Monday, March 30, 2020

In which I attempt to answer a simple question about jersey numbers that almost breaks me

Every now and then, a reader will reach out to me with a question. Sometimes, I already know the answer. Often, I have no idea where I’d even start. But the best kind of questions are the ones that make me think: “Huh, I’m not sure, but I bet it would be fun to find out.”

I got one of those a little while ago from a reader named Bryce. It was nice and simple. Bryce wanted to know which NHL player had scored the most goals in a single season in which their total matched their jersey number.

That’s kind of a cool question. And it’s one that shouldn’t be all that hard to figure out. I couldn’t come up with an answer off the top of my head, but I knew how to find one: just crack open a list of the highest single-season goal totals and work backward.

So that’s what I did. It will be fun, right?

Let’s begin, the way all great journeys do, at the beginning. In this case, that meant a list of every NHL player to ever score 60 goals or more in a season. It’s not a long list, but it’s probably longer than you might think. There have been 39 seasons of 60+ goals in NHL history. Could we find our answer in that list? I wasn’t sure, but it was the right place to start.

Five of those 39 seasons belong to Wayne Gretzky, and we can obviously eliminate him; he wore No. 99 for his entire NHL career, and he never got that many goals in a season. He came reasonably close, topping out at 92 in 1981-82, which still stands as the all-time record and probably always will. But we’re not looking for close here, so Wayne’s not our man.

He does have an impact, though, because his iconic No. 99 encouraged a generation of stars that followed to wear distinctive high numbers of their own. That was a new thing, and it should make our search easier.

Here’s where we run into our first problem: A lot of history’s greatest offensive talents have worn high numbers, but they were too high. Gretzky’s the only player to ever crack the 90-goal plateau, which wipes out the chances of plenty of today’s 90-wearing stars, like Connor McDavid and Steven Stamkos. Eric Lindros and Patrick Kane have posted big goal-scoring years, but neither got anywhere close to the 88 they wore. Alexander Mogilny’s 76 goals in 1992-93 is tied for the fifth-most ever, but he had a long way to go since he was wearing No. 89. Sidney Crosby’s great, but he hasn’t come anywhere near 87.

Brett Hull did, scoring 86 in 1990-91 and hitting the rarified 70-goal mark on two other occasions. But he did that while wearing No. 16, which leads to our second problem: Star forwards who don’t wear really high numbers usually wear relatively low ones. It’s a tradition thing. So right off the bat, we know we can rule out low-numbered stars like Rocket Richard and Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull (all No. 9), Alexander Ovechkin and Cam Neely (No. 8), Guy Lafleur and Pavel Bure (No. 10). Mike Bossy, Teemu Selanne, Steve Yzerman, Luc Robitaille or Jari Kurri? Sorry. All wore good, solid, traditional numbers that are way too low for what we’re looking for.

There is one player who wore a number in the 70s and had a 70-goal season. But that’s Phil Esposito, and he scored 76 in 1970-71 while wearing No. 7; he didn’t switch to No. 77 until he was traded to the Rangers, so he’s one goal and five years away from being our answer.

After dropping down into the 60s, optimism kicks in because there are two legendary scorers who both wore numbers in this range – Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, with both showing up on the list of 60-goal scorers. But Jagr topped out at 62 goals in 1995-96, missing his iconic No. 68 by a half-dozen. And while Lemieux had two seasons of 69 goals, one of 70, and one of 85, he never landed on exactly 66. He goes down in history as the highest jersey number to be exceeded by his goal total, but our search for an exact match carries on.

The only other candidates left on our initial list are Lanny McDonald, Dennis Maruk, Steve Shutt and Reggie Leach, and they all came along before higher vanity numbers were a thing. So no, we won’t find our answer in the 60+ club after all. No worries, though – we’ll just have to open up the search to the 50-goal club. And as it turns out, that’s a very big club indeed. Dropping our cutoff down to 50 goals opens the floodgates enough to allow 157 new seasons onto our list, so surely we’ll find our answer here.

The good news is that our list now includes dozens of names that we haven’t seen yet. The bad news is that a glance at some of the guys who had seasons in the high 50s tells us that we’re going to immediately run into the same two problems as before. Marcel Dionne, Tim Kerr and Michel Goulet? Traditional numbers that are too low. Pierre Turgeon or Sergei Fedorov? Too high.

And then, the first sense of doubt creeps in: Wait, what kind of star forward wears a number in the 50s?

There sure aren’t many. Typically, if they hand you a number in the 50s in training camp, it’s because they don’t expect you to stick around long. If you do, you get yourself a real number as soon as possible. What kind of self-respecting sniper is going to wear No. 58?

Not many. But that’s OK because we only need one. And the 50-goal tier is where we start to see some names where I wasn’t sure what number they wore. Charlie Simmer? Craig Simpson? Blaine Stoughton? Rick Kehoe? Nope across the board. John Ogrodnick, Wayne Babych or Pierre Larouche? Negative. I held out some hope for No. 55 since the double-digit thing was in vogue after Gretzky, Lemieux and Lindros. But no such luck, as guys like Keith Primeau, Jason Blake and Eric Daze fall well short, and Mark Scheifele has yet to come close. Dave Andreychuk did wear No. 52, but only for one season in 2000-01 when his 50-goal days were well behind him. Same with Dany Heatley wearing No. 51 for the Ducks.

I had a brief flutter of optimism when I remembered Jonathan Cheechoo’s 56-goal season. Did Cheechoo wear No. 56? It seems like the sort of number he might wear, right? He’d never been an elite goal-scorer before that wild 2005-06 season, so maybe he was still wearing a scrub’s number when he broke through. Alas, he was not. He wore No. 14 that year. Not even close.

By the time I got into the low 50s – Rick Martin? Blaine Stoughton? Ray Freaking Sheppard? – desperation was beginning to set in. I felt like I may have made a terrible mistake.

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Friday, March 27, 2020

Grab Bag: Buildup to legendary Wings/Avs brawl, time for NHL to get creative

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Should the NHL do anything for the teams that traded draft picks for rentals they'll never use?
- A debate about what the rest of the season should look like gets interrupted
- An obscure player with a Wrestlemania theme
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a YouTube look back at the pre-game coverage of the famous Wings/Avs brawl

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Thursday, March 26, 2020

Puck Soup: What was the best team ever that didn't win the Cup?

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Greg makes the case that the NHL should cancel the regular season right now
- Jeremy Jacobs and the Bruins stiff their workers
- That wild lottery idea
- The Memorial Cup is canceled for the first time ever
- And we run through a 16-team tournament to determine the best team ever that didn't win the Cup

>> 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, March 25, 2020

Ranking all 67 hat tricks from the 2019-20 season

It’s been a while since I’ve done a way-too-in-depth ranking of some random subject. And since we all miss hockey, I thought it would be fun to remember some of the good times. What about hat tricks? Everybody loves a good hat trick. Let’s rank every hat trick from the 2019-20 season, I thought. That would be fun.

Then I found out there were 67 of them. That’s, um, more than I thought. Damn you, dead puck era, where are you when I need you?

Ah well, it’s not like any of us have anything better to do right now. So here we go. Each of the 67 hat tricks from the 2019-20 season, ranked from worst to best, based on a rigorous scientific methodology of me just deciding I liked some better than others. You’re free to disagree. You’ll be wrong, but you’re free to do so.

No. 67: Blake Coleman (Devils vs. Maple Leafs, Jan. 14)

Every hat trick is at least kind of cool, and it feels a little weird to pick one as the season’s very worst. But Coleman is as good a choice as any because his hat trick was unique in two ways. First, the Devils lost the game in regulation, making Coleman the only player on this entire list whose team didn’t even get so much as a point out of his hat trick game. And it’s also the only entry where another player in the same game also had a hat trick – in this case, Auston Matthews. Factor in that all three of Coleman’s goals came with his team trailing by four goals or more, and yeah, this one really didn’t matter. It apparently impressed the Lightning scouts, though.

No. 66: Evander Kane (Sharks vs. Capitals, Jan. 5)

Like Coleman, Kane got his trick in a loss. Unlike Coleman, he at least saw his team earn a point. But this was the infamous game in which the Sharks collapsed with a minute left, allowing two goals to tie the game before losing two minutes into overtime. When your hat trick comes in your team’s most gut-wrenching loss of a gut-wrenching season, that’s not great.

No. 65: Nicolas Deslauriers (Ducks vs. Senators, March 10)

Deslauriers’ first-period blitz was the last hat trick of the season, coming on the penultimate night. It happened two weeks ago. It feels like two years.

No. 64: Tyson Jost (Avalanche vs. Lightning, Oct. 19)

This early-season hat trick accounted for 37.5 percent of Jost’s offensive output for the entire season; he scored just five other goals in 66 games. But he’ll go down as the youngest player to have a hat trick in 2019-20, and the one to do it with the least ice time (just 10:58).

No. 63: Dustin Brown (Kings vs. Wild, March 7)

And here’s the oldest player on our list, as 35-year-old Brown became the third Kings player to manage the feat in a five-week stretch.

No. 62: Craig Smith (Predators vs. Islanders, Feb. 13)

No. 61: Carter Verhaeghe (Lightning vs. Canucks, Jan. 7)

No. 60: Andrew Mangiapane (Flames vs. Ducks, Feb. 17)

No. 59: Joonas Donskoi (Avalanche vs. Predators, Nov. 7)

No. 58: Derek Grant (Ducks vs. Blues, Nov. 16)

Hat tricks by guys you don’t expect are always at least a little bit sneaky-fun. These five guys are all pretty similar stories – they’re not considered big scorers, they finished with fewer than 20 goals on the year, and these were their first and so far only career hat tricks. Grant takes the top spot in the group because of this.

No. 57: Frank Vatrano (Panthers vs. Blackhawks, January 21)

I kind of assumed Vatrano would fit into that same “plugger scoring his first career hat trick” category as that last group, but no – he also had one as a rookie with the Bruins way back in 2015. You learn something new every day. Not something remotely useful, but something.

No. 56: Mika Zibanejad (Rangers vs. Senators, Oct. 5)

This was the season’s first hat trick, as well as the first of two Zibanejad would have on the year. Spoiler: The second one was better.

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Monday, March 23, 2020

DGB weekend power rankings: A rerun from 1993

Editor’s note: The DGB Power Rankings would normally appear in this space today. However, due to the current shutdown, there is no NHL action to write about. So for this week’s rankings, we’ll do what our friends in the TV industry have been doing: Dip into the archives and air a rerun.

The following Weekend Rankings column originally ran exactly 27 years ago today, on March 23, 1993.

Let’s dive right in with the big news of the day: Yesterday’s trade deadline. As expected, it was a frantic day of wheeling and dealing, with a ton of action to sort through.

Nine trades, to be exact. Involving fourteen different players. Whew. Nine trades! Where do you even begin?

The Penguins loaded up for their run at a three-peat, adding defensemen Mike Ramsey and Peter Taglianetti. That’s not quite up there with the Ron Francis deal from two years ago, but it’s a pair of nice adds that cement the Pens as the favorites heading into the stretch run.

The Kings added veteran blueliner Mark Hardy from the Rangers, while the Caps and Jets pulled off a goalie-for-goalie swap involving Jim Hrivnak and Rick Tabaracci. Murray Craven went to the Canucks for Robert Kron. And Chicago added Craig Muni from Edmonton; the veteran will be going from a bottom-feeder to a Cup contender, and will no doubt be thrilled to report to the Hawks.

The big loser in all of this might be the Rangers, who whiffed in their well-publicized efforts to add a big-name defenseman. They did pick up Esa Tikkanen from Edmonton a few days ago, for the low cost of marginal prospect Doug Weight. And they’re still holding down third in the Patrick, so unless they collapse, they won’t become the first Presidents’ Trophy winner to miss the playoffs. It’s not all bad. But if they’re ever going to break their 53-year-and-counting Cup drought in New York, you’d think Neil Smith will have to learn how to get aggressive at the deadline.

Will any of those trades impact this week’s power rankings? Let’s find out …

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they’re headed towards a summer of respectfully celebrating a hard-earned victory in a quiet and dignified fashion.

Last night’s Canucks/Blues game was a real snoozer, eh? Just four goals total in a 3-1 Blues win, one that turned into a goaltending battle between Curtis Joseph and Kirk McLean. Here’s hoping they offered a partial refund to any fans who paid to see that dud. Luckily, these sorts of defensive struggles remain rare; there’s only been one other game all week that featured fewer than five goals, compared to an even dozen that featured eight or more.

Offense isn’t quite back up to 1980s levels, but it’s rebounded nicely after a two-year dip that saw league scoring drop all the way down to seven goals-per-game. With a league full of in-their-prime legends and young up-and-coming stars, good luck to any defensive-minded coaches out there looking to stem the coming tide of fan-friendly offense; they’ll no doubt have a devil of a time.

5. Washington Capitals (36-28-7, +24 true goals differential*) – They’ve cooled off since last month’s impressive seven-game win streak, but they remain well-positioned for home ice in the playoffs. Their path out of the division goes through Pittsburgh, which is a concern, but they’re pretty much the only Patrick team that has any chance of beating the Penguins. And besides, they’ve lost to the Pens in each of Pittsburgh’s two Cup-winning years. If I know the law of averages, there’s no way that keeps happening.

By the way, how about that Dale Hunter? Three points against the Sharks and he’s closing in on the team scoring lead. Don’t turn your back on this guy, he’s showing no signs of slowing down.

4. Boston Bruins (41-25-7, +38) – They remain one of the most consistent teams in the league, with last night’s comeback win over the Whalers meaning they still haven’t lost consecutive games since early January. While they haven’t caught the Habs for top spot in the Adams yet, that feels all but inevitable right now. Will they have a long playoff run? Nothing’s ever guaranteed, but let’s just say I’m feeling pretty confident that May is going to be memorable.

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Friday, March 20, 2020

Grab Bag: A league on pause, a CBA thought and 1980s montage perfection

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- How various NHL fan bases are passing the time without hockey
- A sliver of good news that could come out of all of this
- An obscure player with an unbreakable draft record
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a YouTube breakdown of one of the best 1980s montages you'll ever see

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Thursday, March 19, 2020

Puck Soup: Now what?

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- (shakes head)
- (gestures at everything)
- (sighs deeply)
- So what now for the NHL, it's fans and employees?
- What would the playoffs even look like if the league came back?
- What about the impact on escrow and next year's cap?
- A movie quiz
- (shrugs despondently)

>> 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, March 17, 2020

Possible NHL playoff formats, from the ideal to the weird. Then the weirder. Then even weirder.

The NHL is officially in uncharted territory, with a season that’s been paused with three weeks to go, no way of knowing when the games could resume, and no clear plan on what should happen if they do. Will this become the third season in NHL history without a champion? It certainly looks like it’s possible, maybe even likely. But if not, and we do award the Stanley Cup this season … well, how exactly do we even do that?

That’s the question that’s probably occupying a large chunk of the NHL’s brainpower these days, with various scenarios in play. There are a ton of unknowns here, not to mention some very real logistical problems that would have to be addressed, and it’s impossible for the league to make any firm decisions anytime soon. But they have to at least be weighing their options.

For example, this tweet went around earlier this week:

That would, needless to say, represent a huge departure from what hockey fans are used to. But as Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston writes, it appears to indeed be on the table. That suggests that the NHL, or at least some of its teams and stakeholders, may be open to getting creative here.

Let’s help them out. Come with me as we head down the rabbit hole of ways the NHL could handle the rest of the 2019-20 season, if they even get that chance. We’ll start with the most options that say as close as possible to what we’re all used to, and work our way down to the weird stuff. And then we’ll keep going into the really weird. Let’s do this.

The best-case scenarios

We’re already well beyond any “in a perfect world” cases; that ship sailed once the season was paused. But at this point, we can at least hold out hope for something that looks like what we’re used to. Let’s start with those options.

Option 1: The status quo

The idea: We wait this out, then finish up the regular season before moving onto the playoffs as normal.

Pros: It’s the ideal scenario; beyond a few weeks off and little rust once the games resume, we get a typical season.

Cons: At this point, there’s essentially zero chance of there being enough time to do this.

Bottom line: I’m only including this option to set a baseline; it’s not happening.

Option 2: The almost status quo

The idea: OK, we won’t have time to finish the season. But when the NHL resumes, we at least play a few nights to get everyone to the same number of games, even if that’s something like 72 where some teams would only play once or twice. Then we move on to the usual 16-team, four-round playoffs.

Pros: Everyone gets to shake off the rust with a few games before the playoffs, and we get a (very abbreviated) playoff race to give bubble teams who are a few percentage points out of the race right now a chance to earn their way in.

Cons: Even with the elimination of 10 games per team, the timeline here is unlikely to work. We’d be asking players on bad teams to leave their families just for a few games that wouldn’t matter to them. And if you think teams get mad about losing games when they’re rusty after the bye week, imagine the reaction when they lose a playoff spot they’d been holding through 71 games based on a 72nd played after a month off.

Bottom line: This is more realistic than option 1, but only marginally.

Option 3: A play-in round

The idea: We stop the season, but do a mini-round of play-in games for the bubble teams. The exact format could vary, but let’s say we have each conference’s 7-through-10 seeds play a quick play-in round to determine who gets into the full tournament.

Pros: We’d get back to action with high-stakes hockey right out of the gate, without needing to involve the teams that aren’t in the running for anything. And it could be a nice proof-of-concept test run for the play-in format that people like Pierre LeBrun have been pushing over the years.

Cons: Putting aside your feelings about a play-in round, do we really think we’re in a position to add to the playoff format right now?

Bottom line: If time wasn’t a factor, this could be a great idea. Time is going to be a factor.

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Monday, March 16, 2020

Remembering my worst power rankings of the season

It’s Monday, so this is supposed to be the weekend rankings column. Only this time, there’s no weekend to rank. That’s the new status quo, as we won’t have any NHL action to pick apart for weeks, if not a lot longer.

I’m not really sure what to do with that. I’m guessing you might be in the same boat as we try to figure out what to do without any sports in our lives, and how much that absence should even matter. It feels bizarre to think that it was just a week ago that I was pumping the tires of a potential Lightning/Bruins series (in a move that many of you correctly labeled as an obvious reverse-jinx attempt on behalf of the Leafs). That was seven days ago? It feels like seven years.

The plan around here is to keep the hockey writing coming, which will mean getting creative. OK, it’s going to be mean getting weird. If you thought Offseason DGB can sometimes get strange, wait until you see what No Hockey When There’s Still Snow On The Ground DGB might wander off to. This could get awkward.

But for today, I’m going to skip the rankings. The top five wouldn’t change much; we only had three nights of action since last week’s rankings, and even though I have no actual memory of any of those games, I’m going to assume they didn’t change the Stanley Cup outlook all that much. As for the bottom five, that’s just trying to predict what the basement will look like in the final standings. And right now, the standings look pretty darn final. So, you know, here you go.

Therefore, no rankings. Instead, I’m going to do what I always do when I have too much time on my hands: Revisit and rethink every bad decision I’ve ever made.

Yes, gentle reader, while it will no doubt shock some of you, I have a confession: Some of the rankings I’ve made over the last season have turned out to be wrong. And this is the week when I have to face the music on the worst of them.

We did this last year, under happier circumstances, and you all seemed to enjoy pointing and laughing at me appreciate my honesty and self-reflection. In case you’ve forgotten, that was a year that included bold calls like “the Sabres are a top-five team” and “those Blues sure are pretty bad.” As the kids say, those aged poorly.

So how did I do this year? Honestly … not awful? I feel like this year’s worst picks, while occasionally regrettable, won’t leave any serious marks. Maybe that’s because, as we’ve noted several times throughout the season, I’ve been more conservative about moving teams in and out of the rankings this year. In theory, that should make it easier to avoid the big mistake. And I think I mostly have.

But that’s not to say I didn’t make a few picks that I’d like to have back. So instead of this week’s rankings, let’s count down my five worst calls of the year.

5. Detroit not being the worst team every week: Did that sound harsh? It sounds harsh. But the Red Wings deserve it because they’ve been historically awful this year. It’s one thing to finish dead last – some team has to. It’s another to be quite possibly the worst team of the cap era, which is where Detroit was headed pretty much from the start. For most of the year, they’ve made at least one ranking nice and easy, because you could always pencil in the Wings for that No. 1 spot in the bottom five.

Except I didn’t. Not every week. In fact, there were four weeks when I didn’t have Detroit ranked as the league’s worst team. Which means there were four weeks where I was very wrong.

In my defense, those four weeks were the first four of the season; Detroit’s been holding down the spot ever since, a total of 20 weeks. Still, they didn’t dislodge the Senators until the first week of November. I can give myself a pass for week one since the Wings started 2-0-0 (and I still had them ranked third in the bottom five). Maybe week two, when they were 3-2-0. But after that? Like Jimmy Howard’s glove hand, I was too slow.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The loser point is broken. I can fix it. You're going to hate it.

I'm not a big fan of the NHL's loser point.

You may already know that, if you've read my work or seen my recent twitter rant or ever spoken to me for more than 30 seconds about literally any topic. I've been beating this drum for years. The loser point rewards failure, breaks the standings, and makes games worse by encouraging conservative play late in regulation. The loser point sucks.

Many of you agree. But whenever I bring this up, there's one counterargument I can count on hearing: We need the loser point, because it makes the playoff races closer.

That's been the league's go-to explanation for years, with everyone from Gary Bettman to Brian Burke and David Poile using it to defend the status quo against proposals like 3-2-1-0 or a win percentage system. The races are so close, they tell us, why would we mess with what's working? And yeah, it makes a certain kind of sense. If your favorite team is chasing a playoff spot, they need to bank points to make up ground. The best way to get those points is to win. But if they can also earn points for a loss, well, that helps too. You don't want to see one bad week torpedo your team's chances, and a few loser points can help keep them in the race when the bounces don't go their way.

(I'll pause here to acknowledge that there are other arguments in favor of the loser point, including that 3-on-3 overtime and the shootout are so gimmicky that it's unfair to punish a team for losing that way, so we should treat those as regulation ties and think of three-point games as awarding a bonus to the winner rather than the loser. That's a better case, at least, but it's not the one the NHL itself likes to make – after all, the extra point column on the standings page says "OT/shootout loss", not "regulation tie" or "gimmick contest win". So for our purposes today we'll take the league at its word that this is about keeping those playoff races nice and close.)

More teams in the hunt makes for more excitement, and if we have to award a few extra points to make that happen, it's worth it. That sounds reasonable, right?

Maybe. But only if you don't actually look at the standings. Because the loser point isn't doing what we're told it does, at least not consistently. And it never has.

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Monday, March 9, 2020

Weekend rankings: Who’s up for 7 more games of Bruins versus Lightning?

I know that we should live in the moment and appreciate the time we have right now, but would anyone object if we just skipped straight ahead to Round 2 in the Atlantic?

(Scans audience.)

Cool, no objections. Bruins and Lightning, get back out there. Best of seven, let’s do this.

Specifically, let’s do Saturday night, but for seven games in a row. Because that may have been the game of the year

(Stefon voice.) The game had everything. The first and second place teams in the overall standings. Two shorthanded goals on the same powerplay. Bad blood. A flying stick. A Horn of Doom. A brawl breaking out after the Horn of Doom. Jack Edwards being weird. Last year’s MVP. Maybe this year’s MVP.

And ultimately, it had a Lightning road win, which snapped a four-game Bruins win streak and avenged a Boston win in Tampa earlier in the week. The whole game was a trip, so much so that the Sportsnet highlight package apparently decided to go full Tarantino and dispense with chronological order. Look, far be it from me to question somebody else’s artistic vision. The whole thing was a ton of fun.

What the game didn’t have is much impact on the standings; barring a collapse, the Bruins are still going to finish first. The Lightning have the same pure win-loss record (both teams have won 43 and lost 26), but this is the NHL so that’s not how we do things. The Bruins hold a six-point lead, which should be safe.

But in the bigger picture, this is the sort of win that can feed into a narrative, and sometimes narratives can matter. The Lightning have spent the last 11 months hearing about how they’re not a playoff team, they can’t win when the going gets tough, they have to change their style, you name it. Does one regular-season win in Boston change any of that? Of course not. Unless they believe it does, in which case … maybe?

It was the last game of the season between the two teams, at least until that Round 2 matchup. And yes, we know how this goes – the hockey gods see how excited we all are, and then they throw a wrench into things. The Lightning get tripped up by a Maple Leafs team with enough talent to give them a series, or a Panthers team that’s back in the picture after Toronto coughed up its California road trip. Maybe the Bruins get upset by a wild-card team from the Metro – remember, the Islanders, Hurricanes and Blue Jackets all won rounds last year. Maybe both teams get knocked out early, because the NHL playoffs are chaos, whether you like it or not. And sure, you could argue that this is a matchup we should see in the third round or even the final, not Round 2. I’m with you.

But for now, it’s OK to think ahead and get just a little bit excited over what might be on the horizon. Because if these two teams could put on that kind of show in a game that probably didn’t even matter all that much, imagine what they could do with a trip to the final four on the line.

All that said, was the Lightning’s win enough to move them past the Bruins for top spot in the top five? I’m sure that’s the main question everyone has heading into this week’s rankings, so we can just go ahead and …

Oh right, I guess there’s that too. OK, let’s sort this out.

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Friday, March 6, 2020

Grab Bag: Hawks since, we're old, and what were the GMs actually doing at those meetings?

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- What were the GMs doing all week? My spies found out
- I'm feeling old so now I'm going to make you feel old too
- An obscure player who played the most games in net without a loss
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a YouTube look back at the Blackhawks kind of maybe trying to sing

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Thursday, March 5, 2020

Puck Soup: Breaking the plane

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Ryan and I are on our own because Greg was fired for saying a swear at Eugene Melnyk
- Lots of news from the annual GMs meeting, including a tweak to the offside rule
- The Flyers might be very good
- The Islanders and Canucks might not
- Who should be the MVP?
- More off-ice drama in Ottawa
- We each get a shot at doing an ad transition
- And Ryan puts me to the test with another round of Real Movie or Fake Movie?

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Wednesday, March 4, 2020

What's the fourth-best Canadian international hockey moment?

Last Friday was the 10th anniversary of Sidney Crosby’s golden goal, the overtime winner against the United States that delivered Olympic gold in front of a delirious Vancouver crowd.

It was a remarkable goal that still holds up as a “where were you” moment to this day, and the anniversary spurred a rush of pride and patriotism among Canadian hockey fans. But it also prompted something else, something far more rare and wonderful: a good tweet.

Specifically, a tweet by user @thupka1982 asking a seemingly simple question: What’s the Mount Rushmore of Team Canada goals? In other words, which four stand above the others as the best and/or most memorable in Canadian international hockey history?

I’m going to take the liberty of expanding the question to not just goals, but moments. The beauty of the question is that the first three are obvious. Just about everyone would give you the same list: Crosby’s Golden Goal, Paul Henderson’s winner in 1972 and Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux teaming up to beat the Soviets in 1987. You can’t get hockey fans to agree on anything, but I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t have those three moments on their list.

But what’s No. 4? That’s where it gets interesting. Today, with permission from our pal @thupka1982, let’s break down some of the candidates.

Darryl Sittler’s fake shot

The game: The inaugural Canada Cup in 1976 was meant to expand on the success of the 1972 Summit Series, with the expectation that we’d get a rematch between Team Canada and the Soviets. Instead, Canada ended up facing an underdog Czechoslovakian team in the final.

The moment: Canada won the first game of the best-of-three in a 6-0 blowout. But they had a tougher time in Game 2, needing a late goal to send the game to overtime. That’s when this happened:

Why it’s in the running: It was the first great international moment to happen in sudden death, and it’s an absolute beauty of a goal. (Side note: Don Cherry has tried to claim the credit for the move, which may or may not factor into where you rank it.)

The case against: Not having it come against the Soviets hurts the case a bit, as does the fact that it wasn’t a must-win game for Canada.

Bottom line: It’s definitely in the conversation, although I’m not sure there’s room on our Mount Rushmore for two games from the 1970s.

John Slaney plays the hero on home ice

The game: Heading into the 1991 World Junior Championship, Canada was the defending champs. But they’d never won back-to-back tournaments and had never won the tournament on home ice. They had a chance to make history on both fronts when they faced the Soviets in their final game of the tournament, with the winner taking gold.

The moment: Late in a 2-2 tie, a draw in the Soviet zone ended up with the puck sliding back to Canadian defenseman John Slaney, who had time to step into the shot of his life.

Why it’s in the running: It’s not the greatest goal on the list, although it might challenge for the best celebration. But this moment, along with the crowd reaction and TSN’s coverage of it all, may have been the one that elevated the world juniors from a vaguely important tournament to a Canadian institution.

The case against: In terms of big names to score a crucial goal, Slaney doesn’t exactly rank up there with Crosby or Lemieux or Sittler. Then again, when it comes to the world juniors, that might be part of the appeal.

Bottom line: It’s probably hard to explain to younger fans, but this one really was a huge moment back in the day and set the stage for other great WJC moments to come. Like this one …

Jordan Eberle’s buzzer-beater

The game: Canada and Russia renewed international hockey’s greatest rivalry at the 2009 world juniors in Ottawa. Canada had won four straight golds, but the Russians held a one-goal lead late in the game.

The moment: With the goalie pulled and Canada pressing in the final minute of the third, Ryan Ellis made a play at the blue line to keep the puck in the Russian zone. After an extended scrum along the sideboards, the puck squirted free to Jordan Eberle in front of the net.

Why it’s in the running: There may not be a goal in Canadian hockey history that came out of nowhere quite like this one. One second, the puck was by the boards as the game ticked away; the very next, Eberle was somehow all alone in front of the Russian net. The whole thing played out almost too quickly for a fan’s brain to process in real time, which made it one of the great “Did I actually just see that?” moments ever.

The case against: Memory is a funny thing. You know Canada went on to win the game, but do you even remember who scored the winner in overtime? Nobody did because the game was decided in a shootout, which is kind of lame. Another piece you may not remember, with shades of the Miracle on Ice: This wasn’t the gold medal game. It was the semifinal.

Bottom line: The fact that a goal that didn’t end a game or a tournament is still remembered to this day just drives home how insane the moment was for those that watched it live.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Weekend rankings: Sorting through trades, streaks and one major injury

We’re not going to waste any time with a long preamble on this week’s rankings, because this is one of my favorite weeks of the year.

Most seasons, things start to stabilize around December and January, and by February, it’s mostly the same teams that keep showing up in roughly the same spots and there isn’t always all that much new to say. But then the trade deadline arrives and things get shaken up. We’ve had about 30 trades since the last set of rankings, and while they weren’t all blockbusters, that should be enough action to move the needle.

So we’d expect to see some changes in this week’s rankings. But even without the trades, this has been a wild week. We’ve got some teams surging, including the top of the Central. We’ve got some teams flatlining, including the top of the Metro. And on Saturday, we found out about a big injury that could have implications for the rest of the regular season and beyond.

There’s a lot to get to, and we might need to work in a few more teams than usual. So let’s skip the usual intro essay and head straight to the rankings.

Road to the Cup

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

The March edition of The Athletic’s collective power rankings came out over the weekend, and you can find them here. As a reminder, in the case of any discrepancy between my rankings and everyone else’s, you should assume that mine are right.

5. Colorado Avalanche (39-18-7, +49 true goals differential*) – They just keep rolling along, even if they’re not gaining any ground on the Blues or all that much on the Stars. The difference between finishing second in the division and facing Dallas or finishing first and playing somebody like Calgary or Winnipeg feels huge, so there may not be room for two Central teams down the stretch. But for now, we can make it work.

I’m still surprised that the Avs had such a quiet deadline given all their cap space, and I’m on board with the theory that Joe Sakic was eying Chris Kreider and didn’t have time to work a significant Plan B when the Rangers decided not to move him. This is one of those situations where the right answer only becomes apparent in hindsight, so we’ll see if Sakic deserves criticism for not being more aggressive or applause for not disrupting a winning room.

4. Vegas Golden Knights (36-23-8, +13) – Well, that didn’t take long. One week after they were getting close, the Knights kick the door down on the top five by running their win streak to eight while making what may have been the biggest addition of the deadline.

The streak ended last night at the hands of the Kings, but it means that Vegas has opened up a little bit of breathing room on top of the Pacific. It’s only a little, and they’ve still got a ways to go to close this out, but with the Canucks and Oilers battling injuries and inconsistency, this now feels very much like the Knights’ division to lose. Which is what we all figured it would be if they could ever get their entire lineup clicking the way it should; they’re pretty much there now.

I liked the Robin Lehner trade, although I’m not as ready to call it a home run as some are. That’s not a knock on Lehner, who’s been excellent for a few years now. Rather, I’m not sure that this will play out as easily as others seem to think. To hear some of the reactions, the Knights will either see Fleury snap back to his previous Cup-caliber form, or they switch over to Lehner and don’t miss a beat. I’m not sure it’s that simple, and we’ve seen teams turn this kind of thing into a Buridan’s ass scenario. But it’s still better to have a tough choice than no choice at all, so the Knights are in better shape this week than last. And that’s enough to move them back onto our list for the first time since the third week of the season.

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