Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Grantland: The bandwagon fan's guide to the NHL playoffs

The NHL playoffs are here, and if you cheer for one of the 16 teams that made the cut, you know what you need to do: Put fresh batteries in the remote, kiss your loved ones good-bye, and get ready for the emotional roller coaster that you’re about to ride.

But what if your team didn’t make it? What if you find yourself looking for a bandwagon to jump on over the next few weeks? Well, in that case you could refuse to do that because bandwagon-jumpers are the absolute worst fans in sports better choose carefully!

It’s not an easy decision. In fact, choosing a temporary team can be one of the toughest calls a sports fan can make. You want a team that’s fun to watch, is riding a nice story, and preferably has a chance to win at least a round or two. You might prefer a franchise with some recent success, but not so much that you seem like a front-runner. And of course, you’ll want to be associating yourself with a worthy fan base, even if the relationship is only going to be short term.

I’m here to help. So I went through all 16 playoff teams and ranked them in terms of their desirability as a bandwagon destination. If you want someone to root for during the postseason but you’re not sure which team to choose, consult this handy guide to make sure you don’t make a decision you’ll regret.

>> Read the full post at Grantland

Eastern Conference playoff preview

Mandatory playoff preview week continues. Yesterday we took a look at the Western Conference. Given the absence of a Northern or Southern Conference, I guess that means today we're stuck with the East.

#8 New York Islanders vs. #1 Pittsburgh Penguins

The Islanders kept it close until a
second Penguins player showed up.

The view from Long Island: Will try to shut down the Penguins' best players the same way they always do: By giving the puck to Brooks Orpik at the point and hoping he takes a slapshot.

The view from Pittsburgh: Will have to play a disciplined game, and try not to take a bunch of too-many-men penalties every time Dan Bylsma yells "Get out there, future hall-of-famer!"

Player to watch: David Volek, on a YouTube loop, while quietly muttering "I believe in miracles" to yourself.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Western Conference playoff preview

Another NHL regular season is in the books. The standings are set, 14 teams have been sent packing, and the matchups have been finalized. And that means it's playoff preview time.

We'll cover the Eastern Conference tomorrow. Today, let's start off with a look at the Western Conference matchups.

#8 Minnesota Wild vs. #1 Chicago Blackhawks

Damn you, google image search for "most recent
meaningful Minnesota/Chicago hockey game"

The view from Minnesota: The team spent almost $200 million in free agency so Wild fans could watch a championship caliber team, and now they can for four games until the Blackhawks move on to round two.

The view from Chicago: Know that playoff success can come down to taking advantage of just a few short seconds on one single shift, which is good since that's probably all the time that Ryan Suter will be spending on the bench each game.

Player to watch: Duncan Keith, assuming he's soaping himself up in the shower and you are an impudent lady reporter, Don Cherry assumes.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Grantland grab bag: No, I'm pretty sure Albert wasn't supposed to be Brazilian

In the weekly grab bag: A week of dumb outrage, don't mess with Tony Twist, a debate about where games are too loud, and more Albert ad theories.

>> Read the full post at Grantland

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Grantland: A dozen possible first round matchups I'd love to see

The NHL playoffs are less than a week away, and we’re starting to get a clearer picture of exactly which teams will be involved.

But while several are locked into a playoff spot, there’s still plenty of uncertainty over what the actual first-round matchups will be. So this seems like a good time to start thinking ahead to some potential pairings.

We’re not necessarily going to worry about the most likely scenarios, just the potentially best ones. To keep from veering too far into wishful thinking, we’ll limit it to matchups that have at least a 15 percent chance of happening, according to Sports Club Stats.

Here are a dozen possible playoff matchups that hockey fans can start getting excited about.

>> Read the full post at Grantland

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A look back at players who have led the NHL in goal-scoring

Ovechkin recently announced that, in order to
"make it more challenging", he will play all future
shifts while simultaneously performing show tunes.

The NHL season has a week to go, and there's no question about who the hottest player in the league is down the stretch. That would be Alexander Ovechkin, the much-maligned superstar who has recorded 20 goals in his last 18 games.

That streak has pushed Ovechkin to the top of the league's goal-scoring race, making him the favorite to lead the league for a third time. That would put him in great company. The league has honored the goal-scoring leader with the prestigious Rocket Richard Trophy since 1999, but even in the years before that award was created there's always been a special aura associated with leading the NHL in goals.

Here's a look back at some of the players from the past who've held that honor.

2006 - While offensive totals increase dramatically due to a series of post-lockout rule changes aimed at increasing scoring, in hindsight the league may have gone too far with that whole "nobody is allowed to use a goalie when Jonathan Cheechoo is on the ice" thing.

2007 - Vincent Lecavalier's 52 goals wins the Rocket Richard Trophy, which Brian Lawton will later claim he totally could have traded for two Stanley Cups, three Vezinas and the Lombardi Trophy.

2003 - Milan Hejduk wins the award with a 50-goal season, causing you to reminiscence fondly about how they're just aren't any players like that in the league any more right up until he awkwardly taps you on the shoulder and reminds you that he actually still plays for Colorado.

1993 - Teemu Selanne ties for the league lead when he scores 76 goals as a rookie, then decides to dial it back a little since he doesn't want to be one of those flash-in-the-pan types who burns out after only 16 or 17 seasons.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Grantland: 20 thoughts about the playoffs-bound Maple Leafs

My name is Sean, and I’m a Toronto Maple Leafs fan.

This will no doubt come as a shock to anyone who’s been reading my stuff over the years. As a respectable sportswriter, I have carefully hidden any team allegiances I may have so as not to appear biased. Especially observant readers might have picked up on some subtle hints, like the way I force at least one Leaf reference into everything I write, or that my Twitter avatar is a Maple Leaf punching a guy in the face, or that I named my first-born son “Dougie," or that I can’t write a single word without first watching the Wendel Clark “All Heart” video a dozen times to get pumped up. But for the rest of you, this is probably a shock. The secrecy is over.

Also over: Toronto’s playoff drought. On Saturday night in front of a raucous Ottawa crowd, the Leafs beat the Senators 4-1 and finally got that precious “x” next to their name in the standings. They’re in. The Toronto Maple Leafs are going to the playoffs.

My editors asked if I’d like to write a few words about that. [The opening bars of “Hero of the Day” begin to play in the background.] Yes, yes I think I would.

Here are 20 things you need to know about the playoff-bound Maple Leafs.

>> Read the full post at Grantland

Friday, April 19, 2013

Grantland grab bag: Why does Albert have his first name on the back of his jersey?

In the weekly grab bag: Too many outdoor games, Don Cherry reveals his list, your favourite player is a dirtbag, Chris Pronger makes me sad, and the most iconic commercial in Canadian history.

>> Read the full post at Grantland

Grantland: Famous hockey moments that would have been way better if we'd had Twitter

It’s one of those topics that come up every now and then: What would famous moments in history have been like if Twitter had been around?

Usually people talk about things like the first Wright brothers flight or the invention of the light bulb, but I’d rather focus on something important, like hockey. So I put together a list of nine notable moments from hockey history that I think would have been way more fun if we’d had Twitter back then.

>> Read the full post at Grantland

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Grantland: What every hockey fan needs to know about a possible Leafs/Habs first round series

We’re getting close to the end of the NHL regular season, and the postseason scenarios are rapidly taking shape. Teams are clinching spots, the death watches have begun, and fans of playoff-bound teams are already looking ahead to possible first-round matchups.

But of all the potential pairings, one looms above the rest: the Toronto Maple Leafs facing the Montreal Canadiens.

According to Sports Club Stats, a Leafs-Habs pairing is the most likely first-round series in the league right now, at just slightly better than a 50 percent chance. Is that enough to call it a sure thing? Not at all. Is it enough to prematurely crank up the hype machine? Oh, baby.

Here are 10 things you need to know about a potential playoff meeting between the Maple Leafs and Canadiens:

It’s the greatest rivalry in NHL history.

Not necessarily the greatest rivalry of today — you could make a good case for Boston-Montreal or Pittsburgh-Philadelphia. And not the greatest rivalry of our generation, thanks to these guys.

But with all due respect to those teams and others, nothing can match the history of the league’s oldest rivalry. The two teams have combined for more than 30 Stanley Cups, including 13 of 14 between 1956 and 1969, and each have more than 50 players in the Hall of Fame.

And yes, this is the part where you point out that all that happened decades ago and doesn’t matter much today. To which the hockey world responds: Pull your pants up, you insufferable brat. If you’re a hockey fan, especially a Canadian one, this is the rivalry your grandparents’ generation grew up with and passed down. No matter where you are or what team you cheer for, the history of the Maple Leafs and Canadiens is a big part of why you’re a fan.

>> Read the full post at Grantland

Monday, April 15, 2013

The other former Oiler players interviewed by Kevin Lowe for the general manager job

Tambellini knew he was in trouble when his
performance review consisted entirely of
Kevin Lowe miming a wanking motion.

Scene: A board room at Edmonton Oilers headquarters. Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish are finishing up an extensive interview.

Lowe: Thanks again for coming in Craig. Obviously we want to move quickly to replace Steve Tambellini, and I have to say you did great on the interview.

MacTavish: Thanks Kevin. Happy to have the opportunity.

Lowe: I was especially impressed by this glowing letter of reference from Randy Carlyle, where he explains how you "never made your brain all sweaty" by wearing a helmet. So we'll certainly keep that in mind.

MacTavish: Excellent.

Lowe: Now as per team policy, we will of course be filling this vacant front office position with a former Edmonton Oilers player. And right now, you're certainly at the top of our list. But we do have a few other candidates to speak to.

MacTavish: Absolutely. It's all about due diligence.

Lowe: Thanks your understanding. (into intercom) Please send in the next candidate.

Wayne Gretzky enters the room.

Lowe: Thanks for coming in, Wayne. Now I have to say that I'm somewhat surprised that you're interested in returning to Edmonton. You seem like more of a southern US guy these days.

Gretzky: Well, it's true that for the past few years my family has spent most of our time in California. And I just feel like it would be a really nice change to come back up to a cold weather climate.

Lowe: Well, we certainly offer that.

Gretzky: Yeah, I really think my entire family needs to spend some time where it's snowy and cold and nobody ever wears a bikini.

Lowe: Ummm…

Gretzky: My ideal situation would involve mandatory head-to-toe parkas for everyone.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Grantland Grab Bag: Are you on the list?

In the weekly Grab Bag: The fighting debate, trying to figure out the proper plural form for "Greg Adams", Don Cherry's list, and the most 1984 hockey intro of all-time.

>> Read the full post at Grantland

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Grantland: A Guide to the Last 18 Days of the NHL Schedule

It feels like just a few weeks ago that we were watching the NHL’s opening night. And it was. Thanks, Bettman!

But in this lockout-shortened season, we’re already in the home stretch. In fact, today is one of just 18 days left on the NHL schedule. In a perfect world, you’d watch them all. But in this imperfect world, there’s a good chance you’re stuck with things like “a job” or “family” or “friends,” so you have to pick your spots.

I’m here for you. I went through each of the remaining 18 days on the NHL regular-season calendar to figure out which were likely to be worth watching, and which could safely be skipped.

>> Read the full post at Grantland

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Jarome Iginla vs. Jaromir Jagr: An in-depth comparison

After 15 years in Calgary, Jarome Iginla tries to
remember which facial muscles you use to smile.

The trade deadline has come and gone, and two names dominated: Jaromir Jagr and Jarome Iginla. It's not the first time in their careers that they've found themselves with something in common.

Both are right wingers known for using their size and strength. Both are members of the exclusive 500-goal club. And of course, both were moved in the days leading up to the 2013 NHL trade deadline.

But despite the similarities, there are some subtle differences between the two players. Let's take a more in-depth look at these two legends.

Jagr: Has always worn the number 68, in recognition of the first year of the Czechoslovakian rebellion known as the Prague Spring.
Iginla: Has always worn the number 12, in recognition of the final year that the Flames front office would be able to convince themselves they were still Stanley Cup contenders.

Iginla: His full name is Jarome Arthur-Leigh Adekunle Tig Junior Elvis Iginla.
Jagr: His full name includes several graphical references to anatomical functions as well as his mother, according to every Penguins fan you mention him too.

Jagr: Played most of his career in Pittsburgh alongside players like Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis and Paul Coffey, which taught him valuable lessons about how to consistently perform at Hall of Fame level.
Iginla: Played most of his career in Calgary alongside players like Craig Conroy, Daymond Langkow and Matthew Lombardi, teaching him a valuable lesson about life not being fair.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Grantland Grab Bag: Icing is exciting, Patrick Roy is crazy, and Don Cherry is on the wrong side

In the weekly Grab Bag: The icing debate, homer announcers, Luongo's sucky contract, and Patrick Roy wanders off.

>> Read the full post at Grantland

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Trade deadline day: Follow me at TSN and Grantland

Happy trade deadline day.

I’ll be tweeting as part of TSN’s all-day TradeCentre coverage. You can follow me here, and follow TSN’s twitter coverage using the #tradecentre hashtag. Feel free to watch me try not to have a career-ending meltdown when it's revealed the Leafs have given up good assets for Mikka Kiprusoff.

I’ll also be posting short updates throughout the day at Grantland, which you can find right here. If things don't get too crazy I'll probably also hang out in the comments both here and on the facebook page.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Grantland: Five dream teams that weren't

Most of the hockey world went to bed last Wednesday convinced Calgary captain Jarome Iginla was headed to Boston. When they woke up to discover he’d wound up in Pittsburgh instead, many were left wondering the same thing: Should we just go ahead and start engraving the Stanley Cup now?

The Penguins were already riding a massive win streak (now up to 15 and counting). Adding the best player available at the deadline, along with the earlier acquisitions of Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray, to a lineup that already featured Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and James Neal just didn’t seem fair.

Of course, there are no sure things, and the Penguins roster isn’t perfect. They may have the best cast of forwards in the league, but we all know that the goaltending and blue line are shaky, and … [Checks the Penguins’ goals against during the last three games.] … oh man. I think we’re all screwed.

But let’s not panic quite yet. After all, while the Penguins might be the consensus favorites right now, they have a long way to go before they’re crowned champions. And if they falter, they’ll have good company, because the recent history of NHL sure-things isn’t all that impressive.

So before we start planning the Penguins’ coronation, let’s take a look back at five other big moves that had everyone ready to just hand over the Stanley Cup. As you’ll see, the hockey gods have a habit of throwing a surprise our way.

>> Read the full post at Grantland

Monday, April 1, 2013

Buyers and sellers at the 2013 NHL trade deadline

In hindsight, Luongo realized that getting Gillis
to promise to have him in a new uniform by
March may not have been specific enough.

The annual NHL trade deadline is Wednesday, which literally everybody who would ever visit this site already knows and has read 300 articles about, but I have to mention it anyways because this is what us professional writers refer to as a "topical lead".

Anyways, that means it's time for a mandatory roundup of which teams are buyers and which are sellers.

Buyer: Toronto Maple Leafs - Are rumored to be in the market for a veteran goaltender due to concerns about James Reimer's glove hand; specifically, the way he keeps using it to point to his statistics while saying "Seriously, you guys would be insane to trade for a goaltender right now".

Seller: Calgary Flames - Jay Feaster is expected to be extremely active on deadline day and finalize deals with as many as a half dozen different teams, and that's just for Jay Bouwmeester.

Buyer: Anaheim Ducks - Will be looking for fourth-liners who don't know the meaning of the word "can't" and veterans who don't know the meaning of the word "quit" and potential season ticket subscribers who don't know the meaning of the word "regression".

Seller: San Jose Sharks - Ryan Clowe would be a perfect addition to the dressing room of a contender, since he's the not the sort of guy who'll come in and suddenly disrupt team chemistry with a whole lot of selfish talk about how many goals he's scored this season.