Friday, June 23, 2017

Podcast: The Biscuits season finale

In the season finale of the Biscuits podcast, Dave and I cover:
- The Golden Knights' vaguely disappointing expansion draft
- Marian Hossa's contract situation
- The NHL awards show
- The little Drake controversy
- The time I wrote jokes for the NHL Awards monologue
- Shane Doan as the party guest who won't take the hint
- Reader questions, and lots more...

>> Stream it now on Vice Sports

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.




Grab bag: The curious case of Little Drake

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Wait, holy crap, was that a 10-year-old Drake in last week's YouTube section?
- The Blackhawks are going to get out of Marian Hossa's contract, and that's fine
- An obscure player to make Oiler fans sad
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a YouTube clip that is -- and I do not say this lightly -- the weirdest moment in NHL Awards show history

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports




Thursday, June 22, 2017

Winners and losers from the NHL expansion draft

The Golden Knights finally exist in a form beyond a name, a logo and a handful of free agents.

After last night’s expansion draft unveiling, the Knights finally have a full roster. And while it may not look all that much like the one they open the season with, it’s a start.

Let’s take a look at what the Knights gained and what everyone else around the league gave up, voluntarily or otherwise, as the first expansion draft of the cap era played out.

Here are the winners and losers from the last few days – and weeks, and months – of expansion maneuverings.

Winner: George McPhee’s creativity

The league made sure that the Knights would have some decent players to choose from, shifting the rules from previous drafts to make sure Vegas wouldn’t be left with a roster made up entirely of castoffs and has-beens. (Hey, $500 million has to buy you something.) So we knew that McPhee and his team would be able to find some talent.

But McPhee didn’t just grab the best available names and call it a day. Instead, he spent the weeks leading up to yesterday’s selections setting the table to cut deals with any team that wanted one. And when the time came, he was aggressive in getting those deals done. Heck, by the time this week rolled around, he was sounding like a mafia kingpin collecting protection money.

Not all of those deals will end up looking like winners, but they should add up to a solid foundation. That’s what yesterday was about, and McPhee and his front office worked hard to squeeze every drop of value they could out of the situation. They even showed a willingness to get creative, which is a trait sorely lacking in many of today’s GMs. That’s a good sign for the Knights’ chances of mattering once the new-car small has worn off in a few years.

Loser: George McPhee’s roster

The team is certainly better than some of the disasters that have emerged from expansion drafts in the past. But it’s not good.

With the obvious caveat that there are going to be some pending trades we don’t know about yet, some of the picks were head-scratchers. Passing on Detroit’s Petr Mrazek to take an AHLer who’ll be 25 on opening night, Tomas Nosek, seemed odd. Grabbing Deryk Engelland from Calgary was unexpected, although maybe the local connection plays a role there. Alexei Emelin, among others, felt like a reach.

Add it all up, and those “the Knights could make the playoffs in Year 1” takes already aren’t aging well.

And maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world. McPhee probably could have built himself a decent team, or at least one that would have been good enough to hang around the edge of the playoff race. But that would have been short-term thinking. Instead, McPhee focused on the future, landing a pile of draft picks including two extra firsts for this weekend. Those are assets that will be far more important to the Knights’ long-term success than a few extra wins in 2017-18. If they stick to the plan, the Knights won’t be one of those expansion nightmares that misses the playoffs for the better part of a decade. They’ll get there sooner than later. But in the meantime… well, at least the uniforms are nice.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet





Wednesday, June 21, 2017

My 2017 awards ballot

I had the opportunity to cast a ballot for this year's awards. Now that they've been handed out, I can reveal who got my votes.

HART TROPHY

1. Connor McDavid, Oilers
2. Sidney Crosby, Penguins
3. Nikita Kucherov, Lightning
4. Sergei Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets
5. Brad Marchand, Bruins

NORRIS TROPHY

1. Brent Burns, Sharks
2. Erik Karlsson, Senators
3. Victor Hedman, Lightning
4. Mark Giordano, Flames
5. Shea Weber, Canadiens

CALDER TROPHY

1. Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs
2. Patrik Laine, Jets
3. Zach Werenski, Blue Jackets
4. Matt Murray, Penguins
5. William Nylander, Maple Leafs

LADY BYNG TROPHY

1. Johnny Gaudreau, Flames
2. Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues
3. Mikael Granlund, Wild
4. Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings
5. Oscar Klefbom, Oilers

SELKE TROPHY

1. Patrice Bergeron, Bruins
2. Mikael Backlund, Flames
3. Ryan Kesler, Ducks
4. Mikko Koivu, Wild
5. John Tavares, Islanders

NHL All-Star Team

CENTER -- 1. Connor McDavid, Oilers 2. Sidney Crosby, Penguins 3. Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals
RIGHT WING -- 1. Nikita Kucherov, Lightning 2. Patrick Kane, Blackhawks 3. Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues
LEFT WING -- 1. Brad Marchand, Bruins 2. Alexander Ovechkin, Capitals 3. Artemi Panarin, Blackhawks
DEFENSE -- 1. Brent Burns, Sharks 2. Erik Karlsson, Senators 3. Victor Hedman, Lightning 4. Mark Giordano, Flames 5. Shea Weber, Canadiens 6. Ryan Suter, Wild
GOALTENDER -- 1. Sergei Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets 2. Braden Holtby, Capitals 3. Cam Talbot, Oilers

NHL All-Rookie Team

FORWARD -- Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs; Patrik Laine, Jets; William Nylander, Maple Leafs
DEFENSE -- Zach Werenski, Blue Jackets; Ivan Provorov, Flyers
GOAL -- Matt Murray, Penguins




Before they were stars: Five top goalies who could have been had in an expansion draft

The picks are in, and we're just a few hours away from the big unveiling. The Vegas Golden Knights have officially filled out their first roster, and we'll find out what it looks like as part of Wednesday night's NHL awards show.

When the protected lists were announced on Sunday, much of the attention was on the goaltenders. From expected names like Marc-Andre Fleury to surprises like Roberto Luongo and Petr Mrazek to more speculative possibilities like Philipp Grubauer and Antti Raanta, there are plenty of intriguing options available for Vegas in goal.

Here's hoping they don't blow it.

Goalies are always the trickiest picks when it comes to expansion. The position is notoriously hard to project, and teams can usually only protect one or (occasionally) two. That's allowed new teams to hit on strong picks like Billy Smith, John Vanbiesbrouck and Bernie Parent over the years.

But they've also whiffed on a few future stars. And those missed opportunities can change the course of a franchise, or even NHL history. So today, let's look back on five of the best goaltenders to ever be exposed in an expansion draft, and why the incoming teams failed to take advantage.

(As always, Historical Hockey Blog is an invaluable resource for information about expansion draft protected lists.)

Rogie Vachon (1967)

When the NHL doubled in size, spelling the end of the Original Six era, the existing teams were initially allowed to protect just one goaltender. Once they lost a player at the position, they were allowed to protect another.

For some teams, there was an obvious choice for which goalie to protect. But the Canadiens found themselves in a dilemma, because for once they didn't have a dominant star in his prime. They spent the 1966-67 season splitting starts between 37-year-old legend Gump Worsley, dependable veteran Charlie Hodge, and rookie Rogie Vachon. Worsley was headed to the Hall of Fame, but Hodge had earned more playing time and Vachon had taken over for most of their playoff run.

In the end, the Habs protected Worsley, leaving Hodge and Vachon available. When it came time for the Golden Seals to make their first selection, they turned to Montreal's crowded crease. But they went with Hodge, who lasted just three years in California – just one of those as the starter – before being lost in the 1970 expansion draft. The Canadiens immediately added Vachon to their protected list, and the rest is history.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News




Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Babcock vs. Burns vs. Quinn: Comparing the three most important Leaf coaches of the modern era

The Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to feature prominently at tomorrow’s NHL awards, with Auston Matthews heading in as the favourite to win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. It would be the team’s first Calder in 51 years, and first major award of any kind since Jason Blake took home the Masterton in 2008.

But Matthews isn’t the only Maple Leaf with a shot at some hardware. Coach Mike Babcock is a finalist for the Jack Adams based on his work in his second season in Toronto. Leafs fans are a little more familiar with that trophy than they are with the Calder since Babcock is the third Toronto coach in the last 25 years to earn finalist honours early in his tenure. Pat Quinn was the runner-up for the award in 1999, while Pat Burns won it in 1993.

