Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The John Tavares Sweepstakes power rankings

The John Tavares watch is heating up, as we count down the days until the Islanders’ star reaches unrestricted free agency. That still leaves plenty of time for the Islanders to re-sign him, and the latest development suggests that Lou Lamoriello will be the one leading that charge. That seems like good news for Islanders fans, who hadn’t been given much reason to believe that Garth Snow could get a deal done.

But even with Lamoriello in the driver’s seat, there’s no guarantee that Tavares doesn’t at least test the market. Recently, his teammates have been sounding nervous over their captain’s future, and every day that goes by without an extension brings Tavares closer to what could be the biggest bidding war in recent NHL history.

We’re not quite there yet. But we’re close enough that it’s probably time to start figuring out where everyone stands. So today, let’s count down the John Tavares power rankings, as we figure out who slots in where in the various categories worth wondering about.

The “Which team needs him most?” Ranking

We may as well start here. Tavares is the sort of player that just about every team should be in on. But some need him more than others.

Not ranked: Vegas Golden Knights: Yeah, that’s about enough, George McPhee. Maybe try playing with the sliders moved past the “very easy” level.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs: The roster may not need Tavares as much as some others (or as much as they need help on the blue line). But after getting their shot at Steven Stamkos in 2016 and failing to reel him in, whiffing on another local boy in Tavares would at the very least be a dent to Toronto egos.

4. San Jose Sharks: They’re a good team that’s not far from contending. But the Joe Thornton era is ending, if it’s not over already, and the core is getting older. Landing Tavares would chart a new course for the team, while missing out would lead to questions about what exactly comes next.

3. Carolina Hurricanes: Let’s be honest, a lot of us are watching the Tom Dundon era unfold in Carolina and scratching our heads. Convincing Tavares to buy in and choose the Hurricanes would end a lot of those questions very quickly.

2. Montreal Canadiens: After a miserable season, they could use three things: some reason for optimism, some confidence in a struggling front office, and a first-line centre. Tavares takes care of all three in one shot.

1. New York Islanders: The obvious choice. Losing a franchise player is devastating. Seeing him choose to walk away after you’ve had all year to sell him on the long-term vision would be far worse, and raise all sorts of red flags about where the organization is headed.

The “What’s worst for the Islanders?” Ranking

If you’re an Islanders fan, it goes without saying that seeing Tavares leave would feel like a disaster. But some destinations would be extra painful, so let’s work our way down to the worst-case scenario.

Not ranked: Anyone from the Western Conference: Out of sight, out of mind? Not quite, but if Tavares has to go then Islanders fans would probably prefer him to land as far away as possible.

5. Montreal Canadiens: Only because Islanders fans have had to listen to Montreal fans and media drone on and on for the last two years about landing Tavares. Having them actually be proven right would be unbearable. After all, what’s worse than a smug Canadiens fan?

4. Toronto Maple Leafs: Oh, right.

3. New Jersey Devils: They haven’t come up often in Tavares rumours, which is strange given their cap space and an improving young roster. Seeing their franchise player stay in the division, not to mention the tri-state area, would be brutal.

2. Carolina Hurricanes: Another division rival. And to make matters worse, the Hurricanes landing Tavares would be an example of new ownership coming in and immediately shaking things up with big changes and aggressive moves. Meanwhile, new Islanders ownership patiently stuck with Garth Snow through Tavares’s final season, maybe until it was too late.

1. New York Rangers: With the Rangers rebuilding, they seem like a long shot to be in hard on Tavares. But this is a team that’s rarely been able to pass up the lure of a big-name free agent, and seeing Tavares move across town would be devastating for Islander fans.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Explaining the Vegas Golden Knights

So what just happened? 
On Sunday, the Vegas Golden Knights defeated the Winnipeg Jets to advance to the Stanley Cup Final

The win is the latest in what’s been a stunning campaign – they were 500-1 to win the championship at the start of the season – one that’s seen the Golden Knights stake their claim as the best expansion team in the history of North American sports. There’s a very good chance that they’ll win the next round too, becoming Stanley Cup champions in their very first season.  Nobody saw this coming – as a new team, the Knights weren’t expected to contend for anything aside from last place. But they’ve defied all the odds, and are now just four wins away from the most unlikely championship the sport has ever seen.

That sounds like an amazing underdog story. 
It sure is!

So how did the Golden Knights do it? 
No idea!

Ha ha. But seriously, how did they do it? 
Seriously … no idea. I don’t know. Nobody does. The entire hockey world is completely perplexed by this. There’s no logical explanation.

Um, aren’t you supposed to be some sort of expert? 
Look, I could try to make something up, and pretend that anyone could have seen any of this coming. But I’d be lying. None of this makes any sense.

>> Read the full post at The Guardian




Monday, May 21, 2018

Weekend wrap: One bad week spells the end for the Jets

Look, we did say “It’s one game”. We put that caveat right up front. Let’s be as clear as possible on that. But yeah, it’s fair to say that last week’s column hasn’t held up well. In case you missed it, that was the one where we reacted to game one of the Western Conference final by pointing out that the Jets had been better than the Golden Knights in just about every way. Between Winnipeg’s early dominance and the Capitals’ stealing the first two games in Tampa, we seemed like we could be headed to a pair of anticlimactic series. And in case that implication was too subtle, the piece was helpfully headlined “Jets, Capitals on collision course?”

Answer: No. No, they are not.

In the latest reminder of how much can change in one week, the Jets went from riding high last Monday to out of the playoffs altogether by the end of the weekend. Four straight Vegas wins spelled the end of what seemed to be shaping up as a dream season in Winnipeg, while continuing a Golden Knights’ run that everyone is struggling to explain.

Whether you’re loving this Golden Knights story or hating it – and there are plenty of fans in both camps – you have to give them full credit here. They didn’t steal this series, or back into the win, or luck their way to victory over a clearly better team. Instead, outside of that opener, the Knights went toe-to-toe with the best team left in the playoffs and finished them off with relative ease. The Jets struggled with the Vegas forecheck, coughing up several uncharacteristic defensive zone turnovers, enough of which ended up behind Connor Hellebuyck. And when Winnipeg did manage a goal of their own, the Knights were often right there to get it back within seconds. It was a frustrating stretch for a Jets team that hadn’t lost four straight all season long, and never quite found their best game after the opener.

As always when a team is eliminated, the question in Winnipeg turns to: Now what? The team was largely built by staying the course, even when impatient fans and media were calling for Kevin Cheveldayoff to do more. Do you stick with that plan now? Or do you acknowledge that it was the right strategy during the building phase, but that now is the time to take a more aggressive approach to finishing the job?

It’s a tough call, albeit one that roughly 27 other NHL teams would love to be facing right now. It’s easy enough to assume that the Jets will be back – the roster is certainly built for the long haul. But then again, plenty of other contenders have come close to a Cup and then drifted back to the pack, including more than a few Canadian teams.

The Jets will look to avoid that fate, and for Cheveldayoff, the offseason decisions start now. A lot can happen over the course of a summer. Maybe almost as much as can happen in a week.

Road to the Cup

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

5. Every other eliminated team except the one you root for (tie) – Man, tough break for your team, who drop out of the top five after making a brief appearance last week.

4. Winnipeg Jets – We’ll leave them here for one more week. Call it a 24-hour mourning period.

3. Washington Capitals – If Caps media was already writing leads like “Everybody you love dies” after two losses, imagine what the mood will be like if they reach four.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Friday, May 18, 2018

Grab Bag: Everybody wear white tonight

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- What Scotty Bowman can teach us about how we can make playoff overtime so much better
- The Winnipeg Wait Out is coming, and it's going to be awful
- An obscure player with a great name
- The week's three comedy stars, featuring Paul Maurice's strategic brilliance and Dustin Byfuglien's dad strength
- And a catchy 1987 song about the Jets that gets disturbingly awkward really quickly.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports




Which team that missed this year's playoffs could be in next year's conference finals?

On one level, there aren’t a lot of surprises among this year’s four conference finalists. Three of the teams went into the playoffs as the top seed in their division, and the only one that didn’t — the Winnipeg Jets — were the second-best regular-season team in the league. In terms of the pre-playoff seeding, this year has been remarkable free of upsets.

But step back a little further and consider what last season looked like, and this year’s final four takes on a decidedly unexpected mix. You’ve got the Capitals, who haven’t made a conference final in 20 years. But at least Washington made the playoffs last year. None of the other three teams even managed that.

So if three teams that missed the playoffs in 2017 (or didn’t even exist) can make the conference finals, what might next season hold? Could at least one of the 15 teams that missed this year’s post-season could be one of the last teams standing this time next year?

History tells us that it’s possible and maybe even likely. The question is which team is best positioned to do it. So let’s take those 15 playoff misses from this season and divide them into three groups based on their chances for next year. As luck would have it, the Lightning, Jets and Golden Knights give us three handy categories to use.

The Tampa Bay Tier

The Lightning missed the playoffs last season, falling short by a single point. But they weren’t anybody’s idea of an underdog in 2017–18; oddsmakers had them as co-favourites to win the Atlantic before the season began.

So let’s start there — with five teams that have only been out of the playoffs for one year, and could make a relatively quick return to top contender status.

Chicago Blackhawks

Why they could make it: While things fell apart in 2017–18, this is a team that won the Central just a year ago and still has most of the core from three Stanley Cups. It’s also worth remembering that the Blackhawks didn’t really fall out of contention this year until Corey Crawford missed time. If he’s healthy next year, it’s not hard to imagine them being back in the conference finals next year.

Why they won’t: That championship core is older and more expensive now, which complicates things, and the Central looks brutal with the Jets and Predators blocking the way out. And it’s not like this team just missed this year; they were almost 20 points back.

New York Rangers

Why they could make it: They went to the conference final in three of the last seven seasons, and are just one year removed from posting three straight 100-point seasons. They’ve parted ways with some of the players who made those seasons happen, but they still have Henrik Lundqvist.

Why they won’t: It’s not clear they want to. Jeff Gorton wants to rebuild, and while that doesn’t necessarily mean tearing it all down, the Ryan McDonagh trade suggests that the focus isn’t on the Cup in 2018–19.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet





Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Podcast: Conference call

In this week's episode of the Biscuits podcast (which was taped yesterday):
- We look at both conference finals
- Does Dave want back on the Caps bandwagon?
- A heated argument about adding more replay review
- Lundqvist for Rinne
- Leafs front office drama
- Goalie chant etiquette
- Is the Winnipeg crowd really that loud?
- Reader questions and lots more...

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.




Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Ranking every GM the Maple Leafs have ever had

The Toronto Maple Leafs made it official on Friday, naming Kyle Dubas as Lou Lamoriello’s replacement as general manager. It’s a major leap of faith by the team, with the fate of the 101-year-old franchise now in the hands of a GM who’s just 32 years old.

We can’t pass a final judgement on the Dubas era quite yet — we’ll give him about one more week before we get started on that. But in the meantime, we can see how the other men to hold the job stack up with each other.

We’ll be looking at all of the full-time GMs in Maple Leafs history — we won’t count any interim tags, or the time that the team went without an official GM for a little over a year. That leaves us with 16 pre-Dubas GMs to work with, which seems like a good number for a ranking. Let’s count them down from worst to best, starting with the least-effective Leafs’ GM of all-time. As you might expect, there was some decent competition for that particular honour.

No. 16: Howie Meeker (1957)

Record: Not applicable.

Signature move: None.

There could be some debate over whether Meeker even deserves a spot on this list; after all, he didn’t even make it to his first game as Maple Leafs’ GM before he was “reassigned” to the PR department. But he did officially hold the role, however briefly, so we’ll include him.

Meeker had had a distinguished career in Toronto, including winning the Calder in 1947 and spending a season behind the bench in 1956–57. That year hadn’t gone that well, with the Maple Leafs missing the playoffs, and Meeker was bumped upstairs to the GM job once the season ended. But it didn’t last, and Meeker was out of the role before opening night. News reports of the day called it a resignation, but Stafford Smythe left little doubt as to what was really going on, telling reporters that “[Meeker] didn’t have the experience needed in that kind of job and we didn’t have the time to let him gain that kind of experience.”

The Leafs didn’t formally fill the GM’s role until over a year later, going with a committee approach (although Smythe was rumoured to be calling most of the shots).

No. 15: Floyd Smith (1989–1991)

Record: 61-84-5

Signature move: Trading a first-round pick for Tom Kurvers.

The Leafs finished .500 in Smith’s debut season, the first time that happened since 1978–79. But his second year was a disaster, one that saw an aging Leafs team start 1-9-1 and very nearly finish dead last. They rallied to finish ahead of the Nordiques, meaning the Kurvers trade cost them Scott Niedermayer instead of Eric Lindros, and Smith was fired after two years on the job.

To give you a sense of how the Smith era played out in Toronto, here’s local sportscaster Joe Tilley not mincing words.

No. 14: Hap Day (1955–1957)

Record: 45-67-28

Signature move: None stand out; the few Leafs traded during this time basically amounted to selling fringe players for cash.

There’s some confusion as to whether Day ever officially held the GM’s title, but everyone seems to agree that he was running the show at the end of the Conn Smythe era, so we’ll include him. The team made one playoff appearance in Day’s two seasons, but after missing in 1957 he was publicly criticized by the Smythe family and forced out, ending a Maple Leafs career that saw him win seven Stanley Cups as a player and coach.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Monday, May 14, 2018

Weekend wrap: Early statements

It’s one game. The first game doesn’t necessarily tell us much about how a series will play out — remember the Bruins thumping the Lighting in their second-round opener? — and there’s a good chance that this one still has a long way to go, with plenty of twists and turns baked in.

But even with all the obvious caveats in place, things couldn’t have gone much better for the Jets on Saturday night. They won the game, which is obviously the important part. But not all wins are created equal. Sometimes you steal a game, or barely hang on, or win even though you didn’t put together a 60-minute effort. Sometimes you win games you probably deserved to lose.

And sometimes, you show up and are clearly the better team from start to finish. That’s the sort of game the Jets put together on Saturday, scoring on their first shot and pumping three goals past Marc-Andre Fleury before the game was eight minutes old. The Golden Knights regained their footing from there to keep the game respectable, but that’s all they did, as the Jets largely shut them down the rest of the way. Despite playing from well behind for almost the entire game, the high-flying Knights managed just 21 shots and never seemed to be taking the game to their opponents.

Again, it’s one game, and maybe we got the result we should have expected – with the Jets coming off the high of a Game 7 win in Nashville and the Knights seeing their first action in nearly a week, some early Vegas rust may have been inevitable. If the series goes long, that discrepancy in time off may yet come back to hurt the Jets.

But that’s if the series does go long; it didn’t look like it would on Saturday. And while Fleury was brilliant against the Kings and still leads the league in post-season save percentage and goals-against average, it’s fair to point out that he’s now given up three goals or more in five of his last six games. With Connor Hellebuyck looking sharp lately, that’s not a good sign for the Knights.

We’re still in uncharted territory with this Vegas team, which now trails a series for the first time. Maybe they rebound with a better effort tonight and take the series back home tied at one. But the early returns are in, and they’re clear: The Jets were the better team through one game. Now we find out how many more they need.

Road to the Cup

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

5. Your team: That’s right. With only four teams left in the playoffs and a suddenly unwieldy five-team power ranking format to work with, we can confirm that your personal favourite team is holding down the fifth spot. Congratulations, and never let it be said that we don’t give credit where it’s deserved.

4. Tampa Bay Lightning: Nikita Kucherov hasn’t done much in the conference finals so far. But he did find a creative way to make last night’s highlight reel: by kicking Brett Connolly.

3. Vegas Golden Knights: We knew their success was already getting attention from outside of the hockey world. But here’s a new audience we may not have counted on: professional gamblers.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Friday, May 11, 2018

The pros and cons of the Golden Knights winning the Stanley Cup

The Vegas Golden Knights are the talk of hockey right now, and are becoming one of the rare NHL stories that breaks through into the larger sports world. They’ll open the Western Conference Final Saturday in Winnipeg, the latest chapter in a season-long story that’s seen them go from presumed bottom-feeder to Pacific Division champion and legitimate Stanley Cup contender. They’re already the greatest expansion team in pro sports history; now the question is whether they can actually do the unthinkable and win it all.

Well, that’s one question. Here’s another: Should we want them to win? Would seeing an expansion team win the Stanley Cup be a good thing?

Plenty of fans seem to think so; the Golden Knights bandwagon filled up quickly, attracting everyone from veteran fans to little kids to folks who’d never watched hockey before. But there’s a growing sense among others that this has all gone a little too far, and that seeing the Cup paraded down the The Strip might be the wrong ending to the story.

If you’ve been a hockey fan, you already know how this will go. We’ve already got the backlash. Next will come the backlash to the backlash. Then we’ll have a backlash to that backlash, and on and on, and by the time the Knights take the ice on Saturday we’ll all be fighting in the parking lot with tridents while stepping over pieces of the smashed conch.

But maybe it doesn’t have to be that way. Maybe we can clear the air right now, with a good old-fashioned weighing of the pros and cons. Would that actually change anyone’s mind? The odds are against it. But then again, the odds don’t seem to mean much when it comes to the Golden Knights, so let’s give it a try.

Pro: This is an all-time underdog story that anyone should be able to enjoy

Everybody loves an underdog. There’s a reason that Hollywood doesn’t make sports movies about the best player or team just steamrolling over everyone on the way to an easy championship. Nobody would want to watch that. Instead, we want to see the also-ran or the never-was, who doesn’t have a chance right up until they prove everyone wrong.

Sound familiar? The Golden Knights aren’t just a team that was supposed to be bad. They’re a team made up from the outcasts of all the other, better teams. They’re a collection of misfit toys who were all told they were expendable. And now they might win the Stanley Cup. This is a clichéd Hollywood movie, only it’s playing out in real life right in front of us.

We’re watching the real-world version of Rudy. It’s the hockey world’s retelling of Rocky. You loved those stories for a reason. It’s the same reason you should love the Golden Knights.

Con: This is not how underdog stories are supposed to work

The original Rocky was a great movie. It won Best Picture, launched careers, and set the template for every underdog story that was to come.

Do you remember how it ends? Not with Rocky winning.

That’s because even though the underdog story was inspiring, having the no-name boxer win the championship would have been too much. It would have felt silly. They didn’t get to that until the sequels, because even the ultimate underdog with a room full of Hollywood scriptwriters behind him shouldn’t win it all right away.

We all loved Rudy. But that move ends with our underdog hero getting into the game for one play. He doesn’t become a star, get picked first overall in the draft and win NFL MVP in his first year. If he had, people would have left the theatre mumbling about how stupid the whole thing was.

Underdog stories are great – up to a point. We’ve reached that point with the Golden Knights. Save something for the sequel, boys.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Conference final preview

Welcome to the third-round preview. In round one, our predictions went an impressive seven-for-eight. In round two, uh, we reflected on the success of round one. Now we're down to four teams. Who'll advance to the Stanley Cup Final? We have no idea, but we're willing to pretend that we do.

Eastern Conference: Capitals vs. Lightning

In this corner: The Washington Capitals (49-36-7, 105 points, +18 true goals differential), who knocked off the defending champion Penguins to finally advance to the conference finals for the first time in the Alexander Ovechkin era.

The history books: This isn't quite uncharted territory for the Capitals, who made (and lost in) the 1998 final. But it's their first trip to the conference final in 20 years since, not to mention the first for any big four Washington team in that time span.

Injury report: Nicklas Backstrom missed the last game of the Pittsburgh series with some sort of hand injury, and we don't know when he'll be able to return. Andre Burakovsky is day to day.

The big question: Now what? The Capitals have been waiting to beat the Penguins and break through to the conference final for so long that you wonder what comes next. Maybe with the monkey off their back, they're just happy to be here and can't offer much resistance against an opponent that, on paper, should be the better team. But maybe not. Maybe with the dragon slain and the pressure finally off, they play the sort of playoff hockey they've always been capable of but never seemed able to summon.

One player to watch: Tom Wilson. You may as well keep an eye on him. We know the referees and the Department of Player Safety will be. All the Lightning players will, too, if they're smart. Wilson's a throwback to an earlier era, a player who still hits to hurt. Sometimes, he does it cleanly. Others, he throws those grey area hits that we all have to debate for days at a time. It caught up to him in round two, when he earned a three-game suspension for a high hit. He's eligible to return to start this series, and no doubt he'll claim that he won't change his style. But you have to figure he'll be second-guessing some opportunities to go for the big hit, if only to make sure he doesn't wind up back in the press box. The question is whether that helps or hurts his overall game.

Key number: 30.9% – The Capitals powerplay success rate through two rounds, good for second among all playoff teams. The only team higher: The Bruins, largely on the strength of going 5-for-12 against Tampa last round. Penalty killing has been one of the only weaknesses in the Lightning's game so far this postseason, so the Capitals will need to take advantage of any opportunities they can earn.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports





Thursday, May 10, 2018

Grab Bag: The chants may never come again

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- You're all doing the goalie taunt chant wrong and I'm worked up about it
- A debate that you're guaranteed to love
- An obscure player who scored a big OT goal in 1993
- Hey wait today isn't Friday this is weird
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a celebration of the 25th anniversary of Wendel Clark absolutely ruining somebody...

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Podcast: Capital gains

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- Dave takes a victory lap for picking the Capitals, but will he stick with them?
- A look ahead to game seven between the Jets and Predators
- The Knights continue their miracle season
- The Lightning make quick work of the Bruins
- Licking opponents: Good or bad?
- You'll never guess who Carolina is hiring as their new coach
- Plus reader questions and lots more...

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.




Finding hope for the non-playoff teams

Depending on which team you root for, this can be a great time to be an NHL fan. Obviously if your team is still alive, you’re on the edge of your seat, wondering if they can keep their run going and win the Stanley Cup. But even if your team was eliminated in one of the first few rounds, you’ve probably built up enough hatred for whoever knocked them out that you’ve still got something to cheer for — or at least against.

But what about the teams that didn’t make the playoffs at all? These days, that’s almost half the league. And it can be a tough time of year for those fans. It’s already been a month since you last saw your team play, but any off-season fireworks are still weeks away. The lottery has come and gone and you know where your team’s first-round pick will be, but there’s still nearly two months before they get to actually use it. And on top of all that, you have to sit around watching the contenders remind you of how much better they are than your team.

So today, let’s help out those fans by offering up a dose of encouragement. We’ll go through all 15 of this year’s non-playoff teams and pick out one or more problems they’re struggling with. Then we’ll see if we can find a team that was recently facing the same issue, or at least something close, and still made the 2018 playoffs.

If these teams could do it, maybe yours can to. Know hope, fans of non-playoff also-rans. Or at least, a lack of crippling despair.

Calgary Flames

The issue: They just hired a new head coach. But while Bill Peters has NHL experience, his track record isn’t exactly stellar.

But just look at: The Bruins. It’s true that Peters may seem like an odd choice to replace Glen Gulutzan; guys who’ve missed the playoffs for four straight years and have managed to post a sub-.500 record in the loser point era aren’t usually the candidates you rush to snap up as soon as they hit the market.

But records and resumes aren’t everything, as Bruce Cassidy has shown in Boston. Before he was handed the Bruins’ job, Cassidy’s only head-coaching experience had been a stint in Washington in which he hadn’t even made it through two seasons. That was followed by one year as an assistant in Chicago, which also went poorly. But he’s back in the NHL, and so far he’s done a fantastic job. Sometimes the right guy is the right guy, no matter what the numbers say.

Buffalo Sabres

The issue: They’re terrible. They finished dead last in the entire league, and while they have some good young pieces and should improve, a return to the playoffs feels a million miles away right now.

But just look at: The Maple Leafs and the Devils, two teams that picked first overall and then went to the playoffs the very next year.

We’ll give the Sabres a two-for here, since their fans probably need all the optimism they can get. Winning the draft lottery certainly helped, and Rasmus Dahlin should be a star. That may not happen right away, of course, and the Sabres will be thinking long-term when it comes to their new blueliner. But as the Maple Leafs and Devils have proven over the last two years, the gap between dead last and a playoff spot isn’t as big as it looks in today’s NHL.

Carolina Hurricanes

The issue: They’re a good young team that seems to be everyone’s pick to break out before every season. Then the goaltending stinks, the young roster doesn’t live up to expectations, and they miss the playoffs yet again.

But just look at: The Jets. It’s hard to remember it now, but it wasn’t that long ago that it looked like the Jets might be doomed to hover around the playoff bubble without ever making the leap. The Jets and Hurricanes each finished the 2016–17 season with 87 points, and the previous year saw Carolina finish well ahead of Winnipeg in the standings. But the Jets stuck with the plan, and it paid off. Today, their rise to the top of the league feels like it was inevitable all along, but there were plenty of times when it felt like they’d never get there, just like it does for Carolina right now.

That doesn’t mean the Hurricanes ever get there – the Jets had Connor Hellebuyck and far more stability in the organization. But even in today’s NHL, it’s still possible to make big strides fairly quickly if a

Edmonton Oilers

The issue: Oh god, they really are going to find a way to blow the Connor McDavid era, aren’t they?

But just look at: The Penguins. We won’t belabour any comparisons here, since the Oilers obviously have a long way to go to get anywhere near Pittsburgh’s level. But McDavid is a generational franchise player, and history is clear: Teams that get those players win Stanley Cups. Sometimes it happens quickly, like it did for Sidney Crosby. Sometimes it takes longer than you’d think, as it did for Mario Lemieux. But assuming McDavid becomes a centre in the Crosby/Lemieux/Wayne Gretzky category – and there’s every indication that he will – then he’s going to bring a Cup to Edmonton. It’s basically a sure thing.

You know, unless they really screw it up. But they probably won’t.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Monday, May 7, 2018

Weekend wrap: One win away

They say the fourth win is the hardest one to get. The Jets are about to find out how true that can be.

After going into Nashville on Saturday and playing their best game of the series on the way to a 6–2 win, the Jets are back home with a chance to wrap up the series tonight. They’ve got home ice. They’ve got the momentum. They’ve got three lines clicking. And with Pekka Rinne getting yanked for the second time in the series, they’ve got the goaltending edge.

Add it all up, and the Jets look like they’re going to do this. Their path to the conference final is clear, and it’s short. One more win.

But it won’t be that easy because it’s never that easy. The Predators didn’t get to the top of the NHL standings without winning a few tough road games along the way. They’ve bounced back from losses before, including twice in this series. And for whatever it’s worth, P.K. Subban doesn’t sound worried.

The stakes are hard to overstate here; this will be the biggest game in Winnipeg’s NHL history, and it’s not all that close. If the Jets can finish the job, they’d emerge with home-ice advantage for the rest of the playoffs and clear Cup favorite status. They’d be facing an expansion team in round three. And they’d have buried the ghosts of nearly four decades of always being second-best, whether it was to the Oilers or the Flames or the financial realities or whatever else was keeping them stuck in supporting-character status. This year has been a statement; tonight can be the exclamation point.

It’s all right there for the taking. But it’s still one game away. And that one game, we’re constantly told, is the toughest one of them all.

Two other teams had the chance to wrap up their series yesterday, and both got it done. The Lightning became the first team through to round three with an afternoon win over the Bruins. That made it four straight wins for Tampa after dropping game one, as it became increasingly clear that the Lightning were the better team.

The Bruins certainly had their share of bad luck, including a handful of questionable calls and a growing injury list. But they were badly outclassed at 5-on-5, especially when their top line wasn’t on the ice. After some mid-season question marks, we can move safely move the Lightning back to the top of our Cup-contenders list.

The Golden Knights booked their own trip to the conference final last night, knocking out the Sharks with a 3–0 win in San Jose. The win followed the Knights’ blueprint: spectacular goaltending, some highlight-reel offence, at least one weird moment (in this case a Horn of Doom goal), and a bunch of experts trying to figure out what just happened.

That Knights’ win also gives the Jets even more reason to end things tonight; with a potential Game 7 not coming until Thursday, they don’t want to go the distance while giving Vegas nearly a full week’s worth of rest before the next round.

But that’s looking ahead. For now, all eyes are on Winnipeg. The Predators are a good team, and they’ve already called their shot about this not being over. It’s up to the Jets to prove them wrong, and earn a fourth win that would also stand as the biggest in franchise history.

Road to the Cup

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

5. Nashville Predators: Expect some adjustments from the Preds tonight; Peter Laviolette has never been afraid to mix things up as a series goes on.

4. Washington Capitals: Up 3-2 over Pittsburgh… what could go wrong? No really, I’m asking. Because it doesn’t feel like anything is off the table tonight.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




Friday, May 4, 2018

Grab bag: When cats attack

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- The officiating has been terrible in this year's playoffs. So what do we do about it?
- Please stop complaining about the playoff format
- We all know who Lou Lamoriello's first ever draft pick was. But his second pick also went on to have an impact on the Maple Leafs.
- The week's three comedy stars get weighty
- And a YouTube breakdown of the Nashville Predators' cat going on a murder spree.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports




Thursday, May 3, 2018

Seven Canadian teams that should have made the Stanley Cup final (and how it all went wrong)

We’re down to one Canadian team left in the NHL playoffs, which means hockey fans across the country have come together behind a common cause: Telling people who think we should all unite behind the last Canadian team to knock it off.

That’s just how this time of year goes. Every Canadian fan knows that the country hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1993. And all of us want our team to be the one to break the streak. Get behind some other team, just for the sake of national pride? For most of us, that’s just not how it works.

So while the Jets are this season’s best bandwagon team, many Canadian fans still won’t get on board. And if you’re in the group that’s rooting for Winnipeg to fail, there’s good news — for the last quarter-century, the best Canadian teams have always found a way to blow it.

And that’s not even the teams that lost in the Final. We’ve had five of those since 1993, four of which came within one win of ending the drought. We all remember those teams. But plenty of other Canadian contenders haven’t even made it that far.

So today, as excitement builds in Winnipeg for a run to the Stanley Cup Final, let’s remember the other teams that once felt the same way, only to see it all fall apart.

We’ll look back on one season from each of Canada’s other teams that should have resulted in a trip to the Final, or even in the Stanley Cup finally coming home — but somehow didn’t.

The team: 2011–12 Vancouver Canucks

Their record: 51-22-9 and a league-leading 111 points; this was the Canucks’ second straight Presidents’ Trophy.

Leading scorers: Henrik Sedin (81 points), Daniel Sedin (67 points), Alex Burrows (52 points)

Starting goaltender: Roberto Luongo (2.41 GAA, 919 save percentage)… well, mostly. We’ll get to that.

Why they should have made it: By 2012, there really wasn’t much debate that the Canucks were the best team in the league. Coming off of the previous year’s heart-breaking loss in the Stanley Cup final, they opened the season with an underwhelming October before rolling over the league for the rest of the year. After two straight Presidents’ Trophies and four consecutive years of 100+ points, the Canucks went into the playoffs as the favourites to once against represent the West in the Stanley Cup final.

What went wrong: The Kings showed up. Despite only being the West’s eight-seed, the Kings were the season’s analytics darlings and felt like a tough draw in the opening round. They were more than that, sweeping the first two games in Vancouver by identical 4–2 scores. That was enough for head coach Alain Vigneault to hand the starting duties over to Cory Schneider for the remainder of the series. The backup played well, but the Kings finished off Vancouver in five games.

While the swap felt like a gutsy move at the time and Luongo bent over backwards to downplay any controversy, in hindsight this series was the beginning of the end for the Canucks as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. The next few years featured the protracted Luongo/Schneider drama, the firing of Vigneault (and John Tortorella and Willie Desjardins), and a steady lurch towards last place.

What the Jets can learn: Never assume tomorrow. Even in the aftermath of the loss to the Kings, the Canucks felt like a team well-positioned for at least a few more years of contending. Instead, they’ve won just two playoff games in the six years since, and the Sedin-era team will go into the history books as one of the best to never win a Cup.

The team: 2002–03 Ottawa Senators

Their record: 52-21-8-1 (yes, this was in the four-column standings days). That was good for 113 points and the franchise’s only Presidents’ Trophy win.

Leading scorers: Marian Hossa (80 points) and Daniel Alfredsson (78 points). The team also featured the second-half debut of 19-year-old Jason Spezza, as well as a blue line featuring both Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara. They were strong everywhere.

Starting goaltender: Patrick Lalime (2.16 GAA, .911 save percentage). OK, almost everywhere.

Why they should have made it: This was the peak of the Jacques Martin era, one that saw the Senators master the art of playing a suffocatingly effective style. They were deep and disciplined, and despite how you may remember it, they were also one of the league’s highest-scoring teams.

And on top of all that, this was the year that the Senators didn’t have to worry about running into the Maple Leafs in the playoffs. The Battle of Ontario had been one-sided over the years, and maybe that got into the Senators’ heads a little bit. But with the Leafs making an early exit, Ottawa finally had a clear path through the East that didn’t involve slaying any dragons. They knocked off the Islanders in five and the Flyers in six before meeting the Devils in the conference final, knowing that the winner would be big favourites over the upstart Mighty Ducks in the final.

What went wrong: One blown coverage that probably cost them the Stanley Cup.

That’s over-simplifying things, of course — it’s never just one play. But after falling behind 3–1 against New Jersey, the Senators stayed alive with a Game 5 win followed by some overtime heroics from Chris Phillips in Game 6 to force a deciding game back in Ottawa. That turned out to be a tense battle that seemed headed towards another sudden-death showdown. And then it all fell apart.

The Devils closed out the game, then went on to beat the Mighty Ducks in the final.

Unlike the Canucks, the Senators remained contenders for years to come, and finally got to play for a Stanley Cup in 2007. But in hindsight, there’s a good case to be made that 2003 was actually the closest they ever came to winning it all.

What the Jets can learn: On a 2-on-2, maybe don’t both take the same guy.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet






Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Podcast: What's next for the Maple Leafs?

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- I discuss the end of the Maple Leafs' season, and what comes next
- A roundup for the second round
- How bad has the officiating been?
- The Carolina front office drama continues
- Brian Burke moves on
- Draft lottery reactions
- Reader questions and lots more...

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.




Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Ranking the 2018 OGWACs

With eight teams left in the NHL playoffs, it’s still too early to start worrying about potential final matchups or Conn Smythe favourites. But it’s not too soon to start thinking ahead to one of the league’s best annual stories: the Old Guy Without a Cup.

Rallying behind the Old Guy Without a Cup (a.k.a. the OGWAC) is one of hockey’s great playoff traditions. Ray Bourque is probably the greatest OGWAC of all-time, finally capturing his first Stanley Cup at the age of 40 in what would turn out to be the last game of his career. Lanny McDonald’s 1989 championship was another classic OGWAC story, as was Teemu Selanne’s in 2007.

Last year it was Ron Hainsey, making his playoff debut as a 36-year-old. Like many OGWACs, Hainsey also received the honour of the first Cup handoff. There’s a good chance that this year’s playoffs end with a similar scene, since there are potential Old Guy stories lurking on almost every team left standing. But which one is the best?

Let’s define an “old guy” as someone who’s at least 35 or has been in the league for the entire salary-cap era. We’re also looking for players with a chance to actually be in the lineup for that Cup handoff, so we want guys who have either played in this year’s post-season or are likely to suit up soon.

That narrows our field a bit, but we’ve still got a decent group to choose from in this year’s OGWAC crop. Here are the 10 best remaining candidates, counting down to the best possible story.

No. 10: Paul Martin and Joel Ward, San Jose Sharks

We’ll call this one a tie so we can squeeze both Sharks into our top 10. Maybe that’s a little cheap, but both guys deserve a spot so here we are.

Ward didn’t become a full-time NHLer until he was 27, so even though he’s only been in the league for a decade he’s older than you probably think at 37. He’s had a few second-round exits over the years, and was part of the Sharks’ run to the final in 2016, so he’s had a taste. And his contract is up this year, meaning there’s no guarantee he gets another chance.

Meanwhile, Martin shows up on this list every year, and every year I have to double-check that he actually belongs here. Didn’t he win at least one Cup with the Devils or Penguins somewhere along the way?

Nope, although he just missed a few times — he debuted in New Jersey a season after their 2003 Cup win, then arrived a year after Pittsburgh’s 2009 title and left a year before they won again in 2016. To make matters worse, he had a front row seat to that last one, since it came against the Sharks.

Maybe he’s due. We also can’t rule out the possibility that he may be cursed.

No. 9: Scott Hartnell, Nashville Predators

Hartnell’s 36 years old and has been in the league since 2000, so he certainly fits the OGWAC profile. He’s also had a near-miss, coming within two wins of a Cup with the 2010 Flyers, and he’s another guy whose contract is expiring after this season, so this might well be his very last shot.

All that said, two things keep Hartnell from ranking higher on our list. First, the Predators are among this year’s deepest OGWAC teams, with two more strong candidates to consider. And Hartnell isn’t playing much so far in this year’s playoffs, appearing in just a single game so far, so there’s a good chance he wouldn’t even be in the lineup for a Predators’ Cup win.

No. 8: Braydon Coburn, Tampa Bay Lightning

Coburn barely sneaks onto our list by virtue of having played a few games during the 2005-06 season. But the Lightning are young enough that they don’t offer us much in the way of candidates – Dan Girardi and Ryan Callahan are both older than Coburn but didn’t enter the NHL until a year later, and our only other option is third-string goalie Peter Budaj.

So we’ll let Coburn represent Tampa. He’s a decent choice, with 120 career playoffs games on his resumé, including two unsuccessful trips to the Cup final. He’s a little young to rank much higher than this, but he’s worth rooting for.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet