Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Podcast: The final curtain

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- I try to make the case for the Tom Wilson contract
- Dave and I look at Jarome Iginla's Hall-of-Fame case
- The Canucks part ways with Trevor Linden
- Cody Ceci wants $6 million, and other arbitration absurdities
- We try to guess what Mark Stone and William Karlsson will ask for
- Reader questions
- And we close things out with the long-awaited Sedin twins interview

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Grab bag: MLB enters its dead puck era

In this week's Friday Grab Bag:
- MLB is in the middle of a crisis that may seem familiar to hockey fans, although the way they're dealing with it won't
- Should fans be bothered by cap circumvention?
- We say goodbye to Trevor Linden with an obscure player who was once traded for him
- The week's three comedy stars
- And we mark Jarome Iginla's retirement with a YouTube look back at The Shift

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Podcast: Arbitration situations

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- Does the NHL's arbitration process actually work?
- Does his one-year deal spell the end for Jacob Trouba in Winnipeg?
- Thoughts on the Matt Dumba contract
- Dave helps me figure out six confusing NHL teams
- An update on my daughter's softball team
- Reader questions and lots more...

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Six teams I can't figure out

We’re roughly a month into the off-season, and by now there a few teams we can feel pretty confident about projecting. The Lightning will be good, especially if they get Erik Karlsson. The Capitals, Predators, Jets and Leafs should also be contenders. At the other end of the standings, we’re all pretty sure that teams like the Senators, Canucks and Sabres will struggle. There are even a few teams we can comfortably predict will be just OK – we could call that the Minnesota Wild zone.

There’s nothing especially controversial in any of those calls; just about every set of pre-season predictions will say pretty much the same thing when it comes to those teams.

And, of course, we’ll almost certainly be wrong about at least a few of them. Like, super wrong. As in not even close.

Look at last year, when obvious bottom-feeders like the Devils and Avalanche and Golden Knights all made the playoffs, while legitimate Cup contenders like the Blackhawks and Oilers crashed and burned. Few of us saw any of those stories coming. None of us saw them all. Everybody was dead wrong about something, just like we’ll be wrong this year too.

And here’s the thing: That’s just the teams we feel confident about. If we already know we’re going to screw a few of those up, imagine what’s going to happen with the teams we can’t figure out.

So today, let’s look through a half-dozen teams that I’m still not sure about. I’ve gone back and forth on all six, and I’m not any closer to feeling confident about where they’ll wind up. Maybe you’re on steadier ground when it comes to these teams, and if so please let me know why. Seriously, I could use the help.

We’ll start with one of those 2017-18 surprises…

Edmonton Oilers

They’ll be good because: They have Connor McDavid, and if he isn’t already the unanimous choice for “best player on the planet” honours, he will be soon. The NHL isn’t the NBA, where one superstar can singlehandedly drag a team to the playoffs. But it’s still a league that runs on elite talent, and there isn’t any more elite than what the Oilers can toss out there for 22 minutes a night.

They’ll be bad because: McDavid was great last year, and it didn’t get the Oilers anything other than weaker lottery odds. And as you’ve probably noticed, they’ve barely done anything this off-season. They haven’t made any major trades or signed any top-tier free agents. Right now, it looks like they might be content to roll out pretty much the same lineup that they featured last year. You know, the one that missed the playoffs by 17 points.

But they’ll probably be fine because: A big part of last season’s disaster was due to a rough year from Cam Talbot. No team leans on its starter as heavily as the Oilers, and in 2016-17 it paid off. Last year, it didn’t. But Talbot has played five NHL seasons and over 250 games, and the bulk of his resume tells us that he’s a very good goaltender, maybe even a great one.

Goaltending is voodoo, but when your starter has a bad year it’s almost always going to torpedo your chances. Let’s not overthink it with Edmonton – if Talbot is better, they’ll be fine. And history tells us he’ll be better.

Unless they’re not because: Most nights, a goaltender is only as good as the defence in front of him. The Oilers blue line continues to be a weak point, and according to the rumour mill their plan for fixing it is to trade their best defenceman. That’s not how this works.

The verdict: The Pacific was the league’s weakest division last year, and could be again. With the three California teams getting older and the Knights presumably coming back to reality, it won’t take a monster season to make the playoffs. The Oilers should manage it fairly easily. I think.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, July 20, 2018

Grab Bag: That's one hot Russian Jet

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Introducing a new feature: Things I can say because it's summer and nobody is paying attention
- Should the NBA make us rethink complaints about NHL parity?
- An obscure player celebrating a birthday
- The week's three comedy stars features another drunk Capital
- And a YouTube look back at a very weird Winnipeg Jets album

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Podcast: Extending credit

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- Dave and I discuss the Marc-Andre Fleury extension
- And also the Connor Hellebuyck extension
- Honestly it's like 90% extensions, nothing else is happening
- Marian Hossa's cap hit goes to Arizona; should we be mad?
- A few words about Ray Emery
- And we spend way too much time trying to cast Ocean's 11 with NHL players

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Six teams that were forced into trading a star, but still won the deal

We’re still waiting on an Erik Karlsson deal. We’re still told that the Lightning and Stars are the frontrunners, but the rumour mill has largely gone cold and a deal no longer seems imminent. Some reports now suggest that Pierre Dorion could even end up holding on to Karlsson until training camp, if not beyond.

As far as the Senators and their fans go, no news may feel like good news. After all, conventional wisdom says that this is a trade they just can’t win.

For one, there’s the old adage about the team that gets the best player winning the deal, and that will be Karlsson. But more importantly, it’s always been clear that the Senators are dealing from a position of weakness. They don’t want to trade their captain, but they might have no choice. And as the old saying goes, when the league knows you’re drowning, other teams start throwing anchors instead of lifejackets.

We’ve seen it plenty of times in NHL history, and the team that’s forced into dealing a star typically gets taken to the cleaners. Think of Montreal trading Patrick Roy to Colorado, or the Oilers sending Mark Messier to New York, or the Flames all but giving Doug Gilmour to Toronto. Those ended up being some of the most lopsided deals in NHL history, but the teams making them didn’t have much choice. That’s the sort of situation the Senators may be headed towards, and it always ends in misery.

Well, almost always. Because while it’s rare, there have been some cases in NHL history where a team was forced into trading away a superstar and actually ended up doing well on the deal. So today, let’s offer up some optimism for Ottawa fans by looking back at six times that a team was backed into a corner and still found a way to come out even, or even ahead – and what the Senators could learn from them.

Eric Lindros to Philadelphia, 1992

The setup: We’ll start with the most obvious example, and a blockbuster that reminds us that sometimes the best player in a trade doesn’t end up being who you might think.

When the Nordiques drafted Lindros in 1991, they thought they’d landed their franchise player. Lindros was the most hyped prospect to enter the league since Mario Lemieux, and was viewed as a sure-thing superstar. But he didn’t want to play in Quebec and went back to junior rather than sign a contract with the Nordiques. The team tried to play hardball, but after a full year had passed it became evident they’d have to make a trade.

The trade: This gets a little complicated, since the Nordiques actually ended up trading Lindros twice. They agreed to separate deals with both the Rangers and the Flyers, and it took a hearing in front of an NHL arbitrator to figure out which deal would stand. After five days and 11 witnesses, the ruling came down: Lindros was headed to Philadelphia, in exchange for Ron Hextall, Steve Duchesne, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci, the rights to Peter Forsberg, two first-round picks and cash.

The result: While he wasn’t the next Lemieux, Lindros came reasonably close to living up to the hype. He won a Hart Trophy in his third season, and eventually made the Hall of Fame despite an injury-riddled career. But the Nordiques may have got the best player in the deal in Forsberg, and the rest of the haul helped them make a quick transition from laughingstock to Cup contender.

(For what it’s worth, the Flyers would end up being backed into an unwanted trade of their own in 2001, when Lindros sat out an entire season to force his way out of town. That deal ended up being a bust.)

