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