The similarities between the three coaches don’t end on awards night. So today, let’s compare and contrast the three most important Leafs coaches of the modern era, and their impact both on and off the ice.

Hiring drama

Babcock’s announcement that he’d chosen to join the Maple Leafs still ranks as one of the more dramatic moments in recent NHL history. And while his ending up in Toronto has come to feel somewhat inevitable in hindsight, that certainly wasn’t the case at the time. By the eve of the announcement, the Sabres had emerged as the favourites based on what was reported to be a monster offer from Terry Pegula.

The Leafs were still in play, but they weren’t alone, with San Jose lurking and the Blues rumoured as a possibility. At one point, it even seemed like a return to Detroit could be possible. Speculation reached a fever pitch — remember when we were all analyzing private-jet flight plans? — and as the clock ticked down, the Sabres seemed to have their man. According to some reports, the Leafs had already moved on to Guy Boucher as their plan B.

Then, the bomb dropped. The Leafs had won the auction, Babcock was headed to Toronto, Sabres fans were furious, and all hell broke loose. Like I said before: highly dramatic.

And that’s why it may surprise younger fans to know that the Burns hiring was even crazier.

Take all the madness of the Babcock situation, and then imagine that nobody knew he was even available to take a new job in the first place. That’s how it went down with Burns, who was hired as the Leafs new coach on May 29, 1992, despite still being the coach of the Montreal Canadiens that morning.

While he’d taken heat for the Habs’ disappointing playoff run, Burns’s job wasn’t thought to be in any danger. But he dropped the stunning news that he was quitting as Montreal coach at a noon news conference, only to then slide the microphone over to his agent, who announced that his client had already been hired by Toronto. Hours later, Burns was wearing a Leafs jacket at a press conference in Toronto. The entire story unfolded in fewer than five hours.

By contrast, Quinn’s 1998 hiring was fairly straightforward. The team had fired Mike Murphy three days earlier, and didn’t take long to settle on Quinn, who’d been dismissed earlier in the year by Vancouver. No flight plans, no surprise news conference, and no jaws dropping around the hockey world.

Edge: Babcock, but only because of the timing. If we’d had social media back in 1992, the Burns hiring might have broken hockey Twitter forever.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Monday, June 19, 2017

Coming up with a protected list for every NHL team's all-time roster

After months of speculation, the big day finally arrived yesterday. The NHL released the protected lists for all 30 teams, setting the stage for the Vegas Golden Knights to make their picks and fill out their first roster on Wednesday.

It was the culmination of a long process for the league’s teams, with several having to make tough choices to get their list just right. And it capped off weeks of debate and discussion between fans over which players would make the cut and which would end up being exposed.

Those sorts of debates are always fun. So today, let’s stay in the expansion spirit by coming up with 30 more protected lists. But this time, we’re thinking a little bigger. We’re looking for each team’s all-time protected list, based on every player who’s ever suited up for the team.

Why yes, I did have some time on my hands over the weekend, thanks for asking. As always, we need some arbitrary rules before we get started, so let’s go with these:

• Every team can protect players from its all-time roster based on the rules from this year’s expansion draft, i.e. one goaltender and either seven forwards and three defencemen or eight skaters from any position. As with this year, players with less than two years of pro experience are exempt.

• In the case of players who played for multiple franchises, the team they played the most regular-season games for will get first crack.

• We’re counting a franchise’s entire history, meaning the Avalanche also get the Nordiques, the Hurricanes get the Whalers, etc. The original Jets are paired with the Coyotes while the modern version gets the Thrashers.

• We’re basing this on what a player did with that team, not what they may have accomplished elsewhere. For players who are still active, we’re also looking ahead to what they may do in the future.

• Given the crossover in eras, we don’t care about contracts.

Once we have all 30 protected lists, we’ll… well, we won’t really do anything with them. It’s not like the Golden Knights are looking to draft many guys from the 1940s, and George McPhee probably has his hands full over the next few days. This is mainly an excuse to argue, debate and call me an idiot in the comment section. That seems like as noble a purpose as any, so let’s get started.

Anaheim Ducks

The blue line isn’t as easy as you might think, since the two best defencemen in team history – Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger – will both show up on other rosters.

Forwards: Teemu Selanne, Paul Kariya, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Steve Ruchin, Andy McDonald, Sammy Pahlson

Defencemen: Oleg Tverdovsky, Francois Beauchemin, Cam Fowler

Goalie: J.S. Giguere

Toughest omissions: Ruslan Salei is the franchise leader in games played by a defenceman, but doesn’t make the cut here.

Arizona Coyotes (and original Winnipeg Jets)

There was some thought to going with eight skaters here to squeeze in Keith Yandle, but that would have cost us some old-school Jets.

Forwards: Dale Hawerchuk, Thomas Steen, Shane Doan, Keith Tkachuk, Doug Smail, Laurie Boschman, Paul MacLean

Defencemen: Randy Carlyle, Teppo Numminen, Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Goalie: Mike Smith

Toughest omissions: Goalie is a tough call, as it will be for most teams. We went with Smith over Bob Essensa and Nikolai Khabibulin, since he’s a Coyote for life. (Checks weekend headlines.) Oh.

Boston Bruins

As you’d probably expect, the Original Six teams will feature some of the toughest calls on our list. That’s especially true for the Bruins, who have to go with the eight-skater option thanks to a defensive corps that may be the best position group in league history.

Forwards: Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk, Rick Middleton, Cam Neely

Defencemen: Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque, Eddie Shore, Brad Park

Goalie: Frank Brimsek

Toughest omissions: Using four spots on defencemen costs us forwards like Wayne Cashman, Terry O’Reilly, Ken Hodge and Patrice Bergeron. But the toughest omission might be yet another blueliner, as they miss out on keeping Zdeno Chara.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Friday, June 16, 2017

Grab Bag: When bad rules can't be fixed

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- The Predators got screwed by an early whistle. Should the NHL fix their rules?
- Why it's always OK to ask a player to waive their NMC
- An obscure player who was part of one of my favorite Maple Leafs transactions ever
- The week's three comedy stars
- And the NHL tries to get funny at the 1997 awards, with decidedly mixed results...

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports




Thursday, June 15, 2017

Emails with Lozo: Welcome to the offseason

The following is from an email exchange between Dave Lozo and Sean McIndoe (Down Goes Brown). Each month they will talk some nonsense and debate the biggest topics in the NHL in our monthly review. You can also check out the Biscuits podcast with Sean and Dave as they discuss the events of the week.

Hi Dave...

Welcome to summer. After eight months of hockey, the season is over and we're officially on to the offseason. And in theory, it should be an especially entertaining one. With an expansion draft less than a week away and a bunch of trades, buyouts and other maneuvering that presumably has to happen before then, we could be looking at one of the busier weeks in recent history.

So my first question is: Am I just getting my hopes up here? Is there any chance the next week lives up to the hype?

---

Lozo: The next week will be a lot like the Ottawa Senators in the playoffs. It will involve a lot average players in the spotlight getting a lot of attention but ultimately it will let you down in the end. Remember the Teravainen/Bickell trade? Packaging a good player with a bad deal? That'll be the height of it. A bunch of those moves. A couple buyouts. A non-expansion trade that will be decent.

Marc-Andre Fleury going to Vegas should be the biggest expansion story, but there's no way the Knights hang on to him, right? They have to flip him to Calgary or somewhere else.

---

DGB: The cynic in me wonders if the whole "Marc-Andre Fleury is the greatest teammate ever" victory tour that's broken out over the past few days might at least be a partial case of the Penguins working to create a market. Sure, his numbers aren't great, but if he's Mark Messier in goalie gear, surely some team that values heart and grit over performance would be willing to pay up. And yes, that team would be Calgary.

The flip side is that the Penguins have four decent defensemen and probably only three protection slots. So it's plausible that they decide to just let the Knights take Fleury so that they don't have to worry about the rest of their roster. I guess it all comes down to where they can find the most value.

Speaking of value, or whatever the opposite of value would be: Dan Girardi. The Rangers announced they are buying him out. You're a New York guy... is this remotely a surprise?

---

Lozo: Not in the least. Girardi hasn't been good in quite some time and Rangers fans will wonder forever if they could have contended again in 2015 if they had let Girardi walk and signed Anton Stralman instead. I mean, they contended. They got to a conference final Game 7 and lost to the Lightning… and Stralman.

There's a great teammate vibe about Girardi, too. But while Fleury had value, Girardi hasn't had value since maybe 2014. Girardi is the poster boy for the new NHL in terms of defenseman who can start breakouts and analytics. It's funny that Girardi types are being phased out of the game faster than fighters.

Now the Rangers have freed some more room for Kevin Shattenkirk, who should help carry the Rangers to maybe the second round again.

You know what's weird? The notion the Preds can't lose James Neal. If it creates room to sign a No. 2 center, that's good because they need that more than a scoring winger.

---

DGB: I'm guess I'm OK with the Predators thing only because their season just ended, and they came so close to winning the Cup. If anyone should be allowed to overrate their existing assets, it's probably them.

But yeah, the rest of this league is getting ridiculous. All these GMs who are about to lose their 14th best player and seem to think it's the end of the world. You know how many players each team lost in the 1967 expansion draft? Twenty! Each! I am using exclamation points! Today's GMs don't have to make trades and get magic bonus points for losing, and somehow they're still here having panic attacks because they might have to part with Jay Beagle.

In related news, Tyler Graovac just got traded, so buckle up because now anything can happen.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports




Wendel, the Sedins, and.... Ruslan Fedotenko? When top ten picks get traded

The NHL draft is now just over a week away, and there’s plenty of trade chatter around the top 10 picks. Thanks to a draft class that doesn’t feature any sure-thing franchise players and a wild lottery that saw three long shots jump to the top of the order, there’s been plenty of speculation that somebody is going to make a move.

We took a shot at convincing each of the lottery teams to deal their pick last month, and some cases were stronger than others. But the rumour mill is churning out scenarios in which teams like the Devils, Flyers, Stars or Sabres move their high pick for immediate help, and it feels like we could be on the verge of a blockbuster pre-draft deal.

So today, let’s take a look back through the history books at some of the biggest player-for-pick trades in recent memory. We’re looking for trades involving a top-10 pick that meet two criteria:

1) They had to come before the draft, but after the order of picks was known. That’s why you won’t see deals like the Leafs giving Boston the No. 2 pick in 2010, or the Leafs giving the Islanders the No. 4 pick in 1997, or the Leafs giving New Jersey the No. 3 pick in 1991. In related news, I’m starting to figure out why Leafs fans are all so cranky.

2) The trade was primarily based on one team acquiring a player, and wasn’t just about teams shuffling up or down a few spots in the order. We’re not interested in the sixth-overall pick getting traded for the eighth pick and a fourth rounder here.

And just to make sure we’re casting a wide net, we’ll go back three full decades. That’s right, we’re going to cover every case of a team trading what it knew to be a top-10 pick for one or more players, dating all the way back to 1987. So settle in, because we’ve got a lot of ground to cover, and we’re going to get to each and every one of the 10 times it’s happened.

Wait, only 10? That can’t be right.

But it is. As it turns out, it’s exceedingly rare for a high pick to be moved for a player in the NHL draft. Despite the fact that we seem to go through this “Team X might be shopping their high pick” scenario almost every year, those deals almost never actually happen.

When they do, however, they can be game-changers. So let’s look back at the 10 times a team has dealt a top-10 pick for immediate help, and find out who came out of the deal on top. We’ll start with the most recent deals and work our way back.

(As always, the Pro Sports Transactions web site is an invaluable resource for draft-related trade information.)

2013: Cory Schneider

The trade: On the draft floor, the Devils and Canucks stunned the hockey world with a deal that sent Schneider to New Jersey in exchange for the No. 9 pick. The trade was a jaw-dropper, because we’d all spent the last few years trying to figure out how the Canucks would trade Roberto Luongo. Instead, Vancouver GM Mike Gillis moved Schneider for a high pick.

Oh, and the draft was in New Jersey, leading to one of the greatest Gary Bettman draft-floor announcements of all time as a crowd goes from booing the commissioner for existing to exploding when he drops the trade on them.

The result: Schneider has been very good with the Devils, although he’s coming off a shaky year. Meanwhile, the Canucks used the ninth pick on Bo Horvat, who seems to be blossoming into the kind of solid two-way center you build a team around but isn’t quite there yet.

And the winner is…: At this point, it’s New Jersey, who have four years of reliable .920 goaltending to show for the deal. But Horvat is close to nudging this back towards undecided territory.

2012: Jordan Staal

The trade: In another draft-floor blockbuster in front of a hometown crowd, the Penguins traded Jordan Staal to the Hurricanes in exchange for the eighth-overall pick, Brandon Sutter and Brian Dumoulin.

A Staal deal had been rumoured for a while; he needed a new contract, and was never going to get a chance to be a top-six guy in Pittsburgh behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Hurricanes were a great fit, since they had cap room and a high pick, not to mention Jordan’s older brother, Eric.

The result: The Penguins used the pick on Derrick Pouliot, who’s yet to establish himself as an NHL regular. (In a recent NHL.com redraft of 2012, he didn’t make the top 30.) But Dumoulin has played a role in two Cup wins, and Sutter was flipped for Nick Bonino. Meanwhile, Staal’s been fine in Carolina. But the Hurricanes gave him a 10-year, $60-million deal that stands out these days as one of the league’s worst.

And the winner is…: Factoring in Staal’s contract, this stands as a win for Pittsburgh. Although surprisingly, it’s not primarily because of the pick.

2011: Jeff Carter

The trade: The day before the draft, the Flyers sent Jeff Carter to the Blue Jackets for the eighth-overall pick, a third-rounder and Jakub Voracek.

The deal was part of a shocking afternoon for the Flyers, who also moved Mike Richards to the Kings as part of an effort to clear out salary to sign Ilya Bryzgalov. For most teams, two trades of that magnitude in one day would be stunning; for a team that had been to the Cup final just a year ago, it seemed almost unbelievable.

The result: Carter never fit in Columbus, lasting less than a season before being flipped to the Kings for Jack Johnson and a first. The Flyers used the pick to draft Sean Couturier, while Voracek blossomed into a first-team all-star by 2015.

And the winner is…: It depends how you look at it. On its own, the deal is a clear win for the Flyers, who got two key players for a guy who didn’t work out for the Blue Jackets. But the Bryzgalov signing turned out to be one of the worst in NHL history, so that knocks this one down a peg or two.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A brief history of NHL expansion drafts getting weird

One week from today, the NHL will announce the results of the expansion draft and the Vegas Golden Knights will be born. It’s an exciting time in the NHL, with the first expansion draft since 2000 and first ever held under a salary-cap system.

But while an expansion draft is a novelty for modern NHL fans, that hasn’t always been the case. This league has done an awful lot of expanding since 1967, with some decidedly mixed results. So today, let’s take a moment to look back on the various expansion drafts that came before this one, the players that were chosen, and the oddities that always seem to pop up whenever the NHL decides to welcome new members of the family.

(Much of the information in this post was found trough the indispensable Historical Hockey blog, the HockeyDB database of expansion draft results, and hockey-reference.com.)

1967

We’ll start with the big one. The 1967 expansion draft wasn’t the NHL’s first; the league had added several teams in its earliest days, all with some sort of mechanism to stock the new franchises with players from existing teams. But it was the 1967 process that spelled the end of an era, as the league doubled in size by welcoming six new teams.

As you’d expect, adding that many teams meant that a lot of guys had to be made available. But the league’s 1967 rules were actually slightly more generous to the existing teams than the 2017 draft. Teams could protect 11 skaters and one goaltender, with exemptions for younger players, and could add players to their protected list as the draft went on. (Legend has it that Habs GM Sam Pollock personally crafted the rules to ensure the best possible result for Montreal.)

Still, with so many new rosters to fill, each of the Original Six teams was going to have to cough up a total of 20 players. Think about that the next time the GM of your favourite team moans about losing a fourth-line winger to Vegas.

As with most expansion drafts, the focus was on goaltenders; only six in the entire league were initially protected, so there were plenty of big names to choose from. That included the first-overall pick, Terry Sawchuk, who went from the Maple Leafs to the Kings (although he’d threatened to retire if he was picked), as well as Glenn Hall, who went from Chicago to St. Louis with the third pick. The skaters weren’t quite so notable, although some decent picks like Jean-Paul Parise and Bill Goldsworthy were snagged.

Best player taken: With apologies to Hall and Sawchuk, the draft’s best pick was a younger goalie; the Flyers used the second-overall pick to grab Bernie Parent from the Bruins. He’d make a detour to Toronto and the WHA before rejoining the Flyers in time to win back-to-back Conn Smythe trophies.

Notable oddity: Legendary sniper Bernie Geoffrion was technically available, but all 12 teams formed a gentleman’s agreement that he wouldn’t be taken and forced to finish his career on an expansion squad.

1970

The NHL’s next crack at expansion was a smaller one, as the Sabres and Canucks joined the league. This time, there wasn’t much to choose from, since the Original Six weren’t all that interested in helping out another wave of newcomers and the six 1967 expansion teams were all still reasonably terrible.

Only two players taken in this draft went on to score even 200 points over the remainder of their career. Gerry Meehan had 418 after being taken by Buffalo, while Mike Corrigan had 337 for the Canucks.

Best player taken: It’s probably a tossup between Meehan and Vancouver’s Orland Kurtenbach. Meehan, of course, went on to become the Sabres GM in 1986; he made the trade that brought Dominik Hasek to Buffalo. But the Sabres weren’t the only team to find a future GM in this draft, as the Canucks picked Pat Quinn with the eighth pick.

Notable oddity: The draft order was determined by the same ridiculous roulette wheel that the league infamously used (and then misread) to figure out which of Vancouver or Buffalo would get to draft Gilbert Perreault.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Five classic goals that, if we're being honest, were kind of ugly

It's always an ugly goal.

That's the old hockey cliché. Whenever a crucial game gets to overtime, or close enough that it feels like overtime, somebody will mention that it will probably end on an ugly goal. That's just how hockey works.

Not always, of course. Sometimes, we get a goal that lives up to expectations. From Doug Gilmour to Pavel Bure to Todd Marchant, some of history's most memorable clutch goals were beauties. Even Patrick Kane's overtime Cup winner featured a nice little shake-and-bake move before everyone lost sight of the puck. So they're not all bad.

But yeah, some of them are pretty awful. And now we can welcome Patric Hornqvist to the club. His Cup-winning goal on Sunday night was as big as they come, but you probably won't be seeing his behind-the-net bank shot replayed on many highlight reels.

But don't worry, Patric. You're in good company. So today, let's look back on five of the (many) all-time classic goals that, if we're being honest, were pretty ugly.

Uwe Krupp, 1996 Stanley Cup final

When the Stanley Cup is on the line in overtime, you're hoping the winner will be memorable. That's especially true if it's a 0-0 nail-biter. And if it also happens to be triple-overtime, look out. This is the time for some future Hall-of-Famer to make their mark on the game's history with the goal of their career. And there were more than a few HHOFers on this Avalanche roster, so it was all set up pretty much perfectly.

Or, you know, a defensive defenseman could randomly fire one home from 70 feet out. I guess that works too.

That's what Uwe Krupp gave us in 1996, becoming the first player since Bob Nystrom in 1980 to score a Cup-winning goal in overtime. It's OK if you don't remember it. Barely anyone seems to; the goal was so unremarkable that the broadcasts barely bothered showing replays.

The goal ended one of the worst Stanley Cup finals ever, although it also confirmed the Avalanche's arrival as one of the best and most entertaining teams of the next decade. Let's just tell future generations that the game ended on a Forsberg-to-Sakic tic-tac-toe play and be done with it.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News




Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Podcast: The Penguins repeat

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- Dave and I wrap up the Stanley Cup final
- One of us is not happy with the Conn Smythe choice
- We discuss the muzzling of P.K. Subban
- How did the Predators fans do when it came to booing Gary Bettman
- Is it still an age of parity when three teams keep winning all the Cups?
- An argument about light beer that may spell the end of the podcast
- And lots more

>> Stream it now on Vice Sports

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.




Monday, June 12, 2017

Penguins vs. Blackhawks -- Who is the cap era's best team?

With Sunday night’s win over the Nashville Predators, the Pittsburgh Penguins captured their second-straight Stanley Cup, becoming the first team to repeat as champions since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings. That’s an impressive feat, especially in today’s parity-driven age.

But the Penguins also reached another important milestone: Three Stanley Cup wins since the 2005 lockout, which ties them with the Chicago Blackhawks for the most titles under the salary cap system.

Well, this is the NHL, and we’re not allowed to have ties. So today, let’s pit the last dozen years of the Blackhawks against the Penguins as we attempt to determine which team deserves to be called the best of its era.

Regular Season Success

While any comparison between the Penguins and Blackhawks will focus on their playoff success, the regular season matters too. In fact, because teams play so many more games during the season than in the playoffs, it can often tell us more about a team’s overall quality.

The case for the Penguins: Pittsburgh has racked up more regular-season points since 2005, out-pacing Chicago by an average of three points per season. It’s made the playoffs 11 times to Chicago’s nine, and also holds an edge in 100-point seasons, with nine to the Blackhawks’ eight.

The case for the Blackhawks: You could argue that the regular season gap between the two teams is more about timing than quality – the Blackhawks didn’t emerge as a true contender until 2008, giving the Penguins a two-year head start. Despite that disadvantage, the Hawks have matched the Penguins in division titles with three, and hold a 1-0 edge in Presidents’ Trophy seasons.

Edge: Penguins. We did say we were looking at the entire cap era, so those first few post-lockout years have to count – but only a little.

Playoff Success

The two teams may be tied in Cup wins, but that’s not the only way to measure post-season dominance.

The case for the Penguins: The Penguins have done more winning in the playoffs, and it’s not all that close. Pittsburgh has won 19 series in the cap era, well ahead of Chicago’s 13. The Penguins made it out of the first round seven times, while the Blackhawks have managed only five. They’ve been to one more Cup final and they hold a significant edge in playoff games won.

The case for the Blackhawks: They held the edge in this category in 2015, but that was a long time ago. There’s really no case to be made on the Chicago side here, unless you want to play the “Cups are all that matter” card.

Edge: Penguins. Pittsburgh jumps out to an early 2-0 lead, and this time it’s not even Pekka Rinne’s fault.

Peak Dominance

Consistency is nice. Long-term success is better. But when you’re evaluating a team, you also want to know what they could do when they were at their absolute best. We took a run at this question last week, when we ranked the ten best single-season teams of the cap era.

The case for the Penguins: This year’s Penguins took seventh spot on our ten-best list, and that was before they’d wrapped up the Cup. You could probably nudge them up a spot or two now that they’ve made it official. The other two Cup-winning teams were honorable mentions.

The case for the Blackhawks: The Blackhawks placed two teams on the list, including the team we called the best of the entire era. That was the 2012-13 Hawks, who started the year by going undefeated in 24 straight, won the Presidents’ Trophy and then took home the Cup. The 2009-10 team ranked fourth, while the 2014-15 team was an honorable mention.

Edge: Blackhawks. We’re looking at over a decade here, so the overall record is what should matter most, but there’s a good chance that the Hawks’ best team of the era could beat Pittsburgh’s, and that counts for something.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet





Friday, June 9, 2017

Grab bag: When Cup handoffs get awkward

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Are Nashville fans real fans? Are you? Is anyone?
- The NHL unveils its ten best teams ever
- An obscure player who posted what may be the saddest season stat line ever
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a look back at Gary Bettman's most awkward Cup handoff ever

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports




Thursday, June 8, 2017

The ten best teams of the salary cap era

The NHL unveiled its fan-voted list of the 10 best teams ever this week, and it’s… well, it’s not bad. You can defend the ’84–85 Oilers as the top pick, and dynasties like the late-’70s Habs and early ’80s Islanders make appearances. Having the ’91-92 Penguins ranked second is a little dicey — they only had 87 points — but they were stacked with Hall of Famers and closed out the playoffs with 11 straight wins, so we’ll allow it.

Since the NHL deprived us of our inalienable right as hockey fans to be furious at an arbitrary ranking, I figured I should step in and fill the void. So today, we’re going to try a ranking of our own: The 10 best teams of the salary-cap era.

No post-2005 teams made the NHL’s top 10, which makes sense — the cap ushered in an era of unprecedented parity, and the age of the truly-dominant team is probably over forever. That makes our job a little tougher today, but we’ll persevere, and rank our teams based on three categories.

Regular season: Every team on the NHL’s top 10 won the Stanley Cup, as well they should have. That list had 100 years to draw on, and in the pre-cap era a truly great team should win it all. But in today’s age of parity, when any team can beat any other in a seven-game series on the strength of a hot goalie and a few lucky bounces, we can’t limit our list to Cup winners. The regular season often tells us at least as much about how good a team is, so we’ll give 10 points in this category.

Playoff run: All that said, the post-season is still where great teams are made, so we’ll have 10 more points up for grabs here.

Star power: Maybe this shouldn’t matter — wins are wins, no matter who’s on the roster that gets them. But fans love to look back on star-studded teams like Gretzky’s Oilers or Mario’s Penguins, so we’ll toss in five points for especially loaded lineups.

I’ll give you a moment to prepare your outrage in advance, and then we’ll dive in…

10. 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings

Regular season: 10/10. The Red Wings came out of the lockout and basically steamrolled the league, racking up 124 points. That remains the highest total of the cap era, and wasn’t far off the all-time-record 132 by the 1976–77 Canadiens. Granted, the Habs did that in the pre-loser point days, but in a salary-cap league getting within range of the greatest regular season ever is astonishing.

Playoff run: 2/10. In what remains one of the most stunning upsets in recent history, the Wings were knocked off by the 95-point Oilers in the opening round. Honestly, I’m being kind of generous with a “2” here.

Star power: 4.5/5. This was the last year of the Steve Yzerman era, and while the team wasn’t quite as loaded with big names as the ridiculous 2002 edition, they weren’t far off. Four members of the team are already in the Hall of Fame, and Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg (and maybe Mike Babcock) could join them.

Total: 16.5/25. The playoffs can be cruel. If they’d won the Cup, they’d probably be a strong contender for top slot. Instead, they barely make the list as the first of many cautionary examples that the cap-era playoffs were about to become a coin flip.

9. 2009-2010 Washington Capitals

Regular season: 9.5/10. With 121 points, the Capitals ran away with the Presidents’ Trophy. They led the league in goals scored, and were one of just five teams in the cap era to have a power play over 25 per cent. (Three of the other four are also Ovechkin-era Caps teams.)

Playoff run: 4/10. Washington was knocked out in a seven-game stunner in the first round by the Canadiens. But I’ll give them a few more points than the 2006 Red Wings for a simple reason: The Capitals absolutely played well enough to win, but ran into a red-hot goalie in Jaroslav Halak. Despite dominating the games and pummelling Halak with shots, they couldn’t beat him. Hockey, like life, isn’t always fair.

Star power: 3.5/5. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom both cleared 100 points, and back then we also thought Alexander Semin was good. The team featured Mike Green, just a year removed from his 30-goal season. And they even had a former MVP in net. (OK, so it was Jose Theodore, but that still counts.)

Total: 17/25. There are plenty of similarities to the 2006 Red Wings here. But while that Detroit team largely stayed the course and was rewarded with a Cup in 2008, these Capitals quickly decided to change direction. We’ll never know if it may have cost them.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A look back at five playoff rookie double-dippers

Jake Guentzel is having the sort of rookie playoff year that every NHL player dreams of. To play well under the pressure of the post-season as an NHL rookie is rare, and for most players it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Or, in the case of Matt Murray, twice in a lifetime.

Yes, Murray is technically still a rookie, even though he's on the verge of winning his second Stanley Cup as a starting goaltender. That's because he only played a handful of games during the 2015-16 regular season, meaning he didn't lose his rookie eligibility. He'll probably be named the goalie on this year's all-rookie team, and he might collect the award with two Cup rings in his pocket.

Murray is an extreme case, but it's actually not all that rare for NHL players to get multiple playoff runs when they're still considered rookies. It happened to current players like Torey Krug, Chris Kreider, Logan Couture and Tyler Toffoli. One of the Predators trying to prevent Murray from repeating as champion, P.K. Subban, pulled it off a few years ago.

And so did some of the best players in NHL history. So today, let's look back at five Hall of Famers who played well in the post-season as a rookie, and enjoyed it so much they did it again.
 

Ken Dryden

Before Murray came along, Dryden was the go-to case for establishing playoff dominance right out of the gate. He'd only played in six regular season games when he took over as Montreal's starter for the 1971 playoffs, but he was fantastic, posting a very good (for the time) 3.00 goals-against average while leading the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup. For his performance, Dryden earned the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP.

He continued his dominance into the following season, finishing second to Bobby Orr in the Hart Trophy race and earning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. But his second playoff run wasn't quite as successful as his first. While he posted an even better GAA of 2.83, Dryden and the Canadiens had their reign ended by the Rangers in six games.

That loss ended up being a minor detour for Dryden on the way to six Stanley Cup rings, making him one of only two goaltenders to ever hit that mark.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News




Podcast: The final push

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- Dave and I react to the Predators tying the series
- P.K. Subban's bad breath
- Charles Barkley, hockey fan
- Nashville fans, the backlash, and the backlash to the backlash
- The competition committee suggests two minor rules changes, and that's it
- The Golden Knights don't want to distract you
- And lots more...

>> Stream it now on Vice Sports

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.




Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Beyond the Conn Smythe: Handing out playoff versions of all the NHL's award

With the Stanley Cup Final winding down, a late storyline is developing: Nobody can agree on who should win the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP.

Normally by this time, we’d be down to one or two clear favourites. But not this year. There’s a growing movement behind Jake Guentzel. Others are backing Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby. Elliotte Friedman suggested splitting the award between Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury, but the league shot that idea down. And that’s just if the Penguins win. If it’s Nashville, we all thought Pekka Rinne was a lock, but a shaky performance in the first two games may have reopened the race. P.K. Subban? Roman Josi? Filip Forsberg? Your guess is as good as mine. It’s a mess.

Well, as I always say, when things are bad, find a way to make them worse. So while everyone’s trying to figure out who should be playoff MVP, let’s make things even more complicated with a question: What if we had to give out playoffs-only versions of all the major NHL awards?

Break out the tuxedos and D-list celebrities, because it’s time to hand out some hockey trophies.

Playoff Defenceman of the Year (i.e. The Orr)

Let’s start with a tricky one. Like the Conn Smythe, preference for our playoff awards will always go to someone whose team is in the final. But that’s not easy with Pittsburgh and Nashville. The Penguins barely have any defencemen – between losing Kris Letang and various other injuries along the way, their duct-tape-and-hope blue line has been a great part of their post-season story. Various guys have stepped up at different points, and Justin Schultz has a decent point total, but there’s nobody on the roster who’s been dominant.

Meanwhile, the Predators are at the other end of the spectrum – they have too many top blueliners, to the point that we spend more time arguing over who is or isn’t their true top guy. Subban, Josi, Ryan Ellis and maybe even Mattias Ekholm would all get votes in this category, which means they’d be in danger of cancelling each other out.

It’s a dilemma. Luckily for us, there’s an easy way out. While we said we’d prefer to give out our awards to teams in the final, we don’t have to — the other rounds should count for something, too. And in this case, that leads us to an obvious choice. Erik Karlsson was the best defenceman of the post-season, and it wasn’t all that close.

We’ll have to wait and see whether he takes home this year’s Norris, but he’s an easy call for the Orr. We’ll give the other two finalist spots to Ellis and Subban, if only so we can get another round of people complaining about Josi being overlooked.

Playoff Coach of the Year (i.e. The Bowman)

Let’s face it: If this were a real award it would come down to the last two coaches standing just about every year, with the other finalist spot reserved for a conference-final team. This year, that would give us Peter Laviolette, Mike Sullivan, and one of Randy Carlyle or Guy Boucher.

It’s actually tough to argue with that group. Boucher took a Senators team that had been written off as a non-factor to within a goal of the Cup final, and Carlyle got the Ducks a round further than last year while navigating some shaky goaltending along the way. Of the two, Boucher has the better case, so we’ll give him one of our finalist spots. But he can’t win, if only because everyone would complain that his acceptance speech was too boring.

So this one really comes down to Laviolette vs. Sullivan, as it probably should. If we’re going strictly on post-season performance, Sullivan’s case is strong. He made what may stand as the single toughest call of the playoffs when he switched from Fleury to Murray against Ottawa, and it paid off. It’s quite possible that we end up looking back on that decision as the one that earned the Penguins a Stanley Cup.

But on the other hand, Laviolette took the league’s 16th-place team all the way to the final. The real-life Jack Adams voters love an underdog story — the award almost always goes to the coach of a team that’s surpassed expectations. If we treat this award the same way, a Cinderella run like Nashville’s might prove irresistible.

Whoever wins the Cup would get an obvious leg up in the voting for this, but since we don’t know that yet, we’ll have to make a call now. Sullivan probably deserves it just based on the Fleury/Murray flip, but we’ll make Laviolette the pick because of how well he fits the coach-award mould.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Monday, June 5, 2017

Playing "What if?" with 11 failed offer sheets

Could this be the year we finally see an NHL team shake up the RFA market with an offer sheet?

There’s been some debate over the weekend, spurred on by a post at The Athletic that argued that the Maple Leafs could take a run at someone like St. Louis defenceman Colton Parayko. In the piece, Tyler Dellow lays out the case for the Leafs to target a capped-out Blues team.

On the one hand, the idea seems crazy. Even putting aside whether the Leafs should be trying to fast-track their rebuild, offer sheets almost never work — there’s only been one successful attempt since 1997. But Dellow lays out a convincing argument that this year’s Leafs are a rare case of a team that could pull it off, because they have lots of short-term cap room, an obvious hole in the roster, and draft picks that are unlikely to fall at the top of the draft.

So today, let's break out some alternate history as we look back at some of the bigger offer sheets over the years and ask: What might have happened if the team hadn't matched?

Michel Goulet, 1991

The offer sheet was still a relatively new weapon in 1991, having been in play for just five years, and at that point one had never actually been matched by the player's original team. The Blues had pulled off what still stands as the most successful offer sheet ever in 1990, when they'd pried Scott Stevens away from the Capitals. A year later, they decided to try again.

Their first target was Goulet, a veteran sniper coming off his first full season in Chicago. Going after Goulet served a dual purpose for the Blues, who could land a decent scorer while hurting their arch-rivals in the process. The Blues and Hawks had battled it out for the Presidents' Trophy in 1990–91, and Goulet's offer sheet continued the rivalry. St. Louis offered the veteran a four-year deal worth nearly $3 million, but Chicago matched, and the Blues had to turn elsewhere.

What if?: Goulet would play three more years and score 61 goals; decent numbers, but not enough to really change the course of history for either team. (Although he did help the Blackhawks make the final in 1992.)

But there may have been a crucial side effect of the Goulet deal. Having missed on one winger, the Blues turned their attention to a bigger offer-sheet prize: New Jersey's Brendan Shanahan. The good news is that they got him. The bad news is that it cost them far more than they imagined, when the Devils demanded Stevens as compensation. An arbitrator agreed, Stevens became a Devil (after a brief holdout) and the rest was history.

If the Blackhawks had let Goulet go to St. Louis, there's at least a decent change that the Blues never target Shanahan. And that means Stevens doesn't end up anchoring the Devils' blue line for the next dozen years.

Kevin Stevens, 1991

The Bruins and Penguins waged one of the better feuds of the early ’90s, spurred on by Cam Neely and Ulf Samuelsson. After the Pens knocked off the Bruins in the 1991 conference final, Boston decided to take the rivalry off the ice during the off-season by targeting one of the Penguins' best young players with an offer sheet.

Bruins' GM Mike Milbury gave the power winger a five-year deal reportedly worth over $1 million per season. The idea of Stevens, a local boy, playing on a line with Neely seemed irresistible. But after several days of suspense, the Penguins matched the offer.

What if?: Stevens scored 109 goals over the next two seasons and was a first-team all-star in 1992. The Penguins beat the Bruins in the conference final yet again that year, including a game in which Stevens scored four goals against his would-be team. Would the series have turned out differently if Stevens had been on the other side? It's unlikely — it was a four-game sweep — but we'll never know for sure.

Teemu Selanne, 1992

Here's a trivia question that would stump most fans: Who did Teemu Selanne sign his first NHL contract with?

The answer: the Calgary Flames.

Yes, despite being drafted by the Jets in 1988 and making his NHL debut in Winnipeg four years later, Selanne actually signed his first deal with Calgary, in the form of an offer sheet. The Flames gave the Finnish rookie a three-year deal worth $2.7 million, nearly double what the cash-strapped Jets were hoping to pay.

It was worth a shot, but Jets GM Mike Smith quickly matched. Any lingering bad feelings were quickly forgotten when Selanne took the league by storm with a 76-goal rookie season.

What if?: One can only imagine when Selanne could have done playing alongside Theo Fleury, Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk. At the very least, you'd have to assume the Flames wouldn't have gone a dozen years without winning a playoff round.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Friday, June 2, 2017

Grab Bag: Rules are rules

In this week's Grab Bag:
- Everyone hates the offside review, but don't we need to get the rules right?
- A look at Gary Bettman's state of the union address
- An obscure player who was Jake Guentzel before Jake Guentzel
- The week's three comedy stars, including Catfish Guy
- A YouTube breakdown of Mario Lemieux's greatest Stanley Cup moment

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports




Podcast: Conn artists

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast, Dave and I tackle important questions like:
- Who should win the Conn Smythe?
- Actually, it's Evgeni Malkin, why are we even talking about this?
- Wait, people think Jake Guentzel should win? Seriously?
- Who should the Predators start in net for game three?
- Is offside review working?
- Is there a point to Gary Bettman's annual state of the union address?
- Is the officiating worse in the playoffs?
- How easily could a referee fix a playoff game?
- What's my crazy idea to make the regular season matter again?
- Our thoughts on Catfish guy
- Wait, that lost one wasn't a question
- Our thoughts on Catfish guy?
- And lots more...

>> Stream it now on Vice Sports

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.




Thursday, June 1, 2017

Ten star players who won't be traded this summer (but might)

We don’t see many trades in the NHL these days. Making deals is a dying art among NHL GMs, many of whom seem like they’d rather not pick up the phone at all. The few trades we do get are often relatively small ones, and sometimes it feels like the days of the true blockbuster are all but over.

Of course, we would have said all of that a year ago, too. And we know how that turned out.

Last June, hockey fans lived through one of the craziest days in hockey history, when we saw a pair of massive trades break within minutes of each other. First came word that the Oilers had sent all-star winger Taylor Hall to the Devils for Adam Larsson. Then came the P.K. Subban-for-Shea Weber deal, one that’s still being debated to this day thanks to Subban’s appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. Before that day back in June, most fans would have called all of those guys untouchable. In one hour, they were all on the move.

Most of them won't, of course, and it's possible nobody on our list gets dealt at all. But after last summer's day of madness, we can't rule anything out completely. So let's start with some names that have a good chance of moving, and work our way down to the biggest long shots.

Matt Duchene, Avalanche

Why a trade could happen: We'll start with the easy one. Of all the stars on our list, Duchene is the one who actually seems likely to move. The Avalanche have been openly shopping him for months now, and it seemed as if he might be moved at the deadline. That didn't happen, largely because the team felt like they could find a better deal in the off-season. Now, the pressure's on to get it done, and Duchene has been linked with teams like the Canadiens, Islanders and Blues.

Why there's a chance that it wouldn't: Duchene didn't do much to help his value after the deadline, going pointless in 18 of 21 games down the stretch, so it's possible that Colorado finds the market is even weaker now than it was in February. Even so, Avalanche GM Joe Sakic almost has to make a move here — the situation has just come too far to get cold feet now.

But we're not actually sure that Sakic will be the team's GM. Their recent play for Kyle Dubas paints a picture of an Avalanche organization that might be looking to kick Sakic upstairs and hand the reins over to new blood. If they do, that new GM might decide to take their time on any major moves, holding onto Duchene at least into the season.

And yet...: At some point, letting a star player twist in the wind gets to be too much. You'd have to think this gets done around the draft.

Marc-Andre Fleury, Penguins

Why a trade could happen: While Fleury has had his moments in Pittsburgh, including much of this year's playoff run, this is Matt Murray's team now. Normally, the team might be happy to have two solid goaltenders on the roster. But the Golden Knights throw a wrench into things; if Fleury is on the roster when it's time to submit the expansion list (and doesn't waive his no-movement clause), the Penguins would have to protect him and expose Murray. That's not going to happen.

The easiest solution would be to work with Fleury to find a destination he'd be willing to waive his no-movement for. The market for his services probably got a boost from this strong playoff run, so some team out there should be willing to give up some value to acquire the veteran Cup-winner.

Why it's not a sure thing: If the Penguins can't find a trade, or Fleury won't waive his NMC, they could always just buy him out. It's also possible that they could cut a side deal with the Knights to bypass Murray and hold onto both goaltenders.

And yet...: A trade to a team where Fleury could be the starter still seems like the best option for everyone involved.

Jordan Eberle, Oilers

Why a trade could happen: Everyone in Edmonton seems to want it to, after the winger laid an egg in the playoffs. With other holes in the roster to fill, it would make sense for the team to move somebody like Eberle or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, just like they did with last year's Hall deal.

Why it might not: Moving Eberle after the post-season he just had would seem like a classic case of selling low. And with two years left on a deal that carries a $6-million cap hit, Eberle would be a tough fit for most teams. The market wasn't exactly lining up for the guy at the deadline, so you can imagine what it would look like now. It might be better to hold on to him, if only until he can build back some value during the season.

And yet...: Between Leon Draisaitl's new deal and Connor McDavid's extension for 2018, the Oilers' cap room is going to vanish quickly. Underachieving players with big cap hits don't really seem to fit the long-term plan.

Alex Ovechkin, Capitals

Why a trade could happen: Ah, the big one. No name on the market carries the weight of Ovechkin, a three-time MVP who may go down in history as one of the greatest goal scorers of all time. And yet, after another disappointing playoff exit, the Capitals look like an organization in turmoil. All options seem to be on the table, including hitting the rest button on an entire era by moving the face of the franchise.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Five times Game Two was the Stanley Cup final turning point

The Nashville Predators suffered one of the strangest losses in Stanley Cup final history on Monday, erasing a 3-0 deficit while holding the Penguins without a shot for 37 straight minutes before allowing a back-breaking winning goal late in the third.

The way they lost was bad enough. But just losing at all is a big deal. After all, as we're constantly told, the team that wins Game 1 in the final wins almost 80 percent the series, including each of the last five. To hear some tell it, this one's basically over.

It's tough times to be a Nashville fan. So as we head into Wednesday's crucial second game, let's offer up some hope for anyone rooting for the Predators. Here are five times in Stanley Cup final history that Game 1 didn't end up mattering, and Game 2 turned out to be the series turning point.
 

1986 – Canadiens vs. Flames

After one game: Calgary went into the final sporting a distinct "team of destiny" feel. After years of living in the Oilers' shadow, the Flames had knocked off their provincial rivals in seven games on Steve Smith's infamous own goal. They arrived in the final holding home ice advantage, and opened the series with a convincing 5-2 win over the Canadiens.

But then: Looking to take a 2-0 series lead back to Montreal, the Flames opened the scoring in the first and added another goal just seconds into the second period. But they let the Habs off the mat, as Montreal came back to send the game to overtime. Once they got there, it didn't take long to make some history.

Brian Skrudland's overtime goal was the fastest in playoff history, and knotted the series at a game apiece.

The rest of the way: The Canadiens didn't drop another game in the series, winning three straight tight ones to take the Stanley Cup in five games.

1974 – Flyers vs. Bruins

After one game: The Bruins and Flyers had been the league's two best teams by a wide margin during the season, with Boston earning home ice throughout the playoffs by a single point thanks to a win on the season's final day. They cashed in on that home ice advantage in Game 1, when Bobby Orr's goal with seconds left in regulation gave them a 3-2 win and a series lead.

But then: The Bruins came out strong in Game 2, scoring twice late in the first to take a 2-0 lead to intermission. The Flyers closed the gap with a goal in the second, but couldn't get any closer as regulation ticked away. But with the Bruins on the verge of taking a two-game lead in the series, Andre Dupont tied it with less than a minute to play, sending the game to overtime. That's where Bobby Clarke scored what may well be the most important goal in franchise history.

The rest of the way: The Flyers would ride the momentum from Clarke's goal to a pair of wins on home ice. The Bruins avoided elimination in Game 5 in Boston, but the Flyers closed the series with a 1-0 win back in Philadelphia, earning the franchise's first Stanley Cup and becoming the first modern expansion team to capture a championship.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News




Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Ranking the NHL's greatest Cinderella stories

On paper, the Stanley Cup Final looks like a classic battle between a team of unexpected underdogs and the powerhouse defending champs. The Pittsburgh Penguins are gunning for their second straight title, while the Nashville Predators have made the final despite finishing just 16th overall during the regular season. So far, the Predators’ playoff run is shaping up like a classic Cinderella story.

The NHL has seen more than a few such stories over the years, although (spoiler alert) they almost never end well. So today, let’s rank history’s best Cinderella stories.

We’ll go back to the advent of the 16-team playoff era in 1980, and we’ll define a Cinderella as a team that finished outside the top 10 in the regular-season standings but still made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. (We’ll also slip in one other team that fell outside that category but are widely considered a Cinderella team anyway.)

Underdog status: Just how unlikely a finalist were they? None of these teams were expected to make a deep run, but some were more surprising than others.

Road to the final: Did they have a relatively easy trip through the playoffs, or did they have to fight and scrape through every round? The harder the journey, the higher the ranking.

Final chapter: Once they got to the final, how close did they come to winning it all?

Enduring image: Years after the run is over, what (if anything) still sticks with hockey fans?

Then we'll add it all up and crown an all-time Cinderella team. But we'll work our way down, which means we start in the pre-cap days.

13. 2001-02 Hurricanes

Underdog status: 7/10. The Hurricanes had finished 16th overall. But based on winning the lowly Southeast Division, they went into the playoffs as the East's third seed.

Road to the final: 6/10. They knocked off the Devils, Canadiens and Maple Leafs, each in six games. The Carolina/Montreal matchup took place in round two and featured the two playoff teams with the worst record, in case you thought the NHL playoff format being screwy was some sort of new development.

Final chapter: 5/10. Everybody assumed the Hurricanes had no chance against a Red Wings team packed with Hall of Famers. Everyone was right.

Enduring image: 1/10. None. Seriously, other than maybe Igor Larionov's overtime goal, nobody remembers anything about this series.

Final score: 19/40. This one doesn't hold up well, at least partly because the Hurricanes came back and won the Cup just four years later.

12. 2015-16 Sharks

Underdog status: 6/10. The Sharks finished 11th overall and were the West's sixth seed. And maybe more importantly, they came in dragging all of the baggage of years of playoff failure.

Road to the final: 6/10. They started strong, knocking out their arch-rivals and killing off at least a few playoff demons by dispatching the Kings in five games. They actually had home ice in the second round against the Predators, who they beat in seven, before eliminating the Blues in six.

Final chapter: 5/10. The Sharks played the Penguins tough but never really seemed like they'd win. They dropped the first two games in Pittsburgh and trailed 3-1 after four games before ultimately bowing out in six.

Enduring image: 3/10. Joe Thornton's playoff beard, which he's apparently just decided to keep.

Final score: 20/40. Maybe the Sharks are just too recent, or maybe the modern age of parity has made Cinderella stories tougher to appreciate. But the Sharks feel more like a good team that fell short than a memorable underdog.

11. 2013-14 Rangers

Underdog status: 2/10. Wait, were the Rangers a Cinderella team? That seems wrong; this team was in the middle of a stretch that saw New York make it to the conference final in three out of four seasons. But this year's team finished 12th overall, so they meet our cutoff even though they opened on home ice.

Road to the final: 9/10. It's hard to take a longer path to the final than the Rangers did. They knocked off the Flyers and Penguins in seventh games, then needed six games (and a controversial Carey Price injury) to knock off the Canadiens.

Final chapter: 4/10. The Rangers fell to the Kings in just five games. But it was closer than it sounds, with three of their losses coming in overtime.

Enduring image: 8/10. A devastated Henrik Lundqvist, slumped on the ice after Alec Martinez's Cup-winning goal.

Final score: 23/40. The Rangers had most of the elements of a classic Cinderella story, even if they never really felt like one.

10. 1981-82 Canucks

Underdog status: 7/10. They finished under .500, racking up just 77 points on the season. That was still good for 11th overall, and fourth in the Campbell Conference, because back then everyone didn't get points for losing.

Road to the final: 3/10. Amazingly, the Canucks made it all the way to the final without ever playing a single .500 team. They knocked off the Flames, Kings and Hawks, losing just two games in the process. The Cup final would prove slightly more challenging.

Final chapter: 4/10. The Canucks drew the Islanders, who'd already won two straight Cups. It didn't take them long to make it three, as they swept Vancouver aside in four straight.

Enduring image: 9/10. Roger Nielson waving the white towel at the officials in the Chicago series:

The moment has since been immortalized by a statue outside of Rogers Arena.

Final score: 23/40. Realistically, they never had a chance, but they were still fun along the way.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Monday, May 29, 2017

A team-by-team rooting guide to the Stanley Cup final

We’re now just a few hours away from the start of the 2017 Stanley Cup final, pitting the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Nashville Predators. It’s a classic battle between the powerhouse defending champs and an inspiring Cinderella story, and plenty of fans have already picked sides.

But not everyone. Some fans insist on remaining neutral, which is fine. But others might want to root for one team or another, but can’t figure out which way to lean. After all, there’s a lot to like about both teams. If you haven’t decided who you’ll root for yet, you’re rapidly running out of time to make your decision.

We’re here to help. So today, we’ll go through the 29 other NHL franchises and offer up team-by-team recommendations for any fans who are still sitting on the fence and looking for a last-minute bandwagon to hop on. These are, it should go without saying, merely suggestion, but they might be of assistance for the more indecisive fans out there.

Chicago Blackhawks

Blackhawks fans may not want to cheer on the Predators, a division rival who swept them out of the first round. But they should, for a couple of reasons. For one, a Nashville Cup win takes some of the sting out of that opening-round upset. But more importantly, a Penguins' win strips Chicago of their status as the NHL's unquestioned modern dynasty. The Penguins wouldn't just tie the Hawks with three cap-era Cup wins, they'd do it by pulling of the back-to-back wins that have so far eluded Chicago. That should have Blackhawks fans backing the Predators, if only to protect their own turf at the top of the NHL's hierarchy.

Pick: Predators

Los Angeles Kings

The once-mighty Kings have won just a single playoff game in three years, and just overhauled their front office and coaching ranks. Now, the Penguins are threatening to pass them in cap-era Cups won. Much like the Blackhawks, Kings fans need to protect their turf here.

Pick: Predators

Colorado Avalanche

There was a time back in the ’90s when the Penguins were one of the best teams in hockey, winning a pair of Stanley Cups. But then the franchise fell on hard times, eventually plunging all the way to dead last overall in 2004. The Avalanche have followed a similar trajectory, and are coming off a season even worse than any nadir the Penguins ever hit. If you're a Colorado fan looking for any hope you can cling to these days, watching the Penguins win another Cup would serve as a reminder that there is a path from rock bottom back to the promised land.

Pick: Penguins

Montreal Canadiens

Come on.

New York Islanders

The Islanders' season was a rough one. They missed the playoffs, fired their coach, and had to endure another round of arena drama and speculation about their future. At times, it feels like this franchise is a million miles away from winning anything. After all that, Islanders fans have a chance to watch the Stanley Cup be awarded to a team that posted the exact same 41-29-12 regular-season record that they did. That might not make the season a success, but it would make the whole "We're not as far away as we seem" story a lot easier to swallow. Besides, they can root for former coach Peter Laviolette, who was once fired by Mike Milbury because he clearly wasn't the sort of coach who could take a team to the final.

Pick: Predators

Florida Panthers

The Panthers still owe the rest of the hockey world some penance for shocking the Penguins in 1996 and costing us a Mario Lemieux-vs.-Patrick Roy showdown in the Stanley Cup final. Rooting for Jaromir Jagr's old team is the least they can do.

Pick: Penguins

Ottawa Senators

This is a tricky one. Sens fans getting behind the Penguins just days after a heart-breaking Game 7 loss would be a big ask, and you could forgive Ottawa if the city united behind the Predators finishing the job that they couldn't. (Longtime Senators favourite Mike Fisher chasing his first Cup helps here, too.)

But that feels shortsighted. If the Penguins win it all, Senators fans can always claim they were one overtime goal away from going on to do the same. A Predators win takes some of the drama out of that epic overtime. Besides, it's not like the series against the Penguins was especially heated. And in a way, the Penguins and Senators are linked by some common history, with both franchises fighting through bankruptcy and accusations of being an unworthy market. Senators fans should have their back, if only so down the road they can claim that it should have been them.

Pick: Penguins

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Friday, May 26, 2017

Podcast: Final countdown

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- Dave and I relive one of the best game sevens in recent memory
- Seriously, we don't complain for like ten straight minutes
- Where do the Senators go from here?
- We look ahead to what could be a great Stanley Cup final matchup
- Just touch the conference final trophy
- Reader questions, featuring meat, bacon and media fist fights

>> Stream it now on Vice Sports

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.




Stanley Cup final preview

Six weeks ago, the NHL playoffs started with 16 teams. Now, after last night's epic double-overtime win by the Penguins, we're down to two, and the Stanley Cup Final is here. Well, not quite here, because this is the NHL and we all have to wait around for a few days for anything to start, but it's close enough for a preview.

There's no denying that this year's final presents an intriguing matchup. In one corner, you've got the defending champs, bruised and exhausted but still fighting to become the first repeat winners in nearly two decades. In the other, a team that went into the postseason with the worst record among playoff teams and had never even been out of the second round in franchise history.

It's been an unpredictable ride through this year's playoffs. Well, unless you read our third-round preview, which nailed the winner and games played for each of the conference finals series. Consider this your spoiler warning: We'll get to the Cup Final prediction at the end, so skip the last section if you want to be surprised.


In this corner: The Pittsburgh Penguins (50-21-11, 111 points, +49 goals differential excluding shootouts), who posted the second best regular-season record in the league.

The road so far: It's been a weird one, thanks to the NHL's unique playoff format. The Penguins faced a pair of top-five teams in the opening two rounds, knocking off the Blue Jackets easily and then dispatching the Presidents' Trophy-winning Capitals in seven. That earned them a date with the 12th-ranked Senators, who gave them everything they could handle. And now they close against the 16-seed.

The history books: The Penguins are chasing their fifth Stanley Cup in franchise history. In addition to becoming the first back-to-back champs since the 97/98 Red Wings, they'll be looking to tie the Blackhawks with their third title of the salary cap era.

Injury report: They've been banged up pretty badly all postseason, although they had several players return to the lineup during the Ottawa series. Patric Hornqvist missed Game 7 but was rumored to be close, so he could be back soon. Chad Ruhwedel sounds less likely. And of course, Kris Letang remains out for the playoffs after neck surgery.

One player to watch: Evgeni Malkin. The second half of the league's best one-two punch down the middle doesn't get quite as much attention as Sidney Crosby, but he's been almost as good for most of their careers. During this year's playoffs, he's been even better, leading the team in scoring and looking dangerous just about every time he's on the ice. Crosby still doesn't look completely right after suffering that concussion against the Capitals; he was great on the powerplay against Ottawa but less noticeable at 5-on-5. Malkin is rolling right now, and with Phil Kessel on his wing he'll give the Predators nightmares.

Key number: 95.0%—The Penguins' penalty-kill rate against Ottawa, which pretty much won them the series. The Senators were shut out completely at 5-on-4, with their only powerplay goal coming with a two-man advantage. That mismatch felt more like Ottawa being bad than Pittsburgh being good, but the Predators have been struggling on the powerplay all postseason long. If the Penguins can hold a major edge on special teams, Nashville is going to have a very tough time making up enough ground elsewhere to stay in this.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports