Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Ringing in the new NHL season with some 2021 resolutions

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

Welp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Monday, December 21, 2020

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

The pitch came with a warning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Friday, December 18, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Brett Hull trade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heatley for Hossa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Thursday, December 17, 2020

Puck Soup: New season when

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

>> Stream it now:

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

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




Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Team Loyalty vs. Team Vagabond, and everyone in between

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

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

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

But first, a few ground rules:

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

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

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

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

 

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

Yeah, I’d say these guys are good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Friday, December 11, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Tuesday, December 8, 2020

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

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

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

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

But first, a few ground rules:

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

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

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

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

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

Team Cliff Fletcher (1991 – 1997, 2008)

Forwards: Doug Gilmour, Mats Sundin, Dave Andreychuk

Defense: Tomas Kaberle, Dmitry Yushkevich

Goalie: Grant Fuhr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Brian Burke (2008 – 2013)

Forwards: Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk

Defense: Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner

Goalie: Jean-Sebastien Giguere

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

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

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

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

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

Team Gerry McNamara (1981 – 1988)

Forwards: Wendel Clark, Ed Olczyk, Gary Leeeman

Defense: Todd Gill, Al Iafrate

Goalie: Allan Bester

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

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

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

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Sunday, December 6, 2020

Call for mailbag questions

Hey folks...

It's getting close to mailbag times again. Please send over some questions we can have some fun with, via email at dgbmailbag@gmail.com. What-ifs, would-you-rathers and all-time bests (and worsts) work well. Creative stuff is great, but the occasional straightforward question can often spark an interesting discussion too.
Thanks,
Sean




Friday, December 4, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how this will work.

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

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

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

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

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

First line

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

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

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

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

Wait.

Something’s wrong. Where’s Gordie Howe?

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

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

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

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

Second line

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, December 3, 2020

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

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

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