Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Evaluating five of the NHL's quietest offseasons

An NHL offseason can be a funny thing. For some teams, it represents an opportunity to blow everything up real good, hitting the reset button entirely or at the very least radically changing direction. For others, it’s a chance to double down on what’s already working by loading up on the final pieces of a true contender. In either case, blockbuster trades can be made, big-name free agents can be lured, and coaches and GMs can be replaced. Things are happening.

And then there are the teams that decide to skip all of that, and largely sit out the offseason. They tinker a bit, re-signing a guy here and making a minor move there, but for the most part they decide to pass on doing anything especially newsworthy.

And let’s be honest: While that approach may not be all that exciting, sometimes it absolutely turns out to be the right one. Sometimes, it really is better to leave the bat on your shoulder. But only sometimes.

So today, let’s look at five of the teams that have had the quietest off-season so far, and try to figure out if the conservative approach will end up being the right move.

LOS ANGELES KINGS

What they did: They watched Milan Lucic head to Edmonton, replacing him (kind of) with Teddy Purcell. Luke Schenn, Vincent Lecavalier and Kris Versteeg also departed. Oh, and they stripped Dustin Brown of his captaincy.

What they didn’t do: While the Kings don’t have any glaring holes, it became apparent last year that blueline depth was a question mark, especially after Alec Martinez went down. With apologies to Tom Gilbert, it still is.

The verdict: On the surface, this seems like an example of a good team not needing to do too much – after all, the Kings have won two of the last five Cups. But they’ve also won just a single playoff game over the last two seasons, and while the roster is still very good, it’s an aging one that doesn’t have much in the way of young reinforcements on the way. Ideally, you might think that the Kings would be loading up to make the most of one or two more runs with their championship core, but their ugly cap situation just won’t let them. A quiet summer may have been inevitable, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be disappointing.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

What they did: They re-signed Brayden Schenn and Radko Gudas and bought out R.J. Umberger, but their only significant addition was Dale Weise.

What they didn’t do: Anything crazy, like spending eight figures on a washed up free agent, or dropping a massive offer sheet on another team’s franchise player, or trading two of their best players so they could sign a certifiably crazy goaltender.

The verdict: OK, granted, the Flyers have tried all that stuff in the past and it never really worked out. Still, we’ve come to count on the franchise to provide some offseason fireworks, and they’ve let us down over the last few years. That time period, of course, coincides with Ron Hextall’s stint as GM, and it certainly seems like the man who was once considered the biggest loose cannon in hockey has evolved into a decidedly patient GM.

So is that good? Considering where the Flyers are right now, it probably is. Despite making the playoffs last year, the Flyers are still in build mode. That won’t last forever, and there’s going to come a time when Hextall will have to get aggressive. Some have made the case that that time is already here, but I think the Flyers still have one more season to work with.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News




Monday, August 22, 2016

A Canadian look back at the 2016 Summer Olympics

Well hey, that ended up being kind of fun.

While it’s true that Canadians don’t always get quite as excited about the Summer Olympics as some other countries we could mention, we still enjoy a good show. And for the most part, that’s what the last two weeks delivered, as Canadian athletes treated us to an entertaining and largely successful Games.

So before the whole country moves on to NHL training camps, the Blue Jays stretch run, and whichever random event our shirtless prime minister wanders into next, let’s take one last look back at Rio. Here are some of the country’s best, worst and strangest moments of the 2016 Summer Olympics, along with the uniquely Canadian experiences they brought to mind for those of us watching at home.

Best overall performance

We’ll start with the easiest call. The competition to become Canada’s biggest star of Rio ended early and decisively, with swimmer Penny Oleksiak winning four medals in the Games’ opening days. After earning bronze in a pair of relay events and silver in the individual 100m butterfly, Oleksiak went on to capture the country’s first gold medal in the 100m freestyle.

That gave her Oleksiak four medals, making her the first Canadian athlete to ever take home that many in a single Summer Olympics. Not surprisingly, she was rewarded with the honor of being named flag bearer for the closing ceremony. And best of all, given that she’s just 16 years old, it’s fair to say that this probably won’t be the last that Canadians see of her in Olympic action.

Also, she got a Twitter follow from Drake, so there’s that.

Comparable Canadian experience: When you roll up the rim and actually win, and then just keep winning for the rest of the contest. (OK, sure, all you ever win are the lousy free donuts, but we can’t all be Penny Oleksiak.)

Worst moment for old people

Shortly after Oleksiak’s first medal, we learned that she and team-mate Taylor Ruck were officially the first ever Olympic medalists to have been born in the 2000s. We then realized that couldn’t possibly be right, since the whole Y2K thing was only a few years ago, right? Then we sat down and did the math. Then we felt very, very sad.

Comparable Canadian experience: When you make a “Dr Penfield, I smell burnt toast” joke and some kid just stares at you like you’re a moron.

>> Read the full post at The Guardian




Grab Bag: The only way to stop jersey ads

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Ads on jerseys are on their way.
- That new slimmed down goalie equipment might not be.
- We should have 3-on-3 hockey in the Olympics. No, really.
- The obscure player who begat Jimmy Vesey
- And Wayne Gretzky gets hit so hard he time travels.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports




Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Beyond Steven-for-Shanahan: Five more forced RFA compensation trades

Last week, we looked back on the league’s long history of arbitrators having to sort out messy cases. One of the biggest was the 1991 case that saw Scott Stevens awarded to the Devils as compensation for the signing of Brendan Shanahan. It was part of the league’s old RFA system, under which some players who signed with a new team weren’t subject to a right to match or draft pick compensation, but rather to a forced trade in which each team submitted what they felt was a fair offer and an arbitrator picked one.

It was, to put it bluntly, a fantastic system. Oh, the players hated it, and so did most of the teams. But for fans, it was a great source of entertainment. It was all sorts of fun to debate the teams’ offers, come up with ones of your own, and speculate over which side the arbitrator would ultimately land on. The system lasted until 1995, when Gary Bettman’s first lockout ended with a new CBA that ushered in new RFA rules. This excellent blog post contains a detailed history of the old system; it’s fair to say we’re unlikely to ever see it return in the NHL.

So today, let’s look back on five more cases where RFA signings resulted in an arbitrator forcing a trade as compensation. None were quite as big as the Stevens-for-Shanahan blockbuster, but each had its own impact on hockey history.

The battle of the enforcers

Despite having just two seasons and 69 games under his belt, Troy Crowder was one of the league’s most feared enforcers in 1991. That was almost entirely due to a single fight, one that came on opening night of the 1990-91 season. Crowder’s Devils were hosting the Red Wings, and midway through the game Crowder found himself squaring off with the league’s undisputed heavyweight champion, Bob Probert. The legendary Wings’ tough guy had a nearly spotless record over the years, but Crowder won the fight handily, a shocking result from a virtually unknown contender. When the two split a pair of January rematches, Crowder cemented his status as one of the league’s best.

And so, during the 1991 offseason, the Wings went out and signed him. The logic seemed sound – if this was one of the few guys in the league who could give Probert trouble, the Wings would make sure their big dog wouldn’t have to worry about him. The Wings offered Dave Barr and Randy McKay as compensation. But Lou Lamoriello and the Devils responded with the same strategy they’d used in the Shanahan case: swinging for the fences. They demanded Probert himself as compensation.

This time, the arbitrator wasn’t having it. Just days after they struck gold with the Stevens ruling, the Devils lost the Crowder case, and settled for McKay and Barr. Probert remained in Detroit for four more years, while a back injury limited Crowder to just seven games in Detroit.

Graves consequences

Today, Adam Graves is a Rangers legend. He was a key part of the 1994 championship team and once held the franchise record for goals in a season, and in 2009, the team retired his number.

But back in 1991, Graves was still a highly regarded prospect who hadn’t done much in the NHL. At 23 years old, he’d yet to so much as crack the 10-goal mark in four NHL seasons. So it was a mild surprise when the Rangers targeted him during the offseason, signing him away from Edmonton and opening the door to a compensation ruling.

The Oilers asked for Steven Rice and Loui DeBrusk, while the Rangers offered Troy Mallette. None of those were especially big names, and in some corners of the hockey world the Graves case didn’t get much attention. When the arbitrator sided with New York and sent Mallette to Edmonton, most fans shrugged.

But the ruling turned out to be a crucial one. The Oilers had had their eye on Rice and DeBrusk as part of a far bigger deal, one that would send captain Mark Messier to New York. That trade had been rumored for months, but had taken a backseat during the Graves case. But when Messier announced his intention to hold out in an attempt to force a trade, the Oiler had to make a move. And so, on October 4, 1991, they made a deal with the Rangers. In exchange for Messier, they’d get all-star center Bernie Nicholls and the two players they’d targeted in the Graves case, Rice and DeBrusk.

Would the Messier deal have still happened if the Oilers had already landed Rice and DeBrusk? It’s tough to say. In hindsight, it seems impossible to imagine Messier winding up anywhere other than New York. But he could have, if we’d seen a different decision in an arbitration case over a little-known prospect.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News




Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The most awkward passage from every NHL arena's Wikipedia page

Wikipedia is a fascinating website. As everyone knows, it’s maintained and edited by the general public, which leads to a trove of information that’s… what’s the word I’m looking for? Not accurate. Or trustworthy. Or even especially credible. But interesting! That’s it. The site is always… interesting.

And that’s largely because when you let the general public decide what’s worth mentioning, you find that they don’t just focus on the positive. When you give everyone access to the edit button, you’re going to get the good, the bad, the ugly, and (especially) the just plain weird.

A few years ago, I went through the Wikipedia entry for every NHL team to find the saddest, strangest or most regrettable passage on each team’s page. It ended up being lots of fun – we learned about murdered rodents, injured mascots, and how to use “hoodoo” in a sentence. Also, someone slipped a haiku into the Penguins’ page that remains there to this day. So, good times all around.

Today, let’s take another tour around Wikipedia’s version of the league. But this time, we won’t use the teams themselves. Instead, let’s remember that home is where the heart is, as we highlight the strangest passage from the Wikipedia page of every NHL teams’ arena.

Air Canada Centre (Toronto Maple Leafs)

On Oct. 3, 2003, the ACC had a power outage during the third quarter of a Toronto Raptors pre-season game against the Athens-based club Panathinaikos. The game was called final, because the power was not restored in time and Toronto already had a 30-point lead.

Man, the NBA are a bunch of quitters. If NHL started cutting games short just because one team was ahead by 30, half of the Maple Leafs games played in the last decade wouldn't have made it out of the second period.

Amalie Arena (Tampa Bay Lightning)

Following the PPV's conclusion, newly crowned WWE champion John Cena announced the death of Osama Bin Laden which resulted in a big "USA!" chant and [the] internal public address system of the Arena then proceeded to play "Stars and Stripes Forever."

This is the most American sentence that has ever been written about anything.

American Airlines Center (Dallas Stars)

On July 27, 2001, the facility opened with the largest ribbon-cutting ceremony ever, according to the Guinness Book of Records.

There had actually been a bigger ceremony held in Buffalo, but everyone decided to just ignore that and award the title to Dallas anyway.

BB&T Center (Florida Panthers)

The Dave Matthews Band - 2001 (There was a power interruption during the performance; they have not returned to the venue since.)

Oh, quit being such a baby, Dave Matthews. If it's good enough for the Stanley Cup Final, it's good enough for you.

Barclays Center (New York Islanders)

Business Insider has called sections 201 to 204 and 228 to 231, "the worst seat in American professional sports". In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark acknowledged the issue, but insisted nothing can be done: "There's really nothing we’re going to do from a capital improvement standpoint. You can watch the game on your mobile device. The game is on the scoreboard."

Unless you're sitting in one of the sections where you can't see the scoreboard. Or one of the other sections where you can't see your mobile device. Then you're pretty much screwed.

Bell Centre (Montreal Canadiens)

The most infamous event that took place at the arena was Survivor Series 1997, during which the well-known Montreal Screwjob incident occurred.

This is, of course, a reference to the Bret Hart incident, one in which the WWE outraged its loyal fans by shockingly parting ways with a talented and beloved superstar due to concerns about his contract and failure to get along with management.

Luckily, everyone learned a valuable lesson and nobody in Montreal has ever made that mistake again.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet