first announced. That roster was picked by Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, and it opened a rift that apparently couldn’t be healed, even though St. Louis eventually made the team after all, as an injury replacement.
We don’t know exactly what happened behind closed doors between the parties — St. Louis has implied that there’s more to the story than just the Olympic snub — but it’s hard to think of a scenario where the player ends up looking good here. He didn’t just demand a trade; he also gave Yzerman only one destination to work with. That was the Rangers, and under the circumstances, Yzerman did reasonably well. He picked up Ryan Callahan, a 2015 first-round pick, and a conditional pick that could become a 2014 first. Callahan is likely a rental, but with the Lightning headed to the playoffs, he’ll help soften the loss of St. Louis a little bit.
But only a little bit, because this is a major loss for the Lightning. St. Louis is the reigning Art Ross winner, and despite his age, he’s still an elite offensive player. He’s also been one of the league’s most respected and popular players. But that reputation will take a well-deserved beating now, and all the apology letters in the world won’t help.
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
The NHL trade deadline is Wednesday. That means if you’re a general manager, you’re probably really busy right now. Your scouts are working overtime. Your fans are demanding action. Your phone is ringing off the hook, or at least it would be, if anyone still used phones that had hooks.
So, uh, why are you taking a break from all that to browse Grantland articles? My guess is you’re looking for last-minute advice to guide you through this hectic time. And luckily, I’ve got you covered. Because while nobody can know for sure what will happen tomorrow, a look back through the history books can offer us at least a few clues.
So before you get back to work, my NHL GM friend, here are some dos and don’ts to guide you through the busiest day of the year.
Do: Target guys with really violent-sounding names.
If you can pick up a guy with scary-sounding first and last names, everyone will be so intimidated that they’ll spend decades referring to it as the greatest trade deadline deal of all time, even though it’s clearly not.
Historical Precedent: In 1980, the New York Islanders traded Billy Harris and Dave Lewis to the Kings for center Butch Goring, a move that to this day is referred to as the “gold standard” of trade deadline deals.
I mean … it’s the name, right? “Butch Goring.” That’s pretty badass. It sounds like a name George Carlin would have made up for his NRA bit. So I’m going to assume that’s why we’re all still raving about a trade involving a solid but not especially spectacular veteran.
Well, that and that the Islanders went on to win four straight Stanley Cups after making this deal. That probably helped. But this was an Isles team that already had Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, and Denis Potvin — and the Islanders were also the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners. They were already pretty good.
Did Goring help put them over the top? Probably. Would we remember this deal as fondly if his name had been Percival Cuddlepants? Probably not.
Do not: Trade the best player your franchise has ever had to the league’s most talented team.
Generally speaking, you should probably avoid trading your all-time best player under any circumstances. That seems like a solid strategy. But if for some reason you decide you have to send your star packing, maybe do the rest of the league a favor and don’t send him to a team that’s already completely stacked.
Historical Precedent: At the 1991 deadline, the Hartford Whalers sent former captain and all-time franchise leading scorer Ron Francis to the Penguins as part of a six-player blockbuster.
Pittsburgh was already absolutely loaded, with a star-studded roster featuring players like Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Paul Coffey, Mark Recchi, and Kevin Stevens. All that talent hadn’t quite clicked yet, and they were just three games over .500 the day the deal was made. But adding Francis was the tipping point, as he helped the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup wins in 1991 and 1992, and went on to record four 90-plus-point seasons in Pittsburgh.
It’s worth mentioning that at the time, the trade didn’t seem especially uneven. The Whalers did get John Cullen, who was fifth in league scoring at the time. But in hindsight, it was one of the more one-sided deals in league history. Cullen only lasted one full season in Hartford, and the Whalers never won another playoff round before moving to Carolina in 1997.
Monday, March 3, 2014
Each Monday, we’ll wrap up three of the biggest stories from the weekend and how they’ll play into the coming week.
It’s not often the last-place team grabs all the headlines this late in a season, but the Buffalo Sabres were at the center of two of the league’s top stories this weekend.
On Friday, the Sabres pulled off the biggest trade of the season, sending star goaltender Ryan Miller and team captain Steve Ott to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Jaroslav Halak, Chris Stewart, a prospect, a first-round pick in 2015, and a conditional pick.
The deal is a classic “going for it” move for St. Louis, as it acquires a former Vezina winner who’s still considered one of the league’s best. Halak and Miller have put up similar stats in recent years, and even Blues GM Doug Armstrong admitted that the deal offered no more than an incremental improvement in the crease. But with St. Louis emerging as one of a handful of top contenders for the Stanley Cup in a very tough Western Conference, even a small upgrade could make the difference between early-round disappointment and the franchise’s first championship. While it didn’t come cheap, the acquisition of Miller has received generally positive reviews.
From the Sabres’ perspective, while it’s always difficult to trade a franchise player, the consensus was that new GM Tim Murray did well in the deal. He got a top prospect and a first-round pick, and there’s a good chance of the conditional pick becoming another first. Given the thin market for goalies over the years, that’s a decent haul on its own. But in Stewart and Halak, he also gets two veteran players whom he can turn around and trade for more futures over the next few days.
Combine those incoming deals with the expected trade of Matt Moulson, as well as possible moves involving players like Tyler Myers and Christian Ehrhoff, and the Sabres should come away from the deadline with an absolute windfall of picks and prospects. That includes multiple firsts in the 2015 draft, which is highlighted by future franchise player Connor McDavid. This is how you do a rebuild. Murray is not screwing around.
All of which served to provide long-suffering Sabres fans with some hope that the organization is finally on the right track. So it goes without saying that the optimism was allowed to last for less than 24 hours before the franchise suffered yet another black eye: the surprise resignation of president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine on Saturday.
LaFontaine had only been on the job for less than four months, having been hired to great fanfare in November. Now he’s headed back to his old job at the league head office. It’s the second time in LaFontaine’s managerial career that he’s had a stunningly short stint with an NHL team, having lasted just 40 days with the Islanders in 2006.
There’s talk that LaFontaine and Murray weren’t on the same page about Miller, which would explain the conflicting reports coming out of Buffalo leading up to Friday’s deal. Others suggest that there’s something bigger going on. Either way, while LaFontaine may have been higher in the team’s org chart, general managers rarely lose front office power struggles, especially ones that come just weeks after they’ve been hired.
With all due respect to LaFontaine, judging by the work Murray has managed to do so far, Sabres fans have to feel like the right guy kept his job. It was a disruptive weekend in Buffalo, and there’s more to come before Wednesday’s deadline, but for the first time in years this looks like a team with a plan.
Friday, February 28, 2014
In the grab bag: In defense of Joy Tottman; an obscure player who’s just good enough; Dave Bolland’s upcoming contract disaster; the final installment of the Team Canada Olympic panic watch; and the YouTube breakdown you all demanded: Team Russia’s Olympic victory song.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Wednesday marks one of the most anticipated days of the hockey calendar: the 2014 NHL trade deadline. That means the league’s 30 general managers have less than a week left to work the phones in an effort to reshape their rosters for the playoffs.
This year’s deadline could be shaping up to be a busy one, at least according to the omnipresent rumor mill. Martin St. Louis and Ryan Kesler may have asked for trades, and the Rangers are apparently all but certain to move captain Ryan Callahan. Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller should be on the move, too. It could all make for a fun day, which would be a nice change after a recent trend of deadline-day letdowns.
If history holds, we should expect to see a few dozen deals between now and next Wednesday. And they’ll all probably fall into one of these three categories:
• Rental deals, where a bad team trades one of its better players to a contender for futures, conceding it’s unlikely to win now but is hopefully speeding up the arrival of the day that it will. This is where players like Miller and Vanek should come in, along with plenty of third- and fourth-line depth guys.
• “We have no choice, so we’ll take what we can get” deals, where circumstances force a team into moving an asset for 70 cents on the dollar. Callahan, Kesler, and St. Louis could highlight this category.
• A guy you’ve never heard of for another guy you’ve never heard of.
None of it will be new. The NHL has always featured plenty of these types of trades, and probably always will.
But there’s another type of deal that used to rule the NHL’s trade market, and it was by far the most fun: the actual honest-to-god hockey trade, in which there was a good player (or more) on both sides of the ledger. These deals weren’t about rentals or rebuilds or kicking the can down the road. They were two teams, both trying to get better by aggressively addressing areas of need.
Remember LaFontaine-for-Turgeon? Hawerchuk-for-Housley? Chelios-for-Savard? Clark-for-Sundin? The six-player Ron Francis deal between the Whalers and the Penguins? The 10-player Doug Gilmour deal between Toronto and Calgary? Going back even further, the six-player Esposito-Park deal between the Hawks and the Bruins?
Those are just a few examples of the types of true blockbusters hockey fans used to wake up to. And they were, to put it bluntly, awesome. Seeing two NHL teams step up and slam their cards down on the table was great fun, and throwing around rumors and possible scenarios was, too, because there was always a chance it could actually happen.
In contrast, there have been 31 NHL trades made since September 1, which sounds like a lot. But look at this list. Forget about blockbusters — how many of those trades are even interesting? Not many. And how many include a star player going each way? None at all, unless you’re feeling charitable to Matt Moulson. The rest are all cap headaches, castoffs, and future considerations. If the NHL had banned trading during the 2013-14 season, at this point the league’s balance of power wouldn’t be noticeably different at all.
So, what happened? What killed the art of the blockbuster in the NHL? There are a few suspects, and we’ve rounded them up below.
The Salary Cap
Well, duh. The cap is the big factor that always comes up whenever trades are discussed. At this point, it’s practically mandatory that any story that mentions a trade must include an obligatory reference to how the salary cap makes everything so much harder for everyone.
In a salary-cap world, where so many franchises are tight against the upper limit, the thinking goes, teams are essentially forced to balance the dollars on either side of a deal as much as possible. That severely limits their options. And that’s especially true if they’re trying to deal a star player who has a big cap hit.
There’s no denying the cap has been a major factor in slowing the trade market. But when you look at the actual numbers, it’s hard not to wonder if its influence is being overstated.
For one, unlike the NBA, the NHL doesn’t have any complicated rules and exceptions about how salary balances out in a trade. If two teams want to swap an $8 million player for a $1 million one, then they can either afford it under the cap or they can’t. The rules are pretty basic.
But isn’t the problem that nobody can afford to make a move? Well, yes and no. For all the talk about everyone being up against the cap, the truth is that many teams aren’t. Half the league has at least $5 million in cap space today, and a third of the league has at least $10 million. (As always, all cap numbers are courtesy of the indispensable CapGeek.) Of course, many of those teams are working against their own internal budgets, but teams have always done that. If a team like Florida or Ottawa that’s always crying poor can’t afford to make a deal, that’s hardly the salary cap’s fault.
But even the teams that do spend close to the cap can have more room than you’d think, at least by the trade deadline. The cap is prorated over the course of a season, so a team acquiring a player tomorrow is responsible for only the last two months of this year’s hit. Even big-dollar players can fit into many teams’ caps by the deadline with little if any salary coming back.
For example, there are 24 teams in the league that have enough room to add a $3 million player at the deadline. That’s 80 percent of the league (and the Flyers and Sharks are just short). Even supposedly “capped out” teams like Boston, Toronto, and Vancouver have at least that much room to work with. Granted, $3 million won’t get you a superstar these days, but you’d think it would be more than enough room for a creative GM to get to work.
And all that’s true without factoring in that teams can now retain salary when trading a player. This was a change Brian Burke lobbied for, in the hopes it would make it easier for GMs to make deals. The new rule came into effect last year, and has been used a handful of times, most notably when the Sabres traded Vanek to the Islanders. But overall, it hasn’t seemed to loosen the trade market significantly.
It should go without saying that teams that plan to spend near the cap still need to watch their dollars carefully, especially when it comes to long-term commitments (though that doesn’t seem to stop them from going crazy during free agency). But the truth is that as the season goes on, the vast majority of teams in the league have the cap room to make significant deals.
And yet they rarely do. The cap is a major factor, but something else must be going on.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Hey, do you remember the NHL regular season? It’s just like all that Olympic hockey you spent the last few weeks watching, except with smaller rinks. And more teams. And way fewer star players per team. And a lot less at stake. And … you know what, it’s really nothing like Olympic hockey.
But it’s all we’ve got for the next two months, and at least we don’t have to wake up early to watch it. So to help you get back in the groove for the return of the season tonight, here are 10 key story lines to pay attention to over the rest of the year.
Next Week’s Trade Deadline
In a league in which major trades are becoming increasingly rare, the deadline has gradually morphed from must-see TV into an annual disappointment. But there are at least some signs that this year’s deadline, which arrives next Wednesday, could be different. Some major names are expected to move, including Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, Islanders sniper Thomas Vanek, and Sabres goalie Ryan Miller.
And in recent days, a surprising new name has surfaced: Tampa Bay Lightning star Martin St. Louis. Last year’s Art Ross winner doesn’t fit the typical trade deadline pattern, since he’s not an expiring deal and he plays for a quasi contender. But there have been reports that he asked for a trade after Tampa GM Steve Yzerman originally left him off Team Canada (he was later named as an injury replacement), and he’s been linked to the Rangers in a possible Callahan swap.
That deal doesn’t seem to make much sense, but that St. Louis’s name is being thrown around at all offers some hope that this year’s deadline might be the first one in years that ends up being worth calling in sick for. Uh, not that any hockey fans do that.
Monday, February 24, 2014
The 2014 Olympic hockey tournament is in the books. And after four years of anticipation, we wound up right back where we were in Vancouver in 2010: Canada wins gold in the men’s tournament, and Canada wins gold in the women’s tournament.
And that’s pretty much it. But should it be? After all, as we’ve already discussed, it seems unfair that every other sport seems to award dozens of medals while hockey gets just two events. For a sport that’s arguably the most popular in the Winter Olympics, it feels like we should have more hardware to hand out.
So let’s do that. As we bid good-bye to Sochi with one last look back at all the hockey action, let’s take the opportunity to hand out medals in 10 more Olympic hockey events.
The "Breakout Star of the Games" Event
Bronze: Mikael Granlund
Long considered one of the league’s top prospects, the 21-year-old’s talents have always been well-appreciated by Minnesota Wild fans. But Sochi may have served as his coming-out party as a top star leaguewide thanks to a strong performance that saw him named to the tournament all-star team.
Silver: Carey Price
Price has been a very good goalie over the course of his career, but he has always seemed to hover just outside of the “very best in the league” discussion. But after a dominating Games that ended with a 164-minute shutout streak, he may have finally ascended to that top tier. WHAAAT?
Gold: Phil Kessel
Sochi will be remembered as the moment that the world learned to love Phil Kessel. When he and his sister Amanda weren’t racking up points, he emerged as the most GIFable, memeable, Vineable, and just downright lovable athlete at the Olympics. It is Phil Kessel’s world now. The rest of us just live in it.
The "Most Ridiculously Contrived Script That Actually Happened" Event
Bronze: The T.J. Oshie Show
Sure, in the end it didn’t really matter, since neither team won a medal. And yes, we only got to see it because of a lucky no-goal call on a technicality. Still, Oshie’s solo effort in a shootout against Russia was great theater. Now let’s all agree to never say anything nice about the shootout ever again.
Silver: Teemu Selanne
The Olympics’ all-time leading scorer added two more goals in the final game of his Olympic career, helping Finland pound the U.S. to secure his fourth medal. Oh, and he got named tournament MVP at the age of 43. I’m assuming he didn’t also stop to perform CPR on a puppy because he’s saving that for his final NHL game in a few months.
Gold: The entire U.S.-Canada women’s final
Friday, February 21, 2014
That was one of the greatest hockey games I’ve ever seen. Let’s start there.
Thursday’s gold-medal showdown between Team Canada and Team USA delivered the game we all knew was coming: close, vicious, and almost impossibly tense. Two decades into one of the best rivalries in sports, we couldn’t have expected anything else.
The only open questions were who would win, how it would end, and just how crazy things could get in between. The answers: Canada; in overtime; and “beyond anything you could imagine.”
Is that hyperbole? I’m really not sure it is. But just to be sure, let’s break out the Madness Scale and take a walk back through the entire game.