Tuesday, November 21, 2017

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- A look at a bus week of suspensions
- Fallout from the Wings/Flames fight
- Remembering back to what old school hockey brawls were like
- Dave and I fix the DoPS
- How worried should the Habs be?
- A fun hypothetical about Carey Price's contract
- And lots more...

>> Subscribe on iTunes.

(Streaming link is on the way.)




Handing out some awards at the NHL's quarter pole

We’re almost at the quarter-mark of the NHL schedule, which means it’s time to do a few things. First, and most importantly: Start wildly panicking if your team isn’t doing as well as they should be. You guys on that, Montreal and Edmonton? You are? Great, nice work as always.

For the rest of us, we may as well hand out some quarter-season awards. Sure, most of these will turn out to be regrettable in hindsight by the end of the year, and some of them will look bad within weeks. But that’s part of the fun.

So let’s do it. You can vote for your own picks right here with results revealed this week on Wednesday Night Hockey. In the meantime, here’s who we’d be handing out the tiny quarter-sized trophies to, based on the season’s first six weeks.

Most valuable player

Every sport that features an MVP award has the same debate over how exactly we should define “valuable.” Some see it as simply a fancy way of saying the best player, while others look for some deeper meaning related to a player’s relative importance to his teammates in terms of his team’s playoff chances.

Some years, one player emerges as the favourite under either definition and we can skip the semantic debate. This year, we may not be so lucky. Because based on the first quarter of the season, Hart Trophy voters could end up facing a dilemma: What do you do when the season’s two best performers are on the same team?

With Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos racking up big numbers while helping the Lightning to top spot in the standings, some will try to argue that they can’t be considered more valuable than someone like Connor McDavid or Johnny Gaudreau, who are the clear offensive leaders on their team. Others would point out that points aren’t everything, and that a two-way force like Anze Kopitar should get some consideration.

Of course, if we’re not going to just look at the top of the scoring race (like Hart voters usually do), we could make the case for a goalie or defenceman. That would bring guys like Sergei Bobrovsky, Alex Pietrangelo and Corey Crawford into the conversation. And then you’ve got guys who’ve missed time to injury, but are clearly their team’s most valuable players when healthy — that group would include Erik Karlsson and Auston Matthews.

Luckily, we fall into the category of voters who keep it simple. The league’s most valuable player is the one that’s having the best season, period. That means Kucherov gets the nod, edging out Stamkos. And we’ll toss Bobrovsky a third-place vote, if only because non-forwards rarely get enough Hart love.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Monday, November 20, 2017

Weekend wrap: Which teams were we wrong about?

Well, that didn’t go well for the Canadiens.

Fresh off the embarrassment of becoming the first team in the league to lose to the Coyotes in regulation, the Habs had a chance at instant redemption in a home matchup against the Maple Leafs. Instead, they suffered through a third-period implosion on the way to a 6–0 loss that may have somehow been even more embarrassing.

So now what? The Canadiens are 21 games into their season, and it already feels like the drama around this team is exhausting. They started slow, including a stretch where nobody could score. But they seemed to have turned things around, winning six of eight while scoring five or more four times. They still had ground to make up, but the percentages were evening out and it felt like it was OK to sound the all-clear on any talk of disaster.

Maybe not. The Habs have now lost four of five, sinking back down to five points out of a playoff spot. GM Marc Bergevin is taking all sorts of heat. Max Pacioretty is getting his usual share of the blame. And now there’s even talk that the team could be doing some “soul searching” while considering starting all over with a rebuild. That’s a long-term decision and any problems with this roster didn’t just appear overnight, but it’s amazing how much one rotten week can change the perception of a team.

The Canadiens aren’t the only team being reevaluated right now. Half the teams in the league have now hit the 20-game mark, which means it’s time to do a few important things. First, we can spend the next few days referring to this point in the season as the “quarter pole” just so that the sort of people who enjoy giving lectures on proper horse-racing etymology will have something to do. And second, we can start in with some serious re-evaluation of the teams we may have been wrong about.

Every year, a few teams we thought would be good stumble through the season’s first month while a few teams we’d already written off look like playoff contenders. Those are interesting stories, and we’ve covered plenty of them in this space over the last few weeks. But as we’re constantly reminded, it’s still early, and a small handful of games can’t tell us all that much.

But 20 games is… well, it’s still a relatively small sample, and it’s not unheard of for a team to have a good or bad stretch for a quarter of a season that still turns out to be an outlier. But we’re reaching the point where it’s time to start taking the standings seriously, if only because teams may have built up a cushion or deficit big enough to survive a correction down the line.

So this week, let’s pick three teams that most of us thought would be good and three teams we all assumed would be bad but who aren’t following the script, and ask: Were we wrong? And if so, what does that mean going forward? We’ll tackle the disappointing teams in our Cup section and the surprising teams in our lottery section. For some of them, based on the first 20 games, it may be the last time they get mentioned in those sections this year.

And of course, we’ll also dive into the teams that have been truly good and truly awful in our weekly power rankings. Speaking of which, you’ll never guess who’s sitting in the No. 1 spot in our top five.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they’re headed towards Stanley Cup–favourite status.

5. Winnipeg Jets (12-4-3, +12 true goals differential*): The Jets make their debut on the strength of a four-game win streak. They’ll be tested this week as they head to Nashville tonight and then onto a three-game California road trip.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Saturday, November 18, 2017

Saturday storylines: Leafs vs Habs, chapter two

Welcome to the NHL’s “Centennial Birthday Weekend,” in which the league celebrates its 100th birthday. It’s not the anniversary of the first ever games, since that’s in December, or of the league officially forming, since that’s next week. It’s just … uh … a centennial birthday. Stop asking questions. Look, do you want some cake or not?

HNIC Game of the Night: Maple Leafs at Canadiens

This is the second time this season that we’ve featured a Leafs-Habs game in this spot, and it probably won’t be the last. There’s just something special about a Saturday night matchup between the two long-time rivals. And since the league is using the meeting as an opportunity to douse us with history, all the better.

It’s worth revisiting what we wrote about these two teams the last time they played, if only to serve as a reminder of how many twists and turns can be packed into five weeks. Back on the season’s second weekend, we were wondering if the Maple Leafs could snap Montreal’s 14-game win streak in head-to-head matchups. They did, earning a 4-3 overtime win on an Auston Matthews goal.

We were also wondering if Montreal was ever going to get the offence going. That happened too, although it took a little longer. The Habs’ inability to score went from a curiosity to problem to an outright crisis over the course of the season’s first few weeks, before the floodgates finally opened and all those stats guys were proven right about percentages and regression and sample sizes. The Canadiens aren’t exactly lighting up scoreboards – they still rank just 24th in total goals – and Thursday’s loss to the Coyotes was the first time they’ve scored more than three in a game since Nov. 4. But at least nobody’s panicking about the offence anymore in Montreal. They’ve got other things to worry about.

Instead, we’re all wondering what’s up with Carey Price, who’s “minor” injury has kept him out for two weeks now. He still says it’s no big deal, assuring fans that they “don’t have to be concerned” and that this isn’t a repeat of 2015. That’s reassuring, and with rookie Charlie Lindgren looking fantastic, the Canadiens haven’t missed their superstar all that much yet. But seeing Price try to play through a second pre-game injury raises some fair questions about the relationship between the team and its expensive star. And you can forgive Montreal fans for being a little nervous about the situation, especially when Antti Niemi suddenly shows up via waivers? If Niemi is ever the answer, the question probably isn’t anything good.

As for the Maple Leafs, the last time they were in Montreal they were riding high and scoring a ton. Since then, we’ve seen them boost their record to 6-1-0, be declared Cup favourites, cool off, hit an outright slump, and then reel off five straight wins even though they were missing Matthews for most of that stretch. It’s been quite a journey. And these days, the Maple Leafs are winning thanks to solid goaltending and team defence instead of by just blowing the doors off whoever’s in the opposing net. They even managed a 1-0 overtime win their last time out. That’s not quite as much fun, but it probably makes Mike Babcock a lot less cranky, and that’s worth something.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Friday, November 17, 2017

Grab Bag: When Teemu sings

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- That Wings/Flames brawl was crazy, but man times have changed
- Your guide to the GoalDNA project
- An obscure player who likes ice hockey, ice hockey
- The week's three comedy stars
- And new Hall-of-Famer Teemu Selanne has a song for you

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports