Saturday, December 30, 2017

Saturday storylines: Fine, we'll pay attention to Brock Boeser

It’s a relatively quiet Saturday night in the NHL, with only a half-dozen games on the schedule as the league gears up for a busy New Year’s Eve slate tomorrow. Four of the seven Canadian teams have the night off, while three others are in action and chasing a playoff spot…. Kind of.

HNIC Game of the Night: Bruins at Senators

Did you have a good holiday? Looking forward to your New Year’s party? Good. Have your fun while you can. Because for some teams, this is the part of the NHL season where things start getting desperate.

Coming into this week, the Senators hadn’t played the Bruins yet on the season. But the post-holiday schedule served up a pair of games right up front, one in each city. It was basically a home-and-home, albeit an odd one split up by each team having a game squeezed in between their two meetings.

And it represented a great opportunity for a Senators team that’s been desperate for one. With the entire Metro clogging up the wild-card race, Ottawa’s best path to the playoffs looks like it involves catching either the Bruins or Maple Leafs for third place in the Atlantic. That’s a tall order; the Sens came out of the break 13 points back of Boston and 14 behind Toronto. But sweep two regulation wins against the Bruins, and you get the gap down to single digits. That’s still a ton of ground, but at least it starts feeling manageable.

And so the Sens headed into Boston on Wednesday night looking to start their journey of a thousand miles with a single step. Instead, they stumbled through a 5-1 loss. And now, the situation feels critical. One regulation loss was a missed opportunity. Another might all but slam the door on catching the Bruins at all.

That’s not quite must-win territory – even if the Bruins pull away, there’s still the Maple Leafs or the wild card. Those may be better options no matter what happens, as the Bruins have quietly been one of the league’s better teams for much of the first half. They haven’t received enough credit for that, partly because their early record didn’t live up to how they were playing and partly because they spent the first few months having multiple games in hand on just about everyone. If you were only looking at the points column, they were an easy enough team to ignore.

They’re not being ignored anymore; five straight wins tends to do that. And it’s largely the young guys who are driving that success, with players like David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy and Danton Heinen exceeding expectations. Brad Marchand keeps scoring, Patrice Bergeron and Tuukka Rask keep making sure you can’t score, and the Bruins keep winning.

None of that is good news for Ottawa, a team whose struggles on and off the ice have been well-documented. Most playoff bubble teams have a tough time withstanding a four game losing streak; the Senators just ended their third in six weeks. And in the middle of all of that, they need to somehow find a way to win tonight.

If there’s any good news from an Ottawa perspective, it’s this: The Senators should be desperate. We should see them come out with all guns blazing. Given the disparity between the two teams, that still may not be enough. And if it doesn’t happen, it will be fair to start asking some tough questions about the makeup of this team. You certainly can’t say that the stakes aren’t high heading into tonight.

Or maybe it’s already too late, none of this matters, and it’s all about Rasmus Dahlin at this point. There’s that angle too. As far as I can tell, a lot of Senators fans are already there.

Either way, tonight is a chance for the Senators to make a statement. Maybe one of their last.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, December 29, 2017

Grab bag: RIP Johnny Bower

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Introducing the inaugural class of the Three Stars of Comedy Hall of Fame
- Sorry Maple Leafs, but shootout goals don't count
- An obscure WJC star with great hair
- The regular batch of comedy stars
- And the YouTube section looks back and the life, times and brief singing career of Johnny Bower

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The NHL's best and worst of 2017

The year is over, so now seems like a good time to hand out some awards for the past 12 months of NHL action.

I mean, the year isn't over over. There's still four days to go. But the odds of anything really interesting happening in any four-day segment of the NHL regular season are minimal, so we feel safe in jumping the gun just a bit.

So today, it's over to Dave Lozo and Sean "Down Goes Brown" McIndoe, your two cranky uncles from the Biscuits hockey podcast. VICE Sports asked them to hand out some Best and Worst awards, and after taking the time to explain the concept of actually liking something to them, they agreed. Here's what they came up with.

(If anything happens over the next four days that would require a rewrite, please contact Dave.)

Most Valuable Player: Connor McDavid

This is a relatively easy one. You could make a case for Sidney Crosby, who got another ring. Maybe you argue for a non-forward like Erik Karlsson or Sergei Bobrovsky. Maybe you take a stand for a better-than-you-think case like Nikita Kucherov or even Brad Marchand.

You could make all of those cases. And we'd listen quietly, nod politely, and then give the award to McDavid anyway.

Do you think the "valuable" in most valuable player is just a fancy way of saying the best player in the league? Cool, then that's McDavid, who is still two years away from his prime and already does things that nobody else can do.

Or do you prefer the old-school definition, that measures a player's importance to his specific team? In that case it's even easier, because McDavid got the Oilers to the playoffs in his first full season. When he's not on the ice, Edmonton still often looks hopeless. But the Oilers are going to rebound from their terrible start and make the playoffs anyway, because McDavid will drag them there.


Least Valuable Player: Zac Rinaldo

Rinaldo spent all of the 2016-17 season in the AHL, then was demoted to the Arizona Coyotes over the offseason. The result: One goal, three points, one sucker punch, and (presumably) yet another big suspension.

Nobody's defending Rinaldo these days. (OK, fine, almost nobody). In fact, just about everyone is lining up to be the loudest voice tearing him apart. And it's well-deserved, because Rinaldo has more games worth of suspensions over his career than goals scored. He's the sort of player who used to have a role in the NHL, and increasingly doesn't anymore.

We'll see if there's still a place for him when he gets back from his latest suspension. We're going to have to wait a while.


Best Goaltender: Pekka Rinne

John Gibson (.930) and Sergei Bobrovsky (.926) are 1-2 in save percentage; Braden Holtby (47) has nine more wins than the next-closest goaltender and Cam Talbot's workload last season was a big reason why the Oilers won so many games, but Rinne's work in the regular season and postseason gives him the edge.

In the 2017 calendar year, he's fourth in wins (36) and save percentage (.922) and posted a .930 save percentage in the playoffs as the Predators came within two wins of a Stanley Cup. Rinne is in the mix for the Vezina Trophy this season, as he entered the holiday break 18-6-3 with a .923 save percentage.


>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Podcast: Goodbye 2017

In the year's final episode of Biscuits:
- Should the NHL play on Christmas?
- A discussion about Kris Letang turns into me trading him to the Maple Leafs
- Predicting the Zac Rinaldo suspension
- The WJC is here, and Dave is thrilled
- So is the Winter Classic, although you may not have noticed
- Reader questions and lot more...

>> Stream it now

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

2017 Trade Grades: Western Conference

Our annual trade grades post continues today, as we look back at every deal from 2017 that involved at least one player. Yesterday, we went through the Eastern Conference. Today, it’s the West’s turn.

Anaheim Ducks

Best deal: It’s early, but so far the Sami Vatanen-for-Adam Henrique seems like a classic case of two teams both using an area of strength to patch holes in the lineup.

Worst deal: Giving up Shea Theodore for expansion draft considerations. On its own, the move works, since it allowed the team to keep Vatanen and Josh Manson. But it highlights the fact that the Ducks were as poorly positioned for expansion as just about anyone, and couldn’t find a way to avoid paying a price for it.

To be determined: Just how much the first-rounder they gave up for Patrick Eaves comes back to bite them; the fact that he re-signed eases the pain a bit.

Total trades: Seven.

Overall grade: B-. Bob Murray worked hard, and probably salvaged as much as he could from a brutal expansion situation.

Arizona Coyotes

Best deal: John Chayka managed to turn Martin Hanzal into one of the deadline’s biggest names, and reaped a windfall for doing so.

Worst deal: The Derek Stepan/Antti Raanta deal signalled that the Coyotes were ready to move into win-now mode. Their start to this season signalled that they were not.

To be determined: Whether Niklas Hjalmarsson can get back on track; that deal looked like a steal for the Coyotes at the time.