The lesson: With all due respect to Karlsson, it’s hard to imagine a player ever having as much trade value as the 19-year-old Lindros did, so the Sens won’t be getting anywhere close to that sort of windfall. But they do seem to be following one key page from the Nordiques’ playbook by working to create a bidding war between two teams. If Dorion can maneuver the Stars and Lightning into an auction, he may be able to extract enough value to make the move work out. Just, uh, don’t pull the trigger on both deals at the same time.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, July 13, 2018

Grab Bag: Sign-and-trade on the dotted line

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Seriously, stop talking about sign-and-trades
- An offseason idea we can steal from Marc Bergevin and the Habs
- An obscure player who Canucks fans don't hate, unlike some people we could mention
- The week's three comedy stars get NSFW and involve Alexander Ovechkin's mom
- And a YouTube look back at a Bobby Ryan trade that worked out great.

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

What happens when one team has two elite defensemen?

The Erik Karlsson watch continues. After rumours swirled all weekend that a deal to send Karlsson to Tampa was imminent, we’ve made it into the week without a trade. The Lightning still seem like the frontrunner, but for now, nothing is official.

That’s good news for everyone who isn’t a Lightning fan, because it means there’s still a chance that the two-time Norris winner won’t end up playing on the same team as this year’s recipient – Victor Hedman — and maybe even on the same pairing. That’s vaguely terrifying for the rest of the league, since we’re told that defence wins championships and the Lightning would have two of the very best in the league.

That kind of star power sharing the same blue line is rare, but not unheard of. So today, let’s run through some of the times over the past 30 years or so that one team could run out a pair of Hall of Fame defencemen. Note that we’re talking about a pair here, not necessarily a pairing – in most cases, these players weren’t used on the same unit, and we don’t know whether Karlsson and Hedman would be. But even if they’re deployed separately, having two Norris-caliber defencemen gives a coach all sorts of opportunity to dominate matchups.

It also virtually guarantees a Stanley Cup… most of the time. As we’ll see, there are no sure things in the NHL, although having an all-star blue line comes awfully close.

Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, Anaheim Ducks

There’s a good chance that when you saw the subject for this post, this is the first pair that came to mind. They land right in that sweet spot where they’re recent enough that everyone remembers them, but long enough ago that we can start to build a mythology around them.

In the case of the Ducks, the mythology goes something like this: Anaheim was a good team coming out of the lockout, and they became a very good one when they signed Niedermayer as a free agent in 2005. But it was the acquisition of Pronger in 2006, thanks to some aggressive maneuvering by GM Brian Burke, that gave Anaheim one of the greatest pair of blueliners in modern NHL history, and they rolled to the Stanley Cup the very next year.

Most of that mythology is pretty much true, although it leaves out a few details, like Pronger forcing his way out of Edmonton and Niedermayer choosing the Ducks at least partly because he could play with his brother.

Those minor details aside, it’s hard to deny how overpowering the pair were. Randy Carlyle often used them on the same unit; other times he’d split them up and basically play the entire game with a Norris winner on the ice. During Anaheim’s Cup run, both players averaged roughly 30 minutes a game, miles ahead of any other Ducks.

When you think of a potential Karlsson/Hedman combo, this is the scenario you’re dreaming of if you’re a Lightning fan and dreading if you’re anyone else. But the story ending with a Cup parade isn’t quite inevitable, as Pronger himself can remind us…

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Podcast: Nik of time

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- Dave and I react to breaking news about Nikita Kucherov
- The Erik Karlsson watch continues
- Shea Weber was hurt and the Habs didn't tell anyone
- Artemi Panarin sounds like he wants out of Columbus
- Reader questions and lots more...

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Grab Bag: Islander anger

In this week's Friday Grab Bag:
- Are Islander fans being unreasonable about John Tavares?
- Stop blaming your bad free agent signings on "the market"
- An obscure player who was the 1 in 1-9-1
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a YouTube look back at a certain 14-year-old phenom...

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Podcast: The Tavares Betrayal

In this week's episode of Biscuits, the Vice Sports hockey podcast:
- John Tavares comes home
- What these means for the Leafs, the Islanders, and fans of other teams
- How should Islander fans react to all of this?
- Our thoughts on the rest of free agency
- Where will Erik Karlsson be traded?
- Will the deal go down before we can post this podcast?
- The Ryan O'Reilly trade, John Tortorella is made, and lots more...

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The five stages of finding out your team just singed John Tavares

You've probably heard of the five stages of grief. More formally known as the Kubler-Ross model, the concept was first introduced almost 50 years ago, and posits that people will respond to difficult life events by moving through feelings of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. The five stages have basically become the standard way to think about how people will react when something terrible happens.

Maple Leaf fans are very familiar with the five stages of grief.

You kind of have to be. Being a Leafs fan over the last few decades has basically meant cycling through the five stages almost constantly. From Harold Ballard to Kerry Fraser to Draft Schmaft to JFJ to Burke/Nonis to "It was 4-1," Leaf fans were always miserable about something. They could basically use the five stages as a greeting when meeting other Leaf fans. "How are you?" "I'm bargaining right now, thanks for asking. Go Leafs go."

But while it came as a surprise to Leafs Nation, recent evidence suggests that not everything that happens has to make you sad. There's this weird new realm that Leaf fans are just getting used to, where life sometimes makes you happy. First came the Mike Babcock sweepstakes, and then the Auston Matthews lottery. It's been weird.

And now this. John Tavares is coming home to play for the Maple Leafs. He even took a bit of a discount to do it. And now the Leafs look like they're going to be really good.

We're not quite sure how to process this.

I want to help. So today, let's walk through the Five Stages of Realizing the Leafs Signed John Tavares. Everything will make more sense if we can all get on the same page.

(One important note: This is the Five Stages of Realizing the Leafs Signed John Tavares if you're a Leafs fan. If you're a fan of some other team, your five stages probably went something like: making a 1967 joke, making a "plan the parade" joke, desperately trying to argue that Tavares somehow isn't worth it, making a slightly different variation of the same 1967 joke, and then realizing the Leaf fan you're trying to annoy isn't even pretending to care what you're saying. Sorry about that. If it's any consolation, I'm sure your parade joke was devastating.)

Stage 1: Denial

Weirdly, the Five Stages of Tavares starts off just like the five stages of grief: With a whole lot of standing around, shaking your head, and muttering "no freaking way."

Among the rest of the hockey world, Maple Leaf fans have a reputation for always thinking that every Canadian-born superstar will inevitably want to play in Toronto. Obviously, that's not true. It's only almost every Canadian-born star. And we only think that because they keep telling us about it.

But the reality is that deep down. most Leaf fans didn't think Tavares was actually going to happen. We'd been burned once by Steven Stamkos, back in 2016, so we knew not to get our hopes up. Sure, maybe if Tavares actually left the Islanders, Toronto might be his first choice. But he wouldn't leave the Islanders, because no NHL star ever leaves his team, at least not as a free agent. At best, they pretend to be thinking about it, and then they sign an eight-year extension. That's what happened with Stamkos, and he actually did seem like a guy who wanted to be in Toronto. He even liked a tweet! But in the end, he stayed put without even having to think about it too hard. Tavares would do the same. Hell, the Leafs had even gift-wrapped the Islanders with a new GM to close the sale. Tavares probably wouldn't even make it to the negotiation window.

Then he did make it. And then the Leafs were one of the five teams he invited to make their case. And then he made it past June 29—i.e. the Stamkos Line—without announcing anything. And then the Saturday deadline for an eight-year extension in New York came and went. And suddenly it was July 1, and the league's official free agent list came out with Tavares on it, and you started to hear rumblings that Islander players were being told that their captain was headed to Toronto.

And every Leaf fan who saw that tweet went right back to where we started: "No freaking way."

But there was a way. And Kyle Dubas and the Leafs had found it.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Winners and losers from day one of free agency

Another July 1 has come and gone in the NHL, meaning we’re now a day into the free-agency market. And for once, we had some Canada Day fireworks to enjoy. An actual, honest-to-goodness NHL star in his prime actually made it to the market. Not only that, he changed teams. You probably heard about it.

John Tavares wasn’t the only name on the move. But he’s the one we have to start with, because this is a winners and losers column. And for one of the only times in the last half-decade or so, the big winners in the NHL were the Toronto Maple Leafs. That’s confusing, and a little scary, but here we are. So while we’re all trying to sort through this strange new world we’re living in, let’s start our July 1 rundown in the only place we can.

Winner: The Maple Leafs

They actually pulled it off. They lured a local hero back home, and even got a bit of discount in the process. For all the fun you can have with Leafs fans and their constant belief that every superstar secretly wants to come to Toronto, this time it really happened. As Tavares himself put it, the Leafs won this sweepstakes because they could offer a chance to live a childhood dream.

So now what? This is where the contrarian reflex is supposed to kick in. But at least in the short term, it’s honestly hard to find any kind of downside here for the Leafs. They’ll pay Tavares the league max this year, almost all of it in bonuses, but they have more than enough cash flow and cap room to afford it. Things will get trickier in 2019-20, once the Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner extensions kick in, but even that crunch could be manageable. (And seeing Tavares leave a little money on the table could encourage the younger players to do the same.)

For now, the Leafs are as strong down the middle as pretty much anyone, and the idea of either Tavares or Matthews getting easy matchups is scary. The blue line still needs work Frederik Andersen isn’t a sure thing, and the Leafs still have to get through Tampa and Boston to get out of the Atlantic, so there’s work left to do. But even for a lifelong Maple Leafs cynic, there’s really no way to spin this: It’s a huge win for Toronto.

Loser: Islander fans

Honestly, we don’t even have a joke here. This is a brutal, brutal moment for Islanders fans.

For some teams, watching your franchise player walk away for nothing would be a wakeup call. Not for Islanders fans. They’re already wide awake. They’ve had plenty of time to worry that the team was adrift; that Charles Wang and Garth Snow and the arena mess and one playoff series win in 25 years had dug a hole so deep that even new ownership and Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz couldn’t dig out of it. They’ve had years to think the worst. They’re used to it.

But it’s one thing to think the worst. It’s another to have a once-in-a-generation player look you dead in the eye and tell you that you’re right. Tavares can soften this with talk of childhood dreams and coming home, and there’s no doubt something to that. But the brutal truth remains: In a league where star players always choose to stay put, the Islanders were the one team who couldn’t convince theirs to stay.

That stings. And it has some Islanders supporters lashing out, with the predictable stream of YouTube clips of outraged fans and burning jerseys. But once the initial bitterness clears, the question will be where this team goes next. It’s upgraded the front office and behind the bench, even if it turned out not to be enough for Tavares. A goalie is needed, and now a top-line forward. There’s plenty of cap space, which is good news if it’s used wisely and bad news if there’s a knee-jerk panic move. So far, the early indications aren’t good.

That’s… I mean… yikes.

Whichever way the Islanders go next, there are going to be a lot of tough questions for a team that chose not to trade Tavares for a windfall at the deadline. Eventually, there will be answers, and in the long term some of them may even be positive ones. Just not right now. Right now, it’s nothing but brutal.

Another July 1 has come and gone in the NHL, meaning we’re now a day into the free-agency market. And for once, we had some Canada Day fireworks to enjoy. An actual, honest-to-goodness NHL star in his prime actually made it to the market. Not only that, he changed teams. You probably heard about it.

John Tavares wasn’t the only name on the move. But he’s the one we have to start with, because this is a winners and losers column. And for one of the only times in the last half-decade or so, the big winners in the NHL were the Toronto Maple Leafs. That’s confusing, and a little scary, but here we are. So while we’re all trying to sort through this strange new world we’re living in, let’s start our July 1 rundown in the only place we can.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet