Monday, October 31, 2016

Weekend wrap: The curse of November 1

Opening faceoff: Revenge of the dead puck

Two weeks ago, we looked at some of the early season trends that probably wouldn’t continue, even though we were all hoping they would.

The top trend on the list was offence; scoring was up across the league by roughly a goal a game, and we seemed to be getting scores like 6-5 and 7-4 on an almost nightly basis.

The cause of the surge was a mystery. The league hadn’t introduced any new rules, and their promised goalie equipment changes hadn’t been ready in time to start the season. Some pointed to the infusion of young stars into the league, while others wondered if the World Cup had given the game’s top players a head start.

More than a few think pieces were written about what exactly was going on and what it all meant. Nobody could figure it out. We all just hoped it would last.

Yeah… about that.

We're not quite back to the 5.5 goals-per-game zone that the league has settled into over the last five years or so, but we're getting awfully close, and those pesky goaltenders are starting to dominate the box scores once again.

After making it through the first week without any shutouts, we're now seeing them on most nights. Over the weekend, we even got the return of our old pal, the 1-0 game; we've been treated to three of those since Friday, after not having any at all on the season.

And sure, defence is fun and goaltenders are people too, and maybe you don't like low-scoring games because you just don't get it, man. But all those goals sure were fun while they lasted. Maybe the trend will turn around again, and we'll spend the season watching the offensive stars and the defensive masterminds go back and forth.

History tells us not to get our hopes up, though.

On to the power rankings. Last Monday in this space, we hoped that another week of action would provide some clarity at the top of the league. Spoiler alert: Not so much.

Road to the Cup

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

5. San Jose Sharks (6-3-0, +2 true goals differential*) – They move back onto the list with three straight wins, albeit against three teams that are struggling.

4. New York Rangers (6-3-0, +13) – Sunday's 6-1 win over the Lightning may have been their most impressive of the season.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, October 28, 2016

Grab Bag: Halloween edition

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- A special Halloween edition of the three stars of comedy
- On Hampus Lindholm and his terrible new contract
- A new entry for the hockey dictionary
- Uber, but for obscure hockey players
- And a 1986 attempt by Hockey Night in Canada to get into the comedy game, featuring a familiar face.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Building the NHL's all-old-guy team

The NHL appears to be in the middle of a full-fledged youth movement, thanks to an influx of talented rookies over the last few seasons.

Right now, the kids are all anyone can talk about. And if we’re being honest, some of the hype may be getting a little bit out of control: Auston Matthews was basically named to the all-star team after one game; Patrik Laine was awarded the Hart Trophy after four; Next week, the Hockey Hall of Fame will officially be renamed The Hall of Connor McDavid and Also Some Other Guys.

And all of that is great — a wave of dominant young players all coming into the league at the same time is one of the most exciting things that can happen in sports.

But while it’s a fun story to hype up, we run the risk of forgetting that there are still some older guys puttering around the league.

Some of them are even pretty good.

So today, let's hike our pants up to our armpits and spend some time celebrating the league's old guys. We'll build a full roster – four lines, three defensive pairings and two goalies – out of players that were 35 or older on opening night of the 2016-17 season.

And then we’ll teach those whippersnappers a thing or two.


First line

RW: Jaromir Jagr

We'll start with the first guy that comes to mind when you mention old NHL players. At 43, Jagr hasn't shown many signs of slowing down; his 66 points last year were the second most among players 35 and over.

We'll give him a spot on the first line, and we'll also make him team captain. There's a non-zero chance he'll still be holding down that spot in sixteen years when we welcome McDavid and Matthews to this team.

C: Joe Thornton

Even at 37, Thornton continues to be among the top playmakers in the league.

Last year may have been his best season in almost a decade, as he posted a combined 103 points across the regular season and playoffs.

We've all agreed that he's a no-questions-asked, first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, right? He'll probably become the 13th player to join the 1,000-assist club this season, and players ahead of him are basically a who's who of NHL legends.

LW: Patrick Marleau

We'll slot him in at wing instead of centre, since that's where he tends to play these days and it lets us build a top line that features three 1,000-point players.

We'll give him first-line duties because of his chemistry with Thornton – they don't play together much, but the familiarity of being teammates for so many years should help them gel.

(Yes, I realize I've thought too much about this. You've read this far, don't bail on me now.)

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Five star goaltenders who played for way too many teams

When we think of history's best goaltenders, we tend to immediately picture them in a certain uniform. Like anyone else, goalies can occasionally be traded or hit free agency. But we like to think of the great goalies as being tied to one team, maybe two at the most. Martin Brodeur was a Devil. Patrick Roy was a Canadien, then an Av. Dominik Hasek, with apologies to the Red Wings, will always be a Sabre. And Hall-of-Fame talents from Bill Durnan to Ken Dryden to Henrik Lundqvist spent their entire careers with one franchise.

But that's not always how it works out. Every now and then, a goalie comes along who ends up spending his career jumping from team-to-team, even as they’re building an all-star resume. In fact, there are five goalies who've managed to rank in the top 25 for career wins while playing for six teams or more. Let's take a look back at those five travelling netminders, and some of the stops you may not remember them making.

Grant Fuhr

He was best known as: The Oilers' starting goaltender for much of their late-80s dynasty. Fuhr won four Cup rings, to go with a Vezina and two seasons leading the league in wins. His numbers were never jaw-dropping, and they look awful compared to modern day goalies (he was runner-up for the Hart Trophy in 1988 with an .881 save percentage). But he developed a reputation as a guy who would always make the big save when it mattered, and no less than Wayne Gretzky has called him the greatest goalie of all-time.

You might also remember him as: A Toronto Maple Leaf during the early days of the Cliff Fletcher rebuild, a Buffalo Sabre who helped them to their first playoff series win in a decade in 1993, and a St. Louis Blue who nearly started every game for an entire season because Mike Keenan was a crazy person.

But he also managed to play for: The Flames and the Kings. OK, a quick stint in Los Angeles was pretty much mandatory for every ex-Oiler of that era, so maybe that's not surprising. But Fuhr stuck around long enough to suit up in a forgotten 1999-2000 season for the Calgary Flames at the tail end of his career, spending most of the year backing up Fred Brathwaite.

Curtis Joseph

He was best known as: That's a tough call, but let's go with his four years in Toronto, where he helped transform Pat Quinn's Maple Leafs from also-ran to Cup contender almost overnight. He was a Vezina finalist twice, and was good enough to head into the 2002 Winter Olympics as the starter for Team Canada. There wasn't anything he couldn't do. Well, other than argue with a referee without accidentally tackling him.

You might also remember him as: He broke in with the Blues in the early 90s, highlighted by a dominant playoff run in 1993. From there it was off to Edmonton, where he only spent three years but will always be remembered for almost single-handedly beating the Dallas Stars in an epic 1997 playoff series. And then there were the two seasons in Detroit, which are best remembered for him being the scapegoat in a playoff loss and then victimized by Dominik Hasek's unretirement.

But he also managed to play for: Like Fuhr, Joseph also snuck in a shady season with the Flames, starting five games in 2007-08. And then there was his two-year stint in Phoenix right after the 2005 lockout. Although in fairness, pretty much everyone did that, with names ranging from Brett Hull to Mike Ricci to Petr Nedved to Owen Nolan making cameos on those weird Coyotes teams.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The eight teams left out of the outdoor fun

The Winnipeg Jets hosted the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday at the Heritage Classic.

It was the team’s first ever outdoor game, marking a long-awaited opportunity for the Jets to finally join the club of NHL teams that have taken it outside.

The club isn’t all that exclusive these days, thanks to a long list of outdoor games held over the years.

Counting the Las Vegas expansion franchise, there are now nine NHL teams that have never been involved in an outdoor game. (That list will shrink by one later this season, when the Blues make their debut by hosting the Winter Classic.)

Today, let's take a look at those other teams and see which ones have the best chance of joining the Blues and Jets at the big kids table.

When it comes to the NHL's outdoor games, here are the eight teams that could say they've been… left out in the cold.

[Editor's note: That was terrible and didn't even make sense.]

I don't feel any better about it than you do. On to the list.

Dallas Stars

Why they've been left out so far: The Stars have had two strikes against them; they're a southern-based team, and they haven't been all that good for most of the outdoor era, missing the playoffs in six out of eight years since the Winter Classic began in 2008.

Their case to be included: They may not have been good before, but they are now, finishing last season as the Western Conference's top seed. And maybe even more importantly when it comes to an event that's as much about marketing as the game itself, they're all sorts of fun to watch.

As the dead puck era drags on, the league should be doing a better job of promoting the few teams that are willing to play a more open style. As for geography, it's worth remembering that all three California teams have appeared in outdoor games, and those went off just fine.

Could they host? There's been talk about holding a game at AT&T Stadium for years. Putting a game in Jerry Jones' 80,000-seat monstrosity has to be tempting for the league, assuming they think they could fill it.

Odds we'll see them outdoors soon: You’d have to think that they're high on the NHL's list, although they may need to ease in as a visitor first. They'd have been a good choice for Minnesota, given the franchise's shared history, but as per league bylaws that spot went to the Blackhawks instead.

Still, the Stars have waited long enough; here's hoping they make an appearance next year.

Nashville Predators

Why they've been left out so far: We could copy and paste a lot of what we had for the Stars, although the Predators have had more playoff success over the years. But they're one of the league's smaller markets, so they've always been left out of the outdoor showcase games.

Their case to be included: They did a great job with last year's All-Star Game, and like the Stars they're an exciting team that usually makes for must-watch hockey.

If we look at the bigger picture, there's a chicken-or-egg thing that comes into play with some of these teams.

The league considers their outdoor games to be marquee events, so they only want to give them to marquee franchises. But how is a team supposed to attain that status without a push from the NHL? Winning a Stanley Cup can do it — at least temporarily — and maybe the Predators or Stars take care of that this year.

But at some point, you can't keep serving up the Blackhawks and Penguins and then wonder why fans aren't excited for the rest of the league.

The NFL has historically done a good job of promoting smaller-market teams, and has reaped the rewards of that. The NHL could learn a lesson from them.

Could they host? It's possible, with the nearby NFL stadium being a potential site. But the Predators feel like another team that would be a better fit as a visitor — at least for their first time out.

Odds we'll see them outdoors soon: We'll keep our fingers crossed. Their case would be helped by more national exposure, a strong rivalry with a potential opponent, and solidified status as an elite team. Luckily, they can take care of all three of those with one good playoff run this spring.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Monday, October 24, 2016

Weekend wrap: No I'm not putting the Oilers and Canucks in the top five (yet)

Opening faceoff: Let’s take it outside

There’s no question that outdoor games have lost some of their luster over the years.

Once the league realized they had a hit on their hands, they started packing the schedule with outdoor games – in hindsight, probably too many. Yesterday was the 22nd time the league had gone outdoors, and the 18th since the first Winter Classic just eight years ago.

The novelty factor is all but gone, and more than a few fans were scratching their heads when they realized the league was headed outdoors again before the season was even two weeks old.

But as often seems to happen with these games, a big chunk of that cynicism fades away once the event arrives. The weekend in Winnipeg was undeniably fun, starting with a star-studded alumni game on Saturday that featured nearly all of the biggest names from the Smythe Division rivalry days, an appearance by Wayne Gretzky that may well have been his last, and a dramatic last-second winner by Teemu Selanne that was right out of a storybook.

That set a high bar for Sunday's real game.

Once things got going after a delay caused by bright sun, we were treated to a decent (if not especially exciting) 3-0 Oilers win — one that saw Cam Talbot make 31 saves on the way to his first shutout of the season.

It probably wasn't quite the sort of show the NHL was hoping for, especially given all the young talent involved in the game. But the overall spectacle of the game still worked, with a strong crowd of nearly 33,000 present and some nice shots of the stadium setup. We even got the return of the Ref Cam.

It may not have been a classic, but it all added up to an afternoon well spent.

The game will move back inside for the next two months or so, at which point we'll be treated to two outdoor games in two days (just in case anyone has gone into withdrawal).

In the meantime, let's see if we can figure out what to make of the season's first two weeks with our second crack at the power rankings.

Road to the Cup

Here are the five teams that look like they're headed towards Stanley Cup favourite status.

5. New York Rangers (4-2-0, +6 true goals differential*) – I don't love this pick. I'm not even sure I like it. This week's top five is kind of a mess, as we'll explain below. But the Rangers have looked strong and beat the Capitals on Saturday, so sure, why not.

