Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Five lessons from the 2018 offseason that could help teams in 2019

Hey, remember when the Blues and Bruins were playing hockey? Me neither. The summer is here, we’ve already had a big trade and a major re-signing and it’s all systems go on the offseason. Let’s get wild.

But what kind of wild? The good kind? The bad kind? The hopeless kind? That’s what remains to be seen. Every offseason has its own flavor and we’re not sure what this one will look like quite yet. Maybe we’ll see a ton of trades. Maybe GMs will focus on free agency instead. Maybe we’ll see offer sheets and holdouts and blockbusters or maybe we’ll get none of those things.

Time will tell. But while every offseason is different, that doesn’t mean we should just ignore what’s happened in the past. Recent history can offer some important lessons on what to expect and how best to handle the scenarios we may see develop. Today, let’s look back at five key lessons from the 2018 offseason and how they might apply to what’s going to happen over the next few weeks and months.

The lesson: The draft isn’t the only time for big trades

It’s become conventional wisdom in the hockey world that the days around the NHL draft make for the best time for blockbuster trades. The rest of the year, we constantly hear about how trading is too hard for these poor GMs, who have to deal with a salary cap and analytics and no-trade clauses that they handed out. The deadline isn’t what it used to be, you can’t do anything at all earlier in the season and nobody wants to make a move at training camp. But the draft? That’s the one place you can get things done because all the league’s GMs are together in one building and they almost all have cap room to work with.

And for years, that was all pretty much true. Pick a big offseason trade – Hall for Larsson, Subban for Weber, Kessel to the Penguins, Drouin for Sergachev – and chances are it happened either at the draft or in the days immediately after. By the time we got into July, the window for big deals had closed.

But last year, that didn’t happen. Draft week was actually remarkably quiet on the trading front, with only the Max Domi/Alex Galchenyuk deal on June 15 making any real waves in the days leading up to the draft and the five-player Flames/Hurricanes deal going down on the draft floor. There were a handful of smaller deals, including Philipp Grubauer and Mike Hoffman (twice), but that was about it.

That left several big names still on the block, including Ryan O’Reilly, Jeff Skinner, Max Pacioretty and Erik Karlsson. All four would be dealt, but those trades were spread out over the course of the summer. O’Reilly went first, on July 1, largely because that was the last day the Sabres could move him before having to pay a $7.5 million bonus. Skinner waited until August. And Pacioretty and Karlsson made it all the way to September before their teams finally pulled the trigger.

The results were mixed. The returns on Karlsson and Skinner were viewed as underwhelming at the time. The O’Reilly deal seemed OK for both teams, although it hasn’t aged well for Buffalo. And many of us thought the Habs did surprisingly well on a player they all but had to move. The lesson here isn’t that waiting is the best play, at least in all cases. But it’s an option and maybe a better one than we usually think.

Who could learn it: Any GM with a big-name player who could be moved. That list could include David Poile (Subban again, or Kyle Turris), Kyle Dubas (Nazem Kadri) and Jim Rutherford (pretty much everyone). Ideally, they might prefer to make those sorts of moves before the draft, like Kevin Cheveldayoff just did with Jacob Trouba, since that allows you to nail down your cap situation ahead of free agency and you don’t have to wait a year to use any picks you acquire. But if the offers aren’t there, or the situation still feels unsettled, then waiting is a valid option. It might even work out for the better.

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Monday, June 17, 2019

The chaos lover’s guide to the 2019 offseason

The offseason is here. Let’s bring the chaos.

Longtime readers know that I’ve long been a diehard fan of Team Chaos. If there are multiple possible outcomes, I like to pick the one that will cause the most anarchy and root for that. I want as many people screaming at each other as possible. Let’s get crazy.

The offseason is prime time for Team Chaos. At least a few weird things happen every summer, and if we’re lucky, enough of them will overlap that pandemonium breaks out. The greatest day in Team Chaos history came in 2016, when we had that wonderful hour where the hockey world lost its mind. We may never see anything like it again, but we can hope.

