Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Ringing in the new NHL season with some 2021 resolutions

I have this post that I like to do every year right around the time that the NHL season is almost about to start, where I recognize a new beginning in the hockey world by suggesting some resolutions. Get it? It’s funny, because they’re new year’s resolutions, but it’s September.


While 2020 will go down as the most messed up year in sports history, it’s at least leaving hockey fans with a nice bit of symmetry. With camps opening over the coming days, we get to have our new season and our new year at pretty much the same time. That means I get to do this resolutions gimmick at the same time you’re probably making the real thing. Or maybe you’re not, and you’re just planning to mark the end of 2020 the same way I am, by standing on your front porch at 11:59 p.m. screaming “GET OUT I HATE YOU” at the sky while your kids slowly inch back towards their rooms. We’re all coping in our own ways, is what I’m saying.

Where was I? Oh right, new season’s resolutions. As always, I’ll be offering up a few suggestions for how all of us — fans and media, newbies and diehards — can do this hockey thing just a little bit better. You’re welcome to pick and choose which ones might work for you. Maybe you already do a few of these, or you don’t think you should. If so, that’s fine. The main point is that we all have room for improvement, and far more importantly, 2020 can go screw.

Let’s stop acting like a shot that hits the post is a lucky break for the goalie

I’ll admit that I tend to pick on goalies. And rightly so, because they’re all huge weirdos who’ve ruined entertaining hockey by getting way too good at their jobs. I’m telling you, kids, this sport was a happier place when the goalies were all 5-foot-3 and had to desperately wave their adorably tiny limbs around to make saves before falling over because somebody made them try to move sideways. Now they’re all RVH cyborgs who wear the power armor from “Fallout” as equipment and who can shave 10 points off their save percentage by learning how to hold their head at a slightly different angle in the offseason. I hate them.

But today, a peace offering to my goaltending friends: We need to stop pretending they got lucky when a shot hits the post.

We all do it. You’ll hear about a goaltender getting a shutout, but then somebody chimes in with “Sure, but they gave up three posts.” OK … and? What does that have to do with anything? They stopped every shot that was going to go in the net, right? What’s the problem?

It’s especially weird since hockey fans generally hate the concept of luck. It’s the one four-letter word you’re not supposed to ever say at a hockey rink. You know the drill. Good teams make their own luck, good players just “find a way,” it all evens out anyway, etc. Fair enough. But then a goaltender has a good game, and we all want to accuse them of being lucky.

If a player dekes a goalie out of his shorts but then fans on the open net, you could call that luck. If a sure goal is taken off the board because the referee mistakenly blew the play dead, sure, that’s luck. If an ancestor of the bat from the 1975 Fog Game swoops down from the rafters just as the goalie is beaten clean on a slapshot and the puck hits it in mid-air, Randy Johnson style, and bounces harmlessly away, then absolutely, that would be luck.

But when a shot that wasn’t going in doesn’t go in? That’s not luck. That’s a shot that missed the mark. It’s not a goalie’s job to stop those. Tom Barrasso was right!

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t make note of shots that hit the post. Those are near-misses, and in a game of millimeters, like the modern NHL, they’re important moments. But the goalie is responsible for keeping the puck out of a very specific 24-square foot space, and that’s it. If they do that job for 60 minutes or more, that’s all we can ask. So let’s stop telling goalies they were just lucky when they weren’t.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Monday, December 21, 2020

NHL Mega-Mock Draft: We picked everything to build a league

The pitch came with a warning.

This is either a great idea or a really, really terrible one.

As the managing editor of our hockey coverage in the U.S., Sarah Goldstein is the best audience for these kinds of ideas because she generally likes them. And she has a sixth sense for understanding what subscribers will enjoy. That you’re reading this indicates where she stood on the idea.

The pitch was this: What if we got 32 hockey writers together and we drafted everything? A franchise player. An owner. A market. A GM. A coach. Had we consulted Mark Lazerus earlier, we probably would have included a mascot.

Besides being really fun to do, it was an attempt at trying to figure out what was most valuable to a successful NHL franchise. And within that conceit, ranking the value of each of those commodities since you could take any one of them in any round. For us, it was the first time we really tried to dig in and figure out if Lightning owner Jeff Vinik was more valuable to the success of an NHL franchise than Oilers captain Connor McDavid.

Even as recently as a few weeks ago, the jury was still out as to whether this was a great idea or terrible. Or maybe just simply the result of a bunch of writers and editors with too much time in between actual hockey games.

But sometime in the middle of a recent Zoom call with 30-plus hockey writers, each loudly offering their opinions of each pick and its merit, it was clear that maybe it wasn’t so terrible. When the debate extended for days in an internal Slack channel, optimism was even higher.

Here were the rules put in place for the 2020 NHL Mega-Mock Draft:

We had 32 writers join the draft, each charged with starting a franchise from scratch. They had to pick a franchise player, a GM, a coach, an owner and a market. The owner and market had to be actual NHL cities and owners. Sure, we’re operating somewhere in fantasyland already but we wanted some assessment of reality. We didn’t want to walk away with Beyonce owning a team in Paris. Although seeing that now, maybe we should have.

The players could be any age, which opened it up to prospects outside the NHL. They also had no contractual attachments, so there weren’t bonus points for getting Alexis Lafreniere on his entry-level deal. The GM and coach had fewer restrictions. If you thought there’s a better coach in college or the AHL than currently behind an NHL bench, you could grab them. Same goes for the GM. And these franchise starters definitely took advantage of that opportunity. This wasn’t an attempt to build an all-time team. It was to build a franchise from scratch to have success today. Lastly, for the sanity of Commissioner Goldstein, there were no trades allowed.

The process was fun. The results, we hope, are interesting. Ultimately, it’ll be your call if we ever do this again.

Here are the results of that draft, with commentary from Craig Custance and Sean McIndoe, and explainers from the writers:

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Friday, December 18, 2020

Is Iginla for Nieuwendyk the greatest win-win trade in history?

This weekend will mark the 25-year anniversary of one of my favorite trades of all time: the Joe Nieuwendyk for Jarome Iginla blockbuster that reshaped two franchises.

It’s just such a great deal. You couldn’t ask for more star power, with both players going on to become Hall of Famers. It was the sort of big, gutsy move that used to happen back in the pre-cap days but has faded out of favor over time. And to this day, it still holds up as just about the archetypal veteran-for-prospect deal.

Like most legendary deals, it didn’t go down quite the way most of us remember it. For one thing, it wasn’t a one-for-one trade, even as important piece Corey Millen has largely been written out of the retellings. It was somewhat overshadowed at the time by the repercussions of an even bigger trade that had gone down just a few days earlier. The deal wasn’t exactly a Day 1 hit in Calgary, where a local newspaper ran a headline reading “Jarome Who?” And there’s the small matter of Nieuwendyk’s season-long holdout, one that had helped get Flames GM Doug Risebrough fired just weeks earlier. That part makes the story a little more complicated, and often gets left out.

But that’s all fine, because Jarome Iginla and Joe Nieuwendyk were both awesome. And that’s the real beauty of the trade: It worked out just about perfectly for everyone involved. Iginla went on to become quite possibly the greatest player in Flames history, while Nieuwendyk led the Stars to the franchise’s only Stanley Cup a few years later, winning the Conn Smythe along the way. Both sides got exactly what they were hoping for.

Most NHL blockbusters, in hindsight, have a winner and a loser. The Hawks got taken to the cleaners when they sent Phil Esposito to Boston, the Kings clearly won the Wayne Gretzky sale trade, the Leafs robbed the Flames in the Doug Gilmour deal, and so on. Most aren’t quite so lopsided, and a strong pair of homer glasses can occasionally make things seem a little better, but we can almost always look back and know which team would do the deal again and which might prefer a do-over.

But every now and then, we get a deal that works out for everyone. Is Iginla/Nieuwendyk history’s top trade in that category? Let’s try to figure that out, as we remember five more big deals that both sides would happily do all over again.

And we might as well start with another famous Flames trade …

The Brett Hull trade

The setup: Heading into the 1988 trade deadline, the Flames were a very good team two years removed from a loss in the Stanley Cup Final and well on their way to the best regular season finish in franchise history. But they still had Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers looming in the playoffs, and GM Cliff Fletcher wanted to load up on veteran depth for what he hoped could be a Cup run. If that meant he had to move a rookie sharpshooter with a famous last name and a shaky work ethic, he was willing to do that.

The trade: The Flames sent 23-year-old Brett Hull and Steve Bozek to the Blues for Rob Ramage and Rick Wamsley.

The impact on the Blues: Reasonably positive. Hull scored 40 goals in his first full year in St. Louis, then exploded for 228 over the next three seasons, leading the league each time. He won the Hart in 1991 and ended up scoring 527 goals in 11 seasons with the Blues

The impact on the Flames: Calgary lost to the Oilers again in that year’s playoffs, but that summer’s Gretzky trade opened the door, and Ramage and Wamsley helped the team finally take home the Cup in 1989.

Why it might be the best: On the surface, this is basically the early prototype of the Iginla/Nieuwendyk trade, as one team gives up a future stud but wins a Cup shortly after.

Why it might not: Wamsley was a decent backup during the 1988-89 season, but made just one quick relief appearance in the playoffs as Mike Vernon shouldered the load. Ramage was a dependable piece who ate minutes and could play at both ends. Neither guy was exactly a “Nieuwendyk wins the Conn Smythe” sort of impact. Do the Flames still win without them? They might, yeah.

Bottom line: Hull was so good for so long that this might be one of the only trades where a team that quickly won a championship might still want to at least think about a mulligan. I don’t mind keeping it in the win-win category because a Cup is a Cup, but the Iginla/Nieuwendyk deal checks all the same boxes and does them better.

Heatley for Hossa

The setup: Coming out of the 2004-05 lockout, Dany Heatley needed a fresh start after his role in tragedy in Atlanta. Meanwhile, Marian Hossa signed a three-year deal with Ottawa because he wanted to stay with the Senators, which meant he was in for a surprise.

The trade: Hours after getting the 26-year-old Hossa’s signature on an extension, the Senators flipped him to Atlanta for the 24-year-old Heatley. In a nice bit of symmetry with the Iginla/Nieuwendyk trade, this is another one of those deals that people incorrectly remember as being one-for-one, with defenseman Greg de Vries playing the role of Corey Millen.

The impact on the Senators: Heatley was everything the Senators were hoping for, slotting in on a formidable top line with Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson and recording back-to-back 50-goal seasons, the only times in franchise history anyone has hit that mark. The good times lasted four seasons before a bitter fallout led to a trade demand and eventual deal to San Jose.

The impact on the Thrashers: Hossa clicked nicely with Ilya Kovalchuk, nearly matching Heatley’s offensive output while being the far better two-way player. He was traded at the end of his third year in Atlanta (for a disappointing return), but still had nearly a decade of excellent hockey left in him.

Why it might be the best: Considering this move was basically forced on one of the teams involved, it worked out about as evenly as it possibly could have, with both teams getting exactly what they were looking for.

Why it might not: The two stars combined to spend less than seven full seasons with their new teams, and neither turned into much on the way out of town, so the long-term influence here isn’t all that impressive.

Bottom line: This is a solid contender, and could take the title of best win-win trade of the cap era. I don’t think it beats Iginla/Nieuwendyk for overall impact, though.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Puck Soup: New season when

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Lambert and I work through what we know about the NHL' return-to-play plans
- Are we getting too late for a January 13 opener?
- We run down the current odds for various individual awards, and highlight our best bets
- A fun quiz where we don't have to explain he rules for half an hour because Greg isn't there
- And more...

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, listen on The Athletic or subscribe on iTunes.

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Team Loyalty vs. Team Vagabond, and everyone in between

It sounds like we’re going to have a 2021 season, with camps starting in just a few weeks. That means we’re in the final days of the offseason, and I’ve still got a long list of weird topics to get through. We’d better get to work.

Could a roster made up of players who only ever played for one NHL team beat rosters made up of all the other combinations? Let’s find out!

I’m going to make a 20-man roster of players who stayed with one team for their entire NHL career. Then we’ll compare it to rosters of guys who played for two teams, and three, and then four and five. We’ll finish it off with a roster of players who showed up on six or more teams over the course of their careers. Are there enough good players like that to even build a team? I have no idea, I don’t tend to think these things through in advance.

But first, a few ground rules:

  • By “teams” I really mean franchises. If somebody was on the North Stars when they moved to Dallas, that counts as one team. If a guy had multiple stints with the same franchise, we count that as one team too. And this is obviously NHL only; we’re not counting any other leagues, including the WHA.
  • The player has to has actually appeared in at least one game for a team for it to count. Short stints are absolutely fine, and will turn out to be crucial for most of the later teams. Two games work as well as two decades. But if a player was technically team property but never suited up, that doesn’t count.
  • Since we’re interested in how many teams a guy played for over a full career, no active players are eligible. I know it’s hard to imagine Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin playing somewhere else, but there was a time we said that about Ray Bourque and Henrik Lundqvist. Your NHL career has to be over to qualify.
  • Each 20-man roster will feature 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies. I’m going to try to play wingers on the wing and centers at center wherever I can, but I’m not going to get too hung up on position. And this isn’t so much of a rule as a guideline, but if a call for a roster spot is close, I’m going to defer to the more recent player. I just think it’s more fun for readers that way.

Since I’ve been helping my kids with their science fair projects lately, I’m going to go ahead and state my hypothesis up front: I think the one-team roster is going to take this easily. I can just think of too many legends who are going to be featured on that squad. But I’m interested to see if anyone can give them a challenge, and which roster it might be.

We’ll do this in order, which means we start with the favorites.

Team Loyalty (i.e. guys who played for one team)


Rocket Richard
Mario Lemieux
Jean Beliveau
Joe Sakic
Steve Yzerman
Mike Bossy
Bobby Clarke
Stan Mikita
Gilbert Perreault
Henrik Sedin
Daniel Sedin
Pavel Datsyuk
Nicklas Lidstrom
Denis Potvin
Ken Dryden
Dit Clapper
Jacques Laperriere
Bill Durnan
Ron Greschner
Red Horner

Yeah, I’d say these guys are good.

Are they unbeatable? I’m not actually sure they are.

There are no surprises up front, where a French connection of Mario, the Rocket and Beliveau would be unstoppable. They don’t let up after that, with an Yzerman/Sakic/Bossy unit that would score a ton, and plenty of big names in the bottom six. There’s so much depth here that we don’t even get a chance to use names like Alex Delvecchio, Dave Taylor or Teeder Kennedy. Modern guys like Patrik Elias didn’t even get an invite to camp. Team one’s forwards are ridiculous.

But then we get to the blue line, and it’s…. not great, right? The first paring of Lidstrom and Potvin is obviously fantastic, and we’d be fine with them playing 30 minutes a night. But after that, it turns into surprisingly slim pickings. Dit Clapper and Red Horner are old-time legends, and Jacques Laperriere is a Norris winner who’s in the Hall of Fame. But Ron Greschner, as good as he is, seems out of place. And if we didn’t use him, we’d be considering names like Ken Daneyko and Chris Phillips.

What’ the deal? Why does it seem like legendary forwards often stay with one team, but defensemen rarely do? I’m not sure, but I’m kind of fascinated by this. Maybe it’s an anomaly that will look different in a few years if we can add names like Mark Giordano or Duncan Keith, but for now it’s weird.

The goaltending options aren’t deep either, but we can sneak in two Canadiens’ stars who had short but impeccable careers. (Dryden was originally Bruins property but never played a game for them, so we can use him here.) Turk Broda is also an option.

So there’s your single-team roster, the one we figured would be the favorite. They’ve very good, but a shaky blue line leaves an opening. Can another team take this? Let’s find out.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Friday, December 11, 2020

Mailbag: Leafs/Habs in 1993, broadcaster ratings, and all-hair teams

It’s mailbag time again, and for the first time in a while, we can do this in the shadow of some certainty about what the coming season looks like. It sounds like we’re all but locked in on a start date, and at least the broad strokes of a format.

And you know what? I’m pretty pumped. Yes, we probably all have plenty of reservations over whether this can all work, or just how badly it might fall apart. But for now, we have an opening night to look forward to. We’re only a few weeks away from some sort of training camp. We have an all-Canadian division, which I’m sure the whole country will be super chill about it. This is going to happen, at least to start with, and I kind of can’t wait.

So how did you all decide to celebrate? By asking a bunch of weird questions that have nothing to do with the upcoming season at all, of course. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Let’s get weird.

Note: Submitted questions have been edited for clarity and style.

Thanks to a recent grab bag and that great head shot of Al Iafrate, there is something now that I never before knew I needed: Team Mullet vs. Team Perfect Hair. I kindly request that you determine the best rosters for each and then determine which team would win a best-of-seven playoff series. I sincerely hope you have Jagr and Lundqvist as team captains, with Melrose and Babcock as head coaches. — Jason M.

Wait… you want me to talk about hockey mullets, but also perfect hockey hair? Um…

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Which Leafs GM builds the best lineup of players they acquired?

The Leafs have a weird history of GMs. When it comes to handing over the keys to the franchise, some teams out there definitely have a type. But Toronto has always been all over the map. They’ve hired crusty old guys with decades of experience, but also fresh-faced kids with new ideas. They’ve pilfered other teams for recent Cup winners, but also promoted from within. They’ve had GMs who were really smart and successful, and others who… well, let’s just say some of these guys tried their best and had fun.

It’s an eclectic mix, to say the least. So today, let’s have some fun with that list, as we answer a question: Which Maple Leafs GM from the modern era can make the best six-man starting lineup out of players he acquired while in Toronto?

This won’t be a ranking of the best and worst GMs, at least directly. (If you’re interested, I took a run at that a few years ago.) Instead, we’re interested in who can offer up the best starting six of three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie. Acquiring a variety of good players isn’t quite the same thing as being a good GM, but there’s some obvious overlap, so we’ll get a sense for who did the best job while maybe uncovering a few surprises along the way.

But first, a few ground rules:

– GMs are getting credit for any player they acquired in any way. Not just trading, but free agency signings, waivers, and anything else. That includes the entry draft, and we’re giving GMs credit for any players the team picked while they were in charge. That’s admittedly a little dicey, since some GMs are more involved in draft table decisions than others, especially when they may have just taken the job and were probably just green-lighting the scouting staff’s picks. But the buck stops at the top, and this feels like the only fair way to do it.

– This is important: The GM is only getting credit for what the player did while they were a Maple Leaf. That can include production that came after the GM had left the job, but they don’t get credit for acquiring players who went on to make their names somewhere else. Call this the Tuukka Rask rule.

– For this post, we only care about who the GM acquired. We’re not worried about what they gave up, or whether they paid a fair price to do it. If you overpay to land a star player, that’s bad in real life, but for our purposes today, it works.

We’ll be covering the modern era, which is to say we’re going back to 1967, which marked the first big expansion and the end of the Original Six era. Something else may have happened in 1967 too but I’m sure it wasn’t important. We won’t be including Gord Stellick (who was only on the job for one season and would have trouble icing a full squad), Bill Watters (who was interim GM for just a few months in 1997), or the Mark Hunter/Kyle Dubas interim duo in 2015 (since we don’t know which one was calling the shots on individual moves). That leaves us with an even dozen GMs to consider, which is a nice number to work with.

Normally I’d do this chronologically, but I feel like we should just go ahead and start with the elephant in the room: Can anyone come close to beating Cliff Fletcher?

Team Cliff Fletcher (1991 – 1997, 2008)

Forwards: Doug Gilmour, Mats Sundin, Dave Andreychuk

Defense: Tomas Kaberle, Dmitry Yushkevich

Goalie: Grant Fuhr

Yeah, I’d say Team Cliff is pretty good.

Probably not surprisingly, it’s built almost entirely through trades. There was a reason they called him Trader Cliff, and I can remember a time growing up in Toronto where if you somebody ripped you off on something, you’d be told “Dude, you got Fletcher’d”. The man knew how to swing a blockbuster, back in an era where that was still a key skill for a GM to have.

There’s four Hall-of-Famers here, and you could make a reasonable argument that three of them did their best work in Toronto. Gilmour had the best short-term peak of any Toronto forward of the modern era, and Sundin is in the conversation for the best Leaf ever. It’s telling that Andreychuk’s back-to-back 50-goal seasons still leave him a distant third.

If there’s a weakness, it’s on the blueline, where I went with two long-term Leafs over Larry Murphy, who was better in Toronto than he gets credit for but isn’t fondly remembered. Jamie Macoun was an option here too. Still, Kaberle may be the best Leaf defenseman of the 2000s, so we’re in decent shape here.

Fun fact: Yushkevich was also the trade that spawned the infamous “draft schmaft” comment that’s a big part of Fletcher’s legacy in Toronto. And sure enough, there’s only one draft pick in this bunch, as Fletcher and the Leafs lucked into Kaberle in the eighth round in 1996 but otherwise didn’t find much.

Other candidates: Larry Murphy, Jamie Macoun, Sergei Berezin, Luke Schenn, Frederik Modin, Glenn Anderson, Mike Gartner, Kirk Muller, Jason Smith, Mikael Grabovski, Tie Domi, Alyn McCauley, Sylvain Lefebvre, Wendel Clark v2.0.

So yeah, this team is stacked. Are they unbeatable? Maybe, but let’s find out.

Team Brian Burke (2008 – 2013)

Forwards: Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk

Defense: Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner

Goalie: Jean-Sebastien Giguere

Burke might be the second most memorable Leafs GM of the modern era, and if we were giving bonus points for sound bites he’d leave Fletcher in the dust.

As it stands, he still offers up a solid lineup. And maybe a little surprisingly, it’s one that’s strengthened by two excellent draft picks, as Kadri and Rielly were both legitimately strong choices. Combine that with Burke’s well-established reputation an as an aggressive and (usually) successful trader, and you’ve got the core of a strong entry.

Unfortunately, this team is very on-brand for Burke in two other ways: There’s no sign of a useful UFA signing, and the goaltending is weak. Giguere only lasted parts of two seasons, but our only other option is Jonas Gustavsson, and I think I’d take the Olaf Kolzig era over that.

Other candidates: Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul, Clarke MacArthur, Tyler Bozak

Team Burkie isn’t bad, but not quite at Team Cliff’s level. Let’s reach a little further back.

Team Gerry McNamara (1981 – 1988)

Forwards: Wendel Clark, Ed Olczyk, Gary Leeeman

Defense: Todd Gill, Al Iafrate

Goalie: Allan Bester

One of the most-maligned GMs in Toronto history puts together a surprisingly solid squad, one that’s built almost entirely through the draft. McNamara had his hands tied in free agency by the rules of the day and a cheapskate owner, and his trading record was pretty abysmal beyond the excellent deal to get Olczyk out of Chicago. But he hit on more than a few picks, even if he could never overcome Harold Ballard’s meddling long enough to build an actual winner.

Other candidates: Russ Courtnall, Vincent Damphousse, Stumpy Thomas, Luke Richardson, Ken Wregget, Motor City Smitty

Speaking of much-maligned GMs, let’s get this one out of the way…

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Friday, December 4, 2020

Who wins an all-time battle between Team Byng and Team PIM?

Picture a hockey player. Not a specific one, but your version of the archetypal player, the generic one that comes to mind when you think about the sport.

Chances are, you’re picturing some growling menace with a black eye, missing teeth, and an angry expression. Maybe a scar or two, or cartoon-style bandage. That’s hockey, right? It’s a sport that’s all about toughness, where a punch in the face is just part of the deal. Not everyone plays like that, of course, but the real ones do. Gordie Howe for the win, am I right?

Except… lots of the NHL’s best ever players don’t really fit that mold, right? In fact, plenty of history’s top legends stayed out of rough stuff. We even have an award just for players like that: the Lady Byng, which recognizes sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct. And while Gordie wouldn’t have been caught anywhere near that thing, plenty of big stars have won it.

So today, let’s pick a side. The gentlemen vs. the cavemen. Pacifists vs. lotsa fists. Who you got?

Here’s how this will work.

– For Team PIM, we’re picking from all the forwards and defensemen who, at some point in their NHL career, led their own team in regular season penalty minutes. That’s a high bar, especially once we get into the enforcer era, but we can find some good players who managed to do it. (Beyond “leading your own team”, we won’t be using any limits on how many minutes a player needs. I was initially going to, but the problem you run into is that PIM totals fluctuate so much based on era that if you set the bar at, say, 200 minutes, you just wind up with all guys from the mid-70s to late-90s and not much else.)

– For Team Byng, it gets a little trickier. Forwards are easy; we just want guy who won the Lady Byng. But only three defensemen have ever won the award, so we’ll expand the criteria to any blueliner who ever finished in the top five in voting.

– It doesn’t really make sense to use goaltenders for this, but that’s never stopped us before. Team PIM will be looking for goalies who racked up at least 250 PIM in their career, while Team Byng will need guys who played at least five full seasons of 40 or more games without recording a single penalty minute (and only since 1970, since I don’t trust goalie penalty records before then).

We’ll do full 20-man rosters for each team, and see which one looks like the best squad at the end. Let’s get ready to drop the gloves and/or awkwardly mill around afterwards picking them up.

(Thanks to reader Sean D. for sending in this idea.)

First line

Well, I guess we have to start Team Byng with Wayne Gretzky.

The greatest player in NHL history was also the league’s most gentlemanly in five seasons, the most in the modern era. (Frank Boucher won seven times in the 20s and 30s.) And we can give him two familiar linemates: One that he actually played with in Jari Kurri, and one who was his early rival for best player in hockey honors in Marcel Dionne.

Yeah, Team Byng is going to be pretty good up front.

But that’s OK, because true to character, Team PIM isn’t going to be a pushover. Somebody had to do the dirty work for Gretzky and Kurri in Edmonton, which means we can start our tough guy roster with Mark Messier, whose career-high 165 PIMs led the 1983-84 Oilers. And he’ll have two of history’s greatest wingers on his side, as Rocket Richard and Ted Lindsay both qualify. That gives us a solid top line that can…


Something’s wrong. Where’s Gordie Howe?

I mean, that was half the point of this whole thing, right? When you think of a grizzled player who can be the toughest guy on his own team and the best player in the league, Howe’s the standard by whom all others are judged. By the time he retired for the first time in 1971, he’d been the NHL’s active leader in penalty minutes for five years.

Except… in 25 seasons in Detroit, he never led the Wings in PIMs. Not once. I swear, I checked this like five times. Despite being widely recognized as the NHL’s undisputed heavyweight champ for most of the Original Six era – and rightly so – Howe never ranked higher than second on his own team.

How is that possible? Well, we’ve already mentioned the answer. It’s Terrible Ted Lindsay, Howe’s teammate for 14 seasons. Lindsay led to the Red Wings in penalty minutes most years, often racking up well over 100 in a season during an era where that was rare. Howe nearly caught him in 1953-54, when Lindsay took a photo finish with 110 minutes to Howe’s 109, but that’s as close as Mr. Hockey got.

So we can’t use Gordie. I won’t lie, this is crushing for Team PIM. But if anyone can tough it out, it’s these guys, so let’s keep going.

Second line

Team Byng keeps piling up the talent, as they can start their second line with two guys who know each other fairly well: Bobby Hull and Brett Hull. They each won the Lady Byng once, with Bobby taking it in 1965 and Brett earning the nod in 1990, on the way to racking up a combined 1,300+ goals. Not bad for a second line.

So who gets to center these two snipers? My first thought was Stan Mikita, Bobby’s longtime center in Chicago. He won the Lady Byng twice, so he’d be a fine pick. But there’s a problem: before famously transforming his playing style, Mikita was one of the league’s toughest players, and he led the Hawks in PIMs on multiple occasions. That means he could technically be the second-line center on both of our teams, which would be neat but also might feel kind of silly. I think the only reasonable thing we can do here is disqualify Mikita altogether, and find another playmaker to center the Hull. I’d say Ron Francis would fit the bill, so he’s in.

We’ll load up Team PIM’s second line with a few more big names, including two you probably weren’t expecting to see on this roster. We’ll start with our center, Jean Beliveau, a true gentleman off the ice who was a lot more willing to mix it up on the ice than most remember; when he retired in 1971, he was the league’s all-time leader in career PIMs among centers. He managed to rack up over 1,000 minutes, including 143 in 1955-56 to not only lead the Canadiens but place him third in the entire league. It wasn’t the only time Beliveau led his team, and he went his entire 20-year career without ever receiving so much as a Lady Byng vote, so despite a well-earned reputation for pure class when out of uniform, he certainly qualifies for our squad.

So does Alexander Ovechkin, whose career-high 89 PIM in 2009-10 was more than enough to top a Washington Capitals team where nobody else even had 70. (Should he actually be on the first line? Probably. But I’m not putting a guy who’s never cracked 100 minutes on the first-line of Team PIM. Yell at me all you want, it’s about principle, dammit.)

After throwing two minor curveballs, we’ll round off our second line with a name you definitely did expect: Brendan Shanahan, who led the 1994-95 Blues and the 2003-04 Red Wings. Team Byng is still tough to beat, but Team PIM comes close on the second line. Let’s see what happens as we move down the lineup.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Puck Soup: This is not a renegotiation (it is)

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Gary Bettman and the owners think the players should renegotiate. They might be right.
- The 25h anniversary of the Patrick Roy trade
- An argument about which sports are sports
- OUFL Christma movies
- A new round of the $25,000 Pierre-amid
- And more...

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, listen on The Athletic or subscribe on iTunes.

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

Monday, November 30, 2020

Let’s make a deal, with our 20-question NHL trade quiz

We just finished one of the biggest shopping weekends of the year, which means a lot of you have spent the last few days scouring offers, furiously hunting for bargains, and hoping that your expensive new additions will live up to the hype and not become the source of long-lasting regret.

Hey, you’re just like an NHL GM!

Sort of. Maybe not. Look, sometimes these current event tie-ins work and sometimes they don’t, but we’ve come too far now. So let’s celebrate a weekend spent chasing deals with a quiz about NHL trades.

We’ll cover a few decades of history here, with a focus on both the big blockbusters and the smaller, weirder stuff, and maybe even a few trades that were on the table but didn’t end up happening. As always, you’ll have an advantage if you’ve been reading my stuff for the last decade, because that means that a) you’ll have heard some of these stories before, and b) you’re just a smarter, better person than everyone else.

If you have any trouble getting the quiz to scroll properly, especially on your phone, then go yell at Google instead of me, and then try this direct link. Once you’ve submitted your answers, scroll back up to see how you did using this handy guide:

03 right answers: The Milbury zone. Your fellow GMs put you on speakerphone so everyone in the office can laugh at you.

4-7 right answers: The Chiarelli zone. You don’t always miss, but when you do, you miss big.

8-11 right answers: The Poile zone. You have your share of strong moments, just not often enough to win the big one.

12-15 right answers: The Fletcher zone. You’re not perfect, but you’re not afraid to swing for the fences.

16-19 right answers: The Torrey zone. You almost never miss, making you the architect of a near-perfect score.

20 right answers: The Pollock zone. You’re a cheat code, and nobody should ever take your calls.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Black Friday/Cyber Monday deal: New subscribers can get The Athletic for just $1/month using the article link.)

Friday, November 27, 2020

The Bizarro-meter’s Eastern Conference offseason rankings

Welcome to part two of the annual Bizarro-meter column, in which we grade each team based on just how weird their summer has been. Except this year, the offseason wasn’t in the summer, because it’s 2020 and nothing about the sports world makes sense. Should we just say “weirdest year ever”, give every team a 10/10 and be done with it? Probably, but doing things the straightforward way wouldn’t be on-brand for me, so we’ll grade on a curve.

On Wednesday we did the Western Conference, with Arizona landing the highest score thanks to front office drama, a big name on the trade block and a commitment to finding creative ways to forfeit draft picks. Today’s it’s on to East, as we see whether anyone can wrestle the crown away from the Coyotes.

Metropolitan Division

Columbus Blue Jackets

The offseason so far: The flipped Josh Anderson for Max Domi in a deal that made sense, as did making a cheap bet that Mikko Koivu still has something left. Buying out Alex Wennberg and shipping Ryan Murray to the Devils for next to nothing was less impressive, but necessary to clear salary.

But their strangest story was: You knew that a new Pierre-Luc Dubois deal was going to be a tricky negotiation, but the near total silence on that front is at least a little unnerving.

Bizarro-meter ranking: 3.6/10. There’s also an apparent COVID-19 outbreak, although these days that’s not all that bizarre. Other than that, it was a busy offseason, but nothing too out of the ordinary until the Dubois offer sheet lands.

Carolina Hurricanes

The offseason so far: The big news was the retirement of Justin Williams, which we knew was coming someday but will leave a leadership hole. Other than that, it was pretty quiet, with a nice pickup of Jesper Fast and a handful of veteran departures that won’t move the needle all that much.

But their strangest story was: Not adding a goalie. It will be yet another year of relying on Petr Mrazek, James Reimer, and any random arena workers who happen to be around when needed. On the one hand, you can see why – not many of the goalies who changed teams this year were guaranteed to be better than what they already have. Still, weren’t the Hurricanes pretty high on your pre-offseason list of teams that would be looking for a change here?

Bizarro-meter ranking: 3.9/10. A quiet offseason makes sense for a team on the rise, but there’s going to be plenty of second-guessing if the goaltending lets them down, especially with both Mrazek and Reimer unsigned after this year.

Washington Capitals

The offseason so far: The biggest story was the firing of Todd Reirden after an embarrassing loss to former boss Barry Trotz. Peter Laviolette will inherit a roster that won’t look all that different, although they did add Justin Schultz and Trevor van Riemsdyk to the blueline.

But their strangest story was: Signing Henrik Lundqvist to replace Braden Holtby, because man it’s going to be weird to see him in a different uniform.

Bizarro-meter ranking: 4.6/10. Not that you’d expect it to happen amidst all the financial turmoil, but can we point out that Alexander Ovechkin is eligible for an extension that he hasn’t signed yet?

New York Islanders

The offseason so far: It’s been a rough one, as they’ve had to clear space for an eventual Mathew Barzal contract that still hasn’t come. That’s cost them some veteran depth, and more importantly it meant that they had to move Devon Toews for a disappointing return.

But their strangest story was: Signing Cory Schneider… we think? It was reported everywhere, but doesn’t seem to have officially happened, and there are rumors of handshake deals for Andy Greene and Matt Martin too. Did we mention that the Islanders don’t seem to need a goalie?

Bizarro-meter ranking: 5.2/10. The phantom signings are weird, but I’m deducting a point for the Islanders’ reverse retro jerseys, because Lou Lamoriello refusing to let anyone have fun is the least bizarre thing ever.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Black Friday deal: New subscribers can get The Athletic for just $1/month using the article link.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The Bizarro-meter’s Western Conference offseason rankings

One of the tough parts of writing about hockey is adjusting for era. A 50-goal season is a very different thing today than it was in the high-scoring 1980s, which was very different than it was when Rocket Richard was doing it in a 50-game season in the 1940s. It makes it a challenge to compare one season to another. Some years are just different than other years.

Which brings us to trying to figure out what qualifies as bizarre in 2020.

This is my seventh year of doing a bizarro-meter column that covers every team in the league, and it’s usually good fun. The idea is to figure out which teams had the strangest offseasons – not the best or the worst, but the most confusing, odd or unexpected. Most years, that makes for a pretty straightforward concept.

But now it’s 2020, the dog days of the offseason are in November, and we don’t even know when camp will start because nobody’s figured out how next season will work. Every team in the league is having their weirdest offseason ever.

So what do we do? I guess we adjust for era and judge every team by 2020 standards, if only because giving every team a 10/10 rating would feel like it was too easy. We’ll do this by conference, with the West up today and the East on Friday. We’ll also break it down by division, even though we don’t know what division anyone will actually be in, because it’s 2020 and nothing makes sense. Screw it, let’s get weird.

Central Division

Dallas Stars

The offseason so far: They mainly seemed to want to keep the band together, locking up Rick Bowness and Anton Khudobin but not (so far) Corey Perry.

But their strangest story was: Losing Tyler Seguin and Ben Bishop for a reported five months. We knew both guys were hurt, but not that Seguin would be out so long.

Bizarro-meter ranking: 2.5/10. When you almost win the Cup, you try to stay the course, get everyone healthy and come back for another shot. It rarely works, but it’s really the only reasonable way forward, and it’s not remotely bizarre.

Nashville Predators

The offseason so far: Plenty of guys moved in and out, although none were major names. Losing Craig Smith and Mikael Granlund hurts, while the Kyle Turris buyout was a tough pill to swallow but probably inevitable.

But their strangest story was: Not giving $8-million to a second-line center for a change. (Although there’s still time.)

Bizarro-meter ranking: 4.1/10. The Predators still feel like a team that’s built to win now, or at least thinks it is, but they’re coming off a disappointing year and I’m not sure they’re any better.

Colorado Avalanche

The offseason so far: Joe Sakic made a good trade to land Brandon Saad and a better one to add Devon Toews, without losing anyone who was especially important.

But their strangest story was: The emergence of Sakic a a near-consensus pick as one of the best GMs in the league, just three years after he had a terrible trade deadline with a terrible team and looked completely overwhelmed as a former GM campaigned for his job. Were we all wrong back then? Are we all wrong now? Were we right both times, and Sakic has just improved so much in a few years? Nobody knows, but history suggests it’s the probably one of the options where I’m wrong.

Bizarro-meter ranking: 4.4/10. I’m still kind of bummed that they didn’t use their limited cap space to chase a big-name free agent, but Sakic probably knows what he’s doing.

Winnipeg Jets

The offseason so far: They kept Dylan DeMelo, signed some cheap depth, and added Paul Stastny for next-to-nothing beyond cap space. They also hired a player’s dad as assistant coach, because what could go wrong.

But their strangest story was: The whole Patrik Laine saga, where he went into the offseason as the biggest name on the trade block, churned up all sorts of intriguing rumors, then ultimately didn’t get moved even though it still feels like he eventually will.

Bizarro-meter ranking: 5.4/10. The Laine rumors got all the attention, but the lack of work on the blueline was also weird.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Puck Soup: Wait, that's an igloo?

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Our thoughts on the best and worst of the NHL's new "reverse retro" jerseys
- The NHL wants to change the deal they agreed to with the players
- Updates on what the new season might look like
- NCAA hockey is in rough shape
- Too much NBA talk, honestly, sorry about that
- The debut of a new quiz called "Surely that's gotta be it"
- And more...

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, listen on The Athletic or subscribe on iTunes.

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Why the 10 teams we all think are bad could actually be good

I kind of like it when preseason predictions are really wrong. That’s partly because mine are usually terrible, and I like to have company. But I’ve always ben fascinated by a specific type of surprise, the one that sees a team that everyone thinks will be terrible suddenly emerge as a legitimate Cup contender.

The most famous recent example would have to be the Golden Knights, who were supposed to be a typically awful expansion mess but went straight to the final. Two years ago, we saw the Islanders go from consensus pick for last overall to a 100-point team that did playoff damage. A few years before that, the Avalanche went from one of the worst seasons in cap era history to Central powerhouse.

We didn’t really get that last year; a few teams did outperform expectations, but nobody really made The Leap from bottom-feeder all the way to contending. Maybe that means the experts are getting better at this. I’d like to think it means we’re due, especially heading into an uncertain season that will be unlike anything we’ve seen.

So today, let’s take a crack at making the case for the league’s ten worst teams, based on Dom’s offseason power rankings. That list is based on both his statistical model and our writers’ personal picks, so it should cover the consensus pretty well. Our goal will be to take the ten most hopeless teams, based on those rankings, and come up plausible reasons why they’re going to be not just respectable, but actually good.

We did this last year, and if you revisit that piece you’ll find a handful of arguments that hold up reasonably well, including that the Blue Jackets goaltending may be better than we think, that the Canucks could be ready for a jump thanks to young talent and additions like J.T. Miller, and that Dave Tippett may be able to work some early magic to get the Oilers into the mix in a weak Pacific. I’m not sure that going 3-for-10 is all that impressive, but we’ll take what we can get.

The good news is that one season later, those three teams have all escaped the bottom ten. But the other seven teams from last year’s post are all back this year, reminding us that clawing your way out of the league’s cellar is no easy task, even in the era of parity.

So yeah, hope is hard to come by. But that’s where we come in, so let’s crank up the optimism and, in a few cases, turn off our brain cells as we try to get the NHL’s ten worst teams into the contention. We’ll start with the easiest case to make, and work our way down to the real dregs.

10. Minnesota Wild

The rankings say: About a quarter of The Athletics’ writers thought the Wild would be in the playoff mix, with the rest having them on the outside looking in. Dom’s model was a little bit more optimistic than that, but only a little, and the overall message was a familiar one for Wild fans: They won’t be good enough to contend, or bad enough to land a high pick. They’ll just kind of be… there.

Why they’re probably right: The Wild finished sixth in the Central last year, and a busy offseason from Bill Guerin probably made them worse, at least in the short term. They lost Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu, so they’ll be weak down the middle, and there’s no guarantee that Cam Talbot is an improvement in goal.

But hear me out … : Last year’s team wasn’t as bad as you might remember; they were on pace for 92 points, and were heating up down the stretch with 12 wins in 19 when everything paused. And they did that despite 30 games of ugly goaltending from Devan Dubnyk. You never know in net, but Talbot was pretty solid last year and will almost certainly be better than Dubnyk, and probably better than Alex Stalock. A goaltending upgrade fixes a lot of problems, and the Wild look like they’ve found one.

As for those veterans up front, it hurts to lose a franchise icon like Koivu, but he had 21 points last year, and Staal just turned 36. Guerin was trying a little addition-by-subtraction here, clearing space for some of the team’s younger players to move up the lineup and take over the dressing room. That’s always a risky play, but if it works, the Wild could take another step forward. If so, they’re not that far away from being dangerous.

9. Buffalo Sabres

The rankings say: What they pretty much always say, that the Sabres will be bad. In this case, the writing staff is nearly unanimous on that, although there’s one outlier who think the Sabres can be dark horse contenders. But everyone else is bearish, and Dom’s model is even more pessimistic.

Why they’re probably right: It’s been nine years since the Sabres made the playoffs, and seven since they even came close, so we all know the drill by now. They’ve got Jack Eichel and one year of Taylor Hall, and Kevyn Adams made a nice move to land Eric Staal. But the goaltending and blueline aren’t any better than they were last year. And last year, they weren’t anywhere close to good enough.

But hear me out … : First of all, let’s remember that last year’s Sabres were one point away from tying the Canadiens for the last spot in the expanded postseason, and everyone seems to think Montreal is in reasonably good shape to make a playoff run.

But we’re supposed to be aiming higher than just a playoff spot here, so let’s see if we can get the Sabres into the top third of the league. That path starts with Eichel having one of those years where he finds a new level, sort of like Leon Draisaitl did last season. Mix in a Miro Heiskanen-style breakthrough from Rasmus Dahlin, add a healthy and focused Hall having a contract year for the ages, then finish it with a boost from Staal and maybe even one of the occasional Jeff Skinner years where he looks like a legitimate star. There’s some talent here.

If all of that happens, they still need above-average goaltending. But Linus Ullmark is only 27 and was decent last year, so it’s not out of the question that he either has a breakout year or at least one of those weird outlier seasons that even bad goalies sometimes have. Either way, the pieces are here, and there’s a really good coach in place to figure out how to put them together.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Monday, November 16, 2020

Building an ultra-exclusive Hall of Fame, one player at a time

Today should be a big day in the hockey world. It was supposed to be induction night at the Hockey Hall of Fame, with Jarome Iginla, Marian Hossa, Doug Wilson, Kevin Lowe, Kim St-Pierre and Ken Holland getting their moment in the spotlight to receive the highest individual honor the sport has to offer.

Instead, nothing. Thanks to the pandemic, tonight’s induction ceremony has been postponed, and the class of 2020 will have to wait a year. As part of that delay, we also won’t be getting a class of 2021, as the Hall has decided to hold off on any new inductions until this year’s class has been recognized.

That was a strange decision, but it will probably be popular with a certain segment of fans. Whenever I write about the Hall of Fame, I hear from readers who insist that the whole thing should be far more exclusive. It’s not supposed to be an honor for very good players, they argue, or even great ones. Only the very best of the best should earn a spot. On the men’s side, at least, the typical three or four inductions a year is too many.

I don’t necessarily agree, but I’m willing to play along. So today, let’s take that concept to an extreme. What would the Hockey Hall of Fame look like if we could only induct one player each year?

Just one. That’s all we get. Each year, we recognize one and only one player from the men’s side. The best of the best, and everyone else has to wait.

A few ground rules:

– We’re not worried about builders or officials here. And the women have the opposite problem, with not enough representation, which is a topic for another column. Today, we’re only worried about paring down that list of men’s players that so many of you seem to think is inflated.

– The real-world Hall has always had a weird relationship with international players and stars from other leagues, often acting like a de facto NHL Hall of Fame while occasionally remembering that they’re supposed to be honoring stars from elsewhere. For our purposes today, we’re just looking for inductees based on what they did in the NHL. Apologies to Vaclav Nedomansky.

– Because our version of the Hall is so exclusive, nobody can be inducted until they made it into the real thing, even if they were eligible.

Can we do it? I don’t see why not. I’m not a small Hall guy, but even I can admit that there’s some room to trim. So let’s get to work and see where we end up. We’ll do this by decade, starting when Hall inductions became a regular thing.

The early years

The Hockey Hall of Fame’s first class came in 1945, but inductions were sporadic. The second class came in 1947, followed by 1949, 1951 and 1952. Then there was a six-year gap until a huge class of 1958, at which point new Hall classes finally became an annual event.

In theory, I could argue that our “one per year” limit means I should get 15 slots for those early years, or even more if we’re counting every NHL season. But honestly, I’m not even sure I want to, because a lot of those early names aren’t especially well-known today. Instead, I’ll give myself the same seven pre-1960 inductions that the real Hall had, covering off the very best of the best of the NHL’s early years.

A few picks are obvious. I’ll start with Howie Morenz, Newsly Lalonde, Phantom Joe Malone and Eddie Shore. I’ll also add Georges Vezina and King Clancy, which leaves me with one spot and more than a few worthy candidates. That list includes Hart Trophy winners Aurel Joliat and Nels Stewart, as well as Dit Clapper, Sprague Cleghorn, Cy Denneny and Frank Nighbor. It’s a tough call, but I’m going to give the last of our early spots to two-time MVP Nels Stewart, and work on the assumption that I’ll be able to sneak in some of the other names as we get into the 1960s.


The real class of 1960 was highlighted by Frank Boucher and Sylvio Mantha, two good players who’ll have to wait their turn behind some of the other name on our list. I’ll use my 1960 slot on Dit Clapper, a six-time all-star and two-time Hart finalist on the blueline, in part because it’s just such a great hockey name.

Our first sign of a problem comes with the class if 1961, which featured 11 players. We only get one, and it’s a pretty easy call, as we induct Rocket Richard. But that leaves out names like Syl Apps, George Hainsworth, Charlie Conacher and Milt Schmidt, so our backlog is already growing.

Things get even worse in 1962, which featured 26 player inductions. No, that’s not a typo. The Hall really announced 26 additions in one year, and while many of them were old-timers from the pre-NHL days, we do see some recognizable names like Sweeney Schriner and Punch Broadbent that we’ll have to think about.

They’ll have to wait as we work through our backlog by inducting three-time Vezina winner George Hainsworth in 1962, and five-time goals king Charlie Conacher in 1963. The class of 1964 offers up one must-have candidate in goalie Bill Durnan, and we can find room for Milt Schmidt in 1965 at the expense of goaltending legend Clint Benedict.

There’s bad news for our backlog in 1966, as we run into three apparent slam dunks in the same real-world class: Ted Lindsay, Toe Blake and Teeder Kennedy. I’m going to cheat a little bit here, because we’re from the future and know that Blake is going to finish with eight Cups as a coach, more than enough to get him in as a builder. Instead, our 1966 slot goes to Ted Lindsay.

We have to use our next spot on the NHL’s first 300-game winner, Turk Broda; who retired in 1952 but somehow wasn’t inducted into the real HHOF until 1967. The 1968 class only had one player, Bill Cowley, so we can use that to dip into our waiting list for Ted Kennedy. And we’ll close out the decade with another sure thing in 1969 inductee Red Kelly.

One decade in, and while we’ve certainly had to squeeze out some big names, I don’t think we’re in bad shape. This might not be so bad!


We start a new decade with another thin real-world class, which means we can reach way back for our 1970 spot and induct Clint Benedict, followed by an easy one in 1971 with Terry Sawchuk.

And then we run into the class of 1972. Hoo boy.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Friday, November 13, 2020

Grab Bag: Offseason winners and losers, Pavel Bure and a perfect goalie

In the return of the Friday Grab Bag:
- Offseason winners and losers
- Pleas tell me I'm not the only one having this offseason problem
- An obscure NHL goalie, barely
- This month's comedy stars
- And an awkward Pavel Bure interview about backgammon, tennis, and being god

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Monday, November 9, 2020

Which team makes the best current lineup out of ex-players?

Have you ever had an ex that, for whatever reason, you had to move on from, but then you find out that they’re doing well in their new life without you and you feel genuinely happy for them?

No, of course you haven’t, nobody wants that. Seeing an ex go on to bigger and better things is miserable. And that’s especially true for hockey fans, who hate to see a player that used to be part of their favorite team go on to success somewhere else.

So today, let’s all feel that misery together, as we try to answer the question: Which team could build the best six-man starting lineup of players who used to play for them?

But first, a few ground rules:

– Let’s be clear on something important: We’re trying to make teams that are good right now. Imagine we’re trying to build the best team for a single season played this year. If a player was an elite superstar years ago but no longer is, he won’t be a strong choice. (Call this the Joe Thornton rule.) And it should go without saying, anyone who’s retired or otherwise inactive isn’t an option, because this isn’t an all-time team. (Call that the Jaromir Jagr rule.)

– We want three forwards, two defenseman and a goalie, and a team has to have a decent option at all six spots to qualify. But otherwise, we don’t care about specific positions.

– Players who’ve changed teams during this offseason count, but free agents who remain unsigned do not. You’re not officially an ex until you’ve found a new home. That’s the Zdeno Chara rule.

– Players that were traded away as prospects count, even if they never played a game for the team. But we’re not including players who were drafted with picks a team traded away. Your rights have to have belonged to the team at some point before you can be an ex.

As always, I’ll try to cover about half the league, then turn it over to you in the comments to fill in the rest, improve on my choices, and tell me about which obvious player from one team I forgot that will ruin my whole day. And we’ll start with a team that seems like it could be the favorite…

Ottawa Senators

Forwards: Mark Stone, Mika Zibanejad, Matt Duchene

Defense: Erik Karlsson, Zdeno Chara

Goalie: Robin Lehner

Man, the last few years have done a number.

The Senators were probably one of the first teams you thought of when you saw the premise, and rightly so – they’ve executed a full-scale rebuild, which means they’ve parted with a lot of good players. The forward line is stacked, and they could even run out a Jean-Gabriel Pageau/Mike Hoffman/Ryan Dzingel second line. They might want to trade one of those guys for a defenseman, because a 43-year-old Chara is the only thing close to a weak spot here (but still good enough to beat out Cody Ceci and Mark Borowiecki).

It’s a very good lineup, as you probably expected. Can anyone beat it? Let’s try a few division rivals and find out.

Buffalo Sabres

Forwards: Ryan O’Reilly, Evander Kane, Tyler Ennis

Defense: Tyler Myers, Marco Scandella

Goalie: Robin Lehner

O’Reilly is the big name, based on a disastrous trade that still aggravates Sabres fans. Ennis narrowly beats out Conor Sheary as the third forward, and I went with Scandella over Zach Bogosian and Andrej Sekera as the second blueliner based on where he is right now. Meanwhile, Lehner beats out Ryan Miller to already make a second appearance on the list, reminding us that he’s somehow already on his fifth NHL team.

Montreal Canadiens

Forwards: Max Pacioretty, Max Domi, Alex Radulov

Defense: Ryan McDonagh, P.K. Subban

Goalie: Jaroslav Halak

That’s not a bad lineup, although it would have looked better a few years ago when the blueline would have been a major strength. McDonagh’s status has dipped, but he’s still a solid player, while Subban has seen his stock plunge. If you wanted to make the argument that Jordie Benn would be a better choice at this exact moment, it might not be completely crazy.

Speaking of Subban and stacked bluelines, let’s head to the Western Conference…

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Six NHL teams that have me stumped right now

It’s been a confusing year. There are a lot of things in the world I’m not sure about these days, including what month it is and whether I’m actually muted on this Zoom call. If you ask me a direct question these days, I will look you straight in the eye and flat-out guess, followed by immediately forgetting what I just told you.

But when it comes to the NHL, there are at least a few teams I feel … well, not sure about, but at least vaguely confident. The Lightning are good. The Avalanche and Golden Knights should be, too. The Red Wings are not good, and the Senators and Kings are still a year or two away from breaking through. The Oilers have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl but not enough depth or goaltending, and will stay that way until the end of time. And a whole bunch of teams are stuck in the middle, close enough to the playoff race but not really scaring anyone, just the way the league likes it.

But every year, there are a few teams that I just can’t figure out. So as we all wander around in a haze of confusion, let’s break out my annual attempt to argue with myself about the half-dozen teams that have me stumped heading into the (whatever year it is next year) season.

Philadelphia Flyers

They’ll be good because: They were good last year. Like, really good. They were on pace for 105 points if we’d played a full season, and even that might be underselling it. In early January, the Flyers were muddling along with about as many wins as losses. They were fine. But over what turned out to be the last 26 games of the season, the Flyers went 19-6-1, earning a playoff bye and planting their flag as a legitimate contender.

That was last year. So what’s changed heading into a new season? Not much. The retirement of Matt Niskanen was a surprise, but you could argue that helped more in terms of cap space than it hurt in terms of blue line quality. They lost a few depth pieces, like every team does. But all the key names are back, so there’s no reason to expect a dropoff.

They’ll be bad because: Virtually nobody had the Flyers pegged as an elite team last year; they’d missed the playoffs in 2019. That doesn’t mean they were a mirage, since we’re wrong about plenty of teams all the time, but you’d probably like to see it for more than one season before you nudge anyone into the sure thing column.

Beyond that, the Flyers didn’t look all that great in the postseason. They struggled with a Canadiens team that, on paper, they should have rolled over. And they lost to an Islanders team that imposed their will on the series. It’s hard to know what to make of that whole deeply weird playoff tournament, and maybe the answer is that we shouldn’t draw any conclusions at all. But at the very least, you could piece together an argument that the Flyers are an above-average team that got hot for two months in the second half, but don’t deserve top-contender status yet.

But they’ll probably be fine because: The most important player on the team is Carter Hart, and he’s 22. Goaltending is impossible to predict, especially younger guys, but if you had to make a bet you’d think Hart is going to be even better over the next few years. He’s also on the last year of his entry-level deal, which means the Flyers have a nice window here with some extra cap space to work with.

Unless they’re not because: So far, they haven’t really done anything with that space. They were quiet in free agency, and while they’ve been rumored to be in on a few names on the trade market, nothing has happened yet. And that cap space window only lasts for this year, because both Hart and Travis Sanheim will need new deals.

Meanwhile, they’re on the hook for over $16 million in annual cap hit to Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, who have been good, plus another $7 million to James van Riemsdyk, who hasn’t, and all three of those guys are over 30. The Flyers aren’t an old team by any stretch, with Hart, Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov all entering their prime. But if the older guys take even a small step back and/or Hart has the sort of rough year that good young goalies sometimes endure, it’s not hard to imagine the Flyers falling back to the middle-of-the-pack.

The verdict: In theory, the Atlantic features two perennial contenders (Caps and Pens), one good team that’s especially tough in the playoffs (Islanders) and two teams on their way up (Hurricanes and Rangers). There aren’t enough playoff spots for everyone, and that’s before factoring in a temporary realignment that might shuffle things around and drop someone like the Bruins into the mix. I still think the Flyers will be good, but I’m not sure they’ll be any better, and they might not have as room to work with as they’d like.

Calgary Flames

They’ll be good because: They aggressively addressed their most-discussed weakness in the offseason, paying up to land Jacob Markstrom in free agency. We can debate whether that was a smart contract, and maybe it looks bad in a few years. But today, it should be a nice upgrade over Cam Talbot (who’s now in Minnesota) and David Rittich.

They’ll be bad because: Talbot and Rittich weren’t actually a bad combo; they were pretty much a middle-of-the-pack duo, so it’s not like goaltending was the reason the Flames took a step back. And even if they’ve upgraded the position, losing two top-four defenseman in T.J. Brodie and (probably) Travis Hamonic will cancel some of that out. The Markstrom signing made headlines, but it’s no sure thing that the offseason has made the Flames any better.

But they’ll probably be at least OK because: As easy as it is to forget now, this was a 107-point team only one year ago. Granted, they followed that up with a disappointing season, but it’s proof that the core is capable of contending. And remember, last year’s team had to deal with a bizarre midseason coaching switch from Bill Peters to Geoff Ward, one that nobody saw coming based on performance. Ward did a good job under tough circumstances, but like most coaches, you’d expect him to do a better job with a full season (including a training camp) to put his system in place.

Unless they’re not because: Hmm, a Canadian team that has a breakthrough season followed by a letdown, where we’re wondering if they should get credit for how they looked at their best. If that sounds familiar, it’s a lot like what we went through last year with the Jets, another team that confused me. And it turned out that the recent, mediocre season was a more accurate predictor than the 100-plus point days. Sometimes, you don’t need to overthink it when a good team takes a step back to mediocrity. That’s just what they are now.

The verdict: I’m lost. And to make things even more complicated, we don’t even know what division the Flames will be in. Home ice in the Pacific seems up for grabs, with the Golden Knights looking strong but nobody else really looking unbeatable. But would a temporary all-Canadian division present an easier path, or a tougher one?

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Monday, November 2, 2020

Every all-Canadian playoff series of the modern era, ranked

While nothing is official, it sure sounds like there’s a good chance we’re going to get a temporary all-Canadian division this season. That would be pretty crazy, giving us a one-time opportunity to see all seven of the country’s teams fight it out for national bragging rights.

It would also presumably mean we’d be guaranteed to see four Canadian playoff teams, who’d face each other over the first two rounds. That would make for three all-Canadian series, the first time since 1987 that we’ve had that many in one year.

That’s going to be a lot of fun, right up until we all strangle each other. So today, let’s get hyped for some national rivalries with a ranking of every all-Canadian playoff matchup of the modern post-1967 era. There have been 44 such matchups, which sounds like a lot until you realize that it averages out to less than one per season. And as you’d expect, some have been better than others.

We’re looking for all the things that add up to an entertaining series: A close matchup, big star power, as many games as possible, at least a few overtimes, and a dramatic twist or two. We’ll start from the bottom and work our way up to the best all-Canadian matchup in modern history.

(And I’ll give you fair warning: I’m a little surprised about where I wound up.)

44. Oilers 4, Jets 0 – 1987 division final
43. Oilers 4, Jets 0 – 1985 division final
42. Oilers 3, Jets 0 – 1983 division semifinal
41. Oilers 3, Jets 0 – 1984 division semifinal

We’ll start with a recurring genre that fans became way too familiar with during the 1980s: The plucky Winnipeg Jets facing the powerhouse Oilers and just straight-up getting their doors kicked in.

Seriously, look at those results. Four straight series, played over a span of five years, with the Oilers sweeping all four. That’s 14 straight wins, if you’re keeping count. The Jets often kept it close – two of those 14 Oilers wins came into overtime, and more than half were by one or two goals. But that just made it worse. The Jets always seemed like they were this close to having a chance. Then they’d lose, again, like always. By the end, you just wanted this matchup to stop.

40. Oilers 3, Canucks 0 – 1986 division semifinal

The Oilers took a temporary break from embarrassing the Jets to embarrass the Canucks instead. Vancouver was outscored 17-5, then responded by trading point-less winger Cam Neely to the Bruins for Barry Pederson.

39. Flames 3, Jets 0 – 1986 preliminary round

I know, it feels like we’re picking on the Jets. I promise, they have won a playoff game before. Just not in this series, which saw Winnipeg waste a five-point performance by defensive defenseman Mario Marois. Did I mention that the mid-80s Smythe Division produced a lot of mismatches? It did.

38. Oilers 3, Canadiens 0 – 1981 preliminary round

In theory, this should have been legendary. You had the Canadiens, just two year removed from winning four straight Cups, facing an Oilers teams on the verge of something special. Gretzky, Messier and Coffey vs. Lafleur, Robinson and Shutt. But the series was a bust, with the Oilers rolling to an easy sweep. The entire Canadiens team combined for 12 points in the three games while Gretzky on his own had 11.

37. Canucks 3, Flames 0 – 1982 division semifinal

Both teams were under .500 and there wasn’t much in the way of star power, but the retroactive fun factor of it being the start of the Canucks’ unlikely run to the final is enough to keep it out of the running for last spot.

36. Oilers 4, Flames 0 – 1988 division final

Even the best rivalry of the era can produce the occasional dud, as what turned out to be the last Battle of Alberta of the Gretzky era ended in a disappointing whitewash. Fun fact, this was the last all-Canadian series to end in a sweep for 23 years, until our next entry …

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Mailbag: If each team was a WWE wrestler and other important topics

It’s been four weeks since our last dip into the mailbag. In that time, Alex Pietrangelo became a Golden Knight, Taylor Hall became a Sabre, Joe Thornton became a Maple Leaf, Mike Hoffman tried to shake the weird feeling that there was something he was supposed to be doing, and literally every team in the entire league got a new goalie. We had a draft, the second day of which is still going on, and started to get just a little bit of clarity over when (or if) next season will start.

It’s been a busy month. Let’s see what weird stuff you folks managed to come up.

Note: Submitted questions have been edited for clarity and style.

Hockey players have notoriously boring, head-down, pucks-in-deep personalities. In the interest of finding the good and praising it, what is your all-time All-Personality team? Fun, funny, crazy, self-absorbed, and zany players qualify. Not necessarily the people you’d want to grab a beer with but the ones that might spice up a press conference or make a splash in the Twittersphere.

Let’s say this all-star team is a starting six (so you’ll have to find five skaters and can only pick one wacky goalie). Also, we are only counting what players did during their careers, so people like Don Cherry probably won’t make the cut. – Josh B.

You did say it’s an all-star team, so I’m going to try to find guys who were legitimate stars at some point. That rules out some true characters, like Eddie Shack, Gilles Gratton, Tiger Williams and Ron Duguay. Here’s my starting six:

Goalie: I mean, just about every goaltender is deeply weird, and it’s really just a question of how much of that they let out. Ron Hextall, Billy Smith and Patrick Roy all check the ‘crazy’ box you were looking for, and we could make a case for Dominik Hasek or Ilya Bryzgalov, not to mention the dozen guys who played the position before going on to successful broadcasting careers. But at the risk of being too predictable, I think we have to go with the obvious choice here and pencil in Roberto Louongo as our starter.

Defense: I’ll start with another obvious pick in P.K. Subban. He’s dialed the personality down a bit in the last year or two, partly because he took so much crap for it and partly because he hasn’t been as good on the ice, but he’s still an easy call here. The other spot should probably go to Brent Burns, and I could make a case for Chris Chelios, Rod Langway or even Chris Pronger. But instead, I’m going to sneak in a homer pick here and go with Al Iafrate, a four-time all-star who was also one of the craziest personalities ever. Fire up a dart, grab a leather jacket, hook up a mullet/bald spot combo, trim those sweet jean shorts, and give me a guy who was somehow the fastest skater and the hardest shot in the league at the same time while also being interesting.

Forwards: I’ll take Phil Esposito as my center. I can’t pass up a legendary player who was making terrible novelty pop albums in his spare time. I want Jaromir Jagr too; when you think of his personality, people remember him being the self-aware veteran in his later years, and that was great, but don’t sleep on his younger days when he was rubbing peanut butter on his groin and redefining the concept of hockey hair.

The last spot is tough. I’d love to find room for Alexander Ovechkin, and might have to if we do this again in a few years. Brendan Shanahan was occasionally hilarious, in addition to being a secret super-villain. Wayne Gretzky at least tried every now and then, even though he seemed to hate every second of it. Jeremy Roenick has a case, and you did say it’s playing career only so we’d ignore his recent transformation into a certified idiot. But I’ll go with a Team USA alumni in Brett Hull, a better player who never seemed to take himself or the league too seriously, whether that was cracking a joke or feuding with a coach. Even his son is funny.

If you could retroactively apply an NHL rule change to any other era in the game, what would you go with? (e.g. putting in the trapezoid in the 1980s, goalie pad sizes in the 70s, etc.) I feel like an easy one would be implementing Rule 48 several decades ago, but if you’ve got any else that stand out, I’d definitely be curious to see. – Rob R.

I think we have to exclude any safety-based rules here, otherwise we look like monsters. Obviously we’d want to go back and make helmets mandatory for the Bill Masterton game, or put in the breakaway goal pots for Mark Howe. Stuff like that and Rule 48 are the right answers, but they’re too easy.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)