Friday, May 29, 2020

Grab Bag: Return to play thoughts, comedy stars and a Chicago Stadium tour — Scheduled

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- My favorite thing about the NHL's return to play plan is the part they forgot
- The one complaint about the plan that doesn't make sense
- An obscure player who'll lead you to your favorite YouTube video of the week
- The week's three comedy stars
- And a YouTube tour of the old Chicago Stadium and it's death trap stairway

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Thursday, May 28, 2020

What if the 24 playoff teams could each draft a player from the eliminated clubs?

It started with a question from a reader: What if the NHL held a draft where each of the 24 teams who’ll be resuming the season could pick one player from the seven outsiders?

Not permanently. Just a loaner, one that would join a contender for the rest of whatever the 2019-20 season looks like, then return to his original team for next year and beyond. Consider it a temporary boost to a postseason that’s already breaking most of the rules anyway.

Would the NHL ever do this? Of course not, for a million reasons, starting with the fact that it barely makes sense. But it wouldn’t be completely unprecedented in hockey history. And far more importantly, it would be fun.

All of this led me to a second question: How can I turn this idea into an article where all the other writers do most of the work for me?

After a brainstorming session, some fine-tuning of the concept, a few Slack invites that turned into even more invites and, if we’re being honest, more than a couple of mid-afternoon beers, the concept was born. And we had 24 writers on board to make it happen.

Then it got weird.

OK, yes, the whole concept is weird. But then the draft started, and it got even weirder. Some picks made sense. There were a few that maybe didn’t. There was a trade. There was instant evaluation. There was trash talk.

Welcome to the 2020 NHL supplemental playoff draft. The rules: each of the 24 postseason teams can draft one player from any of the seven other teams, just for this playoff run. Cap hits don’t count, all no-movement clauses are waived, we’re drafting in reverse order of points percentage and you have to set aside any cognitive dissonance over how none of this could ever actually happen. Oh, and a different writer will draft for each team.

This makes no sense. Let’s do it.

1. Montreal Canadiens – Jack Eichel, Sabres

GM Marc Antoine Godin: Is it really this easy to land a franchise center? Had they known it, the Canadiens probably wouldn’t have wasted 25 years trying to find one. We considered other options on the blue line – Thomas Chabot or Rasmus Dahlin would have been a handy addition to the left side of the top pair – but there’s no point in overthinking things when you have the first pick. It’s like shortly before the 2009 draft when the rumors that filtered out that Matt Duchene had a shot at going first overall. Please. It wasn’t going to be anyone other than John Tavares.

The same holds here – it was always going to be Eichel. A dominant center who changes the complexion of a team like no other player available. The Canadiens are going to wreak devastation on the NHL! (cue the sound of a clock chiming)

Sean says: Maybe not a slam dunk pick, but pretty close. Congratulations to the Canadiens on finally landing a legit first-line center for the first time in a generation. Enjoy it for a few weeks.

2. Chicago Blackhawks – Erik Karlsson, Sharks

GM Mark Lazerus: I think five months is enough time to heal a broken thumb, so I’m going with the most dynamic defenseman of the past decade. I was tempted to take Anze Kopitar because the idea of having Jonathan Toews and Kopitar as the Blackhawks’ top-two centers is tantalizing, even if it’s not 2014. But the Blackhawks’ most glaring flaws are on the blue line and the power play, and Karlsson — even the current Karlsson — is a massive upgrade on both. I wouldn’t sign him to an eight-year deal as he hits 30 next week but certainly he can recapture the magic for a couple of months. Plus, he nicely fits the whole team vibe of highly accomplished veterans in their 30s trying to prove they’re not washed.

Sean says: And this is where the heckling started.

Reviewing the Slack timestamps, Mark’s pick had been on the board for less than one minute when a fellow GM asked “Are we allowed to chirp the picks as they’re made?” Another immediately called it an “awful pick.” There were jokes about Doug Wilson changing his phone number and refusing to take Karlsson back at the end of the playoffs. (That may have been me.)

But to his credit, Mark stood his ground and defended the pick, and his case isn’t a bad one. We’ve seen an injured Karlsson carry a bad team deep into the playoffs before, so I kind of like seeing the Hawks swing for the fences.

Besides, Mark has nothing to worry about here – nobody remembers No. 2.

GM Craig Morgan: The Coyotes have been looking for a No. 1 center since Jeremy Roenick left town in 2001. The void at that critical position is noticeable in matchups against every other Western Conference team, and it is the greatest impediment to legitimate progress.

Arizona thought long and hard about consistent postseason performer Logan Couture. If this draft were about more than this 24-team, don’t-call-it-a-playoff format, the Coyotes also would have looked at Dylan Larkin, but for one postseason run, they’ll take Kopitar, a big, two-way center who is still productive (21 goals, 62 points) and has oodles of postseason experience (66 points in 79 games) from the Kings’ deep runs in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Were it not for Kopitar’s $10 million cap hit, the Coyotes would have inquired about him earlier. He will fit like a glove into Rick Tocchet’s system, while allowing Christian Dvorak, Nick Schmaltz and Derek Stepan to slot into roles better suited to their current abilities.

Sean says: No heckling on this one. We’re back on track with a solid pick.

4. Minnesota Wild – John Gibson, Ducks

GM Michael Russo: For 19 seasons, the Wild desperately could have used a No. 1 center. Now, they’ve got a golden opportunity to snag one … so naturally we’re going to follow Wild tradition and pass up on Dylan Larkin and Logan Couture, one of the best playoff performers in NHL history.

The reality is if the Wild want to be a true Stanley Cup contender this summer, they may have to upgrade their goaltending (although Alex Stalock, a career backup, overtook Devan Dubnyk as the Wild’s No. 1 and was great the final month heading into the pause).

Therefore, GM Michael Russo (has a great ring to it, doesn’t it?) selects goalie John Gibson.

Sure, he had a miserable season, but he’ll have had four months off to refresh and reinvigorate. Discount this past season, from 2015-16 through 2018-19, Gibson ranked second in the NHL with a .922 save percentage (minimum 115 games). He’s our guy.

Sean says: I was wondering where Gibson would go, but this wasn’t the spot I expected. The Wild have Dubnyk signed for another season, so this obvious vote of non-confidence might create some awkwardness. Still, the peanut gallery loved the choice, with one observer calling it a “great pick” and another giving it the ultimate compliment by calling it “the anti-Laz.”

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Puck Soup: Return to play

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- We react to the NHL's Return to Play plan
- Did they screw up the draft lottery? One of us actually likes it
- We're still not sure if the first round counts as the playoffs or not
- The Red Wings and Sabres stand pat
- Greg tries to say nice things about Rise of Skywalker
- A journeyman quiz
- 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, May 25, 2020

Weekend power rankings: A rerun from 1980

Editor’s note: Due to the ongoing pause to the NHL season, we are once again dipping into the archives to air a Weekend Rankings rerun from a previous season. Please enjoy this week’s power rankings, which originally ran on Monday, Jan. 7, 1980.

The Philadelphia Flyers played last night, and stop me if you’ve heard this one before, they didn’t lose.

Oh wait, you have heard that one. In fact, you’ve heard it for nearly three straight months, because the Flyers haven’t lost since their second game of the season. That’s 35 in a row, if you’re keeping track.

You figured that if the streak was ever going to end, last night would be the night. The Flyers were five games into their road trip as they prepared to face the Sabres, the league’s second-best team. With six wins in their last eight games, Buffalo has started to pull away in the Adams. Add in the extra motivation of having lost to many of these same Flyers in the Stanley Cup final just a few years ago, you would think that if anyone could end the streak, it would be Buffalo.

Nope. Bill Barber broke a third-period tie, Rick MacLeish added the insurance marker with five minutes left, and the Flyers cruised to a 4-2 final. Ho-hum. Throw another win on the pile.

With 35 straight games without a loss, the Flyers have already shattered the NHL record, set just a few years ago by the Canadiens; that milestone came and went weeks ago. Friday night’s 4-1 win over the Rangers nudged them ahead of 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers for the longest undefeated streak in pro sports history. Granted, that Lakers team had to win all those games because the NBA doesn’t have ties, which are a fundamental and immutable part of hockey, but it’s still an impressive feat.

And there’s no end in sight. I mean … what are we even holding the rest of the season for? Just give the Stanley Cup to the Flyers, and let’s be done with it. They’re literally unbeatable.

OK, I’m being a little facetious here – obviously you can’t just shut down an NHL season before it’s finished. But it sure does feel like everyone else is playing for second place at this point. And to make matters worse, there’s no reason to think that the Flyers’ dominance is a one-year phenomenon. Mark my words, there’s a new dynasty on the horizon, and it’s coming straight out of the Patrick Division.

In the meantime, the Flyers cap off their six-game road trip tonight in Minnesota. The North Stars are a good team, but we know how this is going to turn out. It’s going to be a long time before the Flyers lose another game this year. Or maybe that should be if they lose another game.

On to this week’s rankings. Hey, I bet you’ll never guess who’s No. 1.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they’re headed towards a summer of Rubik’s Cubes, Pac-Man and taking the Stanley Cup to see Empire Strikes Back.

I don’t know about you, but I’m still adjusting to the new playoff format. After years of having an even dozen teams make the playoffs, the NHL is expanding the format to 16 teams this year. And let’s just come right out and say it: That’s way too many.

Yes, the league went from 17 teams to 21 this season due to the WHA merger. There’s some logic to adding extra playoff spots when you add more teams. But having 12 out of 17 teams make the playoffs meant that 70 percent of the league got in. Now, with 16 out of 21, it’s all the way up to 76 percent. That’s crazy. Yes, you want to get as many teams involved in the playoff race as possible, because that’s how you keep all your markets interested. But there has to be a limit.

I mean, imagine if the league keeps this up. We’re told that further expansion will arrive someday. What are we going to do when there are 24 teams? Or 28? Or, to pick an odd number at random, 31? If you kept the same ratio of playoff teams in a 31-team league, you’d end up inviting 24 teams.

A 24-team postseason. Good lord. Let’s start handing out points for losing too, while we’re at it.

Anyway, the one piece of good news is that at least we got rid of that weird preliminary round where only some of the teams had to face off in shorter series. That was a total crapshoot, and nobody even knew whether it was supposed to count as a real playoff series or not. I won’t miss those.

But yeah, 16 teams are making the playoffs this year. I know it seems like a lot, but we’ll have to get used to it.

5. Chicago Black Hawks (15-13-12, +1 true goals differential*) – They’re barely .500 and they can’t score, but they’re still running away with the Smythe because it’s the worst division in hockey. Hey, at least it won’t be won by a 73-point team like it was last year. Man, the Smythe is terrible. I guess we might as well get used to saying that because some things never change.

4. Montreal Canadiens (18-16-6, +12) – I know, I know, I should show the defending champs more respect. They’ve won four straight Cups, after all. Shouldn’t a dynasty team be the favorites?

Yes, they should, but this isn’t that dynasty team. There’s no Ken Dryden, or Yvan Cournoyer, or Jacques Lemaire. There’s no Scotty Bowman. Another year without Sam Pollock. They’re already on their second coach, after literally giving their first coach ulcers. This isn’t the same team that rolled over everyone for the last half-decade.

They’re still good. Guy Lafleur should get 50 goals, and Steve Shutt might get there too. So could Pierre Larouche. They’ve still got Larry Robinson and new captain, Serge Savard. Rod Langway looks like a future Norris winner that they’ll definitely hold on to. And on the right night, the combo of Mario Tremblay and Rejean Houle can drive a goaltender crazy.

So they deserve some respect, which is why they’re in the top five. Can they win a fifth straight Cup? I guess we can’t count them out. But at the risk of overdoing my Philadelphia love-in, I’d advise Montreal fans to watch tonight’s Flyers/North Stars game, because good luck getting past that team in the playoffs.

3. Boston Bruins (21-11-5, +32) – First-year head coach Fred Creighton continues to do a great job, and seems like the long-term answer behind the bench. But the big story is rookie defenseman Ray Bourque, who’s stepped in as a 19-year-old and already looks like one of the best blueliners in the league. He’s not especially big or physical, so you have to wonder how long he can last in the league. But he can do just about everything else, and it’s not hard to envision him being the guy who brings the Stanley Cup back to Boston.

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Thursday, May 21, 2020

Puck Soup: Pyramid Power

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- It sure sounds like the NHL has settled on a 24-team format for resuming the season
- But don't call it a 24-team playoff, apparently
- Why is everyone so scared of Carey Price all of a sudden?
- We go through the matchups we'll reportedly be getting
- Thoughts on Akim Aliu's piece on his experiences with racism in the hockey world
- Pierre McGuire might be the next Devils' GM
- Something about some comic book movie, I don't know I wasn't listening
- And we debut a new game, as Ryan and Greg team up to play The $25,000 Pierre-amid

>> 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.

Ranking the 25 most dominant NHL teams of the past 50 years

I’ll start off by agreeing with Eric and Scotty: This is harder than it looks. There are some very good teams that you start off assuming will crack the list, only to find out that you don’t have room for them at the end. If your reaction to any of these lists is to roll your eyes that Team X absolutely has to be there, make sure you tell us which teams come off to make room. It’s tough.

That said, my list will have some significant overlap with the others, especially at the top. I part ways from my colleagues just a bit in a few ways, most notably that I’m apparently more willing to forgive a team that had a dominant season that didn’t end in a Stanley Cup. Yes, it’s nice to tell ourselves that the best team always wins and that champions will always “find a way,” whatever that means. But that’s not how hockey works, at least some of the time – we’ve all seen great teams derailed by a bad bounce or a hot goalie. I’m still willing to consider those teams among the very best ever.

So you’ll see some of those non-Cup teams show up on my list, including a few that crack my top 10. That includes a 1979-80 Flyers team that Eric and Scott both snubbed; I have them ranked seventh, because I’m not sure what’s more dominant than going nearly half a season without anyone beating you. (And only losing the final to a dynasty in the making thanks to a blown offside call helps their case.) Similarly, the 1992-93 Penguins are the only team from the Mario era on my list, because they were by far the best team in the league before losing an epic Game 7 upset in which their second-leading scorer got hurt.

I felt no obligation to limit how many times a team could show up, which means my list is clogged with Habs, Oilers and Red Wings. That doesn’t leave as much room as I’d like for other teams, but true dominance is rarely a one-year wonder. And one last thing: My list is going to be extremely heavy with teams from the pre-cap era, because Gary Bettman loves parity, and parity is the antithesis of dominance.

Here’s my list.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

What was the single worst downgrade in every team’s history?

Let the record show that I tried to stay positive.

Last week, we look at the single biggest upgrade in the history of every NHL team. It was a celebration of smart moves, the sorts of trades, hirings and promotions that set teams on the path towards a championship. It was, by definition, all good.

And almost immediately, I started hearing from readers: Great, now do the biggest downgrades.

The customer is always right, so today is downgrade day. As with last week, we’re looking for direct downgrades in which one guy is clearly replaced by another. Every team has its share of bad trades, and those lists have been done to death, but just making a bad trade isn’t necessarily the sort of player-to-player downgrade we’re looking for. The same goes for coaches, GMs and even owners – who they replaced matters here, because going from a C+ to a C- isn’t much of a downgrade, even if the new guy is a dunce.

One more caveat: I didn’t include any cases of a star player retiring since that doesn’t seem to fit the spirit of the thing. Yes, if Johnny Superstar hangs them up and some career plug has to replace him, it’s a downgrade. But it’s not one anyone is choosing, so it doesn’t work quite as well. (Plus I don’t want this whole list to just be “I can name a guy that retired”.)

With all that in mind, let’s relive some of hockey history’s biggest steps backward.

Anaheim Ducks

The 2003 divorce from Paul Kariya was ugly, complicated and depressing. The Ducks had just made a miracle run to within one win of a Stanley Cup, only to see the front office walk away from the face of the franchise after he refused to take a pay cut. That was bad; watching him reunite with another Ducks icon to chase a Cup somewhere else (and for far cheaper) was worse. Ah well, at least the team will turn around use that money they just saved to land a new top-line left winger to lead the team into the next season and beyond, right? Oh.

The downgrade: Paul Kariya to Vinny Prospal, 2003 (first-line left winger)

Arizona Coyotes

I’m tempted to bend the rules enough to use “tanking an entire season to get Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel and winding up with Dylan Strome instead,” but I don’t think it works. And no, I’m not going to say “Winnipeg to Phoenix.” But we do have to go with something ownership-related if only to pay tribute to the story that’s dominated the last 25 years of franchise history. How about the time a not-so-great owner named Jerry Moyes sold the team to, well, basically nobody.

The downgrade: Jerry Moyes to bankruptcy and a league bailout, 2009 (owner)

Boston Bruins

The answer is apparently Milt Schmidt to Harry Sinden, according to a lot of you.

OK, that’s not the answer, but let’s sidetrack for a second because I got a ton of pushback from Bruins’ fans about picking Sinden as an upgrade last week. I was surprised, but after hearing the arguments I can at least kind of get it. But only kind of, because there seem to be a lot of Bruins fans out there who are convinced that Sinden was a bad GM. No, he never won a Cup, but he made the playoffs almost every year, went to multiple finals, robbed the Kings of a first-round pick and then used it on Ray Bourque, stole Cam Neely from Vancouver and then stole Adam Oates to play with him. If you think that’s doing a bad job, you have some very high standards for your GM, and might want to ask a Leafs or Islanders fan what bad management really looks like.

Was Sinden cheap? Sure, but it wasn’t his money. If a team won’t spend, you blame the owner who cuts the checks, not the GM who has to work with the budget. I can concede that Sinden may have been the wrong pick as the Bruins’ biggest upgrade, but the idea that he did a bad job still seems crazy to me.

Anyway, the correct answer for a Bruins downgrade is new GM Peter Chiarelli firing future Cup-winner Mike Sullivan in 2006 to hire Dave Lewis.

The downgrade: Mike Sullivan to Dave Lewis, 2006 (coaching)

Buffalo Sabres

The first thought is losing Dominik Hasek, but he was old when he orchestrated his exit and they replaced him with Martin Biron, who matched him in save percentage in Year 1. But we’ve got other options to work with. One reader suggested the uniform change away from the classic logo, and yeah, that’s in the running. So is the coaching change from 16 years of Lindy Ruff to roughly 50 games of Ron Rolston.

But I’ll go higher up the org chart, with the ownership switch from the occasionally cheap but generally dependable Knox family to John Rigas, who put his son in charge before they both eventually wound up in jail.

The downgrade: Knox family to John Rigas, 1997 (owners)

Calgary Flames

From a personal standpoint as a Leafs fan, I have to say this one worked out great.

The downgrade: Cliff Fletcher to Doug Risebrough, 1991 (GM)

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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Why a 24-team playoff format means your team is winning the Cup

It sure sounds like we’re doing this, huh?

Nothing is official, and we may still be weeks away from any kind of formal plan being locked down. But recent reports have made it increasingly clear where the NHL is leaning: towards an unprecedented 24-team playoff, one involving a shorter play-in round and (maybe) some round-robin games before that.

Is that the right plan? Everyone has an opinion and plenty of questions. I’ve heard fans pushing for everything from a leaguewide tournament to a traditional 16-team format to just scrapping the whole thing and starting over with a new season when we know it’s safe. There’s validity to all of those ideas. But at this point, it sure seems like the NHL has its eyes firmly set on the 24-team option. And that’s going to be deeply weird.

Here’s the good news: Your team is going to win.

No, really. I’ve broken it down, and a 24-team format actually helps your team. It’s practically rigged for them. I really think they’ve got this.

Let’s assume we get the format that’s been mentioned most often: the league’s top 24 teams based on points percentage, six teams per division, with the Rangers and Wild crossing over. I’m going to go through all 24 of those teams and explain why this unprecedented playoff format is going to help them.

Just do me one favor: Only read your team’s entry.

You’re good with that, right? Of course you are. It’s what you do on most of my posts anyway. So let’s get to scrolling, find your team and figure out why they’re going to win it all. Plan the parade! (The parade will be a Zoom meeting.) Here we go.

Atlantic Division

Boston Bruins

Let’s not overthink this.

Yes, a 24-team tournament will be unprecedented. Yes, a combination of the expanded format and rusty players will lead to all sorts of randomness, especially early on. But once we settle in, it’s still hockey, and that means the best teams are more likely to win. The Boston Bruins are the best team in the NHL.

It’s easy enough to forget that now, since most of us hadn’t looked at the standings page in months, but the Bruins were running away with the Presidents’ Trophy. And unlike certain other Atlantic powerhouses we could mention, there are no worries here about knowing how to win because the Bruins were one game away from the Cup last year. True, teams that lose in the final often exit early the next season. But that’s largely because of fatigue, and the Bruins (and everyone else) will be well-rested and healthy. They’ll also have “home ice” through the playoffs, which won’t matter much in empty arenas but should serve up easier matchups.

Again, don’t overthink it. Pick the best team to win. That’s the Bruins.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Everything we said in the last section about the best teams winning is true … except for the part about the Bruins being the league’s best team. That would be the Lightning, who started slow and then tore through the league for months. They weren’t going to catch the Bruins for first place overall, but they’re win-loss records are almost matched, and sorry Boston, they don’t give out loser points in the playoffs.

On top of that, the Lightning are one of the few teams that might benefit from playing in empty arenas. The atmosphere in Tampa is great, but we all know what happened last year against Columbus. If the Lightning were to get off to a slow start on home ice, everyone in the building would be thinking “here we go again.” Instead, the Lightning won’t have to worry about the crowd, or about dealing with a crush of media or having fans stop them on the street to ask if they’re choking again.

They can ignore all the narrative nonsense and just play hockey. And they’re really, really good at playing hockey.

Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967, as everyone knows. But someday, that drought is going to end. That’s just the math. Whether it’s this season or next or ten years from now or a century down the road, the day will come. And when it does, Leaf fans are going unleash decades of frustration and run wild in an eruption of pent-up joy, unlike anything we’ve ever seen.


Let’s face if, Leaf fans, you know how this is going to go. After waiting your whole life to see the team finally win the Cup, of course, it’s going to happen in a messed-up year with a bizarre format and empty arenas. Of course, it’s going to be a win that absolutely nobody else on the planet will count. Of course, you won’t be allowed to fulfill a lifelong dream by going to the game where they win and witnessing the moment in person. Of course, you’re going to have to hear about asterisks for the rest of your life. Of course, there won’t be a parade.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are the only team in pro sports that could win a championship and make it depressing. We all know this is happening.

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Friday, May 15, 2020

(The first ever) DGB Mailbag: Franchise downgrades, judging goalies and the worst hockey take ever

I’ve been doing this sportswriting thing for over a decade now, and I’ve covered subjects from all sorts of weird angles. But recently I realized that something was missing. I’d never broken out a gimmick that’s become a staple of the sportswriting game: The reader mailbag. Everyone else seems to have one, but not me.

I’m not quite sure why that is, although the fact that my readers occasionally make my brain implode might be part of it. But the bigger issue is probably that I’m generally pretty lazy, and curating a bunch of reader questions seems like a lot of work. Maybe I’ll get around to that someday, when the entire sports world has shut down.

Well, someday is here, and so is the mailbag. Is this a good idea? I’m not sure, let’s see where this goes.

Note: Submitted questions have been edited for clarity.

Theoretical scenario: You are out driving someday when another driver crashes into your car and you die. (From Sean – off to a great start!) God appears to you and says, “Whoops, you died too soon, I’ll let you do life all over again.” He then gives you a choice:

1) You can be reborn at any time in hockey history with the skills and good luck to be one of the best hockey players of your generation for any team you choose.


2) You can be reborn at any time in hockey history with the skills and good luck to be one of the best and well-known hockey writers/commentators of your generation for any media outlet you choose.

Which do you pick?

– Jonathan M.

Is this … is this supposed to be a hard question? I grew up in a golden era of Toronto sportswriting, reading guys like Milt Dunnell, Jim Proudfoot, Frank Orr and Shaky Hunt. I was around for the dawn of the sports radio era, hung on every word from Don Cherry, saw the birth of TSN and later Sportsnet, and then watched the internet reinvent the industry. I dreamed of being a sportswriter as a little kid, and after a few twists and turns, it actually happened. I’m not sure there’s anyone out there that loves sports media as I do.

All that said, of course, I pick being a player. I wouldn’t even have to be a star. As long as you could assure me a long career and that I’d come out of it in decent health, I’d take being a journeyman fourth-liner over being the greatest sportswriter of all time. Scoring one goal in front of 20,000 people is probably more fun than winning a Pulitzer. Get me some gear, I’m going in.

(Also, I’d be a huge jerk to the writers the whole time. No stepping on the logo, baldy!)

Who would you rather have on your team, a guy that literally can’t skate but would shoot over 90 percent, or someone that skates like McDavid but would shoot under one percent?

– Simon H.

Like he literally can’t skate at all? He just falls over every time he tries to take a step? Because that wouldn’t work – with the offside rule, you’ve got to at least get into the offensive zone (unless this guy is just bombing from the red line against goalies who can’t see the puck like Babe Dye). The guy who skates like McDavid is at least going to be useful in gaining the zone, and hopefully can pass a little bit, so he’s the easy pick.

But if the guy who “can’t skate” just can’t skate very well – like 1980s defenseman bad – then yeah, you take him. (I was going to make a note about how unrealistic the scenario is because the other team would obviously figure out that the guy was unstoppable and just put their guys on him at all times, but then I remember literally every power-play goal Alexander Ovechkin has ever scored.)

What’s the worst “take” that a published hockey journalist has written? Obviously, we need to disqualify racist, sexist and homophobic takes, but something purely hockey related. My vote would be for Dick Beddoes saying Wayne Gretzky would be a third-line center on the Leafs teams of the ’50s and ’60s.

– Steve M.

Oh man, that would be tough to beat. If you haven’t seen it, check out the interview Steve is referring to, the whole thing is fantastic.

Back in the day, Beddoes was what they would politely call a “provocateur,” which is to say that he would intentionally say things just to annoy everyone. But he was also old-school enough that he probably meant his Gretzky take just a little bit.

Other contenders: The one about how the best thing for the Caps would be Ovechkin going back to the KHL, all the stuff about how the Oilers won the Taylor Hall trade that came out right before Hall went out and won the MVP, literally everything anyone wrote about a player with a concussion before about 2010 and the guy who thought the Golden Knights had a terrible expansion draft.

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Thursday, May 14, 2020

Puck Soup: No fun league

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- The latest on where the NHL season and playoffs seems to be headed
- The AHL cancels the season
- Fallout from some disturbing stories from the world of women's hockey
- Brett Hull says hockey isn't fun anymore
- Something about Boba Fett
- The return of the Puck Soup Threesome quiz
- 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, May 13, 2020

Ranking every game the 2019-20 Red Wings lost by four or more

The NHL is still trying to figure out how to handle the draft they’re hoping to have in three weeks, because hey, no rush. The most recent idea involves a revamped lottery that would guarantee the Red Wings one of the top two picks, even though the existing rules would give them about a 50 percent shot of falling to fourth.

If you’re like most fans, your first reaction to hearing that plan was “Oh right, the Red Wings exist.” Your second thought may have been “That’s not fair.” But your third thought was probably something along the lines of “Well, if anyone deserves a thumb on the scale, it’s this year’s Red Wings because I seem to recall that they were very bad.” You recall correctly.

The 2019-20 Red Wings were indeed bad. They didn’t just lose, and lose often, although they did that. They also lost big. On fourteen different occasions, the Red Wings lost a game by four goals or more.

If that seems like a lot, it is. It accounts for over 10 percent of such games in the NHL this year, even though the Wings are just one of 31 teams. It’s nearly twice as much as the next teams on the list (the Sharks and Devils, both with eight). Several truly bad teams didn’t come close, like the Senators (six), Sabres (five) and Kings (just three). The Red Wings managed 14, nearly one in every five games they played.

I think that’s an accomplishment worth celebrating. I’m serious. In this watered-down modern NHL, where parity has flattened the majority of teams into nearly indistinguishable lumps of mediocrity, this year’s Wings broke through. Sure, it was to the wrong side of the ledger, but it was still a breakthrough.

Today, as we prepare ourselves for the potential dawn of the Alexis Lafreniere era in Detroit, let’s look back on a season for the ages. We’re going to rank and relive each of the 14 times that the Red Wings lost by four or more.

Some people are going to see this as taking a run at the Red Wings, or kicking them when they’re down. But if anything, I think it’s the opposite. NHL history is packed with forgettable bad teams, the kind that slogged their way through a disappointing season that barely anyone even notices. Eventually, it happens to everyone. Somebody’s got to finish last every year, after all. If it’s your turn to be bad, why not be really bad? Embrace the identity. Really explore the studio space.

The Red Wings did. Let’s remember how, as we count down the worst of those 14 blowouts. And to get a Detroit perspective, I’ve asked Max Bultman to weigh with thoughts on a few of these.

No. 14. Canucks 5, Red Wings 1 (Oct. 15)

This was just the sixth game of the season, and the Wings were actually off to a decent start, winning three of five. I’m not sure if that makes this game better or worse, since it’s kind of like finding the first crack in the foundation of a house you later realize is made out of paper mache and raw spaghetti noodles.

Still, it was a decent start, to both the season and this game. Dylan Larkin scored 30 seconds in and the Wings held that lead for almost an entire period. But the Canucks tied it late in the first, and a pair of powerplay goals in the second let them pull away.

Depressing postgame quote: “It was a great first shift for the Detroit Red Wings but not a lot went right after that.” – The lead on the writeup of the game. OK, but the first shift was good, right? We can build on this.

No. 13. Rangers 5, Red Wings 1 (Nov. 6)

As a lifelong Leafs fan, I know that a lowkey awful moment in any rebuild is when you go up against another rebuilding team that’s already further along than you are. There’s really no good result. If they win, well, they’re better than your team and a reminder of how far you have to go. If they lose, geez, how can you be years into a rebuild and still be bad enough to lose to us? It’s not fun.

The Wings played the Rangers reasonably tough, staying even after one and even outshooting them 36-31 on the night. But they give up two powerplay goals, a clown car of a shorthanded goal off a 1-on-3 rush and an empty netter on the way to a 5-1 loss.

Fun fact: After this loss, the Wings launched a five-game point streak, by far their longest sustained success of the year. There may be hope! (There is no hope.)

Max says: I’m surprised this one wasn’t higher. At that point in the season, this game seemed to epitomize their habit of playing a tight game for a period, then getting derailed by a flurry of goals and the game being functionally over in a flash. But maybe I just remember the night so clearly because they made a midnight trade for Robby Fabbri afterward.

Depressing postgame quote: “You go through all the stats and all that stuff, even strength we’ve actually been a pretty good hockey team, to be honest with you. I know there’s been lots said about us defensively but if you look even strength, I think we’re in the top 15 in the league of expected goals-against, that kind of stuff.” – Jeff Blashill. Well, that settles it: advanced stats don’t work.

No. 12. Devils 5, Red Wings 1 (Nov. 23)

Six weeks in, the season had already gone sideways for both teams. That had been largely expected in Detroit, while New Jersey’s early collapse was a bigger story. That led to some speculation that this game was a must-win for Devils’ coach John Hynes because we were already at the point where losing to the Red Wings felt like a fireable offense.

The two juggernauts played to a scoreless first, and Detroit grabbed an early lead in the second before heading into the final frame tied 1-1. That’s when it all fell apart for the Wings, who surrendered four third-period goals. The last of those comes with just 11 seconds left, narrowly qualifying this game for our list.

Also, Anthony Mantha gets hurt and misses three weeks, so they had that going for them.

Depressing postgame quote: “We’ve been really porous defensively the last couple of games and that’s not good enough.” – Jeff Blashill. Coach is right, boys, we need to find a way to get to just moderately porous.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Send send me your mailbag questions

In all my years of writing on various platforms, I'm pretty sure I've never actually done a formal Mailbag column. This is in violation of the World Sportswriting Code, and they've threatened to put me in jail if I don't start one soon.

So this is my call out to you to send me questions for some future mailbag. Weird ideas, history questions, would-you-rather dilemmas, bizarre hypotheticals … you know the drill, you've read plenty of these over the years.

I've set up an email account at that you can use to send in questions. If you're on twitter, you can DM me.

When will the column run? I have no idea. But I think this could be fun, especially during this never-ending offseason when there's nothing else to talk about. The mailbag is a cool idea, I'm glad I invented it just now.

Thanks in advance,


Monday, May 11, 2020

What was the single biggest upgrade in every team’s history?

NHL franchises are constantly looking to improve, both on and off the ice. Whether it’s the first-line center, the starting goalie, the coach or GM, or even the owner, everyone has an important role to play. And the journey towards a Stanley Cup is a long, slow process of finding marginal improvements at every spot, hoping to get a little bit better with every change.

Sometimes. Other times, you can change everything by replacing one guy with somebody who’s just way better at their job.

That’s what we’re looking for today, as we ask a simple question: What’s the single biggest upgrade in franchise history for every NHL team?

First, let’s be clear about what we’re looking for. We don’t just want to find the most important person in a team’s history, because that’s only half of the equation. Who they replaced matters too because we’re looking at how big the gap was from old to new.

For example, I’m not sure anyone in NHL history has ever been as good at what they did as Montreal Canadiens GM Sam Pollock, but do you know who he replaced? Frank Selke, who held the job for nearly 20 years and won six Cups. That’s passing the torch from one legend to another, but it’s not a huge upgrade, so Pollock won’t be our pick in Montreal.

We’re also looking for cases where the upgrade is pretty much immediate. We’ll allow for a brief transition when it comes to owners or the occasional very short stint by an interim GM, but in general, we’re not interested in cases where there were several years or faces in between two names, or for situations where a new player took several years to evolve into a star. In fact, we won’t see many players on this list at all, because it’s rare to see a scenario where there’s a clear and immediate changing of the guard, especially for skaters. Connor McDavid is the best player in the world, but he was only third in team scoring in his first year in Edmonton. We want instant results, or at least something close. Out with the old, in with the new, and just like that everything changes.

You probably already have somebody in mind for your favorite team. Let’s see if I can land on the same name, as we work our way through the entire league.

Anaheim Ducks

We’re going alphabetically, but the Ducks are a good place to start since they’re not an especially easy call. I’m not sure any players fit, although maybe the arrival of Paul Kariya or Scott Niedermayer could work. They’ve typically had reasonably good coaches. They won a Cup with Brian Burke as GM, but predecessor Bryan Murray did a lot of the heavy lifting. Let’s look to the top, with the Samueli family taking over from Disney in 2005. Disney had been solid owners in the teams’ early years but had clearly lost interest in the franchise by the time the lockout rolled around, and relocation was even starting to seem possible. Instead, Henry Samueli arrived, signalling the franchise’s shift from walking advertisements for a movie series to a real hockey team.

The upgrade: Disney to the Samuelis, 2005 (owner)

Arizona Coyotes

As a player, there may have never been anyone better than Wayne Gretzky. As a coach … well, he was a heck of a player. He probably sold a few tickets in his four years behind the Coyotes’ bench, but he never got them into the playoffs and only barely cracked the .500 mark once. Replacing him with Dave Tippett led to an immediate 28-point jump, three straight years in the playoffs and the longest postseason run in franchise history.

The upgrade: Wayne Gretzky to Dave Tippett, 2009 (coach)

Boston Bruins

Our first Original Six team gives us nearly a century to work with, but we don’t need to overthink this one. Milt Schmidt did a decent job as GM for five years from 1967 to 1972, even winning two Cups. But he did that largely on the strength of Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk and Gerry Cheevers, all of whom were on board before he arrived. Then he gave way to Harry Sinden, who held the job for almost 30 years during which the Bruins were playoff mainstays and perennial Cup contenders.

The upgrade: Milt Schmidt to Harry Sinden, 1972 (GM)

Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres are a tough one. Dominik Hasek wasn’t much when he first arrived, and when he did blossom into a superstar he took over from another Hall-of-Famer in Grant Fuhr. Gilbert Perrault was there from Day 1. Lindy Ruff replaced a reigning Jack Adams winner. And while we’d probably have said the Pegulas a few years ago, that wouldn’t hold up as well today. I’m going to reach back to 1979, as the Sabres lure Scotty Bowman away from the Habs. He only lasted one year as coach, which was always the plan, but stayed for seven seasons as GM. He didn’t deliver a Cup or even much in the way of contending after the first few years, but the hire gave the decade-old franchise a huge dose of credibility (and helped short circuit a rival’s dynasty).

The upgrade: John Anderson to Scotty Bowman, 1979 (GM)

Calgary Flames

I don’t think the Jarome Iginla deal works; he wasn’t really replacing Joe Nieuwendyk and didn’t even debut in Calgary until months after the trade. Mike Vernon nudging out Reggie Lemelin? Maybe, but that was a gradual process. Most of the key parts of that 1989 Cup win were draft picks who were eased in. So I’m going to go with a different goaltending pick, one which didn’t result in a Cup but probably should have: landing Miikka Kiprusoff from San Jose, then watching him take over from Roman Turek a month into the season.

The upgrade: Roman Turek to Miikka Kiprusoff, 2003 (starting goaltender)

Carolina Hurricanes

Another tricky one – I’m still not sold on the Tom Dundon era – but we did say we were looking at franchise history, so the Whalers are in play. Let’s go with a pick that spans the Hartford and Carolina years, with the hiring of Jim Rutherford in 1994 to end Paul Holmgren’s brief and rocky stint as GM.

The upgrade: Paul Holmgren to Jim Rutherford, 1994 (GM)

Chicago Blackhawks

This is the easiest call on the entire list. Rocky Wirtz hasn’t been a perfect owner, and it would be simplistic to pretend that he deserves all the credit for the Hawks’ return to relevance and (eventually) championships. But as far as upgrades go, they don’t come any bigger than the ownership transition that followed the death of Bill Wirtz.

The upgrade: Bill Wirtz to Rocky Wirtz, 2007 (owner)

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Friday, May 8, 2020

Grab Bag: A request for a June draft, roster puzzle answers and a donut delay

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- The one thing the NHL better not to do for their June draft
- Answers and explanations to this week's puzzle challenge
- An obscure player who was the NHL's first X-rated player
- This month's comedy stars
- And a YouTube look back at Yellow Sunday's donut delay, with Bob Cole and Harry Neale

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Thursday, May 7, 2020

Puck Soup: Winging the lottery

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- A quick reaction to Brendan Leipsic being an embarrassment
- Our thoughts on the league's weird new lottery idea that massively helps on specific team
- More June draft fallout (and why I'm glad the GMs are sad)
- Ryan and I make the case for reopening the trade market
- Thoughts on those TSN all-time rosters, including the one important thing they get right
- A really fun quiz based on Name That Tune

>> 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, May 5, 2020

Can you figure out the simple rules behind these weird rosters?

We’re going to try something different today.

Well, yes, pretty much everything has been different lately. That’s really the only way you can go when the sport you cover presses an indefinite pause button. The unofficial motto around The Athletic’s hockey pages has been “let’s get weird” and between 27-year-old power rankings, jersey-based futility lists and one psyche-damaging trivia question, I think it’s fair to say we’ve delivered.

But today, we’re going to try a different kind of different. Instead of me banging my head against a wall for your amusement, you’re going to get to play too.

One of my favorite posts to write is the kind where I take some weird rule or limitation and then try to build the best possible roster based on it. We’ve done a showdown between NHL brothers and father/son combos. We made fun of Maple Leafs trades and bad free agent signings. Last week, it was an all-time roster where nobody had ever played a game with anyone else.

You guys seem to like it, so I went ahead and made a few more. But this time, I’m not going to tell you what rule I was following when I put the team together. Your job is to figure that part out, working through the players I’ve given you to see if you can crack the code. You can post your leads, thoughts or brainstorms in the comment section and I’ll drop in the offer hints or nudges where needed.

Will this work? Maybe not, but don’t act like you have anything better to do today. Let’s make some rosters.

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Monday, May 4, 2020

The season is already chaos. Screw it, let's reopen the trade market.

The NHL is in a weird place right now. With the season still on pause, we’re hearing all sorts of unusual ideas being floated. A June draft sure sounds like it’s happening, whether teams like it or not. Expanded playoffs, empty arenas, a revamped lottery and a December start to next season all seem to be in our future. In a league that isn’t exactly known for its creativity, it suddenly feels like nothing is off the table.

Cool. I’m a longtime member of the Team Chaos fan club. If we can’t go back to normal to finish the season – and we can’t – then we might as well steer into the madness and shake things up. And to help things along, I’ve got an idea of my own.

But first, I want to make something clear. The last time I had a crazy idea, I spelled it out in detail and everybody hated it, and then I went “Ha, I did that on purpose, I hate it too and I just tricked you all into agreeing with my larger point.” The old-bait-and-switch. And you’re probably wondering if I’m doing that again.

I am not. I genuinely think that this is a good idea and want to see it happen. Even though I know most of you will hate it … at first.

Here’s the idea: Let’s bring back trading.

As in, right now. Cancel the trade deadline. Teams can get back to wheeling and dealing, starting today.

In a technical sense, they already can; teams have always been allowed to continue trading after the traditional deadline has passed. But any players acquired couldn’t play in the NHL the rest of the season, including playoffs. I’m proposing that we lift that sanction, and go back to the same open market we had in the days leading up to Feb. 24.

You have questions. Well, what you actually have is the impulse to go mash the “meh” button and then yell at me in the comment section, which is fair enough. But before you do that, you should have a few questions. Let’s walk through those, starting with the obvious one.

Why would you do this?

For several reasons, including the most important: It would be fun.

The NHL is in the entertainment business, a fact that it often forgets. Furthermore, fans love trades. There’s a reason that the trade deadline is one of the biggest days on the NHL calendar, and that every deal gets picked apart and debated the moment it happens. We all love this stuff. Hockey trades are just fun.

Hockey fans haven’t had much fun lately. And by the sounds of it, we’re not going to get much any time soon, with at least another month to go before the draft and who knows how long until we see an actual hockey game. Wouldn’t it be neat to have some trades to talk about in the meantime?

I’ll concede that “just because it’s fun” isn’t a convincing argument all on its own. But there’s a bigger issue in play: Those expanded playoffs that we keep hearing about.

Nothing is final yet, but it sure sounds like the NHL wants to come back with a 24-team playoffs. Maybe that’s a good idea and maybe it isn’t, but it’s a radical change, and it’s coming pretty much out of nowhere. NHL teams went into this year’s deadline on the assumption that they were preparing for a 16-team playoff. If it’s going to be 24 teams instead, that changes everything.

Some teams would have gone into the February deadline assuming they weren’t making the postseason. Now they might be. They would have passed on the chance to add reinforcements, and in some cases, they may have been sellers who weakened their roster. Those deals are done, and we can’t undo them. But what we can do is give bubble teams a chance to reset, and to react to the radically different circumstances they now find themselves in.

Some would want to make changes. Others would stay the course. But they should get that choice. Adding eight new playoffs teams late in the regular season is an unprecedented-bordering-on-unthinkable move, and teams should at least have the chance to respond to it.

How would this work?

I have no idea!

Nobody does, because nobody knows anything right now. We’re all guessing, and that includes the NHL decision-makers.

But there’s a rough outline emerging of how the next few months will go. It involves an early June draft, followed by a resumption of the season in June or July. That might mean regular-season games or it might not, but at some point, we’re going to get to a playoffs that sure sounds like it will involve 24 teams.

Let’s assume that those broad strokes end up becoming the plan. What I’m suggesting is that we reopen trading, with the salary cap still in effect, from now until the games are back. It wouldn’t matter whether those games are the resumption of the regular season or the start of the playoffs. We just want to let NHL GMs have some time to adapt to their changing circumstances.

And yes, you may have noticed a nice side benefit to reopening trading now: We get draft day trades involving players back. Under the current rules, an early June draft wouldn’t be able to feature any blockbuster moves, and that’s often half the fun of draft weekend. Well, let’s bring it back. The June draft might still be a bad idea or it might not, but we just made it way more fun.

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Friday, May 1, 2020

Revisiting oddly specific predictions, which were (almost) all wrong

There’s been a recent trend on The Athletic’s hockey pages in which writers take a look back at their preseason predictions to see how they did. There’s value in that – anyone can make predictions, but you have to face the music on what you got wrong if you’re going to enjoy a victory lap or two on the ones you got right.

I want in. But there’s a problem: My preseason predictions are a little bit … different. I’ve made an annual habit of making oddly specific predictions for each team, ones that involve an exact number or a precise game or somebody doing something in a very convoluted way.

Why do it that way? I’ve asked myself that question more than once, but think of it this way: Everyone else’s predictions are them trying to sink free throws and three-pointers while I’m the guy doing behind-the-back trick shots. From half court. Sometimes blindfolded. I’m going to miss pretty much every time, but if I ever sink one then I’ll make sure you never hear the end of it.

And every now and then, I do manage to hit one. Last season, I mapped out the Blue Jackets’ entire midseason roster plan before it happened. A few years before that, I had the Canadiens firing their coach midway through the season but still making the playoffs. Swish.

But most of the time, I’m lucky if I can get near the backboard. More often, there are airballs. Occasionally I break a window. Have I sufficiently beaten this metaphor into the ground? I think I have, let’s move on.

So how did I do this year? Let’s all take a moment to lower our expectations and then go through the list of this season’s predictions to find out.

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