Friday, December 13, 2019

Grab Bag: World Cup pros and cons, when a streak isn’t a streak and Rick Bowness bites his tongue

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- The pros and cons of holding another World Cup of Hockey
- A debate about losing streaks
- An obscure player who did not qualify for this week's Team Brother roster
- The three comedy stars
- And a YouTube clip of Rick Bowness trying very hard not to say what he really wants to say

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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Could an all-time team made up of NHL brothers beat one made up of NHL fathers and sons?

Cayden Primeau made his NHL debut last week, playing goal for the Montreal Canadiens two years after being drafted in the seventh round. It’s a great story, especially when you remember that Primeau’s father Keith was a longtime NHLer. Keith’s brother Wayne also played in the league, which was nice for them except for that time that it wasn’t.

Battling brothers. Proud fathers and sons. It feels like there’s a story idea in there somewhere. And luckily, one reader found it for me:

Oh hell yes, we’re doing that. Thank you, Lee. (And thanks to everyone else who takes the time to send me weird YouTube clips, obscure trivia and ideas for bizarre stories nobody else would write. You are all the greatest.)

Team Father/Son vs. Team Brother, from all of NHL history. Which side can build the best team? Let’s do this.

But first, as always, some ground rules:

  • We’re going to build lines and defense pairings, but we’re not going to get too caught up in who plays where. We might have some guys switch wings or move around a bit. They’re stars, they’ll figure it out.
  • We’re using Peak Production rules here, which is to say that if you get a player, you get them at their very best. They’re healthy, motivated and at the height of their powers.
  • Most importantly, and maybe most controversially: We’re going to institute a rule that everyone on this roster has to have played at least 250 NHL games as a skater or 100 games as a goalie. Call it the Brent Gretzky rule. Yes, we could build out a pair of rosters that were front-loaded with mega-stars and then pad them out with a fourth line of guys like Alain Lemieux, Paul Messier and Brett Lindros. But that’s not fun. That’s just naming superstars who happened to have relatives who played hockey, and that’s most of them. We want our rosters to feature guys who made their own name in the game. Or at least came close enough that we can squeeze them in without feeling guilty.

OK, let’s make this happen. We’ll start up front with the top lines, which means both sides are breaking out their big guns.

First lines

Team Brother: Phil Esposito, Maurice Richard, Frank Mahovlich

Team Father/Son: Gordie Howe, Bobby Hull, Peter Stastny

Yikes. Good luck to anyone trying to shut down either unit; you could make a good case that we’ve got four of the top ten players in hockey history here. That includes Howe, the single greatest player we’ll find on either roster, which gives Team Father/Son a strong start. Mr. Hockey and the Golden Jet together would be close to unstoppable, with a combined 1,400 NHL goals between just two guys (and nearly 500 more if we count the WHA). But they’re facing a killer trio from Team Brother, with the first 50-goal scorer, the first 100-point player and the Big M there to feed them both.

Stastny is notable for a few reasons. For one, he’s the weak link on Team Father/Son’s top line, which isn’t exactly an insult given who he’s playing with. But more importantly, you may be questioning why he’s even on Team Father/Son at all. You could absolutely put him on Team Brother instead, on a line with Anton and Marian. Having run through the various combinations, he ends up fitting a bit better on Team Father/Son, but there may not be a player in league history who presents a tougher call.

Second lines

Team Brother: Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Henri Richard

Team Father/Son: Brett Hull, Zach Parise, J.P. Parise

Both teams have some decent scoring depth. There’s more balance on Team Brother, with three Hall-of-Famers. But Team Father/Son has the most dominant player in Hull and his 741 goals, plus a pair of All-Stars who saw action in some of the most important international tournaments ever played.

Also, a quick clerical matter: We made the call to deny Team Father/Son eligibility to Howie Morenz and Bernie Geoffrion; Howie was Boom Boom’s father-in-law, which doesn’t quite fit the spirit of the thing. Any complaints or challenges can be filed with the official Down Goes Brown Office of Appeals (my trashcan).

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Monday, December 9, 2019

Weekend rankings: Flyers make their case, Devils move on and Wild come back from the dead

This is the tenth power rankings of the season, which seems like a good time to take stock of where we’re at and how things are going. And how they’re going is: weird.

Or more specifically, weirdly stable. These rankings just aren’t changing all that much from week-to-week.

A new team hasn’t cracked the top five since the Islanders back in week six. There have been a total of ten teams to make an appearance, including week preseason favorites like the Maple Leafs and Golden Knights who quickly punched out. The Hurricanes and Predators also briefly showed up, but it’s been some combination of the Bruins, Caps, Blues, Avs, Islanders and Lightning for five weeks running. By comparison, by this time last year, we’d seen a dozen teams in the top five, including two recent newcomers.

The bottom five has been even more locked in. The Ducks made their debut last week, becoming just the seventh team to appear. The Senators, Kings and Red Wings have been on the list every week, with the Devils joining them in week two. That’s only left one spot for the Wild, Ducks and Blue Jackets to pass around. This time last year, twelve teams had already appeared in the bottom five.

What’s going on? Let’s start with the obvious: These rankings aren’t being generated by some mathematical model or other objective methods. I’m making the calls here, so maybe I’m just wrong. Maybe I’ve just been too conservative, and my hesitancy to embrace surprise teams at either end of the spectrum is gumming up the works.

It’s possible. I’m always rambling on about how these rankings are meant to be a long view, and we don’t want to overreact to every big win or loss, or even to outlier streaks. That’s fine, but you can take it too far, and maybe I have.

But I don’t think so. I mean, which teams should have cracked the bottom five that have been left out? Maybe the Rangers at some point, but who else? The Hawks? That’s pretty much it for the candidates. The reality is that this year features four really bad teams, which makes it tough to keep up the suspense when your gimmick is a list of five.

The top five is a little trickier. Edmonton fans will argue that I’ve been too slow to buy in on the Oilers, and they may have a case. There have certainly been teams with worse records that I’ve slotted in ahead of Edmonton, and maybe I’m clinging too much to reputation here. Then again, the Oilers have been pretty mediocre lately, winning five of their last eleven, including losses to the Kings and Senators. They’re knocking on the door, but they’re not kicking it down.

Who else should be in the mix? At various times, you could have made a case for the Sabres, Penguins, or maybe even the Jets or Canucks. None made the cut, and none are exactly making me look bad for it these days. The Coyotes and Flyers are at least in the ballpark. And there’s probably a good case to be made that I’ve been too slow to embrace the Stars as a top-five candidate. But go easy, Dallas fans – I didn’t drop you in the bottom five when things were awful, so sometimes the conservative approach works both ways.

All in all, it’s been a strange first few months. Trust me, these rankings are more fun to write when there are new teams cycling in and out, if only so that I’m not talking about the same ones over and over again. It’s tempting to just mix it up for the sake of it. But so far, at least, I think the bias towards the status quo has been the right approach.

Now, was all of that just a big set-up for this week’s rankings being full of unexpected teams? Let’s find out …

Road to the Cup

5. New York Islanders (19-7-2, +11 true goals differential*) – They had two regulation losses for the second straight week, which is notable for a team that went 17 straight with at least a point. That’s let the Caps pull away a bit for the division lead. Maybe more importantly, the Flyers are gaining ground for home ice. This week doesn’t get any easier, with a two-game trip to Florida to face the Lightning and Panthers, so it’s possible we won’t see the Islanders here next week.

4. St. Louis Blues (18-7-6, +12) – They’ve lost two straight in regulation for the first time all year, thanks to a pair of underwhelming performances against the Penguins and Maple Leafs.

Playing the Maple Leafs also meant we got some Toronto-centric trade speculation, as well as some adorable pregame floor hockey. The Blues head to Buffalo tomorrow, followed by a four-game homestand that will include a showdown with the Avs a week from now.

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Friday, December 6, 2019

Grab Bag: Is your terrible NHL team secretly the next Blues? Take the quiz and find out

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- A handy quiz to figure out if your terrible team is secretly this year's Blues
- A debate about retired numbers and honored players
- An obscure player from a Mickey Mouse team
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a YouTube look back at the early days of the Flyers' Sign Man

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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Puck Soup: Shout at the Devils

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- The Devils fire John Hynes
- The Taylor Hall trade watch begins
- More reaction to the Bill Peters story
- The Marc Crawford allegations, and what comes next for hockey coaching
- Nicklas Backstrom is going to try to be his own agent
- A surprisingly tricky "pick your team" challenge
- A way-too-long discussion of pro wrestling stables

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