Monday, July 29, 2019

Putting together Team Ontario, a roster that will crush all the other states and provinces

It’s been a week of regional rosters around these parts, as The Athletic’s hockey writers have been busy assembling the best teams they can from various states and provinces. We’ve seen Team Minnesota, billed as “a squad that will kick your ass.” That roster was immediately called out by Team Michigan. New York and New Jersey formed a joint effort, New England weighed in and Chicago went in a slightly different direction by enlisting help from Wisconsin to find a full roster. Canada got involved too, with Team British Columbia and Team Quebec. The whole thing has basically been a fun exercise in celebrating a little old-fashioned civic pride.

How adorable. Today, let’s unveil a Team Ontario that will absolutely steamroll all of them.

Call that bragging if you want, but it’s the reality. Ontario has always been the NHL’s primary source for star players. According to’s database of player birthplaces, Ontario has produced over 2,300 NHL players. That’s almost three times more than the next highest province, Quebec. It’s almost six times more than B.C., eight times more than Minnesota and over ten times more than Massachusetts or a New York/New Jersey combo.

Granted, some of that discrepancy is from the old days, when almost all of the NHL’s players were Canadians. We won’t dip into history here, since that would be downright unfair, giving a team of Ontario-born players a core of Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr and Ken Dryden, backed up by Phil Esposito, Newsy Lalonde, Howie Morenz, Ted Lindsay, Larry Robinson and Denis Potvin, not to mention Bobby Hull and his turncoat kid. (Yes, even Team USA mainstay Brett Hull was born in Belleville.) The only team that could match up to a historical Team Ontario would be Team Literally Everywhere Else in the World Combined, and even then I don’t think they could beat us.

So no, we’ll stick to active players as we try to build the best Team Ontario we can right now. Spoiler alert: They’re still going to be pretty good almost everywhere, with one notable exception. We’ll get to that. But first, let’s start up front, with the first of our four first lines.

First line

C Connor McDavid, Oilers (Richmond Hill, ON)
The most talented player in the world seems like a decent place to start our roster. With three straight 100-point seasons, two scoring titles, a Hart and three first-team All-Star selections, he’s had a pretty decent start to his career. Will he be scared and confused when he shows up and is told that he’s actually going to have two decent wingers to play with? Probably, but he’ll figure it out eventually.

RW Steven Stamkos, Lightning (Markham, ON)
Much like the case with Team Canada at the Olympics or World Cup, we’re going to be a little bit too deep down the middle. That means a few guys will have to shift over to the wing, although we’ll try to at least keep players on their correct side. Stamkos will slot in at right wing, just like he did during the most recent World Cup.

LW Logan Couture, Sharks (Guelph, ON)
With McDavid and Stamkos lighting up the scoreboard, we’ll give them a left winger who provides a bit of a defensive conscience. Couture only had 70 points last year, the bum, although you can add 20 more from a dominant postseason. Will our McDavid/Stamkos/Couture first line be able to break even against Team Chicago’s top unit that features (checks notes) Ryan Dzingel? It will be tough, but we think they’re up for the challenge.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Who was the worst player to ever be traded one-for-one for a future Hall of Famer?

While there hasn’t been a ton of big news over the last few weeks, we have seen a handful of trades. The Hawks made two of them, sending Artem Anisimov to Ottawa for Zack Smith and Henri Jokiharju to Buffalo for Alexander Nylander. And then there was the big one, last week’s Milan Lucic for James Neal swap.

That one led to Bob McKenzie getting a little bit cheeky on Twitter.

That’s a callback to this all-timer about the Taylor Hall deal, but it highlights something neat about the last few weeks of deals: They were all classic one-for-ones.

I’ve always loved the humble one-for-one trade. I can appreciate the occasional nine-player blockbuster as much as the next guy, but there’s just something about the simplicity of one player going each way in a deal. It’s the sports equivalent of buying something with exact change. No draft picks, no prospects, no list of depth guys or fringe minor leaguers to balance out the ledger. Just two players switching teams, and two GMs betting that their new guy will be better than their old one.

The Lucic-for-Neal trade might not stay a one-for-one, thanks to the inclusion of a truly spectacular conditional third-round pick. But for now, it can be included in a category with a rich if uneven history. Crack open the NHL record books, and you’ll find one-for-one trades that include multiple Hall of Famers (Pronger-for-Shanahan, Sawchuk-for-Bucyk), very good players (Middleton-for-Hodge) and current-day stars (Weber-for-Subban). Some of them worked out great for both teams (Jones-for-Johansen). Some of them very much did not (Hall-for-Larsson, Rask-for-Raycroft, Naslund-for-Stojanov).

But today, I want to go in a slightly different direction, with what might seem like a weird question: Who’s the least successful player to ever be traded straight up in a one-for-one deal for a future Hall of Famer?

At first glance, you’d think the list would be a pretty short one. After all, future Hall of Famers tend to be pretty good. You’d figure that if you were going to be traded for one, you’d have to be pretty good too. And usually, yeah, that turns out to be the case. But not always, because this is the NHL. Sometimes circumstances get weird and stuff happens.

So, let’s look at five players who it might surprise you to learn can claim to have been traded one-for-one for a future Hall of Famer. (All trade details are from

Jim Montgomery

Technically, Guy Carbonneau isn’t a Hall of Famer yet; that will have to wait for the induction ceremony in November. But he’s now officially a future Hall of Famer, so we can use him to build our list. And as it turns out, he offers us two possibilities. Carbonneau was traded twice in his career, and both were underwhelming one-for-one deals. In 1995, he went from St. Louis to Dallas for Paul Broten, who wasn’t a superstar but at least put together a solid career. So instead, let’s use Carbonneau’s other trade, which came in 1994 and saw him dealt from Montreal to St. Louis for 25-year-old sophomore (and Montreal native) Jim Montgomery.

The trade was a big deal in Montreal, where Carbonneau had played 13 seasons, winning three Selkes and two Cups, including one in 1993 as captain. One year after that championship, and just days after the team was eliminated from the playoffs, a Montreal newspaper ran a front-page cover of Carbonneau giving the finger to a photographer at a golf course. The team claimed that the trade had nothing to do with the controversy, although it’s fair to say that not everyone believed them. Either way, Carbonneau was himself stunned by the trade, as were many fans.

In exchange, the Canadiens received a young center who’d been a college star and was coming off a 20-point rookie season. He made the Habs to start the lockout-shortened season, appearing in five games without recording a point. That would spell the end of his career as a Canadien; just two weeks into the season, the Flyers claimed him on waivers, leaving Montreal with nothing to show for trading away their captain.

Montgomery would spend parts of two seasons in Philadelphia and several more in the minors before resurfacing in the NHL with the Sharks and later Stars. In all, from the day he was traded straight up for Carbonneau he’d play just 55 NHL games, scoring three goals and 14 points.

So no, Jim Montgomery didn’t end up being much of an NHL player, despite once being traded for a Hall of Famer. But if the name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s back in the league now, having slightly more success as the head coach of the Dallas Stars.

Yan Golubovsky

Golubovsky was a Russian defenseman who’d been a first-round pick by the Red Wings in 1994. He didn’t debut until 1997, playing a dozen games for the Wings over a one-month stretch before being sent back down. He bounced up and down for three seasons, playing a total of 50 games and scoring one goal while mostly holding down AHL duties.

When he didn’t make the NHL roster out of camp in 2000, the team finally cut bait. And they did it by reacquiring a recent Wing. Igor Larionov had spent five years in Detroit before heading to Florida as a free agent in the 2000 offseason, presumably to center countryman Pavel Bure. That move had been a bust for everyone involved, with Larionov playing poorly, feuding with the coaching and staff and generally making a nuisance of himself. When the Wings came calling and Larionov agreed to waive his no-trade clause, the Panthers jumped at the chance to fold a bad hand, and a Larionov-for-Golubovsky trade was born.

Larionov played three more solid seasons for the Wings, including a 2002 Cup run in which he scored a massive goal. As for Florida, the deal was overshadowed by bigger news, as the Panthers fired GM Bryan Murray and coach Terry Murray on the same day. But they promised their fans that Golubovsky would play for the Panthers one day. He did – six games, to be exact. They’d be the last of his NHL career, as he’d head back to Russia after the season.

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Monday, July 22, 2019

Projecting the opening night lineup for whichever team you personally cheer for

One of the neat things about working at The Athletic is that there’s so much hockey coverage by so many smart writers that you can get a really good sense of what kind of content the readers like. You guys let us know what works for you, and certain types of articles always seem to do well.

For example, we always get a strong response on offseason pieces that project a team’s opening night lineup. That makes sense; it’s the summer, there isn’t any breaking news and hockey fans are already thinking ahead to October. It’s fun to try to predict the future, and lots of our local writers have done exactly that (like here, here and here, with more on the way this week).

That’s all well and good for the beat writers who follow one specific team. But what about me? My job is to cover the entire league as a whole. How do I get a piece of this gravy train? What am I supposed to do, project the opening night lineup for every team in the entire league?

Yes. Yes, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

As in, I’m going to do the entire league in one shot. Including your team.

Do I know who your team is? I do not. But not knowing what I’m talking about has never stopped me before. And besides, despite all of our in-fighting and sniping at each other, hockey fans have more in common than we might think. I’m betting I can come pretty close on at least a good chunk of your favorite team’s opening night lineup without even knowing who it is.

Don’t read any further if you want to be surprised. But if you’d like to get a sense of who’ll you’ll be rooting for when your team takes to the ice in October, let’s break down the lines and pairings.

First line

The superstar everyone loves

Man, this guy is so good. He’s the face of the franchise, everybody owns at least one of his jerseys, his image is plastered all over the arena and he awkwardly mumbles his way through several commercials. He should get even more Hart Trophy love than he already does, you’re convinced that he’s a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer and there’s a decent chance you’ve named one of your children after him. This guy is the best.

The other superstar that everyone loves slightly less

This guy is also good. There are times when he might even be better than the first superstar. He might even end up leading the team in scoring. And you like him well enough, you guess. It’s just not quite the same as it is with the other guy. Maybe it’s his contract, or his personality, or just his body language. Make no mistake, if fans of some other team talk trash about this guy you will fight them to the death. But your heart isn’t completely in it. Still, put him on the ice with the other star and you’ve got the foundation of a really nice top line.

The random guy who gets to play with the two superstars

Remember when teams used to put their best three forwards on the first line? That was fun. But these days, the top line is two stars and then this guy. He’s … fine? He’s fine. He’s good on the forecheck, he’s vaguely aware of where the defensive zone is, he might score 20 goals and he’s guaranteed to get a few assists just based on having the puck bounce off of him on the way to the better players. Is that enough to earn him a spot on the top line? Apparently! He probably plays Fortnite with one of the superstars.

Second line

The terrible contract that you’re just trying to make the best of

Look, it was a bad signing, OK? Everybody thought so at the time, and it’s turned out even worse than we thought. But we can’t do anything about that now, because the deal is also buyout-proof, so let’s just make the best of it. In this case, making the best of it means playing this guy way higher in the lineup than he deserves and hoping he gets off to a decent start, at which point the plan is to trade him to some team that hasn’t been paying attention and doesn’t know how Google works. We didn’t say it was a good plan, but it’s all we’ve got.

The rookie

This guy is going to be so good. He has to be, given all the hype around him. He may have been a high pick, or maybe he’s a late-bloomer who took a few seasons to figure it out. But either way, he’s going to be amazing, and that jerk Corey Pronman is going to eat his words for ranking him so low. He’ll be great. Please let him be great. Oh man, we are so screwed if this kid isn’t great …

The offseason acquisition

He’s the shiny new toy, and the team is really banking on him having a big year. Granted, he wasn’t very good last season. But that’s why he was available in the first place, so it’s actually a good thing. Besides, a change of scenery will probably be good for him. Did he cost too much? Well, yeah, he kind of did, but that’s the offseason, right? He’ll show up for camp in the best shape of his life, he’ll have a nice goal in the exhibition opener and he’ll say all the right things about how much he always wanted to play here. It’s going to work. Just give it some time.

You will have permanently turned on this guy within three weeks of the season starting.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Which first name produces the best starting six in NHL history?

Today, we’re going to try to answer a pressing question: What’s the greatest first name in NHL history?

I’m going to stop right here and acknowledge that you’ve immediately got two thoughts going through your mind. The first is, “Wow, this is dumb. Slow news day, guys? You’re really going to post a whole article about hockey players with the same first names?” Surely you’re tempted to cut-and-paste that in the comment section right now.

The second thought involves you immediately coming up with ideas for names you think should be on the list. You’re already having the debate in your own head.

I get it. If I’m being honest, I feel the same way. This is dumb, and we’re doing it anyway. Embrace the cognitive dissonance.

But first, let’s figure out some ground rules. Most importantly, we’ll group variations of the same name, e.g., Will and Bill and Willie can all come together to form Team William. We’re not going to haggle over minor spelling variations, meaning the Patricks can unite with the Patriks and the Johns and Jons can work together. (One exception: The Shawns will not be invited to join Team Sean, because screw those weirdos. They know what they did.)

And no, we’re not going to try to get clever with middle names or anything like that. Whatever a player went by during his playing days is his name as far as we’re concerned. We’ll use the invaluable database to resolve any disputes.

We’re going to assemble a starting lineup from each name, which means three forwards, two defensemen and a goaltender. And we want quality at as many of the six positions as we can get, not one or two superstars and then a bunch of guys you never heard of. That knocks a few famous names out of the running right off the bat. There have been plenty of Gordies, but only Howe and Drillon were truly great. We’ve only had one elite-level Mario, or Dominik or Maurice. There’s only been one really good Wayne, or maybe two if you want to count Cashman. None of those names will make our list. Luckily, that still leaves us with plenty of candidates, enough to form a playoff field of 16 with plenty of honorable mentions.

Let’s do it. Who’s up for wasting a little time in late July? After all, we might as well do this now. Partly because it’s summer, but mainly because I’ve watched enough of the WHL to know that we have a few years left before Team Kayden overwhelms us and makes the whole thing moot.

No. 16. Team Peter

We’ll start with what ends up being a surprisingly European-heavy roster, with three modern-era stars up front. The blue line is probably the weakest on our list, so much so that I considered just using both Petr Svobodas to save space and ended up having to rely on a journeyman defenseman/pro wrestling patriotic hero just to fill the ice time.

But let’s be honest, Team Peter has to make the list largely on the strength of the goaltender, where Petr Mrazek has a solid case but has to give way to a guy who was basically made for this sort of game.

Forwards: Peter Forsberg, Peter Stastny, Peter Bondra

Defensemen: Petr Svoboda, Peter Taglianetti

Goaltender: Pete Peeters

No. 15. Team Chris

As we’ll see, most of the teams on our list end up being heavy up front but light on the backend. Team Chris (and Kris) has the opposite problem. We’ve got decent goaltending and a blue line so stacked that Letang didn’t even get a sniff, but they’ll have to hold down the fort while a decidedly just-OK forward line tries to score.

Forwards: Chris Drury Kris Draper, Chris Kunitz

Defensemen: Chris Pronger, Chris Chelios

Goaltender: Chris Osgood

No. 14. Team Ryan

This one ends up being our most modern roster, with pretty much every notable Ryan from NHL history playing in the last decade. (Apologies to Ryan Walter.) It’s not the most star-studded squad, at least compared to some of the others we’ll run into and the recency bias means there aren’t any Hall-of-Famers. But it’s solid one-through-six with no obvious weak spots, and while the depth isn’t great on the back end, we could at least run a decent second line of Johansen, Nugent-Hopkins and Kesler.

Forwards: Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan O’Reilly, Ryan Smyth

Defensemen: Ryan Suter, Ryan McDonagh

Goaltender: Ryan Miller

No. 13. Team David

Please rise and remove your caps for the playing of the Team David national anthem.

With that out of the way, the actual Davids give us some depth options, but not much more than that. There’s David Krejci, Backes, Legwand and Perron. But the only obvious starter that the Davids can offer up is Pastrnak. Also, this Clarkson guy is ruining our cap.

Luckily, things get better when the Daves show up. The forward ranks include two Hall-of-Famers in Keon and Andreychuk, a quasi-candidate in Taylor, some solid options in Gagner and Christian and plenty of intimidation in Semenko, Williams and Brown. We don’t have any superstars on the back end, but the 1980s and 1990s serve up at least a few solid blue line candidates from the Dave brigade in Ellett, Manson and Babych. So yeah, the Daves are carrying us here. Also, this Bolland guy is ruining our cap.

Unfortunately, goaltending is going to be an issue for Team David. As best I can tell, it comes down to a battle between Dave Dryden and David Aebischer. I guess we’ve got to go with the guy who was at least traded for an MVP.

Forwards: Dave Keon, Dave Andreychuk, David Pastrnak

Defensemen: Dave Ellett, Dave Babych

Goaltender: David Aebischer

No. 12. Team Douglas

Now here’s a classic hockey name. There have been like two dozen notable Dougs in all of human history, and the whole list is basically Flutie, Henning, Adams, Stanhope and then a bunch of hockey players.

Unfortunately, none of those hockey players are goaltenders, so we’re kind of stuck there. Still, we’re pretty set everywhere else, with a few Hall-of-Famers plus a blueliner who should be there. The depth is OK, with Dougs on-call including Jarvis, Risebrough and Smail. Unfortunately, the pipeline isn’t great, with only Dougie Hamilton available among active players. Get to work making more Dougs, hockey parents of the world.

Forwards: Doug Bentley, Doug Gilmour, Doug Weight

Defensemen: Doug Harvey, Doug Wilson

Goaltender: Doug Favell

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Friday, July 12, 2019

Grab Bag: Summer days, an idea for bad GMs and the best Don Cherry soundbite ever

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- It's summer, so we won't be doing these every week
- I have a great idea for how we could mess with the league's worst GMs
- An obscure player with a familiar name
- An offseason confession that I have to get off my chest
- And a look back at the best minute of Don Cherry soundbites you'll ever hear

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Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Playing “What if?” with four of the cap era’s biggest free agency decisions

We’re over a week into the free agency period, which means most of the big decisions have already been made. And we’ve seen plenty. The Canadiens chose to try an offer sheet on Sebastian Aho, and the Hurricanes chose to match. Artemi Panarin chose the Rangers over the Islanders and Blue Jackets. The Panthers chose to give $70 million to a goaltender. And the Predators chose to finally do whatever it took to land Matt Duchene, even if it meant giving up P.K. Subban.

Will some of those decisions turn out to be mistakes? Probably. That’s the beauty of this time of year. The GMs, owners, players and agents make the best choices they can, and the rest of us get to watch and see how it all turns out.

That’s always been the fun part for me, because I love a good round of “what if?” I mean, I really love it. I’m the guy who once wrote an entire alternate history of the NHL based on the Tom Kurvers trade never happening. I may have a problem. But I’m betting at least a few of you are right there with me.

So today, let’s look back on four key free agency-related scenarios from the salary cap era, and how history may have changed if they played out differently. As we’ll see, the decisions that get made at this time of year can have profound and sometimes unexpected impacts – not just on the teams and players involved, but on what does (and doesn’t) happen around the league as a result.

2006: What if the Senators choose Zdeno Chara over Wade Redden?

The situation: One year into the cap era, the Senators were Cup contenders who’d just finished the 2005-06 season with the best record in the East. But they were faced with a tricky offseason dilemma. Each of their two best defensemen, Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara, were on the brink of unrestricted free agency. And the team decided that they only had the budget and cap space to re-sign one of them.

So who would it be? Both players were coming off excellent seasons; Chara had finished fourth in Norris voting, while Redden was fifth. Chara was a rare combination of size and skill who’d taken a while to find his game in the NHL but had developed into one of the best defensemen in the league since being traded to Ottawa, having been named a first-team all-star in 2004. Redden hadn’t quite hit those heights but owned a longer track record, having been a consistent presence on the Ottawa blueline for a decade. Along with Daniel Alfredsson, he was the face of the franchise.

You can pick one. Who do you go with?

What happened: The decision went down to the wire, but ultimately the Senators chose Redden, re-signing him on the eve of free agency to a two-year extension that carried a $6.5 million cap hit. Chara became a UFA, and quickly signed a five-year deal with the Bruins with a $7.5 million cap hit.

Needless to say, it all worked out brilliantly for the Bruins. Chara has had 13 years and counting in Boston; he’s been a postseason all-star five times, won a Norris and been a finalist four other times, and led the team to a Stanley Cup in 2011. He’s almost certainly the greatest free agent signing of the cap era, and maybe even of all-time.

Redden finished out his two-year extension in Ottawa, playing reasonably well if not quite at an all-star level, before needing a new deal again in 2008. This time, the Senators couldn’t keep him, and even tried to get him to waive his no-trade clause on multiple occasions. He refused, denting his reputation with some Senators fans in the process, and eventually signed a six-year contract with the Rangers on the first day of free agency. That deal ended up being a bust, and Redden spent much of it in the AHL.

At the time, it had seemed like a tough call. In hindsight, it couldn’t have been more lopsided. And the Senators chose wrong.

But what if… : First things first. A lot of the “Redden vs. Chara” narrative has always felt a little too convenient. We don’t know a lot of what happened behind the scenes, including whether Chara ever really wanted to stay in Ottawa in the first place. It’s possible that the Senators just re-signed the player who wanted to stay to the best deal they could, and the rest of it is just a dramatic storyline slapped on top of some fairly standard cap management.

But that’s no fun. So let’s pretend that the Senators really were faced with an either/or choice. What if they’d chosen Chara, on the same sort of five-year deal he got from Boston?

Well, the first repercussion is that a big chunk of their fan base is furious. That’s the part of the story that gets skipped over these days, but as a hockey fan living in Ottawa at the time, I can tell you that it’s hard to overstate just how popular Redden was. He had his occasional detractors, like any player. But for most of his time as a Senator he was the golden boy, and the fans didn’t want to see him go.

Are the Senators better with Chara instead, even at a higher salary? In hindsight, absolutely, although it’s worth remembering that Redden helped them get to the Stanley Cup final in 2007. Do they win that final with Chara in the lineup? They might. And they almost definitely manage more than the two playoff game wins they had over the following four years. Could they have kept Chara on another deal beyond that? That gets dicey, but even if he’d bolted after five years, they’d have still come out ahead compared to two years of Redden.

Meanwhile, the Bruins lose out on their captain, and probably their 2011 Cup too. More bad news: they would have had an extra $7.5 million to spend in that 2006 offseason. Do they throw it at another blueliner, like Ed Jovanovski or Pavel Kubina? Or maybe one of the big forwards like Alex Tanguay or Martin Havlat? None of those options look great in hindsight. Take Chara off the market in 2006, and the next decade-plus of Bruins history starts to look very different.

On that note, here’s one more what-if to consider: What if Chara had hit the market, but chosen not to sign in Boston? According to reports, the other main bidder was the Los Angeles Kings. Would Chara have been as dominant in Los Angeles as he was in Boston? Probably. But that might not have been a good thing. If Chara improve the rebuilding Kings by just a few wins by Year 2, that moves them out of the second-overall pick in the 2008 draft, and probably makes Drew Doughty an Atlanta Thrasher. Do the Kings win two Cups with Chara instead of Doughty? And if you want to really get crazy, do the Thrashers improve enough after adding Doughty with the second-overall pick that they’re not in Winnipeg today? Bruins fans are happy that we never got to find out.

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Friday, July 5, 2019

The top secret transcript of Gary Bettman’s Fourth of July party

As my longtime readers know, Gary Bettman loves nothing more than hosting the entire NHL world at one of his world-famous parties. This year was no different, as all the most important names in the hockey world were invited to Bettman’s home for a backyard cookout to celebrate the Fourth of July.

Somehow, I didn’t get an invite. But luckily, my spies were able to sneak in, and they sent me a top secret transcript of the entire event.

(Scene: It’s the backyard of a large home in a trendy New York suburb. Gary Bettman is wearing a “Kiss the Chef” apron as he works the grill and welcomes guests. He’s approached by an old friend.)

Bill Daly: Gary, thanks for the invite. How this year’s party shaping up?

Bettman: We’re just getting started, but so far, so good.

Daly: Great. Got enough food?

Bettman: I think so. I’ve got a few packs of frozen burgers, a couple of steaks and sausages, and several hundred hot dogs that Mike Sullivan dropped off.

Daly: That seems like a lot.

Bettman: Apparently all the hot dog carts near the arena were having going-out-of-business sales.

Daly: I see.

Bettman: He seemed pretty happy about it.

Daly: Are all the guests here?

Bettman: Well, not all of them. Gabriel Landeskog been has been standing on the porch for half an hour, waiting for somebody to open the door for him. Jake Gardiner couldn’t make it because he’s waiting for a repairmen to show up and get his phone line working. And Paul Fenton was on his way up the driveway when he thought he saw a lizard, and now he’s trying to sign it to a contract.

Daly: Does that make sense to anybody?

Bettman: Not remotely, no.

Daly: OK, just checking.

Bettman: Anyway, time to start serving up some food. Hey Sebastian Aho, want a burger?

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Thursday, July 4, 2019

The 20 stages of watching your team make a horrible free agency mistake

We’re a few days into the 2019 free agency period, and while there a handful of decent names and useful depth pieces still available, for the most part, the market has been picked clean.

And chances are, your favorite team signed at least one big contract. How are you feeling about that? You might be feeling pretty good, especially if you’re new at this. But if you’ve been around for a while, and you’re familiar with the history of big UFA deals, you’re probably feeling something that ranges from gnawing doubt to outright panic.

If so, that’s to be expected. It’s all part of being a hockey fan in the first week of July. So today, let’s calm those nerves and reassure everyone that what they’re feeling is perfectly normal, as we run through the 20 stages of finding out your team has signed a terrible free agency deal.

Stage 1: The first rumors

You’ll never quite remember where you first heard the original rumor. It might be on Twitter. It could be some talk radio segment. You might hear it from a friend who swears he heard it from a friend whose uncle-in-law used to work with the assistant GM’s former cleaning lady. But at some point, somebody strings together a sentence featuring a player’s name, your favorite team, and a number that is just way too high.

Stage 2: You laugh at those rumors

I mean, come on. That much? For that guy? Nice try. Granted, your team’s GM isn’t exactly crushing it out there. He’s been known to make the occasional mistake. He’s lost a few trades, and overpaid on a few contracts. Also, he once ended a press conference by confidently striding away from the podium and then pulling on a door labeled “PUSH” for half an hour.

So no, he’s not the second coming of Sam Pollock. But he’s also not a complete imbecile. You’re not remotely worried. Besides, if there was any truth to it, one of the real insiders would be reporting it.

Stage 3: One of the real insiders reports it

Uh oh.

OK, that’s a bad sign. Those guys are pretty plugged in, and they don’t make stuff up. If they’re talking about it, there has to at least be something to it.

This is not good.

Stage 4: You talk yourself into the cap hit as long as the term is reasonable

Look, the numbers being thrown around are pretty crazy. But what if this is one of those short-term deals? Those happen sometimes. Your team has a bit of cap room this year, after all. Sure, you were hoping they’d use it to fill one of the roughly nine different holes in the roster, but maybe they could just give it all to this guy on a one-year deal. Aren’t expiring deals for a lot of money a good thing? You could swear you heard your NBA fan friend say that once.

One year would be fine. Two, you could live with. It’s the term, not the cap hit.

Note: This is the point where one of the insiders will break in to report that the term is going to be, and I’m quoting, “for all eternity.” But you’ll probably get some cap relief on the day the sun explodes, so you’ve got that going for you.

Stage 5: The desperate search for any rumors linking the player to any other team

Please, let somebody else be linked to this guy. You don’t even care who. There has to be some other sucker out there.

Social media follows will be tailored. Radio and TV stations will be scanned. Google News alerts will be set up. You will develop a deep and abiding interest in KHL transfer rules. Somebody else out there has to be talking about this guy too, right?

Except they aren’t. And you know what that means…

Stage 6: The deal gets announced

This is always a fun moment, especially if this is one of the rare cases where you’ve skipped steps one through five entirely because the deal is coming out of the blue. You haven’t had the chance to brace yourself at all, and suddenly you get blindsided by a name and a number that don’t make sense. These sort of surprise signings are uncommon these days, especially with the week-long interview window, but they still happen occasionally.

Assuming you’ve had some advance warning and your team is at least a little bit smart, the final deal won’t be quite as bad as you’d been led to believe. It’s a relatively recent phenomenon, but teams are starting to figure out that it can help to let a slightly higher number leak ahead of time so that the actual price seems reasonable by comparison. This will make you feel better for roughly 30 seconds before you run the numbers and realize they’re still awful.

If your team isn’t a little bit smart, then the official announcement will be even worse than you thought and you’ll need to go and lie down in a dark storage closet for the rest of the day.

(Also, bonus points if your team does that adorable “terms will not be disclosed” thing, just to give you an extra two minutes of hope before Pierre LeBrun discloses the exact terms down to the dollar.)

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Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Puck Soup: Season finale

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- We try to figure out what the deal was with the Sebastian Aho offer sheet
- One of us thinks the Habs did a good thing; two of us do not
- Rounding up the rest of the free agency action
- Our thoughts on the big Leafs/Avalanche trade
- Greg and Ryan get into a heated argument over Joe Pavelski, Ben Bishop and the Stars
- Darryl Sutter joiins the Duck
- Something about Spiderman that I didn't pay attention to
- Plus Paul Fenton's weird comments about lizards and lots more...

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, subscribe on iTunes.

>> This is the final free episode of Puck Soup for the summer, but you can still get weekly mailbags and special bonus episodes by supporting Puck Soup on Patreon for $5.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Building a roster of the cap era’s worst July 1 signings

So the first day of free agency has come and gone. How did your team do?

Probably not well. If history is any guide, your team either missed out on the big signings, or paid way too much to get in on them. If we’ve learned anything about July 1 in the salary cap era, it’s that jumping in with both feet on Day 1 of the open market can lead to a lot of regret. There are bargains, sure, and occasionally a team will sign a big-dollar deal that works out great. But those are exceptions. Most of the time, July 1 is the day that GMs do their very worst work.

That feels like something worth celebrating. So as we recover from yesterday’s chaos and try to digest all the money NHL GMs just threw around, let’s look back on the mistakes of the past by building a full roster out of some of the worst July 1 UFA deals of the cap era.

A couple of quick ground rules:

– We’re only looking for UFA deals that were signed on July 1. That rules out a few names you might be expecting to see here, like New York’s Brad Richards or Calgary’s James Neal (both of whose deals came a few days into free agency) and Philadelphia’s Ilya Bryzgalov (who was actually acquired in a trade and signed before he reached UFA status, but still needs to be mentioned here because that was hilarious).

– We’re judging signings based on a mix of the reaction at the time and how the deal looks with the benefit of hindsight. Because of that second part, we’re going to try really hard not to include any of this year’s signing, although (double-checks yesterday’s list) yeah no promises.

– The 2013 offseason schedule was thrown off a few days by the lockout, so for that season only “July 1” is actually July 5.

All contract information, including signing date and cap hit percentage, is from the CapFriendly signing database. Salaries are average annual value; “cap hit” is the percentage of that season’s cap.

As you might expect, there’s going to be some overlap with our worst possible cap team exercise from last season. But as bad as that roster was, this one might be even more depressing. You’ve been warned. Let’s get started.

First line

Scott Gomez, Rangers, 2007: 7 x $7.357 million, 14.63% cap hit

This deal seemed steep at the time, and got far worse over the years. It wasn’t the complete disaster you might remember it as – Gomez was actually pretty good in his first year in New York, and nearly hit the 60-point mark in the next two. And of course, the Rangers managed to somehow unload the deal onto the Canadiens before it really blew up. But once it did, man, it was awful. When you have your own website to track whether you’ve scored, that’s bad. When that site doesn’t change for over a year, that’s worse.

David Clarkson, Maple Leafs, 2013: 7 x $5.25 million, 8.16% cap hit

“I’m not worried about six or seven right now,” Leafs GM Dave Nonis infamously said when signing the deal. “I’m worried about one. And Year 1, I know we’re going to have a very good player.”

Nope. Clarkson was a miss almost immediately, in part due to an ill-advised suspension that delayed his regular season debut. To be fair, many Leafs fans loved the deal at the time, and some of the local media went nuts for it. Others immediately saw the disaster that was coming, including a young Globe and Mail beat writer who I hear went on to work at some website.

While it was never from lack of trying, Clarkson never clicked in Toronto, and didn’t even last two seasons before the team ate millions of dollars to ship him to Columbus. He hasn’t played since 2015-16 and almost certainly never will again, but his contract is still kicking around the league – partly because Nonis decided to make it virtually buyout proof.

Milan Lucic, Oilers, 2016: 7 x $6 million, 8.22% cap hit

Three years after watching the Leafs throw seven years at an aging power forward because of heart and grit and compete level, the Oilers apparently figured they could do even better. Lucic at least gave them one decent year, which is one more than the Leafs ever got from Clarkson. But unlike the Leafs, the Oilers haven’t yet figured out a way to wiggle out from under this contract, despite rumors that they’re desperately trying.

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