Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Woe Canada: Canucks, Canadiens, Senators… which team is Canada’s most miserable?

There are seven NHL teams in Canada. Four of them are good, and in a few cases maybe even very good. The Oilers, Flames, Jets and Leafs are a combined 53-23-10, with all four holding down playoff spots.

The country’s other three teams are, um, not doing that. We truly are a divided nation.

The Vancouver Canucks, Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators are locked in a furious battle to be the country’s most embarrassing team. The Habs have already wiped out their front office, the Canucks seem to be perpetually on the verge of something similar, and the Senators are somehow worse than both of them. It’s not going great.

But which team is the country’s worst story? That’s up for debate, which is where we come in. With the Canucks facing the Habs last night and the Senators tomorrow, now seems like a good time to break down the highs and lows of the three teams in all the key categories, and see where this leads us. How bad can it get? And which team takes the crown as the worst of the worst?

History

We can’t tell the story of the present without laying the foundation of the past. Who’s had it worse over the decades?

Senators: The modern version of the team started with a five-year stretch where they were considered the worst expansion team ever – not just in hockey, but any sport at all. More recently, they’ve been terrible on the ice and often bizarre off of it. But in between, there was a stretch where they were consistently very good, including one trip to the final in 2007. There was also a team with the same name that won Stanley Cups a hundred years ago, which it goes without saying does not count.

Canucks: It’s been over a half a century with no championships, although they’ve had several near-misses including seven-game heartbreaks in 1994 and 2011. That makes them the only Cup-less franchise in the history of the league that’s lost a Game 7 in the final. They also spent most of the 1980s getting their teeth kicked in by the Oilers, they gave away a young Cam Neely, they signed Mark Messier, and their most memorable moment in franchise history was a riot. Other than that, mostly positive.

Canadiens: Pretty solid, I think, although I’m not sure because their fans never bring it up.

Misery ranking

I ran the numbers, and five decades of sadness beats three.

1. Canucks
2. Senators
3. Canadiens

The season so far

How’s it going everyone? Good? I’m sure it’s probably good.

Senators: They’re neck-and-neck with the Coyotes, who aren’t even trying.

Canucks: They’re dead last in the Pacific, behind the brand new expansion team and the three California teams we all agreed would be terrible.

Canadiens: They’re not in last place! (Because they’re in the same division as the Senators.)

Misery ranking

We’re two sections in and I’m already depressed.

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Monday, November 29, 2021

Weekend rankings: How do you make a Top 5 when there are 10 deserving teams? Plus changes in Montreal, Islanders cancellations and more.

What if five is the wrong number?

This came up in the comment section of last week’s post, but it’s worth exploring in a bit more detail here. I do a top and bottom five every week in this column, because that seems like a good number to let us explore the most newsworthy teams without getting bogged down in the mushy middle that’s often just not that interesting in this league.

But the thing is that it’s five teams every week, no matter what. That might seem to imply that there’s always a five-team tier at each end of the spectrum, and of course that’s not always true. Often, the gap between fifth and sixth is a small one, if it’s even there at all. Sometimes, there isn’t much gap between third or fourth and ninth or tenth.

That’s kind of what’s happening so far this year, at least for one of the rankings. At the bottom, we really are starting to get some separation with five bad teams. But on the good side of the ledger, there’s a very strong case to be made for a handful of teams we don’t have room for. I think we’d all agree the Panthers and Hurricanes are still safely top-five teams. My long-term view means the Avalanche have to be there, and the Lightning should get some benefit of the doubt. I’ve mostly bought into the Oilers. That’s five teams right there, and I don’t think anyone would argue that any of those are controversial picks. But it still leaves us with at least five teams that have an extremely strong case for a spot. The “really good teams” club is a very crowded place right now.

I can’t fit everyone in, but in the interest of inclusion (and a futile attempt to limit the number of angry “BUT WHAT ABOUT” screeds in the comment section), let’s make the case for five more teams.

Calgary Flames: They’ve already won four in a row twice this year and are so good defensively that they’ve yet to go more than three games without a shutout. The underlying numbers are very good, the way they always are with Darryl Sutter teams. If the Oilers are going to get a spot each and every week, a Flames team that’s been keeping pace with them all year should be there too, right?

Vegas Golden Knights: They’ve been inconsistent all year, but at their best, they can look scary good. We didn’t see that on Saturday, but they’re getting healthy again, and if we’re looking long-term then we should probably discount the stretch where they were missing Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty. Oh, and Jack Eichel is waiting in the wings. If everyone’s in place by the time the playoffs start, do you really think there will be five teams with better Cup odds?

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Friday, November 26, 2021

When should the Habs tank? Plus Sabres vs. Canucks misery, Quebec City expansion, and more in the mailbag

An interesting fact about mailbags is that nobody reads the intro. You still have to have one, because it will look weird if you just jump directly into the questions without some sort of preamble. But as soon as your readers see “mailbag” in the headline they just automatically skip ahead to the bolded section that means the first question, so you can pretty much write anything you want and it’s fine because literally nobody will see it. When I was three my parents dressed me up as a Habs fan for Halloween and they still have the photos. On to this month’s questions!

Note: Submitted questions have been edited for clarity and style.


When is the right time for the Habs to start the official tank? Assuming it hasn’t started already? – Christopher C.

I’m a Habs fan, and I’ve switched over to rooting against them this year so we can get Shane Wright. Some of my friends think it’s too early for that. Could you provide us with some guidance? – Dan H.

Two separate but related questions. But first, Gary Bettman has asked me to remind you all that tanking isn’t a real thing. It doesn’t happen. NHL GMs would never tank, even though the league’s entire system of incentives means that it is very clearly the optimal strategy for bad teams, because dot dot dot reasons. Please ignore decades of circumstantial evidence, outright confessions, and basic common sense. Tanking isn’t real, and the media made it up.

Now that we have that out of the way, yes, of course the Habs should tank.

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Thursday, November 25, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: Playing "what if?" with some famous trades

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- With Black Friday almost here, it's time to think about deals that were, deals that weren't, and deals that should have been

The Athletic Hockey Show runs most days of the week during the season, with Ian and I hosting every Thursday. There are two versions of each episode available:
- An ad-free version for subscribers that you can find here
- An ad-supported version you can get for free wherever you normally find your podcasts (like Apple or Spotify)




Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Six things we were all very wrong about so far in the 2021-22 season (except, were we really?)

I’m wrong about the NHL. Kind of a lot. Honestly, it’s a little bit embarrassing for somebody who’s whole job is to know things about this league.

But here’s the thing: You’re wrong too. All of us are. And that’s especially true when we let ourselves drift into groupthink mode, where most of us are all saying the same thing. Hockey fans barely agree on anything, so you’d think that it would take a stone cold lock to get us all on the same page. Instead, we often end up looking dumb.

So today, let’s take a look at six opinions that I think it’s fair to say were pretty widely held heading into the season. Not universally – settle down, huffy dude who’s scrolling down to the comments to post “I never thought that” – but at least reasonably common. A month in, they’ve all turned out to be absolutely and indisputably wrong. Only… have they? Let’s see if we can figure that out.

The Pacific would be the worst division in hockey

What we thought: Heading into the season, it was pretty widely understood that the Pacific had one good team and seven question marks. The good team was the Golden Knights, of course, and we could just pencil them in as the top seed before we even dropped a puck. But from there, it was a turtle derby.

Even with Arizona moving to the Central, there were still three bottom-feeders in the Ducks, Kings and Sharks. Maybe one of those teams would surprise us, but that was about the best we could hope for. The Canucks and Flames had both missed the playoffs last year, and the most charitable view of either was that they might be marginally better heading into this season. The Oilers had some regular season potential, but were coming off a disastrous postseason run so you weren’t really sure how far they could go. And the Kraken were the big question mark, looking iffy on paper after an underwhelming expansion draft.

So basically Vegas, and then seven teams trying to earn the right to get swept by Vegas.

But then… : The Kraken and the Canucks are bad. But the Alberta teams look great, with the Oilers mostly rolling and the Flames surprising everyone while shutting out every team they play. And the California teams have been stunningly good at times, with the Kings posting a seven-game win streak, the Ducks topping that with eight, and the Sharks starting 4-0-0.

Oh yeah, and Vegas hasn’t been all that great, so the whole division is up for grabs.

We were so wrong: Seriously, this division might get both Western wildcards.

But were we really?: Are you really betting on the Ducks and Kings to keep this up all season long? That seems like a longshot, and the Sharks are already fading. Edmonton looks like a legitimate contender, but that goaltending is still hard to trust. The Flames are the other side of that coin, as we need to see what happens when Jakob Markstrom isn’t running red hot.

Meanwhile, Vegas has been racked by injuries but are getting their guys back and looking better. With Jack Eichel looming in the future, they’ve still got the best roster in the division on paper, and it’s not all that close. So yeah, it’s very possible that a few of the feel-good story bubbles burst over the next few months, Eichel shows up just in time for the playoffs, and the Pacific does end up being the Knights rolling through everyone.

Hey, speaking of which…

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