Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Podcast: Deadline day

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- A dramatic deadline day features a blockbuster that happened and a blockbuster that didn't
- Breaking down the Ryan McDonagh deal, and whether anyone can beat the Lightning
- Where do the Senators go now that an Erik Karlsson deal didn't happen?
- The Jets are going for it, and the Blues are doing the complete opposite of that
- Max Pacioretty: Still a Hab
- Jim Benning and the Canucks have an interesting view of rebuilding
- The Sabres don't get much for Evander Kane
- Quite possibly the greatest lottery-protect pick of all-time
- What could the Islanders have received for John Tavares?
- Plus reader questions and lots more...

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Trade deadline winners and losers

Well that was fun.

After a busy deadline day that saw 16 deals involving 31 players, it’s going to take some time to sort it all out. [Takes a few minutes to sort it all out.] Yep, that’ll do it, let’s get to the winners and losers.

Winner: Deadline day anticipation

For years, we watched as NHL GMs got their dealing done early, finalizing their biggest moves in the days and even weeks leading up to deadline day. And whenever it happened, we’d all shake our heads and mumble about saving some of the action for the big day.

This year, that’s what the GMs did. Apart from Derick Brassard and Rick Nash, all of the biggest names were still available heading into this morning. Heck, they were all still available with an hour to go. If you wanted to see the drama go down to the wire like it did in the old days, today was your day.

Loser: Deadline day reality

No Erik Karlsson trade. No Max Pacioretty. No Mike Green. No Jack Johnson. No big-name surprises, unless you count Paul Stastny. It wasn’t a bad deadline day, but given how it was shaping up by mid-afternoon, it was starting to feel like a letdown. Luckily, two teams stepped up to save the day…

Winners: The Lightning and Rangers

They kept us waiting, not just until the deadline but well past it as we waited for the details of their blockbuster to leak out. But the wait was worth it.

Steve Yzerman went out and got his big-time defenseman, but it turned out not be Karlsson after all. Instead, he lands McDonagh and J.T. Miller for Vladislav Namestnikov, picks and prospects. That potentially reunites McDonagh with Dan Girardi, gives the Lightning one of the best 1-2 blue line punches in the league, and cements their status as the clear-cut Stanley Cup favourite. And he did it without giving up a key young piece like Mikhail Sergachev or Brayden Point. Yzerman is not playing around.

As for the Rangers, they told us what they were going to do and then they did it. Jeff Gorton got a nice haul for Nash, and he loads up on futures in this deal. Did he get enough for McDonagh, who still has a year left on a very team-friendly deal? It’s a decent return, but not an eye-popping one. But sometimes when you decide to rebuild, you have to be willing to make a clean break, if only to avoid that mushy middle so many teams are stuck in.

This deal, along with the Nash trade, certainly does that.

These are two teams headed purposefully and aggressively in opposite directions. There were no half-measures here. And their late-day bomb seemed to suck some of the air out of the rest of deadline day, leaving a few teams largely on the sidelines. Such as…

Loser: Ottawa

Just Ottawa. Not the front office. Not the team. Not the city. The whole thing. All of it.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Weekend wrap: Deadline day edition

They made us wait for it. But with the clock ticking down to today’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline, NHL GMs finally got serious over the weekend, making a handful of meaningful deals. There’s plenty left on the market for today, but let’s get caught up on what the last few days has meant.

The Senators and Penguins kicked things off on Friday, with a little help from the Golden Knights. The Derick Brassard deal was complicated in its execution, but relatively simple in principle. The contending Penguins get even better down the middle, with Brassard instantly becoming just about the best third-line centre in the league.

The rebuilding Senators get some nice future assets, while also saving money. It makes sense for both teams, especially the Penguins. (As for the Golden Knights, we’re still trying to figure out what they get out of the deal beyond spending millions of dollars on a mid-round pick and an enforcer. Maybe it was about keeping Brassard out of the West, but it’s rare that you see one Cup contender volunteer to facilitate another’s improvement, let along write a check to do it.)

After a minor deal saw the Oilers send Brandon Davidson to the Islanders for a third, word of the next big trade dropped on Saturday night, although we had to wait until Sunday morning for it to become official. Boston gives up a ransom to get Rick Nash out of New York in a deal that signals that Don Sweeney and the Bruins are going for it all this year. But the price was high here; there’s a case to be made that going from Ryan Spooner to Nash isn’t all that much of an upgrade, let alone one worth spending a first-round pick on. (As far as first impressions go, Spooner had two points last night.)

From there, the Canadian teams took back the spotlight, with the Leafs and Canadiens hooking up on a rare deal. That one sent Tomas Plekanec to the Leafs for a second-round pick and two quasi-prospects. That’s not a bad haul for Montreal, especially since they can always re-sign Plekanec in the off-season. Meanwhile, the Leafs get some depth, and still have cap room to make another deal or two today. That move was followed by another Oilers deal, this one sending Mark Letestu to Columbus via Nashville. Edmonton gets Pontus Aberg, fulfilling Peter Chiarelli’s preference to get players who can help now over draft picks.

All in all, not a bad weekend. But there are still plenty of names left on the market, including the big one. Erik Karlsson is still a Senator as of this morning, but his odds of making it to the end of the day that way seem to be getting slimmer.

The Lightning still look like the favourites here, although the Predators, Sharks, and any number of late-emerging contender are lurking. There’s also Max Pacioretty, Evander Kane, Mike Green and Thomas Vanek, as well as slightly longer shots like Mike Hoffman and Ryan McDonagh. We spent the last few years telling NHL GMs “save it for deadline day”. These year they did, so get ready for what could be a long day.

We’ll be back this afternoon with a full rundown of all the winners and losers from the 2018 deadline. But as we settle in and wait for today’s action to kick off, let’s double-down on this week’s power rankings. We’ll use the regular versions to get caught up on the actual games played this weekend, then mix in some bonus lists to get set for today’s intrigue.

Road to the Cup

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

5. Boston Bruins (37-15-8, +44 true goals differential*) – Two weekend losses, including Saturday’s controversial finish in Toronto, weren’t even close to the most interesting thing to happen to the Bruins, who also traded for Nash, signed Brian Gionta and got the scare of watching Patrice Bergeron leave the ACC in a walking boot. (He was back in the lineup last night.)

4. Vegas Golden Knights (41-16-4, +49) – The Vegas Flu outbreak continues with no cure in sight, as the Knights wrapped up their latest homestand with five wins in seven.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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