Today, let’s work through what the perfect Team Chaos offseason might look like. We’re going to try to stay within the realm of plausible realism here; Connor McDavid being traded straight-up for Sidney Crosby would certainly bring the chaos, but it has no chance of happening. We’re aiming for something north of zero here, so while all of the options on our list are unlikely, there’s at least a slim chance we’ll see one or two.

With that in mind, here are some of the stories we’ll be rooting for in the weeks to come. Bring the chaos, hockey gods. We’re here for it.

A full-on Erik Karlsson bidding war

It sounds like it’s still possible that Karlsson will re-sign with the Sharks. Maybe he should – he could get that extra year and San Jose seems like a great place to settle down. Locking in a max-length deal to finish his career with the Sharks would make plenty of sense for Karlsson. For Team Chaos? Not so much.

Instead, we want to see a full bidding war, one where Karlsson talks to several teams and none of us know where he’s headed. In a sense, we’ve never had that before with a truly elite player in the cap era. Steven Stamkos made it to the interview period in 2016, but he didn’t switch teams. And while John Tavares did find a new home, many of us had assumed he was inevitably headed back to the Islanders right up until the calendar flipped over to July 1. That turned out to be wrong, but in hindsight, we probably didn’t appreciate the Tavares sweepstakes enough as they were happening.

This time, we could enjoy it from the start. We need Karlsson to declare himself open for bidding, even if the list of potential suitors still included the Sharks. We’d want to see as many teams as possible in the running, with all of them getting a chance to make their case in person. Tavares talked to six teams. Let’s aim for double digits, Erik.

As for where he winds up, well, there are some intriguing options. Watching the Lightning find room to try to assemble a super-team would be fun. A dramatic return to Ottawa would work because anything involving Eugene Melnyk’s money is always a chaos candidate. The Knights could work. And of course, we’d want a few mystery teams thrown into the mix.

But there’s one option here that feels like the best fit for Team Chaos and that’s the Montreal Canadiens. Karlsson and his family coming “home” without actually coming home would be a nice slap in the face for Ottawa fans. We could play up him snubbing his pal Victor Hedman and the Lightning. And adding another highly paid Hall-of-Famer with a history of greatness but also injury to a Montreal roster that already has two would make for a fascinating story.

The fans and media are already talking themselves into it. Team Chaos should too.

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Friday, June 14, 2019

Grab Bag: Post-Cup celebrations are the best, new rules on the way and when fan celebrations get rowdy

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- The best part of the Stanley Cup final is all the stuff that happens a few minutes after it's over
- A minor rule change that might turn out to be important
- An obscure player who scored one of history's biggest goals
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a YouTube breakdown of Calgary celebrating the Flames' first and only Cup

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Thursday, June 13, 2019

Puck Soup: Play Gloria

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- The Blues win the Stanley Cup
- Our reactions to game seven
- Did voters get the Conn Smythe right?
- Breaking down the Cup handoff, including those weird fireworks
- The competition committee meets, so get ready to tinker with faceoff again
- Things get a little heated over Toronto fans and cheering injuries
- Also the USWNT celebration thing
- And more...

>> Stream it now:

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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Seven reasons why the Blues are definitely winning tonight (and also seven why the Bruins are)

We’re hours away from the first Game 7 of a Stanley Cup final in eight years. Are you pumped? I’m a little pumped. This is going to be fun.

So who’s going to win? I have no idea. Really, none at all. I could pretend that I do, but anyone who’s been following my predictions so far won’t be buying it for a second. And can you blame me? The 2019 playoffs have been total chaos. Anyone who tells you that they’ve got it all figured out now, with one game to go, is full of it. I’m not even going to try, because I’ve been trying to predict Game 7s for decades now and I’ve only ever been right once.

So no, I’m not going to be right. But could I get you to settle for half-right? I can come up with seven reasons why the Bruins are definitely going to win Game 7. I can also come up with seven more why the Blues are an absolute lock. If you’re an optimist, pick the team you like best and only read their entries. If you prefer feeling sick heading into a big game, only read the other team. Read all of them, and come away feeling just as confused as when you started. Or just wait until tomorrow, read the entries of the team that won, and then head to the comments to call me a genius.

Your call. There are no wrong answers here. Well, there are – seven out of 14, to be exact. But that’s a better batting average than I normally have, so let’s get to them.

The Bruins will win because: The first line is finally waking up.

The Patrice Bergeron/Brad Marchand/David Pastrnak line – and no, we’re not calling them the Perfection Line, knock that off – has been hit-and-miss for a lot of the postseason. They were broken up against Toronto, reunited, and certainly had their moments. But they never really rolled for long stretches the way we’ve seen in the past. It’s a credit to the rest of the Bruins forwards that they had the depth to keep winning in spite of their top line struggling.

For most of the final, it’s been the same story, with Brayden Schenn’s line winning the matchup. The Bergeron line’s struggles have been so noticeable that there’s been plenty of speculation that some or all of them may be playing through serious injuries.

But on Sunday, for the first time in the series, the Bergeron line looked dominant, while Schenn’s looked outclassed. That’s just about the best news you could get as a Bruins fan. Maybe they’ve made an adjustment, or maybe they’re healthy again, or maybe they’re just heating up. You don’t really care about the why right now. You just know that if the top line can dominate, every other matchup falls into place really nicely.

The Blues will win because: The stats tell us that Jordan Binnington can’t lose in this situation.

We’ve heard about it all postseason. Overall, Binnington’s playoff numbers aren’t all that great, and he’s had a few games in this series alone where he’s looked very ordinary. But after a loss, he gains some sort of weird superpowers where he becomes unbeatable.

In the playoffs, he’s 7-2 with a 1.83 GAA after a loss, which plays into the narrative that the kid has ice in his veins. And it is a narrative to some extent – every goalie who makes it deep into the playoffs has a good record after a loss, because the ones that don’t get eliminated early. But sometimes even a narrative can have value as long as everyone believes it. Under normal circumstances, a team heading into Game 7 with a young goalie who just got shelled in Game 6 might be worried. The Blues don’t have to be.

The Bruins will win because: The stats also tell us that Tuukka Rask can’t lose in this situation.

Wait, did you say Binnington is a 1.83 GAA in these types of games? Rask has that beat.

Can both goalies be unbeatable in the same game? Huh. We may be here a while.

But while we’re on the subject of goaltending, let’s point out that Rask has been the better of the two, both in the series and in the playoffs. I’m not sure I’m willing to give him the Conn Smythe even in a losing cause, but there’s a case to be made. He’s been that good. The Blues have already survived having one goaltender stand on his head in a Game 7 against them, but I don’t like their odds if it happens again.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

How I’d fix the NHL’s replay review system

I’ve spent a big chunk of the last few months writing about replay review. It’s been unavoidable, because the officiating has become the dominant story of the 2019 postseason, and there’s a growing cry for the league to do something. For many, that something is more replay review, for everything from hand passes to majors and match penalties to (most recently) even tripping minors.

I don’t necessarily agree, at least with some of the more extreme proposals. I’ve laid out my case for why I think replay review for penalties would be a disaster. I’ve outlined the five hard questions the league needs to ask before they go any further down the replay path. I’ve tweeted about it. Lord, so many tweets.

So I’ve made my point. Some would say I’ve beaten it into the ground. But here’s the thing: One of my pet peeves in life is people who complain about everyone else’s ideas without ever saying what they’d do instead, and I’m getting dangerously close to that territory. Anyone can stand on the sidelines and say “this is broken.” At some point, you should be willing to offer up some ideas for how to fix it.

This feels like the right time to do that, since we’re told Gary Bettman will present his plan to the competition committee today. Maybe my ideas are better. Maybe they’re worse. Maybe they’re exactly the same, and Bettman will tweet the Spiderman pointing meme at me and I’ll transform into a corncob.

The point is, I’ve done enough complaining. It’s time to be part of the solution. So here’s my 10-point plan for expanding and also shrinking but mostly fixing replay review. Read it over. Pick it apart. Agree with it, or don’t. Tell me why it is in fact me who has been the idiot all along. Fair’s fair. Here we go.

Step 1: Expanded review for black-and-white calls

We’ll start with the change we can probably get almost everyone to agree on. We’ll expand replay review to include hand passes, like that Timo Meier overtime miss. Today, those can only be reviewed if the puck is batted directly into the net. Now, we’ll be reviewing them anywhere along a play that leads to a goal.

We’ll also add pucks that are directed with a high-stick, which is the same category of play. And while we’re at it, we can include the review of pucks that hit the netting, which we learned this postseason is already on the books but in an extremely limited way. That gets expanded here.

The review would come from the league war room, which is already responsible for automatically reviewing just about everything goal-related, like kicking motions and pucks crossing the line. It’s a little bit of extra work that will occasionally add a few seconds of extra time before we can face off and get back to playing, but it will be worth it.

That all feels like common sense. Those additional reviews would be rare, but they’d be important, and we should be able to do them in a way that avoids any controversy.

Of course, careful readers will notice that there’s one detail we have to nail down first …

Step 2: Define what “leading to a goal” means

This was one of my tough questions from this post. What does it mean for a play to lead to a goal, and where do you draw the line? Is it based on a certain number of seconds? Distance from the net? The puck staying in the zone? Some touchy-feely “we’ll know it when we see it” sense of intuition?

Not in our new system. For us, a play leads to a goal if the defending team never regains possession. If they touch and control the puck at any point after the missed infraction, then we don’t worry about it. You had your chance to make a play, you can’t blame the miss anymore.

In other words, our message here to the players is straightforward: Keep playing hockey. If there’s a glove pass or the puck hits the netting or whatever else, don’t stop and wave your arms around like a tattling first-grader. Keep playing. If the miss causes a goal, we’ll take care of it with replay. Otherwise, keep doing your job. A missed call earlier in the shift doesn’t give you a magical do-over on everything else that happens afterward.

Admittedly, we’re introducing a sliver of subjectivity here, because possession can be dicey. But we already have a relatively common play where officials need to make this kind of judgment: Delayed penalties. We’ll use the same definition here.

Note that simply making contact with the puck isn’t possession, so Meier’s hand pass still falls under this expanded review even though the puck deflected off Jay Bouwmeester’s leg. Our expanded rule would also have waved off the Blue Jackets’ goal in Boston, because the Bruins never got the puck back after it hit the netting. But this play from a few years ago where over a minute of game time and multiple possessions go by while Jack Edwards has a meltdown? Get out of here. Keep playing hockey.

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Monday, June 10, 2019

Five hard questions the NHL needs to ask before they expand replay review

Expanded replay review is coming to the NHL, in some form. The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported over the weekend that league leadership has already met to come up with a proposal for expanded review and will present it to the competition committee on Tuesday, with the GMs getting a look next week.

LeBrun reports that the recommendation will not include judgment penalty reviews, at least this time around. That will be disappointing to some fans, especially in the wake of controversial moments like Cody Eakin’s major and Tyler Bozak’s uncalled trip. But it would likely include a review of plays like Timo Meier’s hand pass, among other scenarios that aren’t covered by the current rules.

I’m with pretty much everyone else in believing that the NHL has a crisis on its hands. The officials have become the story of the playoffs and that’s never a good thing. I think the Eakin call was a bad one, as I said at the time. I think the hand pass was an obvious miss. And I think Bozak should have been given two for tripping on Thursday. Three big missed calls, which is three too many.

But now what?

You already know what I think about replay review for penalties. I’ve made my case that it would be a disaster, and I’ll keep banging that drum if only because in a few years when we do have it and everybody hates it, I won’t have to hear about how nobody could have seen this coming. And I think there’s a good chance that any sort of expanded review will be a mess too because it’s being implemented by the same minds that came up with the current offside and goalie interference reviews. Are you happy with how those have worked? Not many of us seem to be.

But here’s the key point: I don’t want expanded replay review to be a mess. I’d have no issue with a well-implemented replay system that makes the game better. I don’t want this league to screw up yet again. I don’t want us to all be sitting around in a few years, screaming at each other over freeze-frames of plays we barely even notice today.

For now, I’m accepting reality by conceding that I’m probably going to lose this argument and that significantly expanded review is almost certainly coming in some form. And yes, that will likely include penalties at some point, even if it’s not this year. The question now is whether it can be done in a way that doesn’t prove my warnings right. I’m not optimistic, but I don’t think the task is impossible.

But the first step is that we have to stop pretending this is easy. Stop saying “just get it right,” as if that hasn’t occurred to the league or its officials. We all told ourselves that offside review was going to be easy, but it hasn’t been – and that’s for a call that in theory should be black-and-white. We figured we were just going to catch the Matt Duchene plays and nobody could object to that. Instead, we took a play that nobody had a serious problem with since Leon Stickle in 1980 and turned it into something we all fight about every few days. And we did all of that without catching even one single Duchene-style play along the way. We now have teams with employees whose job it is to watch every zone entry for potential offsides, all for the purpose of taking perfectly good goals off the board because of a fraction of an inch that nobody even noticed in real-time. If we’d seen what was coming, nobody would have been in favor of this four years ago.

Why did the offside review system we got end up being so different than what we expected? Because we didn’t really think it through about how it would work. We saw a missed call or two, we wanted to fix it and we figured that replay review would be easy. We were all wrong. Let’s learn some hard lessons from that.

Sure, complain about this year’s playoff officiating. If your team is one of the ones who got screwed by those ridiculous calls, you have every right. Scream at the sky, stomp your feet, type in all caps. Get it all out of your system. And then let’s start asking some tough questions about what we’re actually going to do.

Here are five to get us started.

What should be the standard for changing a call?

There are two basic schools of thought here. The first is that replay is there to catch the obvious errors. Mistakes happen, officials get screened and we need a failsafe for the really big misses that are obvious to everyone except the guy with the whistle. In theory, that means replays should be rare and short because it takes one look to see that yep, Timo Meier committed a hand pass. You don’t even need the slow-mo part most times and certainly not the frame-by-frame breakdowns. Often, one look at real speed is all you need.

It goes without saying that the NHL doesn’t do it this way because reviews aren’t rare and they’re certainly not short. The league has gone with the other philosophy, which says that once you’ve triggered a review, you might as well try to make the best call you can. After all, you’ve already stopped the whole game, you’ve got all these fancy cameras and multiple angles and everyone is standing around. Might as well take the time to really figure out what happened. If that means that you only end up being 60 percent sure that you got it wrong, well, that can still be a call worth changing.

Neither of these approaches is necessarily right or wrong, but you have to pick one. And you have to communicate it clearly to fans. Today, the NHL lives in a weird middle ground where the rules say that the call on the ice is supposed to stand unless the evidence is overwhelming, but the reviews clearly aren’t called that way. (Did you ever see a view of the Gabriel Landeskog offside that showed with 100 percent clarity that his skate wasn’t touching the line? Me neither.)

Pick a lane, and communicate it clearly every time you have a review. No more middle ground.

One more thing. If your standard is that we’ll only change the calls that are obviously wrong, prepare to be surprised by what people think is obvious. That Bozak trip? Not a penalty to everyone’s eyes. Lots of people thought the Cody Eakin major was absolutely the right call. Few penalty calls are ever really obvious to everyone watching. Stuff like hand passes and pucks into the netting should be better, but even there we can run into grey areas or views that might seem inconclusive.

Again, this isn’t a reason not to try. But it is a reason to stop pretending that any of this is going to be simple, or that you’ll make everyone happy with the results.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Friday, June 7, 2019

Grab Bag: Keys to victory for Blues and Bruins

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Game six and seven keys to victory for the Bruins and Blues
- The NHL needs to borrow the ECHL's stolen trophy idea
- An obscure player whose name seems oddly fitting after last night's game
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a YouTube look back at a truly weird, funny and maybe kind of sad Derek Sanderson interview

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Thursday, June 6, 2019

Puck Soup: Cup final, offseason drama, and ask us anything

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Where we're at after four games of a pretty darn good Cup final
- What's next for Taylor Hall?
- Figuring out what the Leafs do with Mitch Marner, Paatrick Marleau aand Nikita Zaitsev
- Apparently Erik Karlsson is going back to the Senators
- That crazy ECHL stolen trophy story
- Pop culture talk about The Office, Star Wars vs. MCU, Bill Goldberg and more
- Sean Avery is a hockey insider now
- And we open up the mailbag for listeners to ask us anything

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

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Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Ranking all 50 Stanley Cup finals of the expansion era

Through four games, the 2019 Stanley Cup final has been … well, pretty great, actually. It’s featured some big hits, highlight-reel goals, interesting storylines and at least a little bit of bad blood (along with some real blood). Three of the four games weren’t decided until the final moments, including an overtime, the first in the final since 2016. We’ve also seen a lopsided blowout and a few ugly moments, so it hasn’t exactly reached instant classic status yet. But we’re only four games in with at least two more to go and if we get two or three more good games then the 2019 final has a chance to be remembered as one of the better ones in recent memory.

But while we wait to see how this series turns out, let’s spend some time looking back on the ones that came before. There have been exactly 50 Stanley Cup finals in the NHL’s post-expansion history, dating back to 1968. And today, we’re going to rank them all, from worst to best.

Now clearly, this is a subjective exercise. Your view of what makes a series great may not match mine, and it goes without saying that the “best” final will be whichever one your favorite team won. But I think there are certain things that fans tend to look for in a great Cup final. You want fun teams and plenty of stars, with at least a few interesting subplots. Longer series are generally better, and ones that go seven are the best of all, especially if there are a few overtimes along the way. And there should be some sort of signature moment that still resonates, even for fans who weren’t around to see the series play out at the time.

Can we come up with a list everyone will agree on? No, of course not, but that’s half the fun. And at the very least, today’s post will force an answer to the age-old question: Is Sean actually capable of writing an entire post that doesn’t include at least a few sections about the Maple Leafs?

We’ve got 51 years and 50 finals to work through, so let’s start from the bottom. In our case, that means going way back…

#50 – Canadiens over Blues (1969)

#49 – Canadiens over Blues (1968)

The Canadiens were the league’s best team. The Blues were the only one of the six expansion teams that could tie their skates properly. If that strikes you as a recipe for an anticlimactic series, well, you have more foresight than the NHL did. The league’s poorly thought-out playoff format ensured the final would be a massive mismatch, and the Canadiens rolled to a sweep both times. The 1968 series at least included a couple of overtime games, so we’ll nudge it ahead of 1969 in the race for last place.

#48 – Avalanche over Panthers (1996)

This one could have been so good. It looked like we’d get the Avs and the Penguins in a final that would have been stacked with Hall of Famers and high-flying offenses. Instead, the Panthers pulled off an Eastern Conference final upset, then got swept by the Avalanche.

To make matters worse, it was a matchup between a recent expansion team that was so boring you couldn’t even get behind them as a fun underdog and a Colorado team everyone hated at the moment because of Claude Lemieux. One of the games was 8-1, and the series ended on a triple-overtime 1-0 game that set the perfect tone for the Dead Puck era to come.

#47 – Red Wings over Capitals (1998)

#46 – Devils over Red Wings (1995)

That Panthers/Avs series was one of four straight 1990s finals that ended in a sweep, and only one of them was especially interesting. I’m not sure I remember anything at all from the 1998 final apart from the emotional Cup handoff to Vladimir Konstantinov. And the most memorable moment of the 1995 series was probably furious New Jersey fans absolutely ethering Gary Bettman on live TV.

#45 – Oilers over Bruins (1988)

#44 – Islanders over Canucks (1982)

#43 – Canadiens over Rangers (1979)

#42 – Islanders over North Stars (1981)

#41 – Oilers over Flyers (1985)

Is the NHL age of parity a good thing? It’s been a topic of debate in recent years. The NHL thinks it’s great; others (including me) aren’t so sure. Isn’t there something to be said for a good-old-fashioned dynasty?

Sure there is. But as these series remind us, often the thing to be said is “don’t bother watching the final, because the powerhouse team is just going to roll to an easy win.” Watching a heavy favorite cruise to a four- or five-game rout isn’t all that entertaining, which is why all five of these series end up in our bottom-10. The 1988 series deserves a special mention, as it featured an embarrassing power failure that caused one of the games to be wiped out and made the Oilers the only team to ever sweep a five-game final.

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Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Want the NHL to just call the rulebook exactly as written? Be careful what you wish for

I kind of love the NHL rulebook.

I don’t love everything in it, and I certainly don’t always love the way it’s called, especially when my team is playing. But I’ve always been fascinated by this document that’s existed for a century while being subject to constant tinkering, with brand-new rules living alongside ones that have sat untouched for decades.

Unless you’re an NHL official, you’ve probably never bothered to read through the thing. But you should, because it’s packed with oddities and loopholes and sub-loopholes. I get into some of them in my book, like the rule that can force the players to officiate their own game, and I’ve written over the years about some of the weird exceptions most fans don’t know, like how a goalie can still play the puck outside of the trapezoid if he keeps one foot in the crease.

But these days, everyone seems to be mad at the rulebook. It’s too complicated or not complicated enough, and we’re either using way too much replay review or nowhere near enough, depending on how your favorite team’s most recent game just turned out.

There are really two ways you can approach a sports rulebook. You can view it as a guideline, a sort of starting point that lays out the basics of how the game should work and then leaves it to the officials to figure out what they’re actually going to call. Or you can view the rulebook as the law of the land, to be followed to the letter.

I’ve always been a fan of the first option. But I’m increasingly getting the sense that I’m in a small minority and that most fans are solidly in the second camp. And I have to admit that approach holds a certain appeal, especially given how this postseason has gone. Why not get rid of the interpretations and gray areas and selective enforcement and just call the rules as they’re written? I hear it all the time from other fans, media and even the occasional coach and player: Stop “managing the game” — whatever that means on a given night — and just call the damn rules.

It’s a convincing argument. So convincing, in fact, that I think they’re winning me over. I’m ready to switch sides. I’m going to become a rulebook absolutist.

After all, as I’m often told, rules are rules, and we have to get it right. So just call the rulebook exactly as written. The whole thing. Every word of it.

Man, it feels good to say that out loud. So now that we’re all on the same side here, let’s reacquaint ourselves with seven rules from the actual NHL rulebook that we’ll now be calling each and every time, exactly as written.

(Thanks to our friends at Scouting The Refs for their help with this post.)

Rule 67.3: Goalies freezing the puck after a glove save

How it’s typically called: If a goalie snags a shot with his glove, the whistle blows pretty much immediately. Every once in a great while, you’ll see a goaltender glove a long shoot-in, and the referee will wait to see if he wants to play it. But unless he makes a move to put the puck back in play, the whistle blows and we get a faceoff in the zone.

But the rulebook actually says: “A goalkeeper who holds the puck with his hands for longer than three seconds shall be given a minor penalty unless he is actually being checked by an opponent.”

In other words, unless an opponent is right there and actively trying to get the puck, the goaltender isn’t allowed to just freeze it to end the play. If a goalie snags a shot and has a reasonable opportunity to play it, he has to do so. The rulebook is actually pretty explicit on that, going on to explain that “the object of this entire rule is to keep the puck in play continuously, and any action taken by the goalkeeper which causes an unnecessary stoppage must be penalized without warning.”

The weirdest part of the rule is the three-second limit. When was the last time you saw a referee wait three seconds before blowing his whistle when the goalie gloves a puck? I’m not sure it’s ever happened.

What that would look like: Remember in “NHL ’94” when you’d always try to keep the play going even though that meant accidentally passing it to your opponent for an empty-net goal at least once a period? Apparently that’s what the rulebook wants.

How we’ll enforce it: Any time a goalie gloves a shot and holds on for a whistle, we’ll have to let coaches challenge to see if any player was checking him at the time. If not, it’s an automatic minor penalty, because rules are rules, and we have to get it right.

Rule 14.1: Adjustments to goaltender equipment

How it’s typically called: If a goaltender has a problem with his equipment — let’s say his helmet, glove or a skate blade — he lets the ref know and heads over to the bench, and we all wait patiently for a few minutes until it gets sorted out.

But the rulebook actually says: “No delay shall be permitted for the repair or adjustment of goalkeeper’s equipment. If adjustments are required, the goalkeeper shall leave the ice and his place shall be taken by the substitute goalkeeper immediately.”

Huh. Apparently, every one of those goalie/trainer powwows we’ve seen over the years was technically illegal. The rule is pretty clear: Any equipment problem has to be taken care of off the ice, with the backup goalie taking over in the meantime. By the way, this one is so important, it actually appears in the rulebook three separate times, also showing up in 63.2 and then again in 65.2.

And what if the goalie tries to sneak in a quick adjustment? It’s a penalty. No, really: “For an infraction of this rule by a goalkeeper, a minor penalty shall be imposed.” And note that the rule doesn’t even mention the trainer — it applies to any adjustment at all, even one the goalie does on his own.

What that would look like: Lots of backup goalies coming in cold because a mask got dented or a strap on a glove or pad came loose.

How we’ll enforce it: Any coach who sees a goaltender even looking at his equipment can demand that he immediately be removed from the game, because rules are rules, and we have to get it right.

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Monday, June 3, 2019

This is so pointless: A brief history of players going oh-for-the-postseason

This post is going to be completely pointless.

Wait, that didn’t come out right. I don’t mean that this post won’t have any reason to exist. I mean, who would write something like that? (Realizes everyone is staring at him.) OK, yes, I may have had a few of those in my day. But this isn’t necessarily one of them.

No, I mean that this is going to be pointless in the other way – as in, it will have zero points. Today, we’re going to try to assemble an all-time roster of playoff performers who didn’t record a single point in a given postseason.

That’s not an easy thing to do, especially if you’re a decent player. Even if your team goes out early, you’d think that you’d get in on at least one goal along the way. But as we’ll see, there are some surprisingly big names on the list. And a few other players have some interesting stories to tell.

Nobody from this year’s postseason made the cut, although a few almost did. Sidney Crosby didn’t get a point until his team’s final game. Neither did Nikita Kucherov. Of course, their runs ended early. But some lasted longer, like Carl Gunnarsson. He made it all the way to Game 2 of the final before finally recording a point. He actually had two that night. I can’t remember if any of them turned out to important.

The point is … well, sometimes there is no point. And that’s OK. Don’t worry, Viktor Arvidsson and Nikolaj Ehlers. Fear not, Nikita Zadorov, Micheal Haley, Trevor van Riemsdyk or Frederik Gauthier. You may have been pointless, but as you’re about to see, you’re in decent company.

First line

C Phil Esposito (1964 and 1967)

We’ll start off with a Hall-of-Famer who qualifies for our list in two seasons, one of which helped change NHL history. Esposito’s playoff debut came in 1964 when he was a 22-year-old rookie. He was only a bit player with the Hawks back then and had only managed three goals in part-time duty during the regular season, so his pointless performance in four games during a semifinal loss to the Red Wings wasn’t especially newsworthy.

But three years later, Esposito was coming off a 61-point season that left him tied for seventh in the league scoring race. With a lineup that also featured Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita in their primes, the Hawks ran away with top spot in the NHL, racking up 94 points over the 70-game schedule while outscoring the next best offensive team by 52 goals. They went into the playoffs as heavy favorites, before being stunned by the Maple Leafs in six games. Esposito was held off the board again, cementing a reputation as a player who couldn’t be counted on when it mattered.

Convinced they needed a change in direction, the Hawks traded him to the Bruins in an offseason deal that stands as one of the most important trades in NHL history. Esposito developed into one of the greatest goal-scorers the league had ever seen, helping the Bruins win two Cups. And it may have never happened if he’d just managed a point or two in that 1967 playoff loss.

RW Mike Gartner (1989) and LW Bryan Trottier (1988)

We’ll give Esposito a pair of Hall-of-Famers on his wings, even if we have to ask Trottier to play out of position to do it. Gartner never won a Cup and occasionally fought a reputation as a guy who was a better regular season star than a playoff performer, as evidenced by the 1994 Rangers shipping him out at the deadline. He did have some decent postseasons, including four where he hit double-digit points. But his lone spring as a North Star saw him go pointless after a massive deadline deal and he’d be gone less than a year later.

As for Trottier, he won six Cups, led the postseason scoring race twice, won a Conn Smythe and ranks among the highest scoring playoff players ever. But he was blanked in a first-round loss in 1988 despite an 82-point regular season, finishing behind high-scoring Islander teammates like Gerald Diduck and Ken Leiter.

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