Monday, September 30, 2013

Grantland: Suggested slogans for Teemu Selanne's farewell tour

Last month, Teemu Selanne made a pair of important announcements. The first wasn’t a surprise: He is returning to the Anaheim Ducks for another season. But the other was at least somewhat unexpected. This will be his final season.

Yes, after 21 seasons, Teemu Selanne will finally hang up his skates next spring. That’s crushing news for hockey fans, who almost universally love the guy and have spent the last decade in a state of collective denial over his eventual retirement.

But the good news is that he gave us advance notice, which means it’s time to get excited about the Teemu Selanne Farewell Tour. And in a nice twist, realignment and a new scheduling system means Anaheim will visit every NHL city this season, so fans of every team will have a chance to say good-bye.

That got me to thinking about the ways various teams could market the last opportunity to see the retiring legend. Here are some suggested marketing slogans for the various stops on Selanne’s final lap.

Winnipeg, October 6
Wait, early October? Really? Seriously, Mr. Schedule-Maker, there’s no way you could have seen this possibility coming?

Toronto, October 22
Come enjoy our 45-minute pregame tribute to the best Maple Leafs backup goalies of the mid-'80s, and also maybe there will be another team playing or something we didn’t really check.

Montreal, October 24
Goodbye to our favorite Finnish player of all time, and … oh, hey Saku, didn’t see you there. Well. This got awkward.

Ottawa, October 25
This feels like a good time to finally admit we all think Daniel Alfredsson shot that puck at Scott Niedermayer on purpose.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Friday, September 27, 2013

Grantland: Who are the NHL's best long shot bets?

One fun part of any sport’s preseason is getting a first look at the bookmaker odds for various player props. It’s always an interesting insight into what the oddsmakers think about who’ll be the season’s statistical leaders and award winners, not to mention what they expect the betting public to think.

And while it can be fun to argue over the odds assigned to various players, there’s a part of me that’s always found it more interesting to look at the players who get left off the lists entirely. In betting terms, they make up “the field,” a nice way of saying “everyone else who we couldn’t even be bothered to put on this list.” If you’re the sort of fan who appreciates an underdog, it can be fun to go through the various props and try to figure out whether anyone who got snubbed could actually win.

So that’s what we’re going to do today: take five NHL player props, disqualify everyone who was considered a good enough bet to warrant any odds at all, and then try to pick a long-shot winner from the field. It’s a virtually impossible task, sure, but if wasting time arguing about sports on the Internet is wrong then I don’t want to be right.

(One note: Hockey player props are harder to find than other sports — on a recent Vegas trip, I only found one book that was offering anything at all — so we’ll turn to an online source and use the odds posted by Bodog. All lists are based on what was posted as of earlier this week.)

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Phil Kessel's suspension hearing: The top secret transcript

Kessel spears Scott right in the creepy extra
leg that apparently hangs off of his hip.

(Scene: A boardroom in a downtown skyscraper. Brendan Shanahan sits at one end of a long table, preparing for the hearing. After shuffling a few papers, he's ready to begin.)

Shanahan: OK, first up we need to hear from the Maple Leafs. Send in Phil Kessel and Randy Carlyle.

(Phil Kessel walks into the room.)

Shanahan: Uh, where's Randy?

Kessel: Oh, he's on his way.

(Carlyle, sprawled out on top of a fainting couch, is carried into the room by several MLSE interns.)

Carlyle (with the back of his hand to his forehead): Fighting! Enforcers! Oh the humanity! However could an NHL team do such a thing!

Shanahan: Uh, Randy…

Carlyle: Won't somebody please think of the children!

Shanahan: Good try, Randy.

Carlyle: Not buying it, eh?

Shanahan: Not especially.

Carlyle (getting up from the fainting couch): Want to fight about it?

Shanahan: Maybe later. But first I want to talk to Phil. Phil, you're here because you slashed John Scott twice. It sure seemed like intent to injure. Let's start with the first slash, how can you justify that?

Kessel: Before the faceoff, John Scott told me he was going to attack me. He's much bigger than me and has far more experience fighting, so I felt that I needed to take action to protect myself. Whether it's on the ice or on the street, a person in imminent danger of being assaulted has a right to self-defence, and so I did what I had to do.

Shanahan: Hm. That's pretty convincing.

Kessel: Thanks.

Shanahan: And the second slash?

Kessel: Oh, I was just trying to break his ankle.

Shanahan: Ah.

Kessel: Seriously, screw that guy, am I right?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Grantland: The NHL Volatility Index

The 2013-14 NHL season is almost here, and it won’t lack for positive story lines. We have the farewell tour of Teemu Selanne, the inspiring return of Paul Ranger, Jarome Iginla continuing his quest for a Cup in Boston, and any number of long shots and underdogs who’ll be making unexpected runs at jobs over the next two weeks.

And that’s all well and good if you’re the sort of person who enjoys happy stories. But what about the other 99 percent of us? What about the fans who want to see a good old-fashioned debacle? Luckily, the NHL seems like it should have plenty of those to offer up too.

As we head toward opening night, here are some of the story lines that are simmering now, but have the potential to boil over some point during the season.

Schneider vs. Brodeur

The story right now: The Devils were part of the offseason’s most stunning trade, acquiring Cory Schneider from Vancouver in exchange for their first-round pick. Schneider is one of the best young goaltenders in the game and became available only because the Canucks couldn’t move Roberto Luongo (more on him in a second), so it was a perfect move for a team in need of a starting goalie.

But the Devils don’t need a starting goalie, at least in theory, because they still have Martin Brodeur. You may remember him — three Cups, all-time leader in wins and shutouts, arguably the best who’s ever played the position. He hasn’t been dominant or even especially good for years now, but he’s entering what will probably be his final season. Having some kid show up and steal his job wasn’t supposed to be part of the script.

The worst-case scenario: Brodeur wallows through a painfully bad "Chris Chelios as a Thrasher"–style final season. He’s done, but won’t admit it. Everyone knows that the Devils should just give Schneider the undisputed starter’s job, but they can’t bring themselves to do it because of Brodeur’s legacy.

Odds of it happening: Slim. Brodeur’s 20-year career has been remarkably free of hockey-related drama that didn’t involve Sean Avery, and Schneider already has experience with diffusing a goaltending controversy. Plus, if things start getting bad then Lou Lamoriello could just come down and crack some skulls. But chances are everyone figures out a way to share the workload for one year before Schneider takes over full time in 2014-15.

But if it did: The whole thing could turn into the NHL’s version of Rodgers vs. Favre.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Grantland: A detailed breakdown of the Leafs/Sabres brawl

Last night, television sets across the continent were tuned in to a depraved world of unimaginable violence, horrifying bloodshed, and an almost total absence of morality on the part of everyone involved.

Or, if you wanted something a little less intense, you switched away from the Toronto-Buffalo preseason game and watched Breaking Bad instead.

Yes, the Maple Leafs and Sabres got a little bit rowdy on Sunday. The game was the second half of a home-and-home that hadn’t actually featured all that much bad blood. Sure, there had been a few scraps, because this is the preseason and it’s practically mandatory that every game feature several meaningless fights between guys who are about to be cut. But the overall mood had been almost chipper, even including some comic relief in the form of a novelty shootout attempt by Paul Ranger during Saturday night’s game.

That all changed quickly midway through the third period on Sunday. Sabres forward Corey Tropp scored a goal, then fought Leafs tough guy Jamie Devane on the ensuing faceoff. Tropp was a willing participant with some fighting experience but was badly outmatched here against a much bigger opponent, and it showed.

That set the stage for one of the wildest — and most bizarre — line brawls in recent memory.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Grantland: New Year's Resolutions for the NHL Fan

The NHL exhibition season has begun, which means in some sense, a new year of hockey has finally arrived. So it’s apparently time to come up with a few New Year’s resolutions — those little things we could all do to make ourselves better fans.

After all, is there anyone in the hockey world who can really claim to already be perfect? Oh, right, this guy. Man, he ruins everything. I hate him. [Adds “stop being jealous of perfect people” to personal resolutions list.]

But the rest of us still have room for improvement, and now seems like as good a time as any to work on it. So here are a few suggested New Year’s resolutions for hockey fans to consider. Pick one or two. Pick them all. Or pick none of them and just berate me in the comments. [Adds “stop being thin-skinned about the comments” to personal resolutions list.]

Wait, where were we? [Adds “stop overusing that distracting third-person device” to personal resolutions list.] Right, the resolutions. Here are 10 suggestions for your consideration.

Let’s try to go easy on the steroid speculation

It’s an Olympic year, which means any players picked to go to Sochi will have to be drug tested. And let’s just say that IOC drug testing is slightly more comprehensive than the NHL’s system.

So if you were an NHL player who dreamed of playing in Sochi but happened to be dabbling in the occasional PED use, you’d probably think twice about continuing that this year. And that fact will no doubt lead to all sorts of rumors and speculation for any potential Olympians who get off to a slow start this season.

We went through this four years ago — Alexander Ovechkin was a popular target — and there’s no doubt the subject will come up again this year. Under its current testing program, the NHL has suspended a grand total of one player for PED use. In a league in which strength and endurance are crucial, common sense says that somebody out there must be getting away with something.

But while there’s little doubt that some players probably are cheating, it’s also true that everyone goes through an occasional slump. So when some NHL star struggles through October, let’s let him get a week or two into November before we go full Pujols.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Grantland: The NHL offseason quiz

NHL training camps are beginning to open around the league, and that means that after months of trades, signings, hirings, firings, wild speculation, and unfounded rumors, we can finally declare the 2013 offseason over.

How closely were you paying attention to the summer’s news? Take this handy quiz to find out.

Once all the dust had settled, it became clear that the most overpaid person in hockey during this offseason was:

A. David Clarkson, Toronto Maple Leafs, $36.75 million over seven years
B. Nathan Horton, Columbus Blue Jackets, $37.1 million over seven years
C. Ryane Clowe, New Jersey Devils, $24.25 million over five years
D. Lead uniform design consultant, Buffalo Sabres, assuming he got even one single penny

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Other cases of NHLers getting attacked by animals

Yes, this is a camel scaring Evgeni Malkin.
No, I don't have a joke.

The biggest news in hockey this week was Mike Fisher getting attacked by a chipmunk.

Well, OK, maybe it wasn't the biggest news. But it's a marginally interesting thing that happened, and since training camp hasn't opened yet we will damn well take what we can get. So this week it's animal jokes.

Where was I? Right, Mike Fisher getting attacked by a chipmunk. As it turns out, the tiny creature invaded the home Fisher shares with wife Carrie Underwood, and while heroically trying to protect his family, the Predators center sustained two tiny bite marks on his hand.

As it turns out, that puts Fisher in good company. For some reason, NHL players and personalities just seem to have trouble when it comes to interacting with animals. Here are some recent examples of the hockey world's more dangerous encounters with the animal kingdom:

Gary Bettman - Was badly injured during a recent trip to the zoo after instinctively jumping into the wild canine exhibit in a desperate attempt to prevent the coyotes from moving.

Dustin Brown - Has been tormented his entire career by an invisible wolf who chases him around the ice and repeatedly makes him fall down even though no other players touched him.

Corey Crawford - Was distracted during recent extension negotiations by a giant seabird, I'm pretty sure, since when you type "Corey Crawford contract" into Google it immediately auto-fills "huge albatross".

Grantland: What are Canadian hockey fans panicking about now?

Canada is generally a fairly calm nation. As long as our beer is cold, our bacon is crisp, and somebody doesn’t try to order a breakfast sandwich in the Tim Hortons drive-through and make the entire neighborhood 45 minutes late for work, we’re a pretty laid-back people.

But there’s one glaring exception to that rule: hockey. We can occasionally get a little intense about that. And that’s especially true when the Olympics are involved, since there are only two possible outcomes for Team Canada — a gold medal, or a crushing, humiliating failure that ends with all the players being herded onto an ice floe in the Bay of Fundy.

Last week, Team Canada held its initial orientation camp, in which 47 potential Olympians were invited to get together in Calgary. Because of insurance issues, there were no actual on-ice workouts. The event consisted entirely of a friendly few days of team-building, walkthroughs, and photo ops. Needless to say, this plunged Canadian hockey fans into chaos.

And so, in what may need to become a regular feature around here between now and February, here’s a look at some of the Olympic-related topics that your neighbors to the north are currently in a state of abject panic about.

>> Read the full post on Grantland