Saturday, February 24, 2018

Saturday storylines: Deadline weekend

With two days until the deadline, fans have one eye on the transaction wire and one on the scoreboard. We’ve got 12 games on the schedule to look forward to today. As for the number of trades, we’ll have to wait and see.

HNIC Game of the Night: Jets at Stars

We’re starting to get a little bit of separation in the Central. With the Blackhawks falling out of the race and the Jets and Predators pulling away up top, that leaves four teams fighting for what could be anywhere from one to three spots.

The Stars are right in the thick of that group, thanks to a five-game win streak to start the month that finally boosted them from fringe wild-card team into something closer to the contender some of us thought they’d be. They’ve wobbled since then, including bad losses to the Canucks and Sharks, so they’re still well within “need every point they can get” territory, but they kick off a five-game homestand tonight.

For their part, the Jets had a four-game win streak ended on Tuesday by Los Angeles, and followed that up with last night’s win in St. Louis. The Blues’ recent struggles have turned what was shaping up as a three-way race for the division title into a showdown between the Jets and Predators, and those two teams will face each other three times in the next month, including on Tuesday night in Winnipeg.

That might make tonight’s matchup with the Stars a bit of a trap game if the Jets take it lightly. They shouldn’t — the Stars have been neck-and-neck with them since New Year’s and are looming as a potential first-round matchup. Winnipeg has already beaten the Stars twice, but those games both came in November and Dallas seems like a different team now.

Of course, with the deadline looming, lots of teams are about to look different. It remains to be seen whether these two teams are among them. Jim Nill and Kevin Cheveldayoff occupy opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to trading philosophy, with Nill being fairly aggressive and Cheveldayoff typically staying away from major moves.

With David Poile, Doug Armstrong, Joe Sakic and a presumably desperate Chuck Fletcher all still in the Central mix, it’s possible that neither Cheveldayoff or Nill can afford to be cautious. If so, they’ll both have some time to get to work after this one; neither team plays again until after Monday’s deadline.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, February 23, 2018

Grab bag: The shootout debate

In the Friday Grab bag:
- Examining both sides of the Olympics shootout debate
- The secret to getting the trade market moving may be some long-term thinking
- The very rare obscure Montreal Canadiens captain
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a YouTube look at an NHL front office talking themselves into a terrible trade...

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The ten most annoying things GMs say at the trade deadline

It’s trade-deadline week, which means at some point you’re going to be hearing from your favourite team’s GM. Whether it’s a press conference, a segment on the local radio station, an impromptu scrum between periods, or even just an off-hand comment or two relayed through the media, communicating with fans is part of a GM’s job this time of year.

And some of them are better at it than others.

Occasionally, a GM will offer up some real insight into their deadline approach, hinting at a broad strategy and process without giving too much away. But most of the time, we just get clichés and filler, and sometimes stuff that doesn’t even make sense. If you’re a fan hoping for actual insight, that can be annoying.

So today, let’s count down the 10 most annoying things a GM might say in the days leading up to the trade deadline. Feel free to print a copy and check them off as your team’s GM makes the media rounds.

No. 10: “We’re open for business.”

You hear this one fairly often this time of year, although it’s one of those points that’s often fed through the media rather than offered up directly. Either way, it’s always a strange one. When it comes to making trades, NHL front offices are supposed to be open for business. At this time of year, that’s kind of their whole job.

And yet they seem to feel the need to remind us that they are, in fact, open. Maybe someday we’ll get the other side of the coin, and some team will proudly announce that nobody should bother calling because they’re closed for business. They could post one of those signs on the front door, with a little clock and a handwritten note reading “Be back in the off-season.”

Until then, it’s probably safe to assume that everyone is indeed open, and just skip this cliché entirely.

No. 9: “We’re not going to make a deal just for the sake of making a deal.”

This one’s annoying for two reasons. First, and most obviously, nobody has ever suggested that a team should make a deal just for the sake of it. This well-worn quote (and its cousin, the always popular “we’re not going to make a panic move“), is a pre-emptive strike against a scenario that literally nobody is asking for.

And yet GMs still pull it out time and again. Most of the time, they even sound vaguely proud of themselves as they say it, as if they’re reassuring the fanbase that they’re firmly in control of the situation. It rarely works.

All of that is frustrating enough. But then comes the kicker. The deadline arrives, the clock ticks down, and inevitably some team having an otherwise quiet day will beat the buzzer by trading away a career minor-leaguer in exchange for a conditional seventh-round pick. Hey wait, that’s a trade just for the sake of making a trade! You can’t fool us. You knew you were going to get ripped by fans and media for taking the day off, so you cooked up a meaningless last-minute deal to break the shutout.

No. 8: “Only one team wins the Stanley Cup every year.”

We’re cheating a bit here, since this gem typically gets offered up after the deadline. Usually right after, and usually by a GM who couldn’t get much done and wants to preemptively make the case that it probably wasn’t going to matter anyway. If 97 percent of the league isn’t going to win the Cup, the logic appears to go, then what’s the point of even trying?

This is, it goes without saying, nonsense. Put aside the fact that in the age of parity, every team that makes the playoffs has at least some chance at winning it all. “Only one team wins the Cup” implies that every other team is a failure, and that anything else that might happen during a post-season run is worthless. That’s a miserable way to market a product — “Come watch the NHL. There’s a 97-percent chance you’re wasting your time. Eat at Arby’s.”

And it’s not how sports fans think. Sure, we all want our favourite team to win it all. But plenty of great sports moments — from Brad May to Jose Bautista to Stefon Diggs — came during playoff runs that didn’t end in championships. Imagine trying to tell fans that those were all a waste of time.

Make a deal to get better now, and maybe you win the Cup. But yeah, you probably won’t. That doesn’t mean it can’t be worthwhile to try.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Podcast: Trade deadline preview

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- It's an all-deadline edition, as we sort through the big names in play
- Where should the big wingers -- Nash, Kane, Pacioretty -- wind up?
- Does Mike Green head back to Washington, or do the Leafs grab him?
- Will a bigger name like Erik Karlsson be in play?
- Why haven't there been many moves so far?
- Plus thoughts on the Mrazek deal, read questions, and I make a brilliant observation about the Bruins that was outdated within hours.

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Weekend wrap: One week to go

This time last week, we figured that the NHL’s trade market had been a little too quiet. Seven days later, we’ve seen just three more deals, only one of which would be considered significant. That was the Dion Phaneuf/Marion Gaborik salary swap, one that made sense for both teams but was hardly a blockbuster. Beyond that move, all the biggest chips remain in play with one week left before the deadline.

In other words, if it was too quiet before, it’s way too quiet right now.

And that means it’s probably fair to start wondering if we’re facing down a deadline dud. It’s possible. With so many teams packed into the mushy middle of the standings and so few true impact players expected to be moved, maybe everyone just decides to play it safe with what they have. We know that many modern-day GMs would prefer it that way. Some of them might get their wish.

But those best-laid plans can change quickly, based on a streak here or an injury there. The latter situation has played out over the weekend in Philadelphia, where Michal Neuvirth left yesterday’s 7-4 win over the Rangers with a lower-body injury. We don’t know how serious the injury might be, but it didn’t look good. With Brian Elliott already sidelined for several weeks, any extended absence by Neuvirth leaves the team without an established goaltender.

With the Flyers holding down a playoff spot and even finding themselves within range of the Capitals and Penguins for top spot in the Metro, that would seem to leave GM Ron Hextall with no choice but to go out and deal for a goaltender. But who? Detroit’s Petr Mrazek would be an option. Buffalo’s Robin Lehner could be as well. The question will be whether his fellow GMs see Hextall’s situation getting desperate, and adjust their prices accordingly.

Neuvirth’s injury aside, you’d have to think that yesterday’s game will spell the end of any lingering doubt about what Jeff Gorton needs to do. New York looked awful from start to finish; you never want to say a team has quit, but the Rangers sure look like a team that’s waiting for the other shoe to drop. With Rick Nash and Michael Grabner all but sure-things to be moved, the question will be whether performances like yesterday’s will motivate Gorton to think even bigger and deal someone like Ryan McDonagh.

The other sellers aren’t faring much better. Buffalo looks awful, the Canadiens do too, and the Senators, Oilers and Canucks are all treading water. Only the Coyotes are even vaguely hot, and they’re too far back for it to matter. In fact, with the Blackhawks and Red Wings all but out of the race, we’ve got more than enough sellers to make up a decent market. We just need to see when the first domino falls, and who it takes with it.

Road to the Cup

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

5. Vegas Golden Knights (39-15-4, +44 true goals differential*) – We remain a little less bullish on the Knights’ chances than others; some have them as the current Stanley Cup favorite.

4. Boston Bruins (35-13-8, +46) – This was a neat look at a strategic shift that’s helped boost the team’s offence.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Saturday storylines: Be afraid of the Penguins

We’ve got 11 games on tap tonight, including six of the seven Canadian teams in action. With the races tightening and the trade deadline looming, it’s getting tense out there. So let’s try to keep things calm by starting with two teams that are pretty much already in the playoffs…

HNIC Game of the Night: Maple Leafs at Penguins

It’s officially time to be afraid of the Penguins again.

After two straight Stanley Cups, they were kind enough to give us a bit of a break early in the season. The Pens stumbled out of the gate, including an embarrassing 10-1 loss to the Blackhawks during the season’s first week, and never seemed quite right through the first few months. As late as the first week of January, they’d lost more games than they’d won. They were dipping in and out of a wild-card spot, and GM Jim Rutherford was reportedly ready to make major changes to try to save the season.

But while it didn’t seem like it at the time, a 4-0 win over the Islanders on Jan. 5 now looks like a turning point. They followed that by beating a red-hot Bruins team in overtime, then added wins over the Red Wings and Rangers. They’ve stayed hot ever since — they haven’t lost two straight since the end of December. In all, the Penguins are rolling to the tune of a 13-3-1 record during the stretch, blowing by the wild-card traffic jam and putting them within range of the Capitals for the Metro title.

And they’ve looked scary doing it, scoring five or more goals seven times and winning eight games by three goals or more. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are back to their old selves after slow starts, and Phil Kessel continues to rack up the points.

Maybe most frightening of all, they’re still not at their best. Matt Murray has been much better lately, but has still been inconsistent. If he were to heat up, the Penguins might start to look unbeatable. Then again, Murray tends to do his best work in the playoffs, and that’s where he and his team are headed. At this rate, they’ll be back among the favourites once they get there.

The Maple Leafs are headed to the post-season too, although their status as legitimate contenders is still in question. It’s been a weird season for Toronto, who’ve spent much of the year all but locked into the third spot in the Atlantic. The Leafs are trying to make that interesting, taking a run at the Lightning and Bruins in an effort to at least land home-ice advantage in the first round, although that’s still a longshot. But with nine wins in their last ten and two lines filling the net, they’re at least looking more like the team that was briefly considered a Stanley Cup favourite back in October. That stretch has included wins over a couple of legitimate Cup contenders in the Predators and Lightning. Tonight, they get a shot at another one.

It all adds up to a good test for both teams, and a decent measuring stick of where we’re at in an Eastern Conference that suddenly seems wide open. We’ll hold off on any conference final preview hyperbole for now, since the Lightning, Bruins and Capitals will all have something to say about that. But if both of these teams keep rolling the way they have, we make no promises about where the hype machine may be at when they face off again three weeks from now.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, February 16, 2018

Podcast: We have a trade to announce

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- We react to the Phaneuf/Gaborik deal
- Did Jim Benning deserve his extension?
- Dave is a big baby about Team Canada beating Team USA in women's hockey, which is weird because you'd think he'd be used to it
- Islanders fans are trying to get Garth Snow fired
- The Oilers hang a banner for their fan-voted best team ever
- Reader questions and lots more

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

Grab bag: Stop telling me there's a chance

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Should we be mad about guys getting hurt while the NHL isn't at the Olympics?
- A simple request about a very old movie
- An obscure player who's record is safe after the Dion Phaneuf trade
- The week's three comedy stars
- And the YouTube section gets weird with a German pop song about loving ice hockey

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Six trade deadline names that aren't in play (but maybe should be)

The trade deadline is less than two weeks away, and we finally got our first major February deal with Tuesday’s Dion Phaneuf/Marion Gaborik swap. There are still plenty of names of the market, with various reports suggesting that guys like Max Pacioretty, Mike Hoffman, Evander Kane and Mike Green could be available.

But as is usually the case, the really big names aren’t in play. There was a time when it wasn’t unusual to see elite players moved near the deadline, with stars like Ron Francis, Rob Blake and Marian Hossa switching teams. But in recent years, most teams prefer to fall back on the old standby that you can only trade big stars during the off-season — or, more often, not at all.

Sometimes that makes sense. But not always. So today, let’s challenge the conventional wisdom by imagining an alternate universe where NHL teams aggressively reshaped their rosters to put themselves in the best possible position to win — and didn’t just instinctively revert to kicking the can down the road.

What would the landscape look like then? Here are a half-dozen names that reportedly aren’t in play heading towards the 2018 deadline, but maybe should be.

Shea Weber, Canadiens

We’ve been told that the Habs are finally ready to bite the bullet and rebuild, which means shopping veterans like Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec and Andrew Shaw. There’s even been talk of moving on from Alex Galchenyuk. But two names have been largely absent from the rumour mill: Carey Price and Shea Weber.

Price probably makes sense, since he recently signed a massive extension that starts next season. Whether you like that deal or not, it would be unusual to make that kind of commitment to a player and then trade him before it even has a chance to kick in.

But Weber? On paper, he’d be among a rebuilding team’s best bait. He’s old enough that he’s likely to be a declining asset by the time the team is ready to contend again, but not so old that a contender wouldn’t want him around for the new few seasons. His contract is an issue, but as Montreal fans constantly remind me, maybe not quite as big a problem as you might think given that the actual salary dives in a few years and the Predators would absorb any cap-recapture penalties. And whatever you think of the P.K. Subban trade that brought him to Montreal, there are tons of people in the hockey world who absolutely love Weber’s game, even today.

He’s injured right now, which complicates things (although reports were saying he wasn’t on the block even before he got hurt). Still, he’s expected back before the playoffs. Why not trade him this year, reap a windfall, and give the rebuild a major kickstart?

Potential destination: Edmonton. It’s almost too perfect. The Oilers need blue-line help, Peter Chiarelli needs to pull off a big deal to keep some of the heat off, and Edmonton would be thinking ahead to next year and beyond, so Weber’s current health status wouldn’t be a hurdle. Sure, the cap hit is an issue, but a little retained salary and maybe another injured star going the other way could largely even that out.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Introducing the all-time Almost-a-Leaf roster

Did you hear that John Tavares is going to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs this summer? They just have to figure out how to work in his cap hit after trading for Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson.

OK, nobody really thinks that will happen. But you’ve probably heard some jokes about the possibility, since it plays into an old stereotype about Leaf fans — that they arrogantly assume that every star player is destined to wear the blue and white before their career is up, and anyone who doesn’t wind up in Toronto must have just missed.

Like most stereotypes, this one is hurtful and untrue. So just for the record: No, Maple Leafs fans don’t actually believe that every single star player to ever grace the league was this close to playing in Toronto.

Just almost all of them.

Seriously, it’s kind of a thing. And in fairness to Leafs fans, it’s not like we’re all just engaging in wishful thinking. There’s a long history of star players being linked to the Maple Leafs. Whether it’s a trade, a free-agent signing, or something more nefarious, the list of hockey legends linked to the Leafs is a long one. And most of those stories don’t come from delusional fans, but rather from media, executives or even the players themselves.

How long a list? Well, long enough to fill out a full roster. Which is what we’re going to do today. Consider it a warmup as we head towards the trade deadline and the Maple Leafs hype train revs up. And also a reminder that every Leaf fan you know might not be as crazy as they sound.

First line

Centre: Wayne Gretzky

Our first pick is an easy call. Gretzky was rumoured to be headed towards Toronto pretty much since he first arrived on the hockey scene, although much of that was admittedly just the fever dream of desperate 1980s Leafs fans. But the Great One really did almost become a Maple Leafs during the 1996 off-season. He was an unrestricted free agent and wanted to finish his career in Toronto. Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher was on board, but the Leafs’ board of directors shot the idea down for financial reasons.

Winger: Rocket Richard

The idea of Richard in a Maple Leafs’ sweater seems unthinkable — the sort of sacrilege worthy of 100 million moths. But while Richard would become the Canadiens’ most iconic superstar, there was a time early in his career when he was viewed as an injury-prone disappointment, and the team was reported to be shopping him to Toronto, among other teams. The Leafs missed their chance at the time, but GM Conn Smythe would later set his sights on The Rocket, offering a ransom to pry the winger away in both 1949 and 1951. The Canadiens resisted the temptation, and Richard finished his career in Montreal.

Winger: Ted Lindsay

The Maple Leafs were the first team to get wind of the future Hall of Famer’s prowess, and they dispatched a scout to put Lindsay on the team’s negotiation list. But an injury led to a mix-up, and the Leafs ended up adding the wrong player. That opened the door for the Red Wings, and the rest was history.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Monday, February 12, 2018

Weekend wrap: PK Subban wins again

The weekend featured 26 games, many with critical playoff implications. But the one that everyone seems to be talking about took place on Saturday night, and featured a first-place team earning a win over an also-ran.

Call it the P.K. Subban effect.

Subban and the Predators were visiting Montreal for the second time since last summer’s blockbuster trade. The day began with a visit to a children’s hospital, and ended with the Predators claiming a 3–2 shootout win. Subban wasn’t much of a factor in the game; he didn’t even play all that well. But that hardly mattered. Saturday’s meeting came just as the GM who traded him away prepares to pull the trigger on his next wave of wheeling and dealing, so this visit took on an extra sense of symbolism.

Subban remains, to put it mildly, a divisive figure in the hockey world these days, both in Montreal and beyond. Many fans love him; many don’t.

And apparently, some of his one-time teammates have mixed views of their own. After the game, Brendan Gallagher couldn’t seem to figure out why he was being asked about Subban.

Well, let’s see if we can crack this mystery. When you take a big run at an opponent and end up injuring yourself instead, you might be asked about that guy. When you score a goal and them make a point of seeking out an opponent on their bench for some extra trash talk, you might be asked about that guy. If both of those things happen in the same game, you’re definitely going to be asked about it, and feigning confusion about why anybody would bring it up isn’t an especially good look.

For his part, Subban got in a relatively mild chirp of his own at Gallagher’s expense. That was no surprise – the two clearly don’t like each other, with a history that dates back to when Subban was still in Montreal. But no doubt, somebody somewhere is already filing that soundbite away as further evidence in the ongoing case against Subban. Even when he’s playing at a Norris Trophy level, he’s always been guilty of the cardinal hockey sin of not minding the spotlight, and occasionally even seeking it out. Never mind that a league full of dull, mumbling players should be desperate for exactly that sort of star – for whatever reason, it rubs some people the wrong way.

If Subban cares, he didn’t show it on Saturday, just like he hasn’t shown it since the trade that sent him to Nashville. Hockey fans love to debate winners and losers in blockbuster trades, and maybe you can argue that it’s still too soon to know whether the Predators or Canadiens truly got the best of this one. But one thing seems clear: P.K. Subban won. He has a bigger spotlight than ever before. More importantly, he’s been to one Stanley Cup final and may be headed for another while the Canadiens crash and burn without him. All the boos, trash talk and moronic tweets that come his way won’t change that.

When you think of it that way, maybe you can understand why the Brendan Gallaghers of the world would rather talk about just about anything else. They don’t have to like Subban, and plenty of people still don’t. But that won’t change the fact that he’s winning and they’re not.

Road to the Cup

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

5. Pittsburgh Penguins (31-22-4, +5 true goals differential*): The record is still pedestrian, and they remain outside the top 10 in the overall standings. But they’ve been looking scary for the last month, and sure seem like a team that’s waking up just in time to make a deep run.

4. Vegas Golden Knights (36-15-4, +35): They’re no longer dominating, winning seven of their last 14. But 10 of those came on the road and the schedule served up some tough opponents; during the most challenging section of their season, the Knights bent but didn’t break.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Saturday storylines: Looking ahead in the Battle of Ontario

It’s a relatively light Saturday night in the NHL, with only nine games of the schedule. Vancouver, Winnipeg and Calgary all go Friday/Sunday instead, but that still leaves us with four Canadian teams in action tonight.

Two of those Canadian teams are facing each other, so let’s start there while we all fight the nagging feeling that there was something the NHL was supposed to be doing right now…

HNIC Game of the Night: Senators at Maple Leafs

This is the third time this season that the Leafs and Senators have met on a Saturday night. The first time around, we looked at the Battle of Ontario and acknowledged that it isn’t what it once was. Last time, we focused on the fallout of the Dion Phaneuf trade. Those were worthwhile topics, but focused on the past. Let’s try something different today.

Unfortunately, “the present” doesn’t really work for these two teams. The Senators are a mess right now, and their fans are already well into trade-deadline mode, if not looking ahead to the draft lottery. And the Maple Leafs are in the fairly unique situation of basically knowing where they’re going to finish in the standings, even though there are still another nine weeks left to play.

So instead of the present, let’s focus on the future. This is the last meeting between the Leafs and Senators on this season’s schedule, and since we definitely won’t be getting a playoff matchup, that means we won’t see these two teams on the same ice again until sometime next season.

So what does that matchup look like? It’s going to be kind of fascinating to find out.

The big question, of course, is whether Erik Karlsson will be involved. The idea of the Senators trading Karlsson at some point between now and next season has gone from unthinkable to at least vaguely plausible over the course of the year, with occasional short-term gusts to “downright inevitable.” And if he does go, how many of the (presumably many) assets the Senators would get back would be in the lineup by next season, as opposed to years down the line?

Once you get through that process, you have to start wondering whether any other big-name Senators will also be elsewhere by the next time the team faces Toronto. Phaneuf? Mike Hoffman? Derick Brassard? Will Craig Anderson still be the undisputed starter? Mark Stone will almost certainly still be around, but how much will he be making on his new deal? Will Guy Boucher still be behind the bench?

And since that list of questions is getting kind of depressing from an Ottawa perspective, let’s end with one to perk up downcast Sens fans: The next time they face the Leafs, will they have No. 1–overall pick Rasmus Dahlin in the lineup?

From Toronto’s perspective, things feel a little more stable. But only somewhat so – by the next time they see Ottawa, the Leafs will need to have figured out what to do with James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Leo Komarov. William Nylander will have a new contract, and Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner may or may not have signed extensions. Will there be a new big name anchoring the blue line? And will the team be coming off the sort of multi-round playoff run that has everyone excited about the future, or a first-round exit at the hands of the Bruins or Lightning that leaves the fan base feeling like the team is spinning its wheels?

That’s a lot of questions to ponder, and tonight’s game won’t provide many answers. But given that the final result on the scoreboard isn’t likely to matter all that much, it will be impossible for a hockey fan’s mind not to wander off into the future. Tonight will mark the 116th regular-season meeting in the modern Battle of Ontario; by the time we’re getting to work on writing the preview for the 117th, a lot of key pieces on both sides are going to be looking very different.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, February 9, 2018

Grab bag: The worst Olympics highlight video ever

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- MLB is having some serious problems, and they're worth watching if you're a hockey fan
- It's time to come up with some rules for welcoming back returning players
- The week's three comedy stars are dominated by the Penguins
- And an obscure player who shows up in...
- ... the weirdest Olympic highlight video you will ever see.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Ten years of DGB

I just realized that this blog turned ten years old today.

My first thought, as is often case these days, was "Good lord I am getting so old." My second thought was that I should probably write something to mark the occasion. So that's this.

Ten years ago was an interesting time to start a hockey blog. Or more accurately, a Maple Leafs blog, since that's what this was before I cravenly sold out expanded my horizons. The Leafs had just fired John Ferguson Jr., we were in the middle of the whole "Muskoka Five" debacle, the Mats Sundin era was about to end and Brian Burke was a few months away from arriving. Meanwhile, Brendan Shanahan was scoring 20 goals for the Rangers, Lou Lamoriello was a Devil for life, and Auston Matthews was ten years old. It feels like a long time ago, because it was.

But that was the backdrop on a Friday afternoon when I wrote up the site's first ever post. It's not much – basically a quick reaction to the Leafs beating the Habs. The post is short, has a few attempts at jokes, and isn't very good. I'm pretty sure nobody read it.

That's pretty much how it went in the early days – anyone who's ever tried to create anything on the internet if familiar with that sinking feeling that you're just talking to yourself. But it was fun, and eventually a few things I tried ended up working well enough to attract actual readers. From there it was on to stuff like the flow chart, the game seven summary, and countless top secret transcripts. I spent an entire month writing about my all-time favorite player, dabbled in the parody music genre, and wrote a heartfelt post that ended with a poop joke that my kids still think is hilarious. A certain fake Twitter account probably helped along the way. So did countless bigger, better sites that were willing to offer a signal boost to an amateur.

Looking back, some of it still holds up well. An awful lot of it doesn't. But eventually, the audience got big enough that it led to the National Post, which led to Grantland, which led to Sportsnet and Vice and books and various other stops along the way. I got to be on the ice for two Stanley Cup celebrations and meet more than a few of my idols. Eventually, this became a full-time career. There are good days and bad days like any job, but on balance, it's been pretty great.

This is the part where I feel like I should impart some profound advice. At least once a month, I get an email from an aspiring writer who wants to follow the same path that I did, and I always feel like I always let them down with my response, which is basically this: Get really lucky. That's it. That's what I did. You have to have some talent and be willing to put in the work, but the key is to fluke your way into being in the right place at the right time and then have a bunch of very nice people help you for no real reason. That's the secret, as far as I've been able to tell.

So since I don't have much in the way of advice, I'll just say thanks. Some of you reading this are the same small group of people who were reading ten years ago. Some have come aboard along the way. Some of you just clicked a link to this post and have no idea what this is all about but have read this far hoping it's building to a payoff somewhere, and are slowly realizing that it is not. But I owe a huge thank you to anyone who's read anything I've ever put out there, and especially to anyone who's helped spread the word. So… thanks.

It's been an interesting ten years. I'd love to do this for ten more. The way the sports writing world works these days, I'm not sure any of us can look much further ahead than ten weeks. Either way, it's been and continues to be a fun ride. I hope you stick around for whatever comes next.

- Sean

Which GMs are under the most trade deadline pressure?

We’re less than three weeks away from the trade deadline, which means GMs around the league are huddling with their scouts, putting together their wish lists, and working the phones. But which ones are under the most pressure as the clock ticks down?

The short answer, of course, is “all of them.” Nobody gets to take the month off when the deadline is closing in, and every team will be expected to do something. Even minor moves can make or break a team’s hopes, so all 31 GMs are feeling the heat.

But that heat isn’t the same for everyone. I’m sure George McPhee wants to make the right moves for his Golden Knights, but he’s basically playing with house money at this point. But other GMs around the league aren’t so lucky. In some cases, their jobs may be on the line. In others, the short or even long-term future of their teams are at stake.

That’s not fun for the GMs. But it’s fun for us as fans, as we wait to see how (or if) they can maneuver their way through the coming weeks. So today, let’s pick out a dozen GMs who are facing the most pressure over the next few days and weeks, and count them down as the temperature climbs up.

12. John Chayka, Coyotes

The league’s youngest GM is watching his team stumble through a disastrous season. Normally that would be a recipe for a high-pressure deadline as he faced down the need to salvage some sort of value out of a nightmare year.

But the Coyotes aren’t a team with any obvious rentals in play. That’s too bad, because Chayka did a great job on last year’s Martin Hanzal trade. This year’s roster doesn’t seem like it will yield any similar opportunities, short of an unexpected move involving Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Chayka is already managing expectations towards a quiet deadline. That will make for a relatively low-pressure February compared to a typical last-place team. His off-season might be a different story.

11. Jim Rutherford, Penguins

Rutherford’s a good example of the difference between being under pressure and being on the hot seat. While there’s obviously a big overlap between those two categories, Rutherford’s a guy who could sit back and watch his team crash and burn without being in any danger of losing his job. Two consecutive Cup rings will do that for a guy.

But you know what’s better than two straight Cups? Three straight. That’s the opportunity Rutherford and the Penguins have, and it’s one that nobody’s managed to pull off in almost 35 years. Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers, Mario Lemieux’s Penguins, Steve Yzerman’s Red Wings… they all managed two straight titles, but couldn’t three-peat. The Pens have a chance, and lately they’ve finally started looking the part. But they still have their share of holes, and reinforcements would help.

We’ve been hearing all year that Rutherford was working on something big. With the opportunity at achieving genuine dynasty status sitting right in front of him, it’s going to be tempting to do everything he can to give his team its best shot.

10. Ron Francis, Hurricanes

Here are two words that always bring the pressure for an NHL GM: “playoff drought.” Here are two more: “new owner.” Francis checks both boxes, with a league-leading eight-season absence from the post-season and a new owner in Tom Dundon who probably wouldn’t like to see that continue. In theory, that should be keeping Francis awake at night.

But, of course, this isn’t an ordinary situation. Francis isn’t just the GM; he’s the best player the team has ever had. Even if the Hurricanes miss the playoffs yet again, is an owner who’s been embracing the team’s history really going to fire a guy who was literally nicknamed “Ronnie Franchise”? It feels unlikely. But would he boot him upstairs to bring in new blood? Francis may prefer not to find out.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Podcast: Crease lightning

In this week's Biscuits podcast:
- A look back at another rough week for the NHL's replay review system
- A rare case where I kind of sort of take the league's side on something
- Marc-Andre Fleury returns to Pittsburgh... but is he a Hall of Famer?
- A look at who did and didn't get suspended this week
- Trade deadline talk
- Reader questions, and lots more...

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Grab bag: Extinguished Flame

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Saying goodbye to Jaromir Jagr
- The week's three comedy stars, all-star edition
- The Whalers are back, kind of
- An obscure player who scored his goals in bunches
- And a YouTube look back at Peter Forsberg's famous Olympic moment, as called by two very impartial Swedish broadcasters

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Podcast: All-star edition

In this week's Biscuits hockey podcast:
- Dave and I react to all-star weekend
- The end(?) of Jaromir Jagr
- Is tweaking interference replay enough?
- Gary Bettman's 25th anniversary arrives
- The Rangers consider becoming deadline sellers
- Reader questions and lots more...

Listen here:

... or subscribe on iTunes.

Ranking the expansion draft screw-ups

So the Vegas Golden Knights are having themselves a bit of a season.

With everyone assuming they’d struggle to stay in sight of the playoff race, if not finish dead last, they came out of the gates 8-1-0. Soon they’d established themselves as legitimate contenders for the Pacific crown. Then the Western Conference. Then the Presidents’ Trophy. They climbed all the way to first place overall. They’ve already been crowned the greatest expansion team ever in any sport. At this rate, we may be days away from the rest of the NHL just conceding the next few Stanley Cups and begging for mercy.

So how did we get here?

Wait, let’s rephrase that: So what the hell was the rest of the league thinking?

Sure, the Knights were gifted with friendlier expansion-draft rules than previous newcomers. For $500 million, they’d better have. But they were still left choosing from players who were each, at best, considered their team’s 10-most-valuable asset. (And that’s not even counting all the prospects and younger players who were ineligible.) You shouldn’t be able to build a contender out of those kinds of spare parts.

Well, unless some of the other teams screw up.

So today, with Vegas riding high and Seattle kicking down the door to get in on this action, let’s look back at the expansion draft and the trades that came around it with the benefit of a half-season’s worth of hindsight. We’ll do this in tiers, starting with the teams that came out OK and working our way up to the worst of the regrets.

Tier 1: Teams that somehow improved

As it turns out, an expansion draft doesn’t represent an opportunity for only one team.

Carolina Hurricanes

Their trades: They traded a fifth-round pick to Vegas to get them to lay off veterans like Cam Ward and Lee Stempniak. Then they traded a second for Trevor van Riemsdyk, who the Knights had plucked from the Blackhawks, and later added Marcus Kruger for a fifth.

They lost: Connor Brickley

No team apart from the Knights themselves did more wheeling and dealing. Kruger hasn’t done much, but the Hurricanes managed to avoid losing anyone of consequence – Brickley was a pending UFA who ended up signing in Florida – and added yet another good young defenceman to an already strong blue line.

Colorado Avalanche

Their trades: None

They lost: Calvin Pickard

At the time, this seemed like yet another misplay by Joe Sakic, who let a reasonably well-regarded young goalie slip away despite Semyon Varlamov‘s struggles. Instead, the move freed up a roster spot for Jonathan Bernier, who’s been fantastic, and Pickard was on waivers (and eventually traded) by week one.

Tier 2: No harm, no foul

Oh, was there some sort of draft? We already forgot.

Winnipeg Jets

Their trades: Flipped first-round picks with Vegas, dropping from 13th to 24th, and threw in a 2019 third-round pick to steer the Knights away from everyone they wanted to keep.

They lost: Chris Thorburn

Dropping 11 spots in the draft isn’t nothing, but given the prices some other teams paid, the Jets seemed to get off easy. The Knights didn’t even bother to sign Thorburn.

Calgary Flames

Their trades: None

They lost: Deryk Engelland

Engelland’s a Vegas local who’s been a nice fit, but he probably wasn’t coming back to Calgary, meaning the Flames basically escaped untouched.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Is Olympic hockey still worth watching without the NHL?

I make my living as a hockey writer. I’m also as big a fan of the sport as there is, and I love Olympic hockey.

But now that N.H.L. players won’t represent their countries in the Pyeongchang Games, will I even watch?

For hockey fans, the N.H.L.’s decision to send its players to the Winter Olympics beginning in 1998 was a dream come true. There had been major international tournaments, but never with these sorts of stakes on this big a stage. Finally, fans would get a true best-on-best Olympic tournament played in front of a worldwide audience, with dream rosters and genuine suspense over who would win the gold.

Through five Olympics, fans witnessed some of hockey’s most memorable moments, from Dominik Hasek’s brilliance in Nagano, Japan, to Sidney Crosby’s golden goal in Vancouver.

When the N.H.L. said it would not send players to the 2018 Games, many of us assumed it was a bluff. Surely some sort of last-minute deal would surely be found?

But it wasn’t a bluff. Fans were furious; players were furious. After the anger, the question: Is it worth watching?

>> Read the full post at the New York Times

Friday, January 26, 2018

Grab bag: Naming names

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- I reveal my ballot for the PHWA's new midseason awards
- Seattle is narrowing down its list of expansion team names, and they're missing a top candidate
- An obscure player who scored a memorable Canucks goal
- The week's three stars, including a crotch goal
- And we celebrate Wayne Gretzky's birthday with a look back at his 1970's collar game, which may have been better than his hockey skills

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Podcast: A particular set of skills

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- Thoughts on Kid Rock, and what I really hope the NHL isn't doing here
- The revamped skills competition might actually work
- Did the NHL rig the expansion draft to build a Vegas powerhouse?
- A story about a mind-blowing coincidence in Edmonton
- Dave pitches a fantastic idea for a movie starring Peter Chiarelli
- Reader questions and lots more.

>> Stream it now

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Eight high-risk trade deadline targets

With five weeks to go until the trade deadline, we’re well into the part of the season where teams need to ask themselves some tough questions. Are we really contenders? How much of the future are we willing to part with? Should we throw in the towel and be sellers? How highly do we value stability in our room? And when is the right time to make our move?

And maybe most importantly: Just how comfortable are we with risk?

We don’t talk about that one much, but it’s a key factor. We already know that most NHL GMs are risk-averse and many would rather not make any trades at all if they thought they could get away with it. But once you’ve decided to make a deal, you’ve got to figure out just how much uncertainty you’re willing to accept.

For some of the players on the market, the risk factor is minimal. If the Leafs decide to move pending UFA James van Riemsdyk, any team acquiring him will know what they’re getting — a guy who’s going to score at a 25- to 35-goal pace, just like he has for the last half-dozen years or so, this one included. Same with someone like Mike Hoffman in Ottawa. Meanwhile, a guy like Mark Letestu may not be as consistent, but he’d come relatively cheap and his contract is easy to swallow, so the risk factor isn’t high there either.

So if you want to play it safe, those are going to be the sort of players you’re calling about. But if you want to swing for the fences, you’re going to have to accept a higher degree of uncertainty. So today, let’s take a look at eight trade targets at this year’s deadline that represent high-risk opportunities.

These are the sort of trades that could earn a GM a Stanley Cup ring — or a pink slip. Who’s feeling lucky?

Max Pacioretty, Canadiens

Best case: Since the start of the 2011–12 season, only three wingers have scored more than 200 goals. Alexander Ovechkin leads the way with 286, while Patrick Kane has 202. And then in between those two there’s Pacioretty, whose 204 ranks him ahead of guys like Jamie Benn, Phil Kessel and Corey Perry.

Players like that don’t hit the trade market very often. That’s especially true when they still have another year left on an extremely team-friendly deal. But with the Canadiens struggling through another disastrous season and Pacioretty slumping for most of the first half, his name is all over the rumour mill. Marc Bergevin’s recent trade record isn’t especially intimidating, and this feels like the perfect opportunity to step in and take advantage of a team that’s in a bad place and might feel forced into selling a prime asset at a discount.

Worst case: Pacioretty’s had a rough season on and off the ice, and the stress of wearing the C in Montreal seems to be wearing on him. It’s been widely assumed that a change of scenery would see him snap back to the consistent 30-goal threat we’re used to seeing. But there’s no guarantee that happens, and it’s possible that whichever team lands him may be getting a guy who needs some time to rediscover his footing. His recent hot streak is reassuring, but it probably also moves up a price tag that should already be high.

Even if he was a bit of a bust this year, you’d still have him under contract for next season. But after that, you figure he’s going to want to get paid after years of representing one of the league’s best values, so this could still be a short-term move with a long-term price tag.

Bottom line: It’s an intriguing opportunity to land a player with a very solid track record. But are you willing to run the risk of being the GM who lost a blockbuster trade to Marc Bergevin?

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Monday, January 22, 2018

Weekend wrap: Crossing the Atlantic

Hey, remember how the Atlantic Division race was all sewn up, the Lightning were walking away with the top seed, and we could all get to work on our Bruins/Maple Leafs round one previews?

Yeah, hold that thought.

For maybe the first time all season, the Lightning are starting to look mortal. They’ve lost three straight by a combined score of 14–4, including Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Wild that kicked off a brutal eight-game road trip. They’re already missing Victor Hedman and Ondrej Palat, Steven Stamkos hasn’t scored in eight straight, and Andrei Vasilevskiy is struggling badly, giving up at least four goals in five straight starts. Their coach says they’re “out of synch,” and while you can blame the bye week for some of that, their best players aren’t leading the way anymore. At some point, it’s going to be fair to start wondering if this team deserves the dreaded “peaked too early” label, and had things a little too easy during a first half where everything seemed to be clicking every night.

That mini-slump has opened the door for the Bruins, and they’re making a hard run at it. They’ve won three in a row and have points in 16 straight. When they last lost a game in regulation, way back on Dec. 14, they were 14 points back of the Lightning. Now the gap is down to just three, and the Bruins hold a game in hand.

That’s not bad for a race some of us had written off just a few weeks ago. (Yes, guilty as charged.) And it creates a fascinating stretch run. The two teams have met only once all season, a 3-2 Bruins win in November. But they play three times in the season’s final dozen games, and now those look a lot like the ones that could decide the division.

Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs are hanging around as the division’s awkward third wheel. They’d been fading out of contention thanks to eight straight without a regulation win, but snapped that streak with Saturday’s third-period comeback in Ottawa, a result that felt like it could be bigger than two points for a young team that was starting to turn on itself.

The Leafs didn’t lose any ground to the teams chasing them during their slump; in fact, they gained some on them thanks to some shootout luck and the loser point. But they certainly haven’t looked anything like a Cup contender, and it’s led to the first real wave of criticism Mike Babcock has faced since arriving in Toronto. Being on the right end of a third-period collapse for once will quell that for at least a few days, but things don’t get any easier with the red-hot Avalanche in town tonight.

For now, the Leafs seem more locked into third spot in the division than ever. But now it’s an open question as to who they’ll play. And maybe more importantly, who they should want to face.

Road to the Cup

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

5. Winnipeg Jets (28-13-7, +27 true goals differential*): Last night’s 1-0 win over the Canucks wasn’t pretty, but it moves the Jets back into top spot in the Central.

4. Nashville Predators (28-11-6, +20): Make it five straight wins, all by one goal. Next up is what should be a fun matchup with the Lightning tomorrow night.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Saturday storylines: A Western Conference final preview

Welcome to another NHL Saturday, you’ll want to get comfy, because we’re going to be here a while. With the bye weeks over with, we’re back to a nearly full schedule for the first time in a few weeks. We’ve got 13 games on tap including three all-Canadian matchups as part of the Hockey Day in Canada festivities, and we’ll start with the best one.

HNIC Game of the Night: Jets at Flames

Man, this is going to be a great conference final.

OK, sure, we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here, but the Jets are already a point out of first place in the league’s toughest division, and the Flames are one of the hottest teams in the NHL with seven straight wins — and neither team’s path to the third round looks all that foreboding.

Based on the standings, the Flames will have the conference’s best team to get past in the Pacific, but that team is an expansion squad. Granted, it’s the best expansion team in the history of sports, but do we really think they’re going to roll through their first ever post-season? (Thinking.) Yeah, they might.

However, with the Kings fading, the Sharks looking ordinary, the Ducks struggling to even make the playoffs, and the Oilers and Coyotes all but done, the Flames’ road out of the Pacific goes through an expansion team. You’ll take that every time.

The Jets are facing a tougher path, but the Predators had been inconsistent before their recent win streak and are fighting through various injuries. And after last year’s run to the final there’s a risk of fatigue setting in at some point.

The Blues haven’t looked like the same dominant team they were in the first half, and while the traffic jam for a wild card means that whichever teams grab those spots will probably have closed off the season hot, if the Blackhawks lose Corey Crawford for the season then we can probably write off the division’s most experienced playoff team.

And remember, the Jets are already arguably the division’s best team even with Mark Scheifele injured and Dustin Byfuglien only now waking up. Give them a healthy Scheifele, a hot Byfuglien, and a trade deadline rental or two, and who’s beating them?

Well, maybe the Flames.

One way or another, it would be a hell of a matchup, one that would bring back memories of Smythe Division battles long past, only without Wayne Gretzky and friends waiting to crush the winner in Round 2.

It might be the second-most fun you can have in a plausible Western Conference Final (trailing only the obvious Vegas-Nashville dream matchup). Plus, it would carry the added bonus of guaranteeing Canada a spot in the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 2011.

On Saturday, the two teams face off for the first time since the second game of the season (a 6-3 Flames win). With both teams coming off their bye, we can probably expect a sloppy game as they work the rust off. We’ll have to wait until April to see them again, as they meet in their second-last game of the season.

And after that, we’ll just have to wait for the main event May.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, January 19, 2018

Grab bag: You can look for answers but that ain't fun

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Thoughts on the NHL hiring Kid Rock to perform at the all-star game
- Debating the HHOF care of Willie O'Ree
- An obscure tough guy with a fantastic nickname
- The week's three comedy stars
- And the legendary Chico Resch has one of history's greatest meltdowns over a phantom goal

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Podcast: Put your skates in the air like you just don't care

In the Vice Biscuits podcast:
- On Andrew Cogliano's suspended streak
- Making the case for Nathan MacKinnon as MVP
- These offside reviews are so stupid that even the NHL has to do something
- Why isn't Willie O'Ree in the Hall of Fame?
- Dave and I agree to move in together
- Plus the reader questions get R-rated and lots more

>> Stream it now

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

Assembling the NHL's all-time snub team

With the all-star rosters announced last week, everyone has spent the last few days compiling their lists of snubs. That’s pretty much an annual tradition at this point, and it’s all in good fun, even though a lot of the “snubs” are players who probably didn’t want to go in the first place.

But what if we aimed a little higher? What’s the best all-time roster you could assemble out of players who went their entire career without ever being recognized with a significant NHL honour?

We’re not talking midseason all-star picks here – with the one-player-per-team rule, those don’t really tell us much about who deserved what. Instead, let’s go with the big stuff. We’re looking for players who went their entire NHL career without ever:

1) Being a finalist for one of the major awards: Hart, Norris, Vezina or Calder; or

2) Being voted a first- or second-team all-star at the end of the season

You can call them the all-snub squad if you want to. Personally, I’m going to go with the Flying Federkos, in honour of the player who pretty much epitomizes the concept. Longtime Blues centre Bernie Federko scored 1,130 points over a 14-year career, which was good enough to get him into the Hall of Fame. But he never finished higher than fourth in all-star voting, and a 10th-place finish in 1986 was his best Hart Trophy showing.

So Federko’s our captain. But without getting ahead of ourselves, he’s not our best player, or even our first-line centre. And he’s far from the only Hall of Famer who’s going to make our squad. Let’s start up front, where there’s plenty of firepower to go around.

(All award-voting data comes from the invaluable Hockey Reference site.)


Centre: Ron Francis

Yes, despite a 22-season career that left him holding down spots in the all-time top five for points, assists and games played, Francis qualifies for our team. He did win some secondary honours, such as a Selke and three Lady Byngs. But he was never a post-season all-star, and never even finished in the top five in Hart voting.

How is that possible for a guy widely regarded as an all-time legend? For one, Francis was a two-way player, and they often don’t get the respect they deserve. But the bigger problem here can be summed up in two words: Gretzky and Lemieux. The two greatest centres of all time dominated the ’80s and early ’90s, leaving players like Francis and Federko — whose career overlapped theirs — with a tough path to recognition.

Winger: Mike Gartner

Despite finishing as one of only seven members of the 700-goal club, Gartner never earned so much as a single Hart Trophy vote during an 18-season career. And his best finish in all-star voting was fourth, which he managed twice.

Winger: Glenn Anderson

We’ll finish off our first line with another Hall of Fame winger who never received a Hart vote. It’s not hard to see why — during the Oilers glory years, Anderson was typically only the fourth-best forward on his own team. He came close to earning an all-star spot in 1986, but finished just behind Mats Naslund for second-team honours. It was one of five top-five finishes in Anderson’s career.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Monday, January 15, 2018

Weekend wrap: You can't touch a flame when it's red hot

It’s been a rough season for the two Alberta teams. The Oilers are responsible for most of that, as we may have mentioned once or twice. But while they haven’t been a disaster on anywhere near the same level, the Flames have at least been a disappointment, the kind of underachieving team that can give a coach fits. Literally.

So when an opportunity presents itself to go a few paragraphs saying almost entirely positive things about these two teams, let’s jump on it. The weekend was a very good one for the province, with each picking up a pair of road wins as they head into their bye-week break.

For Calgary, the wins continued a recent streak that now stands at seven games. The weekend visits to Florida and Carolina spelled the end of a four-game road trip, and make the Flames the hottest team in the league right now. At this point the Flames would probably rather skip their mandated bye and just keep playing, but since that’s not an option, they’ll have to settle for at least temporarily passing the Kings for second place in the Pacific. That’s probably going to be temporary – the Kings have two games in hand – but it’s still a pretty stunning achievement given the Flames were 11 points back of L.A. on Jan. 4.

It’s too early to start worrying about playoff scenarios, so we’ll just say this: With the Kings fading, the Knights still at least somewhat of a question mark and the rest of the division looking underwhelming, the Pacific is looking very winnable right now if a team wanted to hit the gas in the second half. Right now, the Flames are that team.

The Oilers haven’t been quite as hot, and they’re still well out of the playoff race. But if the season ends up being the write-off it looks like it will be, this weekend may stand out as the high point. The Oilers went into their bye week on a high note, earning road wins in Arizona and Las Vegas to string together their first win streak since they briefly showed signs of a turnaround before Christmas.

The weekend didn’t start off well, with the Coyotes scoring twice in the game’s first few minutes to chase Cam Talbot and take an early 2–0 lead on Friday. But Al Montoya closed the door the rest of the way and Edmonton fought back to earn a 4–2 win, with Darnell Nurse getting the winner in the third period. The Saturday-night game was even more fun, as the Oilers seemed to figure out a counter to the growing legend of the Golden Knights’ home-ice advantage: Just have your fans show up and take over the whole building.

The invasion served as a celebration of Connor McDavid’s 21st birthday, one that even included a first-period serenade. And the fans were rewarded with a third-period comeback capped off by an overtime win, with Nurse playing the hero once again.

It’s not all good news. The Oilers lost Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to injury and came within inches of losing Milan Lucic, too. Meanwhile, the Flames were missing Sean Monahan for the first time all season, and captain Mark Giordano was ejected from last night’s win and could face further discipline for this hit on Sebastian Aho. But for two teams that have already handled their share of negativity, we’ll skip over that and let Alberta’s fans enjoy a productive weekend, and a quick break to gear up for whatever comes next.

Road to the Cup

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

5. Winnipeg Jets (26-13-7, +26 true goals differential*): They head into the break with two straight losses, but still hold first place in the Central.

4. Washington Capitals (28-14-3, +11): A Jay Beagle buzzer beater in Carolina sent them into their bye on a winning note.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Saturday storylines: Happy birthday Connor

We’ve got nine games on the schedule tonight, including several teams coming off their bye week and a few more about to head out for theirs. We’ll start our roundup with one of those teams, as they get ready for a break under some interesting circumstances.

HNIC Game of the Night: Oilers at Golden Knights

Happy birthday, Connor McDavid.

Well, OK, you’re an Oiler. “Happy” probably isn’t in your vocabulary these days. All the best on your special day? Wait, “best” doesn’t work either. Look, just have some cake and be done with it.

In one of those scheduling quirks that was either a fun coincidence or somebody at league headquarters with a strange sense of humour, McDavid will be spending his 21st birthday in Las Vegas. And to make matters more interesting, this is the last game before the Oilers’ bye week. If things were going well, this would probably be a great time for the players to decide to stick around town and kick off a well-earned vacation by helping their captain celebrate the milestone.

Things are, as you may have noticed, not going well for the Oilers, which will probably put a bit of a damper on the party. You know that classic image of a sad child in a tilted birthday hat, sitting at an empty table because he invited all his friends and nobody came? That’s McDavid these days, except instead of friends it’s competent wingers.

This is the part where we’d normally start running down some facts and figures to paint a picture of how a team’s season has been going, but at this point that’s starting to just feel cruel. The Oilers season is a write-off. “Thanks for pointing that out,” Edmonton fans are no doubt thinking — nobody else had mentioned it except for literally every hockey writer on Earth.

So we’ll skip the autopsy and just head straight to the burial. The Oilers are basically done heading into the second half, and they get to head into their bye against one of the league’s best teams, in the league’s toughest building. The Knights are fun, fast and good, kind of like what we all expected the Oilers to be. At the very least, they might serve as a reminder that there should be brighter days ahead in Edmonton. If you can build a Cup contender out of spare parts you found scattered around in one off-season, surely you can do it with the best player in the world.

Somebody will. Whether it’s Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan or some other combination remains to be seen. How the Oilers perform over the second half will have a lot to do with how that turns out, which makes this game worth watching. Even if it won’t be the sort of going-away party the Oilers were probably expecting when they first saw the schedule.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, January 12, 2018

Grab bag: Cowboy up

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- These skate-in-the-air offsides are a mess, but the fix is so simple even the NHL can't screw it up
- Winnipeg reacts to a rare moment in the spotlight
- An obscure player from the last Jets playoff win
- The week's three comedy stars, featuring a butt goal
- And a YouTube look back at happier times for the Oilers, starring weird card-playing cowboys

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Podcast: Oil spill

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- The Oilers are a mess and Dave and I don't know how to fix them
- A fun fact about Connor McDavid's 21st birthday
- The total lack of coaching changes, which is unprecedented in the modern era
- We try to figure out who'll be the first to go
- On Canada's WJC gold, and Sweden's silver medal toss
- I go full homer to defend Nazem Kadri against charges of beard-yanking
- Lots of reader questions, including who'll screw up the trade deadline, OT rule changes, and what's up with those weird empty ad breaks
- And plenty more...

>> Stream it now

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

Who is Canada's most depressing team?

With the NHL season at its midway mark, it’s time for Canadian hockey fans to start getting excited. Stake out your ground, and let the debates begin. Which Canadian team will earn the most coveted title in the land?

No, not the Stanley Cup. We all know that thing never lands north of the border anymore. No, we’re talking about something that fits better with the modern-day Canadian NHL psyche: the title of Most Depressing Team In The Nation.

Put two random Canadian fans in a room together, and it probably won’t be long before they’re arguing over which ones deserves to be the most miserable. Some years, it’s a crowded field — we all remember the entire country missing the playoffs back in 2015–16. Other years, like last season, there are fewer candidates. But it’s always a hotly contested title.

So the first order of business is to figure out who gets to be in the running. Obviously, we don’t need to consider the Jets or the Maple Leafs, two teams that are solidly holding down playoff spots. The Flames are a tougher call, as a recent slide had them drifting out of playoff contention (and their coach having temper tantrums) before their latest win streak. But they’re over .500 and only a point out of a playoff spot, so they’re out of the running.

That still leaves us with four contenders for the title of Canada’s most depressing team. The Canadiens, Senators, Canucks and Oilers are all well out of the playoff race, and all four are under .500 in terms of points percentage. That’s a crowded field, so let’s start sorting this out as we work our way through an unlucky 13 categories.

Expectations vs. reality

It’s one thing to be bad. It’s another entirely to be bad when everyone thought you’d be good. So who came into the season with the highest expectations?

Canadiens: They were the Atlantic’s top seed last year, and while they were far from a sure thing to repeat that title, most expected them to at least make the playoffs.

Senators: They went deeper than any Canadian team last year, but most seemed to expect them to take a step back this season. Some pessimists even had them missing the playoffs. But close to dead last? No way.

Canucks: Nobody thought they’d be all that good. As bad as this year has been, they’re actually on pace to improve on last year’s record.

Oilers: When the Sportsnet crew did our pre-season predictions, seven out of 16 of us had the Oilers winning the West, and two had them winning the Stanley Cup.

Edge: Oilers, and it’s not all that close.

Painful ex-player

When things are going bad, the two most painful words are “What if?” Seeing a former player lighting it up somewhere else only adds to the misery.

Senators: While the current roster struggles, they get to watch one-time Senator building blocks like Mika Zibanejad and Jakob Silfverberg blossom elsewhere. But the worst has been watching Kyle Turris fit right in as a Predator while Matt Duchene struggles in Ottawa.

Canucks: Luca Sbisa gets to be part of the fun in Vegas, and Ryan Miller‘s been fine in Anaheim. That’s about it.

Oilers: While only one is technically an ex-player, they gave the Islanders both Jordan Eberle and the draft pick that was used on Mathew Barzal. Then they get to watch those two do stuff like this:

Meanwhile, Taylor Hall looks like he’s going to lead the Devils to the playoffs.

Canadiens: Last year, it would have been P.K. Subban, who led his Predators all the way to the Stanley Cup final in his first year away from Montreal. This year, we might have to go with Mikhail Sergachev, who looks like a Calder candidate in Tampa. This time next year, Max Pacioretty.

Edge: It’s a close race, but the Canadiens take the crown on the strength of Subban just being voted an all-star captain.

Salary-cap situation

In today’s NHL, a flexible cap situation can fix a lot of problems. By the same token, making a mess of the cap can doom a team to years of suffering.

Oilers: Tight, thanks to the McDavid/Draisaitl deals, not to mention big commitments to Milan Lucic and Kris Russell. Trading Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would help, and they may be forced to do just that.

Canadiens: Not all that bad, depending on how you feel about the Carey Price deal. But Karl Alzner‘s signing already looks like a mistake, and that Shea Weber contract is going to be nightmare well before it runs out in 2026.

Senators: Believe it or not, they’ve got more cap space tied up for next year than any other Canadian team by over $5 million, thanks in part to ugly deals for Bobby Ryan and Dion Phaneuf. It clears up after 2019, but only because key players like Erik Karlsson and Matt Duchene will need new contracts.

Canucks: Once again, they come out looking solid by comparison. That Loui Eriksson deal was a mistake form the day it was signed, but with both Sedin deals expiring after this season, the cap picture is actually in decent shape.

Edge: Ottawa, in a narrow upset over the Oilers, if only because at least Edmonton’s biggest deals on the books are to their best players. I’m no cap-ologist, but having the worst cap situation when you don’t even have the budget to be a cap team is not good.

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