4. Montreal Canadiens (4-0-1, +12) – Yes, Habs fans, I know this seems too low for the only team without a regulation loss. Chalk it up as a reluctance to overreact to five games. But there's no arguing with the numbers, and the Canadiens have looked fantastic so far this year. By this time next week, there may be no choice but to move them up the list.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, October 21, 2016

Grab bag: When is it OK to cheer injuries?

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Sometimes, it really is OK to cheer for injuries
- The Oilers cancelled day off creates a CBA mess
- An obscure player who got off to a hot start and went nowhere
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a classic YouTube breakdown of opening night from the last time the NHL celebrated a major anniversary...

>> Read the full post at Vice

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Ranking every NHL outdoor game

We’re a little over a week into the NHL regular season, so you know what that means: It must be time for an outdoor game.

OK, that may have been harsh. We’ve waited a long time for an outdoor game in Winnipeg, and this weekend’s Heritage Classic between the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers should be all sorts of fun.

But it’s probably fair to say that while most fans still love the spectacle of an outdoor game, some of the novelty has worn off over the years, thanks to the league overdoing the concept.

This year’s schedule features four outdoor games — up from last year’s three, but still well under the record six games that the NHL served up in 2013-14.

Counting a handful of exhibitions, Sunday's game will mark the 22nd outdoor game in NHL history. Some of those have been memorable. Others, not so much.

Today, let's look back at those 21 outdoor games that are already in the books and count them down from worst to best. It's a subjective list, obviously, but we'll be looking at a few criteria, including the novelty factor, the venue, the buildup, and the quality of the game itself.

Oh, and games will get bonus points for actually being played outside. That's bad news for the first game on our list...

#21: March 2, 2014 – Senators 4, Canucks 2 (BC Place)

Let's see if we can list all the problems with the league's worst-ever outdoor game.

It featured two teams with no history or rivalry of any kind. The novelty factor was close to zero, given that it was the sixth outdoor game in nine weeks and the second one played that weekend. The game itself was only marginally entertaining, and is probably best remembered for John Tortorella's decision to nuke the team's relationship with Roberto Luongo for no particular reason.

And, oh yeah, it wasn't actually played outdoors – rain forced the stadium's retractable roof to be closed. The only argument against this game being dead last on our list is that it technically shouldn't be on here at all.

#20: April 9, 1956 – Bruins vs. Bay Roberts local teams (Conception Bay Sports Arena)

This was a weird one. As part of an exhibition series played after the Boston Bruins' regular season had ended, the team made a series of stops through Newfoundland to face local teams.

That included a stop in Conception Bay for what was supposed to be a fairly standard game against three local squads. But the local arena wasn’t finished yet, so the event ended up being played outdoors in fog and drizzle.

At one point, according to legend, Bruins' goalie Terry Sawchuk was spotted holding an umbrella.

#19: January 1, 2011 – Capitals 3, Penguins 1 (Heinz Field)

You could make a strong case that the fourth Winter Classic was the most-anticipated outdoor hockey game ever played.

The novelty hadn't worn off yet, the matchup featured the league's two biggest stars in Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, and the buildup included the debut of HBO's 24/7 documentary mini-series, which helped turn the game into something that felt like an epic confrontation straight out of Hollywood.

But then the actual game arrived, and things went off the rails.

Warm weather, wind and the threat of rain put the entire event in jeopardy. They eventually got the game started seven hours late, pushing it out of its scheduled afternoon slot. And despite all the star power, the game ended up being a low-scoring affair in which Eric Fehr played the hero.

Then, of course, there was the game's only truly memorable moment: David Steckel's blindside hit on Sidney Crosby.

The Penguins' star was allowed to remain in the game, played four nights later, took another hard hit and missed the rest of the season (and beyond) with a concussion.

Based on the buildup, this one should have been an easy top-ten pick. But the enduring image from the game will always be the sport's best player doubled over and facing an uncertain future.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Five GMs on the hot seat

We're a week into the NHL season, which is nowhere near enough time for any reasonable person to start talking about anyone's job being on the line. Luckily, we're hockey fans and reasonable has nothing to do with it, so let's get to the speculation.

Usually when we talk about hot seats, we look at the league's coaches. After all, as the old saying goes, they're hired to be fired, and as Todd Richards found out last year, it doesn't take too many losses at the start of the season to cost a coach his job. But today, let's aim a level higher. NHL GMs tend to have a little more job security, and most get at least a few years to show progress before they come under fire. And when things get bad, they can often offer up their coach as a scapegoat first. But through all that, at some point, the buck stops with the boss.

Plenty of GMs around the league are probably safe no matter what happens. Guys like Jeff Gorton and Peter Chiarelli have only been on the job for a little over a year. Dean Lombardi and Stan Bowman both have a handful of Stanley Cup rings to ward off any criticism. And John Chayka can't legally be fired due to child labor laws. But others are facing more uncertainty.

I've already singled out on GM for hot seat honors – in Sportsnet's preseason predictions, I chose Chuck Fletcher as being on the shakiest ground, given that the Wild were old, expensive, hadn't made a conference final under his watch and had already fired their coach. I won't pick on him again today, so here are five more GMs who could use a strong season to take some of the heat off.

Jarmo Kekalainen, Blue Jackets

On the one hand, you could argue that Kekalainen hasn't been given enough time in Columbus. He's only been on the job since February 2013, and while that actually puts him in the upper half of the league's GMs in terms of seniority, it's still less time than you'd ideally give a GM.

On the other hand… well, how much time have you got? The Blue Jackets haven't won a playoff round under Kekalainen (or anyone else), and they missed the playoffs in each of the last two years. The roster is clogged with bad contracts. Kekalainen made a controversial decision at the draft, grabbing Pierre-Luc Dubois instead of Jesse Puljujarvi. And he's already played his coaching card, having replaced Todd Richards with John Tortorella around this time last year.

Add it all up, and the Blue Jackets are under plenty of pressure to get off to a good start this year. Instead, Tortorella is telling the media that they're not even close. That's not a good combination, and you have to wonder how long it might be before president of hockey ops John Davidson gets the urge to clean house and start all over again.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Six early trends that won't continue because that would be fun

We’ve now got almost a full week of the NHL regular season in the books. So what conclusions can we draw for the first few games?

The most likely answer: None. We can’t conclude anything. It’s only been a few games, and apart from a few injuries, chances are nothing that’s happened so far will really end up mattering. After all, we’re 36 games into a 1,230-game season. There’s more than enough time left for all of the early oddities and outliers to even out, and it won’t be long before we’ll probably have settled into a season that feels just like any other.

So yes, we can all agree that overreacting to the early results is foolish. But that’s too bad, because the first week has given us a handful of trends that it would be really cool to see continue over the rest of the season. We know it’s unlikely. But it’s hard not to hold out at least a little bit of hope that some of these temporary storylines will find a way to stick around.

So today, let’s look at a half-dozen early trends from the first week of the season that hockey fans should be hoping will continue, even though we know they probably won’t. At least we’ll be able to say we enjoyed them while they lasted.

Scoring is up

The NHL has spent the better part of two decades wringing its hands over an ongoing decline in scoring, without ever actually doing all that much about it. That continued this year when the league announced that they'd introduce smaller goaltending equipment, only to fail to have it ready in time for the season.

Maybe we didn't need it after all. Through the first few games, average scoring is up by roughly half-a-goal per team. We've seen scores like 7-4, 6-5, 6-4 and then 7-4 again, and so far there hasn't been a single shutout on the season (kind of).

Best of all, the increase hasn't simply been caused by more power plays, like the 2005-06 spike that turned out not to last. And it's all adding up an unusually high number of big comebacks. So what's going on? It's tempting to shrug it all off as just a quirk of small sample size, but that doesn't seem to tell the whole story.

One theory points to the World Cup, which gave the league's elite players a head start on playing meaningful games and let them hit the ground running. That makes sense, although it implies that the rest of the league should catch up relatively quickly. Or maybe we're just seeing the next wave of young talent land on the league with a thud, bringing more speed and creativity than today's defensive systems can handle.

That last one would be nice, but it seems overly optimistic.

NHL coaches have shown a frustrating ability to adapt their defence-at-all-costs approach to just about everything – if they could figure out a way to suck the life out of 3-on-3 overtime, it won't take them long to work their way around whatever's happening right now. But in the meantime, bring on the goals, and let's consider it a preview of what the league might look like if it ever got around to the sort of changes that really could make the increase permanent.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Monday, October 17, 2016

Weekend wrap: It's still early. So, so early.

Opening faceoff: Yes, it’s early

Welcome to the NHL Weekend Wrap.

Every Monday, we’ll dive in on some of the key stories that emerged over the past few days of NHL action. We’ll take a look at some of the weekend’s best, worst and strangest plays. And we’ll also include weekly power rankings at both the top and the bottom of the league, focusing in on the five teams who’ve staked out a claim at each end of spectrum.

That last part is going to be a little tricky today, and for the next few weeks at least. With no team having played more than three games, we don't have all that much to work with here. On the one hand, we don't want to completely discount what we've seen happen on the ice. Pre-season predictions are nice, and we've all made ours, but they go out the window once the real action starts.

On the other hand, right now we're talking about two or three games – if we start overreacting based on that, an enraged analytics guy will burst through the wall and start screaming "small sample size" until he hyperventilates. And he'd be right.

So we'll try to walk a line. And we'll probably walk it wrong, at least in a few spots.

Around this time last year, the Canadiens were unbeatable, the Penguins looked awful, and some morons were even wondering where Sidney Crosby had disappeared to. Then again, sometimes the first week or two can tell you a lot about where the pre-season consensus has gone wrong. Last year, a strong start by the Capitals was the first signal that they'd made the leap to the league's top tier, and you can ask any Blue Jackets fan what a rough opening week can reveal.

For now, when in doubt we'll err on the side of the pre-season consensus. That's why we weren't going to see any shockers in the top five, and why we won't be sticking winless teams like the Kings and Ducks in the cellar. But as October creeps towards November, the scales will tip more and more to what the season seems to be trying to say, even if what it's telling us is that we were all dead wrong about a few teams.

So yeah, it's still very early, and some of this will end up looking awful in hindsight. But that's half the fun, so let's give it a shot. Don't forget to bookmark this page so you can call me an idiot in six months. OK, days.

Road to the Cup

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

5. Washington Capitals (1-0-1, +1 true goals differential*) – Last year's top regular season team hasn't looked great yet, but taking three points out of four against division rivals isn't a bad start.

4. Tampa Bay Lightning (2-0-0, +3) – You could make a case for the Panthers to claim this spot; they also went 2-0-0 while facing the same two teams the Lightning played. Luckily, the two teams can sort it out themselves when they face each other tomorrow.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, October 14, 2016

Grab bag: Auston Matthews edition

In the first Friday Grab Bag of the new season:
- Auston Matthews
- The NHL's new concussion protocol
- The three comedy stars
- More Auston Matthews
- Enough with tellings fans not to get excited about the first few games
- An obscure player who is not Auston Matthews
- And a YouTube look back at the last time Leaf fans were actually optimistic about a home opener

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Thursday, October 13, 2016

30 teams, 30 numbers for the new NHL season

Hockey fans love numbers.

Granted, we don’t all love the same kind of numbers, and if they get too fancy we break out into yet another round of the Great Analytics Debate that’s been going on for five years and still flares up every 15 minutes or so. But we all love some numbers, even if they’re the old-fashioned kind.

Numbers are part of what makes sports fun.

So with the season finally underway, let’s go through the NHL and dig up one interesting number for each NHL team. Some may be surprising, some will reaffirm what we already know, and some will be just plain weird. And most of them won’t be all that complicated.

We'll go alphabetically, which means we start out west…

Anaheim Ducks

31 – Years since a team had led the NHL in both power-play and penalty-kill percentage before the Ducks pulled it off last year. (The last team to do it was the 84-85 Islanders.) That's typically the sort of performance that earns a coach a raise. In Anaheim, it got Bruce Boudreau fired, so the pressure will be on Randy Carlyle to keep both units humming.

Arizona Coyotes

300 – Power-play opportunities by the Coyotes last year, the most in the league by a wide margin. The gap between the Coyotes and the No. 2 team, the Flyers, was bigger than the gap between No. 2 and No. 10. But it didn't translate to much of an advantage, since the Coyotes also ranked first in time spent on the penalty kill.

Boston Bruins

1.25 – Goals scored per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time last year by David Pastrnak, which ranked third in the NHL. These sort of rate stats always yield some weird results, since they boost up players like Pastrnak who are productive without getting many minutes or much power-play time. Still, finishing third is impressive for a kid who didn't even turn 20 until the season was over.

Buffalo Sabres

1.84 – Goals-per-game of offensive support that the Sabres gave Robin Lehner in his 21 games last year, ranking him dead last among the 58 goalies who saw at least 20 games. Lehner's first season in Buffalo was a sidetracked by injury, and he only won five games. But his .924 save percentage was good, and with a little more support the success should come.

Calgary Flames

37 – Games in which the Flames allowed four or more goals last year, the most in the league. The Flames went 5-29-3 in those games; in their other 45 games, they were 30-11-4. The Brian Elliott acquisition looms kind of large.

It's fair to say that last night was not a great start.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

The faker's guide to being an NHL fan

The NHL regular season has finally arrived, and you know what that means: Everywhere you go, all anyone wants to talk about hockey! (If you're in Canada, "everyone" is everyone. If you're in the United States, "everyone" is that one really polite guy at work who talks kind of slow and might secretly be Canadian.)

But what if you're not a hockey fan? You could become one, but that sounds like work. No, what you want is to be able to plausibly fake it. So today, I'm going to walk you through the five key skills you'll need to pretend to be a hockey fan even though you're not.

Skill #1: Blame Gary Bettman for everything

Bettman has been NHL commissioner since 1993, and everything bad that has ever happened is his fault. I don't mean everything bad in the NHL since 1993—literally everything bad is a direct result of Bettman's existence. The 2004 lockout that wiped out an entire season? Bettman. The loser point? Bettman. That time in 1988 when two guys in raincoats ended up officiating a playoff game? Bettman. The routing of the French nobles at the Battle of Courtrai? Partly the marshy terrain and strategic positional advantage of the Flemish forces, but mostly Bettman.

I really can't stress this point enough: If you're going to fake your way through hockey fandom, complaining about Gary Bettman is the single most important skill you can learn. Get really good at it, and you might even get a job in the hockey media.

If you're ever involved in a conversation about hockey that you're not really following and it suddenly gets quiet and everyone looks at you like it's your turn to speak, just shake your head grimly and mutter "fucking Bettman." Then get ready for a round of high-fives.

>> Read the full post at Vice

An objective and unbiased reaction to the Auston Matthews debut

Last night featured the NHL debut of heavily hyped Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews. It was a big moment for the franchise, which hasn’t had an elite-level prospect in at least a generation or two. The buildup to the game was very exciting. It was also all very confusing for Maple Leaf fans, who aren’t used to actually having something to feel optimistic about.

How do I know? Because I am a Leafs fan, and have been for over 30 years. So I get where Leafs Nation is coming from on this one. But don’t worry, I’m also an unbiased sportswriter, and you can trust me to handle this assignment objectively.

Anyway, Matthews finally made his long-awaited debut on Wednesday night. And in the very first game of the NHL regular-season schedule, on the road against a divisional rival in front of a national TV audience, Matthews went out and had what may well be the greatest debut game in the history of the NHL.

That sounds like hyperbole, but it’s really not. Let’s run through what we just witnessed, in handy Q&A format.

OK, so what just happened?

Matthews didn’t take long to get on the scoreboard, converting a slick setup in front to score his first career goal just eight minutes into the game. The goal came on his first career shot, matching the achievement of another first overall pick, Mario Lemieux. He was just getting started.

Eight minutes later, Matthews picked the pocket of two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson to score his second goal of the period. He finished the hat trick early in the second by ripping a wrist shot from the face-off circle. That made him one of only five players in modern NHL history to record a hat trick in his first game.

At that point, sensing the need to build some suspense, Matthews went over 18 minutes before scoring again. His fourth of the night, on a nifty two-on-one feed from fellow rookie Willian Nylander, officially put him in uncharted territory as the first player since the advent of the forward pass to score four times in his first NHL game.

Needless to say, this was all very exciting for long-suffering Maple Leafs fans. But again, I’m an objective sportswriter, so I can handle it.

So who is Auston Matthews?


You OK, bud?

Sorry. Sorry, I can do this. Give me another try.

>> Read the full post at The Guardian

Five regular season storylines worth watching

The NHL regular season opened on Wednesday night with four games. We’ll have nine more on Thursday, and by the end of the weekend every team will have at least a couple of games under their belts.

This season will include all the usual intrigue – who’ll win the Cup, who’ll be MVP, who’ll by the feel-good underdog story and who’ll get themselves fired. But this year, there are a few more stories worth keeping an eye on. Here are five to watch as the season unfolds.

Subban v Weber

Wednesday 29 June 2016. It’s a date that hockey fans won’t soon forget. Mainly because it was the day that the NHL went completely insane.

Steven Stamkos spurned free agency to resign with the Lightning. The Oilers traded Taylor Hall to the Devils for, well, not much. And in the biggest shock of them all, the Canadiens sent PK Subban to the Predators for Shea Weber.

It’s hard to overstate how big the deal was. Weber was the franchise in Nashville, spending his entire career there as he developed from solid prospect to one of the most respected blueliners in the league. And Subban was a lightning rod in Montreal, a former Norris Trophy winner as the league’s best defenseman who also happens to double as one of the NHL’s most charismatic and entertaining personalities. Seeing either guy traded felt unfathomable; to see them swapped for each other in an old school one-for-one deal was jaw-dropping.

But it happened, and now we get to spend the next few years picking the deal apart to figure out who won. Did Weber just blast one of his patented slapshots through a net? Habs win! Oh, did Subban just go end-to-end? Advantage Predators. Every big hit, brutal giveaway, flashy smile (Subban) or steely-eyed grunt (Weber) will get tossed into the evidence bin for further analysis.

The two teams face each other twice during the season, in Nashville on 3 January and in Montreal on 2 March. But really, Weber and Subban will be facing each other every night this season, and every other season for the rest of their careers.

>> Read the full post at The Guardian

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Five teams whose Cup window is closing quickly

Here are five teams who head into the season knowing that their window to win a Stanley Cup may soon be slamming shut.

The NHL regular season starts Wednesday night, and every team will tell you that they're going in with one goal: They want to win the Stanley Cup.

Of course, that goal is more realistic for some teams that for others. Some teams are just paying lip service early one, and it won't be long before they've already shifted to mumbling about the future. But others will stay focused on the big prize all year long. And for some of those teams, this season looms larger than others.

That's because the window to win a championship can slam shut quickly in today's NHL. Thanks to aging players, salary cap pressures and other factors, some teams head into a given season knowing that they're running out of chances to win it all.

Here are five teams who head into the season knowing that their window to win a title may be slamming shut.

San Jose Sharks

Watching the Sharks fall just two wins shy of a Stanley Cup last spring, it was easy to forget that it wasn't that long ago that GM Doug Wilson was openly promising to rebuild while calling the Sharks "a tomorrow team." That came in the wake of the Sharks' epic collapse against the Kings in the 2014 playoffs, a time when the team looked old and in need of some new blood.

Two years later, the Sharks core certainly isn't any younger. But Wilson's decision to pass on a rebuild – or, depending on your perspective, his failure to make one happen – led to last year's run, and today the Sharks are viewed much differently than they were back then.

Still, it's not hard to look at the current roster and see the writing on the wall. Brent Burns, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are all headed for UFA status at the end of this season. Burns will get a deal, but Thornton and Marleau are question marks. For better or worse, those two players have been the face of the franchise for a decade, and they're likely facing down their last chance to win a Cup together in San Jose.

Meanwhile, Joe Pavelski is 32 and even Logan Couture will turn 28 before the end of the season. The Sharks pipeline prospect isn't strong, ranking 25th in THN's Future Watch. At some point, something has to give.

This season may not represent the last chance for the Sharks to win the Cup. But it seems like the last chance this version of the Sharks, the one we've come to know over a decade of playoff ups and downs. If this isn't the year, it sure looks like Wilson is going to get his rebuild wish two years after he made it, whether he still wants it or not.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The next wave: The NHL's ten most exciting 21-and-under players

It feels like we may be nearing a changing of the guard in the NHL. The Sidney Crosby/Alexander Ovechkin generation continues to dominate, as it has for most of the last decade. But there's growing excitement over the next wave, one highlighted by the success of Team North America at the recent World Cup, and we're already getting a strong sense of what the future looks like.

So today, let's identify some of the most exciting young players in the league who'll be 21 or under as of opening night. (This isn't meant to be a comprehensive list of every good young prospect in the league, but just to save everyone time: If I left out your personal favorite player, it's because I hate them.) We'll look at what they are now, and what they might end up becoming. And we'll also look at their odds of actually reaching the top tier.

That last one may seem a bit odd—most of these guys are having an impact already, so aren't they all basically locks for stardom? You'd think so—but then you remember guys like Jim Carey, Jimmy Carson and Erik Johnson, and you remember that nothing in the NHL is inevitable. History tells us that some of these guys will end up falling short of the heights we all assume they'll hit. We just don't know who it will be... yet.

We'll divide our players into a few groups to keep everything straight. And we'll start at the top, with the guy everyone is chasing.

Group 1: Connor McDavid

Hell yes he gets his own group.

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers

His game: McDavid is a classic once-in-a-generation franchise player who can do just about everything. His skating, hockey sense and creativity are phenomenal, and he can generate offense with elite-level passing and shooting. But what really strikes you about his game is the speed—he just does everything faster than seems possible. If and when the Oilers can surround him with the sort of talent that can keep up, he'll be unstoppable.

His ceiling: We could say it's being the best player in the league, but that might actually be selling McDavid short. The question is how good he can be. Better than Crosby? In the Steve Yzerman/Joe Sakic zone? Maybe even the Wayne Gretzky/Mario Lemieux range (albeit with overall numbers watered down by the dead puck era)? At this point, nothing is off the table.

Superstar odds: 99%. Barring a significant injury, it's all but impossible to imagine McDavid not having a dominant career.

Group 2: The non-McDavid forwards

There was a time when it wasn't unusual to see young forwards playing big roles in the NHL. In the high-flying 80s, players like Lemieux, Dale Hawerchuk and even Carson put up 100-plus point seasons as teenagers, while guys like Gretzky and Yzerman were established first line players almost immediately. But as the game evolved and defensive systems took over, the learning curve for a young forward increased, and it became rare to see a young player excel without a few years of apprenticing first.

We've seen a bit of a shift back toward young players in recent years, partly thanks to teams realizing the importance of maximizing the value of entry-level deals. These five players aren't making anyone think of Lemieux or Yzerman just yet, but they've all established themselves as top six NHLers, and a few have already been all-stars.

Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres

His game: The consolation prize of the 2015 lottery would have been the first overall pick in just about any other year, and he's the cornerstone of a Sabres rebuild that's been long and painful but could be about to pay off. He's big and smooth, and after dominating the college ranks he put up a very good rookie season in Buffalo last year.

His ceiling: He projects as a first-line center who could someday put up a point-per-game or better without hurting you defensively. There aren't many of those guys, and the few that exist tend to spend a lot of time in the Hart Trophy conversation.

Superstar odds: 90%. There's not quite a unanimous consensus that Eichel is destined for stardom—I've heard from a few smart people who think he'll top out at merely "very good" instead of truly great. But with one good NHL season already under his belt, Sabres fans have to feel pretty confident about what the future holds.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

An NHL fan's guide to overreacting to opening week

The NHL is finally back. After a busy offseason, weeks of training camp and a World Cup thrown in for good measure, we’re just one more day away from watching NHL games that matter again.

By tomorrow night, the season will have started. By the weekend, we’ll have seen each team at least once or twice. And by Sunday, we’ll have freaked out over the results of those one or two games, because they’ll have told us everything we need to know about how the season will turn out.

We probably shouldn’t do that last one. But we can’t help it – we’re hockey fans, and overreacting is in our nature. And if we know we’re going to do it anyway, we might as well go into the first slate of games with a plan.

So here are eight key games to watch over the next few days, the results that would have us all jumping to conclusions, and why we may want to hold off just in case we’re wrong.

Flames at Oilers (Wednesday)

What could happen: In the official unveiling of their new Rogers Place home, the Oilers lose to their provincial rivals.

What it would mean: Oh no, here we go again.

Or maybe not: Stop me if you've heard this one before, but the Oilers are heading into the season with high hopes that this is the year they finally rejoin the Western Conference playoff race. For once, there's some legitimate reason for that confidence: Connor McDavid is healthy, Milan Lucic is here, the blue line is better, and the new arena should add to the excitement.

But there's still a decade of history here, and it wouldn't take much to for some of that negativity to creep back into the season after a few bad losses. Granted, we're being a little bit overdramatic here, as you'd have to think that even battle-scarred Edmonton fans will give the team more than a game or two before panicking. So instead, let's pencil them in for three. (But all bets are off if Taylor Hall gets off to a quick start in New Jersey.)

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, October 7, 2016

Grab bag: Celebrate good times

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- My thoughts on MLB players celebrating every postseason win
- The three stars of comedy return for a new season
- How the NHL could improve PTOs
- An obscure player with the saddest YouTube fan video ever
- And a classic clip takes us back to the last time Alberta opened up a new arena

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Thursday, October 6, 2016

2016 Season Preview - Part Two

Welcome to part two of our NHL season preview. We've split the league up into four divisions, and yesterday we covered the bottom-feeders and the middle-of-the-pack. If your team hasn't shown up yet, then that's a good sign, because today we'll be hitting on the cream of the crop, that small group of true contenders who have a real shot at the Stanley Cup.

But first, we've got one other division to get to. It's the fun one, made up of teams that are the hardest to figure out.

Sorry if your team wasn't there yesterday and you got your hopes up. Why yes, I'm talking to the Sabres fans.

The Your-Guess-Is-As-Good-As-Mine Division

Is that name too long? It seems long. But if the real NHL can have a Metropolitan Division, I think we'll be OK.

Anaheim Ducks

Last season: 46-25-11, 103 points, first in the Pacific, lost in the opening round.

Offseason report: After the Ducks were stunned by the wild-card Predators, GM Bob Murray appeared to call out his core and promise changes. There weren't many on the roster aside from trading Frederik Andersen. But there was a big one behind the bench, where Bruce Boudreau was replaced by the returning Randy Carlyle.

Outlook: After a slow start, the Ducks were one of the best teams in the NHL over the second half of last season, and they're bringing back essentially the same group. The Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry-Ryan Kesler core is getting up there, but they should contend for another Pacific title.

In the spotlight: So you've got a team that has plenty of talent but appears to be underachieving. You need to light a fire and get the best out of everyone. And so you turn it over to... Randy Carlyle? The guy who was last seen coaching a Maple Leafs team that had more fingers jabbing the "I'm a passenger" button than a school bus full of kids playing Pokémon Go?

I mean, it could work. Coaching a contender is different than coaching a tire fire like he had in Toronto. And Carlyle did win a Cup with some of these same guys back in 2007. But there's very strong evidence that at this stage of his career, Carlyle is a coach who makes everyone who plays for him worse. For Murray and the Ducks to go back to him now is, to use one of the coach's favorite phrases, mind-boggling.

Bold prediction: The Ducks aren't anywhere near as good as last year, and everyone ignores the obvious conclusion to make up narratives about compete levels instead.

Colorado Avalanche

Last season: 39-39-4, 82 points, missed playoffs.

Offseason report: The Patrick Roy era was fun, wasn't it? He arrived in 2013 and won the Jack Adams by leading the Avs to a 112-point season. The analytics guys screamed about how it was all an illusion, and they turned out to be right, as back-to-back playoff misses followed. This summer, Roy quit and was replaced by Jared Bednar. We'll miss you, Patrick.

Outlook: Everyone seems to be writing off the Avs already, and given the division they're trapped in, you can understand why. But let's remember that even with Roy, this team was almost in the playoffs last year—they had more wins and fewer losses than a team that made it. If Bednar is an upgrade, and he probably will be, they could be back in the race again.

In the spotlight: Matt Duchene led the team in scoring, then got called out by Roy for celebrating too much. He's 25 years old and two seasons removed from cracking 60 points. This feels like it could be the year that we figure out whether he belongs in the elite tier, or merely in the very good one.

Bold prediction: They're out of the playoff race by February. And you know what that means: It's time for another round of "Trade pending UFA Jarome Iginla to a contender." Let's hope it goes a little smoother than last time.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

2016 Season Preview - Part One

The NHL regular season starts a week from today. That means it's preview time, as we run through all 30 teams to figure out who has a shot at the Cup, and who'll be more focused on the draft lottery by mid-season. Close your browser now if you want to be surprised.

As with previous years, we'll skip the usual division-by-division breakdown and make up a few of our own instead. Today, we'll cover the bottom feeders and the middle-of-the-pack teams. Tomorrow, we'll wrap up the league with the true contenders, as well as the teams that defy any attempt at prognostication. We'll also do a full prediction of the final standings and a Cup pick tomorrow, just so we can be extra wrong thorough.

Let's do this. We'll start at the bottom and work our way up.

The Bottom-Feeder Division

These seven teams are going to try their very hardest and everyone will have some fun.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Last season: 29-42-11, 69 points, dead last in the NHL.

Offseason report: They flipped Jonathan Bernier for Frederik Andersen, kind of, and that's probably an upgrade. They also confused their more analytically inclined fans by signing guys like Matt Martin and Roman Polak. But none of that was as important as the night that this happened.

Outlook: Long term, it's pretty darn good. ESPN prospect guru Corey Pronman didn't just rank their prospects as the best in the league, he said that "there are zero reasonable arguments for anyone to even be in the same conversation." So the future looks bright. But the future isn't here yet, and this season figures to be one of slow but steady progress at best.

In the spotlight: In 1985, Toronto drafted Wendel Clark with the first pick in the draft. You could make a good argument that the three most promising Maple Leafs rookies in the 31 years since are all going to be on this year's opening night roster. William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews all look like they could be something special, and their progress this year will be far more important than wins and losses.

Bold prediction: For the first time in 50 years, a Maple Leaf captures the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year—but it's Nylander, not Matthews.

Vancouver Canucks

Last season: 31-38-13, 75 points, missed playoffs

Offseason report: They signed 31-year-old free agent Loui Eriksson to a six-year deal and traded draft picks and a top prospect for Erik Gudbranson. You know, like rebuilding teams do.

Outlook: The Canucks may very well be the worst possible thing you can be in the NHL: A bad team that doesn't know it's bad. Yes, there's talent here, but most of it is old and declining, and at some point this thing is going to collapse. That point may already be here. And no, it's not completely out of the question that they get one last big year from the Sedins, a nice boost from Eriksson, a make-the-leap season from Bo Horvat, and it all adds up to challenging for the playoffs. It's also not out of the question that they finish dead last.

In the spotlight: GM Jim Benning made the call to keep pushing forward. If it all goes bad, he's going to have some tough questions to answer.

Bold prediction: The enjoyable "Where will Ryan Miller get traded?" blockbuster from 2014 spawns a disappointing sequel.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Who are the NHL's next captains?

Once the regular seasons arrives, everyone in the NHL will be all about Ws and Ls. But before we get there, a handful of teams still have to figure out what to do about their C.

We've already seen four teams name new captains this offseason: Blake Wheeler in Winnipeg, Alex Pietrangelo in St. Louis, Anze Kopitar in Los Angeles and Mike Fisher in Nashville. That leaves us with four teams that still don't have captains yet: Edmonton, Toronto, Carolina and Florida.

But unlike other years, this season's list doesn't add up to all that much suspense. The Oilers gave the "C" to Connor McDavid on Wednesday, and it wouldn't be a surprise if the Maple Leafs just left the position vacant for another year or two. The Hurricanes could too, although they might turn to Justin Faulk or Jordan Staal. The Panthers are the most interesting call, as they could go with a young franchise player like Aaron Ekblad or Aleksander Barkov, a dependable veteran like Jussi Jokinen, or a certified legend in Jaromir Jagr.

So without much to speculate on for this year, let's spend some time looking ahead. Who are the NHL's next next captains? Here are five teams that could have a vacancy in the next year or two, and some best guesses on who could be next in line.

Boston Bruins

The current captain: Zdeno Chara, who's held the job since joining the team a decade ago.

Why they may need a new one soon: Chara's done all you could ask a captain to do, including lifting the Stanley Cup in 2011. But at 39 and with two years left on his contract, the finish line may be in sight.

Who's next: David Krejci is entering his eleventh NHL season, all with the Bruins, and currently wears an "A" for the team. We probably also need to mention Brad Marchand, since between a massive new contract and his monster performance at the World Cup, he's already had just about everything go his way over the last month. And there's always David Backes, the former Blues captain who joined the team as a free agent this year.

But with all due respect to those guys, it would a shock if the honor didn't go to Patrice Bergeron. He's one of the most well-respected players in the league, he's a superstar, and he figures to be in Boston for a long time. He makes for an easy pick here.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

New season's resolutions for 2016-17

It’s almost that time of year again.

With the World Cup of Hockey done and the exhibition schedule wrapping up, we’re now just over a week away from opening night of the NHL’s regular season.

It’s a great time to be a fan. The real games are almost here, but today everyone is still tied for first, and there’s a sense of hope lingering over just about every team. Everyone’s best-case scenario is still on the table.

Of course, that won’t last — one bad shift in the first period of the first game will have you screaming at your TV and wondering why you ever bothered getting your hopes up.

But we're not quite there yet. This is still the time of year when anything is possible.

Since this is the start of a new year on the hockey calendar, let's take a moment to make some new year's resolutions. After all, none of us are perfect, and every fan has room for some self-improvement.

We could all come up with an idea or two of our own, but if you'd like a few suggestions, I'm here to help.

Here are a half-dozen New Season's Resolutions that it wouldn't hurt some fans to make.

Let's not rig the all-star game vote this year

Hey, remember the whole John Scott thing? That was fun, wasn't it?

You may not have thought it was especially funny at first – the NHL sure didn't – but you have to admit that it all worked out pretty well in the end. Seeing Scott win all-star MVP honors and get carried off the ice by his teammates was a moment worthy of Hollywood. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime things.

It was great. So let's not try to do it all over again this year.

Oh, it will be tempting. There was a long history of all-star vote rigging that led up to Scott; remember Vote For Rory in 2007, or when a small Baltic nation took over the vote in 2014 or whatever the heck it was that led to this happening?

We've been down this road before, and there's going to be an urge to do it again. Somebody out there is probably setting up a wacky Twitter account right now.

But let's not. Scott was too perfect. It was the walk-off home run of ballot-box stuffing. Trying to recreate it would just be lame.

Hopefully the NHL will remove the temptation by coming up with a way to avoid the problem in the first place. But this is a league that occasionally doesn't get around to things in time, so we can't count on them.

Instead, let's just all agree that we had our laugh, and the joke is over.

Rory was funny. Scott was perfect. The concept has run its course. Let it rest.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Monday, October 3, 2016

One year later: Who has the best Cup odds over the next five years?

About a year ago, I wrote a three-part series at Grantland that tried to answer a surprisingly tricky question: Which NHL teams had the best odds of winning a Stanley Cup within the next five years? It was a fun project, and it generated plenty of feedback from readers, some of which didn't even include the word "idiot".

I won't be doing a sequel this year, but I thought it might be interesting to look back at that series and see how it holds up with the benefit of a season's worth of hindsight.

We've got four years left on our five-year window, so the clock is ticking. Let's see how things look.

The bottom feeders

Part one featured the ten teams I thought had the longest odds. It holds up reasonably well – the Devils and Hurricanes were somewhat better than we thought they'd be and obviously the Maple Leafs' odds look better today after their lottery win, but for the most part the bad teams are still bad.

Three teams stand out here as questionable calls. I short-changed the Panthers, whose impressive young core didn't come especially close to a Cup but have already won a division title. The Predators also should have been higher, which plenty of people told me at the time.

And then there's the one team that really sticks out here: the San Jose Sharks, who were slotted in at #22 and then went out and fell just two wins short of making me look really bad with a Stanley Cup. That would have hurt, even though I did acknowledge that they "could be a surprisingly good team this season". But I think I stand by my main point here, which is that the Sharks are very close to needing a tear down early in our five-year window. That now looks like it may come next offseason, with Joe Thornton, Brent Burns and Patrick Marleau all hitting UFA status, and I underestimated how good San Jose would be in the short term. In hindsight, they should have been higher on the list, but I'm still not sure I'd move them up all that far.