In the Friday grab bag:
- Does the NHL have a PED problem?
- A modest proposal for this whole "free puppy" trend
- A look at the life and times of Cam Newton
- This week's comedy stars
- And a Classic YouTube Breakdown of a long-ago time when the all-star game was actually fun
Friday, January 29, 2016
In the Friday grab bag:
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Hockey fans can't agree on much. We can't figure out how many points a game should be worth, or what size the rinks or the nets should be, or whether fighting still has a place in the game. We can't decide whether instant replay works or how long a suspension should be or whether a puck shot over the glass should be a penalty. You have your opinions, I have mine, and I'm right because you're an idiot. That's just how hockey fandom works.
But this is the time of year when we can set all of that aside. For just a few days each season, hockey fans around the world can all come together and complain about perhaps the only thing that we all agree on: The all-star game is terrible, an unwatchable mess that any true fan should be embarrassed by, and it's all the NHL's fault.
But all of us are wrong.
Oh, not about the game being terrible. Don't worry, that part's indisputable. It's the blame that's misplaced. I've been dumping on the league for its various failings for years, but this time they're off the hook. The all-star game is a disaster, sure, but for once, it's not the NHL's fault.
Monday, January 25, 2016
Faceoff: Lightning rods of controversy
If you were going purely by the off-ice headlines, you could be forgiven for assuming the Lightning were a franchise in disarray. These days, it seems as if the only weeks that don't bring a new crisis in Tampa are the ones that bring an escalation of an existing one instead.
Start with the ongoing Steven Stamkos saga, which continues to drag on with little evidence of progress beyond the occasional lowball offer. With Anze Kopitar's extension with the Kings now signed and sealed, the lack of a Stamkos deal stands out even more. Until something gets done, fans will be left wondering if the Lightning might be forced to trade their superstar captain—a scenario that already played out once before in Tampa, just two years earlier, with Martin St. Louis.
But the Stamkos situation has been overshadowed this month by the drama around Jonathan Drouin, the talented 20-year-old who's yet to really break through at the NHL level. It's probably fair to go ahead and describe Drouin as an ex-Lightning now, after he walked away from the team's AHL affiliate last week in an attempt to force a trade. What remains to be seen is where he ends up, and how long general manager Steve Yzerman decides to make him wait before it happens.
In the meantime, Drouin is getting at least lukewarm support from his former teammates, including Victor Hedman, the star defenceman who'll need a new contract and big raise of his own next year (and who's represented by the same agency, though not the same agent, that handles Drouin). Between St. Louis, Stamkos/Drouin and Hedman, we may be looking at the ghost of Lightning headaches past, present and future.
So sure, it's tough times for the Lightning—right up until they take the ice. The team has been on fire lately, winning seven straight heading into the weekend and moving to within three points of the lead in the Atlantic. After a slow start that dragged on through the season's first two months, the Lightning suddenly look like the team that went to the final last year, not to mention the team that plenty of us were picking as Stanley Cup favourites.
That win streak came to an end Saturday, when the Lightning dropped a 5-2 decision to the Panthers in an entertaining game that featured plenty of action at both ends. The loss leaves the Lightning tied with the Red Wings for second place in the Atlantic, five back of Florida for the division lead. Not bad for a team that was tenth in the conference less than three weeks ago and out of the playoffs entirely.
And as for the off-ice drama, it could still all work out in the team's favor. Yzerman insists that he'll be able to extract maximum value for Drouin even while his hand is largely being forced, and given how the St. Louis situation turned out, we tend to believe him. As for Stamkos, the Lightning's recent surge probably quiets some of the trade talk that would have otherwise built toward the deadline. After all, if the sniper really is set on hitting free agency, who'd be most willing to sacrifice the future to have him aboard for a stretch drive and playoff push? Only an elite team that had the talent to take a serious run at a Stanley Cup—and right now, that description sounds a lot like the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Race to the Cup
The five teams with the best shot at winning the Stanley Cup.
5. Florida Panthers (28-15-5, +19 true goals differential)—After losing four straight, they spent the weekend posting convincing wins over both the Hawks and Lightning to re-establish their top-tier credentials.
4. Dallas Stars (30-14-5, +28)—They dominated everywhere but the scoreboard in dropping a 3-1 decision to the Avalanche on Saturday. Still, they flip spots with the Kings for a very good reason.
3. Los Angeles Kings (30-15-3, +17)—Is that reason "So we could avoid having the exact same top five as last week?" Cannot confirm or deny.
Friday, January 22, 2016
In the Friday Grab Bag:
- The one thing the NHL will probably do to make this John Scott all-star situation even worse than it already is
- The problem with making the NHL rinks bigger isn't what you think it is
- An obscure player who was also a coach, fighter pilot, and the league's original holdout
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a YouTube breakdown that reminds us that the all-star game has always featured a weird mix of superstars and... other guys.
Monday, January 18, 2016
Faceoff: No winners in the John Scott debacle
For years, I've argued that the NHL All-Star Game had morphed into a miserable, embarrassing fiasco that couldn't possibly get any worse. I'll give the league credit where it's due: it went out this year and proved me wrong.
On Friday, the Coyotes traded John Scott to the Canadiens, who immediately assigned him to their AHL squad. Sunday, he took the warmup before being listed as a healthy scratch. None of that would be unusual, except that Scott also happens to have recently been elected captain of the Pacific Division All-Star team. So to summarize: as of today, the captain of the Pacific Division entry for the NHL All-Star Game is neither in the Pacific Division nor the NHL. He is also, presumably, no longer an All-Star, although we'll get to that in a minute.
You know the backstory by now. This whole mess started off with a round of online ballot-box stuffing orchestrated by fans as a joke, one targeted largely at the league but that also took aim at Scott himself. There was an unmistakably mean-spirited edge to the fun for many, and that's hung over the story like a bad smell despite predictable attempts to reimagine the whole thing as some sort of feel-good story. The fact that the league left itself wide open to this sort of abuse by offering up a ridiculous fan-voting system didn't help matters.
After some initial reluctance, Scott eventually decided that he would honor the results and embrace his all-star status. You or I may not have made the same choice, but that's hardly important. Whatever the circumstances, Scott was voted in, and he had a right to handle it however he chose. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the player and his family, not to mention a chance at the $90,000 prize money awarded to players on the winning team—no small amount for a player earning the league minimum of $575,000. While nobody likes to be the butt of a joke, Scott seemed to have decided to make the best of it.
If only the NHL had done the same. While the NHL publicly acknowledged the vote as legitimate, it's now clear the league and Coyotes were working behind the scenes to convince Scott to stay home. Scott refused, and that's led to speculation that the NHL may have twisted a few arms to make Friday's trade happen.
Let's be clear: if the NHL actually got involved in orchestrating a trade to protect the All-Star Game and/or punish Scott for refusing to step aside, then we've got a scandal on our hands. The league has no place—none at all—in getting involved with facilitating transactions between teams, and if it turns out that someone at the league office was greasing the skids to make a Scott trade happen, people should lose their jobs.
Friday, January 15, 2016
It's the return of the Friday Grab Bag, featuring:
- A big photo of Gary Bettman's new beard
- A spoiler for the Flames arena deal
- What the hell was Denis Potvin talking about with the Sedins and peanut butter?
- The week's three comedy stars
- My demand for an NHL Red Zone channel
- And the time Brett Hull scored his 500th goal. Then didn't. Then did again...
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
Two of the NHL's top superstars have hit major milestones in recent days, with both Jarome Iginla and Alexander Ovechkin joining exclusive clubs. Iginla scored the 600th goal of his career last week, and Ovechkin followed him with his 500th on Sunday night.
The two players have more than their milestone timing in common. After all, they're both physical wingers who score a ton, have plenty on international experience, and have earned legions of fans around the world.
But they're not identical. In fact, a closer look at their careers and accomplishments reveals some subtle differences between two of the NHL's best known stars.
Jarome Iginla: At the end of the 2008-09 regular season, was named the recipient of the Mark Messier Award for team leadership, on-ice performance and community activities.
Alexander Ovechkin: At the end of the 2010 Winter Olympics, was named the recipient of the Mark Messier Award for everyone agreeing to just pretend the whole Vancouver thing never happened.
Alexander Ovechkin: Infuriated Penguins fans in 2005 by instantly developing fierce rivalries with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Jarome Iginla: Infuriated Penguins fans in 2013 by agreeing to go along with the Bruins' whole "Operation Double Agent" ploy at the trade deadline.
Jarome Iginla: In a classy gesture, once led his entire team onto the ice to shake hands with Trevor Linden to congratulate him on the occasion of the final game of the longtime Canucks' career.
Alexander Ovechkin: In a classy gesture, once led his entire team onto the ice to shake hands with Alexander Semin to congratulate him on the occasion of that one time he kind of vaguely tried to backcheck.
Monday, January 11, 2016
Faceoff: The trade market finally reopens
From opening night of the 2015-16 season through Dec. 14, hockey fans saw exactly one trade involving zero actual NHL players. It was the longest dry spell in memory, and continued a trend that had been building through the years: the art of the deal was dying. The usual suspects were trotted out—the salary cap, league-wide parity, no-trade clauses—but the situation seemed clear. NHL general managers had simply lost the ability and/or desire to make mid-season trades, at least during the long months leading up to the deadline.
A few minor deals to close out December offered some hope, but with apologies to Ben Scrivens, none involved what you'd call big names. But then, last week, the dam broke. The Flyers and Kings kicked things off with a deal that sent Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn to Los Angeles, a move that was primarily a salary dump, granted, but the inclusion of a name as big as Lecavalier in any deal is still enough to raise eyebrows. The week closed with Friday's deal that saw the Rangers send Emerson Etem to Vancouver for a pick and a prospect.
And in between, of course, came the blockbuster, with the Predators and Blue Jackets going gloriously old school with a one-for-one deal that sent Ryan Johansen to Nashville and Seth Jones to Columbus. It was a jaw-dropping move, one that had been suggested for weeks but always seemed too big to ever actually be more than wishful thinking. Both players are young, both are former fourth overall picks, and both have the sort of ceilings that could see them occupying all-star rosters for years to come. And both would have been considered untouchable by most teams in the league, the kind of guys that GMs endlessly assure us they'd never even think about dealing.
Apparently, David Poile and Jarmo Kekäläinen missed that memo, as both saw an opportunity to improve their roster and actually took it. The Blue Jackets have been looking for a stud defenceman for years, and Johansen's apparent stint in the doghouse of new coach John Tortorella nudged him into play. The Predators haven't had a top-tier centre in his prime since... well, ever, and their excellent young blueline was one of the few that could withstand moving someone like Jones. The deal made perfect sense for both sides, which made it no less amazing that both GMs had the guts to pull the trigger.
So what now? You'd have to think that GMs around the league (and especially in the West) will see teams like the Kings and Predators improving and feel some pressure to get to work. And with that whole "You just can't make a big mid-season trade in the salary-cap era" doctrine looking a little less like a reality and a little more like an excuse, there should be more than a few cell phones ringing around the league right now. After all, Jonathan Drouin is still out there, Kevin Shattenkirk appears to have joined the rumor mill, and Travis Hamonic remains in play. And if you want to get really crazy, a resolution to the Steven Stamkos situation still looms in the distance.
There are good fits to be found, and despite what we're constantly told, there's more than enough cap space floating around to make them a reality. History tells us that a league full of timid, risk-adverse GMs will find a way to talk themselves out of actually doing anything. But after all the action of the last few days, that kind of conservative thinking is going to be a tougher sell to anxious fans.
Are the surging Panthers for real? —Photo by Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Race to the Cup
The five teams that appear to have the best shot at winning the Stanley Cup.
5. Florida Panthers (26-12-4, +23 goals differential*)—With yet another win Sunday to extend their winning streak to 12 games, should the Panthers be higher? They probably need to be higher. I don't know what to tell you, I'm just not sold yet. Let's circle back on this next week.
4. Los Angeles Kings (26-12-3, +18)—They could just go ahead and hang the "Pacific Division Champion" banner right now and nobody would mind, right? OK, just checking.
Thursday, January 7, 2016
On Wednesday, the Blue Jackets traded Ryan Johansen to the Predators for Seth Jones. The move was remarkable in a few different ways. For one, it was a trade – apparently, we still have those – and a blockbuster at that. It was also a good old-fashioned hockey deal, one inspired not by the salary cap or a trade demand or a tanking team's desire to bottom out, but two GMs simply getting together and betting that they could make their teams better by swapping assets.
But there was another unusual element of the move: It was a one-for-one trade. And it turns out that those are fairly rare creatures in the NHL.
I know this, because I thought "Hey, I should write a post about some of the great one-for-one deals in NHL history", and then found out that there weren't anywhere near as many as I remembered. It turns out that lots of trades that you may recall as one-for-one actually had some spare change thrown in on one or both sides. Savard for Chelios? Nope, that one included a draft pick. Nieuwendyk for Iginla? Don't forget Corey Millen. Heatley for Hossa? Greg de Vries. Turgeon for LaFontaine? Yeah, that one actually had like 14 pieces to it. Come to think of it, I may be the only one who thought that was a one-for-one. My bad.
But the point remains: True one-for-one deals don't happen often, which is all the more reason to love Johansen-for-Jones. But there have been a few, and I came up with ten of the most memorable. Please note that this isn't meant to be a definitive list, since due to recent events my research department currently consists of a magic eight ball I made myself by dropping a 20-sided die into an empty whiskey bottle. If I missed your favorite, please know that I did my best to… wait, you already skipped the intro, scanned the list, and went to Twitter to call me an idiot, didn’t you? Cool, cool.
For the rest of you, here are ten of the more interesting one-for-one trades from NHL history.
July 27, 1995 – Hartford trades Chris Pronger to St. Louis for Brendan Shanahan
This is probably the biggest one-for-one trade in NHL history, not to mention the best comparison for Johansen-for-Jones. It's also the one that might keep David Poile awake at night for the next few year, because it's the classic example of why you never want to give up on a young stud defenseman too early, no matter how rich the return.
That's not to say the deal was a bust for the Whalers. Just like the Predators, they got a first-line forward in his prime, and this one went on to become a Hall-of-Famer. But while Shanahan was very good, Pronger developed into an absolute beast, and remains the only defenseman to win the MVP since Bobby Orr. That's probably a little too high to set our targets for Jones, but it's a vivid illustration of the worst case scenario when you move a blueliner before you really know what you have.
(And no, the fact that Shanahan lasted just one full season in Hartford before demanding a trade probably doesn't help. And the whole franchise relocation thing that followed. Listen, Predators fans, let's just forget I ever mentioned any of this.)
June 23, 2012 – Toronto trades Luke Schenn to Philadelphia for James van Riemsdyk
This may have been the last true one-for-one NHL blockbuster before this week, although it doesn't look anywhere near as big as it once did. In 2012, Schenn was still considered a solid enough young defenseman with upside, and not the borderline depth guy he looks like today. In the years since, this deal looked like an absolute steal for Toronto as van Riemsdyk developed into a solid scorer. He seems to have settled into a 25-30 goal guy, which won't get him on many all-star teams, but isn't bad.
But still – Toronto won a trade! I don't get to write those words very often. I'm in a good mood now, let's see what's next on our list.
June 24, 2006 – Toronto trades Tuukka Rask to Boston for Andrew Raycroft
You know what? No. I'm still not ready to talk about this one. Let's just move on to some other team's terrible trade to make me feel better.
Sunday, January 3, 2016
What is the hockey world pretending to be outraged about now?
Nothing makes hockey folks happier than being outraged about something relatively unimportant. We’ll pick one topic fans are complaining about this week and try to figure out if it’s justified.
The issue: After a campaign by fans, John Scott was elected Pacific Division captain for this year’s all-star game.
The outrage: Let’s all make a big show about rolling our eyes over anyone who suggests this isn’t utterly hilarious. After all, the all-star game has no integrity to begin with, and anyone who doesn’t want to see Scott play is just a cranky old fusspot who hates fun and loves hot takes.
Is it justified: Partially. True, the all-star game is a joke, and has been for years. The players don’t try, the game doesn’t look anything like real hockey, the scores are ridiculous and nobody cares. It’s quite possible that nobody has beat that drum more often than I have over the years, so sure, no argument there.
And so it should follow that if you’re going to open fan voting to anyone, the fans should be able to pick whoever they want. Stuff the ballot box for the home team, give the sentimental favorite one last trip, pick the guy with the funniest twitter campaign, you name it. It’s all in good fun, so fill your boots.