Friday, December 31, 2021

Mailbag: Ovechkin’s goal quest, sportswriters on superheroes, and was the 2003 draft overrated?

Well, we made it through 2021. Was it a good year? It was not, but it’s over, and 2022 can’t possibly be any worse, unless it totally is. On that cheery note, let’s close out the year with a mailbag.

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

What if Ovechkin wins the Art Ross and Rocket Richard this year? At the time of writing, he’s one goal and two points behind the league leaders. He closes in on the all-time goals record and beats McDavid for points in a season, both very impressive. Do we start talking about him as one of the greatest five players ever? Who gets bumped down? – James O.

It’s kind of interesting that we’re not already talking about him as one of the best ever, right? Maybe I’ve missed it, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone make the case that Ovechkin will belong in the top five or even top ten by the time he’s done.

The top five debate in the NHL is always fun. Most fans would agree that there’s a Mount Rushmore of Gretzky, Mario, Orr and Howe as the uncontested top four, and then a battle for the fifth spot that includes candidates like Rocket Richard, Jean Beliveau, Bobby Hull, Phil Esposito and Jaromir Jagr, maybe with a defenseman like Ray Bourque or Nicklas Lidstrom or even a goalie in the mix too. But I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Ovechkin nominated for that spot.

You do hear that for Sidney Crosby, who’s sometimes mentioned as a guy who might be number five by the time he’s done. And it kind of feels like we settled the whole Crosby vs. Ovechkin debate a while ago, with everyone agreeing that Crosby was better, if only by a narrow margin. Maybe we need to rethink that. Crosby is a center, which is the more important position, and he has more Cups and gold medals, plus an additional scoring title. But Ovechkin has more MVPs, far more all-star picks, and might end up breaking one of the biggest career records in the league. If he keeps his current pace and has another elite season this year, doesn’t that have to put him in the running for Crosby’s title as the best of the pre-McDavid era? And if so, does he end up getting that coveted fifth spot?

One more Ovechkin question…

This article from a couple weeks ago wants to give credit to Ovechkin’s overtime goals (!?!) as for why he might pass Wayne Gretzky’s goal-scoring title. I feel like this is a pretty ridiculous take to have, considering Ovechkin has been robbed of approximately two full seasons worth of games and goals due to labor strife and a pandemic. Can we project out where Ovechkin would likely be for total goals today, given when in his career he had to miss those games, and how much more likely he’d be to pass The Great One had he not lost all those games? – Michael L.

I’m glad you asked this, because I feel like we need to clear this up once and for all before Ovechkin gets too close to Gretzky’s record. I keep seeing fans who want to give him credit for goals he would have scored during the pandemic or lockouts, maybe in anticipation of him just falling short of Gretzky. And while I get where they’re coming from, that’s just not how this works.

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Monday, December 27, 2021

Weekend rankings: Wait, do we already know all the Eastern playoff teams? Plus the Predators surprise, the Sharks fade, and more

There were almost no games played in the last week, so spoiler alert, the rankings haven’t really changed much. Instead, let’s look ahead to the future. Hey, do you like a great second-half playoff race?

If so, bad news, because we may not get that from one of the conferences. I’m not completely sure, so let’s work through this.

As often happens around this time of year, we’re starting to get some separation between the good teams and the bad. A few impostors in each category are drifting back to what we thought they were, and it’s been long enough that any other outliers start to feel real. That’s normal and part of what makes a season fun, as we figure out which teams to focus on and set up an intriguing stretch run. But there’s one flaw in the system: If a conference has exactly eight good teams, then we kind of know all we need to know. That seems to be happening in the East.

Let’s start at the top. I’ve had Carolina, Florida and Tampa in the top five pretty much all season long, so you know where I stand with them. The Maple Leafs are a little dicier, but only a little, especially if we’re only talking regular season. That Capitals have been right with them as far as their record goes. And while I’m on record as not being completely sold on the Rangers as elite contenders, they’re certainly banking enough points to look like a playoff lock.

That’s six teams. Mix in the Penguins, who I still can’t remotely figure out but whose record certainly says they’ll be a playoff team. That leaves one spot, and it would feel like a big surprise if it didn’t go to the Bruins, right? They’re well ahead of everyone else in points percentage, and only look like they’re in a tight race because we forgot to put any games on their schedule for a while early on.

So who’s going to catch one of those eight teams? Barring a miracle, it won’t be the Habs, Senators or Sabres. New Jersey would need a major turnaround. The Flyers too, and maybe they get it from a new coach, Boudreau-style, but that feels like a longshot. The Red Wings and Blue Jackets are closest right now, but both feel like rebuilding teams where the ceiling this year is “stay vaguely in the race” and not much higher. And as stunned as I am to say it, I think we’re pretty close to the point where it’s time to give up on the Islanders, who’d need to play near a 110-point pace the rest of the way just to get back to wildcard territory.

I’m sure there will be a few homers in Detroit or somewhere who might disagree, but I don’t think there was anything outrageously controversial in those paragraphs. The numbers back that up – Dom’s model has eight teams with a better than 90% chance of making the playoffs, and only the Islanders north of 10. There’s a whole lot of separation on those graphs.

Compare that to the West, where we’ve got eight good teams (if you’re finally willing to trust the Ducks) plus the Jets and Stars in the mix and the Kings and Sharks occasionally looking at least a little bit feisty, plus the Canucks gearing up for a miracle run. We’re stretching it on a few of those teams, but the point is that only Colorado, Minnesota and maybe Vegas really look like locks right now, so there’s room for some twists and turns.

The good news out East, as far as getting some second-half drama, is that 90% isn’t 100 and 10% isn’t zero, so maybe somebody goes on a heater or an 18-wheeler goes off a cliff somewhere and we get a race after all. But right now, it looks like we’re just playing for seeding and home ice, and recent history suggests that doesn’t really matter all that much.

On to this week’s rankings, which are also (almost) last week’s rankings.

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Friday, December 24, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: The weirdest stories of 2021

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Sean and Ian run through their picks for the ten weirdest NHL stories of a very weird year
- The Eichel saga, the Coyotes eviction notice, "sunshine has always been our enemy", and lots more...

The Athletic Hockey Show runs most days of the week during the season, with Ian and I hosting every Thursday. There are two versions of each episode available:
- An ad-free version for subscribers that you can find here
- An ad-supported version you can get for free wherever you normally find your podcasts (like Apple or Spotify)

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Puck Soup: No news is bad news

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- It's tangents aplenty as we try to do a show in a week with no hockey
- Seriously, COVID is bad, not sure what else there is to say about things
- We run through our picks for the major awards
- Ryan and I but mostly Ryan name our favorite movies of the year
- And more, but honestly not much 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.

Down Goes Brown: Take the ‘Who Didn’t He Play For?’ quiz (Hall of Very Good edition)

I’ve been told my quizzes are sometimes too difficult, because apparently some of you spent the 1990s building lasting relationships and contributing to the world instead of obsessing over every piece of random trivia involving NHL third-liners. (Some of you also spent the 1990s not being born yet, which is a whole other problem.) Apparently people like quizzes, but like them slightly less when they get to the end and find out they got a 2-out-of-15.

OK, fair enough. A few months ago we tried something different: A relatively simple quiz, in which I gave you a player and you told me which team he never played for. You all did fairly well, with the average score being north of a passing grade and even a few perfect marks.

Of course, that quiz was focused on Hall-of-Famers, so maybe we should have expected that you’d all do well. We’re going to up the difficulty just a little this time around, by skipping the HHOF plaques and focusing on the guys who weren’t quite in the class. Nobody obscure, mind you – just some players who were really good, but fell a bit short of true greatness. It’s “Who Didn’t He Play For?”, the Hall of Very Good edition.

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Monday, December 20, 2021

A brutal weekend of COVID-19 news, Paul Maurice resigns and I still can’t figure out the Penguins

Well, this is a mess.

There was hockey played in the NHL this weekend, but not much. Certainly nowhere near as much as we were expecting, back in the hazy and distant past before Omicron completely took over the sports world (i.e. last week).

All told, the NHL had ten games scheduled for Saturday but played only five, then managed just four of eight last night. Outbreaks across the league forced the postponement of everything else, with the virus landing particularly hard on the Flames, Bruins, Canucks, Leafs and Predators among others, and most teams having at least one player on the COVID-19 list. Mix in several cases among staff and other personnel, and it feels like almost every team is waiting for the other shoe to drop on their next game.

We’ve also seen reductions in capacity in several Canadian markets, including an empty arena in Montreal on Thursday. That was a depressing sight, one that we all hoped we wouldn’t see again after last year. The league has also ramped up protocols to something very similar to last season, and postponed all cross-border games until Christmas. The fact that we’re back to all that, along with a steady stream of postponements, feels like we’re heading back to a place we thought we’d left behind.

So now what? It’s not a simple question. You could just shut the whole thing down, and maybe that makes sense with the Christmas break already just a few days away. But beyond that, does a league-wide shutdown of a couple of weeks end up buying you time or just delaying the inevitable? It’s not like Omicron is going to be a two-week problem. And as much as the league will say it wants health to be a top priority, it’s hard to imagine the NHL closing its doors for months unless it feels like it has absolutely no other option. We’re not there yet, and yesterday the league and players announced that the plan for now is to push forward. The way this is going, check back in a few hours.

The good news is that, at least so far, nobody seems to be getting all that sick. That might lead some to push for a different approach: Testing less instead of more, or even allowing asymptomatic players to play through a positive result if they’re able. That sound bizarre and dangerous, but it’s an approach we’ve heard rumblings about in the NFL and NBA, and it might be the only way to get through this without losing a massive chunk of the season. Is it worth the risk?

Oh, and the Olympics are supposed to be in six weeks. That’s not much, but in terms of NHL participation, it feels like it might as well be forever. We’re told to expect a decision there in the coming days, and it’s not hard to figure out which direction this is headed — at this point it would be a shock if they still went. Just in case you were looking for more bad news.

By the way, there won’t be any games next weekend. That’s not a doom-and-gloom prediction, thankfully, but a reminder that the holiday break means everyone gets three days off. I’ll still have a rankings column next Monday, but it will be based on less action than usual. Maybe a lot less.

Until then, stay safe and look out for each other. On to this week’s rankings …

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Friday, December 17, 2021

Puck Soup: Paul bearers

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- COVID is everywhere - so how long can the NHL keep going like this>
- The Paul Maurice news breaks in the middle of the episode and we read tweets about it to you
- The Canucks are fixed
- The Oilers are not
- Are the eight Eastern playoff teams already set?
- Plus I have to read this week's Manscaped ad and much 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.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: Let's pretend we're still going to the Olympics

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Roster projections for the Olympics, if any
- Wait, is Canada's goaltending bad?
- Lebron wears a Mario jersey
- The Hurricanes' COVID problems
- I make an awkward Walter Cronkite reference
- Why Deron Quint's record is more impressive than Bill Mosienko's

The Athletic Hockey Show runs most days of the week during the season, with Ian and I hosting every Thursday. There are two versions of each episode available:
- An ad-free version for subscribers that you can find here
- An ad-supported version you can get for free wherever you normally find your podcasts (like Apple or Spotify)

Powerplays that don’t end on a goal? Extended overtime? Goals worth double? NHL Rules Court is in session

If you’re a fan of the NHL, you know the drill. The game is good, but it could be better, and you know exactly how to make that happen. If the league would just change one or two or a few dozen rules, they’d have a better product. And you’re sure that everyone would agree with you, if you just had a chance to make your case.

Now you do. Welcome to NHL Rules Court.

The concept is simple. You, the readers, come up with ideas for new or adjusted rules you’d like to see in the NHL. They can be small tweaks or seismic changes, reasonable or outrageous or anywhere in between. You send them in, and they’ll be considered by a jury of Sean Gentille, Sean McIndoe and Ian Mendes. Convince at least two of us, and your rule is passed and goes into the NHL rulebook.

Well, we’re still working on that last part. The league is being weird about returning our phone calls. For now, this is all for fun. Consider it a dry run for when they smarten up and put us in charge.

Court is in session. Let’s see what you came up.

Note: Submissions have been edited for clarity and style.

One rule change I’d propose would be that all penalties go full duration regardless of any goals scored. This would include any goals scored on a delayed penalty not cancelling out the PP, which is already a rule in the NCAA.

Logically a penalty is a penalty, why is it cancelled out because the opposition was successful at doing the thing they are supposed to do? – Stephen D.

Gentille: This seems like the single easiest “yes” on the board, right? We already have potentially unlimited goals on major penalties, so this isn’t much of a jump. If you can run up the score in two minutes, or after a delayed call, so be it. To the penalty-drawer goes the spoils. A minor concern, though: that officials would be even less apt to make calls in high-leverage situations out of their own distaste for giving a team that many bites at the apple. YES

Mendes: I’m worried the most about Gentille’s last point: That referees – who are already reluctant to call penalties in tight spots – would push that whistle even deeper down into their pockets under this scenario. Suddenly, calling a two-minute minor late in the game could have an even bigger swing in momentum.

So here is my proposed compromise: Don’t wipe out minor penalties when a team scores a goal during a delayed call. I’ve never understood why a minor penalty gets wiped out when a team pulls their goalie for an extra attacker and then scores. Under this compromise, you’re now allowing teams to score multiple goals off one infraction.

But in regards to this specific rule change as outlined above, I’ll take a pass because I just don’t trust the officiating. And I don’t want to see a team scored on twice because their defenceman accidentally put the puck over the glass. NO

McIndoe: Yep, Ian has it exactly right – with any new rule, we have to be afraid of the unintended consequences. This proposal comes up at a lot and it seems to make sense. But in reality, we’d have refs who were even more terrified to make a call than they are now. You think they’re hesitant to call a minor late in a game when it might lead to a key goal? Imagine it could lead to three. This rule worked fine for a long time in the early days of this league, but I just don’t trust weak-kneed modern refs not to ruin this one. NO

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Monday, December 13, 2021

Weekend rankings: The Canucks are fixed, the Rangers haven’t convinced me yet, a contest update, and a Tortorella rant

We’ve hit the two-month mark of the season. Who wants to check in on how the prediction contest is going?

Maybe not many of you, because it’s been a rough start. If you’re not familiar with the contest, it’s a chance to predict the things that definitely will and won’t happen during the season. Just the easy stuff – the sort of calls that are obvious to anyone. Except that they often don’t end up being all that easy or obvious, and when that happens it can torpedo your entry. You can find this year’s contest, and the 1,582 entries, right here.

