Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Grantland: Has the Maple Leafs' offseason really been that bad?

I tried, Maple Leafs fans. God knows, I tried.

When I wrote last week’s post on the six most perplexing moves of the NHL offseason, I tried to be gentle with the Leafs. I only included one of their moves on the list, and mentioned a few others in passing.

And then I posted the link on Twitter, and immediately got a steady stream of replies from hockey fans like this and this and this. The message was clear: You’re letting the Leafs off too easy.

Toronto has had a busy offseason, and many of the moves have been, shall we say, divisive. On Twitter, call-in shows, comment sections, and anywhere else Leaf fans voice their opinions, there’s been a very vocal minority saying, essentially, “This team doesn’t know what it’s doing and its offseason has been a disaster." To which a different vocal minority replies: “Shut up, you guys are always so negative, everything is going to be fine." (As for the majority of Leaf fans, they’re still staring stoically at their televisions from the same seat in which they watched the third period of Game 7.)

So, you wanted a breakdown of the Leafs’ offseason so far — you’ve got it. Has Toronto’s decision-making really been as bizarre as the doom-and-gloom crowd would have us believe? Let’s grab a list of their most significant moves, fire up the trusty Bizarro-meter™, and figure this out.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Grantland: A half-dozen perplexing off-season decisions

The NHL offseason features a steady stream of news and transactions, most of which are fairly straightforward. Even the big moves that grab headlines tend to make sense on some level. As a fan, you spend most of the summer hearing about the latest news and thinking Yeah, that sounds about right.

But every now and then, you get the other end of the spectrum — the moves that make you stop and think Wait, what? Most fans can come up with plenty of colorful words to describe these decisions, and will be more than happy to loudly share those words with you while angrily waving an empty bottle of scotch, but we’ll be polite and just go with "perplexing."

(Note that "perplexing" isn’t necessarily a synonym for “bad," since it’s quite possible for these moves to work out just fine. Similarly, you can make a pretty strong argument that, for example, Toronto giving David Clarkson a seven-year deal was a mistake, but there was nothing perplexing about it — the Leafs love physical players and don’t seem to care very much about cap management.)

Here are a half-dozen of the offseason’s most perplexing moments so far.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Do's and Don'ts for your upcoming NHL arbitration hearing

A frustrated Mark Fraser reacts to the eighth time
his hearing is interrupted by a confused Dave
Nonis asking "Wait, there's a salary cap?"

There's not much going on in the NHL world these days, as we're reached the slow part of the offseason. Most of the major free agents have signed, the trade rumor mill has slowed to a crawl, and training camp is still too far away to get excited about.

But at least we still have arbitration... kind of. While it's true that most cases get settled in advance and hearings have become far less common in recent years, there are still usually a handful of cases heard each offseason. This year saw 21 players file, with six of those cases still unsettled and scheduled to go to an arbitrator over the next few weeks.

If you happen to be one of those six players, you're in luck. I've consulted with my various sources in the legal community, and come up the following list of do's and don'ts to help you win your NHL arbitration case.

DO: Think carefully about whether you wish to file for a one-year or a two-year contract, since the latter is a more significant commitment to the team.
DO NOT: Be distracted when every time you mention a two-year deal, Lou Lamoriello continually nudges you in the ribs while saying "Unless you randomly decide to retire" while repeatedly winking.

DO: Ensure that you will arrive on time by confirming that you have clear directions to the location of the hearing.
DO NOT: Let Tim Leiweke plan your route for you, no matter how awesome he keeps telling you it would be.

DO: Remind the arbitrator that you're a considered a great guy in the dressing room.
DO NOT: Mention that time you helped your teammates murder Justin Bieber for stepping on the team logo, because you all agreed to never speak of that day again.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The faker's guide to advanced stats in hockey

So apparently it’s time for the hockey world to fight about advanced stats again.

The most recent outbreak of hostilities was focused (as these things have a disturbing tendency to be) on the Toronto Maple Leafs. First it was forward Joffrey Lupul tweeting about Corsi. Next up was assistant coach Greg Cronin sharing his views on possession stats. If you missed out on those particular skirmishes, don’t worry. Another one should be along any minute now.

If you’re an old-school type who doesn’t like advanced stats, you’re … well, you’re not reading this, because you instinctively slammed your face into your browser’s “close” button as soon as you saw the headline. And if you’re already an advanced stats proponent, you don’t have time to read this because you’re already busy fighting a civil war over what the various stats should even be called.

So that leaves the fans who haven’t chosen a side yet. And in many cases, those who still find themselves on neutral ground might be there because they don’t actually understand what the whole debate is about in the first place.

If you’re interested in learning more about advanced statistics but aren’t sure where to start, there are plenty of good resources available. Eyes on the Prize is running an ongoing summer school feature that will walk through some of the basic concepts. Broad Street Hockey has a basic glossary of terms, and Behind the Net has a more detailed one. Arctic Ice did a whole “Understanding Advanced Stats” section a few years back that has a ton of good stuff. And those are just a few examples. If you’re willing to roll up your sleeves a bit, you can educate yourself fairly quickly.

But what if you’re not interesting in learning more? What if you just want to seem like you did? What if you’d rather know just enough to fake your way through a conversation about advanced stats, while doing as little actual thinking as possible?

If so, I may be able to help you out. Let’s see if we can make our way through this together, with my handy 12-step program for faking your way through the world of advanced hockey statistics.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Grantland: Great heel turns in NHL history

Daniel Alfredsson’s decision to spurn the Ottawa Senators and sign with the Detroit Red Wings was a lot of things. A reminder that anything can happen in pro sports. A shift in the balance of power of one of the league’s toughest divisions. A cautionary tale of the dangers in a fan base placing too much faith in one player.

And here’s one more: It was a damn near perfect pro wrestling–style heel turn.

It had all the elements. There was the subtle shift in personality that turned out to be ironic foreshadowing. Then came the sudden, devastating blindside that his adoring fans never saw coming. And he followed it up with a classic post-turn explanation, twisting the knife even further with quotes like “It pretty much came down to a selfish decision” and “I’m not worried about my legacy in Ottawa.”

He hasn’t even bothered to take out the now-obligatory good-bye/thank you ad in local papers. Alfredsson couldn’t have turned heel any more brilliantly if he’d paused to spray-paint “DRW” on Spartacat’s back.

NHL history is filled with villains who are hated across the league but loved (or at least tolerated) by the home crowd. But Alfredsson was a reminder that every now and then, we get treated to something far more entertaining — the hometown hero who dramatically turns his back on the fans.

Let’s take a look back at a half-dozen of the greatest heel turns in NHL history.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

New MLSE chief Tim Leiweke's plan to bring the Stanley Cup to Toronto

The first result for a Google Image search
of "Things we will never see again"

The new head of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment has given his first interview since taking the job, and the results were… interesting.

In a wide-ranging interview, Tim Leiweke unveiled his vision for the Maple Leafs. He's promising to change the organization's culture and build a winning atmosphere. He even plans to take down photos of the franchises championship teams from the 1960s. And he's so confident that his plan will work that he says he's already planned the championship parade.

That last bit has already become a punch line, but it's worth pointing out that the former president and CEO of the company that owns the LA Kings knows a thing or two about Cup parades. So maybe he's on to something.

I wanted to know more, so I put in a call to my MLSE spies. They were able to get me more details on what kind of changes Leiweke has in store. Here are some of the ways the new Leafs' boss plans to change the culture and finally bring the Stanley Cup to Toronto.

Old way: Players were instructed to go out there and try to lose.
New way: Players will now be told to go out there and try to win.

Old way: The team was the butt of a constant string of undeserved "plan the parade" jokes from opposing fans.
New way: End that practice once and for all by ensuring that, effective immediately, all future "plan the parade" jokes will be completely justified.

Old way: The franchise was guilty of living in the past and coasting on long-ago triumphs.
New way: The franchise will focus on the present, unless not doing that would sell more merchandise in which case hey did you hear David Clarkson is the new Wendel Clark?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Grantland: Winners and losers in the Ilya Kovalchuk retirement

Ilya Kovalchuk stunned the hockey world Thursday when he announced his retirement from the NHL. The decision came with 12 years and $77 million still left on Kovalchuk's controversial contract with the New Jersey Devils, and paved the way for the 30-year-old to sign a deal with the rival KHL.

We’ve had a few days to sort through the fallout and try to figure out what it all means. So as we prepare to enter the first full week of the NHL’s post-Kovalchuk era, here’s a look at the winners and losers from one of the most shocking stories in recent memory.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Grantland: Who'll be the next eight NHL captains?

As the offseason stretches into the summer, news from the transaction wire has gradually slowed to a trickle. That’s in stark contrast to the flood of moves we saw over the first few weeks.

Some of those moves made headlines, like the Lightning’s buyout of Vincent Lecavalier and Daniel Alfredsson’s decision to sign with Detroit. Some smaller deals received less attention, like the trades that sent Mark Streit to the Flyers or Shawn Horcoff to Dallas.

If you’re thinking to yourself Um, that was kind of an odd group of moves to bunch together into a lede; I bet there’s some sort of connection he’s about to reveal, then you’re right, because each of those four transactions involved a team parting ways with its captain. And in what’s become an odd subplot to the 2013 offseason, that seems to be a trend around the league.

There are now eight NHL teams that find themselves without a captain, an all-time NHL record according to the Department of Facts I Didn’t Bother to Research But Sound Plausible Enough. That means we’ll see as many as eight new captains named before the start of the season. But who?

Here’s a look at the eight current captainless teams, and our best guess as to which player in each city will end up being handed the "C."

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Grantland: The NHL's All-Time 'They Gave Up On Him Too Soon' Team

The Bruins made headlines last week by trading Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars as part of a seven-player deal. The move was unusual, since Seguin is still only three years removed from being the second overall pick in the draft, and is generally considered to be one of the most promising young players in the league. The Bruins had their reasons — the team was reportedly concerned about his off-ice partying and whether he was committed to winning — but they’re still taking a significant risk.

How significant? Let’s just say that NHL history is filled with examples of teams giving up on young players too soon. So many, in fact, that you could probably fill out an entire roster using nothing but future stars that some unfortunate team let slip away. And today, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

As with any attempt at this sort of undertaking, we’ll need to establish some random and completely arbitrary ground rules:

• We’re looking for young players, so let’s say they have to have been moved before they turned 25. That age cutoff eliminates a few obvious candidates you may be expecting to see, like Joe Thornton, Dominik Hasek, and Phil Esposito.

• These have to be actual players who were traded, not future draft picks that were used on star players. If you’d rather read about teams trading away draft picks who turned out to be Hall of Famers, I’d suggest you try here.

• We’re doing a full roster: four centers, eight wingers, six defensemen, and two goalies. We won’t bother differentiating between left wing and right wing, because I hope to someday join the PHWA.

• While I don’t want to get too deep into defining what it means to give up on a player, we’ll exclude certain unique cases where it was clear that the team had no choice but to trade a guy through no fault of their own. That includes the Nordiques trading Eric Lindros and the Thrashers moving Dany Heatley.

• Yes, I will probably forget a few guys. Yes, you will yell at me about this in the comments. Yes, I will act like this doesn’t bother me even though it totally does, then spend the rest of the day passive-aggressively taking it out against my family.

Everyone got all that? Cool, let’s get started …

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A look at the top candidates for today's Hockey Hall of Fame announcement

After J.R. said "See you at the 2013 induction!",
Scott held his "Is he serious?" face for 45 minutes.

Today's the day when the Hockey Hall of Fame will introduce us to the Class of 2013.

The Hall's 18-member committee will hold its annual meeting today in Toronto, where they'll be tasked with weighing the pros and cons of the various players, coaches and builders who are eligible for induction. After a series of confidential votes, the committee will announced their selections.

Here's a look at some of the top candidates for induction in the Class of 2013.

Chris Chelios - Is expected to be enshrined alongside Bobby Orr and Doug Harvey and Eddie Shore and other legendary defensemen who grew up idolizing him.

Scott Niedermayer - Is a slam dunk for induction, and will hopefully attend the ceremony if he can take time out of his busy schedule of wandering around Ottawa screaming "I told you so!" at sobbing fans in Daniel Alfredsson jerseys.

Rob Blake - Was a Norris Trophy winner and a Stanley Cup champion and an Olympic gold medalist and a six-time NHL all-star, and also appears briefly in The Love Guru so that's going to have to be a "no".

Brendan Shanahan - Didn't make the cut last year, and can't even begin to tell you how frustrating it is to be a victim of a ridiculous decision from some arbitrary process that nobody even fully understands and isn't even accountable to… um, why is everyone staring at him right now?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Grantland: Ten names in the offseason spotlight

Last week was a busy one in the NHL, featuring the draft, several major trades, and the opening days of unrestricted free agency. And while the offseason stretches into September, history tends to show that most of the key moves are made within those frantic first few days.

Some transactions will fly under the radar, while others will be noticed and then forgotten relatively quickly. And then there are the important decisions that catch everyone’s attention, spurring debate and inevitably thrusting some poor soul directly into the spotlight — whether he wants to be there or not.

Here are 10 names from around the league who, for good or for bad, have found themselves solidly in that spotlight after the offseason’s opening act.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Free agency preview

Honestly, I don't even have a joke here.

While the opening of free agency has historically been one of the most important days on the NHL calendar, it's diminished somewhat in recent years. As teams got accustomed to life in a salary cap world, fewer and fewer marquee players have made it to unrestricted free agency and the day has started to lose some of its lustre.

But that trend may not hold this year, thanks to a salary cap that will drop for the first time in history. With cap space harder to come by, some teams have had to make the tough decisions to let players explore free agency. Mix in a handful of victims of compliance buyouts, and the list of available players suddenly doesn't seem so bad.

Here's a look at some of the top players who'll be available to the highest bidder on Friday.

Vincent Lecavalier - Is a player that every NHL owner would love to have chance to meet with in person, in most cases because they'd like to borrow money from him.

Tyler Bozak - Will probably proofread his contract offers very carefully to make sure he avoids any careless mistakes, like looking at a number three and for some reason fooling yourself into thinking it's somehow a number one.

Ilya Bryzgalov - Has spent the last week holed up in his home office loudly yelling about how many years could be available and how high the numbers might go, which is weird because he doesn't have a phone in there and hasn't been told he's a free agent and also his "office" is a castle he made out of lego.

Nathan Horton - Teams are said to be concerned about reports that his recurring dislocated shoulder is such a complete and irredeemable mess that Tyler Seguin recently moved into it.

Grantland: Did any of those super long-term contracts turn out to be a good idea?

Thanks to Roberto Luongo, Vincent Lecavalier, Ilya Bryzgalov, and Rick DiPietro, the past week of NHL transactions will probably be remembered as the Revenge of the Long-Term Contracts. With Luongo trapped in Vancouver and the other three players receiving buyouts that total almost $80 million, teams that tried to beat the system with extended deals are starting to feel some serious pain.

After years of teams signing players to ridiculously long-term deals, often front-loading them to exploit a salary-cap loophole, the NHL moved to put a stop to the practice in the last CBA by limiting contracts to a maximum of eight years. But the contracts signed under the old CBA still remain, and many of them don’t look good.

So I thought it would be a good idea to go through the full list of all the contracts longer than eight years that were signed during the salary-cap era and do a player-by-player breakdown of all … [checks CapGeek] … 21 of them.

Wait, 21? I’ve got to be honest, that’s way more than I thought there would be. What the hell, NHL owners? This is going to take a while.

[Strongly considers introducing an arbitrary cutoff like “12 years” and going to lunch early.]

[Ah, screw it, let’s do this.]

Here’s a look at each of those 21 contracts of nine years or longer, as we try to answer one question: In hindsight, did any of them actually turn out to be a good idea?

>> Read the full post on Grantland