In the Friday Grab Bag:
- NBC seemed to snub the NHL this week, but maybe we're all missing something
- An idea for making outdoor alumni games a lot more fun
- An obscure player who had more success in reality TV than on the ice
- The week's three comedy stars, including an adorable wittle Blackhawks fan
- And we break down one of the most famous moments in WJC history, as John Slaney scores the biggest goal of his life
Friday, December 30, 2016
In the Friday Grab Bag:
Thursday, December 29, 2016
One of the biggest stories of the season so far has been the Metro Division. The top five teams are rolling over the rest of the league, and at one point all five were riding long win streaks and pulling away from just about everyone else. There’s really not much question over which division is the league’s best right now.
But which division was the league’s best … ever?
We don’t mean for one year. We’re asking which NHL division was the best of all-time, over the entire course of its existence. And (maybe just as much fun), which were the worst?
Let’s find out. We’ll need a list of distinct NHL divisions, which turns out to be easier said than done. The NHL is constantly tinkering with its format, adding a team here or shifting one over there. If we consider every slight variation to be a brand new division, we’re going to be here forever.
We also can't rely on their naming conventions since we've seen divisions change radically while keeping the same names – the classic 80s Norris didn't look anything like the initial 1975 version. Then we'd run into what to do with the Atlantic, a name the NHL essentially shifted over to a whole new division a few years ago to make room for the Metro.
Luckily, the NHL's formatting tends to break down reasonably well into a few, fairly clear eras ranging from a few years long to over a decade of stability. Those break down like this:
- 1968 – 70 (The aftermath of the first expansion)
- 1971 – 74 (Continued expansion)
- 1975 – 81 (The four-division era begins)
- 1982 – 1993 (Classis Norris, Smythe, Patrick and Adams era)
- 1994 – 1998 (Divisions renamed + southern spread)
- 1999 – 2013 (Six-division era)
- 2014 – present (The current format)
That gives us 26 distinct divisions to work with, which is kind of a lot. But hey, nobody does any real work this week, so let's take a crack at it.
There were no divisions in the Original Six years, so our quest to find the best division starts with the 1967-68 season. As it turns out, that’s where we’ll find the worst one ever.
#26. West Division (1968 – 1970)
Key teams: Blues, Kings, Penguins, Flyers, North Stars, Seals
Cups won: Zero.
The story: The NHL decided to double the size of the league by adding six new teams in 1967, which was mostly good. Then they put all six of those teams into the same division, which was entirely bad, and for three straight years, the West got absolutely destroyed by the established teams in the East.
But because of the idiotic format, the West got to serve up a Stanley Cup finalist each year. The result: three straight sweeps, at which point the NHL finally came to its senses and figured out a better way.
#25. Smythe Division (1975 – 1981)
Key teams: Blackhawks, North Stars, Canucks, Blues, Scouts/Rockies
Other teams: The North Stars headed to the Adams in 1978, while the Oilers and Jets arrive from the WHA in 1979.
Cups won: Zero.
The story: It feels weird to even call this division the Smythe; the Oilers don't show up until the end, and the Flames are in the Patrick (and Atlanta). It's probably just as well, because this division was awful.
How bad? It didn't produce a single team that managed more than 87 points until 1981, when the Blues put up 107. To put that differently, this division had more teams that finished with fewer than 40 points (the 75-76 Scouts and 80-81 Jets) than had more than 90.
But here's the most amazing fact about the early Smythe: Over six seasons, not only did they never make an appearance in the final, they somehow never even sent a team to the semi-final. That doesn't seem like it should be possible in a four-division league, but they were that bad.
#24. Southeast Division (1999 – 2013)
Key teams: Capitals, Hurricanes, Lightning, Thrashers, Panthers
Other teams: The Jets remained in the division after relocating from Atlanta. Look, geography has never been a strong point in this league.
Cups won: Two.
The story: God bless the Southeast. As the years wore on, the division became the league's punchline for mediocrity, if not worse. And sure, part of that was the hockey world's built-in bias against new markets – the Southeast was basically the Capitals and four relative newbies, so it was easy enough to dismiss the division as the NHL's island of misfit toys.
But the reputation wasn't completely unearned. In fourteen seasons together, the Southeast sent the bare minimum one team to the playoffs a half dozen times. And they always seemed to have at least one train wreck; a Southeast team finished dead last overall in six different seasons.
Still, they did win those two Cups, much to the chagrin of the traditionalists. That's not enough to make up for all the messes that clogged the division for the rest of its 14-season existence, but it's enough to keep them clear of last spot.
In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast, Dave and Sean answer reader questions, including:
- Who in the hockey world had the best 2016?
- The best possible first round playoff matchups
- Whether Ken Holland will still be Detroit's GM in a year
- Trade deadline predictions
- And the big controversy we just couldn't ignore any more: Why is the Biscuits logo clearly not a biscuit but rather an ice cream sandwich?
>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
On Saturday, the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks will face off in a Winter Classic alumni game that will be played outdoors, at a baseball stadium, and will include Wayne Gretzky.
It's kind of strange that Gretzky is the most surprising part of that sentence.
But it is. Outdoor games at eccentric locations are old hat now, but Gretzky wasn't supposed to play in this one, having hinted that an alumni appearance for the Oilers earlier in the year was his last game ever. But he apparently changed his mind, and will suit up for St. Louis. And that's fun, because it gives an entire generation of young hockey fans a chance to go: "Wait, Wayne Gretzky played for the St. Louis Blues?"
He did indeed, although it didn't last long and it didn't go especially well. You kind of had to be there.
But some of you weren't. So today, let's look back at the events the led up to the deal and some of the weirdness that followed, as we walk through the five stages of the (other) Wayne Gretzky trade.
The Build Up
We all kind of assume that Wayne Gretzky was a Los Angeles King for life.
Well, not for his whole life, since he'd already spent a good chunk of that shattering records with the Edmonton Oilers. But for the rest of his career, sure. Gretzky was going to be the guy who broke in as a flashy youngster in Edmonton before moving down south to redefine the way an entire country viewed the sport, and then he'd ride off into the SoCal sunset.
Still, we knew there was a chance that a move could happen someday. As the old saying went, "If Wayne Gretzky can be traded, then anyone can be traded," which is a group that technically would include Wayne Gretzky again. But if it did, it would be a blockbuster, and it would probably take months to put together and go down in the offseason. That's what had happened in 1988, when the trade that sent Gretzky from Edmonton to L.A. was considered the biggest in the history of pro sports and had Canadian politicians demanding legislation to stop the deal. Another Gretzky deal could happen, but it would be a monster.
Gretzky in a Blues jersey will always look weird. Photo by Sam Mircovic/Reuters
Wayne Gretzky, a hastily thrown together trade deadline rental? No way.
That's why it was stunning, and more than a little confusing, when reports started to emerge in early 1996 that Gretzky could be on the block. But the Kings weren't contending, and Gretzky was reported to be unhappy. With free agency looming and the Kings struggling financially in the wake of one-time owner Bruce McNall's legal scandals, what had seemed unthinkable suddenly looked very real.
Wayne Gretzky was getting traded, and the deal was going to go down quickly. This was really happening.
By February 1996, it was clear that a deal was imminent, probably even in advance of that year's March 20 trade deadline. As far as a destination, the usual suspects were floated. The Canucks, who'd missed out on Gretzky in 1988 (and turned out to be a year away from landing a big-name veteran of their own, although they'd rather not talk about it). The Blackhawks, who always seemed to be in on the big names. The Maple Leafs, because you can't have a good trade rumor without the Leafs being mentioned. And, yes, the Blues, although initially as a long shot.
But the clear favorite was what seemed like the obvious choice: the Rangers. Every star player of the 90s made a stop in New York at some point, and they seemed like a natural fit. The Rangers were contenders, they had plenty of money, and they could even reunite Gretzky with Mark Messier. As the rumors grew from plentiful smoke to outright fire, the hockey world waited for Gretzky to make his inevitable move to Broadway.
And that's where Mike Keenan came in.
A few days ago, I was clicking through Wikipedia and stumbled on what may be my new favorite page on the site. Titled "List of National Hockey League controversies" and promising "a list of controversies which have occurred in the National Hockey League over its history,” at the time I found it the page listed a grand total of… three things.
Yeah, you know what Wikipedia, I'm going to go ahead and say this is not a complete and comprehensive list. pic.twitter.com/zZ3D1AYWvd— Down Goes Brown (@DownGoesBrown) December 22, 2016
That seemed low.
Let's be honest — on a good night, the NHL will give us three new controversies before most of the game have hit intermission. And in 2016, as always, the NHL provided plenty of new entries to the ongoing list. Much of that was firmly in the no-laughing-matter category, as issues like the concussion lawsuit, Dennis Wideman's hit on Don Henderson and a steady stream of offside replay reviews had fans fuming.
But other controversies of 2016 were just, well, dumb. They were the kind that had you shaking your head, rolling your eyes, and wondering "What are we even doing here?" Those are the kind of controversies that the league probably wishes would go away quickly, never to be mentioned again.
Well, the Wikipedia editors may forget, but I don't. So before we flip the calendars ahead to 2017, let's take one last look back at the five dumbest controversies of 2016.
5. Gerald Gallant and the cab
Coaching in the NHL isn't easy. You work countless hours, you're measured on results that are largely out of your control and you have to deal with the media at every turn. And, inevitably, you get fired.
That last part happened to a few coaches in 2016, most recently Gerald Gallant. He was canned by the Panthers just months after being a Jack Adams finalist, raising more than a few eyebrows around the league.
But the firing itself wasn't the controversy. The big story here was the Gallant ended up taking a cab.
Yes, apparently losing your job is just part of the game, but having to take a taxi to the airport is some sort of mortal insult. The Panthers' organization had already somehow become ground zero for every hockey hot take, but this was simply going too far. Those dastardly computer boys had probably outsourced their transportation policy to some new-fangled abacus!
Later, we found out the whole thing had just been a misunderstanding, with Gallant himself telling everyone to knock it off. But the damage had been done, the cab had been called and a horrified hockey world is still recovering.
Tuesday, December 27, 2016
Being a goalie is a tough life. When your team scores, you’re standing all by yourself 200 feet away from the action. When your team gives up a goal, you’re right there in the middle of it. Your entire job revolves around preventing bad things, and no matter how well you play, those bad things will happen eventually. A lot. And when they do, you’ve suddenly got 18,000 fans and who knows how many TV viewers staring at you.
It can all be pretty stressful. Which is why it’s always been vaguely fascinating to see how goalies react when they allow a goal. It’s an important decision because there’s a wide range of options available and not all of them are positive.
In an effort to help out my goaltending friends, I figured we should break this down in more detail. So here are the official power rankings of goaltender reactions, based on a rigid, scientific methodology of this is my post so I can make it up as I go along.
10. The Water Bottle Chug
A timeless classic, the water bottle chug has been the go-to move of sad goalies for decades. It’s just about the most clichéd thing a goalie can do, to the point where longtime fans barely even notice it anymore. I guess red lights just make these guys really thirsty.
While it seems like a relatively sportsmanlike gesture, at its heart, the water bottle chug is actually a solid bit of passive aggressive posturing. It’s the goalie’s way of saying “So what, you scored, who even cares. I’m more interested in my tasty beverage.”
Fun historical note: The Flyers were the first team to introduce water bottles on top of the net, back during the 1985 Stanley Cup Final. In response, the Oilers threatened to boycott the series, and Glen Sather suggested putting hamburgers on the nets in case the goalies got hungry.
Honorable Mention: The Puck Fish-out
Another classic. It's 50 per cent helpful, and 50 per cent "get this stupid thing away from me." Bonus point if the goalie wings the puck all the way down the ice, into the stands, or directly at the other team's celebration pile.
9. The Corner Skate
Almost as common as the water bottle chug, the Corner Skate is the default move of choice for the more active goaltender. It goes something like this:
1. Skate purposefully towards a corner.
2. Arrive at corner; pivot confidently.
3. Watch the inevitable fan flip out and start two-fisting the glass because they realize they might be on TV.
4. Realize you’re not actually sure what to do next; wander around aimlessly for a few seconds like someone who just stumbled into the wrong restroom.
5. Sheepishly retreat to the net and execute the Water Bottle Chug.
By the way, the corner can be to the left or the right but it’s always in the goalie’s own end. I’d like to see a guy mix it up and start corner-skating into the other team’s zone after every goal, just to confuse people. This feels like something Dominik Hasek would have done if he'd ever given up a goal.
Honorable Mention: The Post Tap
This is another one that just about every goaltender has mastered and involves an intricate series of behind-the-back taps to his posts and crossbars. It’s the goalie’s way of informing his best friends that he forgives them, even though they’ve just utterly failed him. There’s at least a 90 per cent chance that he’s also talking to them, by the way. Hell, he probably has names for them. “Chin up, Posty. We’ll get ‘em next time, Big Red.”
The Post Tap is often executed in combination with the Water Bottle Chug. Sometimes the water comes first. Sometimes it’s the posts. Sometimes a goalie will go back and forth between the two and get caught in an endless loop that only ends when the trainer comes out and hits CTRL+ALT+DEL to reset them. Goalies are weird.
Monday, December 26, 2016
So that was … interesting.
One of the most common complaints about the modern NHL is that the league’s product is occasionally boring. And when it comes to the action on the ice, that’s often true. But in the bigger picture, 2016 couldn’t be accused of being dull. The year was a lot of things – ridiculous, controversial, head-scratching – but it was rarely boring.
Here are 10 of the biggest stories from an undeniably weird but entertaining year in the NHL.
1) The Penguins win it all
By the end of 2015, the Penguins were a mess. They’d just fired their coach, they were barely hanging in the playoff race, and they seemed more like a collection of aging, overpaid stars than an actual team.
By the end of 2016, they were the best team in hockey.
Nobody had a better 2016 than the Penguins, who close out the year near the top of the NHL standings and as defending Stanley Cup champions. They won that Cup thanks to a dominant performance by Sidney Crosby, now fully healthy and once again the undisputed best player in the world. He was supported by an unlikely hero in goal, as rookie Matt Murray took over the job despite having just 13 career starts heading into the playoffs.
And then there was Phil Kessel, the much-maligned winger who’d been acquired the previous summer. He went from league-wide punch line to the Penguins’ leading postseason scorer, not to mention one of the sport’s most lovable memes. By September, he was even throwing bombs on Twitter.
Phil Kessel is the best. In 2016, the Penguins were too.
2) The day the hockey world went nuts
June 29 seemed like it would be a relatively normal day in the NHL. The draft had just passed, and the start of unrestricted free agency was still two days away. The rumor mill was busy, as it always is this time of year, but nobody was expecting anything too crazy.
Then everyone lots their minds.
First came word that the Oilers had traded former first overall pick Taylor Hall to the Devils for defenseman Adam Larsson, in a move that stood as easily the most stunning one-for-one deal in recent NHL history. It held that honor for all of a half hour or so, before we learned that Montreal had sent PK Subban to the Predators for Shea Weber. You could hear hockey fans’ heads exploding around the world.
By the time reports emerged that Steven Stamkos had re-signed in Tampa, the day seemed almost incomprehensible. The Stamkos free agency auction was the biggest story in the league when the day began; by the time it ended, fans barely noticed.
In a league where nobody makes big moves anymore, we got three within an hour. It was madness. Here’s hoping it happens again someday soon.
Saturday, December 24, 2016
On Thursday, we went through the Western Conference and graded each team on the trades they made in 2016. Today, it’s the Eastern Conference’s turn.
Once again, we’ll use the database at nhltradetracker.com, and we’ll be focused on trades that involved at least one actual player. Each team gets a grade based on their trading only—if the GM did other things right, that’s fine, but it doesn’t show up here.
And yes, technically, a team could render all of this moot by pulling off a monster blockbuster when the holiday trade freeze is lifted a few days before New Year’s Eve. Let’s just say I’m guessing that won’t happen. Prove me wrong, NHL GMs!
Best deal: Anthony Camara and two picks to Carolina for Jean-Michael Liles. Liles is still on the team, so this one wins by default.
Worst deal: A second and fourth to New Jersey for Lee Stempniak. Normally when you make a deadline rental deal, you'd like to at least make the playoffs.
To be determined: What Don Sweeney has been doing since the trade deadline.
Total trades: Two
Overall grade: D+. Despite being linked in several high-profile rumors, deadline day was it for Boston. They've been better than expected this year, so we can't dump on them too much. Still, teams that have missed the playoffs two straight years don't typically take the conservative approach.
Best deal: A fourth to St. Louis for Anders Nilsson. It flew under the radar at the time, but Nilsson's been very good so far this year.
Worst deal: A third rounder to Nashville for Jimmy Vesey. You can see what Tim Murray was doing here, and it was a gamble worth making. But in hindsight, the Sabres gave up a decent pick for nothing at all.
To be determined: Jason Akeson, Philip Varone and Jerome Gauthier-Leduc to Ottawa for Michael Sdao, Alexander Guptill, Cole Schneider and Eric O`Dell. I have no recollection of this seven-player deal happening, none of the players are young enough to be prospects, and only Schneider is in the NHL. When you get together with your uncle, you swap funny stories. When Tim Murray does it, he swaps seven career minor-leaguers.
Total trades: Six
Overall grade: C+. After a busy last few years, Murray eased off in 2016. That's understandable, but he may need to get busy again in 2017.
Best deal: A second and a third to Chicago for Bryan Bickell and Teuvo Teravainen. The Hurricanes found a big market team straining against the cap and took advantage.
Worst deal: Eric Staal to the Rangers for two seconds and Aleksi Saarela. Not a bad deal, and almost certainly the best they could reasonably do. But when you trade The Franchise, you'd like to think you're going to get a major haul in return. They didn't quite.
To be determined: Future considerations to Vancouver for Dane Fox. Fox is minor league depth, so there's not much to see here. I just wanted to point out that this happened in March, making it one of those rare "after the trade deadline" moves.
Total trades: Seven
Overall grade: A-. The Teravainen move was a steal, and even the Staal deal was decent.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Best deal: Ryan Johansen for Seth Jones, if only for the sheer "holy cow" moment when it was announced. Midseason blockbusters are so rare these days, it was fun to see one actually pulled off.
Worst deal: Kerby Rychel to the Leafs for Scott Harrington and a conditional pick. Rychel is still a quasi-prospect, although he hasn't done anything in Toronto yet. Look, it's slim pickings in Columbus.
To be determined: I guess it's that Ryan Stanton/Cody Goloubef deal, since it's the only other one they made.
Total trades: Three
Overall grade: B. The Blue Jackets only made three deals all year? What do they think they are, Cup contenders? [Double-checks.] Oh. OK then, carry on I guess.
Friday, December 23, 2016
In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Do stars like Connor McDavid get enough protection from officials?
- An idea for making conditional trades a lot more fun.
- Week three of cute kids dominating the comedy stars
- An obscure player with a Christmas birthday who once got tomahawked by Teemu Selanne
- And a special holiday-themed YouTube breakdown, featuring the Islanders' infamous Santa brawl.
The world junior championship will officially get underway on Monday, and Team Canada has been playing exhibition games all week as they look to rebound from a disappointing showing last year.
If you’re a Maple Leafs fan with an eye on the future, there’s not all that much to get excited about at this year’s tournament. Nikita Korostelev will be there for Team Russia, as will Jeremy Bracco for Team USA. But with eligible players like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner already lightning it up in the NHL, there won’t be much of the Leafs’ future on display. And there won’t be any Leaf prospects at all on Team Canada.
Honestly, that might be a good thing. While Team Canada has had its ups and downs over the years at the WJC, it’s rarely had anything in the way of good news for Leaf fans. In a good year, the team wouldn’t carry any Toronto prospects at all. In a bad year, they’d find a creative way to punch Leaf fans in the gut.
Today, let’s relive some of that trauma with a look back at the various ways that Team Canada has made Leaf fans sad.
We’ll start our history lesson back in the 90s, since before then it was relatively rare to find Leafs property at the world juniors. That’s because back then, most Leaf prospects were rushed into the NHL lineup right away, which is why players like Wendel Clark and Luke Richardson only made appearances before they were Maple Leaf property. We did get an early peak at names like Russ Courtnall and Gary Leeman in the early 80s, but not many Canadians were paying attention then.
They were by 1991, though, and for most of the nation that year’s tournament stands as a classic. It came down to a final-game gold medal showdown with the Soviets, one that Canada won on a late goal by the immortal John Slaney. It marked the first time in Canadian history that they’d won back-to-back gold medal.
But if you were a Leafs fan, the tournament was… well, let’s say bittersweet. For one, this was the year that Eric Lindros truly arrived as the most dominant prospect in the world, living up to his status as the presumed top pick in the 1991 draft. That should have been good news for the Leafs, given that they were terrible. But they’d already traded that pick in a disastrous trade that would leave them scrambling to claw their way out of last place overall. They eventually would, just barely, and ended up missing out on another Canadian star from this tournament in Scott Niedermayer.
The Leafs did have a prospect of their own on Team Canada. That would be Scott Thornton, taken third overall in the infamous 1989 draft that saw Toronto load up on Belleville Bulls. He was on loan from the big club after scoring just one goal in 23 games; it would be the only goal he’d ever score for the Leafs, as he was part of the Grant Fuhr trade package a few months later.
Meanwhile, the Leafs came away impressed by another Canadian prospect, one who tied with Lindros for the team lead in goals. That was Mike Craig, who’d they pluck away from the Stars a few years later in a terrible RFA signing.
There was one bright side to the tournament, although you’d have to look hard to find it at the time. While Trevor Kidd got six of the seven starts in goal, a Leafs prospect did manage to earn the back-up job and get into a single game. That was a kid named Felix Potvin, who ended up being pretty important in a few years.
Thursday, December 22, 2016
We’re now into the NHL’s holiday trade freeze, which began on Monday night and runs through next Wednesday. That’s the time of year when GMs don’t trade because they’re not allowed to, which is not to be confused with the rest of the year, when GMs don’t trade because they don’t want to.
OK, that’s a little harsh. The art of the deal has been disappearing from NHL front offices for years now, for a variety of reasons. But trades do still happen, even if they’re less frequent and have less impact. So with New Year’s approaching, now seems like a good time to look back at all the deals made in 2016 and hand out grades to all 30 NHL teams.
We’ll use the database at nhltradetracker.com, and we’ll only worry about deals that involved an actual player—no picks-for-picks shuffling. We’ll look at the best and worst deals that each team made, and we’ll assign everyone a final grade. (Would it be more accurate to wait a few years to see how each deal turns out in the long-term before evaluating it? Sure, but that’s not as much fun, so we’re doing it now.)
To be clear, we’re giving out grades for trades only, not overall front-office performance—if a team knocked it out of the park with drafting and free agency but didn’t do much wheeling and dealing, they won’t score well here. We’ll do the Western Conference today, and be back with the Eastern Conference on Saturday.
And remember, NHL GMs... if you're not happy with your mark, you still have a few days after the trade freeze to change it.
Best deal: Frederik Anderson to Toronto for a first and a second (plus Jonathan Bernier in a technically separate but related deal). Andersen has been good for the Leafs after a rocky start, but if the Ducks had decided to move on from a guy who needed a new contract, they did well to get two high picks back.
Worst deal: Carl Hagelin for David Perron and Adam Clendening. At the time, it seemed like a reasonable "change of scenery"-type deal, and the Ducks won plenty after it was made. But Hagelin became a key part of a Cup winner, while neither Perron or Clendening are still in the Ducks organization.
To be determined: Michael Sgarbossa to Florida for Logan Shaw in a one-for-one swap of guys who are too old to be prospects but too young to be NHL washouts. As a side note, this apparently minor deal reportedly reflected some of the behind-the-scenes problems in Florida.
Total trades: Ten, if we count Bernier separately
Overall grade: C+. The Andersen deal was solid, and you certainly can't accuse Bob Murray of standing pat. But the rental deals didn't help the Ducks get out of the first round, and most of the players they acquired are already out of the organization.
Best deal: Two draft picks for Lawson Crouse and Dave Bolland. This is the kind of deal the Coyotes should be making—they're eating a terrible contract, but got something of value in return. How much value? Crouse hasn’t shown much at the NHL level yet, but there are flashes, and there's plenty of time.
Worst deal: A first and second plus Joe Vitale to Detroit for Pavel Datsyuk and a slightly better first. Remember when we all thought the Red Wings would have to pay through the nose to dump Datsyuk's contract? Unlike the Bolland deal, this time the Coyotes somehow gave up more than they got.
To be determined: A second rounder to Tampa for Anthony DeAngelo. It's early, but first impressions of DeAngelo have been solid.
Total trades: Twelve
Overall grade: B+. You can't say the Coyotes weren't creative. It hasn't paid off much in the present, but then again, that's not the point quite yet in Arizona.
Best deal: Kris Russell to Dallas for two prospects and a second. At the risk of setting off yet another round of the Great Kris Russell Debate, let's just say that this was a solid deadline-day haul for a player the Flames weren't bringing back.
Worst deal: A second and a conditional third to St. Louis for Brian Elliott. It looked like a steal at the time, but Elliott had a rough start in Calgary. He's been better recently, so maybe there's still time to salvage this, but sometimes smart gambles just don't pay off.
To be determined: Hunter Shinkaruk to Vancouver for Markus Granlund. The rare prospect-for-prospect deal has favoured the Canucks so far, which you'd expect given Granlund is a little bit older.
Total trades: Six
Overall grade: B-. Solid work, but the Elliott deal brings the grade down, at least for now.
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
The NHL's holiday roster freeze kicked in on Monday, dropping the league's trading activity all the way down to zero from its previous level of… well, zero.
NHL GMs don’t really seem to like to trade anymore; we've had just four since the season began, none of them especially interesting. There are plenty of theories as to what's behind the decline of the trade — mine is that 90 percent of today's GMs are risk-adverse wimps who'd rather mumble excuses than do their jobs — but it's undeniable that it's happening.
Still, there's hope on the horizon. As of yesterday, we're officially ten weeks out from the 2017 trade deadline. And trading does tend to pick up early in the new year, which is when we saw last year's first true blockbuster. It's time for NHL GMs to get to work. And we're going to help them out.
Last week, we traded Jarome Iginla five times. People really seemed to enjoy that post — some friendly Flames fans even offered to help heat up this frigid Ottawa winter by burning my house to the ground. So today, let's build on that success by proposing five deals that could make sense as the deadline nears.
No need to thanks us, NHL GMs. Just helping you do your jobs.
Trade #1: Ryan Miller to Dallas
We all know that the Stars need a goaltending upgrade, and it's safe to assume that "we" includes Jim Nill. The rumor mill has linked Dallas with names like Ben Bishop and Marc-Andre Fleury, and those could make sense. But let's throw another veteran star into the mix by sending Miller to the Stars. Hey, it wouldn't be the first time he was part of a big mid-season trade to a Central contender. And that last one probably worked out great.
Of course, we need a few things to happen for this deal to work. The first would be for Miller to waive an NTC that reportedly lists just five teams he can moved to. Given how things have gone in Vancouver this year, that doesn't seem unreasonable. The second would be for the Canucks to realize they're rebuilding, and while there's been plenty of resistance to that notion in Vancouver, you'd have to think that by the deadline they'll be ready to bite the bullet.
The third condition might be the shakiest: We need to Stars to actually be contenders. That's looking dicey these days; right now, they're not only outside the playoff picture, but they're only a few points up on Vancouver. Still, they seem like a decent bet to straighten out, especially if they can get a real goaltender.
Miller isn't having a great year, but he'd be an upgrade on what the Stars have. And with an expiring deal, Dallas could afford his cap hit. Send some picks and prospects to the Canucks, along with, say, Kari Lehtonen with Dallas retaining salary. That gives the Canucks a boost to their future and a reasonably priced veteran backup for Jakob Markstrom for next year.
And since we're rebuilding the Canucks, let's make one more Vancouver deal…
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
It's a special Tuesday edition of the Biscuits podcast, coming to you a few days early this week because we just had so much to talk about (and also our producer is on vacation starting tomorrow).
In this week's episode:
- Dave and I argue over the Rangers' complete lack of a response to the Henrik Lundqvist hit
- Are the Wild secretly a great team?
- Dave tries to talk me off of the Blue Jackets bandwagon
- Jaromir Jagr gets set to pass Mark Messier
- A discussion about the MVP race turns into yet another segment where I make Dave really sad
- And probably some more stuff that I forgot.
>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.
Without question, the Columbus Blue Jackets have been one of the season’s best stories. Coming off of a disastrous year and with virtually nobody picking them to even make the playoffs, the Blue Jackets have exceeded all expectations while contending for first place in the Metro Division.
The power play is smoking, the goaltending is excellent, John Tortorella looks like the Jack Adams favorite, and the Blue Jackets are the hottest team in the league today, winning nine straight and counting. After years of misery, fans in Columbus finally have something to cheer about.
It’s too bad it can’t last.
I mean, it can’t… right? These are still the Blue Jackets. Seeing them beat up the Canadiens and run right alongside the Penguins and Rangers has been fun, but eventually things will go back to normal and they’ll fall out of contention.
Of course, plenty of us have been saying that for most of the season, and it hasn't happened yet. If anything, the Blue Jackets are getting better as the year wears on.
So today, let's try to get this settled once and for all. Let's lay out the case against the Blue Jackets—all the reasons why this can't be the real thing and their crash back to mediocrity is inevitable. And then let's pick that case apart and see if it actually holds up.
Let's start with an area where the Blue Jackets aren't just good, but historically good.
They're not for real because: Their power play is too good to be true. Literally.
Plenty of things have been going right for the Blue Jackets. But with apologies to Sergei Bobrovsky and Zach Werenski, the biggest story in Columbus has been the power play. And it's a virtual certainty that that unit will be coming back to Earth soon.
Right now, the Blue Jackets' power play is clocking in at a 27.7-percent success rate. Only one team in NHL history has finished with a higher rate over a full season, and that was back in the high-flying ’80s when everyone was filling the net against tiny goalies who hadn't figured out the butterfly yet.
Wayne Gretzky's Oilers never had a 27-percent power play. Neither did Mario Lemieux's Penguins or Mike Bossy's Islanders. But we're supposed to think that Nick Foligno's Blue Jackets have figured it out? Not a chance. This is a classic case of a decent unit hitting a hot streak for a few weeks, and once it regresses back to where it deserves to be, this team will look very different.
Yeah, but: Plenty of smart people have been studying the Blue Jackets' power play to try to figure out what makes it tick. And they've been finding some interesting things, including a five-man first unit that's doing an excellent job at consistently generating high-percentage shots from dangerous areas.
Sure, there's clearly a degree of good luck happening here; nobody thinks that the Blue Jackets have suddenly cracked the code on 100 years of power play strategy. But the top unit isn't simply succeeding based on a fluke; they've been earning it.
And even if you don't buy any of that, let's not overestimate the impact that the Columbus special teams could be having. If they were hitting at a league-average rate of 18 percent or so, their 23 power play goals would drop to 15 or so. That's eight goals, which conventional wisdom says translated to one or two wins.
That's nothing to sneeze at, and it's possible that Blue Jackets' power-play prowess is even more important because it's forcing teams to play them differently at even strength. But it's not enough to make the difference between them being an elite team and an also-ran. Even if the power play settles down, this still looks like a strong team.
Monday, December 19, 2016
If you’re the sort of fan who likes to crunch numbers, there are various sites out there that will offer projected odds for each team making the playoffs. You can find them at sites like sportsclubstats.com, hockeyviz.com and hockeyreference.com. The sites use different methods and get different results, but there’s a solid consensus forming around several teams.
Most of those are the ones you’d expect—first-place teams like Montreal, Chicago and New York are among the locks, while teams like the Islanders and Avalanche are all but done. No shockers there.
But there's another team that all the projections seem to think is a lock, and it's a bit of a surprise: the Minnesota Wild, who clock in at 96 percent or better in all three systems. That seems a little strange for a team that's not even close to leading its own division. At eight points back of the Blackhawks, the Wild are closer to missing the playoffs altogether than winning the Central.
So why is their outlook so rosy? Well, a big part of it is fairly simple—they've got games in hand on just about everyone. No team in the NHL has played fewer than Minnesota's 30 games, and they've got four to make up on the Blackhawks, so the division is very much still in play.
But maybe more importantly, the Wild are looking like a very good team these days. They've won seven straight, and have picked up points in 12 of their last 13 games. They've also got the best goals differential in the West by a wide margin.
And they're doing it with a team-wide effort. Sure, Devan Dubnyk has been fantastic, and would probably get plenty of Vezina love if we held the vote today. But he's been supported by a balanced offence led by a rejuvenated Eric Staal. And in what stands as a nice change for the Wild, they've been getting production from some of their younger players.
For about a decade, Minnesota's top 5 scorers had an average age close to 30. Right now, it's 26.2 -- four 24-year-olds and Staal, 32.
— Rob Vollman (@robvollmanNHL) December 18, 2016
There are a handful of red flags here, however: The Wild aren't a great possession team, and they've got a league-high PDO at even strength. Some of that can be chalked up to score effects and Dubnyk, but it's worth keeping an eye on.
But even with that said, there's a nice story playing out in Minnesota, one featuring a team that many of us weren't all that high on heading into the season. Remember, Bruce Boudreau has never had a full NHL season where he didn't win his division. That seemed like a longshot to continue this year, but the Wild are making it interesting. And even if they can't catch the Blackhawks, the numbers guys seem to think that they're already all but in the playoffs.
If the Wild are a genuine contender, they'll get a chance to show it over the next few days. After hosting the lowly Avalanche tomorrow, they'll finish the week with back-to-back road games against the Canadiens and Rangers. It's probably too early to talk about those games as potential Cup final previews, but Minnesota fans are allowed to at least think it.
Road to the Cup
The five teams that look like they're headed towards Stanley Cup favourite status.
5. Chicago Blackhawks (22-8-4, +17 true goals differential*): After all of that, it's tempting to slip the Wild past the Blackhawks and into the top five. Maybe next week.
4. Columbus Blue Jackets (20-5-4, +37): Congratulations to John Tortorella, who picked up his 500th career win yesterday in Vancouver. Here's hoping he remembers who got him there.
Friday, December 16, 2016
In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Upon further review, the NHL's coach's challenge explanations are useless
- A tribute to legendary hockey fan Alan Thicke
- My suggestion for how the NHL could get in on the e-sports boom, and yes it's exactly what you think
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a classic YouTube clip in which the NHL announces their expansion plans and the TV guys try really hard not to laugh about it.
In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- What the hell is going on with the Panthers front office? (I'm pretty sure I've figured it out.)
- Where will Jarome Iginla be traded, and which scenario would cause the most chaos?
- Are the Bruins actually this year's sneaky good team?
- Why Dave hates the current playoff format
- The choice the Islanders are about make that will tell us whether they're serious about winning or not
- More sad defeated sighs delivered in a Canadian accent
- And lots more
>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.
Thursday, December 15, 2016
Things change quickly in the NHL. Every year, 16 teams make the playoffs. Every year, all 16 of those teams head into the following season expecting to make it again. And every year, a big chunk of them don’t.
Since the start of the salary cap era, the average turnover from year-to-year in the playoffs has been five teams. The most was seven, from 2014 to 2015, and the fewest was three, from 2010 to 2011. The most common number is five, which has happened six times in 10 seasons.
This season is shaping up as another high-turnover year. If the playoffs started today, six of the 16 playoff spots would have new occupants, meaning we’d have a total of 12 teams switching columns from last year, either from in to out or out to in.
Of course, the playoffs don’t start today, and we still have four more months of action for the standings to shift before we settle on our actual playoff matchups. It’s a strong bet that at least a few teams in today’s playoff picture will drop out, replaced by teams that are on the outside today.
But who? Today, let's look through that list of turnover teams and try to figure out which ones will stay where they are, and which ones will shift back to where they were last year.
They'd be in: Montreal Canadiens
Where they are today: They've spent almost the entire season in first place overall, a spot they finally yielded last night when the Penguins passed them.
What's gone right?: The big piece has been Carey Price, who's return to full health has transformed the team. Getting one of the best players in the world back will do that for you. The addition of Shea Weber and Alexander Radulov has helped, Max Pacioretty is heating up, and until he got hurt, it looked like we were getting a breakout season from Alex Galchenyuk.
What could still go wrong?: As we saw last year, any sort of extended absence by Price could change everything.
Their odds of staying put: We've seen this team start strong in each of the last few seasons before coming back to the pack as the year went on—and last year, plummeting right past the pack and out of the playoffs. But they've banked so many points that they're all but a lock for a spot already; the playoffs odds at sportsclubstats.com have them as a 99-percent favourite.
They'd be out: Tampa Bay Lightning
Where they are today: Spinning their wheels in the midst of an extended cold streak. Last night's win in Calgary halted a three-game skid, but they've still won just two of their last nine. That's left them outside the playoffs, and part of a weird phenomenon: All four teams from last year's Atlantic bracket (including the crossover wildcard) would be out right now.
That said, the Lightning aren't out of the running by any stretch, even with the Metro running away with the two wildcards. They're just three points back of Boston and Ottawa for an Atlantic spot.
What's gone wrong?: Other than Nikita Kucherov, the offence has been stagnant; Steven Stamkos went into last night's game as their second-leading scorer, which is a problem given that he's been out of action for a month. Ideally your goaltending would bail you out when that happens, but Ben Bishop hasn't been very good. And the Lightning don't seem to be falling victim to bad luck or fluctuating percentages; their numbers across the board just point to them being a very average team this year.
What could still go right?: The long-rumoured Bishop trade could bring in helpful reinforcements, and Andrei Vasilevskiy might already be an upgrade as the full-time guy. You'd expect some of their better young players to heat up. And if they can hang in the race until March, they'll get Stamkos back.
Their odds of staying put: The Lightning were a preseason Cup pick for many of us, and it still seems unthinkable that they could miss the playoffs altogether. But the turnaround needs to start soon.
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
I've always liked Jarome Iginla. I'm not sure I know anyone who doesn't. Even if he never played for your favorite team, he's one of those guys that you have to at the very least respect, if not outright admire. He'd be on pretty much any list of my favorite players of the last few decades.
And so, it goes without saying, Saturday night made me sad.
That was the night that Iginla celebrated his 1,500th regular season game. It's a major milestone, one that only 15 other players have reached. And Iginla got to spend that historic game getting pummeled in a 10-1 loss to the Canadiens.
The Avalanche are awful this year, and while a struggling Iginla hasn't helped much, he deserves better. So let's figure out a way to set him free. It seems like a good day for it — Iginla and the Avs are in action tonight, and two of his former teams, the Penguins and Bruins, are facing each other. And the team he started his NHL career with is even in action too, as the Flames face the Lightning. Maybe they'll even count all the goals this time.
So it's pretty much Jarome Iginla night in the NHL. In his honor, let's run down the five best destinations for when he inevitably waives his no-trade clause in the leadup to this year's trade deadline.
To be fair, these aren't necessarily the best destinations for Iginla himself, but rather the ones that would be the most entertaining for us, the fans. Still, he'd go into this year's playoffs as perhaps the best Old Guy Without A Cup story since Ray Bourque, so it's important that we get this right.
Let's begin, fittingly, where it all began.
5. Dallas Stars
The irresistible narrative: The team that drafted Iginla and then traded him away before his first game all those years ago brings him back into the fold just in time to win a Cup.
Could it happen? OK, there's a glaring problem with this idea that I'm sure you're already muttering about: The Stars don't need offense. They're struggling this year because their goaltending is shaky and their blueline misses Alex Goligoski more than anyone thought. The forwards are banged up, sure, but once everyone is healthy the Stars will be fine when it comes to scoring. It's keeping the puck out that's been the problem.
And yet… hockey is a game of outscoring your opponent, right? Sure, ideally Jim Nill would be able to go out and get a Ben Bishop or a Kevin Shattenkirk instead. But if those deals don't materialize, there's always plan B. A 6-5 win is still a win, after all, even in the playoffs. And it's not like Iginla is some flashy perimeter guy who'll wilt from the post-season grind.
The last time the Dallas Stars made a Jarome Iginla trade, it led to a Stanley Cup. It could happen again.
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Welcome to the club, Patrik Laine.
On Sunday night, the rookie took a break from the monotony of scoring highlight-reel goals for the Jets to try something new: Scoring a highlight-reel goal against the Jets. It turns out he’s really good at that, too.
From a purely artistic perspective, that’s a pretty sweet goal. Stick on the ice, quick release, far corner, all done late in a tie game with the pressure on. It would have been nice to see him go bar down there, but he’s only a rookie.
He's also got plenty of company. NHL history is filled with players scoring into their own nets. So today, let's celebrate that history by taking a look at 10 of the more entertaining own goals from NHL history. This won’t be a comprehensive top-10 countdown, but a sampling of some of the more creative ways to put the puck into your own net. And we'll rate them using the following criteria.
Situation: Timing matters. An own goal in the preseason is just funny. One that comes in the playoffs might be career-defining.
Cringe factor: How bad did it look? Accidentally tipping a point shot or having a centering pass deflect off your skate isn't a big deal—that stuff happens all the time. We're looking for a goal that makes you scream "What was he doing?" at your TV.
Notoriety: Hindsight is funny thing. Some of these goals seem to stick in the hockey world's collective consciousness, while others fade as time goes on.
We're not sure yet how Laine will fare on that last category, although you'd imagine he'd do reasonably well in the first two. He'd certainly wind up with a decent overall score.
But you're not alone, Patrik. And a few guys have had it a lot worse than you did.
Paul Coffey, 1996
Situation: 6/10 – This one came in the opening round of a conference final. And not just any conference final—one between the two greatest rivals of a generation, the Red Wings and Avalanche. Everything that happened between these two teams was memorable, from the crazy brawls to the cheap shots to the embarrassing bloopers.
So why does barely anyone remember this one?
Well, here's the thing: It's from game one of the 1996 series between the two teams. In game six, this happened, and the rivalry was on. But at this exact moment in time, the Wings and Avs were just two teams.
Cringe factor: 7/10 – You can see exactly what he was trying to do, but it still ends up looking awful. And we'll award one bonus point for the Detroit crowd's reaction, and another for Bob Cole's fantastic call.
Notoriety: 4/10 – This one didn't resonate the way so many of the future moments between the two teams would. Still, this was a key goal in a game that went to overtime and that Colorado won. They took the series in six, so if this play never happens... well, who knows?
Overall: 5.7/10 – If only Coffey had been shown a cautionary example of the danger of defenseman own goals back in his formative years as an Oiler. Oh look, the "ironic foreshadowing" light on the dashboard just started blinking.
Bryan McCabe, 2007
Situation: 5/10 – On the one hand, this goal was from a mid-October game between two teams who'd miss the playoffs. On the other hand, it did come in the dying seconds of overtime. We'll split the difference.
Cringe factor: 7/10 – You can see what he's trying to do, and in a goal-mouth scramble it makes sense to try to get the puck out of the crease as quickly as possible, but it still looks bad. And the top-down camera view with the ticking clock in the corner doesn't help.
Notoriety: 8/10 – Considering this came in a game that ultimately didn't remotely matter, it's kind of strange that so many fans remember it to this day. A big part of that is the context here, which is that the Maple Leafs were bad and their fans were getting sick of it. Rightly or wrongly, McCabe was already becoming the lightning rod for that wrath, so everything he did was magnified. A few months later, the Muskoka Five were born, things got even worse, and this goal came to retroactive signal everything that was wrong with the JFJ era.
Overall: 6.7/10 – Like we said, hindsight is a funny thing. On the merits, this one probably shouldn't rank all that high. But some of these goals just stick, and this is one of them.
Monday, December 12, 2016
Every now and then, hockey fans like to argue over which division is the league’s strongest. Those fans have been out of luck in recent years, as the Central took hold of the title and didn’t seem interested in giving it up. But this year, there’s a new king of the hill, and it’s not even close. The Metro is crushing everyone.
We could crunch the numbers a few different ways. As of this morning, five of the division’s teams find themselves holding down spots in the top seven of the overall standings. The Metro boasts the two best goal differentials in the NHL, courtesy of the Rangers and Blue Jackets, as well as the league’s hottest team, the Flyers. Oh, and there’s also the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins and defending Presidents Trophy-winning Capitals. The Metro features the three highest-scoring teams in the NHL, and two of the three top teams in goals allowed.
The division is stacked. And they’ve spent the last week absolutely stomping the rest of the league.
The Metro isn't unbeatable top-to-bottom, of course. But even the Devils and Hurricanes have had their moments, and both are probably better than their records show. And even the division's only truly bad team—the last-place Islanders—have been trending up lately, beating some good teams over the past two weeks before falling flat in a 6-2 loss to the Blue Jackets on Saturday.
Here's something to keep an eye on: If things keep trending in this direction, we have the possibility of running into a scenario that's long been possible in the NHL but rarely actually happens: a top-eight team in a conference not making the postseason. That would require the relatively unlikely outcome of one division's sixth place team ending up ahead of the other's third place finisher, and we're almost there right now.
The Devils are technically the East's ninth-place team, tied with the Panthers, Lightning and Red Wings. But those three Atlantic teams are all two points out of a playoff spot because they can catch the Bruins, while New Jersey is seven back of the Capitals for the last wildcard spot. The Devils (or Hurricanes) could theoretically finish eighth or even seventh in the East and still miss out on a postseason invite. The NHL playoff format is weird.
On to this week's power rankings. Hey, you'll never guess which division is dominating the top five…
Road to the Cup
The five teams that look like they're headed towards Stanley Cup-favourite status.
5. New York Rangers (19-9-1, +31 true goals differential*): We always knew their starting goaltender would start winning them some games eventually. We just kind of assumed that would be Henrik Lundqvist.
4. Columbus Blue Jackets (17-5-4, +31): I give up. I said I wouldn't put them in the top five until they left me with no other choice. Here we are.
Friday, December 9, 2016
In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- The Larsen/Hall hit, and the inconceivably dumb fight that followed
- Dave and I disagree on fights after clean hits
- The Kirs Russell chapter of the analytics debate, and why it's different from the rest
- The Vegas Golden Knights logo trademark fiasco
- Read questions
- And lots more
>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.
In the Friday Grab Bag:
- On the almost ridiculously stupid reaction to the Philip Larsen hit
- A small rant on GMs who won't ask players to waive NTCs
- An obscure player with an anniversary coming up this weekend
- The week's three comedy stars, all of which are children
- And a classic YouTube clip featuring Bryan Trottier and a live mic
This is a weird time to start writing about the Maple Leafs again.
When I first started writing about hockey, almost nine years ago, I covered the Leafs pretty much exclusively. Let’s remember back to what things were like back then. John Ferguson Jr. had just been fired. Vesa Toskala was in net. The Leafs were about to miss the playoffs for a franchise-record third straight year, and interim GM Cliff Fletcher was trying (and failing) to kickstart a desperately needed rebuild by trading away Mats Sundin and the Muskoka Five. That summer, they’d hire Ron Wilson, sign Jeff Finger, and launch a GM search that dragged on for months. Eventually, Brian Burke would arrive, promising that he could turn the whole thing around quickly.
It was, to put it mildly, a miserable time to be a Maple Leafs fan. At one point, I set out to write a multi-part series to answer the question: Is this the worst it’s ever been? The answer: Yes it was. I’d lived through Harold Ballard, Kerry Fraser, “draft schmaft” and Rask-for-Raycroft, but there had never been a worse time to be a Leafs fan.
Fast-forward almost a decade later, and here we are. The Leafs still haven’t won a playoff round. They’ve only made it once, and that didn’t end well. Other teams have built and rebuilt and won it all and crashed and burned, and there’s Toronto, still nestled away in the bottom third of the standings, as always.
All of which makes it feel a little odd to get to write this: We’re in the middle of a damn fun year to be a Leafs fan.
Thursday, December 8, 2016
You’re a liar.
It’s OK. I am too. So is everyone reading this.
If you’re a hockey fan, you lie all the time. And not just to other fans – we lie to ourselves. It’s part of being a fan.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t recognize when it’s happening. So today, let’s run through 10 lies that NHL fans tell themselves. It's OK to admit that you're guilty of some of these. Heck, it's OK to admit that you're guilty of all of them.
Of course, you could also claim that none of these apply to you. You'd be lying, of course, but that's OK too. It's what we do.
Lie No. 1: My team doesn't diveHockey fans hate diving. Whether it's the full-on deep-six, the hands-in-the-air flying twirl or the only slightly more subtle embellishments like head snaps and overreactions, it drives fans crazy to see players try to work the refs.
While certainly not unique to the sport – check out basketball or soccer to see some real artists in action – diving seems to go against what we'd like to think hockey players are made of. And the worst part is, these days everybody does it.
Well, everybody except for your team.
No, somehow fans have convinced themselves that they happen to root for the only team that doesn't do this stuff.
And if one of their favourite players stands accused, they're willing to break down the clip frame-by-frame like it's the Zapruder film, until they've found the one angle that proves his innocence.
And in the rare cases where a player is guilty beyond all reasonable doubt? Well, he was just doing what any reasonable person would do, you see, because otherwise the refs never give him a call. Speaking of which…
Lie No. 2: The referees are out to get usYour team just lost a game in which they faced more power plays than they received.
Was it bad luck? Just one of those nights? A case of a team getting outplayed and having to take the sort of shortcuts that lead to penalties?
No. It was the refs. The refs were out to get you.
Sometimes it's a specific ref; he made that one questionable call against you 17 months ago, so this is clearly becoming a pattern.
Other times, it's just a general league-wide bias. Maybe it's because somebody in the organization criticized a referee once and has never been forgiven (even though it wasn't anything that every other team has said).
Or maybe it's because your team is a smaller market and the league clearly doesn't want those teams to succeed (even though they shut down an entire season to get a salary cap specifically to help smaller markets).
Either way, you're not saying that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman sneaks into the officials' room before every game, twirls his mustache evilly, and instructs them to screw your team over. You're just not not saying it.
But look on the bright side: at least the referees have to give you a break every now and then. They're not completely biased. Unlike some other people you could mention.
Wednesday, December 7, 2016
I'm still confused.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the NHL's five most confusing teams, at least from my perspective. These were the teams that I just couldn't figure out. Were they good? Bad? Somewhere in the middle? I'd spent the season trying to work it out, and come up empty.
As it turned out, I wasn't alone. More than a few readers confessed to being confused by those teams too, not to mention several others. It was like having a support group. A support group of confused hockey fans, all watching the games unfold with their heads tilted like a puppy seeing a toilet flush for the first time.
Well, today I'm going to call another meeting of the confused hockey fan network. But this time, we're not looking at teams. No, today we're going to dive into some specific players that have me perplexed. In most of these cases, I thought I had a handle on things. But now I'm not so sure.
Maybe you can help me out. Or maybe you're just as confused as I am. Either way, I think it will be good for my soul to admit that I just can't figure these guys out.
What I thought I knew: After an up-and-down start to this NHL career, Elliott had settled in to a predictable pattern with the Blues. He'd play well. He'd post strong numbers, sometimes even league-leading ones. And then, just when push came to shove, the Blues would lose faith in him and hand the starter's job to someone else. Maybe it was the backup. Maybe it was a pricey trade acquisition. Maybe it was even a semi-retired legend, in a move we'd all agree to just pretend never happened. But time and time again, the Blues had no faith in Elliott.
And I was convinced that they were wrong. This was the classic case of a team over-thinking things, or maybe letting dressing room politics or a faith in intangibles override basic logic. The numbers didn't lie: Elliott was one of the best goalies in the league. And when the Flames nabbed him at a discount in the offseason, I was sure that they'd found their starter.
Where I'm at now: Sitting around wondering what happened. Which is also where Elliott finds himself most games these days.
Chad Johnson has been a great story, and you can't blame the Flames for riding the hot hand. Elliott got off to a bad start, and when you're a young team that hasn't earned a ton of self-confidence quite yet, you can't let yourself fall too far out of the race. The Flames are being smart here.
But… Elliott is still good, right? Every goalie has the occasional slump, so we can't panic over 13 games. Then again, Elliott's never really done much outside of Ken Hitchcock's goalie factory, and the Blues still didn't believe in him. Did they know something that the rest of us, including the Flames, somehow missed?
Tuesday, December 6, 2016
We’re nearing the two-month mark of the NHL regular season, which means it’s a good time to once again check in on trends around the league.
Some stocks are rising, some are plummeting, and some are holding steady — and we’re going to take a crack at figuring out which are which.
When we did this last month, the big stories through the first month were the rise of the next generation of young stars, struggling goaltenders, and the lack of firings.
The Florida Panthers were kind enough to take care of that last one for us, leaving room for some other stories to bubble up to take its place.
But we'll start this month's roundup with a story that seems like it may have some staying power.
Stock holding steady: YouthOctober was all about the kids.
After stealing the headlines at the World Cup of Hockey, the league's kiddie corps hit the ground running once the NHL season started. Auston Matthews had his record-breaking debut, Patrik Laine was scoring in bunches, and Connor McDavid was unstoppable.
It was all sorts of fun — even if it couldn't last.
Eventually, you had to figure, conservative head coaches and the grind of a long season would bring these young punks back to earth.
Another month later, and we're still waiting. McDavid is running away with the scoring title, although a healthy Sidney Crosby should eventually give him a run for his money.
Maybe more impressively, Laine is sitting in second place on the goal-scoring list.
Even Matthews, who suffered through a 13-game goal-scoring slump, is still on pace for nearly 40 markers.
Mix in the performances of players like Zach Werenski, Mitch Marner, and even the technically-still-a-rookie Matt Murray, and we're still seeing a league dominated by players without so much as a full season of NHL action under their belts.
History tells us that the kids will slow down eventually. Then again, we said that last month, and here we are.
Stock rising: Paying for goaltendingFor years, conventional wisdom had been pushing towards what seemed like a counter-intuitive recommendation: Don't spend big money on goaltending.
While it may be the sport's most important position, it was simply too unpredictable to make a long-term commitment to.
If you locked in a goalie based on one or two strong seasons, there was a good chance you were buying fool's gold. Far better to gamble on cheaper short-term deals and spend the big bucks on positions that were easier to forecast.
And all of that still makes sense. But so far this year, the big-money goalies have been dominating. Take a look at the position's highest cap hits; which one of those guys would you really say is overpaid right now?
Sure, Henrik Lundqvist isn't having his best season, but he's been fine and should improve as the season goes on.
Braden Holtby and Cory Schneider have both been good. Tuukka Rask has been excellent, and Carey Price may be one of the most underpaid stars in the league (at least until he's eligible for an extension in the off-season).
Meanwhile, three players who had previously been held up as examples of the "don't go long on goaltenders" rule are all having Vezina-quality seasons. Corey Crawford, Pekka Rinne and Sergei Bobrovsky have all been up-and-down over the years, but all three have been worth every penny so far this season.
There's really not a bad deal to be found at the top of the list. (At least until you get down to No. 11, which is a name we'll run into in the next section.)
Monday, December 5, 2016
The following is from an email exchange between Dave Lozo and Sean McIndoe (Down Goes Brown). Each month they will talk some nonsense and debate the biggest topics in the NHL in our monthly review. You can also check out the Biscuits podcast with Sean and Dave as they discuss the events of the week.
DGB: So when we did our October roundup, the big story in the league was how the young kids were dominating. Since then, we've seen Auston Matthews go through a scoring slump and Dylan Strome sent back to junior. But for the most part, the kids are still running over everyone. Patrik Laine is tied with Sidney Crosby for the league lead in goals, Matthews and Mitch Marner are on pace for 60-plus points in Toronto, and Zach Werenski looks fantastic for the Blue Jackets. So this is officially a thing now, right? Are we witnessing one of the best rookie classes in NHL history?
Lozo: Hang on. Let me turn my hat backward, grab my skateboard, slide on my black-framed glasses that don't have any lenses and... there. Hello, fellow youths that are taking over this sport! A very lit af day to you all, fam! What? No, I'm not a cop. I'm young! Like you! How cool are the Pearl Jam?!
I'm in love with Laine. I want to be friends with him. I want us to be Snapchat buddies. I want to go on Tinder double dates with him. I want to go to the arcade and... I mean, I want to do tandem VR mask adventures with him, because real young people don't go to arcades anymore, daddio! He's so fun and good so what I'm most excited about is how his coaches or teammates or the league itself turns him into a robot.
We're unsure whether Laine feels the same. Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
I'm least excited about the Leafs rookies because Toronto media types like YOU will pit them against each other, turn against Matthews because he's a beautiful American, then there will be stories about trading one of them for a defensemen. Toronto doesn't deserve them. One of those three guys will get Kessel'd and you know it. I bet it's Matthews, who will then win a cup with PK Subban in Nashville.
DGB: Man, I wish I could say you were wrong, but that's absolutely going to happen. But for the record, the early leader is William Nylander, who's already got media in Toronto calling him lazy. He just doesn't work as hard as those Canadian-born players, am I right? (Note: William Nylander was born in Canada.)
But yeah, Laine is great. I wonder what would happen if you hooked Gary Bettman up to a lie detector and asked him how he honestly feels about having his two most marketable young stars in Laine and Connor McDavid stuck in Winnipeg and Edmonton. OK, I know what would happen: the lie detector would start glitching like a Westworld robot as soon as Bettman touched it. But still, the NHL's marketing department can't be thrilled with this, can it?
Lozo: Here's one thing I've learned during my nearly four decades (spoiler: I'm old) on this planet—if the NHL's marketing department is against it, it's probably against something great for the league and its fans. This is the league that saw John Scott fall in its lap last year and proceeded to do everything to force it off its lap over and over until the NHL decided to go with it because it had no choice.
For instance, let's say if you wanted to vote for Bryan Bickell this year, who is battling MS and may be in the midst of his final NHL season because of it. Can you vote for him? Yes. But it's hard because you have to write him in. So if you wanted to vote 10 times for Bickell as a way of doing something—which you should—it's this big hassle to do so. But you should do it because his wife was tweeting out links to get fans to vote for Bickell, so clearly it's OK with Bickell and his family.
Side note: I would have written back sooner but I'm at a bar watching the Giants game and they just gave up a safety and a field goal and are down 5-0, so I was distracted by my rage crying.
DGB: Don't worry, the Giants are in the red zone, I'm sure this will turn out fine.
OK, so the all-star voting thing. I feel like you and I aren't quite on the same page, but we're in the same ballpark. That's a mixed metaphor and doesn't make any sense, but people know what I mean. I get the Bickell idea. I see the appeal. But can we agree that the power rankings for all-star voting options looks something like this?
1. Just voting for good players, the way All-Star Games are supposed to work.
1a. Voting for somebody like Bryan Bickell who isn't really an all-star but deserves some recognition for other reasons.
2. Mindlessly stuffing the ballot-box for the players on your own team.
3. Not voting at all, meaning that the rosters get stacked with players from whichever city is hosting because they're the only fans who care.
58. Printing off paper copies of the ballot at home, then eating them.
1,482. Organizing a campaign to vote for somebody terrible like Shawn Thornton or Steve Ott because you liked the John Scott thing and somehow believe that jokes are just as funny when you re-tell the same ones over and over.
Opening faceoff: A moment of parityWe’re living in the NHL’s age of parity. That’s been well-established for a while, and whether fans like it or not, most of us have come to accept that this is just how the league works now.
Anyone can beat anyone else on any given night, the loser point means almost everyone finishes over .500, and aside from a few outliers at either end, the gap between good and bad is smaller than ever.
But even given that reality, something weird is happening in the NHL these days.
We're used to parity being something that reveals itself over the course of a season, where there's enough time for the occasional hot and cold streaks to balance out. But these days, you don't even have to take a long view to find league-wide parity. It's playing out over the course of a few weeks.
Last Thursday, a reader sent me a note with an interesting observation: Heading into that night's action, 27 out of the league's 30 teams had won either four, five or six of their last ten games. That's a full 90 per cent of the league within a game of breaking even.
The other three teams weren’t even extreme outliers; nobody in the NHL had won more than seven or fewer than three of their last ten.
Take a look at the standings today, and you'll see a similar story — although not quite as extreme. Twenty-four of the 30 teams fall within that four/five/six-win range, and again, nobody is outside of that three-to-seven range.
That's not quite as extreme as we saw last week, but still less than what we'd expect if we were just randomly flipping coins.
Meanwhile, only one team in the league (the Philadelphia Flyers) has an active winning streak longer than three games, and only one (Colorado Avalanche) has lost more than that many in a row.
None of this is to say that some teams aren't playing especially well or poorly lately, as we'll see in the sections below. But even those teams aren't really seeing any dramatic swings in their win/loss records these days, and the practical impact has been that we're not really getting all that much movement in the standings.
Nobody is soaring or plummeting; instead, we're seeing a handful of teams move up or down by a spot or two, but nothing that feels like a big change.
There's still a lot of season left, as we're constantly reminded. That might be good news for NHL teams who aren't happy with their place in their standings and are hoping to make a move.
The way everyone's going these days, it may take a while to get anywhere.
Road to the CupThe five teams that look like they're headed towards Stanley Cup favourite status.
5. San Jose Sharks (15-9-1, plus-9 true goals differential*) – Yeah, I know, I'm not completely sold on this pick either. With the Capitals and Lightning struggling, it was either the Sharks or the Blue Jackets, and the Sharks have won six of seven.
Besides, I still want to see one more solid week from Columbus. (My current plan is to say that every week for the rest of the season and hope nobody notices.)
4. New York Rangers (17-8-1, plus-31) – This seems low, right? It probably is, but see the section below.
Saturday, December 3, 2016
In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- Gerald Gallant's firing, and the whole weird cab thing
- Brian Burke's defense of the (indefensible) loser point
- The lack of scoring, bigger nets, and hockey hipsters who won't shut up about 1-0 games
- Why the expansion draft is going to be so much worse than you think
- Probably some other stuff that I forgot.
>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.
Friday, December 2, 2016
In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Baseball gets a new CBA without a work stoppage. This should make you angry.
- Busting the myth of the all-important first goal
- An obscure player with an all-time great name
- The week's three comedy stars
- And on the 21st anniversary of his final game in Montreal, a YouTube look back at the origin story of Patrick Roy
Thursday, December 1, 2016
Hockey fans had a reason to smile this week. A pro sports league was facing down the threat of a labour disruption while working to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement, and for once it wasn’t the NHL.
That ended last night, when word emerged that Major League Baseball and its union had reached a tentative deal. The league’s CBA had been set to expire at midnight last night, threatening to cancel the annual winter meetings and other offseason activities, and disrupt a labour peace that stretches back over two decades.
So no, hockey fans, yours isn’t the only sport that goes through this stuff. Still, the timing is interesting, coming in the midst of what seems like the first salvo of the hockey world’s next big showdown. The NHL’s offer to extend the CBA in exchange for Olympic participation sure seemed like a thinly veiled attempt to set up the NHLPA to take the blame for a 2020 work stoppage, and it will be interesting to see if fans fall for it. Either way, the pieces are starting to move around the board, even four years before hockey’s next lockout begins.
Meanwhile, hockey fans yearning for the good old days of analyzing CBA minutiae can get their fix by turning to baseball, where the expiring MLB agreement and the reported replacement hold some interesting ideas. Not all of them apply to hockey – one of baseball’s biggest sticking points was an international draft that the NHL wouldn’t need, for example. But many could, if the NHL wanted to get creative.
So as we wait patiently for hockey's next CBA apocalypse, let's flip through baseball's recent versions and see if there's anything that the NHL could borrow from the boys of summer.
IDEA #1: FREE AGENT COMPENSATION PICKS
One of the most contentious issues in recent MLB CBAs has been draft pick compensation for free agents. Introduced in the 1970s and modified over subsequent agreements, the concept calls for teams that lose players to free agency to be compensated with draft picks. Those picks could come from the signing team or from the league itself (or both), and depend on the quality of the player lost. But in its simplest form, the idea is to compensate teams that lose free agents, avoiding the worst-case scenario of watching a key player walk away for nothing in return.
It's worth pointing out that MLB players don't like the rule, and have been pushing back on it for years. You can see why. A team is less likely to want to spend big money on a free agent if they know that they'll also have to surrender a high draft pick as compensation. Players have fought to reduce the rule's scope; for example, the 2011 CBA limited compensation to players that had received a qualifying offer and been with a team for a full season.
This time around, MLB players pushed to have the concept dropped entirely, although reports say the new CBA will maintain it in a limited form.
Could it work in the NHL?: Anything like the most recent MLB rule would be fought hard by the NHLPA. After all, NHL teams are even more obsessed with hoarding draft picks than their MLB brethren. It's hard to imagine a team like the Oilers being willing to spend $42-million on Milan Lucic if they knew they'd also have to ship their first-round pick to a division rival.
That said, a modified version of the idea in which only league-supplied picks were in play could work. Under that scenario, the league could create new picks to compensate teams that lose certain UFAs. Those new picks could fall within the existing rounds, or perhaps in a new round altogether – MLB sandwiches a mini-round in between the first and second for exactly that purpose. That wouldn't even be all that new of a wrinkle for the NHL, which already creates compensation picks for unsigned draft picks.
From a fan's perspective, there would be pros and cons of the approach. On the one hand, the NHL's free agency market has been withering away over the years, as teams make sure to re-sign top players rather than lose them for nothing. Adding some compensation to the mix could encourage teams to let more players walk, resulting in more offseason fireworks on the open market. On the other hand, that would dry up the market for midseason rentals, making the trade deadline even less active than its recently been.
There are arguments on both sides. But either way, the NHL would want to make sure that any new free agent compensation rule didn't leave any obvious loopholes for teams to exploit. They've been down that road before.