Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Five forgotten expansion draft picks

Now that the Vegas Golden Knights have a name, a logo, and a future head coach, everyone is turning their attention to June's expansion draft. Who will the Knights end up with? Matt Murray? Jakob Silfverberg? Trevor van Riemsdyk? Maybe even an established veteran who waives a no-movement clause, like Dion Phaneuf or Rick Nash?

Those are all reasonably big names, and if the Golden Knights wound up picking any of them, you'd think it would make for a memorable moment.

Then again, maybe not. You see, sometimes NHL expansion teams end up taking big name players, and everyone just kind of forgets about it. That's because there's no guarantee that any player taken by an expansion team will ever actually play for that expansion team.

So today, let's take a look back at five fairly big names that have been called at expansion drafts of the past, and how they managed to avoid ever actually suiting up for the fledgling franchises that chose them.

Tim Kerr, 1991

Early NHL expansion drafts of the 60s and 70s were fairly standard. A handful of good players were picked, including names like Terry Sawchuk, Glenn Hall and Bernie Parent. But for the most part, the established teams didn't offer much in the way of talent, and the expansion franchises patched together a team with whatever they could find. That's why most of the early expansion teams were awful.

But by the time the second wave of expansion had hit in the 1990s, the new teams were willing to get a little more creative. Oh, they'd still be awful. But they realized that just because they drafted a player didn't mean they had to keep him, and it became common to see trades worked out as soon as the expansion draft was over (and sometimes even sooner).

Take the 1991 draft, for example. That was the weird expansion/dispersal hybrid that featured the San Jose Sharks and the Minnesota North Stars, which we covered in some depth over the summer. The most famous weird pick from that draft was the very last one, in which the North Stars picked quasi-retired Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur because they didn't want any Quebec Nordiques and the rules wouldn't allow them to pass. But another well-known sniper was also taken that day.

That would be Tim Kerr, a four-time 50-goal scorer for the Flyers who'd been slowed down by injuries. By 1991, he hadn't put together a full season in four years. But he was still scoring at well over a point-per-game pace when he did play, and seemed like the sort of guy who could be a good gamble for a contender.

The Sharks weren't a contender, but the Rangers were. And so the Sharks grabbed Kerr off of the Flyer's unprotected list, and then immediately flipped him to the Rangers in exchange for Brian Mullen. It was a smart deal for San Jose; Mullen ended up being their second-leading scorer in their debut season. It worked out worse for the Rangers, as Kerr struggled through another injury-shortened year before being dealt to Hartford.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

The Tank Index: Which teams need a rebuild the most?

Heading into the 2016-17 season, there was something odd going on with the NHL's 30 teams. For the first time in years, everybody was trying to win.

That sounds like it should be standard operating procedure, but it's not, at least in today's NHL. In recent years, a handful of teams have clearly gone into each season with the intention of losing. Oh, the league swears that tanking never happens, and you're supposed to use terms like "strategic rebuild" in polite company, but fans know better. With surefire franchise players like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews waiting for whichever team could secure the top pick in the last two drafts, some clubs were more than happy to camp out in the cellar and improve their lottery odds.

But not this year. This year, everyone came into the season looking like they were actually trying. It was kind of nice.

It was also two months ago. A quarter of the way into the season, it's becoming clear that some teams just aren't as good as they'd hoped to be. And it won't be long before the NHL's tank brigade starts to appear, engines revving as the race for Nolan Patrick begins.

So today, let's try to answer the question: Which NHL franchise is most in need of a good ol' fashioned rebuild?

Clearly, we don't need to do this for everyone. We can eliminate any team that's already contending, or reasonably close to it. That's a tricky thing to define, but let's go with this: Any team that's won a division title or been to a conference final over the last two seasons is considered a contender, and we won't worry about them hitting the reset button any time soon. That knocks 11 teams off the list.

We're also going to rule out a few teams that are already rebuilding, or were very recently. That means Buffalo, Toronto, Arizona and Edmonton are all out; nobody expects them to start over again so soon. And of course, we're not going to worry about the expansion Golden Knights, since you have to build something before you can rebuild it.

As it works out, that leaves us with 15 teams, or half of the current league. That seems about right. So let's start with the teams that are in the best shape and count our way down to the dregs as we ask the question: Is it time to tank?

15. Nashville Predators

The case for: They've had a disappointing year so far; after being a trendy preseason pick to contend for a Cup, they've struggled to even stay in the playoff mix.

Blame PK! Photo by Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

The case against: They've spent years building toward contender status, and seemed like they'd arrived this year. Pulling the chute because of a tough 20-game stretch would be a classic case of overreacting to small samples. They're reasonably young, the cap situation is solid, and the prospect pipeline is already in decent shape. With Pekka Rinne having just turned 34, goaltending is going to be an issue at some point soon, but otherwise, they should be fine.

The verdict: David Poile knows what he's doing. Next.

14. Philadelphia Flyers

The case for: They haven't won a playoff round since 2012, and a disappointing start to the season already has them looking like a long shot to break that streak this year.

The case against: The Flyers are a good example of a team that's spent the last few years executing a reload instead of a traditional hit-rock-bottom rebuild. They've only picked in the top ten of one of the last five drafts, but GM Ron Hextall has been building patiently and amassing good young players. Between Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny, they've already got some excellent young talent.

The verdict: Philadelphia fans aren't known for their patience, but Hextall deserves some time to see his plan play out.

13. Winnipeg Jets

The case for: In five seasons since returning to Winnipeg, they've yet to win a single playoff game. And they've been a letdown yet again this year, struggling to climb into the playoff race in a tough Central Division.

The case against: They're already the league's youngest team, with a stocked pipeline that had some experts handing them future Stanley Cups—and that was before they added a legitimate blue chip stud in Patrik Laine. If anything, they're one of the teams that might want to be moving picks and prospects to make a leap right now.

The verdict: Hope can only sustain you for so long, and at some point soon, all that future potential has to start translating into something in the present. If it doesn't, that will fall at the feet of coach Paul Maurice, or maybe even GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. But a rebuild? Not for a while yet.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The not-quite-ten types of good contracts (and how to sign them)

Last week, we looked at ten types of bad NHL contracts, along with some tips on how general managers could avoid them.

This generated a fair amount of discussion and feedback, much of which fell into one of two main groups.

The first — and by far the most common — of those two groups was something along the lines of this: “Hey dummy, you listed a player on my favourite team as a bad contract but he’s not because he’s really good and my team’s GM is super smart and never makes any mistakes!”

Fair enough. That was probably to be expected.

But the second most common feedback was: What about the other side of the coin? Where's the post on all the good contracts?

That's a decent idea. Who says we're only allowed to focus on the negative around here?

So today, we're going to flip the script and focus on the good contracts.

But we'll need one caveat. Unlike the list of bad contracts, we're not going to do ten different types. (Yes, the blogger's handbook says we should aim for some symmetry between the two posts, but that's not going to be possible here.)

To be honest, I had to trim the bad contracts list down to get it to ten, which is why categories like "The overly aggressive new owner who orders his GM to do something dumb" and "The GM who doesn't care about the future because he knows he's getting fired soon" didn't make the cut.

That won't be the case with the today's list, because the reality is GMs still sign more bad deals than good ones.

So we won't get to ten, but we'll do the best we can. And we'll start with the very best contracts of all.

(Specific cap numbers in this post are via CapFriendly.)


The contract: This is easily the most obvious category. Entry-level deals almost always provide good value, and at times can be almost ridiculously cost-effective.

That's how the CBA is designed – players have to pay some dues on their first contract before they can start down the road to making the big money.

In a league where young players (especially forwards) often have some of their most productive years early on, that adds up to the potential for team reaping enormous value on these contracts.

Sure, occasionally a youngster with a bonus-laden deal will trigger those bonuses for a cap-strapped team, rolling the cap hit into the following season and causing headaches. But even in those cases, it's other bad contracts on the books that are causing the cap squeeze — not the young star who's still making far less than he could on the open market.

Recent examples: Connor McDavid, Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews… honestly, we could list just about every player drafted over the last few years in this section.

How to make it happen: Stockpile picks, draft well, and then develop those prospects into players who can contribute in the big leagues. In other words, exactly what every team in the NHL already says it wants to do.

We did say this was the obvious category.

But if you want a degree of difficulty, the real trick here is to find a way to compete for a Stanley Cup while at least a few of your best players are still on their ELCs. That's what teams like the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs are hoping they can manage, but it's rare to see a team pull it off. See the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks for an example of what can happen if you do.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Monday, November 28, 2016

Weekend wrap: Who's the NHL's most mediocre team?

Opening faceoff: Stuck in the middle with you

Most Mondays, we spend a chunk of this column trying to figure out who the league’s best and worst teams are. That makes sense – even beyond the importance of playoff seeding and lottery odds, the teams at either end of the standings are the fun ones. These days in the NHL, if you’re not truly good or truly bad, you’re nowhere.

But every now and then, it’s worth stopping to recognize the league’s mushy middle. After all, in the age of parity, that might be the most crowded category of all. So today, before we move on to the best and the worst of the NHL, let’s ask the question: Who’s the league’s most average team right now?

It’s a tougher question than you might think. Sports fans have come to equate mediocrity with being .500, but that term has become meaningless in today’s NHL. So instead, we’ll need to toss the loser point aside and focus on old school wins and losses, with some help from goal differentials and other stats.

For example, the Bruins would have been our best contender heading into yesterday's action; they had 11 wins and 10 losses and a minus-1 goals differential. But they pulled off an impressive 4-1 win over the Lightning to nudge themselves out of the running.

The entire state of California could make a case; the Kings and Sharks both have 12 wins and 10 losses, while the Ducks are 10 and 12. In terms of goals differentials, the Sharks and Ducks are both at plus-4 while the Kings are plus-3. That's pretty average all around, and helps explain how the Oilers are still holding down top spot in the Pacific.

You could also make a case for the Devils. Thanks to a recent cold streak, they've now won 10 and lost 11 while posting a minus-3 goals differential. Then there's a team you might not expect to see here: the St. Louis Blues, who have 12 wins, 10 losses and a minus-2 differential. Thanks to three loser points and league-wide parity, the Blues are sitting seventh overall in the standings, but they've been a decidedly average team so far.

One of the Blues' fellow Central Division teams nearly takes the title, as the Nashville Predators have won 10 and lost 11. They're great at home and terrible on the road. They've yet to have either a winning or losing streak longer than three games. And even their possession numbers are right around dead even. Only their goals differential – they've scored eight more than they've allowed – keep them from claiming the crown.

Instead, the honour of the NHL's Most Average Team goes to the Florida Panthers, who've been close to the Platonic ideal of "just OK." After last night's loss to the Hurricanes, they're the only team in the league that's dead even in terms of wins and losses, with 11 of each. They're almost dead even in terms of goals differential, at minus-2. And their mediocrity has been a season-long pursuit; they haven't been more than two games above or below the break-even mark at any point all year.

Congratulations, Florida. You win a warm glass of milk and a slice of unbuttered toast. And also, a new head coach. Apparently, mediocrity has its price.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they're headed towards Stanley Cup favourite status.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins (13-6-3, even true goals differential*) – It's hard to say what's more surprising, that Sidney Crosby is pulling away with the goal-scoring lead or that it hasn't happened more often during his career.

4. Washington Capitals (13-6-2, +10) – They return to the top five with a two-for-three week, despite Saturday's loss to the Maple Leafs. Five of their next seven are against the Islanders, Sabres or Canucks.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, November 25, 2016

Grab bag: The coming expansion draft letdown, Canada vs. America, and Gretzky gets animated

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Spoiler alert: The expansion draft is going to suck
- An obscure player who set an unbreakable record
- Debating Canada vs. the USA. No reason.
- The week's three comedy stars
- And forget the Simpsons, our YouTube clip looks at Wayne Gretzky's best cartoon work

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The ten types of bad contracts (and how to avoid them)

On Tuesday, San Jose Sharks defenceman Brent Burns signed an eight-year extension that will pay him $64 million and carry an $8 million cap hit.

It’s a huge contract — the biggest since Jamie Benn‘s deal this past summer and almost certainly the largest that we’ll see signed during the 2016-17 season.

But none of that really matters.

What fans want to know about the Burns contract is this: Is it a good deal or a bad one?

We can't know for sure yet, although we can already compare it to those of his peers.

The early consensus seems to point to a deal that carries a fair cap hit for a player of his caliber, but with a length that makes it a high-risk gamble on a player who'll have turned 40 by the time the contract expires. Only time will tell whether the deal ends up being worth the risk for the Sharks.

But even if the Burns deal does end up backfiring for San Jose, they'll have plenty of company. The NHL is littered with bad contracts; every team has at least a couple.

Twelve seasons into the salary cap era, you'd think general managers would be learning how to avoid some of these mistakes. But we still see them made all the time, and they usually fall into one of a few categories.

So today, let's look through those categories, and see if we can give our friends in NHL front offices some tips on avoiding them.


The contract: This is the most obvious category, with a big chunk of the league's worst deals falling into it.

To put it simply, NHL GMs do their worst work when unrestricted free agency opens on July 1. You target a player, the bidding war starts, and next thing you know you're paying way more than you meant to.

We've actually seen a drop in truly terrible July 1 deals over the years, largely thanks to the new negotiation window that opens up a few days in advance. But we still see more mistakes made on that one day than any other.

Recent examples: Scott Gomez. Wade Redden. Danny Briere. Brad Richards. Stephen Weiss. Loui Eriksson. Andrew Ladd.

How to avoid it: Don't let anybody in the front office anywhere near a phone on July 1.

Seriously, how long will it be before some GM (or owner) makes this an official team policy? Every year, we see teams pay through the nose for players on July 1, and every year we see great bargains still sitting around a few days later for a fraction of the price.

Every GM thinks they can be the one who makes the smart deal on UFA day, but history has shown us that most of them are wrong.


The contract: Look, intangibles exist. Just because something is hard to measure doesn't mean it's not important, and that's especially true in a sport like hockey.

Leadership matters. So does work ethic. And yes, even heart. But the waiver wire is filled with guys with plenty of heart and leadership. Paying top dollar for it rarely works out well.

Recent examples: Ryan Kesler. Ryan Callahan. Casey Cizikas.

How to avoid it: If your star player is also your hard-working leader, then great, go ahead and pay him. But if not, smart GMs will focus on pouring as much talent as possible into the core and save the intangibles for the (far cheaper) depth pieces.

If there are two mistakes on this list that can torpedo a team's cap situation, it's paying for intangibles and the July 1 meltdown. In fact, it's hard to even imagine anything worse…

Oh, hey, what's this next section…


The contract: Oh no.

Recent examples: Dave Bolland. Deryk Engelland. Ryane Clowe. Dale Weise. Clayton Stoner. Stephane Robidas. And the worst of them all: David Clarkson.

How to avoid it: If anyone in your front office so much as utters the words "compete level" on July 1, fire them immediately.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Golden Knights finally have a name and a logo. How'd they do?

After several months of waiting, followed by an additional several weeks of waiting for reasons nobody was quite clear on, and then a few more minutes of waiting while they tried to figure out how to get their video to play, the NHL’s newest expansion team finally has an identity. They’re the Golden Knights, as unveiled Tuesday night at what the league hyped as “historic event”.

