Monday, February 29, 2016

Trade deadline winners and losers

After months of speculation, weeks of rumours, and hours of… well, not all that much, really, the NHL trade deadline has passed.

By law, that means everyone must now immediately declare winners and losers.

Usually, we slap those labels on the teams themselves. But with so few of them actually wading into the action, we may need to dive a little deeper. So here are a dozen other winners and losers in the immediate aftermath of what turned out to be a remarkably quite deadline.

Winner: The Blackhawks’ GM tree

We sometimes hear about coaching trees in various sports – the group of coaches who can trace their career paths back to a common start with a specific team or staff. The coaches take a back seat on deadline day, but the GMs are front and centre, and it was hard to ignore how many of them had connections to one team.

Chicago’s Stan Bowman was deadline week’s biggest player, landing one of the biggest names available when he pried Andrew Ladd out of Winnipeg. The GM on the other side of that deal: Winnipeg’s Kevin Cheveldayoff, who’d been Bowman’s assistant for the Blackhawks’ first Cup win. Bowman then turned to another former assistant, this time Marc Bergevin in Montreal, to pick up Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann.

Meanwhile, the only GM giving Bowman a run for his money on the buyer’s market was Dale Tallon of the Florida Panthers. Tallon, of course, built much of the Hawks’ Cup-winning core before making way for Bowman in 2009, and he spent the past few days trying to put together another contender in Florida.

We don’t know exactly what’s in the Blackhawks’ orientation handbook for new front office employees, but it’s safe to assume that “play it safe” doesn’t show up anywhere.

Loser: Jonathan Drouin… and maybe Steve Yzerman too?

Drouin’s the easy call here. He walked away from the Lightning organization in the hopes of forcing a trade, and he didn’t get one. Now he’ll have to wait for the off-season, and unless he comes back, it will cost him a year of free agent eligibility. He can’t be happy right now.

Yzerman and the Lightning may also end up looking back on the day as a missed opportunity. This is a team with a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup – maybe their last shot of the Steven Stamkos era. They didn’t ask Drouin to walk away, but once he did, it gave them a trade chip that you’d think could bring in some serious reinforcements. Instead, nothing.

Was that a mistake? We can’t say without knowing what was on the table. Maybe the Lightning win it all anyway. And maybe they get a much better haul in June than was available in February. But Yzerman, who managed to take a tough situation with Martin St. Louis and turn it into a great deal, couldn’t make it happen here. He may regret it.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet.ca





Weekend report: Trade deadline preview

Faceoff: Deadline day arrives

Welcome to the only Monday morning anyone will be happy to see all year.

At least, I hope it's Monday morning. Things move fast on trade deadline day, and if you're only reading this in the early afternoon then half of what you're about to see will be obsolete. If it's Monday evening, forget it. (But feel free to read on, then tell me how wrong I was about everything.)

After an unusually quiet run up to deadline week, we finally saw some action over the weekend. Stan Bowman got his shopping done early, landing Jets captain Andrew Ladd in a major deal on Thursday and then stocking his roster with reinforcements by adding Dale Weise, Tomas Fleischmann and Christian Ehrhoff.

The Ladd deal was pricey, coming at the cost of a first-round pick and a top prospect, but the Hawks are clearly in win-now mode and it's a testament to Bowman's cap management skills that he had room to add as much as he did without being forced to pay someone to take Bryan Bickell's deal off his hands. (Of course, if he did find a taker for Bickell's deal today, he could add even more, which has to be a scary thought for the teams below.)

Other deals soon followed. The Panthers were a mild surprise as the next team to load up, making three deals on Saturday to bring in Jiri Hudler, Terry Purcell and Jakub Kindl. The Penguins rolled the dice on Justin Schultz, who'd never lived up to expectations in Edmonton but could give Pittsburgh's powerplay a nice boost. The Blues added some goaltending depth by sending a pick and a prospect to the Oilers for Anders Nilsson, and the Sharks did the same by landing James Reimer.

The Blackhawks have already done some major lifting, highlighted by the Ladd deal. —Photo Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

That set the stage for Sunday's big deal, which saw the Hurricanes send captain Eric Staal to the Rangers for two second-round picks and prospect Aleksi Saarela. It's yet another big midseason move for the Rangers, who've made a habit of making these sorts of deals over the years. This one came relatively cheap—they didn't give up a first-round pick, and Saarela is a good prospect but far from a sure thing—and the Hurricanes retained half of Staal's salary to make the dollars work.

So are any names left on the market? Not as many as you'd like if you're a TV producer putting together a full day's worth of coverage, but deadline day is always busy. Several teams still haven't made moves, or at least not the kind of moves they'd like to, and there are always a few unexpected names that shake loose in the final hours. One way or another, today should be busy.

To mark the occasion, we'll dispense with the usual power rankings this week. Why bother, really, given that both the league's best and worst teams figure to look a lot different by the end of the day. Instead, let's borrow the format to take a look at the remaining buyers and sellers under the most pressure as the clock ticks down.

The buyers

The five contenders with the most work to do today.

Now that Bowman and the Hawks have set the goalposts, the league's other top contenders have some work to do to catch up—or to explain to frustrated fan bases why they chose not to.

5. Washington Capitals

On the one hand, they're already an excellent team—one that would go into the playoffs as the Eastern Conference's prohibitive favourite even if they didn't add anyone at all. On the other, the entire season has been played under a cloud of "Yeah, but..." as fans wait to see whether this is all just a setup for yet another chapter of playoff heartbreak. This is quite possibly the best team in franchise history, and that makes the question of how big a move to make a tricky one.