So how’s it going? The good news is that a lot of the biggest stories haven’t caught many of you off-guard. It’s been a surprisingly busy first few months in terms of coaches and GMs leaving their jobs, with four changes in each category. (We’re not counting Doug Wilson’s medical leave here, as it’s only expected to be temporary.) Those changes included a pair of teams pulling the trigger on Monday, with the Flyers firing Alain Vigneault while the Canucks confirmed the reports that they were moving on from Travis Green and Jim Benning. But that didn’t trip up many of you in the “definitely won’t lose their job” questions, with only five entries naming Benning and Vigneault and about 30 having Green. A little over 30 had Marc Bergevin being safe and almost 20 had Jeremy Colliton, so none of the standard-issue firings did much damage. Neither did Bob Murray’s exit, which hit less than ten of you, and Stan Bowman only got 14. But the Joel Quenneville firing was the big one, with 856 entries naming him as completely safe back in the days before the full scope of the Blackhawks scandal came into focus.

All in all, that’s not bad – eight firings, but only one that did real damage. That’s the good news. The bad news is that a few of the other questions are looking rough. Cole Caufield showed up as a Calder candidate sure-thing on a remarkable 1,511 entries, or over 95%, and that’s not looking great. Over 700 of you had Spencer Knight for the Calder question. There’s still time for both guys to rebound, but it’s a nervous start for just about everyone. And for what it’s worth, possible front-runner Lucas Raymond was only named by about 70 of you.

The playoff team questions are also looking scary for some of you. Just over 900 of you had the Islanders as a sure-thing playoff team, which seems unlikely, and over 140 were completely confident about the Jets. On the other side, a whopping 1,540 had the surprising Ducks as a lock to miss, along with over 1,300 entries that named the Red Wings, 800 for the Blue Jackets and over 500 for the Sharks. By contrast, things look OK on the Norris question, we haven’t had any major goalie injuries yet (although four of you somehow missed the Carey Price news when filling out your entries), and it’s too soon to rule any of the big stars out of the Hart race except for an injured Nikita Kucherov, which will cost about 600 of you.

But for a lot of you, none of that will matter. That’s because of this year’s new bonus questions, which offered you the chance to risk your entire entry by naming a player other than Connor McDavid who’d have 100 points, an opportunity that about three-quarters of you took. The good news is that 663 of you picked Leon Draisaitl, which looks like a lock if he stays healthy. But 154 had Nathan MacKinnon, who has to make up ground after missing time due to injury. And 219 had Kucherov, so you’re basically done.

Also, uh, it’s not great news for the one and only one entry that risked it all on Roope Hintz as their 100-point player.

Two months down, four to go, and already some of you are looking good while others are thinking ahead to next year. The same is true of a lot of NHL teams, and I suppose we should stop stalling and get to another week of power rankings you won’t agree with…

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Saturday, December 11, 2021

Send me your new rules for the NHL

Trying something a bit different here. A few of us at The Athletic would like to hear from you about one new rule you'd like to see in the NHL. It can be an update to an existing rule, or something brand new. A big, game-altering change, or just a minor tweak that you think would improve things. Stay realistic, or go with something you know would never really happen. As long as you can make a convincing case for your change, we may use it in an upcoming feature in which a few of us hear your proposals and decide which ones are good enough to keep.

Send your change, along with your (short) argument for adopting it, to

Friday, December 10, 2021

Puck Soup: You're fired

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- If you missed it we fired Greg
- Big changes for the Canucks and Flyers
- The NHL has a new program that's about respect
- Are we still going to the Olympics?
- Four controversial hits from three players leads to two suspensions and we have thoughts
- 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.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: Unpaid bills, big hits and goalie goals

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- The Coyotes reportedly aren't paying their bills
- Breaking down the Jacob Trouba hits, and how you could get them out of the game
- Thoughts on the Jason Spezza suspension
- Jesse Granger joins us to talk about whether team's with new coaches really do get an early bounce
- Where that Trevor Zegras assist ranks among the all-time greats
- Which will we see first, the next goalie goal or the next goalie fight?
- Remembering a 12-9 game, how to sell the sport to new fans and lots more...

The Athletic Hockey Show runs most days of the week during the season, with Ian and I hosting every Thursday. There are two versions of each episode available:
- An ad-free version for subscribers that you can find here
- An ad-supported version you can get for free wherever you normally find your podcasts (like Apple or Spotify)

Building a roster of players whose goals and assists were perfectly balanced, as all things should be

We’ve arrived at what’s often the first lull of an NHL season, with a long way to go to the playoffs but enough games in the bank that we’re not overreacting to every result. We’re past a wild October and the dreaded U.S. Thanksgiving milestone but have a few weeks to the holiday freeze, and still months to wait for the Olympics (maybe) and trade deadline.

In other words, it’s the perfect opportunity to waste some time with a roster-building challenge.

We haven’t done one of these in a while. If you’re new to this, the whole idea is to take a challenge from a reader and use it to construct the best team we can. It’s a chance to dip into history and Remember Some Guys, with no higher purpose than that. Oh, and then you go into the comments and tell me I got it all wrong, and we argue about whether some dude from the 70s was better than your favorite team’s current third-liner. That part’s fun too.

Today’s question comes from reader Rodney:

That’s a beauty, because it’s amazingly simple but (as we’ll see) secretly complicated. Thankfully, I can tell you that it’s also reasonably straightforward to answer, unlike some questions we could mention, and it is also not staggeringly dumb, which is a nice change.

Let’s do this. A full roster of players who had a season where their goals total exactly matched their assists. One key ground rule here: We want to build the best roster we can, and we’re getting the player from that year. If we take Jean Beliveau based on his one goal and one assist in two games as a teenaged callup, that’s who we get – the wet-behind-the-ears rookie, not the all-time great. For that reason, we won’t be getting cute with partial seasons for guys that were injured or otherwise limited.

Single-season goals and assists, perfectly balanced, as all things should be. I have a concept, roughly seven dozen open hockey-reference tabs, and too much time on my hands. Let’s do this.


The first hurdle we run into is one you’re probably already thinking about: Lots of history’s best players won’t fit well into this concept. That’s especially true for centers, especially playmakers, who almost always have more assists than goals, and usually many more.

For example, Wayne Gretzky doesn’t get anywhere close to our list at any point in his 20-season career; even when he was shattering all the goal-scoring records, his assist totals were way higher. The same is true of other centers you may be hoping to see, like Marcel Dionne, Connor McDavid, Bryan Trottier, Peter Forsberg, Joe Thornton, Mark Messier or Joe Sakic. Great players all, but not ones that will help us here. In fact, as we’ll see in a bit, centers are hard to find for this exercise.

On the other side of the coin, you have the pure snipers who almost always rack up more goals than assists. That problem isn’t quite as pronounced – there can be two assists for every goal, meaning there are more helpers available to be earned. It’s rare to see even a one-dimensional scorer have a very low assist total, although it’s always fun when it happens because we can all make jokes about them winning the Cy Young. (Or as it may be called soon, the Mangiapane.) For our purposes, the best years of guys like Rocket Richard, Steven Stamkos and Pavel Bure are too goals-heavy for this roster.

Then there are the agonizing near-misses, where more-balanced superstars just don’t quite land on the magic number we’re looking for. The worst of those is Mario Lemieux, who had 54 goals and 53 assists in 1986-87. That wasn’t even one of his ten best seasons, but we would have gladly taken it because Mario was awesome. We also just barely miss out on Sidney Crosby (44 goals and 45 assists in 2016-17), Teemu Selanne (48 and 46 in 2006-07), Luc Robitaille (63 and 62 in 1992-93), and Steve Yzerman (50 and 52 in 1987-88, then 62 and 65 in 1989-90). Jaromir Jagr somehow never pulled it off in his three centuries of playing, coming closest with a 47 and 48 in 1996-97. And we need to make a special mention of Mike Bossy, who went 60 and 58 in 1982-83 and then teased us by being one off in each of the last three years of his career.

Still, we have plenty of legendary forwards to choose from, so let’s start building out our roster with guys who did hit the sweet spot. We’ll start with one of the greatest of all-time in Gordie Howe, who had 43 goals and 43 assists in his Art Ross and Hart-winning 1950-51 season. On the other wing, we’ll go with Alexander Ovechkin, who followed up his Calder-winning rookie year with 46 goals and assists in 2006-07.

The center on our top line will be the greatest season we’ll find in our quest for perfect balance: Phil Esposito and his legendary 1970-71 campaign, which saw him shatter the single-season goals record with 76 and then exactly match that total with 76 assists. Espo always had a flare for the dramatic, and his inclusion here is no different – he was at 76/75 until recording a second assist on the Bruins last goal of the season, which came with two minutes left in their final game.

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Monday, December 6, 2021

Weekend rankings: Maple Leafs? Wild? Rangers? This week’s top five is impossible and I quit. Plus, the Canucks finally blow it up

Last week, I wrote about how difficult it was to do a top five when there were at least 10 worthy teams, if not more. I complained that “Often, the gap between fifth and sixth is a small one, if it’s even there at all. Sometimes, there isn’t much gap between third or fourth and ninth or tenth.”

The hockey gods apparently read that and said: OK, let’s really screw with this guy.

Last week’s mild confusion feels like the good old days now, because I have absolutely no idea what to do with this week’s top five. Honestly, it feels like all the teams got together and decided to make life difficult for the rankings people. Let’s do a quick summary:

  • In the Pacific, the Oilers have been in my top five for a month, but regulation losses to the Kraken and Kings opened the door for the Flames to pass them in the standings as well as in Dom’s projections, while the maybe-better-on-paper Golden Knights continued to spin their wheels. So now it’s Calgary’s division. But then the Flames lost in regulation to Vegas last night, so maybe not.
  • The Avalanche finally reached something approaching full power by getting Nathan MacKinnon back, setting them up to justify my ongoing faith that they’re among the best teams in the league despite what their record says. Then they went out an got stomped by the Maple Leafs and somehow even lost to the Senators, and now Cale Makar is hurt, and also they’ve been caught by the red-hot Stars. Meanwhile, an eternally disrespected Minnesota Wild team that didn’t even make my top ten last week continues to beat everyone, including those unstoppable Leafs.
  • So right, Toronto. This was the week everyone seemed to grudgingly accept that they were really good, to the point that the Friday rankings guys had them at number one. Then they lost to the Wild, because of course they did, except that it was a shootout so it only kind of counts and they erased a 3-0 deficit on the road against a good team to get there. There was no such comeback last night, as they lost to the Jets by a 6-3 final. Also, they’re the Leafs, and nobody thinks they’ve actually got a long playoff run in them. While all that was going on the Lightning, who I quietly dropped from last week’s top five, were personally offended and took it out on the Flyers last night.
  • And those are the three easy divisions. The Metro is a complete mess. I’ve had the Hurricanes in or around the number one slot all season long, but they’ve gone legitimately cold with three straight regulation losses before getting back on track against the Sabres. That’s dropped them down to third in their own division by points percentage, ever-so-slightly behind the Capitals, who were the team I moved up to the top five last week. But both teams are now well behind the Rangers, who’ve won six straight in a streak that’s truly impressive if you don’t look too closely at who they’ve played, but still. Also, their goalie is on the IR now.

Seriously, what am I supposed to do with all of this?

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Thursday, December 2, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: Babble of Ontario

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- The Senators are bad and it is breaking Ian's soul
- The Maple Leafs are good and it doesn't matter
- Are Nazem Kadri and Matt Duchene for real?
- Jesse Granger on potential buy-low sleepers for your fantasy league
- The coolest jersey swap in NHL history and lots more...

The Athletic Hockey Show runs most days of the week during the season, with Ian and I hosting every Thursday. There are two versions of each episode available:
- An ad-free version for subscribers that you can find here
- An ad-supported version you can get for free wherever you normally find your podcasts (like Apple or Spotify)

Puck Soup: Montreal mess

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Big changes in Montreal
- Should more be on the way in Vancouver?
- We have a biting suspension
- Time to reset the "days since Brad Marchand did something dirty" sign
- The Penguins are sold
- Playoff bubble, holiday stuff, a quiz and lots more...

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

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

Five way-too-early playoff scenarios we should all be wishing for

It’s December, which means it’s time for the grownups to get serious about their holiday shopping, and time for the kids to get serious about their wish lists. That latter one is way more fun, and it’s what we’re going to play with today.

Dear hockey gods: I have been a very good boy this year, and would like you to bring me these five playoff scenarios.

OK, yes, I hear you – it’s way too early to start thinking about the playoffs. But that’s the whole point. When it’s way too early, that means we can still wish for pretty much anything. Once we get close to spring, most of the cool stuff will be off the table, or at least feeling like a longshot. When you’re still months away, reality hasn’t kicked in yet and there are way more options are in play.

This is all about the anticipation of the night before. There will be time to find out we actually got socks and underwear later. So today, here are five vaguely realistic scenarios that I’m really hoping we get to see at the end of the year.

Oilers vs. Flames

We’ll start with the most obvious pick. This year marks three decades since the last time we had a Battle of Alberta in the postseason. That’s bizarre, given that the two teams are always in the same division. We finally got a long-awaited Leafs/Habs meeting last year – I’m only halfway through on PVR, don’t tell me how it ends – and it doesn’t look like Rangers/Islanders is in play this year. That means that Flames/Oilers is pretty much indisputably the best long-term rivalry option on the table.

It would be a fascinating matchup. You’d have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the two best offensive players in the world, going up against the system of defensive mastermind Darryl Sutter and a goalie who might be in the running for the Vezina. Speaking of Jacob Markstrom, remember that he shunned the Oilers’ offer to sign with Calgary. We could get a Milan Lucic or James Neal redemption arc. How about a seven-game war of attrition between Zach Hyman and Matthew Tkachuk? On paper, the series could be great, even without the history.

All that said, the history is the best part here. There’s just something about these two teams sharing the ice that always feels like we’re back in the Smythe Division days. Even if the game isn’t all that important, eventually somebody goes for a big hit, the fans start buzzing, and the next thing you know the goalies are throwing haymakers. Imagine doing it with everything on the line in the postseason.

And yes, I know I’ve been trying to will this series into existence for years now. It has to work some time, right? Maybe not, but I’m going to keep trying.

How realistic is it? The good news is that the two teams are battling for first place in the division, so they both look like safe bets to make the playoffs. The bad news is that we’ll need some help to see a matchup in the first round, either through one of the teams dropping into the wildcard mix, or both being passed some other team for top spot in the Pacific.

(We could also just wait until the second round, which would guarantee that one would win the division. I have my reasons for hoping somebody else takes that crown, for reasons we’ll get to in a bit.)

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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Woe Canada: Canucks, Canadiens, Senators… which team is Canada’s most miserable?

There are seven NHL teams in Canada. Four of them are good, and in a few cases maybe even very good. The Oilers, Flames, Jets and Leafs are a combined 53-23-10, with all four holding down playoff spots.

The country’s other three teams are, um, not doing that. We truly are a divided nation.

The Vancouver Canucks, Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators are locked in a furious battle to be the country’s most embarrassing team. The Habs have already wiped out their front office, the Canucks seem to be perpetually on the verge of something similar, and the Senators are somehow worse than both of them. It’s not going great.

But which team is the country’s worst story? That’s up for debate, which is where we come in. With the Canucks facing the Habs last night and the Senators tomorrow, now seems like a good time to break down the highs and lows of the three teams in all the key categories, and see where this leads us. How bad can it get? And which team takes the crown as the worst of the worst?


We can’t tell the story of the present without laying the foundation of the past. Who’s had it worse over the decades?

Senators: The modern version of the team started with a five-year stretch where they were considered the worst expansion team ever – not just in hockey, but any sport at all. More recently, they’ve been terrible on the ice and often bizarre off of it. But in between, there was a stretch where they were consistently very good, including one trip to the final in 2007. There was also a team with the same name that won Stanley Cups a hundred years ago, which it goes without saying does not count.

Canucks: It’s been over a half a century with no championships, although they’ve had several near-misses including seven-game heartbreaks in 1994 and 2011. That makes them the only Cup-less franchise in the history of the league that’s lost a Game 7 in the final. They also spent most of the 1980s getting their teeth kicked in by the Oilers, they gave away a young Cam Neely, they signed Mark Messier, and their most memorable moment in franchise history was a riot. Other than that, mostly positive.

Canadiens: Pretty solid, I think, although I’m not sure because their fans never bring it up.

Misery ranking

I ran the numbers, and five decades of sadness beats three.

1. Canucks
2. Senators
3. Canadiens

The season so far

How’s it going everyone? Good? I’m sure it’s probably good.

Senators: They’re neck-and-neck with the Coyotes, who aren’t even trying.

Canucks: They’re dead last in the Pacific, behind the brand new expansion team and the three California teams we all agreed would be terrible.

Canadiens: They’re not in last place! (Because they’re in the same division as the Senators.)

Misery ranking

We’re two sections in and I’m already depressed.

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Monday, November 29, 2021

Weekend rankings: How do you make a Top 5 when there are 10 deserving teams? Plus changes in Montreal, Islanders cancellations and more.

What if five is the wrong number?

This came up in the comment section of last week’s post, but it’s worth exploring in a bit more detail here. I do a top and bottom five every week in this column, because that seems like a good number to let us explore the most newsworthy teams without getting bogged down in the mushy middle that’s often just not that interesting in this league.

But the thing is that it’s five teams every week, no matter what. That might seem to imply that there’s always a five-team tier at each end of the spectrum, and of course that’s not always true. Often, the gap between fifth and sixth is a small one, if it’s even there at all. Sometimes, there isn’t much gap between third or fourth and ninth or tenth.

That’s kind of what’s happening so far this year, at least for one of the rankings. At the bottom, we really are starting to get some separation with five bad teams. But on the good side of the ledger, there’s a very strong case to be made for a handful of teams we don’t have room for. I think we’d all agree the Panthers and Hurricanes are still safely top-five teams. My long-term view means the Avalanche have to be there, and the Lightning should get some benefit of the doubt. I’ve mostly bought into the Oilers. That’s five teams right there, and I don’t think anyone would argue that any of those are controversial picks. But it still leaves us with at least five teams that have an extremely strong case for a spot. The “really good teams” club is a very crowded place right now.

I can’t fit everyone in, but in the interest of inclusion (and a futile attempt to limit the number of angry “BUT WHAT ABOUT” screeds in the comment section), let’s make the case for five more teams.

Calgary Flames: They’ve already won four in a row twice this year and are so good defensively that they’ve yet to go more than three games without a shutout. The underlying numbers are very good, the way they always are with Darryl Sutter teams. If the Oilers are going to get a spot each and every week, a Flames team that’s been keeping pace with them all year should be there too, right?

Vegas Golden Knights: They’ve been inconsistent all year, but at their best, they can look scary good. We didn’t see that on Saturday, but they’re getting healthy again, and if we’re looking long-term then we should probably discount the stretch where they were missing Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty. Oh, and Jack Eichel is waiting in the wings. If everyone’s in place by the time the playoffs start, do you really think there will be five teams with better Cup odds?

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Friday, November 26, 2021

When should the Habs tank? Plus Sabres vs. Canucks misery, Quebec City expansion, and more in the mailbag

An interesting fact about mailbags is that nobody reads the intro. You still have to have one, because it will look weird if you just jump directly into the questions without some sort of preamble. But as soon as your readers see “mailbag” in the headline they just automatically skip ahead to the bolded section that means the first question, so you can pretty much write anything you want and it’s fine because literally nobody will see it. When I was three my parents dressed me up as a Habs fan for Halloween and they still have the photos. On to this month’s questions!

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

When is the right time for the Habs to start the official tank? Assuming it hasn’t started already? – Christopher C.

I’m a Habs fan, and I’ve switched over to rooting against them this year so we can get Shane Wright. Some of my friends think it’s too early for that. Could you provide us with some guidance? – Dan H.

Two separate but related questions. But first, Gary Bettman has asked me to remind you all that tanking isn’t a real thing. It doesn’t happen. NHL GMs would never tank, even though the league’s entire system of incentives means that it is very clearly the optimal strategy for bad teams, because dot dot dot reasons. Please ignore decades of circumstantial evidence, outright confessions, and basic common sense. Tanking isn’t real, and the media made it up.

Now that we have that out of the way, yes, of course the Habs should tank.

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Thursday, November 25, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: Playing "what if?" with some famous trades

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- With Black Friday almost here, it's time to think about deals that were, deals that weren't, and deals that should have been

The Athletic Hockey Show runs most days of the week during the season, with Ian and I hosting every Thursday. There are two versions of each episode available:
- An ad-free version for subscribers that you can find here
- An ad-supported version you can get for free wherever you normally find your podcasts (like Apple or Spotify)

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Six things we were all very wrong about so far in the 2021-22 season (except, were we really?)

I’m wrong about the NHL. Kind of a lot. Honestly, it’s a little bit embarrassing for somebody who’s whole job is to know things about this league.

But here’s the thing: You’re wrong too. All of us are. And that’s especially true when we let ourselves drift into groupthink mode, where most of us are all saying the same thing. Hockey fans barely agree on anything, so you’d think that it would take a stone cold lock to get us all on the same page. Instead, we often end up looking dumb.

So today, let’s take a look at six opinions that I think it’s fair to say were pretty widely held heading into the season. Not universally – settle down, huffy dude who’s scrolling down to the comments to post “I never thought that” – but at least reasonably common. A month in, they’ve all turned out to be absolutely and indisputably wrong. Only… have they? Let’s see if we can figure that out.

The Pacific would be the worst division in hockey

What we thought: Heading into the season, it was pretty widely understood that the Pacific had one good team and seven question marks. The good team was the Golden Knights, of course, and we could just pencil them in as the top seed before we even dropped a puck. But from there, it was a turtle derby.

Even with Arizona moving to the Central, there were still three bottom-feeders in the Ducks, Kings and Sharks. Maybe one of those teams would surprise us, but that was about the best we could hope for. The Canucks and Flames had both missed the playoffs last year, and the most charitable view of either was that they might be marginally better heading into this season. The Oilers had some regular season potential, but were coming off a disastrous postseason run so you weren’t really sure how far they could go. And the Kraken were the big question mark, looking iffy on paper after an underwhelming expansion draft.

So basically Vegas, and then seven teams trying to earn the right to get swept by Vegas.

But then… : The Kraken and the Canucks are bad. But the Alberta teams look great, with the Oilers mostly rolling and the Flames surprising everyone while shutting out every team they play. And the California teams have been stunningly good at times, with the Kings posting a seven-game win streak, the Ducks topping that with eight, and the Sharks starting 4-0-0.

Oh yeah, and Vegas hasn’t been all that great, so the whole division is up for grabs.

We were so wrong: Seriously, this division might get both Western wildcards.

But were we really?: Are you really betting on the Ducks and Kings to keep this up all season long? That seems like a longshot, and the Sharks are already fading. Edmonton looks like a legitimate contender, but that goaltending is still hard to trust. The Flames are the other side of that coin, as we need to see what happens when Jakob Markstrom isn’t running red hot.

Meanwhile, Vegas has been racked by injuries but are getting their guys back and looking better. With Jack Eichel looming in the future, they’ve still got the best roster in the division on paper, and it’s not all that close. So yeah, it’s very possible that a few of the feel-good story bubbles burst over the next few months, Eichel shows up just in time for the playoffs, and the Pacific does end up being the Knights rolling through everyone.

Hey, speaking of which…

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Monday, November 22, 2021

Figuring out the Stars, remembering the Bruins, and now it gets real for the Islanders

One thing you may have noticed about the first month of these rankings is that there’s been very little mention of the Islanders. That was intentional, and not just because their fans are notoriously mean to me. It’s because I’m not really sure that the first month of their season counts.

I mean, it counts in the sense that it goes into the books the same as any other stretch of the regular season. But remember, we’re in the long-term business here, trying to separate the eventual Cup contenders from the rest of the league. And I’m not sure how much useful information we can really pull from a team that doesn’t get to play a home game until late-November. Road trips are part of life in the NHL, but 13 games? Bouncing from Florida to Vegas to Montreal to Winnipeg and back to Florida over five weeks, all while every other team is enjoying the occasional home-cooked meal and home-ice crowd? What do we want to do with that?

Not much, I’m guessing, if you’re an Islanders fan. The road trip was not good, producing just five wins in 13 games. That includes a trip-closing four-game losing streak during which the Islanders just looked gassed, outscored 19-4 and looking nothing like the good team they were expected to be.

And they were expected to be good. After years of being penciled in as merely mid-tier contenders by all the smart people and then outperforming expectations, this was the year when it seemed like everyone caught up. Some pundits were picking them to win the Cup. Even Dom’s model finally liked them. And after all that, they end up in dead last in the Metro. Except that it doesn’t count. Not until they get to play some home games in their shiny new rink.

That moment arrived over the weekend, as we finally got our first look at UBS Arena. And the early returns were… well, still not good. The building itself is getting rave reviews, and lord knows that nobody deserves the stability of a decent arena more than long-suffering Islanders fans. But the team didn’t look all that much better in the big debut, dropping a 5-2 loss the Flames. Even the first Islanders’ goal in their new home was a weird one. I’m pretty sure that must be the first rink to ever be christened by a Horn of Doom goal.

Game two was another dud, as the Maple Leafs came to town and shut the Islanders down with their fourth-string goaltender. At least John Tavares didn’t score. Glass half full, and all that.

So where does that leave us? Mostly with a team that I still think is good, but has some serious ground to make up. They’re beat up right now, and managing several COVID-related absences, so they’re nowhere near full power. They’re seven points back of a playoff spot, but that’s misleading because they’ve got multiple games in hand on several teams ahead of them. Factor those in, plus the fact that they’ll be playing almost 60% of their remaining schedule at home, and it’s doable. But they need to start banking some wins, especially with the rest of the Metro looking deeper than we thought.

I say they do it. That’s probably bad news for Islanders fans, since I’ve been wrong about this team for pretty much four years straight.

On to yet another Islanders-less edition of the top and bottom five…

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Thursday, November 18, 2021

Elias Pettersson, Philipp Grubauer, and the rest of the NHL’s first month all-disappointment team

We’re well into the second month of the season, and it’s time to stay positive by talking about all the players having terrible seasons.

OK, that sounds weird. Picking 20 players from around the league and labelling them as early-season busts doesn’t sound especially positive, after all. But its not all bad, for two reasons. First, as we already highlighted a few weeks ago, bad starts by good players will often turn out to be meaningless, the sort of thing that all balances out by the end of a season. And maybe more importantly, it’s worth remembering that your favorite team isn’t the only one with underachievers. Almost every team has a few guys who aren’t living up to expectations; that’s just life in the NHL. We’re all in this together.

So today, we’re going to build a full roster of early-season letdowns. Twelve forwards, six defensemen and two goalies, with a max of one player per team so that it’s not all Canucks we maximize the positivity. Then we’ll shower them in good vibes for their inevitable turnaround. You’re going to do that part, right? Of course you are. The power of positive thinking!

On to the roster, where we’ll build from the net out.


Philipp Grubauer, Kraken — You never really got the feeling that Grubauer was part of the Kraken plan as they assembled their first roster. We all kind of assumed he’d end up back in Colorado, even after he officially hit the UFA market. When that didn’t happen, Seattle swooped in and made the deal, seemingly setting up an excellent pairing with Grubauer and Chris Driedger. Instead, both guys have been mediocre at best, leaving Seattle with almost $10 million worth of not-great goaltending, and one eye on a Grubauer contract that runs through 2027.

Linus Ullmark., Bruins — When Ullmark signed a surprising four-year, $20-million deal to become Boston’s new starter, he was positioned to be the long-term replacement for Tuukka Rask. A month in, he seems to have already lost the starting job to Jeremy Swayman, at least temporarily, and his numbers are barely so-so. Look, Rask never actually said that he wasn’t coming back for sure, right?

First pair

Jakob Chychrun, Coyotes One thing you heard a lot heading into the season is that the Coyotes would be awful, but at least Chychrun would be good. So far, both predictions have turned out to be too optimistic. Arizona has been worse than awful, and Chychrun has just one goal on the year after scoring 30 over the last two seasons. That part won’t last — he’s still generating shots, and he’s not going to shoot 2 percent forever — but the year has been a worrying step back for a guy who seemed headed towards the Norris conversation.

Alex Pietrangelo, Golden Knights — This one is debatable. No, literally — we saw Jesse and Dom battle it out between the pro-Pietrangelo and anti-Pietrangelo sides. That was from the first week of November, and he’s had three multi-point game since then, so maybe the ledger is tipping. Still, when a Cup favorite is paying a guy nearly $9 million to carry the blueline, “debatable” probably isn’t what you’re hoping for.

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Monday, November 15, 2021

Weekend rankings: A few things we know and a whole lot we still don’t after one month

We’re over a month into the season now, so we should know a few things. Not everything, obviously. There’s still plenty of time for twists and turns and there will be more than a few surprises by the time we get to the games that actually matter. But a month of hockey is a long time, and that means we should be pretty sure on at least a few things by now.

For example… uh…

(Checks list.)

The Coyotes are bad. Connor McDavid is good. The Hurricanes are probably good too.

(Checks list again.)

(Turns list upside down.)

(Shrugs dramatically.)

I mean, what else have we got that you actually feel confident about right now? The Panthers were probably on that list a week ago, but haven’t won since. The Avs, Knights and Lightning were all supposed to be elite contenders, and maybe they still are, but they’ve certainly made us wonder at a few points along the way. The Islanders and Bruins seem OK but were supposed to be more. Calgary and Edmonton are better than expected. Who knows about the Penguins, Maple Leafs and Flyers. The Caps, Wild and Jets are maybe about right, I guess?

At the other end of the spectrum, other than the Coyotes pretty much all the teams who were supposed to be bad have been decent other than maybe Ottawa. The Hawks looked awful but were better this week. The Habs are a mess but we’re still waiting to see what they’ll look like when Carey Price is back. Dallas and Vancouver both seems to be almost out of chances. And maybe one of the biggest surprises is that an expansion team looks like an expansion team, which we probably should have all expected but here we are.

Basically, the first month has been a whole lot of “huh”. Depending on your perspective, that might make all of this frustrating or a lot more fun.

Anyway, it’s my job to understand the NHL and explain it to you but I really have no idea what’s going on right now. Please enjoy the power rankings anyway…

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Friday, November 12, 2021

Every Hockey Hall of Fame induction class, ranked

The class of 2020 will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this weekend. That’s a little weird, because as you may be aware, it’s 2021. But with COVID meaning no induction ceremony last year, leading to no new class this year, we’re playing catchup on what will be the 68th class in the Hall’s history.

It goes without saying that 68 classes is way too many to rank. It also goes without saying that we’re going to do it anyway.

After some back and forth, I decided to focus the ranking on NHL players only. It’s true that, as we’re often reminded, it’s the Hockey Hall of Fame, and not just the NHL Hall of Fame. But I really don’t think anyone wants to get into ranking the various owners, executives and hangers-on that have gone in as builders and officials. To keep things apples-to-apples, that means we’ll also pass over the long list of early players from other leagues that you’ve almost certainly never heard of, a few players who were inducted solely for their international achievements, and the way-to-low number of women inducted since 2010.

This will take forever and I will regret it almost immediately. Worst to best, let’s do this.

68. Class of 1949

NHL players inducted: Art Ross

We’ll start with some controversy, as there’s some question over whether there even was a class of 1949. The HHOF web site lists Ross and pre-NHL star Dan Bain with the 1945 inductees, but most other sources including hockey-reference say they went in separately. We’ll go with that, which makes Ross and his three NHL games and one point an easy pick for this spot. (That’s right, the guy who the scoring title is named after only had one career NHL point.)

67. Class of 2010

NHL players inducted: Dino Ciccarelli

This was an important and historic class, because it featured the first two women players, Cammi Granato and Angela James. But while they were joined by Jim Devellano and Doc Seaman as builders, the only NHL player was Ciccarelli, whose lack of any hardware in his 19-year career makes him one of the names most often cited as an undeserving inductee. He’d already waited almost a decade; it probably would have been better to hold off and let the women have the spotlight to themselves.

66. Class of 1968

NHL players inducted: Bill Cowley

After inducting a ton of players through most of the 1960s, the Hall slowed down late in the decade. Cowley was a good playmaker who won two Harts in the 1940s, but it’s asking a lot for him to carry a class all on his own.

65. Class of 2008

NHL players inducted: Glenn Anderson, Igor Larionov

Larionov is mostly in for his international work, so from our NHL perspective this is pretty much the Anderson show, meaning a sniper in the greatest offensive era ever who fell short of 500 goals. He’d been eligible for almost a decade at this point, but without any new candidates thanks to the 2005 lockout, the committee found their chance to get him in.

64. Class of 1952

NHL players inducted: Nels Stewart, Bill Cook, Mickey MacKay

A cautionary tale for the Sedins, as Bill would have to wait 43 years to be joined by his brother. My favorite part of this class is that it includes two non-NHL players who were both named “Moose”.

63. Class of 1974

NHL players inducted: Dickie Moore, Art Coulter, Billy Burch, Carl Voss

Coulter, Voss and Burch were all from the pre-Original Six era, leaving Moore as the only name most fans would have remembered at the time.

62. Class of 2019

NHL players inducted: Sergei Zubov, Vaclav Nedomansky, Guy Carbonneau

Zubov had been a borderline case for years, and seeing him go in was fine. But Nedomansky’s selection came out of nowhere, even as his international resume made a solid case. And the Carbonneau pick was just a miss, one that’s set the stage for a generation of terrible “Well if Guy is in, then what about…” arguments.

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Thursday, November 11, 2021

Puck Soup: Murray, Babcock, Colliton and more

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- We react to the developing story about Bob Murray
- My defense of that Mike Babcock article
- Jeremy Colliton is fired
- Connor McDavid's goal of the year
- Jack Eichel arrives in Vegas
- The weird Cole Caufield twitter story
- OUFL fancy stats, and more...

>> Stream it now:

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

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

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Debating the Hall of Fame cases of Brad Marchand, Jonathan Quick, Jason Spezza and others

It’s Hall-of-Fame induction week, as the class of 2020 finally gets their moment in the spotlight after a year of COVID delays. It’s a strong class, with Jarome Iginla, Marian Hossa, Kim St-Pierre, Doug Wilson and Kevin Lowe joining builder Ken Holland.

Great, who’s next?

That’s the fun part of having a Hall-of-Fame. Sure, it’s nice to honor the game’s greats. But what we really want to do is argue over the players who might make it some day. And that’s especially fun when it comes to the guys who are still active, since there’s still time for them to flip the script and make us all look bad. Plus I’m always fascinated by the players that you guys think are easy calls, since there are always one or two where the public consensus seems way off from what my ballot would look like.

We’ve done this a few times in recent years. We argued about Nicklas Backstrom, Ryan Getzlaf, Phil Kessel, Patrick Marleau, Shea Weber and Marc-Andre Fleury in this post, then tackled Brent Burns, Ilya Kovalchuk, Pekka Rinne, Ryan Suter, Justin Williams and Claude Giroux in this one.

Some of those guys are still a tough call, but we won’t revisit any of their cases today. Instead, let’s find a half-dozen new names to debate. We’re looking for players who are already over 30 and still active in the NHL. A few of these guys are names that readers bring up often, while others are ones I go back and forth on.

Eric Staal

Why it’s a tough one: We’re cheating a bit here because while Staal hasn’t retired, he’s not currently on a team so his “active” status is a little fuzzy. He still wants to play, but his current lack of a job makes this debate a bit easier, since it’s safe to assume that his career numbers won’t change much. And those numbers, as we’ll see, are right on the borderline.

The case for: The typical HHOF case comes down to two categories: How good was the player at their peak, and did they stick around long enough to hit major career milestones. Staal checks both boxes; he hit the 100-point mark in a breakout 2005-06 season that ended with him leading the playoffs in scoring on the way to a Stanley Cup, then stuck around as a consistent producer longer enough to join the 1,000-point club in an era where that’s tough to do.

The case against: Apart from that one big year, Staal never really had a dominant season. He was a second-team all-star in 2006, but that was the only year he earned any kind of award, and his fourth-place finish in Hart voting that year was his only top-ten season. We’ve seen guys make the Hall with a similar lack of awards recognition, including Dave Andreychuk, Mark Recchi, and even Marian Hossa this year. But those guys all racked up bigger career totals, while Staal barely inching past 1,000 points shouldn’t be enough.

Worth remembering: Staal ranks seventh among active scorers today, and the guys ahead of him are five slam-dunk HHOFers and Patrick Marleau, who’s also probably getting in.

Should he get in? Barring a comeback and late-career renascence, I wouldn’t have him on my ballot.

Will he get in? I don’t think it’s out of the question, especially with the Hall’s recent habit of going off the board on a pick most years. But I’m filing it under unlikely. He just needed another big year or two that never came.

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Monday, November 8, 2021

Weekend rankings: A top-spot showdown, a blockbuster trade, a firing, and the goal of the year

You know what, that was kind of a fun weekend.

We kicked things off with the Jack Eichel trade still reverberating around the league. Thursday’s blockbuster saw the Golden Knights do what they always seem to do and swing big at the best player available, whether they can afford to or not. In this case, that means giving the Sabres a decent if unimpressive return and worrying about that pesky salary cap sometime down the line. It will be months before we see Eichel make his Vegas debut, but it’s the sort of deal that could shift the balance of power in the West.

We had the big Panthers/Hurricanes Saturday showdown that promised to make this week’s number one spot a pretty easy call. The game itself wasn’t exactly a masterpiece, with the Panthers taking a 4-0 lead in the first and then cruising to a 5-2 win. Not great drama, but an emphatic result that hands the Hurricanes their first loss and establishes the Panthers as our early team to beat.

We had our second coaching change (and first traditional firing), as the Hawks finally did what’s felt inevitable for a while now. You could make the case that Jeremy Colliton never really had a chance to succeed in Chicago, but it’s pretty clear that he wasn’t succeeding, even with a rebuilt roster that was supposed to contend for a playoff spot. It’s never fun to see somebody lose their job, but the churn behind the bench is part of life in the NHL, and now we get to see what Derek King can do.

We had a few other interesting stories. The Red Wings got a nifty OT winner from Moritz Seider. The Leafs are good again, at least for a week, with the core four doing all the scoring. The Knights/Habs game was fascinating for reasons we’ll get to in a bit. The Flames continue to dominate, this time icing the Rangers 6-0. The entire Metro stayed over .500. Hell, even the Coyotes got a win. Miracles really do happen.

But who are we kidding, none of that is what we’ll remember most from this weekend. Years from now, we might still be talking about this:

That’s just silly. I’m not even sure I can be mad at the Rangers. Stopping one guy with four should be pretty easy in the NHL, but McDavid isn’t one guy. He’s Mario Lemieux sitting on Pavel Bure’s shoulders wearing a big trench coat. The Rangers did their best, and I think you just pat them on the head and give them some orange slices and promise them that things will be better when they’re playing against human beings.

On to the rankings…

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Thursday, November 4, 2021

Take the ‘Who Didn’t He Play For?’ quiz (Hall of Fame edition)

We’re almost a month into the season, but there are some sights I’m still not used to. Joe Thornton as a Panther, Duncan Keith as an Oiler, Ryan Suter as a Star, Mark Giordano as a Kraken, Zdeno Chara back with the Islanders after two decades … it’s just weird, right?

Maybe hockey fans should be used to it. After all, it’s not uncommon to see a star player have a stint or two on an unfamiliar team. While it’s always cool to see the Nicklas Lidstroms and Mario Lemieuxs who spend their entire careers with one team, most top players bounce around a little bit. And sometimes, by the end of things, you don’t even remember every team a star played for.

That seems like solid ground for a quiz. I’ve been told that sometimes my quizzes are a little too tough for the average fan, so this one will be a simple concept: I give you Hall of Fame a player and four teams, you tell me which one he never played for.

We’ll start off easy and gradually get tougher as we go, but I think a lot of you should be able to hit some high scores here. I’m pretty sure that a perfect 16-for-16 will be in play for at least a few of you. No googling. Or google if you want, it’s up to you. It would be kind of weird to cheat on an online quiz where nobody sees the results but you, but we all have to make our own decisions in life and I’m not here to judge yours.

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Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Building a 20-man roster of history’s terrible starts (that turned out OK)

We’re two weeks into the season, and your favorite team probably has at least one player that’s off to a bad start. Maybe they’re not posting numbers, or maybe you’re barely noticing them, or maybe they just look lost out there. Whatever the case, they’re not meeting expectations, and that’s putting it kindly.

And you know what that means: The guy’s a bum. A has-been, or maybe a never-was, or perhaps somehow both at the same time. You should give up on them now.

Or not. That’s the fun of pro sports, where sometimes a slump is just a slump. String together a few bad weeks in January and maybe nobody notices. But do it at the start of the season, and everyone assume it will last all season long. Sometimes that matters, and sometimes it doesn’t.

So today, we’re going to build a roster out of terrible starts from NHL history. Twelve forwards, six defensemen and two goalies, all of whom stunk at the start of a season. I’ll give you facts, you can join me in booing the player for being a bum, and then we’ll reveal who we’re talking about and how it all turned out.

The idea here is to give you some hope for the early-season duds on your favorite team. Hey, a little foolish optimism never hurt anyone, so let’s remember some awful starts.

First line

The bum: This flashy mega-star is a former Art Ross winner and finished second in scoring last year. But this year he’s barely doing anything as the calendar flips from October to November. Eleven games into the season, he hasn’t had so much as a single multi-point game, and is sitting at a pedestrian eight points overall, way below his career average. Even worse, he’s already a -8 on the season, cementing his reputation as a one-way threat who barely knows how to find the defensive zone. Only now he’s not scoring at the other end either. Boo this man!

But you just booed: Jaromir Jagr in 1996-97.

How it turned out: He breaks out with a four-point night in game 12, one of three he’ll have in the next two months. He’ll end up missing 20 games to injury but still finishes the season with almost 100 points, third in the league in points-per-game. Oh, and then he wins each of the next four scoring titles.


The bum: Expectations were sky-high for this established star who’d just won a Hart to go with a Rocket Richard. He looked OK early, scoring his first two goals of the season in his second game. But those would be his last goals for almost a month, as he went his next nine games without scoring, and as the slump went on he wasn’t even getting many shots. He’d finally score again by the second week of November, but you can kiss those trophies goodbye, Slumpy.

But you just booed: Alexander Ovechkin in 2008-09.

How it turned out: He’d score in each of his next five games and never really slowed down from there. He’d finish the season with 56 goals, 110 points and the second most shots in the history of the NHL, and would indeed capture both the Hart and the Richard for a second straight season.


The bum: This player had been considered an elite superstar for a full decade. But everyone slows down eventually, and this guy dropped off big time. He went pointless in his first five games and nine of his first ten, and by mid-November he was on pace for just ten goals and 40 points in a full season. Hey, nobody dominates forever.

But you just booed: Sidney Crosby in 2015-16.

How it turned out: Game 19 launched a scoring streak, and Crosby stayed red hot for most of the rest of the season. He’d end up earning first-team all-star honors, was Hart Trophy runner-up, and won the first of two straight Conn Smythe Trophies as the Penguins captured back-to-back Cups.

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