Of course, we kind of already knew that; the name had been rumored for a while now, thanks to the team filing for trademarks on various Knight-related monikers back in the summer. But still, making it official counts for something, and the team also used yesterday’s event as an opportunity to unveil their logo and team colors.

So how’d they do? Well, the event itself was a disaster, one that featured two failed attempts to play the announcement video. For an agonizing few minutes, it looked like the team had gone with the “Placeholders”.

They eventually got the video working, although not before an extended stalling job by a clearly seething Gary Bettman. Oh, and while everyone was waiting the team web site went live and spoiled the surprise. Other than that, it was smooth sailing.

But that should all be forgotten eventually. What about the name and logo itself? Well, this being the NHL, we have a long history of new teams to look back on. Many of those franchises ended up being laughable failures, and while you can’t necessarily blame that on a name or a logo, every little bit helps. So let’s look back at some of the lessons learned from those teams that came before, and figure out whether the Las Vegas brains trust managed to get their first major decisions right.

The name

What’s in a name? Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? No, it wouldn’t, because sports teams with dumb names are embarrassing. The hockey world has had its share of examples, although to our credit we’ve never hit rock bottom and named a team the Pelicans like some other sports we could mention. Still, this is the big one, and you want to make sure you get it right.

The idea name will carry a taste of local flavor, without getting too cute. You want something creative, but not silly. Originality is good, but you can carried away with fancy spellings or singular names that will be confusing to write about.

And most importantly of all, you can’t just take the most popular team in the league and try to steal their name. Las Vegas almost made that mistake; reports from August had them leaning towards going with something based on the word “Hawks”. Thankfully, hockey fans laughed at the transparent attempt to hone in on Chicago’s territory and the idea was dropped. Instead, we got the Golden Knights.

When it was done right: In general, NHL team names have been getting better with age. They were all over the map in the early days of expansion, largely because they were left to the whims of owners or fan surveys. These days, much more thought goes into the naming process, and we end up with names ranging from the solid (“Lightning”) to the vaguely cool (“Predators”) to the lame-until-someone-explains-it-to-you (“Thrashers”). Personally, I’ve always like Blue Jackets, although I realize I may be in a minority there.

When it was done wrong: Sometimes, teams can get too clever, like when Pittsburgh went with “Penguins” even though there aren’t any nearby. Other times, they’re not clever enough, like when Winnipeg’s WHA entry went with “Jets” even though there was already an NFL team called that (and also, Winnipeg didn’t have airports, paved roads or running water until 2013). Both of those names are cool now, but it took some time.

But nothing has ever been worse than when the new Anaheim franchise named itself after a terrible Disney movie, christening themselves The Mighty Ducks in 1993. Everyone over the age of six hated it, and the team dropped the “Mighty” in 2006.

How’d Vegas do?: We’ll give them a “not bad” here.

Golden Knights is a reasonably cool name. Most fans will just call them the Knights, which has long been the go-to choice for kids who needed a fake name for a team in a computer sports game that wasn’t already being used somewhere. And “Vegas Knights” is kind of a pun, I guess. Sure, something about gambling would have been better, but the NHL apparently said that was a no-go, so here we are.

Owner Bill Foley went further in the press release, babbling on about how “We selected ‘Knights’ because knights are the defenders of the realm and protect those who cannot defend themselves. They are the elite warrior class.” That’s nonsense, the sort of thing that a marketing department with too much time on its hands comes up with and slips into a press release when nobody’s looking. But Foley clearly never actually said that, nor did any other actual human being, so we won’t hold it against him.

One interesting note: The official name drops the “Las” from “Las Vegas”, which is kind of weird. You just know they’re going to get all cranky whenever anyone calls them the Las Vegas Golden Knights. So let’s all agree to do that as often as possible.

>> Read the full post at The Guardian

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Handing out some quarter-mark awards

Teams around the NHL have started hitting the 20-game mark, with most of the league reaching that milestone over the next few days.

That means that this is the week when we’re officially a quarter of the way into the season.

And that means three things.

First, we can stop prefacing every observation with “It’s still early, but…”

Second, it will be fun to spend the next few days making repeated references to this being the "quarter pole" just to annoy the sort of pedants who get worked up over that that kind of thing.

And third, sports writing bylaws dictate that we have to hand out some awards.

Let's take care of that last one today. We'll do the standard NHL awards, plus a few more to keep it interesting.

And we'll start with the big one.


MVP awards are always fun because we get to argue over what "value" actually means.

Is it just the best player? The guy who's most important to his team? The player with the biggest impact on the standings? Luckily, through the first quarter this year, we can go with all of the above.

Names worth considering: Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Mark Scheifele.

But the winner is… Carey Price.

The Montreal Canadiens seem like two different teams these days. There's the non-Price version, which is fine – they're 3-3-1 in games that Al Montoya starts, and other than that one disaster in Columbus, they've been competitive in all of them. The Montoya version of the Habs is OK.

But the Carey Price version is darn near unbeatable, picking up 23 of a possible 24 points in his dozen starts.

His numbers are ridiculous – his .950 save percentage is the best among full-time starters – and he hasn't shown any signs of lingering problems from last year's injury.

Mix in his dominant performance at the World Cup of Hockey, and he's entering that Dominik Hasek zone where teams feel like they'll need a shutout from their own goalie just to have a chance.

Hart voters tend to like to cast their ballots for players who put up big scoring numbers. But anyone who can single-handedly transform a team from merely mediocre to Cup favorite is an easy MVP call, so Price gets the nod here.


It goes without saying that if Price wins MVP, he'll almost certainly also take home the Vezina, too.

But for sake of argument — and to avoid just writing the same thing two sections in a row — let's pretend that he has to make room for somebody else to take the goaltending honours.

Names worth considering: Corey Crawford, Sergei Bobrovsky, Devan Dubnyk.

But the winner is… Tuukka Rask.

This one's a much closer call, and you could make a case for any of the guys listed above and probably a few more.

But Rask is putting up some of the best numbers of his career, and he's doing it on a team that most of us didn't view as anything more than an also-ran. Maybe that's all the Boston Bruins are, and Rask is just papering over a flawed lineup. But that's what you want your star goalie to do, and Rask has been up to the task so far this year.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Monday, November 21, 2016

Weekend wrap: The mild west

In the NHL, we’ve spent the better part of the last two decades knowing we could count on at least one simple truth: When it comes to the conferences, West was best.

The conference boasted the best teams, and most of the best players. They didn’t always win the Stanley Cup, although they did win most of them.

And even when they didn’t, it was the exception that proved the rule.

Sure, an Eastern team won this year, we could say, but look how much easier their path to the final was.

And maybe more importantly, the Western Conference just had the better style of play. Whatever type of hockey you liked – bigger, faster, more offensive, more creative – you could point to the West and say that you saw it there.

Eastern Conference action was fine most nights, but if you wanted to see the really good stuff, you had to stick around for the late show.

In recent years, it started to feel like we'd all embraced the idea of Western superiority a little too tightly, as much out of force of habit as anything else. But the reality is that there was a lot of truth to the idea. When I crunched the numbers a few seasons ago, it was clear that the West really was dominating, and had been for years.

But recently, the trend seems to be showing cracks.

The East has won three straight Presidents' Trophies, and last year the Penguins finally snapped the Stanley Cup streak of the dominant Blackhawks/Kings tag team.

And this year, early as it may be, there's really no comparison. The East has been the far better conference.

You can see that trend at the top of any power rankings — including the ones in this column. The East is taking up most of the top spots, as teams like Montreal, New York Rangers and Pittsburgh churn along. That continues as you scan down the standings; Eastern teams hold down nine of the top eleven spots in terms of points, and each of the top four in terms of goals differential.

Out west, which team would you really consider dominant?

There are the Blackhawks, as always, although even their success has been accompanied by a sky-high PDO that has to come back to earth soon. Other than Chicago, there isn't a team in the conference that stands out. Setting loser points aside, eight teams in the East have at least two more wins than losses. In the West, only Chicago can make that claim.

Meanwhile, the East is giving up its grip on the bottom of the standings, where its teams used to litter the lottery odds charts. So far this season, it's teams like the Flames, Coyotes and Canucks that are struggling at least as badly as the Sabres, Islanders or Hurricanes, if not worse.

Again, it's still early, and a winning streak here or there can alter perception fairly quickly. But it sure looks like the East is headed towards finally staking a claim as the league's powerhouse conference, at least as far as the regular season goes. It sure took them long enough.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they're headed towards Stanley Cup favorite status.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning (12-6-1, plus-15 true goals differential*) – Doctors say that Steven Stamkos is out for anywhere between four and six months, so remember to look surprised when he just happens to be cleared to return to the lineup on the day of their first playoff game.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins (11-4-3, plus-2) – Their home-and-home showdown with the Rangers this week should go a long way towards sorting out the top of the Metro pecking order.

3. New York Rangers (13-5-1, plus-32) – Speaking of which, remember when home-and-homes between division rivals used to happen on back-to-back nights so you knew there'd be some bad blood? Sure glad the NHL got rid of that.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, November 18, 2016

Grab bag: Why the NHL's marketing fails

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Why the NHL's marketing sucks and always will
- My favorite part of every new arena proposal
- An obscure player who shows up on a surprising list
- The week's three comedy stars
- And we travel back to 1992 to learn a new language with a teenaged Eric Lindros

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Podcast: How to fix the HHOF

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- Dave and Sean look at candidates for next year's Hall of Fame class, including some names that never seem to get any buzz but maybe should
- A simple but brilliant idea that would make HHOF inductions so much better
- The NHL doesn't think they should be in the business of marketing individual stars
- Gary Bettman can't figure out why anyone thinks there might be a lockout
- John Tortorella wants to get rid of morning skates, and he's... right?
- Are the Devils for real?
- And much more...

>> Stream it now on Vice Sports

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

What if the NHL gave out two of every award like MLB?

It’s awards week in Major League Baseball. The sport doesn’t handle their honours the way hockey does; there’s no cheesy Vegas ceremony, with B-list celebrities and awkward acceptance speeches. Instead, we just get a series of announcements throughout the week, with each day bringing new winners.

That’s winners, plural, which is the other key difference from the NHL. Baseball gives out separate awards to both the American and National Leagues, meaning that twice as many players get to win an MVP, Cy Young, or Rookie of the Year every season.

That seems like a small difference, but it’s really not. Post-season awards (or a lack thereof) can change our entire perception of a player’s legacy, so baseball having twice as many as other sports is a big deal. It’s why Alex Rodriquez and Albert Pujols can both claim to be three-time MVPs – voters didn’t have to choose between them in 2005, when they both won. Instead of voters having to choose between Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson at their peak, they could just both win the Cy Young. Same with Bryce Harper and Mike Trout for the Rookie of the Year in 2012.

Baseball has its reasons for handling awards that way. But what if the NHL did the same? How would hockey history look different if the sport gave out awards to the top vote-getter in each conference?

We'll never know for sure, but we can dig into the voting history (via to figure out which players might have more hardware on their shelves in an alternate universe where hockey had decided to follow baseball's lead. For sake of argument, we'll assume that the leading vote-getter from each conference would have won. That's probably not entirely true, since voters would have been looking at their ballots differently, but it gives us a guide.

So how does hockey history look different if we split the awards based on conference? Nothing changes until the Original Six era ends in 1967, of course, but then things start to get weird.

The Calder

For obvious reasons, this is the one award that doesn't produce any multiple-time winners. But we do get to add "Rookie of the Year" to the resumes of a long list of players, including current names like Shayne Gostisbehere, Johnny Gaudreau, Logan Couture and Dion Phaneuf. A few of today's most-respected veterans pick up some extra hardware as well, including Marian Hossa (1999), Jarome Iginla (1997), and the technically still-active Pavel Datsyuk (2002).

Digging a little deeper, a few of today's borderline Hall of Fame cases would get some help, as Mark Recchi (1990) and Paul Kariya (1995) both earn Calders. So do a few players who are already enshrined at the Hall, like Phil Housley (1983) and Steve Yzerman (1984).

Some team histories start to look different, too. In the real world, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander are all trying to become the first Maple Leaf to win a Calder Trophy since Brit Selby in 1966. But split the award by conference and the Leafs add two more wins – Wendel Clark in 1985 and Mike Palmateer in 1977.

And we even get to honour a current coach and GM, as Darryl Sutter (1981) and Ron Hextall (1987) earn trophies. That news would surely put a smile on their faces, if either of them were capable of that.

But with all due respect to our various new Calder winners, things don't start to get truly strange until we move on to some of the other awards.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Five teams I can't figure out

I'm confused. Are you confused? Because I'm confused.

Five weeks into the NHL season, certain things are starting to make sense. Good teams are good, bad teams are bad, and most of the league is stuck somewhere in the middle. And that's fine – I can get my head around that. But there are certain teams that I just can't figure out.

Obviously, when you're talking about confusing teams, you're going to get a lot of overlap with the category of surprising teams. But those two groups aren't the same thing. For example, I picked the Dallas Stars to come out of the West this year, but so far they've been losing more than they win. That's a surprise. But it's not all that confusing – they've had a ton of injuries and last year's bad goaltending has been even worse. Surprising, sure, but the Stars aren't especially hard to figure out.

But other teams are. So today, let's run through the five teams I still can't get my head around through the season's first month or so.

Nashville Predators

We may as well start with the obvious choice, since I'm pretty sure the Predators are the one team that would show up on every "Most Confusing" list around the league right now. They came into the season as a trendy pick to win the Central Division, if not the Stanley Cup, but so far they've barely been competitive.

The question is why, and that's where smarter folks than me have tried to sort things out without much success. On paper, the Predators shouldn't be all that different from last year. They've got the same coach, same system, same goaltender, and aside from one trade, the roster hasn't changed all that much.

And yes, that one trade was a big one, sending Shea Weber to Montreal for P.K. Subban. We've got years to argue about that deal, but so far Weber looks unstoppable for the Habs while Subban has been merely OK in Nashville. But could a single one-for-one trade, even an old-fashioned blockbuster, really have short-circuited an entire franchise?

That doesn't seem reasonable. It's more likely that a very good blueline had been masking the fact that Pekka Rinne hasn't been very good lately, and ill-timed goal-scoring slumps by forwards like Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen helped things snowball. And maybe we're just overreacting to a tough start. The Predators had won three straight before Tuesday night's loss to Toronto, after all, so maybe they're already back on track.

Here's hoping that's true. Because that Nashville/Montreal Stanley Cup final would be too much fun to give up on now.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A guide to the ten types of HHOF snubs

The Hockey Hall of Fame welcomed four new members yesterday when Pat Quinn, Eric Lindros, Rogie Vachon and Sergei Makarov were officially inducted during a ceremony in Toronto. It’s an interesting class, one that had to wait patiently for their time to come.

That was especially true for the three players. Lindros had been eligible since 2010, Makarov since 2000, and Vachon since all the way back in 1985. All three had made regular appearances on lists of the Hall’s biggest snubs for years before they finally heard their names called.

They won’t be on those lists any more, but there will be plenty of names to take their place. Fans love to argue over Hall of Fame selections; who should make it, who shouldn’t, how long it should take, and more. And we love to take up the cause of the noble snub, the player we’re convinced should be honoured but who doesn’t quite have an airtight case.

The list of those snubs is a long one, but they tend to fall into certain recognizable categories. So let’s take a look through some of the most common, along with the players past and present who’ve fallen into them.

The guy who racked up great stats by playing forever

They’ve got the numbers. But is that because they were a great player, or because they played for 20 years? These are the guys who make lots of appearances on the all-time leaderboards, but were rarely seen at the NHL Awards show.

The poster child: Of the top 25 scorers in league history, 22 are already in the Hall, most as first-ballot selections. Jaromir Jagr and Teemu Selanne aren't eligible yet, but will go in as soon as they are. And then there's Mark Recchi, who had 1,553 career points but has already been passed over twice.

Other examples: Are we all just going to pretend that Dave Andreychuk didn't score 640 goals, then seamlessly transition into being a defensive specialist who captained a Cup winner? Just let me know, and I'll play along, but it feels like we should probably hold a vote or something.

Current player who may fall victim: Does Patrik Elias count as a current player? If not, it's a tossup between Shane Doan and Patrick Marleau.

Ray of hope: The good news is that these guys tend to make it in eventually; the Hall just seems to like to make them sweat a little. Take Dino Ciccarelli, who scored 600 goals over a 19-year career, but had to wait almost a decade before getting the call.

The career cut short by injury

This is the flip side of the first category. These guys had high peaks and probably seemed like sure-thing future Hall-of-Famers at one point. Then injuries took their toll, and now voters aren't sure what to do with them.

The poster child: Up until yesterday, it had been Lindros. Now, he's probably passed that torch to Paul Kariya, who earned postseason all-star honours five times but never made it to 1,000 games because of concussions.

Other examples: Flyer forward Tim Kerr had four-straight 50-goal seasons and seemed well on his way to building a Hall of Fame resume when injuries derailed his career at the age of 27.

Current player who may fall victim: We'll keep our fingers crossed that none of today's current stars fall into this category, although history tells us we probably won't be so lucky.

Ray of hope: While this was a packed category for a long time, the good news is that the Hall seems to be slowly but surely coming around on these guys. Pat LaFontaine and Cam Neely was among the first high-profile cases, which opened the door for Pavel Bure and Peter Forsberg, which eventually led to Lindros. Maybe Kariya is next.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Monday, November 14, 2016

Weekend wrap: Hall-of-Fame edition

Opening faceoff: Hall of Fame weekend

The annual Hall of Fame weekend is one of the highlights of the season. We get the inductees being honoured before various games around the league, an alumni game, various fan events, and it all culminates with tonight’s induction ceremony in Toronto.

This year’s class – Eric Lindros, Rogie Vachon, Sergei Makarov and Pat Quinn – is an interesting one. The three players all had to endure a long wait before hearing their names called, including 31 years for Vachon. That just goes to show we never really know who’s going to be a Hall-of-Famer, even after a player’s career has long been over. If it can take three decades to figure out whether a goalie is headed to the Hall, arguing over active players seems downright futile.

And it probably is. But it’s also fun. So let’s do it right now, by celebrating Hall of Fame weekend with a question: Which of the games on this weekend’s schedule featured the most future Hall of Famers?

Obviously, certain teams are going to be the focus here. For example, the Penguins have two sure things in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin plus a handful of other possibilities. But they played the Maple Leafs, and with all due respect to Brendan Shanahan's rebuild, we should probably wait until mid-season to fast-track Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner's inductions.

The Lightning are another stacked team, although they're tougher to project given how young the core is. They faced the Sharks, who'll at least have Joe Thornton and could see guys like Patrick Marleau and Brent Burns make a push, so that's a good candidate.

A few other games that weren't exactly considered marquee matchups could make a case. For example, the Bruins have one lock in Zdeno Chara and another that's getting close in Patrice Bergeron, and they faced an Avalanche team that has Jarome Iginla and a bunch of young stars. And the Panthers/Islanders game featured Jaromir Jagr, Roberto Luongo and John Tavares, plus some young Florida stars.

Maybe we should be looking at the Canadiens. Shea Weber's odds look good, and at this rate Carey Price may be inducted three or four times. But they faced the Red Wings on Saturday, who really only have Henrik Zetterberg as a strong candidate right now. Last night's matchup between the Habs and Blackhawks would be a much stronger pick, but Price didn't play in that game.

But the Blackhawks do seem like the team to focus on, with Marian Hossa all but in and Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith well on their way. And luckily for us, they had another matchup over the weekend that we can use. That came on Friday, when the Hawks faced the Capitals. Washington's only sure thing right now is Alexander Ovechkin, but between Nicklas Backstrom, Braden Holtby and some of their younger pieces, they seem like a good bet to send a few players to the Hall someday.

So let's go with that. We'll pencil in Friday's Chicago/Washington game as having the most Hall-of-Fame packed matchup on the weekend schedule.

Remember to check back in 31 years to find out whether we were right.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they're headed towards Stanley Cup favourite status.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins (10-3-2, +7 true goals differential*) – Weird fact: Sidney Crosby has only finished in the top five in goals scored once in his career, when he won the Rocket Richard back in 2010. With 10 goals through nine games, he looks like a good bet this season.

4. Washington Capitals (9-4-1, +3) – They went into Chicago and ended the Blackhawks' seven-game win streak on Friday, then got blown out by the lowly Hurricanes on Saturday. Back-to-backs against rested opponents can take down the best.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, November 11, 2016

Podcast: Blindside hits, the Blackhawks, and why nobody trades anymore

In the second episode of our new podcast for Vice Sports, Dave and I talk about:
- Kadri, Sedin, and whether blindside hits should be illegal
- Why nobody trades anymore, and how fans should feel about that
- whether Jacob Trouba got screwed
- The Chicago Blackhawks, who Dave hates
- The secret to really annoying a Sabres fan
- The one NHL GM who everybody loves except for his own fans
- As little U.S. election talk as possible, which was still some
- Plus we answer reader questions and much more

>> Stream it now on Vice Sports

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

Grab Bag: Nothing But a Heartache

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- The three stars of comedy, if it were possible to laugh at anything these days
- What the Hockey Hall of Fame gets wrong, and how they could fix it
- Jacob Trouba and Kevin Cheveldayoff are lying to you (and that's OK)
- An obscure player who was briefly his era's Patrik Laine
- And a YouTube breakdown of some 1987 heartache

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Taking a PDO-based look around the league

We’re almost a month into the season, and while the standings are still in flux, teams are starting to settle into tiers. Some are overachieving, others are underperforming, and some are right where we thought they’d be. And if history is any guide, a whole lot of teams will end up somewhere very different by the end of the season.

But which teams? Which of the early-season trends have been real, and which are a mirage? We can’t know for sure. But we can get some important hints by looking at one number for each team: their PDO.

As with many of today’s “advanced” stats, PDO is pretty simple, and most fans are familiar with it by now. (If you’re not, you can find a good explainer here.) It’s just a team’s shooting percentage plus its save percentage, with an average team adding up to 100.

Most teams drift towards that 100 mark over time. That can take a while, but anyone who’s significantly above or below the mark is a good bet to see their fortunes turn around. The easiest way to think of PDO is to treat results outside a realistic range like a warning light on your dashboard. It doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything wrong, but you’ll want to check into it to make sure.

So what is a realistic range? There are no firm numbers, but we can look at history for some guidelines. We can only calculate PDO dating back to the 2007-08 season, which gives us a total of 270 team seasons to work with. The highest and lowest seasons on that list can give us a sense of what's realistically sustainable over a full season.

The highest PDO over that span belongs to the 2008-09 Bruins, who shot 10.9% as a team and had a .925 save percentage for a PDO of 103.3. Not surprisingly, they had a great year, posting 116 points. It wasn't sustainable, as they dropped to a nearly dead-center 99.9 PDO the following season and fell to 91 points. But the Bruins of that era were an example of a team that generally could sustain an above-average PDO, largely thanks to spectacular goaltending by Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask; they had two other seasons where they were over 102, including a 102.7 in 2013-14.

The next two best PDO years were by the Maple Leafs and the Penguins, both in 2012-13. Remember, that was a short season due to the lockout, so you'd expect to see more outliers. That Leafs season led to a furious debate over whether it was sustainable, with analytics fans insisting it couldn't be while the Leafs front office vowed that it was. We know how that turned out.

Meanwhile, the worst PDO season ever recorded was by two teams from that same lockout-shortened season, the 2012-13 Panthers (96.3) and Devils (96.9). The worst mark over a full season belongs to the 2014-15 Oilers, who shot a reasonable 8.2 but got awful .888 goaltending to finish at 97.0. They're one of 12 teams to finish a season under 98.0.

So that gives us a range to work with. Anything above 102 or below 98 is extreme, and anything above 103 or below 97 would be almost unheard of over a full season.

We're still very early in the 2016-17 season, so we'd expect to see some teams well outside of those boundaries. And indeed we do. Let's look at the league's five best and five worst PDOs heading into action tonight, as well as a few other teams that are worth mentioning.

(All numbers are across all situations unless otherwise noted. PDO numbers can vary slightly depending on what site you're looking at based on small differences in how the numbers are calculated; we'll be using's totals.)

New York Rangers

Well, you knew they were going to show up. And they do, right in the top spot, with a PDO of 105.2 across all situations. That's miles above any kind of reasonable cutoff, so clearly what the Rangers are doing right now can't continue.

What the Rangers are doing, of course, is scoring a ton of goals. They'd scored five or more in five straight games before Tuesday's 5-3 loss to the Canucks, and they lead the league by a mile with an average of 4.14 goals-per-game. Not surprisingly, they're doing all that scoring with a ridiculously high shooting percentage of 14.0%; for comparison, the best team shooting we've seen in the analytics era was 11.6% by the 2009-10 Capitals.

So the Rangers shooters have to cool off. Then again, that's not telling us anything we didn't already know – even the most diehard Rangers fan would have acknowledged that they weren't going to keep scoring like the mid-80s Oilers.

What may be more interesting about the Rangers' sky-high PDO is that it's almost entirely shooting driven. Their save percentage clocks in at 91.2%, good for 14th in the league. If anything, that seems low for a team with Henrik Lundqvist. And it is – the Rangers have finished with a better save percentage four times in the past five seasons.

So overall, we know the Rangers' shooters will cool off significantly, although we probably didn't need PDO to tell us that. But we might see the other half of the equation trend up, meaning the Rangers are a team that could realistically come in close to that 102-or-so range by the end of the season.

Columbus Blue Jackets

This early in the season, it's unusual to see a team with a very high PDO that isn't doing well in the standings. Unusual, but not impossible, as the Blue Jackets demonstrate. Despite tying the Rangers with a PDO of 105.2, they've only won a middling six of 11 games and are sitting just outside of a wildcard spot.

So what's up? The Blue Jackets' numbers are driven by good shooting and excellent goaltending. We'll leave it to you to decide if you think Sergei Bobrovsky can maintain his early season pace. But on the shooting side, there's no great mystery here: That 10-0 win over the Canadiens last week is throwing everything off. Take away that one game, and their 11.2% shooting drops to an 8.9%, or slightly below league average. You don't want to get too clever with cherry-picking games, but unless you think the Blue Jackets will mix in a double-digit blowout every month or so, it's not hard to see where this number will go.

Montreal Canadiens

Speaking of the Canadiens, they slip in right behind the Rangers and Blue Jackets with a PDO of 105.1. Like Columbus, they're shooting well, scoring at an 11.6% clip, but it's their .935% goaltending that's really driving their number.

If you're a Montreal fan, that's good news, since league-leading goaltending from Carey Price seems like something that could be sustainable in the long run. He's putting up a .953 save percentage right now, which has to come down – nobody's ever been better than .940 over a full season – but isn't ridiculously better than the .930 or so he's put up over the last three years. Like Lundqvist or those Bruins goalies from years past, he's the kind of goalie who gives his team a shot at getting well beyond that average PDO of 100.

As for the skaters, guys like Alexander Galchenyuk and (especially) Shea Weber will see some regression, and on paper the Canadiens don't seem like a team that's likely to shoot anywhere near 11% over a full season. So yes, some of Montreal's success this year is fueled by percentages that are unlikely to last. On the other hand, at least they're banking points while they're hot.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A brief history of double-digit blowouts

Hockey fans are still buzzing about the early November matchup between the Blue Jackets and Canadiens.

Did I say "buzzing about?" I meant laughing about. And occasionally high-fiving about. And maybe also getting tattoos in commemoration of. Look, I won't tell you how to live your life.

But as much fun as the hockey world is having with the Canadiens in the wake of their 10-0 loss, it's worth pointing out that it's not unheard of for an NHL team to lose a game by double digits. While that game was the first since 2003, the Canadiens actually became the 74th team in league history to lose a game by 10 or more.

Let's take a look back at some of the other teams that have pulled it off.

1943-44 New York Rangers

We might as well start with the single worst loss in NHL history.

The 1943-44 Rangers were quite possibly the worst team the NHL has ever seen. They suffered through the worst start of all-time, going 15 games before they earned their first win. They didn’t win their sixth game until Jan. 22, and that turned out to be their last victory of the season, as they closed with a 21-game winless streak. They gave up double-digit goals seven times.

And on Jan. 23, 1944, the Rangers visited the Red Wings and turned in what still stands as the worst performance in NHL history. The Wings scored two in the first, five in the second, and then poured it on with eight more in the third for a total of 15 goals on the night. (A 16th goal was waved off because it went in a fraction of a second after the final siren.) The Rangers managed only nine shots, none of which found the back of the net.

The 15-0 final still stands as the biggest blowout in NHL history. And in today's low-scoring league, we can probably go ahead and say that the record will never be broken.

1983-84 Edmonton Oilers

Double-digit losses don’t only happen to bad teams. Even the best teams can fall victim to an awful night. And that includes teams that are just a few months away from winning the Stanley Cup.

The 1983-84 Oilers could even make a case as one of the best teams ever. They racked up 119 points, finishing tops in the league by a mile. They scored 446 goals, averaging more than a goal-per-game more than the next highest scoring team. They had three 50-goal scorers and four 100-point players, including Wayne Gretzky winning his fifth-straight Hart trophy with 87 goals and 205 points.

And on Feb. 12, they got destroyed by, of all teams, the Hartford Whalers.

The Whalers weren't even very good, winning 28 games and missing the playoffs. But that night, they ran up the score on the mighty Oilers on their way to an 11-0 win. Ron Francis had four goals and Greg Malone had three. Hartford's Greg Millen posted the shutout, while Edmonton's Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog emphatically did not.

The game capped off a five-game losing streak for Edmonton, one that also included a 9-2 loss to the Capitals. It was apparently a wakeup call: they immediately kicked off an eight-game winning streak. They went on to win that year's Stanley Cup, losing only four playoff games in the process and launching the sport's last great dynasty.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

NHL stock watch: November

By the time the final buzzer sounds on tonight’s games, we’ll officially be four full weeks into the regular season. That feels like a good time to stop and take stock of how things are going. With the key word being “stock”.

Yes, it’s time to have a look around the league and figure out whose stock is rising, and whose is on the decline. Why use a stock metaphor? Because it’s an easy gimmick for a column a useful way to take the temperature of everything from players to teams to bigger picture storylines. And we’ll open with a surging stock that only recently hit the market.

Stock rising: Youth

We’ll start with the obvious one. The arrival of the next generation of stars has been the opening month’s biggest story, and it’s not especially close.

From Auston Matthews' ridiculous opening night to Patrik Laine's goal-scoring pace to Connor McDavid's nightly highlight reel, the league is being dominated by teenagers to an extent we haven't seen in decades. Mix in "older" guys like Shayne Gostisbehere, Matt Murray and Jimmy Vesey and you've got quite the youth movement sweeping the league.

We've seen it before, but it's rare to see this much talent all appear to be hitting its stride at once. Maybe coaches were inspired by watching Team North America light up the World Cup, or maybe GMs have figured out that entry-level contracts deliver the best value in a cap league. Or maybe it's a fluke that will correct itself over the rest of the season. But for now, the kids are all right, and it's been all sorts of fun to watch.


Stock holding steady: The old guard

Normally, when you talk about a new wave of talent taking over a league, the next step is to mention the old guard that's being pushed out the door. But that's not really happening in the NHL, at least not yet.

Sidney Crosby is still dominating, tied for the league lead in goals despite missing the first two weeks with a concussion. Alex Ovechkin is right behind him, and Steven Stamkos and Patrick Kane show up high on the list of leading scorers. On the blue line, we've seen exceptional performances from familiar names like Shea Weber and Brent Burns.

Carey Price is the league's best goaltender yet again. And we've even had some nice rebound performances from veterans like Sergei Bobrovsky and Jimmy Howard.

None of those guys are "old" in the "long white beard rocking chair on the porch" Jaromir Jagr sense of the word (although some of those guys are playing well too). But they're all players who've dominated the stats pages and awards shows over the years, and they don't seem like they're ready to hand their spots over anytime soon. The league's young guns are as good as they've been in a long time, but if they want the spotlight to themselves, they're going to have to pry it out of the hands of some veterans who don't seem eager to give it up.


Stock falling: New starters

The 2015 off-season was the summer of goaltender deals, with plenty of movement on the market as teams sought out new starters. The results were mixed, but there were some notable success stories, with Cam Talbot playing well in Edmonton and Martin Jones taking the Sharks to the Stanley Cup Final (where he lost to another new starter, rookie Murray and the Penguins).

So far this season, teams looking for a repeat of those results haven't been rewarded.

Toronto's Frederik Andersen and Calgary's Brian Elliott both got off to slow starts, although Andersen has been better lately. Jake Allen finally took over undisputed starter's duties in St. Louis after Elliott left, but has had his ups and downs. John Gibson did the same for Andersen in Anaheim and has played well after a shaky start.

Meanwhile, the Jets decision to dump Ondrej Pavelec to the AHL in favour of Michael Hutchinson and Connor Hellebuyck, widely applauded at the time, hasn't worked out at all through the season's first month.

You could even make a case that the league's best new starter has been a guy that wasn't supposed to get the job at all, as Peter Budaj has been good in relief of an injured Jonathan Quick.

It can take time for a new goaltender to settle in, so we should expect at least a few of these guys to put together solid seasons. But for the most part, the league's best goalies have all been familiar faces manning the same crease we're used to seeing them in.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Monday, November 7, 2016

Weekend wrap: When Cup contenders get crushed

Opening faceoff: Double-digit debacle

The most memorable game of the weekend came on Friday, when the Blue Jackets embarrassed the Canadiens in a stunning 10-0 win. That’s a final score that doesn’t even seem possible; if you didn’t watch the game live and just saw the score scroll by on a screen somewhere, you probably assumed it was a typo.

But it was real, as much as Habs fans may wish that it was all a mistake. The Montreal Canadiens, who came into the game with a 9-0-1 record and having given up just 13 goals on the entire season, went into Columbus and lost by double digits. And as you might expect, the rest of the hockey world had some fun at their expense.

For our purposes, the question becomes whether that one terrible loss should be enough to bump Montreal out of their number one spot in the power rankings. The short answer is no, as you'll see below. And that's especially true when the loss didn't involve Carey Price. We already know that the Habs aren't the same team without their franchise goaltender – last season was one long case study on that particular topic – so we won't overreact to a game that didn't even involve him.

But our rankings are meant to be as much about the long-term as right now, meaning they could be read as a projection of which teams are most likely to win a Stanley Cup. If the Habs are still on top, it raises the question: Do Stanley Cup champions ever get crushed like Montreal did on Friday?

Yes they do, as it turns out, although it's rare. There have been 18 times in hockey history that a team lost a game by seven goals or more and still went on to win the Cup that season. Six of those predate the Original Six era (three involving the 1917-18 Toronto Arenas). It's happened just nine times since the start of the expansion era in 1967.

You have to go back over a decade to find the most recent example. The 2005-06 Hurricanes dropped a 9-0 loss to the Thrashers early in the season. The 1995-96 Avalanche lost 7-0 to the pre-rivalry Red Wings in March of that season, and the 1991-92 Penguins dropped an 8-0 decision to the Capitals just a few weeks into the schedule. And the mighty Islanders dynasty did it twice, losing 8-0 to the Blackhawks in 1979 and 11-4 to the Flames in 1981.

Even better news for the Habs: a 10-0 final wouldn't even be the biggest blowout ever suffered by an eventual champ. The worst losses by a Cup winner were a pair of 11-0 decisions, one by the 1963-64 Maple Leafs at the hands of the Bruins, and one by the 1983-84 Oilers at the hands of the Whalers. Amazingly, that Oilers loss came just one week after a 9-2 loss to the Capitals.

So relax, Montreal fans. You really can get skunked as badly as the Canadiens did on Friday and still recover to win it all. (Just as long as Price stays healthy.)

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they're headed towards Stanley Cup favourite status.

5. Washington Capitals (8-2-1, +10 true goals differential*) – The defending Presidents' Trophy champs have now won five straight, although all five of those have come against teams that have lost more than they've won.

4. Chicago Blackhawks (9-3-1, +14) – After a shaky start, they're sitting on top of the Western Conference standings. And maybe more importantly, they've made progress on the penalty kill, allowing just one power play goal in their past five games.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, November 4, 2016

Podcast: Shea Weber, Stars and Predators, and Canadian Panic

Vice Sports has launched a new NHL podcast called Biscuits, featuring Dave Lozo and I talking hockey.

In the debut episode, Dave and I discuss Shea Weber and the unbeatable Canadiens, the debate over which team is the NHL's second best, whether the Stars and Predators can recover, and What Canada is Panicking About Right Now.

(The show is now available on iTunes -- search "vice biscuit". Links for other platforms to come.)

Grab Bag: Please don't screw around when you vote on things

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- We're doing the all-star vote joke again, aren't we?
- The NHL's weird nine-game cutoff rule for junior players
- The week's three stars of comedy
- An important apology to all of my readers
- And a YouTube clip for American fans that's about the 2007 all-star game, and not anything else.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Thursday, November 3, 2016

When bad starts happen to good teams

We’ve flipped the calendar into the NHL season’s second month, and one of the biggest emerging stories can be found in the Central Division. Specifically, down near the bottom of the standings, where two teams that we all expected to be very good are struggling to find wins.

With three wins through nine games, the Nashville Predators are on pace for just 64 points on the season. The Dallas Stars‘ three wins and eight points have them in a little better shape, projecting out to 73 points. Those would be stunning totals for two teams that both played in the second round last year, and that came into this year as favourites in the Central.

But if you’re a Stars or Predators fan, you’re probably wondering just how troubling a bad start can be. After all, each team still has 73 games left to play, which seems like plenty of time to right the ship. Is this kind of start really as big a deal as it might seem?

One way to forecast the future can be to dig into the past. So today, let’s look through the salary cap era with a specific question: How often have good teams gotten off to starts this bad?

First, we'll need to define "good team." There are plenty of ways you could do that, but let's keep it relatively simple and say that a team is considered "good" if it's coming off a season where it had at least 95 points and/or won at least one playoff round. (We'll pro-rate the lockout shortened 2012-13 season.) The Stars and Predators hit both marks last year, so they certainly qualify.

As for bad starts, let's aim even lower than where the Predators and Stars have ended up. They've both got a disappointing three wins; let's look at the teams that were even worse, posting two wins or fewer through their first nine games.

So if that's what a good team with a bad start looks like, how many times have we seen it happen in the cap era? And more important, as far as the Stars and Predators are concerned, how much damage had those bad starts done by the end?

As it turns out, our criteria gives us nine teams to work with. Some will offer up a dose of hope for fans in Dallas and Nashville, while others serve as cautionary examples of where this all could be headed.

Let's start our list with one of two teams from last season to make an appearance.

2015-16 Calgary Flames

How good were they? They were coming off a 97-point season in which they'd advanced to the Pacific Division final by knocking off the Canucks. They'd also appeared to take a step forward during the off-season by adding Dougie Hamilton to a core that was already young and improving.

How bad was the start? Pretty bad. They were 2-7-0 through nine, and didn't earn their first regulation win until their 12th game of the season.

Did they turn it around? Not really. The Flames clawed back into the fringe of the playoff picture with a seven-game win streak in December, but by then it was too late. They traded wins and losses for another two months before a seven-game losing streak finished them off for good, ending the season at 35-40-7, the fifth-worst record in the league.

What was the turning point? There wasn't one, at least in any sort of positive sense. And the season's biggest flaw doesn't bode well for the Predators or Stars, two teams that have questions around their goaltending. The Flames went into the season figuring they could squeeze a decent year out of Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo. When that didn't happen, the Flames never recovered.


2012-13 Washington Capitals

How good were they? After three straight 100-plus point seasons, the Capitals had stumbled in '11-12, dropping to 92 points and seeing Bruce Boudreau sent packing after an unfortunate attempt to convert a high-flying roster into a trap team. Still, they'd managed to pull off a first-round upset of the Bruins, and took the Rangers to seven games in Round 2.

How bad was the start? Under new coach Adam Oates, the Caps dropped their first four and were 2-6-1 after nine.

Did they turn it around? For the most part. After hitting rock bottom at 2-8-1, they won three straight to start clawing back into the playoff race. Time wasn't on their side – remember, this was the lockout year – but they started rolling down the stretch, going 15-3-2 over their last 20 to win the Southeast and cruise into the playoffs with home ice advantage. (Then they blew a 2-0 series lead and lost to the Rangers. Hey, they were still the Capitals.)

What was the turning point? Nothing really stands out. They didn't fire anyone, and only made one major trade (which Caps fans would rather forget). Instead, they largely stayed the course and trusted the team they'd put together. In a way, this could be the best-case scenario for Predators and Stars fans, at least as long as you ignore the fact that the Caps missed the playoffs the next year.


>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Five teams that used way too many goalies

Last week, we looked at five goalies who played for way too many teams. This week, let's flip that premise on its head, with a look at five teams who used way too many goalies.

Typically, an NHL team heads into a season with two goalies and hopes that's all they'll need. Realistically, somebody's going to get hurt, or traded, or demoted, so you're probably going to end up using three, or maybe even four. But more than that? Not unless something's gone really wrong.

This year's Bruins could tell you a thing or two about that. In the season's first two weeks, injuries forced them to use four different starters in four games, which is exceedingly rare. But the good news for Boston is that they've got a long way to go to make NHL history. That's because the record for most goalies to see action in a season is seven, held by three teams. And 16 more teams have ended up using six.

We don't have room to dive into every one of those. But today, let's look back at five teams that needed way too many goaltenders just to get through a single season.


1989-90 Quebec Nordiques (Seven goalies)

In theory, the starter was: A young Ron Tugnutt was probably the best known name of the bunch. He appeared in 35 games, and led the team in wins with five. That's right, five. The 1989-90 Nordiques were one of the worst teams of all-time, winning just 12 games all season.

You may also recognize: Greg Millen arrived in a trade midway through the year, played in 18 games, and then was dealt away near the deadline. Somehow, those two trades ended up costing the Nordiques Jeff Brown and Michel Goulet. Did we mention this team was bad?

You probably also remember Stephane Fiset, who was actually the opening night starter as a 19-year-old but lasted just six games. And then there was Scott Gordon, who played ten games in what was one of just two NHL seasons, then returned to the league two decades later as coach of the Islanders.

Plus these guys you've never heard of: In addition to the four guys already mentioned, the Nordiques also used Sergei Mylnikov (who played ten games in his only NHL season), as well as Mario Brunetta (for six games) and 19-year-old John Tanner (for one). Those three combined to win two games.

For what it's worth, the Nordiques used five guys during the 1990-91 season, and never really had a solid starter until Ron Hextall briefly arrived in the Eric Lindros trade for the 1992-93 campaign.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Don't panic (yet)

Don’t panic.

It’s a phrase worth keeping in mind as you make your way through life. It’s calming, and helps keep things in perspective. Somebody should put it on the cover of a book someday.

And “don’t panic” is especially good advice when it comes to an NHL season that’s still just three weeks old. Every team in the league has over 70 games left to play, which is plenty of time to fix any flaws that may have emerged over the season’s first few matchups.

That said, we could all use a reminder every now and then. So today, let’s look at five situations around the league that have been a cause for concern, and why it might not be time to panic quite yet.

The team: Chicago Blackhawks

The panic: Their penalty killing is the worst.

Literally. It might be the worst we've ever seen. Through nine games, the Blackhawks are killing penalties at a rate of just 53 per cent. They'd been at just 50 per cent before Sunday night's performance against the Kings, the first game all season that the Hawks hadn't allowed a power-play goal. Granted, they only went 2-for-2, but hey, baby steps.

But wait: We'll start with the obvious, which is that there's simply no way the Blackhawks' penalty kill can continue to this bad. They've quite literally been historically bad, or at least as far back into history as our numbers can go. There's simply no way that a team that employs guys like Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa can be that bad over the long haul.

But while it's tempting to just say "small sample size" and move on, the Blackhawks struggled last year too, ranking 22nd in the league. That's a big drop from the strong PK that was a big part of their championship runs as recently as 2013 and 2015. Something is going on here, and a special teams unit doesn't have to be historically bad to derail a season.

So what's happening? That's a question that seems to have stumped most observers. There doesn't appear to have been any kind of strategic shift, nor have we seen any key penalty killers leave the team. A breakdown of some of the early goals against revealed that many were coming from right on the doorstep, but didn't reveal any obvious tactical issues.

One area that does stand out is the goaltending; Corey Crawford is posting a short-handed save percentage of just .683, compared to a career average of .861. That doesn't necessarily tell us a ton, since we know that a goalie's penalty-kill save percentage is heavily influenced by how the team plays in front of him. But a nearly 200-point drop is hard to ignore, and it suggests that there may be something to the whole sample size argument.

The other good news is that the Blackhawks have one of the league's best coach-GM combos, so you'd have to figure that they find a way to make whatever changes need to be made. In the meantime, Chicago has still managed to win five of nine. That's not great, but it's good enough to keep them in the Central Division picture. You'll probably take that when a big part of your game has been historically bad.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet