Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Deadline preview, part two: The buyers

Welcome to part two of the VICE Sports NHL trade deadline preview. Yesterday, we took a look at the league's sellers. That wasn't easy given where the market stands right now, and we had to stretch the definition a bit to find enough teams.

We won't have the same problem today, as we look at the buyers. In theory, you could probably make a case for as many two-thirds of the league's teams falling into this category. They won't all be able to find a dance partner, but they'll be trying—or at least, for the more timid among them, pretending to try.

Instead of giving you 20 identical capsules that all say some variation of "They'd like to add some depth in the middle six and on the blueline," let's narrow the field down to the teams that could be the most interesting over the next week.

Florida Panthers

Where they're at: Back in a playoff spot, albeit barely. That's still a big step forward after a terrible first half that cost the coach his job, painted the picture of a front office in chaos, and had this looking like a lost season. Now they're telling fans they're "all-in" and making it clear that they want to be buyers.

In a perfect world: They need help on offense; the powerplay has struggled and they rank in the bottom third of the league in goals scored. So, in theory, they'd want to be in on someone like Patrick Eaves, Radim Vrbata or Thomas Vanek. Maybe even more than one of them.

But it's more likely that: The team is red hot, and recently welcomed Jonathan Huberdeau back to the lineup after he'd missed the entire season. Aleksander Barkov also returned after an extended absence. That gives the Panthers room to claim that getting those guys back counts as their deadline additions, and they wouldn't be wrong. But GM Dale Tallon has been clear that he wants to do more, so some sort of rental deal to boost the offense seems like a sure thing.

Los Angeles Kings

Where they're at: Hanging around the playoff bubble despite looking like a team that could win it all. So, the usual.

In a perfect world: Dean Lombardi has made big midseason trades that helped the team win a Stanley Cup twice, so he's always a guy to keep an eye on. He's also never been shy about trading first-round picks, and still has this year's in his holster. There may not be many players out there that would be worth that price, and the Kings don't have any obvious holes. But they do have a little bit of cap room to work with, so Lombardi will be sniffing around bigger names that might shake free.

The other question is goaltending. Jonathan Quick has been expected back before the playoffs, but his recovery has been slow and there's a chance he won't make it back this year. If that's the case, the Kings will probably want an experienced backup for Peter Budaj.

But it's more likely that: Only the Kings know what's really up with Quick, but a deal for a goalie wouldn't be a surprise, and an addition up front seems likely.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports




This year's five toughest buyer/seller dilemmas

We're now one week away from the trade deadline, which means the entire league is being divided into buyers and sellers. This year, there's far more of the former than the latter, so much so that it might throw the market into chaos, or maybe lead to a very quiet week.

Still, most teams know where they stand by now. If you're a Cup contender or desperate for a playoff spot, you buy. If you're already toast, then you look to the future and let the firesale begin.

But what about those teams that are stuck somewhere in between? Even this late in the season, there are still some teams that could make a good case for either side of the equation. Maybe they're not quite sure if they're still in the running, or maybe they can't decide if this is the right year to make a push. But either way, they've got a few days left to make up their minds.

As we count down until March 1, here are five of the teams that present the toughest buy-or-sell call.
 

Toronto Maple Leafs

The case for buying: One year into the Auston Matthews era, the Leafs have been better than most expected and are right in the mix for an Eastern Conference playoff spot – and a run at home-ice or even a division title isn't completely out of the question. The team has access to a ton of cap room and plenty of picks and prospects to work with.

And maybe more importantly, they have a three-year window while Matthews and Mitch Marner are on their rookie contracts. James van Riemsdyk's cheap deal runs for one more year after this one. William Nylander needs a new contract after next season. The time to strike could be soon.

The case for selling: "Soon" doesn't mean now. The Leafs have been patient during this rebuild, and waiting another year to really swing for the fences would be the smart play. And with a handful of rental options like Roman Polak and Matt Hunwick, collecting a few more future assets might be a smart way to prepare for what's to come.

Where they'll end up: You never know with Lou Lamoriello and his fortress of silence, but for now it sounds like they're not planning to do much.
 

Philadelphia Flyers

The case for buying: After making the playoffs last year, the Flyers have taken a step back and are fading from the race. But this team is good enough to do some damage, as they showed earlier this year when they won nine straight and briefly moved into the mix with other elite teams in the Metro. Ron Hextall has been patient since taking over the GM's job, but this team hasn't won a playoff round since 2012 and Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek are in the late stages of their prime. At some point, it's time to take a step forward.

The case for selling: Timing is everything, and this year's Metro Division is so stacked that taking a run at it seems foolish. Better to move rentals like Mark Streit and Michael Del Zotto (and maybe even Steve Mason) and regroup for next year.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News





Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Deadline preview, part one: The sellers

We're now just over one week away from the annual NHL trade deadline. Any and all deals involving NHL roster players must be done by 3:00 ET on Wednesday, March 1. And with just eight days to go, the market is heating up.

We hope. Please let it be heating up. Because Lord, nobody's doing anything right now. When you're breaking down the big Viktor-Loov-for-Sergey-Kalinin blockbuster, you've found yourself in a sad place. Save us, Michael Stone, you're our only hope.

But that can all change quickly. In a league infested with parity, one big move somewhere could be the one that gets all the dominoes falling. And with just eight days to go, pressure is mounting around the league to get something—anything—done.

So which teams are worth keeping an eye on? Not everyone will be busy, but most of the league will do something. So over the next few days, we're going to take a look at which teams should be facing a busy week. Tomorrow, we'll look at the league's buyers. And today, we'll start with the all-important sellers.

Colorado Avalanche

Where they're at: The Avalanche aren't just bad. They're not even just "dead last place" bad. There's actually a decent argument to be made that this could be the worst team we've seen since the start of the salary cap era.

All of which makes them sellers in the traditional sense, meaning they'll be moving veterans with expiring deals like Jarome Iginla, John Mitchell and Rene Bourque. But the Avalanche are facing something far bigger. Much like the Oilers of recent years, the Avs have built a talented young core that, for whatever reason, just doesn't seem to add up to winning. It's time to move on from someone like Matt Duchene or Gabriel Landeskog, and those deals could happen this week. GM Joe Sakic is apparently asking for plenty, but he's not being unreasonable; if he moves on of his key young pieces, he'd better hit a home run.

In a perfect world: One or more of the teams sniffing around Duchene and Landeskog decide to stop playing PR games with friendly media and start getting serious, and somebody meets Sakic's price tag. Meanwhile, Iginla's reputation as one of the most respected veterans in the league overrides his middling performance this year, and Sakic is able to flip him for a first-round pick. Mix in a few smaller rentals, and the Avs come away from the deadline with a haul of picks and prospects, and the future looks bright.

But it's more likely that: Sakic plays the "it's just too hard to make a big deal during the season" card, as he's already started to do, and kicks the Duchene/Landeskog can down the road to the summer. Iginla only brings in a second-round pick (if that), and Avalanche fans come away questioning whether the team's best chance to turn a corner just slipped away.

Arizona Coyotes

Where they're at: Well ahead of the Avalanche, but that's about where the good news ends. They're going to finish 29th, missing the playoffs for the fifth straight year. Worse, they've taken a significant step back in what was supposed to be a year of progress.

As a team that's already been solidly in rebuild mode for years, there aren't a ton of big-name veteran assets here to move. But rookie GM John Chayka will need to find a way to extract some value in his first crack at the deadline. He got started Monday, sending Stone to the Calgary Flames for a third and a conditional fifth. That's not bad, but there's plenty more to do.

In a perfect world: Captain Shane Doan agrees to waive his no-movement clause to join a contender, and gives the team enough options to stoke a bidding war. Chayka manages to get someone to meet his sky-high demands for Martin Hanzal, and also does well on deals for Radim Vrbata and maybe even struggling prospect Anthony Duclair.

But it's more likely that: The Coyotes should do reasonably well. Vrbata will bring back something, and Hanzal has enough buzz around him that somebody might actually pay up even though he's, you know, Martin Hanzal.

Doan could be trickier, since he still doesn't seem completely sure that he wants to go, and could also give the team a list of destinations that's so short that all Chayka can do is find him a good home and wish him well, without much coming back the other way.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports




Assembling history's all-deadline team

We’re down to eight days until the deadline, and so far the market has been… a little slow. Just a bit sluggish. Did you bet the under? You’re probably going to win.

Maybe GMs around the league are just saving up for the big finale. Or maybe they’re all big wimpy babies. But there’s another possible explanation. Maybe they just need a little extra motivation.

Let’s provide some. Today, let’s put together a full roster of the best trade deadline–week acquisitions in league history. We’re only looking at what each player did with his new team here, and we’re not counting draft picks that turned into stars (we covered a few of those last week). But that still gives us plenty of big names to choose from. Consider it a reminder that every now and then, a smart and/or lucky GM can land a major difference-maker with the right deadline move.

Will this year’s deadline add anyone to the team? Time will tell. But for now, let’s meet our roster.

FIRST LINE

Ron Francis, Pittsburgh Penguins (March 4, 1991)

The 1990–91 Penguins were already stacked, boasting future Hall of Famers like Mario Lemieux, Paul Coffey, Larry Murphy, Joe Mullen and Bryan Trottier, not to mention a team-leading 113-point season from Mark Recchi and a rookie with funny hair named Jaromir Jagr. But with his team hovering just two games over .500 and coming off a four-game losing streak, GM Craig Patrick apparently decided that they needed something more.

And so, a week before the 1991 deadline, Patrick swung one of the biggest trades of the era, sending John Cullen, Jeff Parker and Zarley Zalapski to Hartford for Francis, Ulf Samuelsson and Grant Jennings. It was, to put it mildly, a questionable move for the Whalers. Francis was the franchise, and seeing him dealt away devastated the fanbase.

Francis would go on to have some of the best years of his career in Pittsburgh, and his arrival was a key to the team winning back-to-back Cups.

Brett Hull, St. Louis Blues (March 7, 1988)

The trade that sent Brett Hull from Calgary to St. Louis might hold the distinction of being the most lopsided trade in sports history that neither team is all that unhappy with.

From the Blues' side, it was a heist. Hull would go on to record three straight 70-plus goal seasons and win an MVP in St. Louis, and they got him and Steve Bozek for a pair of solid-but-unspectacular veterans in Rick Wamsley and Rob Ramage. It's the best trade in franchise history, and it's not close.

But while the Flames got robbed in terms of long-term value, they made the deal with a purpose: Load up on experience to win a Stanley Cup. In 1989, they did, taking home the franchise's first and only championship. Would you trade that banner to get Hull back? Probably not, but Hull still gets a spot on our first line.

Markus Naslund, Vancouver Canucks (March 20, 1996)

Naslund reunites with Francis on our top line. The two were teammates in Pittsburgh in the mid-’90s; Naslund had actually put up 52 points in 66 games in his first full NHL season in 1995–96. But the Pens already had plenty of skill and wanted some toughness, so they sent the young Swede to Vancouver in exchange for bruiser Alek Stojanov.

That move worked out OK for Vancouver; Naslund would go on to become the franchise leader in goals and points.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Monday, February 20, 2017

Weekend wrap: Big changes in Montreal, strange times in St. Louis, high prices in Colorado

This feature runs just about every Monday during the season, maybe about 25 times in all, and one of the things we try to do is spread the attention around. Nobody wants to read about the same teams over and over, so we try to make sure that just about everybody gets some time in the spotlight. If we focus on a given team one week, we try not to come back to it again for another month or two at least. Fair’s fair, and all that.

But sometimes, as we’ll see today, that just doesn’t work. One week ago, we spent a section diving into the slumping Montreal Canadiens and their tenuous hold on the Atlantic Division, so in theory we wouldn’t circle back to them for a while. But after the week they just had, there’s really no way to avoid it, even if it breaks the “don’t focus on the same team” rule.

Then again, maybe that rule doesn’t apply here, because you could argue that the Canadiens are no longer the same team they were a week ago. Tuesday’s decision to fire coach Michel Therrien wasn’t exactly a shock – he was on indisputably shaky ground heading into the bye. But his replacement raised eyebrows. The Canadiens didn’t promote from within or go the interim route, like every other team to fire its coach this year has done. Nope, Marc Bergevin went big, bringing in Claude Julien on what’s rumoured to be a massive contract.

And just like that, there was hope again in Montreal. In a season that seemed to be spiraling into a demoralizing repeat off 2015-16 – unbeatable in October, mediocre beyond, outright free-fall down the stretch – the team had yanked hard on the wheel and skidded into a new direction. Bergevin had delivered a clear message that nothing, be it friendship, loyalty or the bottom line, was more important in Montreal than winning.

Not a bad week for a team that was supposed to be on vacation.

On Friday, it all led to the sight of a practice feeling like a bigger deal than most regular season games. Hundreds of fans showed up to watch the team run through drills. Julien mixed up the lines, answering the prayers of Habs fans by moving Alex Galchenyuk back to centering the top line. And afterwards, key players like Carey Price were talking about the coaching change being a wakeup call.

Add it all up, and you may have expected the Canadiens to come out for Saturday afternoon's game against the Winnipeg Jets looking like the 1977 version. Instead, after a decent start, they fell flat on their way to a 3-1 loss. It was their third straight defeat and seventh in their last eight, and they've scored two or less in all seven of those losses. Combined with Ottawa splitting a pair of weekend games, it left Montreal's lead on top of the Atlantic at just two points.

It wasn't all bad, with Price in particular looking as sharp as he has in weeks. And the Canadiens certainly aren't the first team to look sloppy coming out of the bye. But any hopes that a coaching change would provide the sort of instant turnaround that teams like the New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues have seen took at least a temporary blow on Saturday. And the Canadiens are looking more and more like a team that needs exactly that sort of reversal to regain their status as Cup contenders.

Montreal returns to action Tuesday night against the New York Rangers, kicking off a busy stretch that sees them play five times in eight nights. That takes the Canadiens right up to the trade deadline (which Bergevin is suggesting could be quiet) and then it's on to P.K. Subban's homecoming with the Nashville Predators on March 2.

It won't be boring. And when it's all over, we'll know a lot more about this team than we do right now.

Road to the Cup

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

5. New York Rangers (38-19-1, +43 true goals differential*): They had their six-game winning streak snapped, then responded by knocking off the Caps. They're gaining ground on third spot in the Metro. But based on the playoff format, is that really a good thing?

4. Columbus Blue Jackets (37-16-5, +43): They're off this week, returning to action on Saturday against the Islanders.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Friday, February 17, 2017

Podcast: Julien, Nyquist, Vermette and the latest terrible excuse for not making trades

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- Marc Bergevin was listening to last week's episode, because he took our advice about Claude Julien
- NHL GMs have a new excuse for not making trades, and it sets me off on a bit of a rant
- We try (and fail) to figure out the Gustav Nyquist suspension
- Antoine Vermette is kind of screwed
- Bye weeks are weird
- Plus reader questions and lots more...

>> Stream it now on Vice Sports

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.







New book:
THE 100 GREATEST PLAYERS IN NHL HISTORY (AND OTHER STUFF): AN ARBITRARY COLLECTION OF ARBITRARY LISTS

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Grab bag: Playoff format, bye weeks, and the worst rap ever

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- The playoff format is all screwed up, but I still can't blame the NHL
- Debating the merits of bye weeks
- An obscure player that Jets fans aren't big fans of these days
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a classic YouTube breakdown of the whitest rap performance ever: The Beanpot Trot

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports





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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Finding the Sidney Crosby of other sports, and beyond

Sidney Crosby is about to hit another milestone. The Pittsburgh star is now just one point away from the joining the 1,000-point club, and will be looking to hit the mark Thursday when the Penguins host the Jets.

It will be just the latest accomplishment for a player enjoying one of the best stretches in recent hockey history. In the last 12 months, Crosby has won a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe, along with a World Cup and tournament MVP honors. He's leading the NHL in scoring this year and has a good shot at winning his third Hart Trophy as league MVP. And he's not even 30 yet.

It's hard to come up with new ways to praise Crosby. His status as the best player in the game isn't in any serious dispute these days, and even fans of other teams have come to respect him. Telling hockey fans about how great Sidney Crosby is almost seems like a waste of time; at this point, you're preaching to the choir.

But what about everyone else? Most of the people out there aren't diehard hockey fans, and it seems like they should get an opportunity to enjoy Crosby, too. But how? That's trickier, since it's hard to really appreciate somebody you're not familiar with, or may have never even heard of.

So in honor of what will soon be his latest milestone, I figured I'd do my part in helping to spread the Crosby legend. They say the easiest way to learn about a new topic is to compare it to something you already know. So let's do that. Let's reach out to fans of other sports and beyond, as we try to identify the Sidney Crosby of other fields.

The Sidney Crosby of the NBA is: Lebron James.

We might as well start with an easy one. Like Crosby, James was a heavily-hyped phenom before he even made his pro debut. Like Crosby, he was the first overall pick in his draft year. And, like Crosby, he's faced plenty of criticism over the years, both fair and unfair, thanks to the bright spotlight that comes with being the best.

Granted, Crosby's never switched teams, and he's certainly never done it with a televised special like James' unfortunate appearance in "The Decision." But Crosby did have his own shady made-for-TV moment back in 2005, when the league orchestrated a special lottery to determine which team would get to draft him. It's not a perfect comparison, but it's close enough.

Don't overthink it. Lebron is the Crosby of the NBA. Next.

The Sidney Crosby of the NFL is: Hmm. This one's trickier.

If we're talking about the best player, we should be picking a quarterback. But Tom Brady doesn't really work. Neither does going back through history for guys like Joe Montana or John Elway. Peyton Manning is probably the best match we can find here, but it's a stretch.

So I'm going to go in a different direction by narrowing the focus a bit: The Sidney Crosby of NFL wide receivers is Antonio Brown. Crosby may not have his personality or social media skills, but he shares a couple of important characteristics. For one, we get the whole Pittsburgh connection. But they also share a dilemma: Where do they rank among the best at their position?

Both players are probably the best right now. Both have a younger player nipping at their heels for that honor, in Connor McDavid and Odell Beckham Jr. And most importantly, both are facing an almost impossible task of achieving "best ever" honors, because the guy at the top of the list is just too good.

In Brown's case, that's Jerry Rice. In Crosby's, it's Wayne Gretzky. Both were so far beyond anyone else that future generations were just battling for second place. (Also, in this metaphor Randy Moss is Mario Lemieux—record-setting freaks who may have been the most skilled of all time but didn't play long enough to challenge the all-time numbers.)

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports





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When traded picks become superstars

It’s trade-deadline season in the NHL, which means GMs around the league are working the phones in an attempt to make a move. Some of the deals being discussed will come to fruition, while most will never go anywhere. As much as we may rip on these guys for not getting deals done, the truth is that it really is tough to find a fit in today’s NHL.

But there’s one trick that can make closing out a deal a little easier. When in doubt, why not throw in a draft pick to balance the scales?

It makes sense, and most deals that get done these days have at least a pick or two thrown in somewhere. But every now and then, those picks can come back to haunt you, as we’ll see in these 10 trades that didn’t seem like big deals at the time, but ended up indirectly involving a future superstar.

For this list, we’re not worried about cases where a team traded up on the draft floor to target a specific player. We’re looking at situations where a team acquired a pick months or even years in advance, only to have an eventual star fall into their lap.

So tread carefully, NHL GMs — you never know when that pick you throw in to make a deal work will come back to haunt you.

1. THE TRADE: On Nov. 4, 1983, the Winnipeg Jets acquire defenceman Robert Picard from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for a third round pick at the 1984 draft

The rationale: The Jets were trying to build a roster that could do something other than lose in the first round of the playoffs every year, and needed some depth on the blueline. Picard was a solid-enough player, and a third-round pick seemed like a fair price.

But the pick turned into: On draft day, the Canadiens traded up to get picks in the first and second round, which they used on Shane Corson and Stephane Richer. But the deal cost them multiple picks as well as Rick Wamsley, so they needed to replenish their goaltending depth.

They used the Jets' third-round pick to do it, grabbing a skinny kid from the QMJHL named Patrick Roy.

The epilogue: Picard was fine in two seasons as a Jet before being dealt to the Nordiques for Mario Marois.

2. THE TRADE: On the eve of the 1978-79 season opener, the Los Angeles Kings trade their first-round pick in the 1979 draft to the Boston Bruins for goalie Ron Grahame

The rationale: The Kings needed a goaltender after Rogie Vachon had signed with Detroit in free agency. Vachon had been an all-star and he'd appeared in 70 games the year before, so his departure left a huge void. With backup Gary Simmons also out of the picture, the Kings needed somebody to fill the starter's job, and apparently didn't trust prospect Mario Lessard to handle the load.

They turned to the Bruins and Grahame, who'd just put up an excellent half-season and, at 28 years old, seemed like a guy who could be their starter for years to come.

But the pick turned into: The pick ended up being eighth overall in what's now viewed as perhaps the greatest draft ever, and the Bruins used it to pick Ray Bourque.

The epilogue: As it turns out, the Kings didn't even need a goalie after all; Lessard played well enough to beat out Grahame for the starter's job, and held it for four years. Just over two years after trading a first round pick for him, the Kings sent Grahame to the Nordiques for cash in 1980.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet





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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Defensemen don't win the Hart

Brent Burns is on fire. The Sharks' defenseman is enjoying one of the best goal-scoring seasons by a blueliner in recent memory while leading his team to first place in the Pacific. He's emerged as the runaway favorite for the Norris Trophy. And now, he's even starting to get some Hart Trophy buzz.

He almost certainly won't win – this year's MVP vote has been shaping up as the first of many Sidney Crosby vs. Connor McDavid referendums. Barring an injury or something entirely unexpected, that won't change. It's Crosby vs. McDavid, and everyone else is gunning for third place.

But third place would still be a historic achievement for Burns. A defenseman hasn't been a serious Hart Trophy candidate since 2000, when Chris Pronger won. For whatever reason, blueliners just don't get much respect from Hart voters. Pronger remains the only defenseman to win MVP honors since Bobby Orr in the early 70s, and nobody since 2000 has even finished as a finalist.

That's kind of weird when you think about it. Ask any NHL GM about how to build a championship contender, and they'll rave about the importance of a blueline stud. But when it comes to naming the league's most valuable player, the entire position ends up being an afterthought at best.

So even if Burns won't win, just being in the conversation is impressive. As we watch his record-breaking season unfold, let's look back at the five defensemen who came closest to cracking the Hart Trophy puzzle in the years since Pronger took the trophy home.

(All award vote data via hockey-reference.com.)

Nicklas Lidstrom

No surprise here. Lidstrom was the runner-up to Pronger for the Norris Trophy as best defenseman in 2000, then dominated the voting for that award for most of the next decade, winning seven times.

What's somewhat surprising is that Lidstrom never came especially close to contending for a Hart Trophy, and he was only the top vote-getter among blueliners four times. In two of his Norris-winning years (2003 and 2011), MVP voters showed more love to someone else at the position. And one time, in 2002, nobody cast so much as a single Hart ballot for any defensemen at all.

Lidstrom's closest call to finalist status came in 2008, when he finished fourth. It wasn't an especially near miss – Lidstrom finished well back of Evgeni Malkin and Jarome Iginla, neither of whom were close to threatening Alex Ovechkin's near-unanimous win. But Lidstrom did receive two first-place votes, tied for the most since Pronger's 25, and that fourth-place finish remains the only time since Pronger's win that a defenseman has even finished in the top five.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News





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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The timid GM's guide to not making a trade

The trade deadline is a tough time to be an NHL GM.

Everywhere you go, everyone is asking you about trades. Are you buying? Are you selling? How many moves will you make? Fans around the league are buzzing with excitement, counting down the hours to one of the most-anticipated dates on the hockey calendar.

So sure, the fans are happy. But you, an NHL GM, are miserable. You don’t want to make a trade. You hate trading. And so do almost all of your colleagues around the league.

It didn’t used to be that way. Back in the old days, trades were frequent and often franchise-altering, and a GM with enough guts could remake his team with just a few bold moves. But those were different times. Back then, two grizzled GMs could sit down at the bar, look each other dead in the eye, and hammer out a blockbuster by the time the third or fourth round had been slammed down.

But not you. You've surrounded yourself with a small army of advisors and assistants. The scouts tell you one thing, then the analytics guys say something else. You're drowning in data, reports and opinions. And if we're being honest, you're not really allowed to do anything without running it by the owner first.

Trading is hard. Too hard. Your life would be so much easier without it.

But there's just one problem: The fans. Those idiots ruin everything. They seem to have it in their heads that the team they support with their passion and hard-earned dollars should actually be doing everything in their power to try to win. They keep expecting you to get off your behind and do what you're paid to do.

It can wear on you. And at some point over the next two weeks, you might even start to feel like caving into the pressure and actually, you know, accomplishing something.

Resist that urge. Stay strong, NHL GM. You can get through this. And to help you out, we've prepared this special guide to help you keep your eyes on the prize over the trying days ahead. Where the prize, of course, is taking the next two weeks off.

1. Blame the salary cap

Repeat after me: "I can't make a trade, because the salary cap makes my job too hard."

Honestly, most of the time you can just stop here. Claiming that the cap makes trading too difficult seems to work on about 75 percent of the fans out there, and just about all of the media. They'll just shrug and accept it, and then they'll leave you alone.

Never mind that we've had the cap for a dozen years, and everyone should have figured out how it works by now. Never mind that working within a budget has been part of a GM's job for a century. Never mind that this isn't the NBA, with complex rules around balancing salaries in trades. Never mind that 23 of the league's 30 teams already have enough cap room to add at least $2 million at the deadline. Never mind that teams can retain salary or take back contracts to balance the books.

Ignore all of that stuff, because that's what fans have been conditioned to do over the years. Just blame the cap. Most of the time, that will be enough.

2. Point to the standings

How's your team doing these days? Not well, you say. Well then, you can't make a trade now. Everyone knows that the absolute worst time to make a deal is when your team is struggling. That's when other GMs line up to take advantage of you. Anchors thrown instead of life jackets, and all that. Who wants an anchor thrown at them? Not you.

No trades when your team is struggling. It's just common sense.

What's that? You say your team is actually doing well? Oh, well in that case, you'd be crazy to change anything now. Why mess with a good thing? If it's working, you don't screw around with it. Back away slowly and don't touch anything.

No trades when your team isn't struggling. It's just common sense.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet





New book:
THE 100 GREATEST PLAYERS IN NHL HISTORY (AND OTHER STUFF): AN ARBITRARY COLLECTION OF ARBITRARY LISTS

Buy it today: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | iBooks






Working through the latest NHL relocation rumors

Did you hear the one about the NHL team that might be moving?

Sorry, weary hockey fans will reply, you’re going to need to be more specific.

The NHL is once again in the midst of a flurry of reports and rumors about teams that could need new homes. Maybe that means a new arena down the street. Or maybe it means a new home across the continent. The league always seems to have a few teams in the middle of some kind of uncertainty, and these days that’s more true than ever.

At some point, the stories all start to blend together, and it can get confusing. Let’s break out our handy Q&A format to see if we can sort it all out.

So what just happened with the New York Islanders?

Here’s the short version. For years, the Islanders were stuck playing in the Nassau Coliseum, an absolute dump of a building in Uniondale, New York. It was nearly 50 years old, and while it could boast plenty of history, it wasn’t anywhere near modern NHL standards. The team had been trying to find a replacement for years; in 2011, they went to voters to ask for $400m to build a new arena, and were soundly rejected.

And so, in 2012, the team announced that it would move to Brooklyn to share the Barclays Center with the NBA’s Nets, starting with the 2015-16 season.

How’d that go?

Awful, thanks for asking.

Barclays is a nice enough building, but it wasn’t built for hockey. Seating capacity was low, the sightlines didn’t work, and the ice was terrible. And maybe worst of all, the team’s longtime fan base in Long Island had to spend an hour on the subway just to see their team play home games, while potential new fans in Brooklyn never seemed to warm to the team.

The whole thing was a disaster from the start, and within a year everyone was searching for an exit plan. There was talk of an escape clause. One rumor had the team moving to Queens. And late last month, news broke that Barclays was planning on kicking the Islanders out, effective in 2019.

So where would they go?

Right now, nobody knows. The Barclays exit isn’t a done deal, so it’s always possible that they could find a way to stay, although at this point it’s hard to see how anybody would want that. They could revisit that Queens idea, even though it didn’t get much traction when it first came up last year. They could even move in with the Rangers for a while.

And if you really want to get silly, you could note that the old Nassau Coliseum was recently renovated; it’s too small now to be a long-term home, but could work as a temporary measure.

In a perfect world, now would be the time for the Islanders to get a new arena of their own somewhere. But teams normally get arena deals when they have leverage. Right now, the Islanders have none.

Could they move to a new market altogether?

It’s certainly an option, although right now it seems like everyone’s focus is on keeping the team in the New York area. But if they can’t find a fit, at some point relocation will have to be on the table. And there are markets out there that would be interested in taking them, including Seattle, Quebec City or Hartford.

Wait, Hartford? As in the Hartford Whalers?

The very same. The area apparently wants to get back into the NHL game, with a proposal to renovate the old Civic Center arena (now called the XL Center) to get it up to modern standards in an attempt to lure a team. When news of the Islanders’ arena troubles broke, the governor of Connecticut sent the team a letter offering them a new home.

Would now be a good time to listen to the Whalers fantastic old theme song?

Damn right it would.

>> Read the full post at The Guardian





New book:
THE 100 GREATEST PLAYERS IN NHL HISTORY (AND OTHER STUFF): AN ARBITRARY COLLECTION OF ARBITRARY LISTS

Buy it today: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | iBooks






Monday, February 13, 2017

Weekend wrap: RIP Mike Ilitch

The biggest story of the NHL weekend came off the ice, and it was a sad one: The death of longtime Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, who passed away on Friday at the age of 87.

Tributes quickly poured in from around the sports world. Former players remembered how well he treated them; media remembered his passion for the game. Others just remembered small acts of kindness.

It's easy to forget it now, but when Ilitch bought the Red Wings back in 1982, the team was largely an NHL afterthought. They hadn't won a Stanley Cup since 1954; they hadn't even won a full playoff round since 1966, and they'd topped the 70-point mark only once in nine seasons.

Ilitch and new hire Jimmy Devellano didn't turn the franchise around instantly as another miserable season followed. But that one led to the drafting of Steve Yzerman, and soon the Red Wings were back in the post-season. Not long after that, their vaunted playoff streak began, and it continues to this day.

Growing up as a Maple Leafs fan during that era, it was hard not to admire this guy who was slowly but surely rebuilding a Norris rival into something respectable. He could seem like an outsized personality, even showing up in bizarre ads for his pizza chain. But he had the one characteristic that every sports fan wants in an owner: He wanted to win. Once Ilitch arrived in Detroit, the focus shifted away from the petty feuds, ego-stroking and nickel-and-diming that defined so many other owners of the era. With Ilitch, the focus was always on winning.

Eventually, the Red Wings did win. And once they did, they wouldn't stop. Maybe the most telling moment of Ilitch's time as owner came in 1997, when the Red Wings finally snapped their title drought after 43 long years. When Steve Yzerman accepted the Stanley Cup, he didn't turn around and execute the traditional handoff to a veteran teammate. Instead, he gave the Cup to Ilitch. It's a move that hadn't been seen before or since, and speaks to the respect that his players had for him.

Ilitch's passing comes during a season that already felt like the end of an era in Detroit. Pavel Datsyuk left in the off-season. GM Ken Holland is feeling heat from the fan base. And barring a frantic comeback, the playoff streak is going to end. The team will move into a new arena next year, an important part of Ilitch's legacy that he didn't live to see, but at this point it's hard to know what the future might hold.

That's the nature of sports, and of fandom. Eventually, everything ends. But even if that's indeed what we're seeing in Detroit, it's amazing to think that Ilitch's Red Wings stayed at the top for as long as they did, becoming the league's model franchise in the process. Maybe that's the greatest tribute that an owner can earn.

Road to the Cup

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

5. Columbus Blue Jackets (35-14-5, +41 true goals differential*): Tell me I'm not alone here: This story about Columbus players calling a meeting to ask John Tortorella to be nicer to them is weird, right?

4. San Jose Sharks (34-18-5, +20): Chalk up two more goals for Brent Burns in yesterday's win over the Devils. We should probably just go ahead and inscribe the Norris now.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet





New book:
THE 100 GREATEST PLAYERS IN NHL HISTORY (AND OTHER STUFF): AN ARBITRARY COLLECTION OF ARBITRARY LISTS

Buy it today: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | iBooks






Friday, February 10, 2017

Grab bag: How to be an NHL goaltender

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- The Bruins fire Claude Julien, and everyone's mad about a parade
- One of the most depressing quotes you'll ever read about scoring in the NHL
- An obscure player with an obscure record that can't be right
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a YouTube breakdown of Don Edwards' truly weird tips for young goalies in 1981

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports






New book:
THE 100 GREATEST PLAYERS IN NHL HISTORY (AND OTHER STUFF): AN ARBITRARY COLLECTION OF ARBITRARY LISTS

Buy it today: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | iBooks







Podcast: Fired coaches, blown offsides, trade deadline best bets + more

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- The axe finally drops on Claude Julien
- Which coach is next to go?
- The NHL blows another offside review
- Franchises that could be on the move
- Dave places his trade deadline bets
- Reader questions
- And lots more...

>> Stream it now on Vice Sports

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.






New book:
THE 100 GREATEST PLAYERS IN NHL HISTORY (AND OTHER STUFF): AN ARBITRARY COLLECTION OF ARBITRARY LISTS

Buy it today: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | iBooks







Thursday, February 9, 2017

NHL stock watch: February

As of this weekend, the NHL regular season will be four months old. We’re a few weeks away from the trade deadline, and then it’s straight into the home stretch as we head towards the playoffs. Those early-season weeks can sometimes feel like they’re dragging on, but from this point forward things start moving quickly.

That makes it a good time to check in with some of the trends that are rising and falling around the league. Let’s see how everyone’s portfolio is doing.

Stock rising: Competitive balance

It’s Gary Bettman’s favourite buzzword, and the league’s go-to example of everything that’s right with the cap era. In today’s NHL, we’re constantly told, almost everyone is a contender, and the playoff races come right down to the final weekend.

Most years, it's just marketing. But this season, it just might turn out to be true. As of today, only the Coyotes and Avalanche are truly done, with the other 28 teams all within seven points of a playoff spot. That means the entire Eastern Conference, and almost all of the West, are either in the mix or at least close enough to seem like they are.

Is that actually a good thing? That depends on your perspective. As we covered on Monday, it could definitely mess up the trade deadline. And for a lot of fans, this league is starting to feel like we're just flipping coins. But there's no question that seeing your favourite team in a playoff race is more fun than having them eliminated by February, and right now 28 out of the league's 30 fan bases have at least some vague reason to keep watching.

So what's behind the standings mashup? The salary cap is a big part of it, but doesn't explain why this year would be different than most. Some of that is probably just random luck, and we may see that even out as the year goes on.

But there's another key factor at play, and it's one the league won't want to acknowledge: Nobody is tanking this year. In years where there was a Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews waiting at the top of the draft, some teams were willing to take a knee on the season, and plenty more joined them as soon as things started to go bad. But with apologies to Nolan Patrick, a top pick in this year's draft doesn't carry anywhere near the same value. And so far, nobody's in any hurry to join the Avs and Coyotes in a race to the bottom.

And while we're at it, we may as well give some grudging credit to one other factor: The loser point. It's no secret that we hate it, and think that its parity-inducing properties are wildly exaggerated. But in the East, at least for this year, it really does seem to be keeping the races tighter – the average Eastern playoff team has 6.1 loser points, while the average non-playoff team has 8.6.

That's probably a fluke. We don't see the same effect in the West, where the distribution is the largely random sprinkling we normally see; Western playoff teams have 6.0 loser points compared to 5.3 for non-playoff teams, and the team with the fewest, Colorado, is buried in dead last. Still, for once the NHL's loser point spin might hold true in at least one conference.

The log jam won't last, of course — by the end of the month, anyone who's still six or seven points out will have to acknowledge that it's over, and the trade deadline will force teams to throw in the towel. But for now, over 90 per cent of the league still has something to play for, or at least can plausibly pretend that they do.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet





New book:
THE 100 GREATEST PLAYERS IN NHL HISTORY (AND OTHER STUFF): AN ARBITRARY COLLECTION OF ARBITRARY LISTS

Buy it today: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | iBooks





Wednesday, February 8, 2017

What could NHL teams learn from the Patriots' dynasty?

So the Super Bowl was on Sunday, and you'll never guess who won.

Oh right, you would, because it was the team that wins all the time. The New England Patriots captured their fifth title of the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era, and second in the last three years. Factor in two other AFC championships and thirteen division titles in fourteen years, there's little doubt that the Patriots have established themselves as the model franchise in not just the NFL, but all of pro sports.

So what can NHL teams learn from them?

That's a bit of a tricky question. Hockey and football are very different sports. And many key Patriot trademarks, like smart drafting and development and game-planning to take away an opponents' strengths, are things that every team tries to do. More importantly, not every team can have an all-time legend at the sport's most important position fall into their lap with a sixth-round pick.

But there are some lessons that we can learn from the Patriots' success that would be applicable to other sports, and NHL coaches are apparently already taking note. So love them or hate them, here are five things the Patriots could probably teach your favorite hockey team.

Don’t be afraid of trading

Mention a trade to most NHL GMs, and you'll get a familiar refrain: It's too hard. The cap complicates everything, prices are too high, the market isn't quite set yet. You don't want to trade when things are going bad, because that's when you'll be pressured into a mistake. But you also don't want to trade when things are going well, because then you'll mess up your chemistry. Better to just sit back, play it conservative and stick with what you've got.

Meanwhile, the Patriots do this:

 

 

It's true that the trading landscape is very different in the NFL, the deadline comes much earlier in the season, and player-for-player trades are far rarer.

But the point is that the Patriots don't sit around looking for excuses to stand pat. They reshape the roster aggressively, even when they're having success, and they do it with every tool available to them. More than a few NHL GMs could learn a lesson from that.

For what it's worth, many of those Patriots trades fall into a specific category that could use its own section.

>> Read the full post at The Hockey News





New book:
THE 100 GREATEST PLAYERS IN NHL HISTORY (AND OTHER STUFF): AN ARBITRARY COLLECTION OF ARBITRARY LISTS

Buy it today: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | iBooks





Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Pace your bets on the NHL trade deadline

So that Super Bowl was pretty fun.

The New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons delivered a game for the ages — it featured a stunning comeback, some ridiculous plays and the first overtime in Super Bowl history. If you were a sports fan, you had to enjoy it. And if you were a gambler, well, you were on the edge of your seat, as the Patriots’ overtime touchdown tipped the scales on both the betting line and the over/under.

Football fans can bet on everything, from which team will score first to individual performances to when scores will happen. They can even bet on the coin flip, or how long the anthem will take, or what colour the halftime singer’s hair will be. If you’re the sort of sports fan who likes to put down a wager or two, the Super Bowl is heaven.

Well, there’s no reason hockey fans shouldn’t have the same fun with our own big event that comes around at this time of year. The NHL trade deadline isn’t quite as big as the Super Bowl — yet — but there’s no reason we can’t set some odds and take some wagers.

So let's do that today. Feel free to give yourself $100 in play money and weigh in down in the comments section with your best bets. (Unless you're this guy, because he's a wizard and will be escorted off fake-casino property by security.)

With the right picks and a little luck, you can break the pretend bank like the high roller that you are.

Bet #1: Over/under on total trades

Deadline day (March 1): 21.5

Deadline week (Feb. 23–March 1): 34.5

Deadline month (Feb. 1–March 1): 38.5

If these same odds were offered last year, you would have won by betting the under on all three bets. The same was true in 2014. But you would have won with the over across the board in 2015, so there's not exactly a clear trend here to look at.

In the end, we're setting these lines a little bit higher than recent history would suggest. That seems counter-intuitive; with so many teams still in the playoff race, this year's market is shaping up to be heavy on buyers and dangerously low on sellers. Even assuming that a few teams fall out of the running over the next few weeks, that unbalanced market could result in a logjam where teams have a tough time finding a trading partner, and we see fewer deals than normal.

So why nudge the numbers up? Three words: Vegas Golden Knights. Reports indicate that George McPhee and the Knights will be allowed to start dealing in time for deadline day, if not even sooner. Those trades can't involve active players, but could involve expansion-draft considerations, such as the Knights acquiring a draft pick or prospect in exchange for agreeing not to take a certain player in June. That could be a big deal for the other 30 teams, and it wouldn't be surprising to see more than a few lining up for the chance to create some clarity around the looming draft.

That's a major wild card. We don't know what the Knights' strategy will be, and we don't even know when they'll be able to start enacting it — it's possible they won't make their first move until the days after the deadline. So we'll hedge as best we can by setting the line at a slightly busier-than-usual deadline.

Bet #2: Which will have more trades: Deadline day (March 1) or the rest of the week leading up to it (Feb. 22–28)?

Deadline day: 1–4

Rest of the week: 4–1

There seems to be a perception among fans that GMs are doing most of their work in the leadup to the deadline these days. That's not quite true — deadline day itself has always been where most of the action is — but the gap has been narrowing in recent years. Last year, there were 19 deals on deadline day and 14 in the week leading to it; that gap of five was the smallest in recent history.

Could this be the year that we see scales tip even more, and the majority of the action happen before deadline day arrives? It's possible, despite the fervent prayers of TV hosts and executives across the continent. These things can snowball, and a big deal or two early in the week could start a panic. But history tells is that most of the deals will still go down on deadline day.

(By the way, you hardcore gamblers will notice that our pretend deadline-day casino isn't taking any vig on these bets. We're nice like that. Please buy a few extra cocktails from the servers to keep us in business.)

Bet #3: Which Canadian team will make the most trades between now and the deadline?

Vancouver Canucks: 2–1

Montreal Canadiens: 7–2

Calgary Flames: 6–1

Ottawa Senators: 7–1

Edmonton Oilers: 9–1

Toronto Maple Leafs: 12–1

Winnipeg Jets: 20–1

Two teams at the opposite end of the spectrum come in as favourites here. The Canucks are fading out of the playoff race, and with fans begging for a rebuild, they could decide to throw in the towel and become sellers in the days leading up to the deadline. The Canadiens are on the other side of the coin; as Cup contenders, they should be buyers, looking to shore up the roster for a deep playoff push.

The Senators and Oilers are headed to the playoffs, too, although both teams seem to be under less pressure to really load up. The Flames could still fall out of the race and sell, or could be one of those playoff bubble teams that scrambles for late-season reinforcements. The Jets rarely trade at all, so it would be surprising to see them be the country's busiest team. And the Maple Leafs seem content to stand pat right now.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet





New book:
THE 100 GREATEST PLAYERS IN NHL HISTORY (AND OTHER STUFF): AN ARBITRARY COLLECTION OF ARBITRARY LISTS

Buy it today: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | iBooks






Monday, February 6, 2017

Weekend wrap: Final fantasy

It’s too early to start thinking about Stanley Cup final matchups. Way too early. Like, ridiculously early.

And yet… it’s impossible to sit through another league’s championship showdown without being tempted to look ahead at what the NHL might serve up. Yesterday’s Falcons/Patriots Super Bowl ended up being an all-time classic, even though it wasn’t exactly a matchup stuffed with history or storylines. So while hockey fans know that we’re still in for plenty of twists and turns as the rest of the regular season and the first three rounds of the playoffs play out, it’s hard not to peak ahead and wonder… what if?

For example, a matchup between the top teams in each conference right now would mean Minnesota facing Washington. There isn't all that much NHL history between the two cities (although there's a little). But the pairing would give us a matchup between Bruce Boudreau's current team and the one he first made his name with. That would give us a chance to relitigate every moment of Boudreau's tenure with the Caps, including his alleged feud with Alexander Ovechkin. And as an added bonus, Boudreau might have to go through his other former team, the Ducks, in the conference final to get there.

We could also get a matchup between the Wild and the Blue Jackets, which would represent a meeting of two expansion cousins who entered the league together in 2000. Or maybe the Blue Jackets face Jeff Carter and the Kings, their old trading partners. Or perhaps Minnesota could face Pittsburgh, which would be a quasi-rematch of the 1991 Penguins/North Stars series that gave us some memorable moments. Then again, it also gave us a Minnesota team that was being broken up in a dispersal draft days after the series ended, so maybe we should stay away from that one.

If you'd prefer a more recent Cup final rematch, Pittsburgh/San Jose looks like it's in play. So is Kings/Rangers, as well as Bruins/Blackhawks, although that last one is hanging by a thread as Boston struggles. Or we could reach back to 1992 for Blackhawks/Penguins, which seems like it would pretty much be the league's dream series in terms of the teams they like to promote.

From a Canadian perspective, the standings say that our best bet would be Montreal/Edmonton. Those two franchises combined to appear in eight straight Stanley Cup finals from 1983 to 1990, but somehow never actually faced each other. Then again, you could probably get more excited for a McDavid/Crosby showdown between the Oilers and Penguins. And of course, there's always the outside chance of a Montreal/Nashville series that might generate just a little bit of spotlight on a certain pair of defencemen.

Will we actually get any of those matchups? Probably not — there are dozens of realistic possibilities, and like we said, it's too early to start narrowing down the field all that much. After all, as the Patriots and Falcons reminded us yesterday, a lot of unexpected things can happen before everything is said and done.

Road to the Cup

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

5. Columbus Blue Jackets (33-13-5, +42 true goals differential*): This is their lowest ranking since first breaking into the top five back in early December. Could they be headed off the list altogether? See below.

4. San Jose Sharks (33-17-3, +22): Despite a weekend overtime loss to the lowly Coyotes, they remain the league's hottest team over their last 10, with eight wins and seventeen points.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet





New book:
THE 100 GREATEST PLAYERS IN NHL HISTORY (AND OTHER STUFF): AN ARBITRARY COLLECTION OF ARBITRARY LISTS

Buy it today: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | iBooks







Friday, February 3, 2017

New post: Make NHL trades great again

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- My brilliant idea for making no-name trades fun
- A new contender for most obscure four-goal scorer ever
- The NHL launches "Hockey is for Everyone"
- The three comedy stars, including the easiest #1 pick ever
- And a classic YouTube breakdown of a trade that will make Jim Rutherford and Steve Yzerman sad

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports





New book:
THE 100 GREATEST PLAYERS IN NHL HISTORY (AND OTHER STUFF): AN ARBITRARY COLLECTION OF ARBITRARY LISTS

Buy it today: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | iBooks





Podcast: Hitch-blocked

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- The Blues fire Ken Hitchcock
- Is Doug Armstrong next?
- Brad Marchand is dirty again, and nobody's sure why
- A last look at the NHL's Top 100 list, and all the ways it was wrong
- Read questions
- And lots more...

>> Stream it now on Vice Sports

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.






New book:
THE 100 GREATEST PLAYERS IN NHL HISTORY (AND OTHER STUFF): AN ARBITRARY COLLECTION OF ARBITRARY LISTS

Buy it today: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | iBooks





The Leafs season has been reasonably good. Here's how it will all go to hell.

The Maple Leafs are on track to make a run at the playoffs, at least a year ahead of their rebuild’s expected schedule. They boast three of the league’s top rookies, and Auston Matthews in particular is already drawing comparisons to some of the game’s greatest franchise players. The team plays exciting, high-scoring hockey. And the underlying numbers suggest that they may be even better than their record indicates.

All of this in a year that didn’t carry much in the way of expectations. This was supposed to be the fun season, and it’s been more fun than just about anyone could have imagined. For the first time in at least a decade, there’s a real air of excitement and optimism around the Maple Leafs.

Well, screw that.

I mean, the season has been great, but we’re still Leaf fans, right? We haven’t completely lost out ability to see the glass as half empty — and also cracked and leaking and full of poison.

So today, let’s look at some of the ways this dream season could go off the rails in the second half, and how likely they are to come to pass. Consider it a chance to exercise those pessimism muscles, if only to keep our karma levels in check.

Frederik Andersen goes cold

We all remember Andersen’s first month in Toronto, where he struggled badly and had everyone wondering if the Leafs had swung and missed on their biggest offseason trade. That turned out to be a false alarm, and Andersen settled in and played well for the next two months.

But Andersen hasn’t been all that good lately, posting a .902 save percentage in January. And it’s worth remembering that with just 166 NHL games under his belt, we’re still not exactly sure what he is. Mike Babcock hasn’t had much faith in his backups all year, and Andersen is going to blow by his career-high of 54 starts. If he falters down the stretch, he could take the Leafs’ playoff hopes with him.

How scared should you be?: Moderately. The Leafs would be in trouble if their starter struggled, but you could say that for most teams. Andersen’s October taught us not to overreact to a few bad games. Then again, it also reminded us that sometimes even a good goalie can have an awful month, and another one from Andersen would torpedo the Leafs.

Someone gets hurt

The Leafs have been remarkably lucky with injuries so far; not counting the long-term cases like Joffrey Lupul and Nathan Horton, they’d been healthy almost all year until Morgan Rielly went down.

The good news is that this Leafs team isn’t one that’s built around one or two key players who you absolutely couldn’t afford to lose, at least not yet. Losing Andersen would be massive, but again, you could say that for almost every team. An injury to Matthews would be a big deal, but there’s enough forward depth on the team and in the system that the Leafs might survive. If anything, the team’s performance during Rielly’s absence has shown that he may be the most important of the bunch.

How scared should you be?: Injuries happen to every team, and they’ll probably happen to the Leafs before the end of the season. It’s going to be a question of who, and how long.

>> Read the full post at The Ahtletic





New book:
THE 100 GREATEST PLAYERS IN NHL HISTORY (AND OTHER STUFF): AN ARBITRARY COLLECTION OF ARBITRARY LISTS

Buy it today: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | iBooks






Thursday, February 2, 2017

The NHL's Groundhog Day stories that will never end

Today is Groundhog Day, which means all around North America people will gather to pull a rodent out of a hole in the ground to predict the weather, because human beings are weird.

Or at least, that’s what it used to mean. But for the last 20 years or so, most people who hear the words “Groundhog Day” instead think of the 1993 Bill Murray movie, in which a TV weatherman finds himself reliving the same day on an endless loop. The phrase has become synonymous with the frustration of repeating the same thing over and over again.

NHL fans know this feeling well.

After all, this is a league where we all love to complain, but actual change tends to come slowly, if at all. That means we tend to spend a lot of time going through the same debates and discussions, year after year, without anything changing.

So today, let's celebrate the occasion by looking at 10 of the NHL's Groundhog Day stories, how we got stuck with them, and what (if anything) could actually break us out of the loop.

STORY NO. 1: The scoring drought

On repeat since: The New Jersey Devils won the Stanley Cup in 1995 with the neutral-zone trap

Why it will never end: The Dead Puck Era has been going on for over two decades now, with one brief break immediately after the 2005 lockout (that was almost entirely due to power plays). By now, it should be clear that the NHL either doesn't want to address the issue or — more likely — has no idea how.

To be clear, the league has been talking about increasing scoring all along. Lord, they never stop talking about it. I've documented the NHL's 20+ years of promising to boost offence, and the result is always the same. A minor tweak here, a little tinker there, and nothing changes.

How we could escape it: Well, we could just make the nets slightly bigger and that would pretty much...

[entire crowd begins hissing and throwing rotten fruit]

Yes, yes, this is the one idea that many fans feel is completely off the table, because... well, it just is. The league can add the shootout and change the rulebook and move the bluelines in and out every few years, but an extra inch or two around the net is an intolerable affront to the game's history. We get it.

There are other ideas. The league could change how power plays work, or figure out a way to reduce shot-blocking. Some of the more radical suggestions have included some sort of rule limiting defensive formations, or even moving the entire game to 4-on-4. Or we could just have the refs call everything in the rulebook by the letter, and go back to the 2006 days of each team getting eight or nine power plays a game.

Or we could just keep mumbling about the size of the goaltending equipment. Those new pants are arriving any day now, so that scoring boost should be right around the corner. Just you wait.

STORY NO. 2: The shootout

On repeat since: 2005, although hockey fans have been debating it ever since it started showing up in the Olympics in the early ’90s

Why it will never end: While the shootout can be fun, there's little question that much of the novelty has worn off after over a decade of seeing them decide regular-season games. Many fans are sick of them altogether. But just as many want no part of ties (and the league seems to agree), and you kind of have to have one or the other.

How we could escape it: Short of bringing back ties, you can't get rid of shootouts entirely. But extending 3-on-3 overtime to 10 minutes would make shootouts far less frequent, and maybe even make the ones that did happen feel special. Would the players go for it? Maybe not, but it would be worth finding out.

STORY NO. 3: The instigator rule

On repeat since: Today's rule is based on a version first introduced 1992.

Why it will never end: The instigator debate is really just a continuation of the age-old argument over fighting and violence, which has been going on since the NHL's earliest days. It hits at the sport's inherent paradox, the mixture of grace and brutality that somehow manages to maintain a balance on the ice, right up until it doesn’t. For every fan who'd love to see the bare-knuckle brawls eliminated entirely, there's another who wishes the game would go back to the days when old time hockey was the law of the land.

The instigator rule has become a symbol of the league's move away from self-policing, and many fans still cling to the hope that the league will do away with it – just last week, Gary Bettman was asked about doing so at his all-star availability. For as long as the rule remains in the book, a portion of fans will blame it for any transgression that takes place.

How we could escape it: Realistically, dropping the rule altogether isn't an option in today's game, no matter how much the guy in the tattered Bob Probert jersey might wish that it was. A more likely resolution is to just wait a while; with fighting on a steady decline, it may not be long before it's all but disappeared from the game entirely.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet





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