Thursday, June 30, 2016

Breaking down the P.K. Subban trade, which was bad

Late yesterday afternoon, news broke that the Oilers had finally pulled off their long-rumored trade for a top defenseman. Details were sketchy, but the first name to emerge was shocking: all-star Taylor Hall. Next, we learned the identity of the other team involved: The New Jersey Devils. That causes confusion, because short of goalie Cory Schneider, the Devils didn't have anyone worth surrendering Hall for. Finally, we got the whole deal: Hall for Adam Larsson, straight up. The hockey world reeled. Larsson is a decent young player, but nowhere near a proven No. 1, and the Oilers had just given up one of the best left wingers in the world for him. This was, quite possibly, the worst one-for-one trade we'd ever seen.

And it held that title for all of about seven minutes.

That's how stunning the P.K. Subban for Shea Weber trade between the Canadiens and Predators was; it knocked all the Taylor Hall punchlines off your Twitter timeline pretty much immediately. By the time we found out, just a few minutes later, that Steven Stamkos had signed an extension in Tampa Bay, we all reacted like distracted parents. Sure, sure, Steven, that's wonderful news, but we're dealing with something important right now.

To even call the Subban deal a blockbuster would seem like under-selling it. This was something bigger, a trade that was both impossibly simple and ridiculously complex at the same time. It involves a pair of two-time first-team all-stars, both with massive contracts, both still in their prime or at least plausibly close enough. Players like that never get traded in the NHL anymore. They certainly don't get traded for each other, straight up, without any retained salary or picks or complicated conditions.

And to be clear: This is the Subban deal. With all due respect to Weber, who has been in the "best defenseman alive" conversation for much of his career and was still playing big minutes on a very good Predators blueline, he's not the best asset in the deal. Subban is three years younger and carries a far more reasonable contract. And most importantly, he's the better player.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Defending the madness: Were yesterday's weirdest decisions maybe not completely terrible?

You could call yesterday the craziest day in NHL off-season history, but you’d be wrong. That would imply that crazy things were happening throughout the day, and with apologies to that already-forgotten Seth Jones extension, that wasn’t the case. No, yesterday featured the craziest half hour in NHL history.

Taylor Hall was traded, P.K. Subban was traded, and the Steven Stamkos watch disintegrated, all in the time it takes to get a pizza delivered.

And the emphasis here is on crazy, because on the surface, we saw some truly puzzling decisions being made. Some of the reviews have been downright savage, and I’m pretty sure Hockey Twitter is still smoldering from the full-scale meltdown it underwent as all the news broke. The consensus: Stamkos should have gone to free agency, the Oilers didn’t get anywhere near enough for Hall, and the Canadiens got robbed.

It’s tempting to pile on. But instead, I’m going to follow in the footsteps of some of yesterday’s decision makers and do the opposite of what common sense says I should. I’m going to challenge myself to defend the moves. I’m going to use the power of positive thinking to dig my way through to the other side, or at least try.

Consider it a chance to exercise some contrarian muscles. Let's walk through yesterday's three big stories and see if we can nail down an argument that goes against what the majority seems to be thinking.

As with any challenge, we'll start on the easy level and work our way up.

Level One: Defending Steven Stamkos

Sure, on the surface the timing of Wednesday's decision seems odd. Stamkos has had all year to work out an extension with the Lightning. Instead, he gets within 48 hours of finally becoming the most sought-after free agent in modern NHL history, and that's when he gets cold feet?

But sour grapes from certain fan bases aside, Stamkos's decision makes all the sense in the world. Remember, he's been able to talk to other teams since Saturday, so by this point he knows what the market looks like. He had a chance to test the waters, he knew what other options were out there, and he decided he wanted to stay in Tampa. There's nothing especially odd about that.

Factor in that the Lightning are a very good team with legitimate Cup hopes and could offer Stamkos an extra year, and it makes perfect sense to get a deal done. Sure, it's disappointing if you're a fan of a team that was going to be in the running, or just wanted to sit back and watch the chaos as the bidding war breaks out. But Stamkos went looking for the best possible home, and realized it was right where he'd been all along.

Whew, this is easy! I barely even broke a sweat. On to the next one...

Level Two: Defending the Taylor Hall deal

Uh, can we go back to the Stamkos thing?

OK, the degree of difficulty just got ramped up significantly here. The Oilers traded one of the best left wingers in the world, one who's still just 24 and on a very team-friendly contract.

We all knew it was possible; rumours have had the Oilers moving one of their good young forwards in exactly this sort of deal for years now. But Hall was their trump card, the one arrow in their quiver that they could reach for if they had a shot at the sort of Norris-calibre defenceman that could transform the team. Instead, they used him to get Adam Larsson, who is… well, not that guy.

So yes, this one is a lot tougher to defend. On the surface, it looks like the Oilers panicked here. After years of failing to make the sort of tough but necessary moves that would improve the blue line, they finally screwed up their courage, took the plunge, and then overshot the runway by a mile. After all those years, they worked up the nerve to talk to the pretty girl across the street, then stepped right into an open manhole cover.

Yes, I know I'm using too many mixed metaphors right now. Give me a break, I'm clearly stalling.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Free agency preview

Tomorrow is a big day in the NHL. It marks the start of the new year on the hockey calendar, meaning a boat load of players will see their contracts expire and officially become free agents. That means Friday will likely be the busiest day of the year in terms of transactions, as teams scramble to sign players available to the highest bidder.

It’s going to be a long day. To help you prepare, let’s walk through some of the key questions and answers heading into the annual free agent frenzy.

So free agency is a big deal in the NHL?

Well … sort of. It used to be, back in the 90s and early 2000s. Back then, lots of teams were struggling financially, but a handful were swimming in money and could throw around huge contracts. Rules around free agency were tighter then, and most of the players who reached the market were over 30. But given all the small-budget teams struggling to hold onto talent, that still led to plenty of big names making it to free agency most years.

Fast forward to 2005, and everything changed. The new collective bargaining agreement brought a salary cap to the league, leveling the playing field between haves and have-nots. But it also significantly loosened free agency rules, lowering the age limit to as low as 25. We all assumed this meant the market would be flooded with young stars in their prime. Instead, teams made it a priority to lock up their best talent to long-term deals. Star players like Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews and pretty much anyone else you’ve ever heard of have never been unrestricted free agents.

The modern-day market is packed with an assortment of castoffs, has-beens, declining veterans and – every once in a while – reasonably talented players who aren’t really stars but are close enough to get a ton of money thrown at them.

Nobody good every makes it to free agency. Got it. Who’s the best of the options this year?

Well, until Wednesday it was Steven Stamkos. He’s one of the best players in the league, and at 26 is still in his prime.

But you just said…

I know. It’s weird.

>> Read the full post at The Guardian

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The worst free agent signings of the last two decades

Free agency opens on Friday, as teams will be officially allowed to sign players on the open market, and fans around the league should be excited.

No, wait, excited isn’t the right word. What’s the one I’m looking for? Terrified. That’s the one. You should all be terrified.

That’s because, despite the occasional success story, NHL teams tend to be terrible at signing free agents. They can’t help themselves. And it rarely takes long for the initial excitement of a big signing to give way to the realization that a team has just handed out too much money for way too many years.

As we count down to Friday’s deadline, let’s take some time to look back at some cautionary examples of how quickly a big deal can go bad. Here are my picks for the five worst unrestricted free agency signings of the last two decades.

5. Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya, Colorado, 2003

The deal: The two friends (and former Ducks teammates) shopped themselves as a tandem deal, eventually signing cheap one-year contracts with the powerhouse Avalanche. How cheap? Selanne took a pay cut to $5.8 million after declining a $6.5 million option in San Jose. But that was nothing compared to Kariya, who took just $1.2 million after making $10 million the year before in Anaheim. Both players could have made much more elsewhere, but they were chasing their first Stanley Cup rings, and joining Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and an already loaded Avalanche team seemed like the best way to do it.

Why it made sense at the time: Are you kidding? Go back and re-read those details – it was foolproof. When the deals were announced, hockey fans everywhere pretty much threw up their hands and conceded the 2004 Cup to the Avalanche.

How it ended: In what may stand as the NHL’s greatest example of a can’t miss move somehow missing, both Selanne and Kariya were busts in Colorado and the Avalanche lost in the second round. That latter part wasn’t a huge shock – while the Avs still had most of their big names from their Cup years, they’d lost Patrick Roy to retirement in the offseason, and winning a title with David Aebischer never felt like a safe bet. But the real surprises were Kariya and Selanne, neither of whom cracked 40 points. When Steve Konowalchuk is outscoring both of your sure-thing signings, it’s safe to say that something has gone terribly wrong.

4. Ville Leino, Buffalo, 2011

The deal: Coming off a career-best 53 points, the 27-year-old winger landed a six-year, $27 million deal from the Sabres.

Why it made sense at the time: After years of drifting into small market status, the Sabres had a rich new owner and were ready to spend some of Terry Pegula’s money. (They also gave Christian Ehrhoff a 10-year, $40-million deal.) Leino had just posted a career year while helping the Flyers make it to the Cup final, and it was time for the Sabres to make some noise.

How it ended: Leino was a massive bust in Buffalo; his eight goals and 25 points in year one ended up being by far his most productive season as a Sabre. He missed almost all of year two of the deal, then went the entire 2013-14 season without scoring a single goal before being mercifully bought out.

(By the way, Leino wasn’t close to the worst contract handed out during the summer of 2011. That honor would go to a deal you’re probably expecting to see on this list: Ilya Bryzgalov’s $51-million deal with the Flyers that led to a massive buyout just two years later. But that one wasn’t technically a free agency deal, since the Flyers had acquired his negotiating rights and signed the deal before he reached the open market on July 1. )

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The five active players who make the toughest HHOF calls

The Hockey Hall of Fame announced its class of 2016 yesterday, with Eric Lindros, Sergei Makarov, Rogie Vachon and Pat Quinn receiving the game’s ultimate honour.

These announcements always make for a fun debate. And that extends to future classes; we’re already seeing some attention turn to 2017 and beyond, when we’ll have a mix of holdovers from this year’s vote, recently retired sure-things like Teemu Selanne and Martin Brodeur, and some tougher cases like Daniel Alfredsson and Saku Koivu.

But today, let’s look ahead even further. Let’s look at the five players nearing the end of their careers who could make for the toughest calls among active players when they become eligible for Hall of Fame consideration.

Let’s set a couple of ground rules. First, we’ll focus on players who are 36 or older, since drawing the line there should limit us to players who truly are almost done. Note that that limit means we can hold off on a few contentious names, like the Sedin twins and Henrik Zetterberg.

And we're also going to exclude active players who are already shoe-ins. That list might be controversial in its own right, but we're going to go ahead and award early Hall passes to:

  • Jaromir Jagr: Because come on.
  • Zdeno Chara: While he only has one Norris, his seven post-season all-star nods and a Stanley Cup win as a captain will be more than enough to get him in.
  • Jarome Iginla: Scoring 600+ goals means guaranteed entry (unless you're Dave Andreychuk).
  • Marian Hossa: I took an in-depth look at the argument for Hossa last season, and concluded that his case was strong but not a slam dunk. I heard from several respected hockey people who thought he was a sure thing, and he's since added another Stanley Cup ring, so let's say he's in.
  • Joe Thornton: Every player ahead of him on the career points list is already in, with the exception of Selanne (who isn't eligible). And his playoff run this year seems to have put a few dents in that "can't win the big one" narrative that's followed him through his career. Maybe voters pull a Mark Recchi and make him wait, but surely we can all agree he gets in eventually, right?

With those five off the board, here are the five active players that look like they'll make for the toughest HHOF calls.

Patrik Elias

The longtime Devil's status for next year isn't known yet. He'll technically become a free agent on Friday, but all indications are he'll be back in New Jersey or not at all.

The case for: He's an extremely well-respected veteran with two Cup rings. He's also crossed a pair of major milestones, cracking both the 400-goal and 1,000-point marks during the 2014-15 season.

The case against: While he did reach both milestones, it was only barely, and he didn't add much to his career totals last season due to injury. Plenty of players with better career numbers haven't made it in, and that remains true even if you adjust for era. Realistically, Elias was always very good but was never viewed as one of the game's very best – his 2000-01 season was the only one in which he made a postseason all-star team or cracked the top-10 in Hart voting.

My vote: This feels like one of those Hall-of-Very-Good cases. He's a no for me.

Prediction: Elias is a tough call who always seems to split the vote. One factor that could work in his favour: he played his entire career for one team, and for some reason that seems to help. As the all-time leading scorer for one of the more successful franchises in recent league history, he'll have an entire fan base (and more than a few media) pushing his candidacy hard. But unless he comes back and has a big year or two, I don't think he gets in.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Monday, June 27, 2016

Draft weekend winners and losers

The NHL's annual entry draft is somewhat unique in the world of pro sports. Instead of various teams scattered across the continent sending in picks for a commissioner to read, everyone gathers in one building, with all 30 teams squished together at massive tables on an arena floor to make the picks themselves. It's a system that has its plusses (more trades, at least in theory) and minuses (seriously, guys, shut up with the preamble and just make the pick), but it's rarely boring, and this weekend was no exception.

The biggest star of the opening round was, as expected, top prospect Auston Matthews. He'd been the presumptive top pick all season long, and despite a small measure of intrigue thanks to a late push by Finnish winger Patrik Laine, the top of the draft played out as expected, with Matthews going to the Toronto Maple Leafs and their vaguely insane fan base. The second pick also followed the script, with Laine going to the Jets. That's when things started to go off the rails a bit, and we'll get to that down below.

In the end, the draft may be remembered as much for what didn't happen—remember when P.K. Subban was getting traded?—as for what did. And it may be overshadowed quickly, as we count down the days to Friday's opening of the free agency signing period. More than a few teams headed into the weekend looking to free up cap space for this year's auction; not all succeeded, at least not yet, which could set the stage for an interesting next few days.

One way or another, the league is going to look a lot different a week from today than it does right now. But for today, let's take a look back at the winners, losers and surprises from draft weekend.

Top Five

Celebrating those who've had the best week.

5. Tyson Jost's grandpa—Jost went tenth overall to the Avalanche. It was a nice moment, given the often-difficult path he and his family had followed to get here. Then his grandfather reacted like this, and suddenly everyone's allergies were acting up:

4. 'Merica—Matthews became the seventh American to be taken first overall, joining the likes of Patrick Kane and Mike Modano (and also Rick DiPietro and Brian Lawton, but let's keep it positive). Two more Americans went in the top seven, and by the end of the round a total of 12 had been picked, equaling the number of Canadians taken and establishing a new US record. Perhaps even more encouraging, the picks weren't limited to the country's usual hockey hot spots, with picks used on players from Arizona and (especially) Missouri.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Friday, June 24, 2016

Grab bag: Do not ruin the NHL Awards Show by fixing it

In this week's Friday Grab Bag
- In defense of the (always terrible) NHL Awards
- One small tweak to the NHL's schedule reveal that would make for must-see TV
- An obscure player who Flames fans don't want to hear about right now
- The week's three comedy stars
- And the Maple Leafs make some number one overall pick history at the 1994 draft

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Thursday, June 23, 2016

My NHL awards ballot

The NHL handed out its awards Wednesday night, an event that was just slightly overshadowed by the league also handing out a brand new team. Still, awards night is one of the highlights of the off-season; hockey players in suits making awkward speeches and trying to be funny is always can’t-miss entertainment.

And now, fans can move on to the second half of the festivities: Yelling at the stupid writers for their stupid ballots full of stupid votes. As a voting member of the PHWA, I had a ballot for this year’s awards. I’ll post it here, then head down to the comment section where I swear I will fight every one of you.

(A reminder that all ballots were cast between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs. The PHWA does not vote on the Vezina, which is picked by the general managers; the Jack Adams, which is picked by the broadcasters; or the GM of the Year, which is just weird.)

Hart Trophy (“to the player adjudged to be the most valuable to his team”)

The winner: Patrick Kane, who ran away from the field for an easy win.

My ballot:

1. Patrick Kane, CHI

2. Sidney Crosby, PIT

3. Joe Thornton, SJS

4. Jamie Benn, DAL

5. Anze Kopitar, LAK

Kane wasn't an especially tough choice here after pulling away with the Art Ross. I don't factor any off-ice stories, good or bad, into my voting for awards that are meant to recognize on-ice accomplishments only, and Kane's numbers made this a relatively easy call. I had Thornton a little higher than most, but otherwise this probably isn't an especially controversial list.

Norris Trophy ("to the defence player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position")

The winner: Drew Doughty, in a not-all-that-close vote over Erik Karlsson that people are still fighting over on the internet.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Could Las Vegas expansion actually work?

The NHL has descended on Las Vegas for its annual awards show. But this year, the winners will be overshadowed by far bigger news, as the league finally confirmed the worst-kept secret in hockey: the NHL is putting an expansion team in Las Vegas. Commissioner Gary Bettman made it official on Wednesday.

But will it work? That’s the question, and it’s one that has more than a few observers feeling skeptical. So let’s try to figure it out by working our way through the pros and cons of NHL hockey in Las Vegas.

Pro: Las Vegas is a big city, and seems ready for a big league team

Until today, Las Vegas was one of the largest cities in the United States without a team in any of the Big Four professional sports leagues. (For the purpose of making that point, we’ll just agree to ignore the fact that there isn’t really a Big Four anymore, and probably hasn’t been for years.) Depending on how you measure the population, Las Vegas is already a bigger market than several cities that already have NHL teams, including Pittsburgh, Buffalo and St Louis. And it’s growing.

And that’s just the basic population; it’s not counting the massive number of tourists who are there at pretty much all times. Those tourists flock to buy tickets for all sorts of entertainment options, including magicians, ventriloquists and trapeze acts. Surely pro sports couldn’t be that hard of a sell.

If anything, the numbers say that the city should already have a team, if not several. Part of the reason they’ve been shut out is gambling, and the reluctance of major pro sports to be perceived as getting anywhere near it. But that taboo has been fading for years, and as it did, a Vegas big league debut started to feel inevitable. Vegas has been a rumored home for a major franchise for years now, including current reports that they could be a potential home for the NFL and the NBA.

Con: Hockey still feels like a weird choice to be first

Picture an ideal hockey market. Did you picture a desert? Probably not.

Yes, some league was going to be head to Vegas eventually, but it’s still a little odd to see the NHL taking the lead. The city has had minor league hockey teams before, but there’s not exactly a ton of history with the sport to draw on. And the occasional anecdote aside, there’s little evidence that sports fans in Las Vegas are really all that interested in hockey.

That doesn’t mean that the NHL can’t succeed in a southern market – the three California teams have proven that you can, at least to some degree. But it adds a degree of difficulty, and given the spotty history of NHL expansion attempts, that’s not necessarily what you want to be facing.

>> Read the full post at The Guardian

Five of the NHL's weirdest expansion near-misses

Wednesday is reportedly the day the NHL will confirm what we’ve all expected for months: The league is expanding to Las Vegas, becoming the first major pro sports team to take up residence in the city.

That will no doubt come as a relief to hockey fans in Vegas, since history has shown that new NHL teams have a way of falling through. The league’s expansion era began in 1967, and has seen the league continue to grow ever since. But it’s history of near-misses dates back even further, and includes some cases where a new team seemed to be all but a sure thing.

So today, as we await the official arrival of Las Vegas to the NHL family, let’s look back on some of the times when the league seemed headed to a new home, only to have it fall through.

1952: Cleveland

The NHL’s roster of teams remained unchanged for 25 years between 1942 and 1967, a period of time that every fan now knows as The Original Six Era. Those six teams serve as the league’s foundation to this day, with a celebrated history and tradition that the league actively embraces and promotes. Which may be why it’s been all but forgotten that at one point, that group was supposed to become an Original Seven.

Back in the early 50s, pro hockey was booming in Ohio thanks to the AHL’s Cleveland Barons. By 1952, the team had set its sight on a move to the NHL, which was open to adding a seventh team. The Barons’ application for membership was received, debated and formally accepted by the NHL’s board of governors.

But that approval came with a catch: The Barons had to secure funding, an amount later reported to be in the $500,000 range. They failed to do so, and the deal fell apart. Barons attendance eventually faltered, and the team fell on hard times as the years went by, eventually moving to Jacksonville in 1973.

The NHL did eventually come to Cleveland, relocating the California Golden Seals in 1976 and reviving the Barons name. That move ended up being a disaster, lasting for just two years; the team folded in 1978, making it the last franchise in North American major pro sports to do so.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Setting some draft weekend odds

The NHL is in a Vegas state of mind these days. The league is headed there for Wednesday’s awards show, and it will reportedly announce its intention to stick around, finally confirming the long-rumoured expansion team that will become the city’s first major pro sports franchise.

After that, it will be on to Buffalo for the entry draft. But Sin City is a town that tends to stick with you for a while, so with that in mind, let’s introduce a little Las Vegas flavour as we look ahead to the weekend. Here are a half dozen stories to watch at the draft, along with some betting odds just in case you feel like making a friendly wager or two.

Over/under on trades involving the top seven picks: 0.5

There’s plenty of trade talk heading into the draft, with the rumor mill ramping up and speculation that some of the high picks could be in play. Would the Columbus Blue Jackets really trade the third pick? Could the Edmonton Oilers move the fourth pick to acquire immediate help, particularly on the blue line? Are the Calgary Flames trying to move up from No. 6? And are we completely sure that the Arizona Coyotes won’t make one last Hail Mary attempt to jump up to number one and land local boy Auston Matthews?

It all makes for an intriguing build up. But there’s a problem: we go through this sort of speculation every year, and it almost never amounts to anything. It’s exceedingly rare to see a high pick traded in advance of the draft. According to, we haven’t seen a known top-seven pick traded since 2008, when the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs flipped the fifth and seventh picks as part of the deal that saw Toronto move up to take Luke Schenn. (Picks like the number two overall in 2010 have been traded, but only well in advance, before their position was known.)

That one trade marks the only time that known top seven picks have been traded during the salary cap era; you have to go back to 2004 to find another example (when the Carolina Hurricanes moved up to number four to take Andrew Ladd). As for the sort of deal the Oilers and Blue Jackets are rumoured to be seeking, one that would see them trade the fourth pick primarily to get back a veteran player who could help right away, we haven’t seen that sort of move since 2002, when the Tampa Bay Lightning traded the number four pick to the Philadelphia Flyers for Ruslan Fedotenko and two seconds.

Before the cap, it was relatively common to see high picks dealt; even the first overall pick was traded on the draft floor three times in five years starting in 1999. But as the salary cap took hold and young players on entry level deals emerged as the best value in the league, teams have held onto those high picks. Oh, teams still talk about pulling the trigger on a trade. But then the draft arrives and they never do.

Add it all up, and we’ll probably get all sorts of smoke over the next few days, but our odds of finding any actual fire are slim. Maybe this is the year the dams burst and we get some deals. But for now, take the under on this one.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Monday, June 20, 2016

Weekend report: Welcome to the offseason

The 2015-16 season is over. The final buzzer has sounded, the Stanley Cup has been presented, the parade route has been cleaned up, and the two voters who inexplicably left Phil Kessel completely off of their Conn Smythe ballots have been found, tried, and thrown into a dungeon, never to be seen again. It's offseason time.

And that means that things are about to get busy, because the NHL offseason is a bit of a weird beast. We've got an entire summer to work with before anyone steps on the ice again, but almost all the action will be squished into the next week or two, at which point everyone will disappear to a cottage and nothing will happen for two months. Here are a few of the key dates to keep in mind:

Right now: The window for buyouts is already open, and teams have until June 30 to burn their worst contracts (and eat a long-term cap hit in return). We already know two victims, Philadelphia's R.J. Umberger and Toronto's Jared Cowen, and there will be more to come. Remember that players need to pass through waivers before they can be bought out, which is why your Twitter feed will light up every day at 12:01 with updates about who's on and who cleared.

Some day soon(?): The NHL still hasn't formally set the salary cap limit for next season, in part because it needs the NHLPA to decide if its going to use its 5 percent escalator. That would, uh, be good information for teams to have.

Wednesday: The NHL Awards show, live from Las Vegas. Hey, remember a few months ago when we all wanted to fight each other over whether Drew Doughty was better than Erik Karlsson? We're two days from finding out which side won. And it will probably be overshadowed, because this is also the day we're all expecting the league to finally announce that its adding an expansion team in Vegas for the 2017-18 season.

Friday and Saturday: Buffalo hosts the NHL entry draft. The first round goes on Friday night, with everything else getting squeezed into roughly six minutes on Saturday morning because everyone has a flight to catch.

Saturday: The opening of the week-long window for teams to begin talking to unrestricted free agents. No deals can be signed until July 1 (and in theory, firm offers aren't even allowed), but teams and players can use the days before to figure out the market. Any teams that want to talk to specific players before the window opens will need to trade for their rights, and we usually see a handful of deals like that. We've already had one this year, with the Coyotes targeting Alex Goligoski.

July 1: Free agency officially begins. Expect a flood of deals to be signed on the first day; with the salary cap looking tight, most players don't want to wait around and risk being shut out. But don't be shocked if the bigger names, like Lightning star Steven Stamkos, take their time.

This is also the first day that teams can try to poach restricted free agents with offer sheets. If it's anything like most years, nobody will.

July 20: First day that salary arbitration hearings can begin. Like most years, expect plenty of cases to be filed, but very few to actually make it to a hearing.

August 15: The day that drafted but unsigned NCAA players become unrestricted free agents. Harvard's Jimmy Vesey will likely be the biggest name available, unless his rights have already been traded to his preferred destination by then.

September 17: Start of the World Cup of Hockey preliminary rounds, with camps opening shortly before. NHL rookie tournaments will be taking place around this time, with full training camps shortly after. We all wonder where the summer went.

Top Five

Celebrating those who've had the best week.

5. Carolina Hurricanes (front office edition)The Hurricanes were a sneaky-decent team last year, staying on the fringe of the playoff race for most of the season despite being written off as Auston Matthews contenders by most of the experts. And they did it while trading veterans like Eric Staal and stockpiling picks and prospects, sticking to the rebuild plan even as the results on the ice probably tempted them towards fast-tracking.

Last week, they cashed in a few of those future chips in a strange deal with the Blackhawks that saw them acquire Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell for second- and third-round picks. In other words, they agreed to pay $4.5 million and eat Bickell's cap hit in exchange for getting a very talented young player at a steep discount. That's some flat out smart asset management for a team that's below the cap floor and was going to have to spend that money somewhere.

Granted, that Cam Ward extension looks iffy, and looks more like a loyalty move than a defensible hockey decision. But at least it sounds like the team may not make the same mistake with Staal. So on balance, the Hurricanes still had a good week. And they're slowly but surely developing a reputation for being one of the more underrated front offices out there.

(Bonus points to the team's marketing department, which tortured Oilers fans by doing this all last night.)

4. Anaheim Ducks—Scratch one big name restricted free agent off the list. The Ducks locked up Sami Vatanen on Saturday, signing the blueliner to a four-year deal that will carry a cap hit just under $5 million. That's solid value for a player of Vatanen's age and ability.

The Ducks still have a challenging offseason ahead of them, with plenty of big decisions left to be made. But Saturday's signing has them off to a good start.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Friday, June 17, 2016

Grab bag: When awards shows get weird

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Has soccer passed hockey in the USA?
- A big problem with expansion that we all missed
- The week's biggest stories were a Penguins' Cup win and remembering Gordie Howe. An obscure player with connections to both.
- A 100% Phil Kessel edition of the weekly comedy stars
- And the 1995 NHL Awards gets truly weird...

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Last year's biggest offseason stories, and what they can teach us

Welcome to the NHL off-season, Penguins and Sharks fans. The rest of us have been here for weeks, and in some cases months. It’s been pretty slow, to be honest. But now that everyone’s arrived, we can finally kick this thing into high gear.

So what will the summer hold? Nobody knows, but as with most things in life, we can find some clues in what’s come before. After all, the NHL tends to be a copycat league where new fads can take hold quickly and teams can sometimes change direction on a dime. One year’s surprise might end up foreshadowing the next year’s must-have trend.

Let’s prepare for the future by looking back at the past. Here’s a look back at a half-dozen of the biggest stories from the 2015 off-season, and what they could teach us about what to expect this year.

The story: The Phil Kessel deal. In arguably the biggest trade of the off-season, the Penguins sent a first round pick, a prospect and some smaller parts to the Maple Leafs for Kessel, with Toronto retaining a chunk of his salary. It was a deal that had been rumoured for weeks, and it saw the two teams make clear their intentions for the coming season: the teardown was on in Toronto, while the Penguins were all-in on a Stanley Cup run.

The lesson: Sometimes, bold trades really do work out.

We all know how this ended for the Penguins, with the vision of Kessel skating the Stanley Cup around the rink in San Jose still fresh in our memories. The trade looked dicey as Pittsburgh tumbled off to a rough start, and even as the team turned around, Kessel's numbers never approached the sky-high expectations the deal created. But he found his groove in the playoffs, leading the team in scoring and even earning some Conn Smythe Trophy love.

While the deal was a major win for the Penguins, it worked out for Toronto too. None of the pieces it acquired in the trade had much impact during the season, but the Leafs cleared cap room and added depth to their prospect pipeline. And maybe more importantly, Kessel's absence helped contribute to a last place finish that will yield Auston Matthews next week. One year in, the Kessel trade looks like one of those deals where both teams won.

Who it could impact: Any GM who's still trotting out the "You just can't trade in today's NHL" line. Fans have been hearing that for years, from various GMs around the league. And it's undoubtedly true that making trades is more difficult under a cap system; just look at the first few months of this season, where we didn't see a single deal involving an NHL player until mid-December.

But as Jim Rutherford went out and proved, difficult doesn't mean impossible. Between the Kessel deal and other trades for Nick Bonino, Carl Hagelin, Travor Daley and Justin Schultz, the veteran GM helped turn the Penguins from a top-heavy pretender into a well-balanced contender. Fans in other cities who are used to being serenaded with excuses from risk-adverse GMs may want to take note.

The story: Offer sheet worries lead to big trades. Dougie Hamilton and Brandon Saad both went from young franchise cornerstones to trade bait within days of the draft, with Hamilton heading from Boston to Calgary and Saad going from Chicago to Columbus. In both cases, the deals were inspired at least partly by fear that the players, who were both RFAs, could be offer sheet targets.

The lesson: NHL GMs hate having their hands forced, and would rather trade a player on their own terms than risk the threat of losing a player to an offer sheet.

The irony, of course, is that that tends to be all an offer sheet ever is: a threat. It's been over three years since one was actually signed (Ryan O'Reilly, which almost led to disaster for Calgary), and almost nine since one actually worked (Dustin Penner, which almost led to a barn fight).

And yet, GMs apparently still worry about falling victim to one. In theory, that's the sort of thing a team could use to their advantage.

Who it could impact: The list of this summer's RFAs features some decent names, including Nikita Kucherov, Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon and Jacob Trouba. It's hard to imagine any of those guys switching teams this summer. Then again, we could have said the same for Hamilton and Saad around this time last year, and we saw how that worked out. At the very least, don't be surprised if some sneaky front offices find a way to float a few rumors over the coming weeks.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Handing out some NHL awards

It’s been less than a week since the Penguins won the Stanley Cup, and we’re already well into the NHL offseason. Teams are making trades, there’s a new franchise on the way, and we’re only a few days away from the entry draft and free agency. This is just how hockey works – there’s virtually no downtime between the end of one season and the start of the next.

That’s why it’s important to occasionally take a few moments to reflect. So today, let’s look back on the just completed year in the NHL and hand out some awards. Not the real hardware – that part’s also on the schedule for next week. Instead, we’ll make up a few of our own, to recognize the best and worst of a season that already feels like it’s fading into the distant past.

Breakout star of the year: Brent Burns

The Sharks defenseman has been one of the league’s better blueliners for years now. But he posted career-best numbers this season, earning a nod as a Norris finalist and a spot on Team Canada in the process. And he did it all while being… well, being Brent Burns. Which as it turns out, is a pretty interesting thing to be.

Whether it was the crazy beard or the Don Cherry-esque wardrobe or the solid soundbites or the whole Chewbacca thing at the all-star game, Burns emerged as a fun personality in a league that doesn’t have many. He may have flown under the radar for too long, thanks to West Coast start times. But the Sharks run to the Cup final put him solidly in the spotlight, and he embraced it.

And the hockey world embraced him right back … at least for now. No doubt, it won’t be long until Burns gets the PK Subban/Alexander Ovechkin treatment and we all start complaining about him being too eccentric or enigmatic or whatever other word we come up with. But for now, we can enjoy the presence of a star player who actually seems to enjoy the role.

Best trade (for both teams): the Phil Kessel deal

On the first day of free agency during last year’s offseason, the Leafs sent their best player to the Penguins in exchange for a package of picks and prospects. The deal ended the disappointing Kessel era in Toronto, and it didn’t take long for the knives to come out. Many felt the Leafs hadn’t got enough in return for a legitimate offensive star, while others worried that the Penguins had just gone all-in on a sullen, me-first distraction.

Less than a year later, the Pens are Stanley Cup champions largely thanks to Kessel, who led the team in playoff scoring. Meanwhile, the Leafs bottomed out, won the draft lottery, and will pick Auston Matthews with the top choice in next weekend’s draft. In a league where GMs are constantly complaining that it’s too hard to make a trade, the Leafs and Penguins managed to pull one off that worked out just about perfectly for both sides.

Kessel says he’s going to spend his day with the Stanley Cup in Toronto, by the way. Fair warning: If he poses for a photo with it next to a hot dog cart, the Internet will explode.

>> Read the full post at The Guardian

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Phil Kessel is not alone

Sidney Crosby captured his first Conn Smythe on Sunday night, earning the nod from media voters in a tough field that hadn’t produced a clear cut favorite. Plenty of fans thought the voters got it right. But others were disappointed, with many of those feeling the honor should have gone to Phil Kessel.

It’s not hard to see why. Kessel is a divisive player (especially among fans of his former teams), but when viewed from a certain angle he makes for a fantastic story. And more importantly, he was the Penguins leading scorer in the playoffs, finishing three points up on Crosby. And that made his Conn Smythe loss to Crosby an unusual one, at least in terms of recent NHL history.

But simply leading a team in scoring is no guarantee of Conn Smythe glory, nor should it be, and the award has a long history of debatable decisions. So today, let’s look back at some of the other cases in NHL history in which a Cup winner’s leading scorer was snubbed by the voters. We’ll ignore the (many) times where a leading scorer was passed over for a defenseman or goaltender, since that tends to be an apples and oranges case. Instead, we’ll focus on cases that fit the Kessel/Crosby pattern, where a team’s leading scorer was passed over for another forward.

As we’ll find out, it turns out that Kessel and Crosby are in good company. Here are five forwards who skated away with the Conn Smythe despite finishing well back of one or more teammates in the scoring race.

1967: Toronto Maple Leafs

The leading scorer was: Jim Pappin, who racked up 15 points in 12 games. Linemates Pete Stemkowski and Bob Pulford also cracked double digits, as did future Hall of Famer Frank Mahovlich.

But the Conn Smythe went to: Dave Keon, who finished tied for fifth on the team with eight points.

What were they thinking?: This was only the third time the Conn Smythe had been awarded, so a traditional set of criteria hadn’t been established yet. But it’s not hard to see what the voters were going for here: Keon was the Maple Leafs best player, a four-time all-star who’d just finished leading the team in regular season scoring. He was also one of the game’s best two-way centers, so the lack of eye-popping offensive totals was easy enough to look past. His role against the Black Hawks and Canadiens was to shut down their best players, and he delivered.

1979: Montreal Canadiens

The leading scorer was: Guy Lafleur, who followed up a 129-point season with 23 more in the playoffs, leaving him tied with teammate Jacques Lemaire for the league lead.

But the Conn Smythe went to: Don Cherry, for forgetting how many players were allowed on the ice at one time.

OK, fine, it was Bob Gainey, who had 16 points.

What were they thinking?: Gainey was the best defensive forward of his era, having just finished the second of four consecutive Selke-winning campaigns. (Legend even has it that the award was created with Gainey in mind.)

And while his playoff numbers may not have come close to Lafleur’s, they were well ahead of his typical regular season output, meaning voters were seeing him at his best at both ends of the ice. It may also be worth noting that Lafleur had already won the Conn Smythe once before, in 1977, and at that point no forward had ever won the honor multiple times.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Can the Penguins repeat?

The Pittsburgh Penguins are Stanley Cup champions. After a challenging season and a long and winding road through the playoffs, the team and its fans deserve nothing more than the opportunity to take a moment to savour the magnitude of the accomplishment.

OK, that’ll do. We said a moment. Don’t get greedy here, Pittsburgh, the rest of us have an offseason to get to.

Nobody gets to rest on their laurels for long in the hockey world, so before all those Penguins-inspired hangovers have even faded, it’s time to start figuring out whether they can do it again. There hasn’t been a repeat Cup champion since the 1997 and 1998 Red Wings, so the odds seem slim. But the Penguins pulled it off in 1991 and 1992, and appeared in back-to-back finals less than a decade ago. Can they pull it off next year?

Spoiler alert: Maybe.

Here are five reasons why the Penguins really could repeat, and five more why they probably won't.

Why they could: They core should remain intact

Change is inevitable in the NHL, and every team adds and subtracts over the course of an offseason. The Penguins will be no exception, and next year's opening night roster won't look the same as the one that skated the Cup around the ice on Sunday.

But it won't look all that different because, in terms of the core, the Penguins have all the key pieces locked in. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel are all on long-term deals. So is Marc-Andre Fleury, and Matt Murray is under team control for years to come. And while some of those players are getting up there, none are so old that you'd expect a major decline any time soon.

In fact, the Penguins already have a barely-full NHL roster signed to contracts for next year before the offseason even gets underway. True, the Penguins could always decide to shake things up with a trade or some other unexpected move. But if they don't want to, they won't need to.

We're used to seeing recent champs like the Chicago Blackhawks forced into rebuilding on the fly before they've even finished the parade cleanup, but that won't be the case in Pittsburgh. And that's going to mean that for all intents and purposes, they'll be able to defend their title with essentially the same team that just won it.

Why they won't: Depth could be an issue

One of the keys to the Penguins' championship was their impressive depth, a factor that allowed them to roll four lines and overcome some key injuries. For years, the knock on the Penguins was that they were top-heavy -- a team built around elite talent but lacking the supporting pieces to push it over the top. Jim Rutherford spent much of the last year addressing that issue with smart under-the-radar acquisitions, and it paid off.

While the big-name core is locked in, some of those depth pieces are unlikely to return. Matt Cullen and Ben Lovejoy are unrestricted free agents, and Justin Schultz is set to hit RFA status. None are what you'd call crucial pieces, but each played a role in the Penguins' run.

There's also not much in the way of reinforcements on the way from inside the organization; the Penguins prospect pipeline isn't strong, and cap pressure and the lack of a first round pick this year will make finding help on the trade market a challenge. Rutherford will have some work cut out for him.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Monday, June 13, 2016

Weekend report: The best team wins

In the end, the better team won.

After the disappointment of dropping Game 5 at home on Thursday, the Penguins went into San Jose last night and took care of business with a 3-1 win. That wraps up the fourth Stanley Cup in franchise history, and the second of the Sidney Crosby era.

And while the Sharks have nothing to hang their heads over after a deep playoff run that rewrote many of the narratives about the franchise's ability to win the big one, the Penguins left little questions about whether their win was deserved. They dominated long stretches of the series, showing off their impressive team speed while containing the Sharks' biggest weapons. In the third period last night, with a one-goal lead and the title on the line, the Penguins held a desperate Sharks team to just two shots on goal.

Sidney Crosby took home the Conn Smythe, a solid choice even if Phil Kessel might have been a slightly better one. Trevor Daley got the honor of receiving the first Cup handoff, in recognition of his first career championship and his mother's cancer battle. And San Jose fans buried Gary Bettman under a loud chorus of boos, passing the annual test and cementing their status as tried and true hockey fans.

Hi haters. Photo by Bruce Bennett/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports

It was an uneven series, one that was criticized early for being boring before picking up speed as it went on. Despite the presence of some of the game's biggest offensive stars, the two teams combined to average just 4.5 goals a game, further evidence of the Dead Puck Era's ongoing existence that the league will no doubt continue to ignore. But the games were close, with all six coming down to the final minutes, and even when the ice seemed titled it never felt like the Sharks were out of it.

But the Penguins deserved it, and in the end they got it done. We'll spend the next few days talking about legacies, Crosby's in particular—his trophy case is now edging into some very exclusive territory. Attention will also turn to both teams' windows, and whether either can expect to be back here next year and beyond. And then, after a few days to catch our breath, it's full speed into the offseason, with the buyout period starting on Wednesday.

It's possible that the Penguins will have sobered up by then, but here's hoping the party is still going strong. The best team won, and earned it.

Top Five

Celebrating those who've had the best week.

5. Martin Jones—The heroic losing goalie is one of the Cup final's most enduring tropes, so much so that they occasionally win the Conn Smythe. Jones didn't quite get to that level, but he was spectacular over the last two games with the Sharks facing elimination. That was especially true in Game 5, when he made 44 saves to almost single-handedly prolong the season.

He kept it up last night, including a ridiculous save off of Phil Kessel with five minutes left to keep the Sharks' hopes alive. His play was so strong that it apparently even caused some sort of mind wipe on a pair of Penguins forwards that we'll get to in a bit. His overall numbers weren't great, but fans tend to remember the most recent highlights, and Jones provided plenty of them.

In the end, it wasn't enough. But it was a strong run from a guy who went into the season facing questions about whether he was a full-time starter or simply a product of the Kings' system. He won't be hearing those again for a while.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Friday, June 10, 2016

Grab bag: The Penguins win the Stanley Cup

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- An extended rant about the NHL's awful TV ratings and what they really mean
- What the outrage over expansion rules is missing
- An obscure former Penguin and Sharks who you wanted to punch in the face
- The week's three comedy stars, featuring a mysterious churro
- And the Pittsburgh Penguins win the (1991) Stanley Cup

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

RIP Gordie Howe

Gordie Howe passed away this morning, surrounded by family at his son’s home. He was a Hall of Famer and four-times Stanley Cup champion who dominated the record book over the course of a 32-year career, and he was known as Mr Hockey because nobody else could have been.

Howe’s death doesn’t come as a shock – he’d been battling serious health problems for several years – and over the next few days, you’re going to see a flood of tributes to him from around the sports world. Some of those will be written by those who watched him play, and others by those who were lucky enough to have known him. They’ll be touching and heart-felt, and I encourage you to read every one of them.

I’m young enough that I never saw Howe play. Even his later years, when he was putting up 41 points for the Whalers as a 51-year-old, were before my time. And yet Howe was one of the most important players of my lifetime; he did as much to shape my identity as a hockey fan as any player I could name. Howe was hockey. He was the archetype of what a hockey player should be.

That wasn’t because of his scoring records, which were stunning at the time but have almost all long since been broken. It’s not about his unmatched longevity, amazing as that was, or about his dominance in his prime, although there’s no question that he was the best player in the sport for long stretches.

Hockey’s always been a strange game, and to a new fan, it can feel like two different sports are being played at once. There are the element of speed and skill that show themselves throughout the game in ways both big and small; the way that some players can almost effortlessly do things on ice that, if you stop and think about it, should really be impossible. And there’s also the violence, the fury of collisions and elbows and sometimes fists. Not everyone appreciates that side of the game, and it’s been fading from the sport in recent years, but it’s still there in some form and always will be.

Those two halves of the game shouldn’t be able to co-exist, but they do, often on the same shift. At its best, hockey can be a work of art that leaves blood and teeth all over the canvas. And that’s why Gordie Howe always seemed to matter so much, why he was at the very core of what the sport was. Nobody ever combined both halves of the game the way he did.

Howe won the NHL’s scoring title six times, as well as six MVP honors, both marks that stood until Wayne Gretzky arrived. He was also a 23-time All-Star, which seems like it must be a typo. Nobody will touch that mark, and is speaks to Howe’s legacy of being so good for so long.

But the secret to Howe’s success was that his skill was tied to a legendary mean streak. Before he ascended to Mr Hockey status, he had another nickname: Mr Elbows. If you’re wondering where he got it, well, ask anyone who ever went into a corner with him. Be patient waiting for an answer; there’s a decent chance their jaw is still wired shut.

>> Read the full post at The Guardian

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Who should win the Conn Smythe?

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a chance to make history Thursday night as they host the San Jose Sharks with a 3-1 series lead and the Stanley Cup in the building.

The series isn’t over yet, but a Pittsburgh win wouldn’t be a surprise given how things have played out. The Penguins have looked faster and have outshot the Sharks in every game, and have yet to play so much as a second while trailing. For a matchup that most figured would be close, the Penguins have had a surprisingly easy time of things.

One group that won’t be having an easy time: Conn Smythe voters. With perhaps just one game left to play in the post-season, a clear frontrunner has yet to emerge. Instead, we’ve got a handful of candidates, some with stronger cases than others.

Assuming the Penguins can finish things off at some point over the next three games, it’s going to make for a tough vote. [Note to editors: Delete this entire post after the Sharks’ Game 7 win.]

In the hours leading up to Game 5, let's try to help out those voters with a look at the options. We'll do this one candidate at a time, starting with the biggest name of the bunch.

Candidate #1: Sidney Crosby

The case for: He's Sidney Crosby. He's the Penguins' identity, their best player, and the focus of everything they do. Opponents game plan around him, he always faces the toughest competition, he plays in all situations and he gets the most ice time of any forward by a decent margin. If the Penguins are winning, there's a good chance Crosby is a big part of the reason.

On top of that, he's had decent numbers so far, with six goals and 17 points in 22 games. That's not quite the level of production we're used to from Crosby, but it's close. And given everything else he brings to the table it's more than enough to get him into the Conn Smythe conversation.

The case against: His post-season numbers may be somewhat deceptive; he lit it up in the Penguins' relatively easy opening-round win over the New York Rangers but only has three goals and nine points in 17 games since. He had three multi-point games in that series, but only one in the other three rounds combined. And it was only one series ago that he was being roundly criticized in the Pittsburgh media for not doing enough.

Maybe more importantly, he's been quiet so far in the Cup Final, limited to just two assists so far. A lackluster final doesn't rule a candidate out – the Conn Smythe is for the MVP of the entire post-season, not just one series, and Jonathan Toews won it in 2010 despite being held to just three assists in the final. But in a close race, voters may prefer somebody who's had a more obvious impact against the Sharks.

Bottom line: Crosby hasn't put up eye-popping numbers, but he's shown up at big moments — including an OT winner against the Tampa Bay Lightning and that faceoff-win assist on another OT goal in Game 2 against the Sharks.

Is that enough?

In the eyes of some, it apparently is. And in a tight race, he'll be a tempting choice for voters looking for a safe option – nobody's going to scream too loudly if Crosby's the pick.

So the case for Crosby is strong. Let's pencil him in for now, but see how some of other candidates measure up.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Five other obscure Cup final OT heroes

This year’s Stanley Cup final between the Sharks and Penguins has been a tight one, with two games going into overtime. And in a series packed with superstars and future Hall of Famers, it was two relatively unknown rookies who got to play hero, as Pittsburgh’s Conor Sheary and San Jose’s Joonas Donskoi found the net.

The two players joined a relatively exclusive club. According to the archives at and, Donskoi’s goal was the 86th overtime winner in nearly a century of Stanley Cup final history. Some of those have been scored by legends, including Bobby Orr, Guy Lafleur, Mike Bossy and Maurice Richard (three times). But others, like Sheary and Donskoi’s, have been scored by more obscure names. So today, let’s look back on five little-known names at the time who found themselves with the game on their stick in sudden death, and came through with the biggest goals of their lives.

2006: Fernando Pisani, Oilers

Before: Pisani was in his third NHL season, and was coming off a career best 18 goals. It’s probably fair to say that, prior to the playoffs, not many fans outside Edmonton knew his name. But that was before Pisani went on one of history’s great postseason hot streaks, scoring five goals in an opening round upset of the Red Wings and then twice more in each of the next two rounds. He’d already added two more in the final against the Hurricanes by the time the Oilers found themselves facing elimination in overtime in Game 5.

The goal: With the Hurricanes on the powerplay and the Carolina crowd on its feet in anticipation of the Cup-winning goal, Pisani picked off a pass at the blueline and went in alone to score the first shorthanded overtime goal in Cup final history.

“They have time to kill now, folks. Time. To. Kill. Now.” Bob Cole is the best.

After: Pisani’s hot streak continued with goals in Games 6 and 7, giving him 14 total in 24 games. He never topped that number in five more regular seasons, and the 2006 run ended up including the last playoff goals of his NHL career, which ended in 2011.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Stanley Cup handoff rankings

We may be days away from seeing the presentation of the Stanley Cup. It’s a scene that hockey fans know well: Gary Bettman wanders out, talks for way too long, forces the winning captain to pose awkwardly for photographs, and then finally relinquishes the trophy as the boos rain down around him.

And then, seconds later, all of that is washed away by one of the hockey world’s favourite traditions: the captain picking out a teammate to receive the first Cup handoff.

It’s a great sight. And it’s evolved into one of the highest honours that a player can receive. It typically goes to a respected veteran, often an Old Guy Without a Cup, or in many cases someone who’s had to overcome adversity to get to the moment. Depending on the circumstances, there may even be tears involved.

Hockey fans eat this stuff up. So today, we’ll relive those moments with a ranking of each and every Stanley Cup handoff dating back to 1994.

Why 1994? Because while it may seem like a longstanding tradition, the sight of a captain handing the Cup off to a teammate is relatively new one.

Before Bettman came along, it was far more common for the Cup to be accepted by the captain and his alternates together, at which point they'd quickly be mobbed by teammates, coaches and front office staff. (The Calgary Flames' 1989 win was a typical example of what things used to look like.)

That started to change with Bettman's first presentation in 1993; the Montreal Canadiens still surrounded the Cup, but captain Guy Carbonneau made a point of making sure that Denis Savard got the first touch. It wasn't until the New York Rangers’ win in 1994 that the winning captain handled the duties on his own, which quickly became the standard.

So that gives us 21 handoffs to work with, each one meaningful, and each one no doubt memorable for fans of the winning team. But some have stood the test of time more than others. So let's count them down, all the way to a shocking pick for No. 1. (Spoiler: You will not be remotely shocked.)

#21 – 1997: Detroit Red Wings

Who: After the Red Wings wrapped up their first Cup win in 43 years, Steve Yzerman takes an extended skate before handing the Cup to… owner Mike Ilitch?

Why: Because Yzerman knew who signs the checks, I guess.

Bonus points: Two members of the Russian Five, Igor Larianov and Slava Fetisov get the Cup next and skate with it together.

Overall score: 1.0/10. Ilitch had been the owner for 15 years, some of them tough, and I guess we can give some points for creativity here. But an owner? Thankfully, the trend did not catch on.

#20 – 2006: Carolina Hurricanes

Who: Rod Brind'Amour follows up what still stands as the most awkward Cup presentation of all-time with a fairly standard handoff to Glen Wesley.

Why: Wesley was 37 years old and had been with the franchise for 12 years, not counting a brief stopover in Toronto that absolutely nobody remembers.

Bonus points: Wesley was once traded for three first-round draft picks, which then-Whalers GM Jim Rutherford justified by pointing out the team was terrible at drafting.

Overall score: 2.5/10. Not all that memorable. But in fairness, nothing could have lived up to the sight of Brind'Amour stealing the Cup from Bettman.

#19 – 2004: Tampa Bay Lightning

Who: Nobody had ever played longer without reaching the final than Lightning winger Dave Andreychuk, so he was the obvious choice for first handoff honors. But there was a problem: He was already the Lightning captain. So he went with the next oldest guy, Tim Taylor.

Why: Taylor was the other veteran on what was a young Lightning team.

Bonus points: We need more hockey players named after sitcom characters.

Overall score: 3.9/10. This is your semi-regular reminder that it's really weird that nobody ever talks about Andreychuk making the Hall of Fame.

#18 – 2009: Pittsburgh Penguins

Who: Penguins captain Sidney Crosby hands off to veteran Bill Guerin.

Why: Guerin wasn't exactly a classic pick; he already had a Cup ring from his days in New Jersey, and he'd only been with the Penguins for a few weeks. But on a very young team, Crosby didn't have all that many options.

Bonus points: The 17-year age gap between Crosby and Guerin is a Cup handoff record that may never be broken.

Overall score: 4.2/10. Would Sergei Gonchar have been a better pick? I think he might have.

#17 – 1996: Colorado Avalanche

Who: The 1996 final was among the worst ever, one most fans would rather forget, so it makes sense that it's one of the few years where a video of the full Cup presentation is hard to find. This clip picks up after Bettman has made his appearance, but does capture Joe Sakic turning around to hand off to Curtis Leschyshyn.

Why: This one seems weird; Leschyshyn wasn't a veteran, or a star, or coming off any particular adversity, and at 26 I'm pretty sure he's the youngest player to ever get handoff honors. My first thought was that he just happened to be the guy standing there when Sakic turned around. But according to this forum post, Sakic was actually fulfilling a promise he'd made the night before, in recognition of a friendship dating back to their rookie season as Quebec Nordiques.

Bonus points: This video seems to show Adam Foote making a grab before Sakic shrugs him off.

Overall score: 4.4/10. Not a bad moment, given the explanation. But it's fair to say that Sakic's next opportunity would end up being slightly more memorable.

#16 – 2013: Chicago Blackhawks

Who: In his second tour of duty, Jonathan Toews seeks out Michal Handzus for the honors.

Why: He'd only been there since the trade deadline, but the 36-year-old Handzus had undisputed OGWAC status on a Blackhawks team where most of the roster had already won in 2010.

Bonus points: "There you go big boy!" [butt slap]

Overall score: 4.5/10. Handzus had just missed a Cup in 2012, leaving the Kings a season before they won it all.

#15 – 2007: Anaheim Ducks

Who: The 2007 Ducks featured one of the greatest Old Guy Without a Cup stories of all-time: Teemu Selanne, who was days away from turning 37 and making his first ever appearance in the final. He was one of the league's most universally beloved players around the globe, and the NHL has prominently featured the image of a sobbing Selanne finally having his Cup moment in its marketing ever since.

Which is why it's kind of weird to look back and realize he didn't actually get first handoff honors. You might remember him getting it. I know I did. So did a few other people I asked. But he didn't. Instead, Scott Niedermayer handed off to his brother Rob.

Why: Nepotism.

OK, granted, handing the Stanley Cup to your brother is an undeniably cool moment, and it's hard to blame the Niedermayers for taking it. But Selanne would have been such a perfect choice, as evidenced by how many of us have apparently just decided to go ahead and remember it that way anyway.

Bonus points: Seriously, the number of hockey fans who remember a moment that never happened is weird, right?

Overall score: 4.8/10. Teemu Selanne getting the first handoff in 2007 is the Berenstein Bears book cover of NHL history.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Monday, June 6, 2016

Weekend report: We have a series

Facing the prospect of falling behind 3-0 in the Stanley Cup Final, the Sharks rallied back to win Saturday's Game 3 in overtime. As per hockey bylaws, we are now legally obligated to inform you that we have ourselves a series.

And that's good news; given the quality of the teams involved and the roads they've travelled to get here, you'd hate to have seen this series over early. And it almost certainly would have been over with a Penguins win. With apologies to Sharks fans having flashbacks to that series, a 3-0 deficit would have been game over—nobody is beating these Penguins in four straight games with the Cup in the building.

So that overtime really did feel like sudden death for the Sharks. And they'll live to fight another day thanks to Joonas Donskoi's winner, called here in typically understated tones by the Finnish broadcast.

And so, yes, we have ourselves a series, although exactly how much of one remains to be seen. Despite the one-goal margins, the three games so far have been shockingly one-sided, with the Penguins dominating for long stretches, while the Sharks have only looked like the team that rolled through the Western Conference for short bursts. Even in Saturday's loss, the Penguins could make a good case that they were the better team, and they still haven't trailed for a second of the series.

Maybe Donskoi's winner is the turning point, the moment that flips the switch and restores the Sharks to what we expected them to be. Or maybe it's just prolonging the inevitable. The story of the series so far has been the Penguins' speed; they seem to be just a half-step ahead of the Sharks at every turn, and it's added up to having the puck on their stick for most of the final. The shot clock isn't everything, but the Penguins are dominating it to a historical degree. And the way this has all played out has to scare you if you're a Sharks fan. After all, you can fix a lot of problems with smart game-planning and better matchups, but speed is speed.

Still, the Sharks are alive, and we have a series. Peter DeBoer and company have their work cut out for them if the series is going to be more than five games long, but thanks to Donskoi, they have a chance.

Top Five

Celebrating those who've had the best week.

5. Matthew Tkachuk—The NHL combine wrapped up over the weekend, meaning we're officially into that part of the draft lead up where we hear about stocks rising and falling. And nobody seems to be rising more than Tkachuk, the London Knights power forward and son of former NHL star Keith.

For months, the draft has been viewed as having a clear Big Three of Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi in that order, followed by about a half dozen players in the second tier who could go anywhere. But after scoring the Memorial Cup-winning goal last week, Tkachuk seems to have moved to the top of that group, and may even be pushing Puljujarvi for the third spot.

That's obviously good news for him. But it's great news for the Oilers, who seemed like the draft lottery's big losers after dropping down to No. 4 That pick soars in value if the Big Three becomes a Big Four. And given that the team is reportedly looking to trade the pick, the bidding could get very interesting over the next few weeks.

4. Donskoi's goal going in off Matt Murray's face—Seriously, we're all just going to pretend that didn't happen? After the game, I read glowing reports of how Donskoi had skillfully picked the top corner. If he picked anything, it was Murray's left nostril. Still a nice shot, still a clutch goal, but don't show me a Stanley Cup OT winner pinging off a goaltender's cranium and then expect me to unsee it.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports