Monday, October 25, 2021

Weekend rankings: Panthers keep rolling, Hawks keep losing, and the Maple Leafs get embarrassed

It’s week two, it’s still too early, and some of the power rankings out there are already losing their minds.

OK, Sean and Dom didn’t quite phrase it that way. They went with “embracing the chaos”. But the Sabres as the league’s second-best team? The Sharks in the top five? The Red Wings ahead of the Lightning? The Senators and Blue Jackets ahead of the Avalanche and Islanders? Vegas at 25? The Habs in dead last?

Well, yeah, maybe that last one works. But the rest of it is madness. It’s been two weeks! You can’t overreact to two weeks.

Except… what do you do, then?

It’s one thing to hand-wave away the occasional weird early-season results. But two weeks into this year, it feels like nothing makes sense. Hardly anyone is playing the way we expected, and the standings look like somebody took a snow globe full of little hockey logos and gave it a good shake. Not all of it will matter. Most of it won’t. But some of this has to mean something, right?

I’m not sure. And that’s a problem, since I’m the guy who does the “let’s think long-term” rankings, meaning I’m in way more danger of embarrassing myself than Sean and Dom are. If the Sabres don’t win another game the rest of the year, well, they were still 3-0-0, so maybe they deserved that ranking, if only briefly. I’m trying to predict the future here, so if I jump on a bandwagon too quickly then I have to wear it all year long.

It’s very possible that we’ll look back on a snapshot of the week two standings in a few months and laugh at how none of it held up. Welcome to the parity era, where anyone can beat anyone and it takes months to get any idea of what’s really happening, am I right? But maybe we look back and see that some of it was real, and some of those surprise teams on either side of the ledger were trying to tell us something.

Fair warning: For this week’s rankings, I’m still going to mostly stay conservative, and continue to lean more on preseason expectations than what’s happened on the ice so far. If that’s going to bother you, then hit up the Friday rankings and embrace that chaos. For now, I’m going to (mostly) step carefully for one more week. But after that, it will be time to start considering some bigger moves for the team’s that are surprising us, and things might get weird

Road to the Cup

The five teams with the best chances of becoming the first franchise in three years to win a Stanley Cup that we have to admit probably counts

We got an early-season Avs/Lightning matchup on Saturday, and in true pro wrestling style they left us wanting more by delivering a non-finish. Well, we call them shootouts in the hockey world, but it’s the same thing. Colorado took the extra point in the coin flip contest, and we’ll have to wait for December for the rematch – and then maybe June for the big showdown.

OK, seriously, final warning, a couple of the teams in this week’s top five have bad records – if you can’t get your head around the whole “long term” concept, this is your last chance to bail out while you can.

5. Edmonton Oilers (5-0-0, +10 true goals differential*) – Two reasons. First, and most obviously, they’re 5-0-0, and even with a weakish schedule that’s impressive. But they also get a boost because Vegas is struggling. We all kind of penciled the Knights in as the Pacific winner before they even dropped the puck, but the Oilers have already yanked that status away from them. It’s Edmonton, so of course we’re all waiting for the other shoe to drop, but maybe this is the year that it doesn’t. Just a team with two superstars, enough supporting talent, adequate goaltending, and a path to winning a weak division. Add it all up, and start looking way too far ahead, and it could at least get them to home ice in the second round.

4. Carolina Hurricanes (4-0-0, +11) – I’ve only got one spot for the Metro this week, and I’m giving it to the undefeated Hurricanes, who’ve won four straight plus tonight’s guaranteed Freddie Andersen shutout against the Leafs. But with the Penguins, Rangers, and Caps all looking strong, it won’t take much of a wobble to put this spot up for grabs.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning (2-2-1, -4) – In hindsight, the early schedule was tough, but this week brings the Sabres and Coyotes so we should see the Lightning remind us of what they can do. Still, the long-term loss of Nikita Kucherov means we have to bump them down at least one slot.

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Friday, October 22, 2021

Grab Bag: Yes we know it’s too early, Gritty meets a puppy, Gretzky and Messier get weird and more

Welcome back to the Grab Bag, a feature that runs weekly monthly whenever I get around to it during the season. If you’ve been around over the years, you know the drill. If you’re new, you can expect NHL personalities trying to be funny, obscure players, weird rants, unworkable ideas, and breakdowns of old YouTube clips that go into way too much detail. Will you learn anything important? You will not. Look, it’s Friday and we all deserve some occasional empty calories. Let’s get to it.

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Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: Those unbeatable Sabres

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- The Sabres start off hot, and you're a bad person if you're not rooting for them
- How worried should fans in Chicago and Montreal be?
- Teeing up Jesperi Kotkaniemi's return to Montreal
- A caller has an interesting point about some history that will be made next week
- A listener applies for the intern job
- This week in hockey history and lots more...

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, October 20, 2021

Puck Soup: Early season panic

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Wait, is Buffalo good now?
- We debate just how worried Montreal and Chicago fans should be
- The Evander Kane mess
- More Jack Eichel trade talk
- Does the Leafs backup goalie prove the salary cap is broken?
- NHL dress codes, wrestling finishers during hockey fights, OUFL Halloween costumes and more...

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, listen on The Athletic or subscribe on iTunes.

>> Get weekly mailbags and special bonus episodes by supporting Puck Soup on Patreon for $5.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Weekend rankings: It’s way too early but we still have a top five, a bottom five, and your second-favorite team

We’re back. And as per tradition, we’re back way too early.

The season isn’t even a week old. That’s too soon to know anything about anyone, which means it’s too soon to do power rankings. I mean, sure, we’re not doing them after three days like some people we could mention, but this is still pretty silly.

So why bother? Two reasons. First, it’s fun. You can read my rankings now and think that I’m wrong, then wait six months until you find out that I was really super-wrong. Then you can laugh at me. I’m told people enjoy that.

But maybe more importantly, every once in a great while we really do learn something from the first few days of the season. Sometimes there is a very faint signal hidden in all of the noise; the challenge is to find it. That’s the tricky part, and most of us aren’t very good at it. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth at least trying.

These rankings have been running for close to a decade now, and some of you know the drill. If you’re new or could use a refresher, here’s the key thing you need to know: These rankings are trying to predict the future, which is a very different goal than looking for a snapshot of the present. We want to answer two questions here every week. We want to know which teams are most likely to win the Stanley Cup, and which ones are the most likely to finish dead last. We do that by considering what’s happened in the last week, but we try not to overreact to it. If the Sabres beat the Lightning on some random Friday night, cool, that’s hockey. It doesn’t necessarily mean the Sabres shoot up the rankings.

It’s a bit different than most of the many rankings out there, which tend to be more focused on immediate events. That’s a perfectly valid way to do it, of course, but it’s not what we’re going for here. If seeing a ranking where a team is ahead of an opponent who just beat them is going to bother you, this might not be your thing, because we try very hard not to overreact to single games or small sample sizes. Remember: Big picture.

Makes sense? Cool, let’s get to some way-too-early rankings that are going to end up being very wrong.

Road to the Cup

The five teams with the best chances of becoming the first franchise in three years to win a Stanley Cup that we have to admit probably counts.

The story of University of Toronto goalie Alex Bishop was pretty cool. He didn’t get into the game, which was good news for the Leafs and maybe also for any Senator fans wondering if two years’ worth of David Ayres jokes were going to come back to haunt them. The Leafs only had to play a goalie short for one game before they could use an emergency callup on Michael Hutchinson, so Bishop’s brief NHL career appears over, at least until he inevitably ends up starting a Game 7 for some reason.

5. Carolina Hurricanes (2-0-0, +4 true goals differential*) – They took a lot of criticism for their weird offseason, and it wasn’t undeserved. But a big part of that was around goaltending, and a few more strong starts by Frederik Andersen will start to alleviate that. Getting a convincing win on opening night against their main competition for the top spot in the Metro also doesn’t hurt.

4. Florida Panthers (2-0-0, +5) – Tell me if I’m wrong here, but it feels like the Panthers are this year’s team that we’re all kind of rooting for, right?

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