Total trades: Fourteen, tying the Canadiens for the league high.

Overall grade: B. Chayka made lots of deals, several of them big – we didn’t even mention Mike Smith – and he’s clearly not intimidated despite his relative youth and lack of experience. But the disastrous start to the season calls into question whether the Coyotes were addressing the right areas.

Calgary Flames

Best deal: Getting Mike Smith from the Coyotes. I was skeptical at the time, but so far Smith has been exactly what they hoped they were getting.

Worst deal: As mentioned yesterday, giving up a second for Curtis Lazar seemed like a major overpayment on a longshot gamble.

To be determined: Whether Travis Hamonic can settle in; they’d better hope so, given the price they paid to get him.

Total trades: Six.

Overall grade: B. But if Hamonic gets back to his Islanders level, this could move into the A- territority.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

2017 Trade Grades: Eastern Conference

The NHL’s holiday trade freeze ends at midnight tomorrow. That leaves the league’s GMs with four more days to get any last-minute deals into the “2017” file.

This year, it sounds like some teams might be looking to do exactly that. But most will probably call it a year. These days, trades are relatively rare in the NHL, with many teams going an entire year without making any moves of any real significance.

And that’s all the more reason to celebrate the deals we do get. So today, as NHL GMs enjoy their last few days off before having to answer their phones again, it’s time for our annual trade grades column, in which we hand every team their marks for all the deals they’ve made over the course of the calendar year.

One ground rule: As always, we’re only counting trades that involve at least one actual player. That rules out the kinds of pick-for-pick trades that happen on the draft floor, since those are typically more math exercises than actual hockey trades. This year, that also means we’ll be skipping some of the Golden Knights’ trades that fell into the “draft pick for expansion draft considerations” category, since the league in its infinite wisdom decided not to tell us what those considerations were.

That still leaves us with plenty to work with, even if most of the deals fall well below the blockbuster level. Today, we lead off with the Eastern Conference. Tomorrow, it’s on to the West.

Carolina Hurricanes

Best deal: Getting Trevor van Riemsdyk for a second-round pick from Vegas at the expansion draft. He’s been a decent fit on a team already flush with young blueliners.

Worst deal: Getting Marcus Kruger for a fifth hasn’t yielded much yet, although it also didn’t cost much.

To be determined: Scott Darling hasn’t looked great in Carolina so far. But he only cost them a third-rounder, so we’ll hold off on judging that deal for now.

Total trades: Seven.

Overall grade: A-. The Hurricanes did some nice work, both as deadline sellers and offseason buyers. But this grade will look too high in hindsight if Darling doesn’t come around.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Best deal: Artemi Panarin for Brandon Saad is one of those fun deals we’ll be debating for years to come, but for now it’s advantage Blue Jackets.

Worst deal: Sending prospect Dillon Heatherington to Dallas for Lauri Korpikoski. The Jackets’ deadline was a bit of a dud given how strong their season had been, yielding only Korpikoski and Kyle Quincey. Neither stuck around, but at least Quincey saw the ice during the playoffs.

To be determined: Whether giving up a first and a second was worth unloading David Clarkson’s albatross of a contract on the Golden Knights.

Total trades: Five.

Overall grade: B+. A stronger deadline push would have been nice, but the Panarin deal takes away some of that sting.

New Jersey Devils

Best deal: While there were smaller pieces involved, getting Sami Vatanen from the Ducks for Adam Henrique felt like an old school hockey trade, and it’s one that should end up being a win for both teams involved.

Well, as long as this doesn’t happen again:

Worst deal: Giving up a second and a fourth for Mirco Mueller and a fifth seemed like an overpay at the time, and remains so today.

To be determined: Whether Marcus Johansson can get back to being healthy and productive. It looked like the Devils had taken the cap-strapped Capitals to the cleaners when they landed Johansson for two picks in the offseason, but so far it hasn’t paid off like we thought.

Total trades: Ten.

Overall grade: B. Ray Shero knows what he’s doing, and the standings show it.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Saturday storylines: Last-minute shopping

Tonight brings a packed schedule featuring the maximum 15 games, as the league crams in as much action as possible before shutting down the schedule for three days over the holidays. The Flames are the lucky team that gets the extra night off, while the country’s other six teams are in action, including one all-Canadian matchup. We’ll start there.

HNIC Game of the Night: Canadiens at Oilers

When these two teams met in Montreal two weeks ago, we wrote about how their respective struggles had dominated so much of the early season storytelling. That game seemed to represent a chance for one team to earn a big win, maybe even the kind that can launch them down the long road back into playoff contention.

It was the Oilers who got it, thumping the Canadiens by a 6-2 final to earn their fourth win in six games, while sending Montreal to their third straight loss. And while Oilers sputtered to a 1-0 loss in Toronto the next night, they’ve won four of five since and are currently riding their first three-game win streak of the season. Meanwhile, the Canadiens won three of their next four.

Two weeks after the meeting, both teams are largely in the same place they were before, with the Habs chasing the Bruins and the Oilers still looking up at a long list of teams out West. So let’s call this take two. Who needs the win the most? And more importantly, who can’t afford to go into the holidays without a point?

On paper, the Canadiens are still in slightly tougher shape. They’ve lost ground to the Bruins lately, partly due to Boston finally make up some of those games in hand they’ve been holding over the rest of the division. And while Montreal is sitting in fourth place in the Atlantic, they’re now trailing the entire Metro, meaning the wildcard isn’t in the picture for now. They’re also in the midst of a brutal seven-game road trip, and with Shea Weber’s foot injury seeming more and more like it could be a long-term concern, the immediate picture looks cloudy. It wouldn’t take more than a loss or two combined with Bruin wins before that third Atlantic spot started to drift out of reach.

As for the Oilers, they’d need to play at a 106-point pace over the season’s last 47 games to get to the 95-point mark that we typically think of as the playoff finish line. That would be daunting for any team, especially one that’s still plugging along under the .500 mark, but the Oilers have the talent to make it happen. But with six teams to pass, they’re running out of time to flip the switch. Like the Habs, it wouldn’t take much of a short-term slump to torpedo the long-term hopes.

After slow starts, neither team has much of a margin of error to work with here. It’s cliché to talk about games where both teams need a win, as if there are many games where one team would be fine with a loss. But sometimes, both team really need a win, and with a break in the schedule looming, this would seem to be one of those games.

Of course, they’re not the only ones…

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, December 22, 2017

Grab bag: Oh captain my captain

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- We'll miss the Islanders now that they have to move to Houston
- A look at that fantastic list of the all-time best NHL captains
- An obscure player who shares a birthday with the league
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a YouTube reminder that it could be worse for the Senators, since at least Earl McRae isn't around to viciously body-bag them

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Podcast: Mean Eugene

In this week's episode of Biscuits:
- We morphed into a hardcore Senators podcast so gradually we didn't even notice
- But seriously, what's wrong with Eugene Melnyk?
- We take on that weird NHL Network list of the best captains. One of us loves it.
- We wish the NHL a happy 100th birthday, again, and talk about its best and worst seasons
- Lots of reader questions
- And plenty more...

>> Stream it now on Vice Sports

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

Ranking all 100 NHL seasons

The NHL officially has officially turned 100, as today marks exactly one century since the league took to the ice for its first two games way back in 1917. It’s been a long road from there to here, and there were more than a few times that it looked like the league wouldn’t make it. But here we are. Happy birthday, NHL.

So what do you get for the league that has everything? Let’s go with a ranking of every season. That’s right, all of them.

Comparing eras across a century is tricky, to say the least, and most of us will probably point to whenever we were kids and say that was the peak. A lot of this is personal taste. Do you like lots of goals or low-scoring hockey? Is the presence of one dominant team that runs over everyone a good or a bad thing? How do you even begin to compare the 1920s to today’s modern game? And of course, maybe most importantly, how did your favourite team do that year? Your list would probably look very different from mine, and coming up with something everyone will agree on is next to impossible.

But that never stopped us before, so here we go. We’ll count down from worst to best, meaning we’ll have to start at the league’s rock bottom. I’m guessing this is the one pick we might all agree on.

— No. 100: 2004–05 —

The season that wasn’t. To this day, the NHL remains the only league in major North American pro sports to lose an entire season to a work stoppage. The NFL, NBA and even MLB never did it. But Gary Bettman, the owners and the NHLPA found a way, and there’s a blank panel on the Stanley Cup to remind us of that.

— No. 99: 1942–43 —

Today this season summons some nostalgia as the first of the Original Six era. But by 1942, the NHL has been decimated by the war, with many players serving overseas, local curfews impacting the product, and dismal economic conditions. At one point, there’s even talk of temporarily shutting down. The Rangers probably wish the league had, as they suffer through one of the worst seasons in the history of sports. And to make matters worse, the league loses the only president it’s ever had when Frank Calder dies.

— No. 98: 1928–29 —

— No. 97: 1927–28 —

What’s the right amount of scoring for an NHL season? Everyone has their own opinion, but surely we can all agree that four goals a game or under — that’s for both teams — is unwatchable. That’s where the league is during the 1927–28 season. By 1928–29, the rate has fallen under three, and of the 220 games played that year, 120 end in a shutout. The result is a major rule change: Finally allowing the forward pass in all three zones beginning with the 1929–30 season.

— No. 96: 1917–18 —

In terms of historical significance, few seasons can hold a candle to the league’s very first. But this was also nearly the last, as the new league comes close to collapsing within weeks of opening night. There were only four teams to start with, and that number shrinks to three when the Montreal Wanderers’ arena burns down and they fold. The unnamed Toronto team eventually wins the league title, but the bigger story is that the league survived at all.

— No. 95: 1931–32 —

The league shrinks for the first time since the Wanderers arena fire, losing a founding member in the Senators as well as the Philadelphia Quakers, which temporarily overshadows the opening of Maple Leaf Gardens.

— No. 94: 1918–19 —

Do we penalize this season for having the Stanley Cup series wiped out by an influenza outbreak? Remember, the Cup wasn’t technically part of the NHL season back then. Still, it was a difficult ending to a rocky second season for the league.

— No. 93: 1994–95 —

The first lockout season squanders the momentum the league had been building. The Nordiques move south at the end of the season, and the Jets are expected to be right behind them until getting a one-year reprieve at the last minute. Even the Devils are reportedly on the verge of heading to Nashville. They shrug that off to win their first-ever Cup, but usher in the era of the neutral-zone trap in the process.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Monday, December 18, 2017

Weekend wrap: Melnyk on the move

This was supposed to be a chance for Ottawa to steal the spotlight on one of the league’s biggest weekends of the year. With the NHL celebrating its 100th anniversary, Ottawa welcomed the hockey world for the season’s first outdoor game, as well as an alumni game and other events at a beautiful second rink at Parliament Hill. Even with the Senators struggling, this was a chance to put all that aside and let a market that so often plays second fiddle to Montreal or Toronto have its chance to be front and centre for all the right reasons.

But apparently Eugene Melnyk had other ideas.

The Senators’ owner was the story of the weekend, overshadowing the game itself with his Friday night comments in which he complained about attendance and suggested that payroll was too high. And, in the biggest headline, he told reporters that he’d never sell the team, but might be open to moving it.

After everything else they’ve been through this year, you could forgive Senators fans if they heard Melnyk’s musings and headed straight for the bar. Judging by the reactions on social media and radio call-in lines, more than a few did. But let’s be clear on a few points. First, Melnyk’s comment about moving was conditional on “if it becomes a disaster,” and he acknowledged that the situation isn’t there yet.

More importantly, an NHL owner can’t just pick his team up and move it whenever the whim strikes. Despite the comparisons Melnyk himself tried to draw, an NHL franchise isn’t a McDonald’s or a grocery store. There’s a reason that we’ve only seen one team move in the last 20 years, despite many of the league’s markets being far worse off than any worst-case scenario you could conjure in Ottawa. If Melnyk can’t make it work then the league would look high and low to find someone else who could before they’d consider abandoning a market they’ve spent a quarter-century cultivating.

So what’s Melnyk’s game here? Clearly, he’s disappointed by this year’s attendance numbers, especially after last year’s run to the conference final. Maybe he thinks that a threat of a move hanging over things will spur fans to reach into their wallets, instead of heading in the other direction by just tuning out altogether. It’s a bold strategy — let’s see if it pays off.

It’s impossible not to wonder how all this is playing in the Erik Karlsson camp. The star defenceman was reportedly reprimanded for speaking out publicly about the possibility of playing elsewhere; now the owner can launch into a tirade about moving the entire team? Star players in this league usually end up re-signing rather than testing the open market, in large part because they value stability. This situation doesn’t seem all that stable anymore.

Meanwhile, the hockey world came to Ottawa this weekend, and left with headlines about “dark clouds“and a “circus.” That’s probably not what Melnyk had in mind when he was boasting about putting on the greatest outdoor game yet.

With all that going on, the mood in the capital felt dour heading into the weekend. But the alumni game was fun, the pre-game fan fest attracted a solid crowd, and the weather was cold but otherwise cooperated. By the time Saturday rolled around, a sellout crowd (helped along by plenty of Habs fans) seemed ready to set aside Melnyk’s rant and enjoy a game.

They were rewarded with a low-scoring but reasonably entertaining contest, one that ended with a 3–0 Ottawa win. Karlsson was the driving force for Ottawa, playing an outdoor-record 32 minutes while still finding time to get weird. That makes it two straight for Ottawa, which isn’t much but sure beats losing 11 of 12. Their owner says we should trust him when he calls them a playoff team; today, they’re six points back, which is a healthy gap but not insurmountable.

Meanwhile, the Habs have lost four of five and are just three points up on Ottawa, who hold two games in hand. It’s looking more and more like the Atlantic may produce only three playoff teams, so there isn’t much room for error here. That may be bad news for a Montreal team that plays its next six on the road.

But look on the bright side, Habs fans. Your playoff hopes may be fading, and your team just got shut out in front of a leaguewide audience. But at least your owner hasn’t threatened to make off with the franchise you’ve spent decades supporting. Yet.

Road to the Cup

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

5. Washington Capitals (21-12-1, +8 true goals differential*): Look who’s back in the top five for the first time since Week 1. They’ve won 10 of 12, including three straight, to move into top spot of the still-way-too-crowded Metro.

4. Los Angeles Kings (20-10-4, +20): Three straight losses opened the door for the Knights to retake the Pacific lead.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Saturday storylines: Let's take it outside

Who wants a cold one? Tonight marks the return of outdoor hockey, as the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens meet at Lansdowne Park. It’s also a rare Saturday night without the Toronto Maple Leafs or Vancouver Canucks, while the three remaining Canadian teams get a tour of the Central.

HNIC Game of the Night: Canadiens at Senators

There isn’t much question over where most of the attention will be turned tonight, as the Habs and Sens take it outside at Lansdowne Park in what’s been dubbed the NHL 100 Classic. The game commemorates the meeting between the Canadiens and the original Senators in one of the first two NHL games ever played, way back on Dec. 19, 1917.

But while you can expect to see plenty of history on display, we can forgive these two teams if they’re focused squarely on the present. That’s especially true for the Senators, who desperately need a win to build some momentum after a brutal few weeks that’s seen them lose 12 of 14 to plummet well out of the playoff race. With rumours swirling of major changes on the way – and their GM being forced to deny that he’s about to fire the coach – the Senators are a team that desperately needs to start making up some ground.

They took the first step towards that on Wednesday with a win over the New York Rangers. The two points were important, but the way they were earned them may have mattered even more. Craig Anderson looked strong, Bobby Ryan was a force, Zack Smith finally scored and Matt Duchene may have earned his most important point as a Senator.

