Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Chiarelli Cup: Which GM can make the best starting roster from players they’ve traded away?

Last​ week we tried​ to​ figure​ out​ the​ identity​ of NHL​ history’s most entertaining​ trader by assembling​ starting​ lineups based on​​ players a single GM had traded for. Once we rigged the rules to keep Sam Pollock from rolling over the competition, it turned out to be a tight race.

But plenty of you had the same request: Now do it for players a GM had traded away. Or, as we took to calling it in the comment section, The Chiarelli Cup. OK, the customer is always right. You get your wish. Let’s do this.

A few notes before we get to the teams. First, we’re working with slightly different rules than last week. We’ll keep the Sam Pollock rule – the player himself has to be in the trade, not the draft pick used to select him. But last time, we were only giving GMs credit for what a player did on their team. Today, we’re giving credit for everything a player did in their career after the trade. So in theory, today’s rosters should be slightly better than last week’s.

It’s also worth pointing out that the easiest way to make the cut on a list like this is to have lots of trades to work from. Somebody who was only a GM for a few seasons just isn’t going to have the body of work to compete with somebody who was around for three decades (well, with one exception that we’ll get to). So this doesn’t actually end up being a list of history’s worst GMs like you might think. Guys who are widely considered to have been poor traders, like John Ferguson Jr., Réjean Houle or Mel Bridgman don’t show up here. They didn’t keep the job long enough and didn’t have enough talent to work with when they did.

And here’s one final note: There shouldn’t actually be any suspense here, since the answer is actually kind of obvious. Or at least, it should be. But maybe it isn’t, because of all the names I saw thrown around last week, almost nobody mentioned the actual frontrunner. So let’s see if you can figure it out before we get to the end of the list.

But we’ll begin at the beginning, with the man this exercise was named after.

Team Peter Chiarelli

Goalie: Tim Thomas

Defensemen: Johnny Boychuk, Justin Schultz

Forwards: Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, Phil Kessel

It’s a solid group. That forward line is a killer and we could follow it up with a second unit that includes Jordan Eberle and Blake Wheeler. There’s depth all up and down the roster, to be honest, and the Pollock rule means we’re not even giving credit for the Mathew Barzal pick here. But the starting blueliners are just OK and the goaltending isn’t great – Thomas should barely even count, since he was traded to the Islanders, never played and then left as a free agent before playing one more decent NHL season.

So Chiarelli’s not bad. But we can definitely do better. Let’s try the other name that probably popped into your head as soon as you heard the concept.

Team Mike Milbury

Goalie: Roberto Luongo

Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Darius Kasparaitis

Forwards: Ziggy Palffy, Olli Jokinen, Todd Bertuzzi

Even without quite as much star power up front, this team beats Chiarelli’s pretty easily. It’s more balanced, with first-ballot Hall of Famers in goal and on the blueline. And it’s deep too, with names like Chris Osgood, Mathieu Schneider, Bryan McCabe, Bryan Berard, Michael Peca and Wendel Clark available.

Maybe even more impressively, it’s not like Milbury builds this roster by swinging high-profile but well-balanced blockbusters like some of his colleagues – he lost pretty much every trade that leads to that starting six. And you could make a strong case that we should waive the Pollock rule for Jason Spezza, since Milbury traded the second-overall pick on draft day and it was well-known at the time who the Senators would be using it on. We won’t do that here – rules are rules – but we all know what’s up.

So with apologies to its namesake, it’s Milbury who stakes out the early leader status for the Chiarelli Cup. But the competition is about to heat up.

Team David Poile

Goalie: Devan Dubnyk

Defensemen: Larry Murphy, Seth Jones

Forwards: Mike Gartner, Dino Ciccarelli, Jason Allison

Yikes. This loaded lineup is basically the anti-Milbury team; Poile did well on several of these trades, but has always been willing to give up something to get something. Still, that’s three Hall of Famers from his Washington days, plus two current all-stars – not to mention Shea Weber, who you could swap in on the blueline if you wanted. The third forward is really the only iffy spot, as Allison edges out a three-way Matt Duchene deal that only kind of counts.

The Dubnyk deal is a little bit of a sneaky addition, since he was barely considered an NHLer at that point and was basically given away to Montreal for nothing in return. Still, it counts, and based on his career resurgence in Minnesota it gives Team Poile a potential goaltending controversy with guys like Byron Dafoe and Tomas Vokoun. And as a side note, the Pollock Rule comes into play yet again, and it keeps a couple of big-name draft picks out of the Team Poile lineup: Joe Sakic and Erik Karlsson.

And just like that, I think we’ve got Milbury beat. With the two early favorites already out of the running, let’s see if we can find someone to challenge Poile.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Finding optimism for the Senators in five of history’s most depressing trade deadlines

I​ think there’s a good​ case​ to​ be​ made​ that​ Ottawa Senators fans​ just endured one​ of the most​ depressing​ trade deadlines in​​ NHL history.

Ottawa ended up trading away three veterans, including the team’s most popular player in Mark Stone, plus their next two leading goal scorers in Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel. Just in terms of talent going out the door, the Senators’ 2019 deadline exodus is hard to match.

But that’s not what makes the weekend so depressing. Instead, it’s the context here that makes it all sting so much. The Senators wanted to re-sign Duchene and Stone, but apparently couldn’t get them to buy into the team’s long-term vision for a return to contention. Coming on the heels of the Erik Karlsson trade, it’s hard for fans to shake the feeling that their best players just don’t want to be there anymore. And so three more were traded away, leaving behind some good picks and prospects but also a husk of a roster that seems destined to finish dead last. And of course, the Sens can’t even look forward to the draft lottery, because they traded away their first-round pick for one of those players who just said goodbye.

So yeah … not fun. But we’re all about optimism around here, so let’s see if we can find some for Ottawa fans. I went back and looked at five other trade deadlines in modern NHL history that left fans feeling miserable, to see if we could find some small rays of positivity for the Senators.

This might feel like rock bottom in Ottawa. But it felt at least a little like that in these towns too, and maybe we can draw some lessons from that. Cheer up, Sens fans. There are brighter days ahead.

2013 Calgary Flames

The setup: The Flames were about to miss the playoffs for the fourth straight year and the team hadn’t won a round since their 2004 run to the final. For years, there had been rumors that the team would have no choice but to trade franchise icon Jarome Iginla. Year after year, the deadline would pass without a move, and with hope that Iginla could somehow lead the team on one more run at an elusive Cup. But with the Flames struggling and his contract expiring, the 2013 deadline really did feel like the time had come.

What happened: After nearly 17 years, Flames fans finally heard the news they’d been dreading: Iginla had been traded. And then, a few minutes later, they heard it again.

In one of the weirder deadline week moments in recent history, Iginla was reported to have been dealt to the Bruins, only to turn out to actually be headed to Pittsburgh. The deal ended up being Iginla for Kenny Agostino, Ben Hanowski and a first.

Why it hurt: Flames fans got to enjoy the gut punch of the first deal, followed by a momentary reprieve, and then a second uppercut. When the dust settled, the trade felt like the end of an era. And it really was – Iginla finished as the Flames’ career leader in just about every major scoring stat, but never did win that Stanley Cup.

To make matters worse, this is one of those deals that really didn’t work out for anyone in hindsight. Iginla and the Penguins ended up being swept by the Bruins in the playoffs. He’d bounce around three more teams in four years, missing the playoffs in each of his last three seasons. And the Flames didn’t really get anything out of the deal; Agostino and Hanowski didn’t contribute much and they used the first-round pick on Morgan Klimchuk.

In hindsight, both Iginla and the Flames waited too long to move on. You almost wonder if it wouldn’t have been better for everyone if he’d stuck around and just ended his career in Calgary.

But the good news is: The Flames struggled through one more miserable season, but were back in the playoffs by 2015, and even won a round. They haven’t won a playoff game since, but that should change this year. It’s been a long six years, but the Flames are contenders again. It can be done!

Sens fans optimism index: That’s … well, that’s not bad, I guess. But Senators fans are probably hoping to have more to look forward to than one playoff round win in the next five years or so. Let’s see if we can find a team that went on to win a Cup.

2000 Boston Bruins

The setup: Much like the Flames and Iginla, the Bruins were a bad team with an aging superstar running out of time to win a Cup. In this case, it was Ray Bourque, who was heading down the stretch on his 21st season in Boston. The Bruins had been reasonably good over the years, even winning a round in 1999. But the 1999-00 season had gone off the rails, and it was clear that a rebuild was on the way.

With Bourque nearing the end of his career, it was time for Bruins fans to consider the unthinkable: Watching him chase a Cup while wearing another team’s logo.

What happened: The rumor mill had Bourque staying east, with the Flyers emerging as the favorites. But in a mild surprise, the Bruins sent him to the Avalanche instead. Despite how you might remember it, Bourque didn’t go right out and win a Cup in Colorado that year. But he decided to come back for one final season, and this time he and the Avalanche went all the way, leading to the greatest Cup handoff in history.

Why it hurt: The Bruins didn’t get much out of the deal, although that wasn’t even really the point. Instead, it was about finding the right place for Bourque to chase his title. In that sense, the deal was a success, albeit a delayed one. But it was also an acknowledgement that an era was ending without a title in Boston. And while Bruins fans cheered Bourque on in Colorado, seeing him finally lift a Cup in another uniform was a bittersweet moment.

But the good news is: The Bruins did eventually recover and win that Stanley Cup, although it took 11 years to do it.

Sens fans optimism index: Guys, we’re trying to make Senators fans feel better here. Surely we can come up with a slightly better rebound story than one that takes over a decade. Come on, these folks are hurting here – let’s find them a team they can really look up to?

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Monday, February 25, 2019

Weekend rankings: Trade deadline day edition

Welcome​ to the deadline​ day​ power​ rankings.​ Please​ read​ them quickly,​ since there’s a good​ chance that at​ least​ a few of them​​ will be completely out of date within a few hours.

But first, let’s do a quick round up of what’s happened so far. The star of the deadline show has been the Columbus Blue Jackets, who pulled off a pair of deals with the Senators for Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel while standing their ground on Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. That means that as of this morning, at least, the Blue Jackets’ roster features four of the top pending UFAs in the league. And they may not keep any of them past this season. As things stand right now, Jarmo Kekalainen hasn’t just pushed all his chips into the middle of the table, he’s also tossed in his watch, wedding ring and his childhood teddy bear.

On one hand, that seems insane. If a team like the Lightning want to go all-in, sure, you could see that. Maybe somebody like the Sharks or Flames too. Those teams are legitimate Cup contenders. And maybe you could even talk yourself into it for someone like the Bruins or Penguins, where cap pressure and aging curves mean there’s a window of opportunity closing. The Blue Jackets’ window isn’t closing, because it was never open to begin with. This is a franchise that’s never won a playoff round and has spent the last few weeks barely hanging onto a wildcard spot in the East. This is the team that’s going to double down?

But on the other hand … well, yeah, maybe this is the team. Look at the Metro right now. The Penguins look worn down. The Capitals have too, at least for long stretches. The Islanders are a great story, but they’re not a team you just take a knee and concede the division to. The Hurricanes might be as good as anyone, but they’re also the Hurricanes. If you’re the Blue Jackets, and you still haven’t won that first playoff round after all these years, and you’re staring down this sort of field, why not take your shot? How many times can you kick the can down the road? Maybe more importantly, how many times can you ask your fans to let you kick the can down the road? If not now, when?

Maybe it doesn’t work and you lose in the first round or even miss the playoffs altogether. (As Ian Mendes pointed out, a last-weekend playoff miss could even come at the hands of the Senators, which would be just about the nightmare scenario for Columbus.) This is exactly the sort of gamble that can cost a GM his job. But that’s why it’s hard not to admire it. In today’s NHL, most GMs would rather play it safe than stick their neck out. Instead, Kekalainen is going old school. He’s pretty much burning the boats.

And he might not be done. We could still see a Panarin trade today, although that’s seeming less likely. At the very least, he won’t be traded for futures. Could we see an old school hockey trade instead? In theory, adding Duchene and Dzingel could give the Blue Jackets the flexibility to at least consider it, although time may have run out.

Outside of Columbus, we’ve still got lots of stories to sort through today. Mark Stone is the biggest name left on the block, and barring a last-minute change of heart, he’ll be traded within the next few hours; Pierre LeBrun has the favorites as “Winnipeg, Boston, Calgary and Nashville in there and perhaps to some lesser degree the Islanders and Vegas.” That’s also a pretty good list of the buyers we’re still waiting on for power moves and there may not be enough big names left for everyone to come away with an impact player.

Another name to keep an eye on: Wayne Simmonds, as the Flyers take the better-late-than-never approach to deadline selling.

We’re also watching the Rangers, who have more selling to do, and the Red Wings, who should. The Hurricanes still seem like a team with something up their sleeve. And what do the Stars do after landing Mats Zuccarello, only to see him break his arm in his very first game?

We’ll know by 3 p.m. ET. Until then, let’s get to the final pre-deadline edition of the rankings.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they’re headed towards a summer of keg stands and fountain pool parties.

There was an outdoor game on Saturday, a fact you had no doubt been looking forward to for weeks or only realized when you looked up from trade rumors and wondered why Gritty was running around naked. The novelty has certainly worn off these games, but this one ended up being a pretty good one despite some less-than-great conditions. The Flyers’ late comeback and overtime win probably won’t end up mattering all that much for them, but it could be the point that keeps the Penguins out of the playoffs.

In other news, we were this close to the pre-game shootout scenario. Maybe next time.

5. New York Islanders (36-18-7, +34 true goals differential*) – At least a few of the warning lights are starting to blink just a little brighter. The Caps are back within two points, and the Islanders haven’t looked great over the last few weeks, even as they’ve continued to earn wins. One of their Metro rivals has just improved, at least for now, and if others follow suit then Dennis Seidenberg isn’t likely to make up the difference. It’s possible that they have a quiet deadline and don’t belong in this spot by Monday afternoon. But it’s not Monday afternoon, and we don’t bump teams based on worst-case scenarios, so they’re still here for now.

4. Boston Bruins (36-17-9, +27) – They haven’t lost in regulation in over a month and have opened up a little bit of ground on the Maple Leafs for home ice in the Atlantic. The presence of the Lightning makes it hard for them to move much higher, but for now, their hot streak is enough to get them into the top five for the first time all season. Now, is it enough to convince Don Sweeney to pull the trigger on something big?

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Friday, February 22, 2019

Grab Bag: An important word about pajamas

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- I wrote a bunch of jokes about players on the trade block, and miraculously none of them got traded overnight to ruin it
- An important word to Islander fans about calling John Tavares Pajama Boy
- An obscure player who Don Cherry is mad at or something?
- The week's three comedy stars, featuring a lot more poop than usual
- And a YouTube look back at a distant past in which the Senators were cheap, losing players and facing arena delays. Sure glad those days are over!

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Puck Soup: Production at both ends

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- So Artemi Panarin apparently pooped his pants
- Lots of trade deadline talk
- I come up with my annual deadline odds, and Greg and Ryan place their bets
- An interview with Scott Hartnell
- Oh good, more Carolina Hurricanes celebration talk
- The Blues and Blackhawks are making the playoffs
- Ryan and I take the "Oscars vs. Cups" quiz
- And lots more...

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>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

What’s the best starting lineup you could make from a single GM’s trade history?

With​ less than a week​ to​ go​ until​ the​ 2019​ trade deadline,​ all eyes are​ on NHL general​ managers.​ Within minutes of​​ Monday’s 3:00 p.m. ET deadline, everyone will be coming up with their lists of winners and losers. Some GMs will be found wanting, while others will be declared the champions of the day.

But we like to think a little bigger around here. So instead of wondering about who’ll be the best NHL GM of the 2019 deadline, let’s aim higher by trying to determine the best big-game hunter in history. Which GM holds the all-time crown when it comes to going and swinging big deals?

A few months ago, I tried to tackle a similar sort of question from a slightly different angle by following a chain of lopsided trades. I thought it was pretty much perfect methodology, but a few readers didn’t seem to agree with where it ended up. OK, fair enough. So let’s try something else.

Today, we’re going to see which NHL GM from the modern era lets us put together the best six-man starting lineup made up entirely of players that they traded for. We’re looking for a goalie, two defensemen and three forwards, all of them acquired by the same GM in various trades.

We can mix and match between teams for those GMs who’ve held multiple jobs. But we’re looking for trades and trades only – drafting, free agency and other kind of transactions won’t help you here. We’re not really looking for the “best” GM here, and we don’t even really care if they won or lost the deal. One way or another, we’re looking to crown the guy who landed the biggest names.

A couple of key ground rules:

– The GM only gets credit for what the player did with the team that acquired them. Trading for a Hall of Famer at the very end of his career doesn’t get your credit for his entire body of work. But you do get credit for whatever they did with the team, even if you weren’t around to see all of it.

– We’re only counting players who were acquired directly, not picks that were eventually used on star players.

That last rule is important for a couple of reasons. First, it prevents GMs from getting credit for players they lucked into thanks to their scouting department nailing some fourth-round pick. But more importantly, we need this rule to make this any sort of a contest instead of a coronation of Sam Pollock. If we’re counting picks, Pollock gets to start his team with names like Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Steve Shutt and Bob Gainey, and the whole thing is over before it starts. Sam’s too good, so we need a rule to hold him back.

But it’s a tribute to Pollock that while we’re intentionally stacking the deck against him, he still comes through with a solid roster. Let’s make him our starting point.

(GM trading records are via

Team Sam Pollock

Goalie: Ken Dryden

Defensemen: Don Awrey, Jimmy Roberts

Forwards: Frank Mahovlich, Pete Mahovlich, Dick Duff

Team Pollock can’t use Lafleur, Robinson or the other draft pick heists, but still comes out looking pretty good. They start with a Hall of Famer in Dryden, whose rights Pollock stole from the Bruins in one of his very first trades back in 1964. They also get the Mahovlich brothers, plus six years of Duff’s Hall of Fame career. The defense is weak and that’s even after we’re cheating a bit with Roberts, who played more on the wing than the blueline in Montreal, but we kind of have to – even though he made a ton of trades, most of Pollock’s deals were for picks or cash, not established players.

So all in all, Team Pollock is pretty good. But will it hold up as the best? Let’s usher in a new challenger.

Team Harry Sinden

Goalie: Gilles Gilbert

Defensemen: Brad Park, Mike O’Connell

Forwards: Cam Neely, Rick Middleton, Adam Oates

Sinden’s team is just OK in goal – as you’ll see, that ends up being a bit of a theme for a few of his colleagues too. But the rest of his roster is pretty darn good. And he’s got some depth to draw on, as we’ve left off names like Jean Ratelle. The only real weak point is that second defenseman slot, which would look a lot better if our draft pick rule wasn’t keeping Ray Bourque off the team. But having future Sinden protégé Mike O’Connell on the squad makes a certain kind of sense, so let’s go with that.

Sinden’s Bruins didn’t beat Pollock’s Habs all that much when it mattered back in the 1970s, but I think he has the edge here. But he’ll need to get past some other strong contenders.

Team Bill Torrey

Goalie: Chico Resch

Defensemen: Jean Potvin, Uwe Krupp

Forwards: Butch Goring, Pierre Turgeon, Bob Bourne

As with Sinden, goalie isn’t a strong suit, although it’s not bad; Resch basically wins by default, since Billy Smith was an expansion pick and not a trade. Torrey also suffers a bit on the blueline, partly because he was pretty good at drafting them and didn’t need to trade for them as often as other guys. Jean Potvin might not be the best Potvin brother the Islanders ever had, but he put in a solid 400 games for them, and Krupp was decent too. Torrey’s best position is up front, where he could also lay claim to guys like Ray Ferraro and Stumpy Thomas.

Sinden, Torrey and Pollock represent the classic franchise-defining GMs of the 1970s. There’s one more we need to get to, although this one is sometimes better remembered for the work he did in another market.

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Monday, February 18, 2019

Weekend power rankings: A dozen deadline week predictions

One​ week to go.

We’re​ just​ seven​ days​ away​ from​ the trade​ deadline, and historically,​ this is when​ things​ really start to​​ get busy. Fans love to talk about deadline day, and that’s still the main attraction. This time next week, we’ll all be fake-coughing our way through calling in sick to work and settling in to watch the various deadline day shows struggle to fill airtime until the flood gates open. It’s always a fun day.

But in recent years, the process has evolved to the point where we should really be referring to deadline week. We typically see almost as many trades during the week-long lead up to the deadline as we do on the day itself. And that means the wait is pretty much over. It’s go time.

Let’s crunch some numbers. In 2016, there were 21 trades on deadline day and 16 more in the week leading up to it. The 2017 deadline was nearly identical, with 23 deals on deadline day and another 16 the week before. Last year, the numbers dropped slightly, with 18 deals on deadline day and 12 in the week leading up to it. (All totals are from the various trade tracker pages.)

So in terms of the number of deals made, last year was quieter than a typical recent deadline, both on deadline day and in the week before. That could be a blip or the start of a trend. And if it’s the latter, we might expect that this week is relatively quiet too.

But something else stands out. In 2016, almost all of the action came in that final week; there were just four trades made around the league in the rest of February. In 2017, there were five. But last year, there were nine. Again, maybe that’s a blip. But it suggests GMs weren’t actually that much quieter last year after all — they were simply getting their deals done earlier.

So what about this year? It looks a lot like last year. We’ve already had eleven February trades. And that’s not counting the unusually busy January, which we talked about at the time. Back then, we wondered if the flurry of moves might predict a busy February. And in a sense, it already has, with more trades than usual over the last 17 days. But does that many deals already being done mean we’re now in for a quiet final week?

There are a few reasons to think we might be. The most obvious is the standings – the Western turtle derby has resulted in a scenario where virtually the entire conference is still in the race, or at least close enough to it that a delusional GM could try to talk himself into it. Thankfully, it doesn’t sound like teams like the Kings and Ducks will make that mistake. But if the rest of the conference still thinks they have a shot, there may not be enough sellers to support a busy market.

This year’s deadline also feels somewhat unique, in the sense that there are at least three or four players on the block who would be considered major stars who are still in their prime. Artemi Panarin, Mark Stone, Sergei Bobrovsky and Matt Duchene are bigger prizes than what we usually see available at the deadline. But they’re also the kind of names who could cause other teams to play wait-and-see. Are you really going to settle for Micheal Ferland as your big deadline acquisition if there’s a chance you could get Stone or Panarin? Maybe, but not until the last minute.

The good news, at least for fans who want to see some action, is that the last minute is almost here. And maybe I’m an optimist, but I don’t think we’re in for an especially quiet week. The situations in Columbus and Ottawa should come to a head soon, one way or another, and most of those Western wannabes are one or two more losses away from having no choice but to get real. The dam isn’t exactly going to burst, because it’s already been leaking steadily for weeks. But it’s probably not going to hold for much longer.

So this week, let’s do the regular top and bottom five rankings. But we’ll mix in a prediction for each of those teams along the way. Will I be right about any one them? Probably not, but that hasn’t stopped me before, so let’s do this.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they’re headed toward a summer of keg stands and fountain pool parties.

The Carolina Hurricanes broke out a few new post-win celebrations this week, and Don Cherry criticized them for it. That meant we all had to spend the weekend playing yet another round of that game where we pretend that this is some sort of raging and divisive controversy, and not something that 95 percent of the hockey world already likes and supports. You’re being criticized by Don Cherry and Brian Burke and like three random dudes on Twitter, Hurricanes fans. Everyone else has your back. You’ll be fine.

In other news, the Hurricanes are going to make the playoffs, which will be good, and somebody is going to try to claim that they did it because they played duck-duck-goose after their games, which will be terrible.

5. New York Islanders (35-17-6, +33 true goals differential*) – Saturday’s win may have spelled the end of the Barclays Center era. The team doesn’t have any more regular-season games scheduled there, and they’ll play the first round of the playoffs at Nassau Coliseum. They’d be back at Barclays for the second round, though, meaning Islander fans are in the weird position of hoping to get a return to an arena they all hate.

As for the prediction, I admit that I love the theory that Lou Lamoriello will go out and land Panarin. It makes more sense than most of the other Panarin rumors.

But as much as I’d love to make that my prediction, I don’t think it happens. The hurdle is the Blue Jackets, who we’re told still want to make a playoff run. Would they really send Panarin to a team they have a good chance of facing in Round 1? Maybe, but I can’t see it. So instead, let’s pencil Lou and the Islanders in for a consolation prize from among the lesser names. Maybe Gustav Nyquist?

4. Winnipeg Jets (36-19-4, +30) – The schedule served up three winnable games, but the Jets only came away with three points. They didn’t lose any Central ground to the struggling Predators, but it was a missed opportunity to build a cushion. And now that Jordan Binnington and the Blues are unbeatable, the division no longer feels like a two-team race.

Prediction: Given their roster and cap situation, the Jets should be all-in on the biggest rentals. I’m with Murat Ates when he identifies Mark Stone as their best fit. It will cost a ton, but I think they might get him.

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Friday, February 15, 2019

Grab Bag: The NHL should have one day of legal tampering per season

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Every sport should make tampering legal for one day of the year
- Your favorite team's GM drops by to reveal his trade deadline strategy
- Another obscure player from the Vancouver Canucks' weird goaltending history
- The week's three comedy stars feature a small child getting repeatedly injured
- And a YouTube look back at the next-day reaction to the Doug Gilmour trade

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Puck Soup: Good one Randy

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Lots of trade deadline talk
- Reacting to the Randy Carlyle firing
- Breaking down Ryan's latest feud with the Edmonton media
- David Pastrnak's mysterious late-night injury
- I try to explain how federal politics works in Canada to two confused Americans
- Some movies or something I don't know
- Plus an interview with Wild writer Michael Russo and lots more...

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Which NHL teams are under the most pressure at the trade deadline?

With​ two weeks to​ go​ until​ the​ trade​ deadline,​ we’re well​ into that fascinating​ time of the​ year​ when wins and​​ losses take a back seat to the rumor mill. Did your favorite team play last night? You’re not sure, but you heard a rumor about them trading a conditional sixth-round pick, so let’s argue about that for a few hours. Honestly, it’s a pretty great time to be a fan.

So today, let’s skip the standings and focus on a far more important ranking: Which teams are under the most pressure to make a deal or two (or three, or four) over the next 12 days? Who can afford to stay quiet if they have to and who absolutely has to do something big?

These aren’t necessarily the teams that will be the busiest; instead, consider it a ranking of the ones that have the toughest jobs ahead of them. We’ll go through the whole league, working our way up from the least to the most pressure. That’s always fun, because there are 31 spots to fill and every fan base adamantly believes that their team has to at least be in the top 10.

We’ll start with a team that’s had a recent habit of showing up in unexpected places on lists and power rankings and the standings.

31. New York Islanders

The Islanders are a good example of the difference between wanting to make a deadline deal and needing to make one. They’re a good team with a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup and they’ll probably be looking to bring in reinforcements. They might even try to pull off something big, and if they do, their fans will be thrilled.

But what if they don’t? The Islanders are already the season’s best story. Lou Lamoriello, Barry Trotz and friends have pulled off a near-miracle. If they can dominate the deadline too, awesome. But even if they sit it out completely, they’ve already won. And even the most fickle Islanders fans couldn’t possibly have a word of complaint … could they?

30. Washington Capitals

You know that old saying about how when your team wins a championship, you’re not allowed to complain about anything for years afterwards? No fan actually believes that, and if the Capitals implode and miss the playoffs, Brian MacLellan will be ripped for it. But that seems exceedingly unlikely, and without any major holes to address or much cap room to do it with, expectations should be reasonable. Pierre LeBrun says they’ll be “careful buyers” and are “willing to tinker”, which sounds about right. But whatever happens, they’ve already got their rings.

29. Montreal Canadiens

28. Chicago Blackhawks

27. Vancouver Canucks

26. Philadelphia Flyers

Let’s call this the “playing with house money” section. All four teams are either making playoff runs we didn’t think they’d be anywhere close to, or at least looking far better than they did earlier in the season.

It feels weird to have Montreal this low, because it’s Montreal. But they’ve already exceeded expectations, and we’ve gone from Marc Bergevin being on the hottest seat imaginable to the local media insisting he was right all along. Plus, the Habs’ playoff spot seems relatively secure. Bergevin has already made some depth moves to bring in those heavy depth guys he loves so much, but the Habs have been largely absent from the rumor mill on the bigger names.

The Canucks, Hawks and Flyers are all in tougher spots in terms of the playoff picture, and may be tempted to bring in rental help. But with all three teams in various stages of rebuilds, it’s unlikely that any feel pressured to make major moves. The Flyers take the top spot in the group based on having one star UFA in Wayne Simmonds that they’ll need to find a home for, but otherwise at least a few Philadelphia fans are probably too enamored with Carter Hart right now to get mad about a quiet deadline.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

What’s the most important trade in NHL history that didn’t happen?

Last​ week, we had​ some​ fun​ with​ a few​ of​ the contenders​ for the title​ of second most​ important​ trade ever made.​​ These weren’t just the biggest trades in terms of the talent involved on the impact on individual teams – they were the deals that actually changed the course of NHL history.

But to paraphrase the old cliché, sometimes the most important trades are the ones you don’t make. So what about those? What are the most important trades in NHL history that didn’t happen?

Now clearly, we could get a little silly here. Wayne Gretzky for Mario Lemieux was a huge trade that wasn’t made. Same with Rocket Richard for Gordie Howe, or Sidney Crosby for Alexander Ovechkin. Any one of those deals would have changed the course of history, but none of them happened. There’s also no evidence that any of them were ever even discussed, so it feels ridiculous to spend any time thinking about them.

But there have been other blockbuster non-trades that really did come close to happening, or at least seemed that way at the time. So today, let’s look at eight deals that didn’t happen, but that we know were at least considered. I’ll give you a legitimate source for the trade and you let me speculate wildly about the rest. Do we have a deal?

If so, we’re one step ahead of these teams. But a few of them at least came close. Here are eight contenders for the most important NHL trade that didn’t happen.

1992: Eric Lindros to the Rangers

The trade: The Quebec Nordiques send Lindros to New York in exchange for cash, draft picks and a package of players including names like Tony Amonte, Alexei Kovalev, Sergei Nemchinov, James Patrick and John Vanbiesbrouck.

Unlike many trades-that-weren’t, this one was actually a done deal. The problem is that it wasn’t the only Lindros trade the Nordiques made that day.

The source: There’s some question over the specific names involved in the deal; for example, Mike Richter occasionally shows up instead of Vanbiesbrouck. But we know the Rangers and Nordiques had a deal of some sort, because it was at the center of the arbitration case that transfixed the hockey world during that 1992 offseason.

Why it didn’t happen: Blame Larry Bertuzzi. The NHL arbitrator ruled that the Nordiques had made their deal with the Flyers first and would have to abide by it.

But what if it did?: If Bertuzzi sends Lindros to New York – which is what most observers had expected at the time – then we change the next decade or more of history for at least three franchises. The Flyers don’t get Lindros, but they also don’t dismantle their team to do it, and they hold onto the rights to Peter Forsberg. The Rangers land the biggest prospect in NHL history, but might not have enough depth left over to win the Stanley Cup in 1994. And without Forsberg turning into one of the best two-way centers ever, the Nordiques/Avalanche might not win it all in 1996 and 2001.

As for Lindros himself, he’d have had the chance to start his career while playing behind and learning from the player he was most often compared to, Mark Messier. And maybe he avoids all the off-ice battles that defined his time in Philadelphia.

1962: Frank Mahovlich to Chicago

The trade: Maybe “trade” isn’t the right word. This one was a sale. Specifically, the deal would have seen the Maple Leafs send Mahovlich to the ‘Hawks in exchange for $1 million.

The source: This one was splashed all over the front page of sports sections around North America in the days after the deal, given that the two teams had agreed on it and word leaked out to reporters. The story has since been repeated often; here’s a detailed look back from

Why it didn’t happen: The deal was struck between Leafs co-owner Harold Ballard and ‘Hawks owner James Norris during a late-night meeting in which they were, in the words of immortal Toronto sportswriter Milt Dunnell, “fortified by the gargle.” In other words, they were both hammered, and that led to some second thoughts on the Leafs side, with Stafford Smythe claiming that “we never rolled a drunk yet and we don’t have to start now.”

That noble high-road stance lasted for all of a few days, at which point the Leafs realized that there was a million dollars on the line. They tried to rekindle the deal, but by that point Norris’ brother Bruce had talked him out of it.

But what if it did?: Mahovlich and Bobby Hull were the two best left wingers of the era, and this trade would have put them both on the same team. If the ‘Hawks didn’t go bankrupt from the payout, they almost certainly would have challenged for another Cup or two over the decade to come. And the Leafs may not have won the three more Cups they’d capture with Mahovlich, including that famous 1967 win.

But the trade’s impact would have been even bigger, not just in the NHL but throughout the sports world. The $1 million price tag wasn’t far off from what some teams made in ticket sales in a year, and would have been unprecedented for a single player – as Stan Fischler put it a few years ago, imagine Sidney Crosby being sold for $95 million today. The sale would have redefined how professional athletes were viewed, and would’ve probably made it much tougher for owners to hold down salaries on what would now be million-dollar assets.

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Monday, February 11, 2019

Weekend rankings: Leafs vs. Habs is the playoff matchup we all deserve (even if you hate them)

One​ good rule of​ thumb​ for​ the​ NHL​ (and​ life) is​ that when absolutely​ everybody agrees on​ something,​ they’re probably wrong.​​ Well, these days, it seems like everybody agrees that a Toronto/Montreal first-round matchup would be awesome.

You know what? They’re not wrong.

Saturday’s matchup in Montreal was all sort of fun, featuring plenty of speed, three lead changes, a great crowd and a beautiful overtime winner. It was a great game, the kind you’d show to someone you were trying to talk into becoming a hockey fan.

And by the end of it, the Leafs and Habs were holding down the second and third spots in the Atlantic, respectively. Which means you could play the “if the playoffs started today” card and dream of the first postseason matchup between the two teams in four decades.

Here’s hoping you did, because the Bruins went and ruined it with yesterday’s win. That moved them back into the third spot, which would set up yet another Toronto/Boston matchup that represents just about the worst-case scenario for Leaf fans. But the playoffs aren’t starting today, because we still have two months to go, which means two months to get this right.

We’ve been down this road before, of course. Back in 2013 some of us got way too excited about a Toronto/Montreal matchup – OK, fine, I got way too excited – and then the Senators screwed it up for everybody on the season’s final night, setting up a series between the Leafs and Bruins instead. I don’t remember how that one ended. I’m sure it wasn’t important.

The point is that a Toronto/Montreal matchup would be amazing. If you’re a fan of either team, it would be a once-in-a-generation chance to beat your oldest rival. And if you’re not, it would be a chance to watch two fan bases that take themselves way too seriously have a weeks-long meltdown. Either way, you win! Or, you know, suffer a soul-crushing defeat from which you may never recover. One of those two things.

It’s somewhat amazing that we haven’t seen the Leafs and Habs play against each other in the playoffs since that matchup way back in 1979. They were in different conferences for some of that, but they’ve been division rivals since 1998 and have still managed to avoid each other. The lesson, as always: the hockey gods hate us.

There’s another all-Canadian rivalry matchup that’s still in play, although barely. The Flames and Oilers somehow haven’t met since 1991 but could pair off this year if Edmonton could climb back into a wildcard spot. That’s looking less likely by the day, which is as good a reason as any to enjoy the idea now.

But if you’re a Canadian fan who’s already given up on the Oilers, there’s always the Canucks. They’ve hanging in that wildcard race, sitting just two points back heading into tonight’s action and could play the Flames or the Jets if they made it. Either of those would be a nice Smythe Division callback, not to mention an intriguing underdog story. Let’s do one of those.

Actually, screw it – if Canadian fans are going to dream here, let’s go big. Let’s have Leafs vs. Habs, Canucks vs. Jets, and Oilers vs. Flames. That might be mathematically unlikely, but it would make for an April that the entire country could enjoy. (Looks over and notices Senators fans sitting sadly by themselves watching Jack Hughes highlights with trembling chins.) That would make for an April that almost the entire country could enjoy. Look, we’re doing our best here.

In the meantime, I’m told there are also teams in the United States and that some of them might have been playing this weekend. A few of them might show up in this week’s rankings. Let’s find out.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they’re headed towards a summer of keg stands and fountain pool parties.

We haven’t had much of a chance to talk about the Rangers in this section this year, and depending on how long the rebuild takes, it could be a while before we get the chance again. But we’ll do it this week, thanks to Friday’s ceremony that honored the 1994 team that snapped a 54-year championship drought.

We can get caught up in wins and losses and xGF and PDO and whatever else, but that clip is a nice reminder of what’s really at stake for the teams in the top five and the others fighting to get in. This is, after all, about the Road To The Cup. Win it, and fans will still be celebrating a quarter-century later. Flags really do fly forever.

Oh hey, speaking of New York …

5. New York Islanders (33-16-6, +29 true goals differential*) – It’s time.

Yes, fine, maybe it was time weeks ago. I hear you, Islander fans. But we’re here now. You win.

I’m still not convinced that the Islanders are necessarily a better team top-to-bottom than others that could make a claim for this spot, like the Predators or the Maple Leafs. But after a pair of weekend wins to open up a five-point lead over the Capitals on top of the Metro, and with the Blue Jackets and Penguins in turmoil, the Islanders unquestionably have a much easier path out of the first two rounds than those teams. And if we’re trying to predict a Cup winner, that matters.

I’m going against some of the Stanley Cup models out there, like this one and (especially) this one, and the oddsmakers still haven’t caught up to what the Islanders are doing. And maybe a team like Nashville or Boston goes out and makes the sort of big-time deadline acquisition that pushes them back up the list.

If they do, we’ll adjust accordingly. But at this point, the Islanders have as good a case as anyone and a better case than most. And they’ve certainly waited their turn. They’re in.

4. Winnipeg Jets (35-18-3, +33) – The focus in Winnipeg is on holding off the Predators to win the Central. But their pending RFAs are a looming story, especially now that Auston Matthews has set the top of the market. Murat Ates took a look at the possibilities earlier this week.

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Friday, February 8, 2019

Grab Bag: Checking in on the remaining RFAs, a no-trade clause proposal and Rob Ray fights a fan

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- With Auston Matthews signed, let's check in on the remaining big-name RFAs
- I have a proposal for how the league should handle no-trade clauses
- An obscure player who had one of the craziest shifts in hockey history
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a YouTube look back at the time Rob Ray pummeled a fan

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Thursday, February 7, 2019

Puck Soup: Surge protectors

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Breaking down the impact of Auston Matthews' new contract
- What exactly is Mitch Marner's agent trying to accomplish?
- Devils fans vs. Ilya Kovalchuk
- Hurricanes fans won't like my reaction to the whole duck-duck-goose thing
- Greg and Ryan come with a very bad take about Canada and I am not having it
- Plus Carter Hart, the Super Bowl, and Ryan and I play a round of "Was this artist nominated for a Grammy this year?"

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

>> Get weekly mailbags and special bonus episodes by supporting Puck Soup on Patreon for $5.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

What was the second most important trade in NHL history?

What’s the most important trade in NHL history?

Easy. Wayne Gretzky being traded from the Oilers to the Kings in 1988. There’s really no debate. That one’s number one by a mile.

Cool, good post. See you in a few days.

(Editor’s note: Uh, Sean … we were kind of hoping for more than 40 words out of this one.)

Huh. OK. In that case, let’s up the degree of difficulty by changing the question around.

What’s the second most important trade in NHL history?

Now things get tougher, in large part because the Gretzky trade was such a game-changer that it overshadows everything else. That trade changed the league’s financial landscape, reset how hockey was viewed in the U.S. and is directly responsible for the existence of about a half-dozen of today’s teams. Forget the NHL, you could make a solid argument that it’s the most important trade in the history of sports.

So sure, the drop down to second place is going to be a big one. But that’s what makes the debate fun, because once you get past Gretzky, the field suddenly gets crowded.

Note that we’re not talking about the “biggest” trade, in terms of the number of players or even the sheer star power involved. What we’re looking for here is importance. That’s an admittedly fuzzy concept, but think of it this way: If you go back and undo the deal, how much of NHL history changes?

So with all due respect to Alexandre Daigle, let’s take some time to remember number two – or at least the contenders for that crown. Here are 10 possibilities that I think can make the strongest case.

The Next One arrives: Eric Lindros to the Flyers

The trade: On June 30, 1992, the Nordiques sent Eric Lindros to the Flyers for Peter Forsberg, Steve Duchesne, Mike Ricci, Ron Hextall, Kerry Huffman, Chris Simon, two first-round picks and $15,000,000.

The case for: Read that list of names again. Then remember that Lindros hadn’t played a single NHL game at this point. It was an almost unfathomably huge haul for one teenaged prospect – and it may not even have been the best deal the Nordiques could get, given that they preferred the Rangers’ offer.

At the time, Lindros was considered the best prospect to come into the league since Mario Lemieux, and maybe even the best ever. He never quite lived up to that hype in Philadelphia, but he did win a Hart Trophy and led the Flyers to the Stanley Cup final. Meanwhile, Forsberg became arguably the best player in the deal and helped the Nordiques win two Cups in Colorado.

The case against: Both Lindros and Forsberg had their careers shortened by injury, so the trade’s impact wasn’t quite what it could have been. Still, that feels like nitpicking.

Moose on the Loose: Mark Messier to the Rangers

The trade: On Oct. 4, 1991, the Oilers traded Mark Messier to the Rangers for Bernie Nicholls, Steven Rice, Louie DeBrusk and future considerations.

The case for: For better or worse, this trade defined the next decade and more for both teams. Against all odds, the Oilers had survived the Gretzky trade and won another Cup in 1990. But Messier’s exit signaled the true end of the dynasty and the Oilers’ new role as one of the NHL’s have-nots. (A point that was driven home when Nicholls initially refused to report.)

As for the Rangers, they watched Messier win the Hart while guiding them to the Presidents’ Trophy in his first season. But the big moment came in 1994, when they finally put an end to the “1940” chants by winning the franchise’s first Stanley Cup in over half a century. It was Messier who led them there, most memorably with his guaranteed win against the Devils. And it was Messier who was the one to receive the Cup handoff in front of a roaring MSG crowd.

Messier would go on to captain the Rangers until 2004, not counting the three years he took off from 1997 to 2000 to go do missionary work, and is often ranked as the greatest Ranger of all-time. And maybe even more importantly, Messier and the Rangers made the NHL seem cool and trendy for just about the first time ever.

The case against: New commissioner Gary Bettman decided that the Rangers’ win made for the perfect time for a lockout, and any momentum the NHL was riding was squandered. Rangers fans were too delirious to care, but this trade’s impact beyond New York and Edmonton didn’t end up being as big as it could have been.

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Monday, February 4, 2019

Weekend power rankings: It’s time to start getting excited about the trade deadline

Trades are the best.

I mean, not for the players, who have to pack up on short notice and move to new cities, severing friendships and disrupting family lives. And not for the GMs, some of whom are going to make a mistake that ultimately gets them fired over the next few weeks.

But for fans? Yeah, for us, trades are the best.

We all know the song-and-dance that goes on in the NHL. You can’t make trades after free agency, because everybody likes their roster. And you can’t make them in training camp, because everybody’s healthy. And you can’t make them early in the season, because we can’t overreact to a few weeks. And you can’t make them in the middle of the season, because the salary cap makes that too hard even though it doesn’t.

But the trade deadline? Yes, you can make trades at the deadline. It can be done. So get to wheeling and dealing, boys. Let’s see some moves.

Granted, we’re still three weeks away from deadline day, and in a typical year, we might be getting ahead of ourselves. But the trend in recent seasons has been away from the do-it-all-on-one-day approach, and more toward spreading out the action over the days and weeks before. That’s not good if you’re a TV producer with a 10-hour deadline day show to fill, but it works for the rest of us. And we’ve already seen two fairly big deals in the last week, so it’s possible that the deadline crunch is already here.

The first of those deals came on Monday, with the Leafs adding Jake Muzzin from the Kings. The Penguins and Panthers got into the act over the weekend, with Pittsburgh landing Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann in exchange for Derick Brassard, Riley Sheahan and three picks. That one was really the best kind of pre-deadline deal, in that it gave us plenty to talk about without actually taking a big name out of play since the Panthers are expected to flip Brassard again in the coming weeks.

We’ve still got plenty of big names on the board, including perhaps the biggest we’ve seen out there at deadline time in years. Artemi Panarin sure sounds like he’s going to be moved, even if there are arguments to be made that the Blue Jackets should keep him. Columbus has lost five straight and are in danger of falling out of a wild-card spot, so the situation there is getting to the critical stage. Patiently waiting three more weeks to see how everything shakes out may not be an option.

The Senators aren’t under quite the same pressure, but their decisions over the next few weeks will be just as important. There’s still no extensions in place for Mark Stone or Matt Duchene, or even really all that much buzz that they’re close. The latest word is that it may be trending towards both players being traded, which makes the Senators one of the key teams to watch.

We’re all still waiting for the Rangers to start making moves, with the Jets apparently a leading contender for Kevin Hayes. The Kings still have Jeff Carter and Alec Martinez. The Flyers will move Wayne Simmonds, if and when they stop winning every game they play. Micheal Ferland has becomes this year’s annual “guy that everyone is treating as a superstar so you just kind of go with it even though you didn’t think he was that good” deadline name. The Blackhawks might be open to moving Duncan Keith. And then there’s Jimmy Howard, Dougie Hamilton, Jay Bouwmeester and whatever hijinks the Oilers might get up to.

Not all of those guys will get moved, but it’s shaping up to be a fun few weeks. And now that it’s February, we can stop treating the deadline like some far-off destination and start talking about it in the present tense. It’s here. Or at least, it’s close enough. Let’s get crazy.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they’re headed towards a summer of keg stands and fountain pool parties.

Good news, hockey fans: We’ve made it past the bye weeks. Group high-five.

This was the first year that the NHL grouped everyone’s byes into the two weeks surrounding the all-star game. It resulted in huge chunks of the league being off at the same time, but it made a certain amount of sense. And it had the advantage of making it easier to ensure that we wouldn’t get those matchups where one team is coming off of their bye while the other has already been back in action.

Except that, well, it didn’t do that after all. Almost half the league still got those type of matchups. That seems odd and is further evidence that none of us will ever understand how the NHL schedule works.

5. Nashville Predators (31-19-4, +27 true goals differential*) – Their next five are against the Coyotes, Stars, the Blues twice and then the Red Wings. Arizona’s playing well and they lost to Dallas just a few days ago, but that’s a stretch where a team like the Predators should pick up some serious points. If they can’t, we might be getting close to the point where we can call the race in the Central.

4. San Jose Sharks (30-16-7, +24) – Brent Burns scored a nifty OT winner on Saturday to help the Sharks keep pace with/gain ground on the Flames. But the bigger news in the Pacific these days is the Knights, who’ve lost four straight. We spent the last month watching these three teams pull away from the pack, and wondering which one would blink first. Now we know, and the question becomes whether the Knights get an opportunity to regain that ground, or whether we pencil them in for third spot and a road opener in the playoffs.

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Friday, February 1, 2019

Grab Bag: Artemi Panarin vs. Blue Jackets, NBA vs. NHL trades and Brett Hull vs. NWO

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- A rant about Artemi Panarin and players who won't negotiate during the season
- NBA trades: Still way more fun than the NHL
- An obscure player who wasn't good but kept getting traded for guys that were
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a YouTube look back at the time Brett Hull saved Bill Goldberg from the NWO, kind of.

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