Friday, June 28, 2013

Grantland grab bag: Mats Sundin doesn't understand how hats work

This week's grab bag looks at buyouts, the upcoming draft, playing hurt, and Don Cherry's playoff run. But the most important thing we learn is that 18-year-old Mats Sundin had no idea how hats work.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Grantland: All the key dates from a busy July in the NHL

The NHL has wrapped up the action on the ice for another season. Hockey fans have already turned their attention to the draft, which will be held this Sunday in New Jersey.

Sunday is an important date on the hockey calendar for another reason: It’s June 30. That’s traditionally been the NHL’s New Year's Eve, the last date before the league officially rolls over into a new season. And with that brand-new season comes weeks and weeks of … not very much, actually. Let’s face it, July and August have usually been pretty dull for NHL fans.

But wait! Just because there are no more games and the draft is done doesn’t mean that nothing at all is going on. In fact, thanks to a lockout that messed up this season’s schedule for everyone, there are still some important dates on the calendar.

The entire month of July is looking pretty packed. Here’s a look at what hockey fans can look forward to next month.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Other hidden NHL injuries revealed

Marchand and Ference star in a scene from the
summer's hilarious new comedy, Weekend At Bergie's.

The NHL playoffs have ended, which means everyone can start coming clean about all the injuries they've been hiding. After months of "upper body" this and "lower body" that, fans finally get to learn the real truth behind the injuries that were hampering certain players.

One player making headlines because of an injury revelation is Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins. We already knew that he was playing through a separated shoulder, damaged cartilage and a broken rib during the Stanley Cup Final. On Wednesday we learned that he'd also been admitted to a local hospital with a small hole in his lung.

While Bergeron is an extreme case, he's far from the only one in the hockey world who's been hiding a health problem. Here are some of the other NHL players and personalities who've recently revealed the injuries they've been suffering from:

Jarome Iginla - Probably has a badly injured foot, neighbors say, since he's constantly speeding down the street in his Delorean then jumping out and kicking the fender while yelling "Take me back to the trade deadline, damn you!"

Roberto Luongo - Has been suffering from a severe blister on the finger he uses to hit refresh on his Google search for "Did I get bought out yet"?

Greg Sherman - Admits to dealing with some frost bite during the last month spent scouting rec players at outdoor games in Iceland, but hey, if this trip wasn't super important then Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy wouldn't have sent the general manager to handle it, right?

Sidney Crosby - Must have had some sort of relapse and had to have his jaw rewired shut, based on how he clenches his teeth and just stares at you silently when you ask him if he thinks the Penguins can win another Cup with Marc-Andre Fleury in net.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Grantland: The Blackhawks broke the system and that's a good thing

You see, Chicago, this is not the way it’s supposed to work.

Not in the salary-cap era, at least. We lost an entire season to get this system, and then we lost another half-season to … well, nobody’s quite sure, but to tweak it, we guess. This is supposed to be the age of parity in the NHL, and that means everybody needs to play by the rules.

Here’s how it’s supposed to go: You lose. You draft high and pray you find a superstar or two. You try to find a few more stars on the trade market or in free agency. That’s your core, and you build up a supporting cast around it as cheaply as possible.

And then the window opens, maybe for a year or two, maybe longer if you’re lucky. That’s your chance to win the Stanley Cup. At that point, all you can do is cross your fingers and hope.

And then — and this is the important part — the window slams shut.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Monday, June 24, 2013

A ranking of 20 years of Gary Bettman Stanley Cup presentations from least to most awkward

The Stanley Cup will be in the building tonight in Boston, with the Chicago Blackhawks one win away from claiming the championship. And that means it’s time to get excited about one of the highlights of the NHL season: Watching commissioner Gary Bettman struggle through presenting the Cup.

In the years since Bettman’s debut as the Stanley Cup presenter, the ceremony has evolved into one of the most awkward traditions in all of sports. Bettman fidgets, the crowd boos, the posed photo takes way too long, and the winning captain fakes a smile while he waits for Bettman to just let go of the Cup and hit the bricks.

Calls for Bettman to step aside and let somebody else do the honors have reached the point where it’s practically a consensus. But he’s made it clear that he has no intention of doing so, and he will be back out there again this year.

All of which is great news for fans of unintentional comedy. So to mark the occasion, I thought it would be fun to go through all 20 years of Bettman’s reign (there are 19 presentations total, thanks to one year lost to a lockout) and rank them in order of awkwardness.

We’ll be using the following criteria:

Crowd Response: The more hostile the better. Unfortunately, not every video clip I found includes Bettman’s introduction, but we’ll do our best to piece everything together.

Cup Handoff: A combination of factors, including: How disgusted does the captain seem to be by Bettman’s presence? How long does it take them to get the photo right? Can they figure out which hand goes where? Is Steve Yzerman involved? (That last one turns out to be important.)

Bettman Awkwardness: A catchall, and the most important category. We’re looking
at everything from hair to wardrobe to random gesticulation to attempted one-liners to his level of flusteredness, which I don’t think is a word but should be.

Overall: The combined level of overall awkwardness. Not necessarily an average.

So here we go … 20 years’ worth of presentations, ranked in order from the least to the most awkward.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Friday, June 21, 2013

Grantland grab bag: Jean-Claude Van Damme's awesome kitchen brawl with the Penguins mascot

In the weekly grab bag: Should Gary Bettman let somebody else present the Stanley Cup? An obscure player with an awesome nickname. And a detailed breakdown of the Pittsburgh Penguin's mascot's fight to the death with Jean-Claude Van Damme.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Grantland: The five factors of Game 5, and beyond

So the Blackhawks and Bruins are down to a best-of-three for the Stanley Cup, and nobody has any idea what to expect from these teams anymore.

Oh, we thought we had it figured out. After Monday’s 2-0 Bruins win in Game 3, we all felt confident in going with the “defense wins championships” narrative. Then the two teams went out on Wednesday and blew the doors off in the Blackhawks' wild 6-5 overtime win.

So now they’re headed back to Chicago for Game 5 on Saturday, and anyone who tells you they know what’s going to happen is lying. But in the absence of actual predictions, we can at least take our best shot at figuring out which factors are likely to play a key role in the outcome.

Here are five elements that have loomed large so far, and might determine which team skates away with the Stanley Cup in the next few days.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Grantland: How did the Leafs almost beat the Bruins when nobody else can?

The Boston Bruins are starting to look unstoppable. After shutting down the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday night, they hold a 2-1 series lead in the Stanley Cup final heading into Game 4 at home tonight. They’re two wins away from a championship that would cap off one of the most impressive playoff runs in recent history.

A quick recap: In the first round, the Bruins beat the Toronto Maple Leafs. Since then, they’ve found themselves facing the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and now the Blackhawks. Or, to put those matchups in some perspective: last year’s top seed in the East, this year’s top seed in the East, and this year’s top seed overall.

Heading into tonight’s action, here’s how those teams have fared against Boston:

Without putting too fine a point on it, those numbers don’t make any sense. How could the Bruins be rolling over three of the best teams in the NHL so easily, when they needed a historic Game 7 comeback just to survive against a very average Toronto team?

Or, to rephrase the question in a more intriguing way: Is it possible that the Leafs knew something that everyone else has missed?

The good news is that, as a Maple Leafs fan, I watched that first-round series closely. The bad news is that, as a Maple Leafs fan, my therapist has ordered me never to discuss it again. So if he asks, the next few thousand words never happened.

I floated a version of the question — What the hell happened in that Leafs series? — on Twitter a few nights ago. Here are some of the most common theories I got back in response, and my thoughts on whether there could be some truth to them.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The New York Rangers head coaching vacancy questionnaire

Messier aced the "Where is the
faceoff after every shot on goal
against the Flyers" question.

The New York Rangers have apparently found their new head coach. While the deal hasn't been formally signed, reports say that the Rangers have settled on former Canucks coach Alain Vigneault and will make the official announcement soon.

Assuming those reports are true, it will conclude a lengthy and at times bizarre search that involved plenty of big names. In addition to Vigneault, the Rangers were rumored to be considering legendary former players like Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky, and even names like Ulf Samuelsson and Brian Leetch were mentioned.

According to reports, GM Glen Sather had each of the candidates fill out a questionnaire prior to being interviewed. It goes without saying that DGB spies were quickly able to locate a copy and pass it along.


Thank you for your interest in becoming the next coach of the New York Rangers. To help us process the many candidates we expect to apply, please fill out this brief questionnaire to help us get to know you.

Your first name: ________________
Your last name: ________________
Your nickname when you played with the Rangers, which we're just going to go ahead and assume you did: ________________

Date you are available to start work: ________________
Date you are available to stop work, if you make Henrik Lundqvist mad: ________________

Your salary demands: ________________
(Note: this form will be reviewed by Glen Sather, so just go ahead and write in literally anything for that last one.)

Do you have any experience as a head coach in an NHL market?
( ) No.
( ) Nope.
( ) None at all.
( ) Coached in Montreal and Vancouver for a total of 11 seasons
( ) Coached in Phoenix for four seasons, so… no.

What would you say is the most important skill that a New York Rangers coach must possess?
( ) Familiarity with the CBA's buyout section
( ) Ability to resist punching Larry Brooks
( ) Willingness to attend Stanley Cup parades every half-century whether you want to or not
( ) Staying calm during difficult times by quietly mumbling "Well, at least we're not the Sabres".

What do you like best about the current New York Rangers organization?
( ) Notice you have decided to go with one and only one starting goalie; kind of wish my old boss had thought of that.
( ) Love Ryan McDonagh's two-way game, and sure hope we have more guys like him being developed by our farm team in Montreal.
( ) Really like the way you always keep your "Days since we last employed Sean Avery" sign updated.
( ) Have so many good young leaders that a New York Ranger player will definitely be winning the Mark Messier Leadership Award every year for a long long time, if you play your cards right.

Do you have any unique talents or abilities that you feel we should be aware of?
( ) Was the best hockey player in the world and the only reason Glen Sather has all those Cup rings that keep him employed to this day, but don't let that affect your decision or anything.
( ) On free agency day, can repeatedly hit my general manager on the nose with a rolled up newspaper while yelling "NO!" every time the phone rings.
( ) Don't want to get into it, but let's just say I'm on a first name basis with like half the local riot squad in two different cities.
( ) When I set my mind to it, can achieve the impossible. For example, have occasionally succeeded in eating just one.

Do you have any concerns about taking this position?
( ) Ryan Clowe and Darroll Powe's names don't rhyme and that's always just really bothered me for some reason.
( ) Would like to put together a long-term strategic plan, so it would be cool if we could eventually get one or two players signed past next season.
( ) Realize that part of the New York sports scene involves dealing with celebrities, but still not sure why the lead singer from this horrible band is always walking around MSG like he owns the place.
( ) Sort of creeped out by how realistic those mounted heads of sportswriters hanging in the old coach's office are

What would you say are the odds that you get this job?
( ) Pretty good.
( ) Just OK.
( ) Definite longshot.
( ) Not sure, let me ask my wife.

Finally, if you are the successful candidate, what would you do on your first day on the job?
( ) Get to work preparing a game plan for next year's playoff series against the Capitals.
( ) Try to cheer up that depressed looking usher by asking him if he knows how much he looks like Brad Richards
( ) Take off pants; sit on photocopier; fax results to Mike Gillis.
( ) Probably Google "How to be a hockey coach" since that is something I have never been in my entire life.

Thank you for your interest in this position. Please note that the successful candidate will be contacted next week. The unsuccessful candidates will be contacted next season, during our first losing streak.

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Grantland: The 1-1 Stanley Cup Series: A Historical Analysis

After the opening two games between the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins, the Stanley Cup final is tied at one game apiece for the first time since the lockout.

Well, not this year’s lockout. I mean, that would be true, but it wouldn’t be very interesting. And because we need to be more specific in Gary Bettman’s wonderful world of perpetual work stoppages, let’s try this again: This year’s final is tied 1-1 for the first time since the lockout that wiped out the entire 2004-05 season. Much better.

Yes, in all seven Stanley Cup final series since 2004, the team that won the first game also won the second. (Although two of those teams still ended up losing the series.) Given that, I thought it would be worthwhile to look back at the most recent 10 times that we’ve found ourselves even after two games, and to see if the past has anything to teach us about what we might be able to expect this year.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Friday, June 14, 2013

Grantland grab bag: Settle down, goal horn guys

In this week's grab bag: Criticizing the refs during the playoffs, Jagr’s brilliant goal from 1992, Darin Kimble vs. The Grim Reaper, and enough with the goal horns.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

The 25 Stages of a Marathon Playoff Overtime

The Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins needed a third overtime to decide Game 1 of their Stanley Cup final this week. It was the longest game of the 2013 playoffs. (The series picks up again Saturday night in Chicago.) Now it goes without saying that if you’re a fan of one of the teams involved, watching sudden-death overtime is torture. But if you’re a relatively neutral observer who wants to see an entertaining game, overtime is just about the best possible result. And the longer it drags on, the better.

But while you never know exactly how a long overtime game will turn out, veteran hockey fans should have a good idea of what to expect along the way. Here are 25 moments that you'll probably experience at some point in every multiple-overtime NHL playoff game.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

2013 Stanley Cup Final preview

Even Hossa agreed that his stick's Gregory
Campbell impression was in poor taste.

The Stanley Cup Final start tomorrow, which means it's time for an in-depth preview of the two teams that will be competing to be crowned champion.

With the Bruins and Blackhawks this evenly matched, even a small advantage in one area can become the key to victory. Here's a look at each of the crucial matchups that could end up deciding the series.


Blackhawks: Joe Quenneville is a savvy veteran who can be counted on to avoid rookie mistakes, like picking up when his general manager tries to Skype him.
Bruins: Claude Julien has turned the Bruins into perennial Cup contenders thanks to the patented strategy he calls "Always make sure you have pretty much the best goalie in the entire league".


Blackhawks: Patrick Kane has been on fire lately, which is pretty much what you'd expect from something greasy that's frequently soaked in alcohol.
Bruins: Brad Marchand has established himself as one of the best agitators in hockey, in the sense that watching a guy rack up goals and assists against your team in crucial situations can be really agitating.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Grantland: How Disappointing Was Your Team's NHL Playoff Run?

This is the time of year when you can expect to repeatedly encounter some variation of these words: We’re down to just two teams left standing in the NHL playoffs.

That phrasing always seemed oddly appropriate, since it implies that the rest of the league must be on the ground. And metaphorically speaking, that’s true. By the end of the third round, the floor is littered with failed playoff teams. Some may have collapsed from sheer exhaustion, others are sprawled out after a swift and bruising knockout, and a few are curled up in a little puddle of tears, wondering how it all went so wrong.

So before we move on to praising Boston and Chicago, let’s spend a few minutes picking through three rounds of postseason wreckage. Here are the 14 playoff teams that have been eliminated, ranked in order of how disappointing their playoff runs ultimately were.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Friday, June 7, 2013

Grantland grab bag: Are we supposed to hate Sidney Crosby?

In this week's grab bag: The Great Pens/Bruins War of '91, mocking bad uniforms, feeling sorry for Bill Muckalt, and the Sidney Crosby debate.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Grantland: A visual guide to four decades of Bruins/Penguins hatred

The Bruins and Penguins are three games into their conference finals matchup, and the series has already produced its share of bad blood. We’ve seen Matt Cooke ejected for hitting Andrew McQuaid from behind, a fight between Evgeni Malkin and Patrice Bergeron, and Sidney Crosby going nose-to-chest with Zdeno Chara. And that was just Game 1. As the series continues, it’s become clear that these two teams just don’t seem to like each other.

The animosity doesn’t come as much of a surprise, given which teams we're talking about. And we don’t just mean this year — Boston and Pittsburgh have a history that goes back decades, and it has featured some memorably nasty moments.

Here’s a visual guide to the history of the Penguins and Bruins hating each other.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A brief history of the Conference Finals

Ever the sportsman, Chara decided he wouldn't hit the
guy until he’d given him a chance to stand up.

The Conference Finals are underway, and so far they haven't exactly been the most entertaining. The Penguins and Bruins may be headed for a sweep, and the Hawks and Kings have so far served up a predictable series of home team wins. While there's still time for some excitement, so far the two series haven't served up much.

That's unfortunate, and it's also at least somewhat rare. Over the years the Conference Finals have often proven to be the most interesting round of the NHL playoffs, and have featured some of hockey's most enduring moments.

Let's take a look back through the NHL history book at some memorable Conference Finals matchups.

1979 - Don Cherry's Bruins take a too-many-men penalty during game seven against the Habs, which must be some sort of call that they've since taken out of the rulebook according to current Penguins players who are pretty sure the Bruins have been using an extra guy this entire series.

1989 - Ron Hextall earns a 12-game suspension after charging from his net and viciously attacking Montreal's Chris Chelios. Or, as an entire generation of Philadelphia sports fans will grow to refer to it, "the most sensible thing a Flyers goalie has ever done in my lifetime".

1993 - While it's normal to want to celebrate taking a 3-2 series lead with a little bit of music, the Maple Leafs will later regret asking Wayne Gretzky if they could borrow that piano he's been carrying around on his back.

2000 - Scott Stevens cements his status as the league's hardest hitter on a devastating open ice check on Eric Lindros, and by "status" we mean "shoulder pad" and by "cements" we mean "fills with actual cement".

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Grantland: What's Wrong With the L.A. Kings? (And Can They Fix It?)

The old sports cliché says that you’re never really in trouble in a playoff series until you lose at home. But, with all due respect to the wisdom of old sports clichés, right now the Los Angeles Kings look like a team that’s in a lot of trouble.

They’ve dropped the first two games of their Western Conference finals matchup with the Blackhawks, including a surprisingly easy Chicago win Sunday that saw L.A. trailing 4-0 before the midway mark. While the series has returned to Los Angeles for the next two games, the prospect of the Kings coming back to win four-of-five against the Presidents’ Trophy winners seems slim.

Or does it? After all, the Kings are the defending Stanley Cup champions, and they’ve already come back from a 2-0 series deficit this postseason (against the Blues in Round 1). Counting them out after two games of a seven-game series seems like a reach.

Here are eight things that are going wrong for the Kings right now, and our best guess as to whether they’ll be able to fix them in time.

>> Read the full post on Grantland