Almost as important: With a win under their belt, the Senators can now enjoy hosting the franchise’s first outdoor game, or at least go through the process without feeling like they can’t so much as smile. Still, the timing of tonight’s event isn’t ideal.

Between the losing, Erik Karlsson’s contract comments, a push for a new arena and rumours around ownership, conventional wisdom would say that the last thing this team would seem to need right now is even more distractions. But on the other hand, maybe that’s exactly what they could use. There are worse ways for an NHL team to forget its troubles than by getting out under the lights for a little pond hockey. And if a big crowd inspires Ottawa to collect a win against a division rival it’s chasing in the playoff hunt, even better.

Or they faceplant in front of a national audience. There’s that possibility too.

As for the Canadiens, their up-and-down season continues to defy any attempt at analysis. They lost three straight before beating the Devils on Thursday, falling back out of a playoff spot they’d climbed into possession of last week. The way things have been going this year, that means it’s time for everyone to write them off, at which point they’ll run off another win streak and surge back up the standings.

Outdoor games are always tough to predict – the puck bounces even more than usual, the weather can affect different players in different ways, and the whole endeavour often feels like it’s taking place as a separate piece of its own instead of as part of a larger season. For these two teams right now, that might be a good thing. The league might want tonight to be all about the past, but if the Sens and Habs can’t start banking wins soon, their playoff hopes might be history.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, December 15, 2017

Grab bag: Happy birthday to you

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- The NHL celebrates its 100th birthday, sort of
- The dangerous game of teams making empty threats about moving
- An obscure player who won four Cups with four teams
- The week's three comedy stars feature an awkward wedgie
- And a classic YouTube clip of the best jersey retirement ever

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Podcast: The Karlsson question

In this week's episode of the Biscuits hockey podcast:
- We debate whether Erik Karlsson and the Senators are really on "a rocket to hell" or whether it's actually worse
- The minor detail in the Matt Duchene trade that might turn out to be a major problem
- This weekend's outdoor game, which isn't being held where you think it is
- Dave's push for the Nashville Predators to become an NBA-style superteam
- We accidentally come up with a brilliant fix the all-star breakaway competition
- I find out that apparently Dave has had another podcast all this time
- An extra helping of reader questions
- And lots more...

>> Stream it now on Vice Sports

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

Happy thoughts for the NHL's twelve most disappointing team

You can call them the NHL’s dirty dozen. Or you could just call them the most disappointing stories in the NHL so far this year. Either way, if you’re a fan of one of the 12 teams below, you probably aren’t picking up much in the way of good vibes these days.

That’s life in the NHL, where not every team can meet expectations. But that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow when it’s December and your team is already fading, or worse. In fact, it can be tempting to grab a shovel and pile even more dirt on a team that’s floundering this late in the year.

Well, not today. We’re into the holiday season, which is supposed to be a time of charity and goodwill. So let’s stay positive. Let’s take each of the league’s 12 most disappointing teams, and see if we can come up with three nice things to say about them.

And for some added fun, we’ll do this in order of difficulty — starting with the easiest teams to say nice things about, and working our way down to the toughest calls.

12. Chicago Blackhawks

The negative: After going out in the first round for two straight years, the Blackhawks might not even make it to the post-season this time around. They’re currently outside of a playoff spot despite a strong year from Corey Crawford, and their aging core and tight cap situation will make bringing in significant reinforcements all but impossible.

We’ve been incorrectly predicting the demise of the Hawks’ mini-dynasty for years now, but this feels like it really could be it. So can we come up with three positive things to say to make Chicago fans feel a little better? Let’s try.

Positive thought #1: You won the Stanley Cup in 2010.

Positive thought #2: You won the Stanley Cup in 2013.

Positive thought #3: You won the Stanley Cup in 2015. Seriously, you could finish dead last for the next decade and nobody will feel bad for you.

See? This is easy.

OK, granted, the Blackhawks were the tutorial level here. Consider that a warmup. Let’s up the difficulty with the next team.

11. Detroit Red Wings

The negative: After failing to qualify for the playoffs last year for the first time since 1990, the Wings look set to make it two straight misses.

Positive thought #1: The new arena is nice. And you didn’t even have to pretend to be moving to Houston to get it.

Positive thought #2: Let’s be honest — the best thing that could happen to the Red Wings would be to bottom out and convince management that it’s time for a full-fledged rebuild. Ken Holland still seems to be resisting that idea, but a 70-point season might leave him with no choice.

Positive thought #3: Wings fans might get to watch Steve Yzerman win another Cup this year, so there’s that too. But yeah, it’s mainly the rebuild.

That one was slightly tougher. Let’s keep going…

10. Dallas Stars

The negative: After plummeting out of the playoffs last year, the Stars brought back Ken Hitchcock and finally went out and made the Ben Bishop trade we’d all been waiting for. That seemed to clear a path back into contention for the Central title. Instead, they’re 31 games in and are outside the playoffs in terms of points percentage.

Positive thought #1: Hitchcock’s defensive approach seems to be kicking in. The Stars rank fourth in shots allowed per game, and they rank second behind only the Blues in expected goals allowed per 60 minutes of 5v5.

Positive thought #2: Bishop hasn’t looked great, but he’s also had to deal with some minor injuries. He’ll be fine once he can stay healthy. (Big goalies in their 30s with a history of injury problems tend to stay healthy, right?)

Positive thought #3: It was only a few days ago that the Stars were riding a five-game win streak and looking like they had things figured out. A lot can change in a week in today’s NHL, but the Stars still look very much like a playoff team, even if they may not be the top contender we were hoping for.

Everyone feeling hopeful? So far so good. Here’s where we ramp up the challenge.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Monday, December 11, 2017

Weekend wrap: Metro traffic jam

As we get settled into the season and the day-to-day ups and downs start to give way to a longer view, it can help to take a step back and look at the bigger picture every now and then. One way to do that is to pick one division and go top to bottom in an attempt to figure out what’s going on.

So today, let’s do just that, as we ask the question: What’s going on with the Metro Division?

Checks standings.

Yeah, I have no idea.

Roughly 30 games into the season, there’s barely anything to separate the top six in the division. There’s just five points between first place Columbus and the sixth-place Rangers – and New York has a game in hand. The Capitals, Devils, Islanders and Penguins are all nestled within two points of each other in between. And right now, all six of those Metro teams are holding down spots in the East’s top eight.

That presents a problem, since the NHL wild-card format only allows for five teams from any one division to make the post-season. With the Atlantic struggling to find a third playoff-worthy team, it’s possible that we could be headed towards a sixth-place Metro team getting ripped off.

Of course, there’s a way to avoid that scenario: Win enough games that you don’t get stuck in that sixth spot. The Rangers took a big step in that direction on Saturday with a 5-2 win over the Devils that continued an extended hot streak at MSG, where they’ve won 10 of 11. It was a fun revival of a rivalry that’s been low on big games in recent years, and moved the Rangers to within two points of a Devils team they’d trailed by as many as eight at the end of October.

That was the Devils second divisional defeat of the weekend, combining with Friday’s 5-3 loss to the Blue Jackets. It’s possible that the Devils are finally looking like the team we expected to see after a hot start; they haven’t won more than two straight since Nov. 1. Their goal differential is now in the red too, so there’s some real reason for concern in New Jersey.

If the Devils keep slipping, that opens the door for not only the Rangers, but an Islanders team that’s been quietly putting together a solid season. The Isles just dropped three straight on a tough road trip, but the good news is that they’ll spend seven of the next eight at home, where they’ve only lost in regulation once all year.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets earned a 1-0 win over the Coyotes that nicely symbolizes a team that seems to specialize in doing just enough to stay in first place. The Penguins lost to the Maple Leafs and continue to spin their wheels, even though everyone assumes they’re just biding their time. And then there’s the seventh-place Hurricanes, who are still lurking six points back despite losing five of six.

That covers six of the division’s eight teams; we’ll hit on the other two in a little more depth down below.

Road to the Cup

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

5. Toronto Maple Leafs (20-10-1, +17 true goals differential*) – They keep finding ways to win even when they’re missing Auston Matthews, playing their backup goalie and getting skated into the ground by Connor McDavid.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets (19-10-1, +11) – This was weird: A struggling Cam Atkinson was a healthy scratch for Columbus on Saturday, just three weeks after signing a $41-million extension.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Saturday Storylines: The Jets get their shot

We’re into double digits as we hit the 10th weekend of the NHL season. We’ve got a dozen games on tap, starting in the afternoon and lasting through a trio of late starts. Here’s what to watch for.

HNIC Game of the Night: Jets at Lightning

The Jets are in the middle of what’s been easily their best season since returning to the NHL in 2011. It might be taking a run at 1984–85 for the best Jets season ever, period. That’s not an especially high bar, but Winnipeg fans probably aren’t too worried about nitpicking right now, because for most of the year this team has been all sorts of fun.

Even after losing two straight to start this road trip, the Jets are still locked in a three-team race for top spot in the Central. But if there’s been a knock against them, it’s one we covered a few weeks back: they haven’t earned many signature wins. They had that one blowout over the Penguins, and they beat the Pacific-leading Kings, but for the most part their wins have come against a long list of also-rans and quasi-contenders.

That’s not entirely their fault, since in today’s parity-soaked NHL almost every opponent will be an also-ran or quasi-contender. But tonight, the Jets get their shot at an unambiguous Cup favourite when they face the first-place-overall Lightning.

Tampa’s been dominating the power rankings so far this year, ours included, and it’s not hard to see why. They’re stacked with talent, they score a ton, and they’re racking up wins. And they’re earning them — they’re the only team in the league right now that’s outscoring the opposition by better than a goal a game. They’re good.

The Jets are good, too, but you can forgive the hockey world for being a little bit slower to buy in. That could change with a strong showing tonight. We won’t go crazy and use words like “potential Stanley Cup final preview” here, but we reserve the right to change our mind if the Jets can go into Tampa and dominate.

And if seeing how the young Jets match up with the Lightning isn’t enough proof for any skeptics out there, stand by. Next weekend brings a home-and-home showdown with the Blues, and that’s followed by a game against the Predators. The Central picture is about to get a whole lot clearer, and for once the Jets have a chance to control how they fit into it.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, December 8, 2017

Grab bag: Happy anniversary

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Should fans believe the annual Forbes report on NHL franchise values?
- The only way to save the 2018 Olympic hockey tournament
- An obscure player who went even longer than Pokey Reddick without a shutout
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a classic YouTube clip breakdown of a 25-year-old fight that seems vaguely familiar somehow...

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Podcast: Buttng heads

In this week's episode of Biscuits: A Hockey Podcast...
- We spend an uncomfortably long amount of time talking about Joe Thornton's butt check to TJ Oshie's face
- A breakdown of what's going on with Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson
- We sort out last week's goalie fight debacle
- The Flyers finally win a game, but at least they're not the Sabres
- Dave basically admits he was wrong about 3-on-3 overtime and the shootout
- Reader questions, and lots more.

>> Stream it now on Vice Sports

>> Or subscribe on iTunes.

A celebration of Jacob Markstrom's obscure and probably impossible record chase

Late in Saturday’s game against the Maple Leafs, the Canucks watched as James van Riemsdyk tipped home a Morgan Rielly shot to cut Vancouver’s lead to 2–1. While the Maple Leafs pressed hard over the final few minutes, the Canucks ultimately held on for the win. In terms of the outcome of the game, the goal didn’t end up mattering.

But in terms of history, it did matter. It mattered a lot.

Forget about the Canucks honouring Daniel Sedin for hitting the 1,000-point mark. That was impressive and all, but there are 87 members of that club. It’s not all that rare. Sedin isn’t even the first to accomplish the feat among people with his exact DNA sequence.

No, we’re talking about real history. Somebody who has a chance to enter truly uncharted territory.

We’re talking about Jacob Markstrom‘s shutout streak.

Or more specifically, we’re talking about his lack-of-shutout streak. Markstrom has now played 128 NHL games without one. That leaves him just four games short of matching Pokey Reddick’s all-time record for most games played in a career without recording so much as a single shutout.

When you think about it, that’s pretty amazing. Reddick’s 132-game career was played between 1986 and 1994, which largely overlaps with the highest-scoring era in NHL history. Markstrom’s streak dates back to 2010, meaning it takes place entirely during the Dead Puck Era. It shouldn’t be possible for a modern player to break a 1980s record for goaltending futility; that would be like somebody coming along today to challenge Wayne Gretzky’s scoring marks.

And that makes Markstrom’s streak an accomplishment worth recognizing, even celebrating. Preferably now, before he inevitably gets a shutout in the next few starts and ruins it.

So today, let’s take a look at Markstrom’s quest for the record from a couple of different angles. And we’ll start with the man he’s chasing.

The record-holder

Pokey Reddick was awesome.

If you were around during those days then you already know that, but it’s worth noting just in case. He was small even for his era at just five-foot-eight, meaning he had to actually move his limbs to make a save, which made him all sorts of fun to watch.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Monday, December 4, 2017

Weekend wrap: Where do Doughty and Karlsson end up?

We’ve reached the point in the season where our attention tends to turn toward the future. Things have settled in, and our view of who’s good and who’s not isn’t swinging wildly day to day anymore. But there’s still plenty of season left, so it’s tempting to start thinking ahead to the trade deadline, the final stretch run, or the playoffs.

Or, as was the case this weekend, to the summer of 2019.

If that seems a little too far ahead, we can thank Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson. The Kings’ defenceman got the ball rolling with a revealing interview late last week in which he admitted he was already looking ahead to free agency, and that he would be touching base with fellow 2019 UFA Karlsson to make sure they’re on the same page in terms of money. The Senators’ star then stoked that fire by telling a reporter that “When I go to market, I’m going to get what I’m worth.”

Well then. In a league where franchise players almost never make it to free agency, hearing Doughty and Karlsson muse about it openly was a surprise. Most players would mumble something about not thinking ahead, just being focused on winning tonight’s game, and hey let’s get pucks in deep. Not these two, apparently.

So naturally, fans around the league immediately started in on figuring how to react, parsing the specific words — does it mean anything that Karlsson said “when” he goes to market, not if? — and trying to figure out what number Doughty would wear for the Maple Leafs. (That last one may have just been in Toronto.) Meanwhile, fans in L.A. and Ottawa were really wishing everyone would leave them alone and go back to speculating about John Tavares.

Well, no such luck today. Instead, let’s try to handicap where the two stars will end up.

Possibility #1: Both guys re-sign before actually hitting UFA status

After all the speculation, both players do what virtually everyone else does and sign extensions well before they get to the market — maybe as early at July 1 of next year.

Odds of it happening: 80%

Entertainment value for Kings and/or Sens fans: It would be more like relief than entertainment, but they’d take it.

Entertainment value for the rest of us: Minimal.

Possibility #2: Both guys re-sign, but at least one makes it to UFA status first

A.K.A. “The Stamkos”

Odds of it happening: 5%

Entertainment value for Kings and/or Sens fans: Right up there with skydiving with a faulty parachute that doesn’t open the first few times you pull the chord, but eventually does.

Entertainment value for the rest of us: Strong for a day or two, then minimal.

Possibility #3: At least one guy gets traded

Hey, you can’t let him walk for nothing, right?

Odds of it happening: 7%

Entertainment value for Kings and/or Sens fans: Solid. They wouldn’t like it, but you’d get a ton in return for either guy. And if it did come to this, plenty of fans in Ottawa or L.A. would have already turned against the guy and talked themselves into moving on for the good of the franchise.

Entertainment value for the rest of us: Sky-high, especially if it comes after months of speculation. Trades are the best.

Possibility #4: At least one guy actually switches teams in free agency

I mean, it has happened before with star defencemen in their prime. There was Scott Niedermayer in 2006 and Zdeno Chara in 2007 and… uh… basically those two.

Odds of it happening: 7%

Entertainment value for Kings and/or Sens fans: Less than zero. Unless the departure came on the heels of a Cup win, this would be devastating.

Entertainment value for the rest of us: High, right up until the player ended up signing with your team’s biggest rival.

Possibility #5: Both guys end up on the same team

They’re represented by the same agency. They’ve already admitted they’re going to work together on this. They seem like friends. Is anyone else getting a Selanne/Kariya vibe here?

Odds of it happening: 1%

Entertainment value for Kings and/or Sens fans: We’ll be at the bar.

Entertainment value for the rest of us: Save us a seat; we can all drown our sorrows while we watch the same team get handed the Stanley Cup for the next few years.

Road to the Cup

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

5. Los Angeles Kings (17-8-3, +22 true goals differential*): They’ve retaken the Pacific thanks to five straight wins and a Golden Knights slump.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets (17-9-1, +11): They’ve got a big Metro showdown with the Devils this week, as the two will face off in back-to-back games (with two days off in between, for some reason).

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Saturday storylines: The Battle of Alberta resumes

In the Saturday Storylines:
- The Battle of Alberta is back, and the stakes feel kind of high
- The Canucks get a visit from their old friend Nazem Kadri
- A coach whose hot seat may be about to melt
- The Atlantic Division is kind of terrible
- A look back at a forgotten classic playoff series with a game seven OT ending
- And more...

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, December 1, 2017

Grab Bag: In the year 2050

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Thoughts on the media, criticism and players' feelings
- That Drew Doughty interview was the best
- An obscure player who helped introduce the modern goalie fight
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a YouTube clip that shows us what the 1990s hockey world thought the future of hockey would look like

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Podcast: Price fixing

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- Carey Price is back. Are the Canadiens saved?
- Scoring is up and nobody can figure out why. Dave and I have a theory.
- The Flyers are flatlining and change has to be on the way soon.
- Which two active players would combine for the best goalie fight?
- And lots more...

>> Stream it now on Vice Sports

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The 20 stages of realizing your favorite NHL team might be terrible

We’re now over a quarter of the way into the NHL regular season. That’s not all that far, and there’s still time for plenty of twists and turns. But we’re starting to settle in, and by now there are certain things we’re starting to feel pretty sure about.

For example, we’re pretty sure that a few of these teams are terrible.

You can’t make the playoffs in the season’s first few months, as we’re often told, but you sure can miss them. And several teams are well on their way to doing just that, with starts around the league that range from concerning (Edmonton, Montreal) to outright bad (Buffalo, Florida, Philadelphia) to historically awful (Arizona).

If you’re a fan of one of those teams, or one of the many other early-season disappointments, it can be a tough time. So today, we present the 20 stages of realizing your favourite team might be terrible. This may not make you feel any better, but it will at least help you keep track of where you’re at.

Stage 1: Opening-night optimism

Ah, opening night. The one night of the year when everyone is convinced that their team will be fine. Like the old saying goes, everyone is tied for first place. But not for long. Soon, your team will have first place all to itself.

Look, is this team perfect? No, of course not. It’s the cap era, so every team will have its share of imperfections, and this one is no exception.

But is it a bad team? No, it most certainly is not. Nobody with half a brain thinks that. They’re going to be fine.

Bring on the season. You have a good feeling about this.

Stage 2: The first signs of a problem

Huh. You kind of thought they’d look better than this. Obviously, you knew they weren’t going to go 82-0-0, and a few losses are nothing to overreact to. But sometimes, it’s about the way that you lose. And you don’t like the way this team is losing.

Maybe it’s the goaltending, or the secondary scoring, or the veteran star who seems just a step or two slower. But once you notice it, it’s all you can see. And if it continues, it’s going to be an issue.

Still, there’s plenty of time to sort this stuff out. In a month or two you probably won’t even remember that any of this stuff was a concern. For now, let’s just put a pin in it and see how the rest of the season plays out.

It’s probably nothing.

Stage 3: Constantly repeating that it’s still early

OK, there’s no denying that this isn’t going well. But it’s early.

And yes, this is the point where someone will start quoting stats about how a team that finds itself a certain number of points out of the playoffs on Nov. 1 or American Thanksgiving or whatever the date is will almost always end up missing out. But you don’t buy that. Most of the teams who found themselves in those situations were bad. This team is good. Or at least not terrible. Probably.

It’s still early. Just keep saying that to anyone who tries to talk to you. Preferably before they even finish their sentence.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Monday, November 27, 2017

Weekend wrap: Sens of urgency

So it’s probably time to talk about the Senators again.

The first time we led with Ottawa, it was two weeks into the season and they’d just rolled through western Canada, looking an awful lot like a team that was picking up where last year’s conference finalist had left off. A few weeks later, they were bringing in reinforcements, pulling off a blockbuster three-way deal for Matt Duchene. Both times, optimism was the word of the day in Ottawa.

Today, not so much. The Senators followed the Duchene trade with a trip to Sweden, where they swept two against the Avalanche. But since returning to North America, they’ve been a disaster, losing six straight and picking up just a single point in the process. It’s their worst stretch by far of the Guy Boucher era, and it’s dropped them into the ranks of the Eastern Conference also-rans, nestled in between the Hurricanes and Flyers. Today, the Sens are sitting three points out of an Atlantic playoff spot, and six back of a wild-card berth.

Even worse, the Duchene trade seems to have thrown a wrench into the offence, which hasn’t scored more than twice during the losing streak after scoring three or more in seven of eight games before the deal. And Duchene himself certainly hasn’t helped the cause, contributing just a single point since arriving while posting an ugly -10 rating.

The good news is that Duchene is coming off his best game as a Senator, which came during Saturday’s loss to the Islanders. He had a power-play goal late in the game, and didn’t post a minus rating for the first time (he was even):

That’s not exactly a breakthrough, but at this point you start with baby steps.

More important, the underlying numbers suggest that Duchene’s lack of production is more due to a swing of bad luck than anything in particular that he is or isn’t doing. He’s putting almost twice as many shots on net as a Senator than he was in Colorado, but he’s getting PDO’d to death at both ends of the ice. That kind of stuff can happen to anyone over the course of a year, and if it’s buried in the middle of a season we may not even notice it. But when it comes in a player’s first few games after a monster trade, it gets people talking. (Kyle Turris has six points in eight games in Nashville, in case you were wondering.)

But while you might be able to shrug off Duchene’s struggles as a temporary blip, there’s at least some reason for concern with the Senators as a group. Their record is already inflated by loser points, with just eight actual wins to show for 22 games. That’s a stat that can go both ways, since some better luck in overtime and shootout coin flips would mean a few extra points. But they’re already well back of just about everyone else in the ROW tie-breaker, which could come into play if the playoff race is close.

So what’s wrong? It’s not about injuries; with the exception of Erik Karlsson‘s delayed start to the season, they’ve been reasonably healthy. They are getting hurt by goaltending, with Craig Anderson posting a .895 save percentage. Normally we might write that off as a slump by a guy who’s usually among the league’s best, and it probably is, but you get a little nervous when a guy who’s 36 starts to stumble.

No team is ever as bad as they look during a losing streak, so we have to go bigger picture when trying to figure out the Senators. And there’s a good chance that Anderson settles in, Duchene adjusts to his new home, Karlsson wins a few games singlehandedly and everything turns out OK. But it’s also possible that the Senators we’ve seen so far this season are an accurate reflection of what this team should be — in other words, one that loses more than they win, keeps it relatively close in the process, and hangs around the outside of the playoff picture.

And of course, they’ve already played most of their trade chips, at least in terms of future assets. We often hear about how crucial it is for Ottawa’s bottom line that the team always at least make the post-season. If things don’t turn around soon, we might be about to find out just how crucial.

Road to the Cup

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

5. Nashville Predators (14-6-3, +7 true goals differential*): Last year’s conference champs had won nine of 10 before yesterday’s shootout loss in Carolina.

4. Winnipeg Jets (14-6-3, +10): They didn’t impress during Saturday’s showcase game in San Jose, but two of three in California ain’t bad.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Saturday storylines: The return of Carey Price

It’s a bit of a weird weekend this time around, with the NHL taking U.S. Thanksgiving off on Thursday and then jamming the schedule with 14 games last night, the busiest Friday of the year. That means just about everyone will be playing tired tonight, and the combination of fatigue and backup goalies could lead to some high-scoring games.

HNIC Game of the Night: Jets at Sharks

Heading into the season, this wouldn’t have been a game you circled as a potential matchup of the night. And sure, there are other matchups around the league that feature more star power or better teams. But this one is intriguing partly because it features two teams we haven’t quite figured out yet.

The Jets are finishing off a tough road swing that’s seen them play four games in six nights, starting in Nashville and then heading through California. So far, it’s yielded mixed results, with one/two wins in three games. But that still leaves the Jets with one of the better records in the Western Conference at 14-5-3.

We’ve been waiting for this kind of breakout for years in Winnipeg, where a talented young core has played fun-but-inconsistent hockey that’s so far produced more magazine covers declaring them future Cup champions (one) than playoff game victories (still waiting). Last week, we nudged them into our top-five power rankings for the first time, well, ever.

So it’s hard not to get excited about how it’s all coming together this year. But then you look down the list of teams the Jets have actually beaten, and aside from an admittedly impressive 7–1 win over the Penguins you see a mix of struggling contenders, question marks and outright bad teams. Maybe that’s to be expected in a parity league where almost everyone is just kind of OK, but it would be nice to see the Jets make a statement.

The Sharks may not offer that opportunity, since they’ve been up and down all year. We snuck them into the top five on a couple of occasions, too, but they’ve cooled off lately and dropped out of a playoff spot. That’s not a cause for panic quite yet, at least in what’s shaping up to be a weak Pacific Division, and the analytics types still seem to love them. But wins are wins, and right now the Sharks are in danger of moving into that mushy middle of teams nobody pays much attention to. Maybe they should already be there.

If so, then this is exactly the sort of winnable road game that a contender would march in and take. We’re still not sure that the Jets are that team, but they’ve been proving it a game at a time, and they get another chance tonight. At the very least, it may be the biggest Jets-vs.-Sharks matchup in 50 years.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, November 24, 2017

Grab bag: Pangs of pregret

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- An NHL coach finally calls BS on the league's ridiculous injury policy
- Celebrating a new class of terrible of contract
- An obscure player who did something nobody had managed since Phil Esposito
- The week's three comedy stars, including that SNL sketch
- And a YouTube breakdown of the game that introduced Mickey Mouse to the NHL

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Podcast: Fixing the DoPS

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- A look at a bus week of suspensions
- Fallout from the Wings/Flames fight
- Remembering back to what old school hockey brawls were like
- Dave and I fix the DoPS
- How worried should the Habs be?
- A fun hypothetical about Carey Price's contract
- And lots more...

>> Stream it now on Vice Sports

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

Handing out some awards at the NHL's quarter pole

We’re almost at the quarter-mark of the NHL schedule, which means it’s time to do a few things. First, and most importantly: Start wildly panicking if your team isn’t doing as well as they should be. You guys on that, Montreal and Edmonton? You are? Great, nice work as always.

For the rest of us, we may as well hand out some quarter-season awards. Sure, most of these will turn out to be regrettable in hindsight by the end of the year, and some of them will look bad within weeks. But that’s part of the fun.

So let’s do it. You can vote for your own picks right here with results revealed this week on Wednesday Night Hockey. In the meantime, here’s who we’d be handing out the tiny quarter-sized trophies to, based on the season’s first six weeks.

Most valuable player

Every sport that features an MVP award has the same debate over how exactly we should define “valuable.” Some see it as simply a fancy way of saying the best player, while others look for some deeper meaning related to a player’s relative importance to his teammates in terms of his team’s playoff chances.

Some years, one player emerges as the favourite under either definition and we can skip the semantic debate. This year, we may not be so lucky. Because based on the first quarter of the season, Hart Trophy voters could end up facing a dilemma: What do you do when the season’s two best performers are on the same team?

With Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos racking up big numbers while helping the Lightning to top spot in the standings, some will try to argue that they can’t be considered more valuable than someone like Connor McDavid or Johnny Gaudreau, who are the clear offensive leaders on their team. Others would point out that points aren’t everything, and that a two-way force like Anze Kopitar should get some consideration.

Of course, if we’re not going to just look at the top of the scoring race (like Hart voters usually do), we could make the case for a goalie or defenceman. That would bring guys like Sergei Bobrovsky, Alex Pietrangelo and Corey Crawford into the conversation. And then you’ve got guys who’ve missed time to injury, but are clearly their team’s most valuable players when healthy — that group would include Erik Karlsson and Auston Matthews.

Luckily, we fall into the category of voters who keep it simple. The league’s most valuable player is the one that’s having the best season, period. That means Kucherov gets the nod, edging out Stamkos. And we’ll toss Bobrovsky a third-place vote, if only because non-forwards rarely get enough Hart love.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Monday, November 20, 2017

Weekend wrap: Which teams were we wrong about?

Well, that didn’t go well for the Canadiens.

Fresh off the embarrassment of becoming the first team in the league to lose to the Coyotes in regulation, the Habs had a chance at instant redemption in a home matchup against the Maple Leafs. Instead, they suffered through a third-period implosion on the way to a 6–0 loss that may have somehow been even more embarrassing.

So now what? The Canadiens are 21 games into their season, and it already feels like the drama around this team is exhausting. They started slow, including a stretch where nobody could score. But they seemed to have turned things around, winning six of eight while scoring five or more four times. They still had ground to make up, but the percentages were evening out and it felt like it was OK to sound the all-clear on any talk of disaster.

Maybe not. The Habs have now lost four of five, sinking back down to five points out of a playoff spot. GM Marc Bergevin is taking all sorts of heat. Max Pacioretty is getting his usual share of the blame. And now there’s even talk that the team could be doing some “soul searching” while considering starting all over with a rebuild. That’s a long-term decision and any problems with this roster didn’t just appear overnight, but it’s amazing how much one rotten week can change the perception of a team.

The Canadiens aren’t the only team being reevaluated right now. Half the teams in the league have now hit the 20-game mark, which means it’s time to do a few important things. First, we can spend the next few days referring to this point in the season as the “quarter pole” just so that the sort of people who enjoy giving lectures on proper horse-racing etymology will have something to do. And second, we can start in with some serious re-evaluation of the teams we may have been wrong about.

Every year, a few teams we thought would be good stumble through the season’s first month while a few teams we’d already written off look like playoff contenders. Those are interesting stories, and we’ve covered plenty of them in this space over the last few weeks. But as we’re constantly reminded, it’s still early, and a small handful of games can’t tell us all that much.

But 20 games is… well, it’s still a relatively small sample, and it’s not unheard of for a team to have a good or bad stretch for a quarter of a season that still turns out to be an outlier. But we’re reaching the point where it’s time to start taking the standings seriously, if only because teams may have built up a cushion or deficit big enough to survive a correction down the line.

So this week, let’s pick three teams that most of us thought would be good and three teams we all assumed would be bad but who aren’t following the script, and ask: Were we wrong? And if so, what does that mean going forward? We’ll tackle the disappointing teams in our Cup section and the surprising teams in our lottery section. For some of them, based on the first 20 games, it may be the last time they get mentioned in those sections this year.

And of course, we’ll also dive into the teams that have been truly good and truly awful in our weekly power rankings. Speaking of which, you’ll never guess who’s sitting in the No. 1 spot in our top five.

Road to the Cup

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

5. Winnipeg Jets (12-4-3, +12 true goals differential*): The Jets make their debut on the strength of a four-game win streak. They’ll be tested this week as they head to Nashville tonight and then onto a three-game California road trip.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Saturday storylines: Leafs vs Habs, chapter two

Welcome to the NHL’s “Centennial Birthday Weekend,” in which the league celebrates its 100th birthday. It’s not the anniversary of the first ever games, since that’s in December, or of the league officially forming, since that’s next week. It’s just … uh … a centennial birthday. Stop asking questions. Look, do you want some cake or not?

HNIC Game of the Night: Maple Leafs at Canadiens

This is the second time this season that we’ve featured a Leafs-Habs game in this spot, and it probably won’t be the last. There’s just something special about a Saturday night matchup between the two long-time rivals. And since the league is using the meeting as an opportunity to douse us with history, all the better.

It’s worth revisiting what we wrote about these two teams the last time they played, if only to serve as a reminder of how many twists and turns can be packed into five weeks. Back on the season’s second weekend, we were wondering if the Maple Leafs could snap Montreal’s 14-game win streak in head-to-head matchups. They did, earning a 4-3 overtime win on an Auston Matthews goal.

We were also wondering if Montreal was ever going to get the offence going. That happened too, although it took a little longer. The Habs’ inability to score went from a curiosity to problem to an outright crisis over the course of the season’s first few weeks, before the floodgates finally opened and all those stats guys were proven right about percentages and regression and sample sizes. The Canadiens aren’t exactly lighting up scoreboards – they still rank just 24th in total goals – and Thursday’s loss to the Coyotes was the first time they’ve scored more than three in a game since Nov. 4. But at least nobody’s panicking about the offence anymore in Montreal. They’ve got other things to worry about.

Instead, we’re all wondering what’s up with Carey Price, who’s “minor” injury has kept him out for two weeks now. He still says it’s no big deal, assuring fans that they “don’t have to be concerned” and that this isn’t a repeat of 2015. That’s reassuring, and with rookie Charlie Lindgren looking fantastic, the Canadiens haven’t missed their superstar all that much yet. But seeing Price try to play through a second pre-game injury raises some fair questions about the relationship between the team and its expensive star. And you can forgive Montreal fans for being a little nervous about the situation, especially when Antti Niemi suddenly shows up via waivers? If Niemi is ever the answer, the question probably isn’t anything good.

As for the Maple Leafs, the last time they were in Montreal they were riding high and scoring a ton. Since then, we’ve seen them boost their record to 6-1-0, be declared Cup favourites, cool off, hit an outright slump, and then reel off five straight wins even though they were missing Matthews for most of that stretch. It’s been quite a journey. And these days, the Maple Leafs are winning thanks to solid goaltending and team defence instead of by just blowing the doors off whoever’s in the opposing net. They even managed a 1-0 overtime win their last time out. That’s not quite as much fun, but it probably makes Mike Babcock a lot less cranky, and that’s worth something.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, November 17, 2017

Grab Bag: When Teemu sings

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- That Wings/Flames brawl was crazy, but man times have changed
- Your guide to the GoalDNA project
- An obscure player who likes ice hockey, ice hockey
- The week's three comedy stars
- And new Hall-of-Famer Teemu Selanne has a song for you

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Biscuits podcast: Fixing the Hockey Hall of Fame

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:

- Gary Bettman was allowed to speak in public again, so Dave and I are annoyed
- Brian Burke did too, and he didn't disappoint
- We introduce a new feature called Dave and Sean Fix The NHL. This week's project: the Hockey Hall of Fame
- Is Martin St. Louis a HHOFer? Dave isn't sure.
- Should Daniel Alfredsson be a sure thing? I'm not sure.
- We both suggest a longshot defenseman we think should be in.
- Reader questions, and lots more...

>> Stream it now on Vice Sports

>> Or subscribe on iTunes.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Weekend wrap: Are the Penguins broken?

Almost a quarter of a way into the season, the Pittsburgh Penguins have lost more games than they’ve won. They have the league’s third-worst goals differential, having given up 17 more than they’ve scored. They’ve lost six of their last eight. And Sidney Crosby is struggling through an extended slump, one that sees him with a bigger number on the wrong side of his plus/minus (-14) than in the points column (13).

Should we be concerned here?

The knee-jerk reaction is to say no, of course not. It’s early, there are still five months to go and these are the Penguins we’re talking about. Most good teams go through a cold spell or two over the course of a season, and we shouldn’t overreact just because the Penguins’ stretch is coming in October and November instead of being buried in February when nobody would even notice.

That’s pretty much the stance we’ve been taking around these parts, where we spent October stubbornly slotting the Penguins into our top-five list even when they were losing games 10-1. That seemed fair – two straight titles should buy you some benefit of the doubt. But as the season wears on and the Penguins continue to look like a decidedly mediocre team, it may be time to start wondering.

After all, this is a team that lost a lot of last year’s roster. They were depth pieces, sure, and in theory the core was even better because Kris Letang is back. But Letang is off to a terrible start, and the team seems to miss guys like Nick Bonino, Ron Hainsey and Chris Kunitz. They’ve missed Marc-Andre Fleury too, as Matt Murray is off to a slow start and the backup spot has been a mess.

They’ve also had issues with back-to-back games. They’ve played two games in two nights six times so far this year, and they’ve lost the second game all six times. That includes three embarrassing blowouts by scores of 10-1 (against the Blackhawks), 7-1 (Lightning) and 7-1 again (Jets). No team likes to play back-to-backs, but seeing the Penguins struggle like this has to be a concern. This team has played a ton of hockey over the last two years, and you have to wonder about fatigue. Seeing them constantly look like their tank is empty in back-to-backs is a worrying sign.

Let’s circle back to those three ugly blowouts. In a weird sort of way, maybe they’re good news. The Penguins were outscored 24-3 in those three games, which accounts for that terrible goals differential. You can’t just hand-wave away a team’s worst games, but it’s not like the Penguins have been as consistently bad as a first glance at the numbers might suggest.

But there’s a flip side to that coin, and it’s that it’s extremely rare for good teams to get blown out this badly this often. Only three teams have ever lost three games by six goals or more and gone on to win the Stanley Cup that year: the 1917-18 Toronto Arenas, 1979-80 Islanders and 1983-84 Oilers. All three of those teams played in high-scoring eras. Since the year 2000, there have been only four other times where an eventual champ was blown out by six or more. On the other hand, two of those included last year’s Penguins, so maybe this is just a thing this team does.

It’s also worth noting that the Pens have been very good at home but lousy away from Pittsburgh. That’s important, because they’ve played 13 of their 19 games on the road. That’s part of a bigger issue, which is that their early schedule has been a tough one. They’ve played the Lightning, Predators and Capitals twice each, as well as the Blues, Jets and Blackhawks. That’s a tough start, especially when you’re on the road for most of it.

The bottom line is that it’s certainly too early to write off the Penguins – as bad as things have been, they’re still sitting in second spot in their division. But they don’t look much like the team that’s rolled through so much of the league since Mike Sullivan arrived on the scene. Maybe it’s fatigue, maybe it’s a lack of depth, or maybe it’s just one of those cold streaks that happens sometimes. We don’t know yet, and there’s still plenty of time to find out. But even if it’s not panic time, at least a little bit of concern seems reasonable.

Road to the Cup

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

5. Toronto Maple Leafs (12-7-0, +8 true goals differential*): The Leafs sneak back onto the list after winning four straight this week, despite not actually playing all that well and missing Auston Matthews. Good teams have to find ways to win when they’re not at their best.

4. San Jose Sharks (10-6-0, +7): Honestly, there’s like a half-dozen teams we could slot into the No. 4 and 5 spots. But we’ll give this spot to the Sharks even though they may not deserve it. You know, kind of like it’s a penalty shot.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet