Friday, August 17, 2018

Grab Bag: Crazy like a Fox

In the final Friday Grab Bag of the season:
- MLB's "players' weekend" concept could never work in the NHL... unless we made this one simple change.
- Thoughts on NBC's new schedule, and how it disrespects your favorite team
- An obscure player who may or may not be Tommy Salo
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a look back at that time that Michael J. Fox made a hockey movie for David Letterman and it got weird

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Friday, August 10, 2018

Grab bag: Wayne's World

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- RIP Stan Mikita
- Somebody made a ranked list and you're angry about it, which is fine
- Should the Hurricanes use Brass Bonanza as their goal song?
- The week's three comedy stars
- An obscure player from a line with a cool nickname
- And a look back at how The Trade impacted those who matter most: Hollywood celebrities

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Five ways the Senators' season could go

So things aren’t going great for the Ottawa Senators these days.

Last week, they re-signed one of their best players, getting Mark Stone under contract prior to arbitration. That might seem like good news, but the deal was only for one year, meaning Stone will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. If he doesn’t agree to a long-term extension by then, he could walk away for nothing. So could Matt Duchene, another pending UFA with a recent history of bailing on struggling teams; if there’s been any progress on an extension for him, it’s been kept quiet.

And then there’s the ongoing Erik Karlsson saga, which these days has no end in sight. Maybe that’s a good thing — until he’s traded, there’s always a chance he could stay. But that still seems unlikely, and given the poor reviews from the Mike Hoffman deal and the general lack of confidence in the Senators’ front office, you could forgive their fans for expecting the worst.

They might get it. But they might not, because predicting anything in today’s NHL is tricky business. So today, let’s look at five ways the Senators’ season could play out. We’ll rank them from best to worst, although as you’ll see that doesn’t necessarily mean that more wins are better.

Let’s start with the best possible outcome: The one where we’re all worrying over nothing, because the Senators are actually good.

Scenario #1: The feel-good story

What happens: We won’t get crazy and predict a scenario where the Senators roll over the league and win the Stanley Cup. Even as a best case, that seems far-fetched. So instead, let’s imagine a 2018–19 season that looks a lot like 2016–17 did. In other words, the Senators play well enough to make the playoffs with room to spare, and once they get there they’re good enough to at least have a puncher’s chance against any team they run up against.

If you strip away all the off-ice drama, this kind of season doesn’t seem impossible. If they make it to opening night with Karlsson still on the team, the roster would at least bear a passing resemblance to the 2017 squad that came within one goal of the Final. Stone and Duchene will both have plenty to play for in contract years, so if the goaltending turns around, Bobby Ryan rediscovers his game and a few of the key youngsters make big leaps, well, who knows, right?

What doesn’t happen: Like any team, the Sens won’t go anywhere without decent goaltending, which means a big rebound year from Craig Anderson or Mike Condon or maybe someone else — remember, Anderson also reportedly wants out. If they get a full season of sub-.900 goaltending like they did last year, nothing any of the other players do is going to matter.

But beyond that, it feels like any kind of success on the ice would be tied to a lack of drama off of it. That includes any kind of panic moves around Karlsson, Stone or Duchene. It also probably means that Eugene Melnyk is locked in a storage closet somewhere deep in the bowels of the arena and isn’t allowed to talk to the media or anyone else.

Our first sign it might be happening: The schedule-maker didn’t do the Senators any favours, with a tough October that features seven playoff teams, plus teams like Chicago and Dallas that should be better. But if the Senators can come out of the month with something like a 6-3-2 record, November opens with a home-and-home against the Sabres. Win those, and the “Hey, this team might be better than we thought” vibe will flicker to life.

The odds that it happens: 10%. Is this too high? It’s probably too high. By this point, even the most diehard Sens fans seem to have accepted that the coming season will be a disaster, and are just waiting to find out how bad the damage gets. The idea that the year might actually turn out to be a success seems hopelessly optimistic.

But this is the NHL. If an expansion team can shock the world, and another team can go from dead last to the playoffs, and yet another team can go from last in its conference back to the playoffs all in the same year… well, like we said, who knows? We’re living in the NHL’s age of hyper-parity, and anyone who tries to tell you that anything is a sure thing hasn’t been paying attention.

“Who knows?” isn’t exactly an optimistic slogan heading into a season, but these days Ottawa will probably take it.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

Friday, August 3, 2018

Grab bag: Iggy gets trippy

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Arbitration is weird and slightly broken so let's not worry about the weird numbers it generates
- The NHL needs a Dubious Goals Committee
- An obscure player who was Tom Wilson without the money
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a YouTube look back at Jarome Iginla enjoying a nice trip

>> Read the full post at Vice Sports

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Eight traded NHL stars who didn't want to go

With the hockey off-season staying quiet and the Toronto Blue Jays flatlining, the biggest news in Canadian pro sports continues to be the Toronto Raptors‘ recent blockbuster. By adding Kawhi Leonard, the team may have improved their chances of winning the Eastern Conference next year. But the deal came at a cost, with the popular DeMar DeRozan heading to San Antonio in the deal.

That’s a tough spot for an organization, because DeRozan didn’t want to be traded. He made that clear before the trade, and especially so in the days immediately after. Sports is a business, as we’re constantly reminded, but it’s difficult for a fan to see a popular player leave town against his will.

Every now and then, we see something similar in the NHL. Most big hockey deals are pulled off with at least some cooperation from the player, and some are outright forced by a star who wants to be elsewhere. But occasionally, a star is traded against his will. Here are eight times it happened, and how it worked out for everyone involved.

1. Wayne Gretzky, 1988

The player: Wayne Gretzky. You may have heard of him.

We may as well start with the obvious example of a player’s grief at being dealt. Gretzky’s press-conference breakdown, complete with his quip about how he’d “promised Mess I wouldn’t do this,” is burned into the memories of a generation of hockey fans.

The trade: The Oilers — or more specifically, owner Peter Pocklington — sent Gretzky to Los Angeles along with Mike Krushelnyski and Marty McSorley in exchange for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, three first-round picks and a truckload of cash.

How unhappy was he? That’s a matter of at least some debate; Pocklington would later infamously accuse Gretzky of shedding “crocodile tears” at the press conference. It’s true that by the time the deal was officially made, Gretzky wanted to go to L.A. — according to one version of the story, he was given the chance to back out of the move that morning and chose to go through with it. But all of that came after it had been made clear that Pocklington had been working on a trade for a while, and it’s hard to blame Gretzky for eventually going along with the inevitable.

How’d that work out for them? On the one hand, the trade was a disaster for the Oilers. Carson was good but lasted only one full season in Edmonton, Gelinas was just OK, and none of the three firsts turned into franchise players. Meanwhile, Gretzky won the Hart in his first year in L.A. and added three scoring titles.

On the other hand, the Oilers won the Stanley Cup in 1990, while Gretzky and the Kings never did combine for a championship. So who really won the trade? [Checks notes.] Right, the Kings won by a mile.

We’ll be back in Edmonton a little later in this piece, but for now let’s skip ahead a few decades to a different Canadian team…

2. P.K. Subban, 2016

The player: Subban had won the Norris in 2013 and been a finalist in 2015. But he was also carrying a $9-million cap hit, the highest of any defenceman in the league at the time, and had a no-trade clause that was days away from kicking in.

The trade: As part of the craziest 23 minutes in NHL off-season history, the Canadiens shocked everyone by swapping Subban straight up for Nashville’s Shea Weber.

How unhappy was he? He certainly didn’t want to be moved — that’s why he’d negotiated that NTC. And he’d put down roots in Montreal, including making a $10-million donation to a local children’s hospital. He seemed to take the move personally, and earlier this week, he empathized with DeRozan’s situation.

How’d that work out for them? Habs fans will claim that it’s too soon to tell, and maybe it is. But in the two years since the deal, the Predators have been to a Stanley Cup final and won a Presidents’ Trophy, while the Canadiens haven’t won a round and are coming off a miserable season that has some calling for them to blow it up and start all over. Meanwhile, Subban just posted yet another Norris-caliber season, while Weber missed most of last year and will be out for the first half of this coming season.

We’ll just mark that down as “Advantage: Nashville” so far. But the good news for Montreal is that Weber still has eight years left on his deal, so there’s plenty of time to turn things around.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet