Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The John Tavares Sweepstakes power rankings

The John Tavares watch is heating up, as we count down the days until the Islanders’ star reaches unrestricted free agency. That still leaves plenty of time for the Islanders to re-sign him, and the latest development suggests that Lou Lamoriello will be the one leading that charge. That seems like good news for Islanders fans, who hadn’t been given much reason to believe that Garth Snow could get a deal done.

But even with Lamoriello in the driver’s seat, there’s no guarantee that Tavares doesn’t at least test the market. Recently, his teammates have been sounding nervous over their captain’s future, and every day that goes by without an extension brings Tavares closer to what could be the biggest bidding war in recent NHL history.

We’re not quite there yet. But we’re close enough that it’s probably time to start figuring out where everyone stands. So today, let’s count down the John Tavares power rankings, as we figure out who slots in where in the various categories worth wondering about.

The “Which team needs him most?” Ranking

We may as well start here. Tavares is the sort of player that just about every team should be in on. But some need him more than others.

Not ranked: Vegas Golden Knights: Yeah, that’s about enough, George McPhee. Maybe try playing with the sliders moved past the “very easy” level.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs: The roster may not need Tavares as much as some others (or as much as they need help on the blue line). But after getting their shot at Steven Stamkos in 2016 and failing to reel him in, whiffing on another local boy in Tavares would at the very least be a dent to Toronto egos.

4. San Jose Sharks: They’re a good team that’s not far from contending. But the Joe Thornton era is ending, if it’s not over already, and the core is getting older. Landing Tavares would chart a new course for the team, while missing out would lead to questions about what exactly comes next.

3. Carolina Hurricanes: Let’s be honest, a lot of us are watching the Tom Dundon era unfold in Carolina and scratching our heads. Convincing Tavares to buy in and choose the Hurricanes would end a lot of those questions very quickly.

2. Montreal Canadiens: After a miserable season, they could use three things: some reason for optimism, some confidence in a struggling front office, and a first-line centre. Tavares takes care of all three in one shot.

1. New York Islanders: The obvious choice. Losing a franchise player is devastating. Seeing him choose to walk away after you’ve had all year to sell him on the long-term vision would be far worse, and raise all sorts of red flags about where the organization is headed.

The “What’s worst for the Islanders?” Ranking

If you’re an Islanders fan, it goes without saying that seeing Tavares leave would feel like a disaster. But some destinations would be extra painful, so let’s work our way down to the worst-case scenario.

Not ranked: Anyone from the Western Conference: Out of sight, out of mind? Not quite, but if Tavares has to go then Islanders fans would probably prefer him to land as far away as possible.

5. Montreal Canadiens: Only because Islanders fans have had to listen to Montreal fans and media drone on and on for the last two years about landing Tavares. Having them actually be proven right would be unbearable. After all, what’s worse than a smug Canadiens fan?

4. Toronto Maple Leafs: Oh, right.

3. New Jersey Devils: They haven’t come up often in Tavares rumours, which is strange given their cap space and an improving young roster. Seeing their franchise player stay in the division, not to mention the tri-state area, would be brutal.

2. Carolina Hurricanes: Another division rival. And to make matters worse, the Hurricanes landing Tavares would be an example of new ownership coming in and immediately shaking things up with big changes and aggressive moves. Meanwhile, new Islanders ownership patiently stuck with Garth Snow through Tavares’s final season, maybe until it was too late.

1. New York Rangers: With the Rangers rebuilding, they seem like a long shot to be in hard on Tavares. But this is a team that’s rarely been able to pass up the lure of a big-name free agent, and seeing Tavares move across town would be devastating for Islander fans.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Explaining the Vegas Golden Knights

So what just happened? 
On Sunday, the Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Winnipeg Jets to advance to the Stanley Cup Final

The win is the latest in what’s been a stunning campaign – they were 500-1 to win the championship at the start of the season – one that’s seen the Golden Knights stake their claim as the best expansion team in the history of North American sports. There’s a very good chance that they’ll win the next round too, becoming Stanley Cup champions in their very first season.  Nobody saw this coming – as a new team, the Knights weren’t expected to contend for anything aside from last place. But they’ve defied all the odds, and are now just four wins away from the most unlikely championship the sport has ever seen.

That sounds like an amazing underdog story. 
It sure is!

So how did the Golden Knights do it? 
No idea!

Ha ha. But seriously, how did they do it? 
Seriously … no idea. I don’t know. Nobody does. The entire hockey world is completely perplexed by this. There’s no logical explanation.

Um, aren’t you supposed to be some sort of expert? 
Look, I could try to make something up, and pretend that anyone could have seen any of this coming. But I’d be lying. None of this makes any sense.

>> Read the full post at The Guardian

Monday, May 21, 2018

Weekend wrap: One bad week spells the end for the Jets

Look, we did say “It’s one game”. We put that caveat right up front. Let’s be as clear as possible on that. But yeah, it’s fair to say that last week’s column hasn’t held up well. In case you missed it, that was the one where we reacted to game one of the Western Conference final by pointing out that the Jets had been better than the Golden Knights in just about every way. Between Winnipeg’s early dominance and the Capitals’ stealing the first two games in Tampa, we seemed like we could be headed to a pair of anticlimactic series. And in case that implication was too subtle, the piece was helpfully headlined “Jets, Capitals on collision course?”

Answer: No. No, they are not.

In the latest reminder of how much can change in one week, the Jets went from riding high last Monday to out of the playoffs altogether by the end of the weekend. Four straight Vegas wins spelled the end of what seemed to be shaping up as a dream season in Winnipeg, while continuing a Golden Knights’ run that everyone is struggling to explain.

Whether you’re loving this Golden Knights story or hating it – and there are plenty of fans in both camps – you have to give them full credit here. They didn’t steal this series, or back into the win, or luck their way to victory over a clearly better team. Instead, outside of that opener, the Knights went toe-to-toe with the best team left in the playoffs and finished them off with relative ease. The Jets struggled with the Vegas forecheck, coughing up several uncharacteristic defensive zone turnovers, enough of which ended up behind Connor Hellebuyck. And when Winnipeg did manage a goal of their own, the Knights were often right there to get it back within seconds. It was a frustrating stretch for a Jets team that hadn’t lost four straight all season long, and never quite found their best game after the opener.

As always when a team is eliminated, the question in Winnipeg turns to: Now what? The team was largely built by staying the course, even when impatient fans and media were calling for Kevin Cheveldayoff to do more. Do you stick with that plan now? Or do you acknowledge that it was the right strategy during the building phase, but that now is the time to take a more aggressive approach to finishing the job?

It’s a tough call, albeit one that roughly 27 other NHL teams would love to be facing right now. It’s easy enough to assume that the Jets will be back – the roster is certainly built for the long haul. But then again, plenty of other contenders have come close to a Cup and then drifted back to the pack, including more than a few Canadian teams.

The Jets will look to avoid that fate, and for Cheveldayoff, the offseason decisions start now. A lot can happen over the course of a summer. Maybe almost as much as can happen in a week.

Road to the Cup

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

5. Every other eliminated team except the one you root for (tie) – Man, tough break for your team, who drop out of the top five after making a brief appearance last week.

4. Winnipeg Jets – We’ll leave them here for one more week. Call it a 24-hour mourning period.

3. Washington Capitals – If Caps media was already writing leads like “Everybody you love dies” after two losses, imagine what the mood will be like if they reach four.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, May 18, 2018

Grab Bag: Everybody wear white tonight

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- What Scotty Bowman can teach us about how we can make playoff overtime so much better
- The Winnipeg Wait Out is coming, and it's going to be awful
- An obscure player with a great name
- The week's three comedy stars, featuring Paul Maurice's strategic brilliance and Dustin Byfuglien's dad strength
- And a catchy 1987 song about the Jets that gets disturbingly awkward really quickly.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Which team that missed this year's playoffs could be in next year's conference finals?

On one level, there aren’t a lot of surprises among this year’s four conference finalists. Three of the teams went into the playoffs as the top seed in their division, and the only one that didn’t — the Winnipeg Jets — were the second-best regular-season team in the league. In terms of the pre-playoff seeding, this year has been remarkable free of upsets.

But step back a little further and consider what last season looked like, and this year’s final four takes on a decidedly unexpected mix. You’ve got the Capitals, who haven’t made a conference final in 20 years. But at least Washington made the playoffs last year. None of the other three teams even managed that.

So if three teams that missed the playoffs in 2017 (or didn’t even exist) can make the conference finals, what might next season hold? Could at least one of the 15 teams that missed this year’s post-season could be one of the last teams standing this time next year?

History tells us that it’s possible and maybe even likely. The question is which team is best positioned to do it. So let’s take those 15 playoff misses from this season and divide them into three groups based on their chances for next year. As luck would have it, the Lightning, Jets and Golden Knights give us three handy categories to use.

The Tampa Bay Tier

The Lightning missed the playoffs last season, falling short by a single point. But they weren’t anybody’s idea of an underdog in 2017–18; oddsmakers had them as co-favourites to win the Atlantic before the season began.

So let’s start there — with five teams that have only been out of the playoffs for one year, and could make a relatively quick return to top contender status.

Chicago Blackhawks

Why they could make it: While things fell apart in 2017–18, this is a team that won the Central just a year ago and still has most of the core from three Stanley Cups. It’s also worth remembering that the Blackhawks didn’t really fall out of contention this year until Corey Crawford missed time. If he’s healthy next year, it’s not hard to imagine them being back in the conference finals next year.

Why they won’t: That championship core is older and more expensive now, which complicates things, and the Central looks brutal with the Jets and Predators blocking the way out. And it’s not like this team just missed this year; they were almost 20 points back.

New York Rangers

Why they could make it: They went to the conference final in three of the last seven seasons, and are just one year removed from posting three straight 100-point seasons. They’ve parted ways with some of the players who made those seasons happen, but they still have Henrik Lundqvist.

Why they won’t: It’s not clear they want to. Jeff Gorton wants to rebuild, and while that doesn’t necessarily mean tearing it all down, the Ryan McDonagh trade suggests that the focus isn’t on the Cup in 2018–19.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet