Friday, January 31, 2014

Grab bag: That time Justin Bieber awkwardly hugged Wayne Gretzky

In this week's grab bag: Kessel, Scrivens, Stamkos, an NHL Bronco, distinctive kicking motions, and a YouTube breakdown of the ultimate Canadian showdown - Wayne Gretzky vs. Justin Bieber.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Outdoor games: Who's got next?

Wednesday night’s matchup between the Rangers and Islanders at Yankee Stadium was the league’s third outdoor game in five days and fourth in January. And there’s still more to come, with games scheduled for this March in Chicago and Vancouver.

After that, we’ll go back to an all-indoor schedule … at least for a few months. The league hasn’t announced its plans for next year’s games, besides the Winter Classic, which the Capitals will host. We don’t know how many outdoor games there will be next season and beyond, though recent reports have said there will be four and we’ve been assured the number will “definitely” be fewer than this year’s six.

By the end of the 2013-14 schedule, 11 teams will have hosted regular-season outdoor games, with the Blackhawks and Rangers each hosting twice. The odds are good that more of the league’s top markets will get to double up before long, and that’s fine — outdoor games are big business, and it would be a costly mistake to try to spread them around the whole league equally in the name of fairness.

That said, there are plenty of markets that could make great hosts and haven’t had a chance yet. So here’s a look at a dozen possibilities that could be in line to get their opportunity soon, plus my odds for first-time hosts getting a game in the next three years.

Minnesota Wild

It’s arguably the best hockey market in the country, the team is decent, and there are multiple strong venues from which to choose. How has the NHL not done a game here already? Are we sure the NHL hasn’t done a game here already?

[Double-checks list.]

I’ll be damned. Well, we need to fix that, and quickly.

Or maybe not so quickly, since Minnesota would be such a great choice, you could make a case for holding off one more year and giving it the 2016 Winter Classic. But if the league decides to go with a Stadium Series game instead, that works, too. Target Field or TCF Bank Stadium would both be excellent venues.

A bigger question might be whom the Wild would play. Chicago is the natural choice, but that’s true for most matchups and at some point, there’s a risk of inducing Blackhawks fatigue. Detroit could work. Or maybe the league goes with Dallas, in a battle that would pit Minnesota’s NHL present against its past.

In any case, if the Wild don’t get either the 2016 Classic or a Stadium Series game next year, something is wrong.

The Odds: 1-to-5
Not quite a sure thing, but close.

Colorado Avalanche

This is another one that would seem to fall into the “not if, but when” category. Colorado is a solid market where the hockey footprint extends beyond the NHL, with the college game and youth level both thriving. And Denver itself would provide the sort of stunning visuals the league seems to love so much for these games.

There’s even a perfect opponent: the Detroit Red Wings. A Detroit-Colorado pairing would quite possibly be the most anticipated, intense, and downright nasty outdoor matchup in league history. And I’m just talking about the alumni game.

The bigger question is where you put it. There are several options, including Mile High and Coors Field, as well as multiple college football stadiums nearby. None are perfect, but few venues are, and Denver just has too much going for it to be denied for long.

Oh, and now one of the NHL’s top sponsors is asking for a Colorado game. Yeah, this is going to happen, and probably sooner than later.

The Odds: off the board
At this point, I’m calling it a 100 percent lock.

Toronto Maple Leafs

At first glance, it seems odd the league hasn’t done an outdoor game in Toronto yet. After all, this is the NHL’s biggest market in terms of generating revenue, and the Maple Leafs consistently dominate Canadian television ratings.3 And with nearly a century of history to draw on, there’d be no shortage of the sort of nostalgia the league loves to dump all over these games.

It’s a no-brainer. So what’s the holdup?

Well, there is one tiny detail that would have to be worked out: a decent venue. Toronto doesn’t have one. The city’s biggest stadium is the former SkyDome (now known as the Rogers Centre), a concrete eyesore that would be all wrong for this sort of event. Then there’s BMO Field, which — at a capacity of just over 20,000 — is too small. Right now, those are the only two options.

So, what can they do? The same thing Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment does every time it has a problem: throw giant fistfuls of money at it. MLSE is reportedly set to spend millions to expand BMO Field with both permanent and temporary seating, getting it into the 40,000-seat range. That’s not huge, but it would be comparable to the smaller sites of previous games like Fenway Park and Wrigley Field.

If the plan comes together, Toronto would be ready to host a game in 2017. That also happens to be the team’s 100th anniversary season, and MLSE has made it known that it intends to go all out to mark the occasion. In other words, you can probably go ahead and pencil in the 2017 Winter Classic for Toronto right now.

The Odds: 1-to-2
Unless the BMO Field plan falls through, which it could, they should be a lock for 2017.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

California Love

"Here’s your boarding pass and visa back,” the customs agent said as she stamped my passport. “Have a safe and pleasant trip to Los Angeles, and enjoy your time at the outdoor game. And as a friendly reminder, if you don’t mercilessly trash the entire event, you will be denied access back into Canada."

OK, she didn’t say that last part in so many words, or really any words at all. But it was implied. It was in the tone of her voice and an almost imperceptible furrowing of her brow. She knew what was up. Message received, customs lady.

I am a Canadian, and I had been sent to California to watch an outdoor hockey game. This was not right. This was a mockery of what outdoor hockey should be. There would be no softly falling snowflakes, though a smog advisory was possible. There would be no hot cocoa. There would probably be toques, but they would be worn ironically.

And I would be there. But so help me, hockey gods, I would not like it.


When reports first surfaced that the NHL would expand its slate of outdoor games from one or two per year to a remarkable six in 2014, one matchup stood out: the L.A. Kings hosting the Anaheim Ducks.

Canadians are predisposed to not like the outdoor concept in the first place, no matter how much the games seem designed to appeal to us. Outdoor games are new. We don’t do new. In our ideal NHL, nothing changes, ever. Not the teams, not the uniforms, not the rules. Hockey was just fine before Gary Bettman and friends showed up, and we don’t trust them to go making improvements.

But we’ve come to grudgingly enjoy the occasional outdoor game, and the rest of this year’s matchups were at least in standard hockey markets: Vancouver, Michigan, New York, and Chicago. There were too many, sure, but at least the league got the basics right. Cold weather. Traditional teams.

Los Angeles, though? Los Angeles got to host an outdoor game before Montreal? Or Toronto? Or even Minnesota? Put aside the question of how you manage to make decent ice when temperatures are pushing 80 degrees. This is not a hockey town. I mean, can they even spell hockey in Los Angeles? [Checks.] No. No, they cannot.

My flight touched down Thursday night, and on the drive to my hotel from LAX, I noticed a sign indicating we were on the Glenn Anderson Freeway. Really, L.A.? You try to impress hockey fans with an obviously fake freeway sign featuring a former NHL player, and Glenn Anderson is the guy you pick? Sure, he’s a Hall of Famer, but Anderson never even played for the Kings. He helped win them a playoff series once, but nobody’s going to buy that this city went and named a freeway after him just for that.

Honestly, it was like Los Angeles wasn’t even trying.

This was going to be a disaster.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Friday, January 24, 2014

Grab bag: Some love for NHL '95

In defense of Shawn Chambers, the great RFA meltdown of 1997, some love for NHL 95, and more.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Will the rest of the outdoor games be any good?

With the NHL well into its second half, the playoff races tightening, and the Sochi Olympics just weeks away, there’s just one question on the minds of most fans.

Who’s ready for some more outdoor games?

What’s that? You thought we were done with outdoor games for the year? Why, just because we already had the annual Winter Classic more than three weeks ago? Silly hockey fan. This is the NHL, where anything that turns out to be popular has to eventually be beaten into the ground until we’re all sick of it and every penny has been sucked dry.

This year, we still have five more outdoor games to go. Between the brand-new Stadium Series and the resurrection of the Heritage Classic, we’ll be talking outdoor hockey from now until the first weekend in March.

Overkill? Probably. But that doesn’t mean the individual games can’t still be plenty of fun. To prepare you for the coming onslaught, let’s take a look at all the key details for each of the five remaining matchups.

Ducks vs. Kings

When and Where: Saturday at Dodger Stadium

Official Selling Point: Two excellent teams face off in a historic venue in the NHL’s very first outdoor game in the western United States.

Actual Selling Point: Because the game is in Southern California and the forecast calls for temperatures around 80 degrees, everyone will be waiting to see if the ice will melt and drown all the players. (It won’t.) (Probably.)

Novelty Factor: Extremely high, given the location and venue. And to their credit, organizers aren’t shying away from the warm-weather theme, even including a beach volleyball court and apparently aiming to “create a Venice Beach atmosphere.” I have no idea what that is, but I’m guessing it won’t involve toques and hot cocoa.

Fashion Police: As per tradition, both teams will use the outdoor game as an opportunity to introduce and market specially designed jerseys. The Kings have chosen a cheerful gray-and-black ensemble, while the Ducks are going with a head-to-toe orange. You can see both uniforms here. They’re … interesting. I’m doing my best to resist the urge to make fun of them. I’m pretty sure I can do this.

Non-Hockey Entertainment: Kiss will be performing live after the first period. Wait, the first-intermission entertainment will be some old guy from the 1970s in an outrageous costume yelling incoherently at the top of his lungs? How original.

Potential Problems: From all accounts, the preparations have gone fairly smoothly, though this week’s sudden flurry of “Hey, we really need everyone to purchase prepaid parking” messaging seems like an ominous sign, doesn’t it?

Why You Should Watch: It should be a legitimately great game between two very good teams with a genuine rivalry. Also, it will be your first chance to see a team dressed in bright orange at a baseball park since your 6-year-old’s last T-ball game. (Dammit. I tried.)

In a Perfect World: Darryl Sutter shows up in his typical outdoors wardrobe.

Prediction: We get a classic game, featuring a high skill level and plenty of intensity, that keeps getting interrupted at crucial moments by the beach volleyball accidentally getting knocked onto the ice.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

NHLPA 93 vs NHL 94: The definitive head-to-head breakdown

Last week, Grantland published my version of the concise NHL Dictionary. I used the opportunity to make fun of Gary Bettman, the Lady Byng Trophy, enforcers, advanced stats, people who don’t get advanced stats, several players, and most teams. And as it turns out, everyone was fine with that.

Then I said NHLPA Hockey ’93 was a better game than NHL ’94. That part didn’t go over so well.

Look, I understand that this is a divisive issue that hockey fans feel strongly about, and I’m willing to admit that’s it not an easy call. It’s even possible that I’m wrong. That’s been known to happen once or twice a decade.

Clearly, we need to dig into this in a lot more detail. And so that’s what we’re going to do, 20 years later, by breaking down the head-to-head matchup in a dozen key categories.


The Background

First, a little bit of history for those who may not be familiar with the two games because you’re too young or too old or your parents never loved you. NHLPA 93 and NHL 94 were the second and third versions of EA Sports’ NHL video game series, which — to this day — is easily the most famous and critically acclaimed hockey game ever made. (The first version was technically just called NHL Hockey, but for simplicity’s sake I’ll be referring to it as NHL 92.) They were revolutionary, and along with Tecmo Bowl are the only things from the early ’90s that aren’t horribly embarrassing in hindsight.

And I think it’s fair to say that most people seem to like NHL 94 better. That shouldn’t be a surprise; after all, NHL 92 introduced the series and NHLPA 93 advanced it, and all things being equal you’d expect NHL 94 to take things another big step forward. And in many regards, it did. It was a very good game, and everyone loved it.

But was it really better than its predecessor? There’s only one way to find out: on to the head-to-head.


NHLPA 93: As the name suggests, the game was licensed by the NHLPA but not the NHL. That meant that all the real players were included, but there were no team names or logos to be found. (This was a reversal of the original NHL 92, which had the teams but no players.)

That sounds like it would be a pretty big issue, but it was surprisingly easy to get past. Instead of the Montreal Canadiens, you just had “Montreal,” a nameless team that through a weird coincidence just happened to have the exact same uniform colors as the Habs. As long as you weren’t an Islanders fan stuck playing as “Long Island,” you might not even notice the lack of an NHL license.

NHL 94: This was the first game in the series to hold both licenses. So you had everything: player names, team logos, and even the Stanley Cup (instead of the weird-looking knockoff in NHLPA 93).

Edge: NHL 94.


NHLPA 93: There were no one-timers, which meant that if you wanted to score you had to get creative. Plays had to be set up, shots chosen carefully, and specific players used in the roles for which they were best suited. Scoring goals in NHLPA 93 was hard.

Unless, of course, you just used one of the many glitchy moves that seemed to work all the time, like piling into the crease, doing that wraparound move, or flipping the puck in so it bounced off the goalie’s head and then scoring into the empty net while he was stunned. But I’m assuming you were an honorable person who would never resort to such chicanery.

NHL 94: The addition of one-timers was the single biggest improvement to NHL 94, and is a big reason why so many people still love it. And understandably so — one-timers were super fun. They were easy enough to execute once you got the hang of it, and they worked.

In fact, they probably worked too well, and this is where I part ways with some NHL 94 fans. While it was cool to have a new way to score, it quickly became apparent that the one-timer was essentially unstoppable. It didn’t matter who the shooter was, or whether they were in position. If you could get the puck to Stu Grimson on his backhand while he was facing the wrong way, he was going to roof a laser beam. And the AI rarely used them, so it basically became impossible to lose to the computer in a game of NHL 94.

Edge: NHL 94. In hindsight, the one-timer probably ruined a decade’s worth of EA Sports hockey games. The problem got even worse in NHL 95, with its weird Pacman-on-ice skating system, and to this day the old “skate down the wing, circle back, and throw it blindly out front for the one-timer” move is still a staple of the NHL series.

But when it debuted it was great, and way more fun than the dirty goals you had to rely on in NHLPA 93.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Monday, January 20, 2014

Weekend wrap: When coaches attack

Coaches Cornered

Saturday night’s Canucks-Flames game started off pleasantly enough. The pregame skate went off without a hitch. The anthem was nice. Most of the fans managed to find their seats before the opening faceoff.

Then, this:

In case you lost track, that would be five fights, 142 penalty minutes, and eight ejections, all in the first two seconds of the game. Special credit goes to Canucks rookie Kellan Lain, who was making his NHL debut and now holds the record for career PIM rate. Hopefully the advanced-stats guys will let me know whether or not that’s sustainable.

As you’d expect, the scene led to the inevitable round of outrage and concern trolling, which spawned the usual thoughtful counterarguments. But whatever your views on fighting, this one was a bit of a debacle. There’s certainly plenty of blame to go around, and depending on your allegiances, one side may deserve more than the other. Let’s see if we can sort it out.

The visiting team sets their starting lineup first, of course, so any responsibility for the brawl has to begin with Flames coach Bob Hartley. He wasn’t even especially subtle about his intentions, having tough-guy winger Kevin Westgarth line up at center for the faceoff.

And while the move didn’t seem to be a direct response to anything that had gone on between the two teams in the past, it’s worth remembering that the Canucks had spent most of the week gooning it up in a series of over-the-top attempts to reestablish their team-toughness bona fides (including this brawl, which earned them an ultra-rare chance to kill off a seven-minute 5-on-3). So it’s possible that Hartley was trying the old “sucker-punch the bully in the mouth before he gets a chance to make a fist” move.

But once the Flames lineup was set, Canucks coach John Tortorella was in a no-win situation. If he puts his own idiots (their words) out on the ice, he makes the resulting chaos inevitable. But while many are suggesting that he should have instead sent his skill players out to defuse the situation, let’s remember that Toronto’s Randy Carlyle tried exactly that with Phil Kessel and John Scott and was rewarded with this.

(And it’s not like the Flames didn’t know how Tortorella would respond. He’d been put in the very same situation two years ago, when he was coaching the Rangers and was confronted with an enforcer-loaded starting lineup from the Devils. This was the result.)

But while Tortorella may not have done anything wrong leading up to the brawl, he abandoned any moral high ground during the first intermission:

Yes, that’s the coach of the Canucks trying to breech the Flames dressing room, presumably to get his hands on Hartley. He didn’t make it, but the attempt alone will likely draw a severe punishment from the league.

Meanwhile, the Canucks won 3-2 in a shootout. Hey, if you’re going to start the game off with a silly sideshow that many think has no place in the sport, you may as well finish with one too.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Friday, January 17, 2014

Grab bag: The Ducks and Panthers get off to a flying start

In the weekly grab bag: A farewell to Ben Scrivens; one of the least accurate hockey names of all-time; the awkward birth of the Panthers and Ducks; and a rant that the advanced stats crowd won't like but really does need to hear.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Death to the loser point

Let’s cut right to the chase: The loser point is dumb, I hate it, and so should you.

Chances are, you already do. I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who actually likes the loser point. Some people can grudgingly live with it. Some actively dislike it. And most seem to hold it in utter contempt and want it out of the league — media, fans, and players alike.

And rightly so, because the loser point was a bad idea and has morphed into something even worse. It’s a source of shame for any decent hockey fan, and it’s tempting to just pretend it doesn’t exist.

But ignoring a problem won’t make it go away, and keeping your feelings all bottled up inside isn’t healthy. So instead, grit your teeth and vent along with me as we present the definitive guide to the NHL’s awful, stupid, very bad loser point.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Five more forgotten NHL moves

Back in November, we took a look through the history books at five mostly forgotten transactions that inadvertently helped shape the NHL we know today. It was a fun post, and I’d like to think we all learned something. Like how the Vancouver Canucks scammed the whole league to draft Pavel Bure one year early, or how the Flames once traded up in the draft just so they could pass on Martin Brodeur.

And, most importantly of all, we learned that you should never, under any circumstances, trade for Viktor Kozlov. Seriously, that guy ruins everything.

Well, now seems like a good time to dive back into the pile of forgotten transactions. So here are five more strange moves from over the years, all of which probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

The Ballad of Not Mike Craig

Craig was a winger who played seven full NHL seasons in the 1990s. Here’s everything you need to know about him: good junior player; second-round pick; interesting hair; marginal NHL bust; irrationally hated by Maple Leaf fans for costing them Peter Zezel; the end.

Oh, and he’d also end up being personally responsible for a ridiculous number of star players winding up in San Jose. And all because — more than two decades ago — the Sharks agreed to not have him play for them. Strap in, this one gets kind of convoluted.

In 1991, the Sharks came into existence as a quasi-expansion team that was partially split off from the Minnesota North Stars because of a complicated ownership dispute. That led to a dispersal draft in which the Sharks stocked their roster with North Stars players, followed by an expansion draft in which both teams got to pick players from around the league. Absolutely nobody understood how any of this worked at the time, but we didn’t have the Internet so we just went with it.

The North Stars had drafted Craig two years earlier, and he’d played 39 games for them in 1990-91. He wasn’t protected, but Minnesota still wanted to keep him. So they worked out an arrangement with San Jose: In exchange for a 1992 first-round pick and a 1991 second-rounder, the Sharks agreed that they would not draft Craig.

It would end up being one of the greatest deals the team ever made. Those two draft picks ended up being Sandis Ozolinsh and Andrei Nazarov, both of whom were productive players for San Jose who had long NHL careers. But it was the chain reaction of deals that flows from both guys that is still being felt in San Jose today.

Ozolinsh was eventually traded for Owen Nolan, who scored more than 200 goals for the Sharks before being dealt to Toronto in a lopsided 2003 deal. Meanwhile, Nazarov was dealt to the Lightning as part of the Vincent Lecavalier deal we talked about last time. That deal got the Sharks Bryan Marchment, who begat Matt Carle, who begat Dan Boyle and also landed San Jose with two more picks, who became Brad Stuart and Jonathan Cheechoo. Cheechoo scored 56 goals and won the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2006, before being traded as part of a package for Dany Heatley, who was traded for Martin Havlat. And Stuart was a key part of the 2005 trade that brought Joe Thornton to San Jose, where he won that season’s MVP.

So 200 goals from Nolan, a Rocket Richard, a Hart Trophy, and a roster that to this day still features Havlat, Boyle, and Thornton … all in exchange for not taking Craig in a dispersal draft more than 20 years ago. It’s no surprise that, even to this day, San Jose Sharks fans still sing the praises of one of the most beloved and influential players in franchise history: Not Mike Craig.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Monday, January 13, 2014

Weekend wrap: Jets grounded, Ducks flying, Stars falling

Each Monday, we’ll wrap up three of the biggest stories from the weekend and how they’ll play into the coming week.

Jets Get New Pilot

We didn’t have to wait long for the first firing of 2014, as the Jets announced Sunday that coach Claude Noel had been relieved of his duties and replaced by Paul Maurice.

It wasn’t especially hard to see this move coming; when even I’m getting predictions right, you know the writing was on the wall in great big letters. The Jets had yet to win in January, losing five straight while giving up 24 goals over that span, including Saturday’s 6-3 loss to the Blue Jackets. They missed the playoffs in each of Noel’s first two seasons, and have already been all but mathematically eliminated from this year’s race.

That’s made for a frustrating season in Winnipeg, and there have been signs that all the losing has been starting to wear on them. This is still a team that features some solid talent, including 22-year-old power forward Evander Kane, top pairing defenseman (sometimes) Dustin Byfuglien, leading scorer Bryan Little, gritty captain Andrew Ladd, and surprise U.S. Olympian Blake Wheeler. While none of those guys are exactly Hart Trophy threats, it’s a solid core made up of players that any team in the league would be happy to have.

So are the Jets really as bad as their record suggests? There’s some evidence that they may not be. The Jets were a terrible possession team in October, but have improved steadily since then and were actually playing reasonably well until the recent losing streak. They’re a top-10 team at generating shots, and the penalty kill has been good. And they’re one of the worst even-strength PDO teams in the league, which, at first glance, would seem to point to an eventual turnaround.

But that last stat may hold a bigger key, and it’s not good news for Jets fans. While a low PDO can be the result of a run of bad luck that should even out, it can also point to a different problem: lousy goaltending. And sure enough, the Jets' team save percentage is barely north of 90 percent, which puts them in the same ballpark as goaltending wastelands like the Oilers and Islanders.

Most of that sits on the shoulders of starter Ondrej Pavelec, whose .898 save percentage ranks 42nd out of 47 qualifiers. And while that number is below his career average, it’s not exactly an outlier: He’s had only one season in his career that was better than .910. Since Pavelec became a regular starter in 2009, 29 goalies have played at least 150 games — and he ranks 28th.

So while Noel didn’t want to blame his goalie for the team’s woes, I don’t mind doing it for him. Pavelec certainly isn’t the entire problem, but he’s a big piece of it, and the franchise is stuck with him. Despite his uninspiring numbers, the Jets saw fit to give him a five-year extension before last season that runs through 2017.

The good news: Maurice is a veteran coach with a Cup ring. And he certainly knows a thing or two about bad goaltending, having been the guy who coached the Maple Leafs during the Raycroft-Toskala era. He’ll make his debut behind the Winnipeg bench tonight, as the Jets host the Coyotes.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Friday, January 10, 2014

Grab bag: Good goals, Hamlet Death, and Martin St. Louis is Canada's batkid

In the grab bag: Good goals, polite videobombs, PK Subban's contract, Martin St. Louis is Canada's batkid, and the ballad of Eric Lindros, Hamlet Death and the worst shootout ever.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Thursday, January 9, 2014

At the midway mark: All the answers

The NHL season crossed the midway mark this week, with all 30 teams now officially into the second half of their schedules. And as always, the first half of the season has left us with more questions than answers.

We can fix that. The part about not having enough answers, I mean.

That's the beauty of modern sports, after all. There are plenty of different ways to look at any question, and if you don't like the answer you get, you can just click around until you find a better one. Why not save time by putting them all in one place?

So here are 10 key questions for the rest of the NHL season, each answered five different ways: through an old-school narrative; with modern fancy stats; by scrapping the analysis altogether and just focusing on the funniest thing that could happen; and through the eyes of a fan. Specifically, the worst hockey fan that you know. Man, do I ever hate that guy.

Oh, and then there's my answer. You know, the correct one. Make sure you skip those if you want to be surprised.

1. Which team sitting outside of a playoff spot today will find a way in?

Tyler Seguin #91 of the Dallas Stars

The old-school narrative: The New Jersey Devils are a veteran group with a lot of pride and plenty of Cup rings. They'll find a way, because they always do. (Except when they don't.) Besides, do you really think a tried-and-tested winner like Martin Brodeur is going out like this?

The fancy stats: The Dallas Stars are stuck in 10th in the West, four points out of a playoff spot. But the advanced metrics say they've actually been one of the league's better teams — and they're trending upward.2

The worst hockey fan you know: The Carolina Hurricanes do it for their die-hard fans — all three of them! You know, because the rest of them like NASCAR. [Looks around for a high five.]

If the hockey gods had a sense of humor: The Senators edge out the Red Wings on the schedule's final day, after spending the season's second half ripping clothing off a cardboard cutout of Daniel Alfredsson.

My answer: I actually like Ottawa, Dallas, and maybe the Caps. You might even be able to talk me into the Devils, too, though they need to jump a lot of teams.

2. Who'll be the biggest trade-deadline acquisition?

Mike Cammalleri #13 of the Calgary Flames

The old-school narrative: Everyone knows that goaltending wins championships, and there's one goaltender available who could do that single-handedly. Whichever contender upgrades to Ryan Miller can go ahead and start designing its rings.

The fancy stats: Mike Cammalleri is a classic rental — a veteran on a bad team making lots of money on an expiring contract. He's having a pretty unremarkable year offensively, and his minus-20 rating is ugly. But he leads the Flames in CF% relative, which means they're much better with him on the ice than off, and his PDO of 93.8 suggests that his plus/minus is more a product of bad luck than anything he's doing. With the right situation and some better puck luck, he could be a difference-maker.

The worst hockey fan you know: Oh man, I have this great idea for a fake Twitter insider account on deadline day — dude, it's going to be hilarious.

If the hockey gods had a sense of humor: With Pascal Dupuis likely done for the season, the Penguins still need a right winger to play with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz. Hey, I hear the Devils' leading scorer could make a nice rental …

My answer: As a Leaf fan, I've already resigned myself to James Reimer getting traded for a handful of magic beans. This guy's a great goalie who, for whatever reason, isn't getting a fair chance in Toronto; whoever winds up with him is going to get a steal.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The 2014 Olympic trade deadline

Hello, fans around the world, and welcome to our coverage of the 2014 Olympic hockey trade deadline. With all national rosters due today, this is the last chance for countries to trade players before locking in their lineups.

Rumors have been swirling for months and the tension is high, so let's go live to our studios as we count down to the deadline …


OK, we'll stop right there. Clearly, the entire premise of this column is ridiculous. The Olympic hockey trade deadline doesn't exist, and never could. It wouldn't even make any sense. After all, player eligibility is determined based on a detailed set of rules; that's the whole point. If stars suddenly started suiting up for different countries at major international tournaments, hockey fans wouldn't stand for it. So clearly, there can be no such thing as an Olympic trade deadline.

But what if there were? You're telling me that a trade deadline wouldn't make an already fun tournament even more entertaining? You wouldn't spend weeks obsessing over possible moves as the deadline approached, then call in sick when the actual day arrived? At the very least, it would give the various general managers something to do besides picking an all-star roster, immediately apologizing for it, and then having a camera isolated on them during every game while they look like they're undergoing cardiac arrest.

So yes, this whole thing is silly, will probably result in the majority of the world's population hating me, and risks turning into the worst HFBoards thread ever. But that doesn't mean we can't waste a few thousand words on it. Who's with me? That's what I thought. We now return you to our trade desk …


And we're back. There could be plenty of action today, as the top contenders are all looking to load up. Russia is under tremendous pressure to win gold on home ice. Team Canada, as always, will either win gold or be considered a national disgrace. Team USA will be looking to build on a surprising 2010 run that saw them fall just one goal shy of winning it all, while Sweden's aging core wants to get back to the top of the medal stand one last time. And what about the quasi-contenders? Will they try to compete with the big boys, or look to rebuild for the future?

Anything can happen. Remember, everyone is eligible to be moved, including players who didn't make their country's final roster. And based on the flurry of cell-phone checking that's currently going on behind me, we appear to have our first deal of the day. Cue the overly elaborate, swooshing "breaking trade" graphic.

Canada trades forward Logan Couture to Finland for goaltender Kari Lehtonen

 Logan Couture #39 of the San Jose Sharks

On the surface, this one-for-one swap makes a lot of sense. Canada's roster is stacked as always, but goaltending is still an area of concern. Carey Price has looked fine and Roberto Luongo won gold four years ago, but the country has been falling behind the rest of the world in goal for years, and the days when it could bank on an obvious choice like Martin Brodeur or Patrick Roy are long gone. With Luongo's health status suddenly in question, it's not surprising that it wants to add some depth at the position.

Lehtonen will give Canada a safety net and could push for the starter's job if Price falters. He's far from a sure thing, but he's arguably the best goalie who'd be available. And Finland can certainly afford to move him, with Tuukka Rask already firmly established as the starter and Antti Niemi backing up.

The move doesn't come cheap for Canada, as Couture has already emerged as an excellent two-way player at the age of 24. But for whatever reason, Team Canada didn't seem high on him, and he was a somewhat surprising omission from the roster announced today. So he goes to Finland, which is considered a long shot to win a medal this year, where he can step in and play on its top six right now as well as in 2018 and beyond.

Canada has made an early blockbuster move. Which will be the next teams to pull the trigger? Apparently we won't have to wait long to find out, because we have another deal coming across the wire.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Monday, January 6, 2014

Weekend wrap: Blues, Wild, Senators and more

Each Monday, we’ll wrap up three of the biggest stories from the weekend and how they’ll play into the coming week.

Blues May Be the Best

The St. Louis Blues are the NHL’s hottest team, and right now you could make a good case that they are the league’s best, period. They’ve won five straight and collected 15 points over their last eight games. And as we’ve come to expect, they’re doing it with defense, giving up 2.27 goals per game, the third-best mark in the league. They give up fewer shots than any team outside of New Jersey, and they have received dependable goaltending from the Jaroslav Halak–Brian Elliott combo.

In a typical season, this would be the part of our St. Louis Blues summary when we’d point out that all that defense is compensating for a lack of scoring. After all, the Blues have only finished in the top 10 in goals per game once since the 2005 lockout (they were 10th in 2010-11). But that caveat doesn’t apply this year; the Blues are scoring 3.56 goals per game, good for second-best in the league. They lead the league in shooting percentage by a wide margin, and their power play is top five. If anything, their offense has been even better than their defense.

Add it all up, and you’ve got a team whose plus-55 goal differential leads the league by 12 over second-place Chicago, with no other team even cracking the plus-40 mark. The Blues have padded those numbers in January with a pair of blowout home wins, blanking the Kings 5-0 on Thursday and following that up with a 6-2 stomping of the Blue Jackets on Saturday. They were kind enough to spot Columbus a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes in that one, before pulling away in the second period on the way to scoring six unanswered. Patrik Berglund had a pair of goals, and Vladimir Sobotka added a goal and an assist.

Despite the hot streak, the Blues are still just tied for third overall, four points back of the Hawks and Ducks. But they have four games in hand on Chicago and three on Anaheim, and the Blues get the woeful Flames and Oilers in their next two matchups. And while leading scorer Alexander Steen remains out with a concussion, they did get David Backes and Jordan Leopold back in the lineup over the weekend.

So are the Blues the league’s best team right now? Maybe, though there’s some evidence that they’ve also benefitted from above-average luck. They lead the league in PDO by almost a full point, powered largely by that 12-plus percentage team shooting that’s likely to drop as the season continues. And while the team’s overall goaltending numbers have been decent, that’s been driven largely by Elliott; Halak’s .907 save percentage ranks him outside the NHL’s top 30.

Still, even if their luck starts to even out, the Blues are still going to be very good. And if they don’t think their goaltending is championship-caliber, well, let’s just say there are options available. It feels wrong to anoint anyone else in the West as the Stanley Cup favorite as long as the defending champs are still on top of the conference, but the Blues may not give us much choice.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

Friday, January 3, 2014

Grab bag: In which I find myself on Brian Burke's side on something

In the grab bag: Defending Brian Burke, a very Don Cherry Christmas, your handy Team Canada Panic checklist, the butt goal, and a fight in a Las Vegas parking lot.

>> Read the full post on Grantland