Thursday, May 30, 2013

Grantland: What happens after an ordinary action causes an unforgettable injury?

ESPN recently produced a 30 for 30 mini-documentary on the horrific injury to goaltender Clint Malarchuk, and his subsequent struggles to put his life back together. It's a great film, and I highly recommend it.

As a companion piece, I wrote about the other side of the equation: the players who caused some of the most infamous injuries in NHL history. From Malarchuk to Trent McCleary to Richard Zednik, hockey fans have seen innocent plays go horribly wrong in an instant. What can it be like to realize that you're responsible?

The piece includes an interview with Chris Therien, whose slapshot ended McCleary's career, as well as rare public comments from Steve Tuttle, whose skate blade sliced Malarchuk's throat. Needless to say, it's far from the usual light-hearted stuff I normally do, but I hope you'll find it interesting.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Grantland grab bag: Calm down, NHL refs. You too, Patrick Roy.

In this week’s grab bag: Why referees need to calm down with the PIMs, debating mid-game coach interviews, Yashin's contract, Bill McCreary (no, the other one), and breaking down the Roy/Vernon brawl.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

At the combine: A look at the top prospects for the 2013 NHL draft

In hindsight, the photographer picked a weird
time to ask Drouin and MacKinnon where they
thought Seth Jones would get picked

The NHL scouting combine is being held this week in Toronto, which makes this as good a time as any to have a look at the top prospects for next month's draft.

Well, technically a better time would be right before the draft. But thanks to the lockout, there appears to be a good chance that this year's draft will be start 15 minutes after the conclusion of the Stanley Cup finals, so we might as well go ahead and do the preview now.

Here are sixteen top prospects who can expect to hear their names called at the 2013 entry draft in New Jersey.

Seth Jones - This big strong defenceman would be a perfect fit in Colorado thanks to his ability to protect goaltenders from traffic in the crease and forwards driving the net and crazy coaches who keep trying to fight them.

Nathan MacKinnon - Scouts in Florida say he's exactly the kind of player who could really bring Panthers fans out of their seats, so based on recent attendance figures he's apparently already been playing there for a few years.

Jonathan Drouin - Oh sure, he racked up the points in Halifax playing on a line with MacKinnon, but let's see what he can do when he's stuck in Tampa Bay playing with Steven Stamkos and wait actually he'll probably be pretty good at that too.

Nikita Zadorov - The 6'5" 230 pound teen did very well on the Wingate cycling test, assuming that the bicycle immediately exploding is considered a good thing.

Max Domi - Is well-known for having grown up with famous NHL bloodlines, in the sense that every time his dad came home from work he'd leave a trail of the blood of famous players all over the house.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Grantland: NHL Playoffs Stock Watch

The NHL playoffs can define a player’s career. It’s when some elevate their games while others crumble, when legacies are made and lost, and when we separate the clutch performers from the choke artists.

There are two schools of thought on all this, and one of them is that everything in that last paragraph is complete nonsense. The playoffs are far too small a sample size to draw any meaningful conclusions, and because there’s little evidence that “clutch” even exists in sports, all we're really doing is just crafting lazy and often unfair narratives out of statistical blips that should actually be credited to random chance.

The other school of thought is that while all of that might be true, we don’t care because overreacting to the playoffs is part of the fun of being a sports fan.

For the purposes of this post, we’re going with option no. 2. So here are 10 players that have seen their stock move significantly up or down during the first two rounds.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Kerry Fraser game: 20 years later

Today marks the anniversary of one of the most infamous, painful and downright soul-destroying games in Maple Leafs history. No, not the two-week anniversary of that game. The other one. Yes, that one.

It’s been 20 years since Game Six of the 1993 Campbell Conference Finals between the Leafs and the Kings. The Kerry Fraser game.

I thought about doing a big long post to mark the occasion, but decided against it for a couple of reasons. One is that even acknowledging that it’s been 20 years makes me feel roughly a million years old. And the other is that I feel like I’ve pretty much covered this topic over the years.

So if you’re a Maple Leafs fan who feels the need to make yourself miserable (like there’s any other kind), here’s a roundup of some of what I’ve written about the game over the years:

And finally, in an attempt to end on a somewhat positive note:

Friday, May 24, 2013

Grantland Grab Bag: There is no Canada's Team

This week: Canada's Team, the Messier Award, Per Djoos, and a 1992 profile of Jaromir Jagr's mullet.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Grantland: The second round is the worst but these ten moments from past years were fun

Hockey fans have an uneasy relationship with the second round of the NHL playoffs. Don’t get us wrong. We like it. It’s fun. No complaints. It’s just that … well, if we have to be honest, it’s probably the postseason’s least interesting round.

We can all agree that the first round is pretty much the greatest thing ever. With eight series going on at the same time, there’s always a game on. The action is unbelievably intense, every other game goes into overtime, and the matchups feature a nice mix of powerhouse favorites and plucky underdogs.

By the time the third round rolls around, every game is crucial and every remaining team is a legitimate Cup contender. And most years, the finals are packed with enough tension and drama to make up for the fact that the league schedules each game nine days apart to make sure there’s never any momentum.

But Round 2 is just kind of … there. There are still a lot of games, but after Round 1 it feels like it’s not enough. There are always a few underdog teams who have almost worn out their welcome. And injuries are starting to tilt a few of the series in unfortunate ways (as opposed to the later rounds, when everyone is hurt so it doesn’t matter).

It wasn’t always like this. Prior to 1994, the second round was actually the divisional final, which meant guaranteed intensity and gave us clutch goal scorers like Doug Gilmour, Peter Stastny, and Steve Smith. But since the league ditched its divisional playoff format, Round 2 has become the NHL playoffs' unloved middle child.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We can learn to love the second round. To help, here’s a look back through 10 great second-round moments since the NHL moved to a conference-based system:

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Grantland: The 20 types of sports fans you meet as your team crashes and burns

By now, hockey fans have probably seen the video of a group of Toronto Maple Leafs fans watching last week’s Game 7 loss to the Bruins. If you haven’t, it’s below. Fair warning: It’s downright painful to watch.

You don’t have to be a Leaf fan or even follow hockey to understand what you’re witnessing. If you’ve been a die-hard fan of a team in any sport for long enough, chances are you’ve suffered through watching a game like that. Depending on which teams you follow, you may have been there far more often than you’d care to remember.

There’s no right or wrong way to react to the sight of your favorite team self-destructing on national television. But through the years, fans seemed to have developed a variety of methods for handling it. The next time you have to sit through a sports disaster for the ages, here are 20 different types of unhappy sports fans you might find yourself in the room with.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Beyond "You Lit A Fire": Other recent newspaper ads from around the league

By now you may have seen the mysterious “You Lit A Fire” ad that recently appeared in a Toronto newspaper. If not, you can view a copy of the ad here. Really, I can't recommend it highly enough.

The ad is interesting for several reasons, not the least of which is that we don’t know who paid for it. But it’s that quasi-poetic and sort of creepy repeated mantra of “You Lit A Fire” that really makes it memorable. What does it all mean? Nobody seems to know for sure.

But while the circumstances around this particular ad are a little bit unusual, these sorts of paid messages actually show up in newspapers fairly often this time of year. In fact, I’ve seen several similar ads in various newspapers around the league over the past few days.

Just in case you don't believe me, I cut a few out out and scanned them for you.

For example, this recently showed up in a Colorado paper.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Grantland: 12 key battles in the Sens/Pens series

The Senators and Penguins opened their second-round series Tuesday night, with Pittsburgh claiming an early series lead thanks to a 4-1 win on home ice.

The no. 1-seeded Penguins are the consensus favorites over the 7-seed Senators, but nobody would be surprised if the series turned out to be a long one. In the end, it may come down to which team can manage an edge in the key matchups.

Which key matchups, you ask, since you assume that’s what you’re supposed to do? Good question! Here are a dozen battles to watch as the series resumes.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Grantland grab bag: Son of grilled cheese edition

In the weekly grab bag: A debate about conspiracy theories, why we'll miss the NHL Awards show, and multiple overtimes can do strange things to broadcasters' minds.

>> Read the full post at Grantland

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What went wrong? Excuses from the NHL's losers

It's called Therriening. It's just like Tebowing,
except for the part where you have a prayer.

The first round of the playoffs is finally over, which means we're down to eight teams left standing. Those teams deserve a round of applause, and they'll get it… somewhere else. Because as long-time readers know, the end of the first round also means it's time for our annual tribute to the 22 teams whose seasons ended without even winning a single series.

Yes, the losers. The also-rans. The teams that, if we're being honest, basically wasted everyone's time by even bothering to show up this year.

Luckily, every loser has an excuse, and these 22 teams are no exception. So while everyone else is focused on the eight remaining teams, here's a look back at what went wrong for the rest of the league.

Anaheim Ducks - Over the last few days, every time Bruce Boudreau started a team meeting by shouting "Let's come up with a plan for finishing off those Wings!" we'd all sit there in the dark for an hour before realizing he'd just gone to lunch.

Montreal Canadiens - Should probably have let Carey Price do the triple-low-five in the playoffs against the Senators, since it would have been nice to see his glove hand actually make contact with something every now and then.

New York Islanders - When coaches urged the team to go out and match the Penguins in every area of the game during their first round series, in hindsight they probably should have made a point to exclude "terrible goaltending".

New Jersey Devils - Never got over the loss of that 29th overall first round pick we forfeited last year, we assume, because man it would have been completely ridiculous for us not to.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Grantland: On game seven, what it means to be a sports fan, and how Those Games ruin everything

There’s a secret that Toronto fans aren’t supposed to talk about, but after what happened Monday night, I don’t care about anything anymore, so here it is: Heading into Game 7 against the Boston Bruins, Leafs fans were OK with losing.

Not "OK" as in we wouldn't care. Leafs fans wanted a win, were hoping for a win, and — in some cases — may even have talked ourselves into expecting a win. And we were ready for the three hours of agony we knew were coming. A Game 7 in the NHL playoffs is pure torture, and Leaf supporters were feeling that every bit as much as fans of the Bruins.

But there was an insurance policy, because the 2013 Leafs season was already a success. A team that hadn’t made the playoffs in seven years and was expected to miss them yet again had ended the drought. Young players who’d been written off as busts suddenly emerged. A franchise that floundered for a decade had finally found an identity. And though they were written off after falling behind three games to one in a series against a team that had spent the last few years kicking sand in their faces, the Leafs clawed back with a pair of gutsy wins to force a deciding game.

A loss would sting for a while, sure. But it couldn’t really hurt, not the way big losses are supposed to. It couldn’t leave a scar, whether it came in a blowout or sudden death or somewhere in between.

Unless it turned out to be one of Those Games.

>> Read the full post at Grantland

Monday, May 13, 2013

Grantland: A look back at the first round

The first round of the NHL playoffs isn’t over quite yet, thanks to a pair of Game 7s tonight. But since one of those games involves the Toronto Maple Leafs, I’ll be completely incapable of even basic human function all day long so we better just go ahead and do this now.

Let’s take a look back at the past two weeks of action, and hand out a few awards to the best and worst of (almost) the entire first round.

>> Read the full post at Grantland

Friday, May 10, 2013

Grantland grab bag: Drop the puck!

In the weekly grab bag: An important message for reporters, Hockey Sock Rock, and a debate about whether linesmen take too long to drop the puck.

>> Read the full post at Grantland

Grantland: Forget the Battle Of Ontario, let's enjoy the Northeast's new playoff rivalries

Playoff time in Toronto and Ottawa used to mean the Battle of Ontario. That was the creative nickname slapped onto the rivalry between the two teams who faced each other four years out of five from 2000 to 2004. Fans of either team don’t need to be reminded how that went: The Leafs won all four series, in increasingly cruel fashion.

This season marks the first time since 2004 that both teams are in the NHL playoffs, although this time they are not facing each other. This week, I dropped by Ottawa’s Scotiabank Place and Toronto’s Air Canada Centre to take in a pair of Game 4s.

>> Read the full post at Grantland

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Sizing up the 2013 Masterton nominees

Ever the gentleman, Crosby helpfully reminds
fans of the other teams where their tears go.

The Masterton Trophy is awarded annual to the NHL player who who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey, and is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. All 30 teams' local chapters vote on a nominee, with the league winner selected from that group.

While the trophy usually goes to a player who has returned to action for a serious injury or illness, the award's criteria are loose enough that various forms of "perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication" can be recognized.

All 30 teams have announced their nominees for this year's award. Here's a look through the league at some of the players who were honored.

Edmonton Oilers: Ryan Smyth - Perhaps no player in the past 20 years has been as strongly associated with the Edmonton Oilers as Smyth, who has shown tremendous dedication and perseverance by continually getting out of bed in the morning anyways.

Carolina Hurricanes: Dan Ellis - Would be a great choice for the award assuming it comes with some sort of cash bonus, according to Twitter comedians who just realized they still have a few "Dan Ellis Problems" they forgot to use three years ago.

Toronto Maple Leafs: James Reimer - The 25-year-old has admitted that he was touched to receive a special plaque congratulating him on being the starting goaltender who finally led the Maple Leafs back to the playoffs, even though he could help but notice it had Roberto Luongo's name scratched out and his written over it in pencil.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Grantland grab bag: Stay classy, naked gladiator guy

In this week's grab bag: Don Cherry vs. the women, the Senators' pre-game gladiator is the YouTube clip of the week, playoff outrage, and a very important message to hockey fans who tell people to "stay classy".

>> Read the full post on Grantland