So what do you do if you're Brian MacLellan? Adding Mike Weber last week was a depth move, but he doesn't qualify as a major piece and the loss of John Carlsson to the IR and last night's Brooks Laich trade creates enough cap room to add something. The Caps were heavily rumoured to be in on Ladd, which suggests that one of the other top wingers could be a fallback.

The team is good enough that MacLellan could probably get away with standing pat, using the old "Don't want to disrupt the room" standby. You'd figure that Caps fans, antsy as they are, would accept that today. But check with them in June—or earlier—and they may have a different view.

4. Los Angeles Kings

They've added Rob Scuderi, but you'd figure they're not done yet. No GM has had more deadline success than Dean Lombardi, who has twice pulled off major trades that helped pave the way to Stanley Cup wins. Last year's Andrej Sekera deal didn't work out so well, and Lombardi doesn't have a first rounder or much cap space to work with. They already picked up Kris Versteeg, but the Kings may feel pressure to do something more, especially if we see reinforcements headed to our next team...

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports





Friday, February 26, 2016

Grab bag: Trade rumors, CATLAGs, and Patrick Roy vs. the Wings

In this week's Friday grab bag:
- Your favorite team might trade a guy, but will they get something in return?
- Introducing the CATLAG player, the deadline's most inescapable storyline
- An obscure player gets traded for Wayne Gretzky
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a look back at a classic highlight of the greatest rivalry of all-time

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports





Thursday, February 25, 2016

The 20 stages of finding out your team has made a trade

With Monday afternoon’s trade deadline looming, hockey fans are expecting a whirlwind of deals over the next few days. The moves will range from minor to major, and if we’re lucky we’ll even get a few old-fashioned blockbusters thrown into the mix. And we’ll devour them all, because NHL trades are always fun.

That’s especially true when the trade involves your favourite team. So now, during what’s left of the calm before the storm, it’s a good time to prepare yourself for your team’s pending moves. Every trade is different, but all fans go through a specific set of stages when they find out their team has struck a deal. You’ve been there before, and the chances are good that very soon, you’ll be there again.

Here are the 20 stages of finding out that your favourite team has made a trade. If and when they get involved in the action, feel free to check them off as you go.

Stage 1: Hearing that your team may have made a deal

The first stage usually starts with a tweet or an on-air comment from an insider that they're "hearing something might be up.”

Once you see your favourite team mentioned, it's time to go into shutdown mode. All work at the office grinds to a halt. Commuters pull over to the side of the road. It's perfectly acceptable to stand up in the middle of class and yell "SILENCE" at your teacher or professor. All the normal rules of etiquette and social order are suspended until the deal is announced.

Stage 2: Rampant speculation about what the trade might be

This is the fun part. In the brief period between hearing about a deal and knowing the full details, your imagination can run wild. Maybe it's a mega-blockbuster. Maybe it's the kind of move that puts the franchise on the road to a championship. Maybe all the guys you can't stand are being shipped out, and all your favourite players are on the way in. For a precious few moments, the possibilities are endless.

The point is, this is a time for wild conjecture and baseless speculation. Enjoy it. Revel in it. There's no need to pump the brakes.

Stage 3: Wondering if Connor McDavid will wear a different number on his new team

OK, maybe pump the brakes a little bit.

Stage 4: Finding out the details of the actual trade

It's never quite as big a deal as you hoped it would be. But still, a trade is a trade. Time to get to started on working through all the ramifications.

Stage 5: Immediately talking yourself into the biggest name your team just acquired

Instinct kicks in, and as a fan, your instinct is to believe. So yes, this is exactly the sort of player your team has needed. You only get so many opportunities to improve in this league, and you have to grab them when they come along. Besides, the change of scenery will probably give the new player a boost. Not like he needed one.

This is a great trade. You like this guy. You've always liked this guy.

Stage 6: Casually deleting years of tweets, blog comments and forum posts where you made fun of the new guy

No, really, when you said he was "an overpaid boat anchor who'll inevitably drag down any team dumb enough to employ him," you meant that in the good way.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The five best trade deadlines by eventual Stanley Cup winners

Only one team ever truly “wins” trade deadline day, and it’s the team that goes on to capture the Stanley Cup.

That’s what they say, anyway. It seems like a pretty simplistic way of looking at things, if we’re being honest, since all a GM can ever be realistically asked to do is to put his team in the best possible position to win. Nothing is ever guaranteed in life, and the idea that you’re retroactively wrong to have even tried unless everything works out perfectly seems a little fatalistic.

But either way, there is something special to be said for the GM who swings for the fences at the deadline and then sees it all pay off in a Stanley Cup parade a few months later. So today, let’s give the spotlight over to the few who’ve managed to pull it off. Here are the five best trade deadline week hauls by teams that went on to win the Stanley Cup that same season.

#5: Detroit Red Wings, 1997

The Red Wings have a fascinating trade deadline history. They’ve been good for so long that no team has had more opportunity to load up for deep playoff runs. And since GM Ken Holland virtually never makes deals during the first four months of the season, that leaves the Wings with lots of work to do most years at the deadline.

And they’ve had some big ones, although with mixed results. They landed Matthieu Schneider in 2003 and Robert Lang in 2004, plus Todd Bertuzzi in 2007 and Brad Stuart in 2008. In more recent years they’ve gone after guys like Kyle Quincey, David Legwand, Eric Cole and Marek Zidlicky. And they had one of the greatest “load up and go for it” deadlines of all-time back in 1999, when they pulled off the Chris Chelios blockbuster while also adding a who’s who of grizzled veterans, including Bill Ranford, Ulf Samuelsson and Wendel Clark. But that team didn’t win it all.

Instead, we’ll point back to far simpler deadline. Back in 1997, the Wings (then under the guidance of co-GMs Jimmy Devellano and Scotty Bowman) acquired future Hall of Famer Larry Murphy from the Maple Leafs. That’s it. That was the whole trade. The Leafs were embarking on a youth movement and wanted to unload the 36-year-old Murphy’s hefty salary, so they didn’t bother to ask for anything in return.

They say you can’t get something for nothing, but the Wings proved that wrong. In this case, that “something” turned out to be five more seasons of solid play from Murphy, including back-to-back Stanley Cup runs. It’s hard to do much better than that.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News




Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Five high-risk high-reward trade deadline options

Every trade made by an NHL GM involves an element of risk.

Maybe you get caught up in a bidding war and end up paying more than you wanted to. Maybe the guy you acquire blows out his knee on his first shift. Maybe that fifth-round draft pick you throw in ends up being used on a future all-star, and your fans never let you hear the end of it.

But some deals are riskier than others. And as we approach this year’s deadline, GMs looking to minimize that uncertainty will have plenty of options. Guys like Loui Eriksson or Jiri Hudler won’t come cheap, but if you land one them at least you’re going to feel pretty confident that you know what you’re getting.

That makes it easier to gauge just how much risk you’re taking on, and narrows the gap between your realistic best and worst case scenarios. Nobody’s ever a sure thing in this league, but certain players feel like safer bets than others.

On the other hand, some of the players who could be on the move over the next few days fall solidly into what you could call the high-risk, high-reward category. They’re the sort of players who could turn out to be steals, the kind of acquisitions that shift the balance of power. They could also end up being overpriced busts who get their new GMs fired.

Are you feeling lucky?

Here are five names from this year’s rumour mill who could represent big risks – and big opportunities – as we head towards the deadline.

Eric Staal

Best case: Based on name value, Staal may be the biggest star available at this year’s deadline. He’s a four-time all-star who’s had a 100-point season and once topped 70 points for seven straight years. Nobody else rumoured to be on the block has that sort of resume. And at 31 years old, he’s not so far removed from his best years that it’s not hard to imagine him finding that magic again, at least for a few months.

It’s no sure thing that the Hurricanes will move him, since they’re still hanging around the Eastern Conference playoff picture, and he also has a no-trade clause. But if he was made available, teams will be interested. It’s hard to resist the idea of a change of scenery and a chance at another Stanley Cup, reinvigorating a guy who’s looked like a potential Hall-of-Famer for long stretches of his career.

If you’re a contender looking to give your Top 6 some marquee value, Staal is the swing-for-the-fences play.

Worst case: The resume is impressive, sure, but there’s a whole lot of past tense in there. Staal isn’t having an especially impressive season, recording just nine goals and 31 points. And those numbers are probably flattering. Since Jan. 1, he’s managed just a single goal to go with six assists. That’s not much to get excited about, especially when it comes with an $8.25 million cap hit and (presumably) a high price to pry him out of Carolina.

Elite talent wins championships, and Staal has been one over the course of his career. But he hasn’t looked like it recently, and it’s not hard to imagine some team looking back and regretting how they overpaid to get a big name instead of big numbers.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Monday, February 22, 2016

Weekend report: It's quiet. Too quiet.

With the trade deadline now just one week away, we finally got some movement Sunday, with the Maple Leafs sending forward Shawn Matthias to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for minor leaguer Colin Smith and a fourth-round pick. It wasn't much of a deal, but it was newsworthy if only for being a rarity—it was just the second trade consummated in the last month.

That's unusual. Sure, the days leading up to the deadline are where most of the action is. But in recent years, the month before the week before the deadline has been a busy period, as GMs work to beat the crowds by getting some of their shopping out of the way ahead of the rush. Last year, there were seven trades between Jan. 23–Feb. 23, including the Evander Kane blockbuster. Before the 2014 deadline, we got eight deals between Jan. 26–Feb. 26. In 2013, which had an unusually late deadline due to the lockout, we had a dozen trades between Feb. 27–March 27.

You get the picture. So what's going on this year? The trade market got off to its slowest start in history, with only one trade (involving zero NHL players) over the season's first six weeks. But a mid-December deal between the Hawks and Stars seemed to get the dominos falling, with ten trades in the month after the holiday trade freeze lifted, including some big ones. But since then, with the exception of the surprising Dion Phaneuf deal and Sunday's minor move, there has been nothing.

The simplest explanation is that this year's market isn't a very good one. Parity means that there just aren't enough sellers, and the teams that are selling don't have many good players to offer. If that theory holds true, we may be in for a slow week, one where we'd still see a fair amount of minor deals but none of the fireworks fans are hoping for.

The Leafs have been busy. It's time for the rest of the league to catch up. —Photo by Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, there's always the optimistic option: That the lack of action over the last month just points toward an even busier than usual deadline week. There's not a single team in the league that should be done yet, so maybe we're in for a wild few days leading up to a deadline day that will (for once) actually live up to the hype.

In either case, we're in for a busy week, even if that ends up consisting of more rumours than reality. The Maple Leafs were back at it Monday morning, sending Roman Polak to the Sharks for a pair of second rounders. If this keeps up, maybe someday soon we'll even get our first non-Leaf trade since January.

This is the time of year where NHL GMs are expected to do some of their best work. And this year, if nothing else, they're well-rested.

Race to the Cup

The five teams with the best shot at winning the Stanley Cup.

5. Anaheim Ducks (31-19-8, +6 true goals differential)Oh hey, look who finally decided to show up. More on the Ducks' resurgence down below.

4. St. Louis Blues (35-17-9, +10)—With five straight wins, they've moved within two points of the Central lead. Losing Alex Steen for up to a month will hurt, though.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports




Friday, February 19, 2016

Grab bag: When North Stars fade away

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- How the Dennis Wideman case might be screwing things up for every future suspension
- Don Maloney kind of sort of admits to tanking
- An obscure player who reminds us to be careful at the trade deadline
- A country music star makes the comedy stars
- And a YouTube breakdown of the North Stars saying goodbye to Minnesota, in just about the saddest way possible

>> Read the full post at Vice.com




Thursday, February 18, 2016

Retroactively re-awarding the NHL GM of the Year award

Let’s just come right out and say it: The General Manager of the Year is a weird award.

Oh, it’s a nice idea. If players and coaches can be honoured for a good season, then GMs should too. But the award, first introduced in 2010, has never really seemed to work. A GM’s job involves building a roster over multiple seasons, often through moves that don’t pay off until years down the line. Even if you wanted to honour the guy who had the best single season, you wouldn’t be able to know who that was without the benefit of hindsight.

Luckily, we have that hindsight available to us now. So today, let’s go back over the history of the GM of the Year trophy, and retroactively re-award it to the guy who actually deserved it.

First, a few ground rules. We’re looking at everything a GM is responsible for, including the draft, free agency and trades. We don’t care about anything that came before the season; you don’t get GM of the Year credit because a prospect you drafted three years ago had a great rookie year, or a guy you traded for the previous season had a breakthrough. We also don’t care about mistakes made in the future, so if you built yourself a nice little sand castle one year, you don’t lose points for kicking it over the next.

The standings matter, although not all that much because they'll heavily reflect work that had been done in previous years. And the playoffs matter more, because it's completely insane to create an award for the guys trying to build championship rosters and then vote on it before the post-season is even over. Which is what the league does, by the way.

Finally, we're going to define the "season" as everything that happens in between Stanley Cup presentations. So from the moment the last chorus of boos reign down on Gary Bettman, NHL GMs are competing for next year's award.

We've got six seasons to work with. Let's go back and get it right.

2009-10

The actual winner was: Don Maloney of the Coyotes. (For the award's first few years, no other finalists were announced.)

But in hindsight: Maloney didn't really do much during the season beyond landing Radim Vrbata in a trade. The Coyotes did make the playoffs for the first time in seven years, but wouldn't actually win a round until their deep run in 2012.

So on paper, this was an odd pick. But really, this was less about what Maloney did with the roster and more about everything he'd put up with over the years in Arizona. The team had just gone through a bankruptcy and was constantly rumoured to be on the verge of moving, so Maloney was managing with one hand tied behind his back. His colleagues apparently wanted to recognize that, which is probably as good a reason as any to hand out this kind of award.

It could have gone to: One of the strongest performances came from Greg Sherman of the Avalanche, and yes, I'm as surprised as you are. But the Avs had the league's best draft, hitting hard on Matt Duchene third overall and Ryan O'Reilly at No. 33. Sherman also signed Craig Anderson as a reasonably cheap free agent, then saw him win the starter's job while helping the team to a 26-point improvement in the standings.

There's also a strong case for Paul Holmgrem, who got a Flyers team just three years removed from finishing dead last all the way to the Final, largely on the strength of an aggressive off-season trade for Chris Pronger. And Peter Chiarelli took a potentially disastrous Phil Kessel situation and turned it into a big win.

You could also make an argument for the Blackhawks, who won the Stanley Cup after landing the best UFA signing of the '09 off-season in Marian Hossa. But that gets tricky, because this was the year that Dale Tallon was demoted in mid-July after mishandling the Hawks' offer sheets, making way for Stan Bowman to assume the role.

Tallon deserves most of the credit for building those 2010 champs, but even in our alternate universe, giving the trophy to a guy who'd already been relieved of his duties seems like a stretch.

But the winner should have been: Glen Sather. The Rangers missed the playoffs for the first time in six years, but in hindsight Sather was laying the groundwork for the team that would emerge as one of the league's best just a few seasons later. He hit on his first round pick, landing Chris Kreider at 19th overall in a first round that thinned out quickly after the first few picks. And he made a big splash in free agency by signing Marian Gaborik, who'd score 40 goals twice over the next three seasons and represent one of the few big-money free agent signings of recent years that actually worked out.

But Sather's best move remains one of his most infamous – the June, 2009 trade that sent Scott Gomez to Montreal for a package that included a young Ryan McDonagh. Given Gomez's ridiculous contract, the deal seemed like a miracle for the Rangers at the time, and it only looks better in hindsight.

McDonagh may be the most valuable current Ranger apart from Henrik Lundqvist, and Sather landed him in a deal where he should've been giving the Habs young players just to take on dead money. That alone is enough to earn him some hardware.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet.ca




Wednesday, February 17, 2016

In praise of the noble throw-in

With the trade deadline less than two weeks away and the rumor mill churning at full speed, hockey fans are dreaming of all the potential blockbusters that could be on the way.

Chances are, we won’t get any. The true blockbuster trade is a dying art in the NHL, as the salary cap, no-trade clauses and league-wide parity have rendered them all but obsolete. Instead, fans are left to look back fondly on past eras, when it wasn’t uncommon to see a future Hall of Famer or two swap teams in a jaw-dropping deal.

But while the superstars get all the attention, there’s another important piece that shows up in most major blockbusters, even if it usually passes by without much notice. It’s the throw-in – that depth player or backup goaltender who gets tossed into the deal to balance it out. He’s the guy who makes the trade work, the handful of spare change that evens out the ledger. And you may even get a glimpse of him, quietly cleaning out his locker in the background as the media crowds around the bigger names.

Most blockbusters have a throw-in or two. And if you look over the list of the NHL’s biggest trades, some of those names start to get familiar. That’s because a handful of players had an odd knack for repeatedly showing up in some of history’s biggest deals.

So today, let’s pay tribute to the noble throw-in. None of these five guys were Hall of Famers or even all-stars, but at least they can say they shared the transactions page with a few.

Craig Berube

These days, Berube is best known for his recent stint as head coach of the Flyers. During his playing days, he was one the game’s most feared enforcers, racking up 3,149 penalty minutes over a 17-year career that saw him go toe-to-toe with everyone from Bob Probert to Tie Domi to the occasional unfortunate goaltender.

And when it came time to pull off a blockbuster trade in the early 90s, Berube was apparently an indispensable piece of getting the deal done. Over one amazing seven-month stretch, Berube was involved in three separate trades that saw a total of four future Hall-of-Famers change teams.

At the end of the 1990-91 season, Berube had spent his entire five-year career with the Flyers. That ended with a six-player trade that saw Berube, Scott Melanby and Craig Fisher sent to the Oilers for Jari Kurri, Dave Brown and Corey Foster. The trade was a big one for the Oilers, signaling that the breakup of the dynasty that had won five Cups in seven years was well and truly underway.

That demolition continued in September, and Berube got to be part of it again. Before he’d even played a game for the Oilers, Berube was on his way to Toronto alongside Grant Fuhr and Glenn Anderson in exchange for Vince Damphousse, Peter Ing, Luke Richardson and Scott Thornton. This time, at least, Berube got to settle in and play a few games for his new team. But by January he was on the move again, this time as part of the record-breaking ten-player deal that sent Doug Gilmour to the Maple Leafs in exchange for… well, not all that much.

Berube would go on to be traded three more times in his career, but none of those deals ended up being quite as memorable; each was for cash or a late-round pick. But as far as modern day NHL records go, Berube’s mark of being involved in three blockbusters featuring a total of 22 players in seven months is probably more unbreakable than Gretzky’s 2,857 points.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News





Monday, February 15, 2016

Weekend report: Time to get real

Two weeks. That's all we've got left.

Two weeks from today, the NHL trade deadline arrives. For fans, the day and everything that builds up to it serve as one of the highlights of the hockey calendar, a perfect medley of intrigue and speculation that culminates in a day-long finale. We call in sick, camp out in front of the TV, and watch the deals roll in. It's fun.

But for general managers around the league, the trade deadline isn't about entertainment. It's about reality. It's about cutting the crap, taking a good hard look at a season that's roughly three-quarters done, and figuring out what exactly this particular iteration of your roster is going to be when it grows up.

In short: Are you in or out? Or, in some cases: Are you out, but close enough that you can pretend that you're in?

Around the league, 23 teams wake up today either holding down a playoff spot or sitting within a half-dozen points of one. Only four teams are trailing by double digits. Heck, last year's Senators roared back from a 14-point deficit in mid-February to make the playoffs; only the Maple Leafs are outside that range today. Everyone else is still in this thing.

That's all a big lie, of course. Almost all of those bubble teams on the outside looking in today won't make it, and many won't even come close. In most cases, they won't deserve to—these are teams that lose far more often than they win and give up far more goals than they score. They're bad teams having bad seasons, and they should be throwing in the towel and looking toward the future.

But most won't. We're still in it, they'll insist. We can pull this off. A lot of that is wishful thinking. Some of it is cynical marketing. A good chunk is just simple self-preservation—if you're a GM in a league where parity reigns and you get points for losing, admitting that the team you've built is dead in the water before you've even hit the 60-game mark is a great way to put a target on your own back. Sure, it may be better in the long run to move a veteran for a pick or prospect that will help three years down the line, but that's easier said than done if you expect to be unemployed by then.

Factor in the potential for impatient fans, a demanding local media, and an owner who may have set your budget based on at least a few games of postseason revenue, and the stakes are high. So if you're a GM with two weeks left to figure out where you stand, what do you do?

One bubble team has already made its decision. The Ottawa Senators pushed their chips in last week, acquiring Dion Phaneuf from the Maple Leafs in a surprise blockbuster that made them better in the short term even as it saddled them with a potentially disastrous long-term contract. Even eight points out with five teams to pass, the Senators have decided that they're in.

Other teams will have to make their own calls soon. The Flyers, for example, are six points back; they were in a similar situation last year, when rookie GM Ron Hextall made the rare call to stand pat and keep focused on the future. Does he do the same this time?

The Flames and Canucks were first-round opponents last year, but there won't be room for both in the Western Conference this time. The Flames are eight points back and fading, while the Canucks are five out after somehow getting outplayed by the Leafs' ECHL squad on Saturday. Both teams should probably look toward the future.

Meanwhile, the Canadiens are already reeling from a two-month cold streak and now face reports that Carey Price is done for the season. They're denying that, but these days it feels like Habs fans have already thrown in the towel and moved on to the Auston Matthews watch; it will be fascinating to see if GM Marc Bergevin does the same.

We could keep going down the list, one that includes teams like the Predators, Avalanche, Islanders and Penguins. And then there's perhaps the toughest bubble case of all: the free-falling Minnesota Wild. They've already pulled the trigger on one major move, firing head coach Mike Yeo on Saturday after losing eight straight and 13 out of 14. The Wild are five points out and look every bit like a team that desperately needs to start over, but with so many massive contracts clogging the books they may not be able to. When you're clearly in win-now mode but can't find a way to win now, you're almost forced to double down, no matter how unlikely it is to work.

Each of those teams have tough calls to make, and just two weeks left to make them. And for the GMs involved, their ability to cut out the self-delusion and get real might go a long way to determining whether they're even still on the job this time next year.

Race to the Cup

The five teams with the best shot at winning the Stanley Cup.

5. St. Louis Blues (32-17-9, +6 true goals differential)—They have a realistic shot of finishing in fourth place overall in the league and starting the playoffs on the road. The Central, man.

4. Los Angeles (33-19-3, +22)—They've alternated losses and wins over their last nine games, and now Marian Gaborik is on the injured reserve and could be out long term after a knee-on-knee collision in Friday's win over the Rangers.

>> Read the full post at Vice.com




Friday, February 12, 2016

Grab bag: Snubbed Leafs, benched stars, and the Rangers take over the ad world

In this week's Grab Bag:
- The snubbing of the Toronto Maple Leafs
- When stars get benched
- Comedy stars, featuring D-Boss and a bunny
- Introducing the concept of prebuilding
- And the New York Rangers show Madison Avenue how to do commercials right

>> Read the full post at Vice.com





Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ranking the worst Stanley Cup finals of the last 50 years

We’re a few days removed from Super Bowl 50, which means most of us are already a few days removed from remembering anything that happened during the game. Despite the presence of some of the sport’s biggest names and the usual limitless supply of hype and intrigue, Super Bowl 50 ended up being a dud, a 24-10 snoozer that hinged on which team would make the most game-changing mistakes.

But while hockey fans love to point out all the ways their sport is better than others – Our trophy presentation is better! We shake hands after playoff games! Our players are always selfless and classy, as long as you ignore all the times they’re not! – we can’t really take the high road here. The Stanley Cup final has offered up its share of stinkers over the years.

So since misery loves company, let’s take a moment to commiserate with our football friends with a look back at the five worst Cup finals over the last 50 years.

#5 – 1982: Islanders vs Canucks

The matchup: The Islanders were in the middle of what would turn out to be a four-year Cup dynasty that saw them win 19 consecutive playoff rounds, a mark that still stands as the North American pro sports record. The Canucks were not quite as good, finishing 41 points behind New York during the regular season.

Amazingly, Vancouver had not only been a sub-500 team during the season, but had reached the final by beating three other sub-500 teams. Where were you when we needed you, loser point?

The hope: Maybe everyone is wrong. Maybe the Canucks can shock the world. Maybe they could win… a game? That seemed like the best-case scenario.

The reality: To their credit, the Canucks were at least able to force overtime in Game 1. But Mike Bossy won it in sudden death, and that was pretty much it for the series. The Islanders won in four straight, including winning both games in Vancouver by a combined score of 6-1.

None of the Islanders four Cup wins were exactly classics, with only the first even going six games. You could make a case for the 1981 final between the Isles and North Stars deserving this spot, but at least Minnesota won a game, so 1982 gets the nod.

Redeeming quality: Bossy’s seven goals in four games still stands as one of the better Cup final performances in history.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News




Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Dion Phaneuf Trade

NHL trades don’t have to be zero sum games. Fans and media love to assign wins and losses to each deal as they get made, on the assumption that what’s good for one team must be bad for the other, but that’s not really how it works. Some trades can be win-win, some are lose-lose, and most need to be evaluated as two separate entities, with one side having little if anything to do with the other.

All of which is good news for the Ottawa Senators, because man, Tuesday’s Dion Phaneuf blockbuster sure looks like a monster win for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

>> Read the full post at The Guardian




Monday, February 8, 2016

Weekend report: Things are getting back to normal

Faceoff: Getting back to normal

"It's still early."

That's the mantra of the wise hockey fan over the first few months of the season. We all go into the season with certain expectations locked in place, that comfortable set of assumptions that can start to feel like sure things if you repeat them often enough. Then the opening weeks of the season happen, and it all goes straight to hell.

Let's think back to what the league looked like on the first day of December. My preseason Cup pick had been the Lightning over the Ducks, but both teams were stuck in 11th in their respective conferences, with Tampa Bay spinning its wheels and Anaheim unable to score and on the verge of firing its coach. The defending champion Blackhawks were already nine points back in their division. Sidney Crosby had been the odds-on favorite to win the Hart and Art Ross, but he'd just barely cracked the top 100 in scoring. Inevitable Calder Trophy winner Connor McDavid was already hurt, and established goalies like Tuukka Rask and Semyon Varlamov had looked awful.

It was chaos. Small children wept openly. Nothing made sense.

Now that we're well into February, we can look back at those days and see that, well, it really was still early. The NHL has spent the last few months gradually morphing back into what we'd thought it would be all along. The Lightning and Blackhawks have looked unstoppable, and the Ducks aren't far behind. McDavid is healthy again and lighting it up, and Rask and Varlamov have settled back into their usual selves.

As for Crosby, he's been on fire, posting 18 points over a ten-game scoring streak and reclaimed a spot in the league's top ten. Barring injury, he's not going to catch Patrick Kane, who's running away with the Art Ross. But at the rate he's going, just about everyone else is in his sights.

That's not to say that everything looks like we expected. The Panthers weren't on too many preseason lists of division winners, consensus lottery teams like the Devils, Hurricanes and Coyotes are still stubbornly hanging around the playoff picture, and the Penguins and Wild still look like less of a threat than expected. And, of course, as the Canadiens have demonstrated, sometimes that whole course correction pendulum can swing all the way to the other extreme.

As we approach the two-thirds mark of the regular season, there's sure to be a few twists and turns left in store. But for the most part, the league is slowly but surely starting to resemble the one we'd expected to see. That's not great news if you love surprises, but it's comforting to know that we weren't all completely out to lunch on opening night.

And as for the fans, we've all no doubt learned a valuable lesson about not overreacting to early-season trends—one we're sure to have forgotten completely by next December.

Race to the Cup

The five teams with the best shot at winning the Stanley Cup.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning (29-18-4, +19 true goals differential)Yes, I'm nudging the Lighting ahead of the Panthers for a spot on our list. Too soon? Maybe, but I know who I'd pick in a playoff series between the two teams. Here's hoping we get to see one this year.

4. Dallas Stars (33-15-5, +28)—You never want to overreact to one game, but watching the Stars get stomped at home by the Blackhawks on Saturday had to be disconcerting for those of us still riding the Dallas bandwagon.

>> Read the full post at Vice.com




Friday, February 5, 2016

Gab bag: Jaromir Jagr wants you to eat his cure for groin injuries

In this week's grab bag:
- Dennis Wideman, abuse of officials, and the NHL's joke of a concussion policy
- How the NHL league should run next year's all-star fan voting
- Comedy all-stars, including the definitive power ranking of the all-star breakaway contest
- An obscure Panther who once almost killed me
- And a YouTube breakdown of Jaromir Jagr admitting to doing something with his groin that you'll never be able to un-know

>> Read the full post at Vice.com




Wednesday, February 3, 2016

With Dennis Wideman, for once, there really was no middle ground

Let’s get this straight before we go any further: hockey fans don’t do nuance.

Oh, make no mistake, we like to argue. These days, it’s pretty much all we seem to do. Throw out a topic – a contending team’s chances, a star player’s legacy, the color of the sky – and we’ll drop the rhetorical gloves and clear the benches.

But what we don’t do is shades of grey. John Scott’s all-star appearance was either the greatest thing to ever happen or an unmitigated disgrace. Gary Bettman is either a mustache-twirling supervillain or a misunderstood genius. Any questionable hit is either squeaky clean or grounds for a lifetime ban. The middle ground? That’s for suckers.

And that’s what made the Dennis Wideman case so fascinating. On Thursday, the NHL handed out its punishment for Wideman: 20 games. For once, we were right: there was no middle ground. There couldn’t be.

Here’s the background, in case you need to get caught up. Last Wednesday, midway through a game between the Flames and Predators, Wideman collected the puck in his own zone. He played it up to a teammate, then took a hit from Nashville’s Miikka Salomaki. It wasn’t a big hit, but it caught the Flames’ defenseman off balance, spinning him and appearing to bounce his head off the glass.

Wideman got up, looking momentarily shaken, and headed for the bench on a line change. Seconds before arriving, he suddenly seemed to launch himself into linesman Don Henderson, using his stick to shove the official from behind and send him to the ice (and eventually, to the hospital).




After the game, Wideman pleaded innocent, explaining that he simply hadn’t seen Henderson until it was too late to avoid a collision. There’s some evidence to support that; Wideman’s stutter-step right before contact suggests he’d been caught him off guard. Others wonder if he hadn’t been knocked woozy by Salomaki’s hit and somehow confused Henderson for an opponent.

So was it intentional? On the one hand, there’s no history that we know of between Wideman and Henderson, no especially controversial calls in this game or any other. There’s simply no conceivable reason why Wideman would pick that moment to attack an official. On the other hand … well, go back and watch the clip again. If that’s not an intentional cross-check, it’s a darn good impression of one. It’s nice to establish a motive, but you don’t need one for a conviction when you’ve got the crime captured in slow motion and high-def.

>> Read the full post at The Guardian




Beyond John Scott: A brief history of NHL enforcers turning out be more talented than we thought

Even as the regular season resumes, the hockey world is still buzzing over John Scott’s all-star weekend. Voted in by fans at least partly on the assumption that he’d be embarrassed by the 3-on-3 format, Scott instead scored a pair of nifty goals and earned MVP honors in a scene straight out of a movie script.

It all made for a great feel-good story. But maybe we shouldn’t have been quite so shocked. After all, Scott’s not the first NHL tough guy to step outside of his comfort zone and deliver an impressive performance. The enforcer role may be fading from the NHL, but the guys who’ve done the job over the years have a long history of being surprisingly multi-talented.

So for this week’s top five, let’s go beyond the All-Star Game and look at some other areas where NHL tough guys unexpectedly made their presence felt.

5. In a pro wrestling ring

The hockey world has seen plenty of cross-overs with pro wrestling; former Ranger Ted Irvine’s son did pretty well for himself in the ring, and Mean Gene Okerlund’s son once suited up for the Islanders. And who could forget about this guy?

But perhaps wisely, this generation of sports entertainers have tended to stay away from hockey’s tough guys. One notable exception: the time one WCW villain decided to go after a Chicago Blackhawks owner.

While it didn’t feature many punches, legend has it that that scripted battle was nearly preceded by the real deal. The lesson, as always: Bob Probert didn’t take any nonsense from anyone.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News




Things overheard during the Maple Leafs new logo design meetings


You're so vein

After weeks of hype and speculation, the Toronto Maple Leafs unveiled their new logo last night. Reviews have been somewhat mixed, but the response among fans seems to have been largely positive.

That's good news for the franchise, which spent months working on the logo in a series of highly secretive closed-door meetings. Luckily, DGB spies were able to infiltrate those sessions, and reported back with some of the more interesting things they managed to overhear.

  • OK, guys, I'm feeling kind of crazy right now, so just hear me out: What about this time, we try a blue maple leaf with white lettering?

  • Geez, I made one little joke about how the vein at the bottom sort of looks like a mustache and Lamoriello's spent the last two hours screaming at it to shave.

  • So a few ground rules before we start, just the standard stuff from any logo design project: Please be respectful of everyone's opinion, don't leak any prototypes, and anyone who has ever worked for the Buffalo Sabres will be shot on sight.




Monday, February 1, 2016

Weekend report: All-star edition

Faceoff: All-Star Weekend

Well, that was... not terrible? It really wasn't terrible at all. Not even a little bit.

These days, that's what passes for a ringing endorsement of All-Star Weekend. After years of watching the event get progressively worse, with barely interested players floating through something that only vaguely resembled real hockey, expectations for the weekend could hardly have been lower. Anything better than "terrible" would have been considered a victory.

Instead, we got something that was—dare I say it—actually good. Like, legitimately entertaining. I know, I'm as stunned as you are. Sunday's win by the Pacific Division, which earned a 1-0 victory over the Atlantic in the final of the new format's mini-tournament, closed the curtain on a weekend that mostly worked.

With the NHL schedule on hold for the better part of a week, there's not much point in doing a new round of the regular weekly power rankings. So instead, let's borrow the format and apply it to All-Star Weekend, with a countdown of the five best and worst stories from the past few days in Nashville.

The good

The five highlights of NHL All-Star Weekend.

5. Gary Bettman: The commissioner typically spends All-Star Weekend making a variety of public appearances. By design, they rarely generate much in the way of news. But fresh off a recent extension, Bettman raised a few eyebrows late last week when he dropped this quote:

This is, of course, completely ridiculous. Bettman's last major appearance in front of NHL fans was the draft in Florida, at which he was booed. More recently, he appeared at the Glen Sather ceremony in Edmonton, where he was booed, and at the Sharks' 25th anniversary celebration, where he was booed.

I mean... this is a bit now, right? Bettman is winking at us, pretending to play along with the whole booing thing in an obviously fake and over-the-top way. The whole "the game is pretty good" quote—coming right in the midst an ongoing era of low-scoring, low-intensity hockey—is the giveaway. Bettman is messing with us.

The All-Star Game was a great success, despite Bettman's best efforts. —Photo by Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

And, if so, here's hoping he really runs with it. The next time he's getting showered with boos at an NHL arena, he should make a big show of acting confused, making exaggerated "What's going on?" gestures while egging fans on. Maybe even grab a mic and ask everyone why they're chanting for this guy. Really steer into the skid.

I'm telling you, it will be gold. Gary Bettman, comedic genius. Who knew?

(Either that or he's going deaf. I'm really hoping it's the first option.)

4. Nashville: The All-Star Game doubles as an opportunity for the host city to show off a bit. If you're a longstanding hockey hotbed, that means breaking out the history. If you're what we'd politely refer to as "non-traditional market" that means a chance to show you belong in front of a hockey world that's probably looking at you at least a little bit skeptically.

Recent history has leaned heavily toward that latter group of hosts, with cities like Dallas, Raleigh and even Atlanta getting a turn in the spotlight. Last year was Columbus, and other than almost killing everyone in the press box with that ridiculous cannon, it did a fantastic job.

That brings us to this year, and by all accounts, Nashville hit it out of the park. The city has always been known as one of the league's underrated fun destinations, and it embraced that reputation throughout the week. The game was surrounded with a mix of everything, from the predictable (lots of events for kids) to the clich├ęd (a little too much country music) to the bizarre (the, um, cheese fountain). The fan fair sounds like it was a hit. Heck, there was even a great crowd for that awkward red carpet the league insists on doing.

Not everything worked—we'll get to that weird Friday night thing in a minute—but enough of it did that Nashville gets a solid thumbs up. And hockey fans got another reminder that you don't need 100 years of history in your back pocket to enjoy the game.

>> Read the full post at Vice.com