Saturday, February 27, 2021

NHL era-adjusted mock draft: Why Theo Fleury, Ron Hextall, Alex Mogilny and more would thrive today

The game has changed.

Hockey fans of a certain vintage will often find themselves looking back over fondly remembered highlights and controversial incidents of the past and thinking, boy, if that happened now that guy would’ve been suspended for life.

For younger hockey fans, meanwhile, it’s common to wonder how a Connor McDavid or an Auston Mathews would’ve fared in the 1980s — and to insist that in a world where goalies were 5-foot-9 and smoked half a pack between periods, that they might’ve re-written the NHL record book.

While hockey is a traditionalists game, the evolution of the sport at the NHL level over the last decade and a half has been swift and it has been remarkable.

The goaltenders have gotten larger, adding post-integration techniques that have made “soft” goals even rarer. The salary cap system has caused youth to be served earlier as the years go by, creating an arms race for team speed and relegating the classic, plodding “stay-at-home” defenseman player type all but extinct. Analytics have revolutionized player evaluation, both by the public and by teams themselves. And the way the game is called and legislated by on-ice officials and the Department of Player Safety (an Orwellian moniker if ever there was one) has caused “enforcers” to disappear along with, thankfully, the “keep your head up” type hits that used to punctuate the NHL game.

With a stick tap to our colleagues over on the NBA side of our shop, a crew of The Athletic’s hockey writers (Thomas Drance, Sean Gentille and Sean McIndoe) decided to formalize the “what if?” game with a mock draft that seeks to identify the players from yesteryear who would perform best if they were dropped on the ice, in their prime, in today’s game.

The ground rules:

•Six-round snake draft.

•Every team must feature a complete starting lineup of three forwards (regardless of position), two defenders and a goaltender.

•Eligibility: The player cannot be in the Hockey Hall of Fame and must have played at least 50 percent of their career NHL games after the 1980-81 season and prior to the advent of the Behind the Net era (which we’ve placed in 2008).

The point of the exercise is to identify players who were good in their own time, but who would be absolutely sensational today. If we’re being honest, it’s also about having some fun remembering some guys.

Round 1, pick 1. Team McIndoe selects: RW Alexander Mogilny

Drance: Consensus top pick, but also kind of a squirrel pick. Mogilny would be dominant in any area.

Gentille: Dude was made for 2021, down to the fact that he wore a vanity number. There is no other 89.

McIndoe: This Darren Turcotte erasure will not stand…

Once I lucked into the first overall pick, there wasn’t much debate over who I was going to take. It remains an embarrassment that Mogilny isn’t in the Hall of Fame, but since he somehow isn’t, he’s almost too perfect for this sort of exercise. He was a smart and monstrously skilled presence who could play at both ends and who posted one of the greatest goal-scoring seasons ever, banking a ridiculous 76 in the 1992-93 season. His peak didn’t last long, as injuries and the clutch-and-grab era robbed us of Mogilny’s best. In today’s more wide-open game, and without the pressure of being the first Soviet star to defect, his prime might look like a combination of Datsyuk-ian wizardry mixed with Ovechkin-like finishing.

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Friday, February 26, 2021

Mailbag: Is David Pastrnak now the NHL’s most marketable player?

We’re almost done with February, the first full month of this very weird season, and as the old saying goes, we’re living in interesting times. We learned that sunshine is our enemy, had a player clear waivers after getting kicked off his team for fighting his own goalie, crowned the Montreal Canadiens as inevitable Stanley Cup champions, found out that the Coyotes are a train wreck, laughed at the Leafs blowing a 5-1 lead, crowned the Montreal Canadiens as the worst team ever, and welcomed Brian Burke back to hockey operations. Other than that, pretty dull. Let’s see what was on your minds as we open up the monthly mailbag.

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

Combining his willingness to participate in advertising campaigns, his off-ice personality, and his on-ice performance, is David Pastrnak the most entertaining player in the NHL? The most marketable? – David R.

He has to be close, right? The whole Lake Tahoe thing was just so great, especially his postgame interview. He’s all sorts of fun to watch, and he even gets a nice boost from the contrast of having linemates like Patrice Bergeron (cool but boring) and Brad Marchand (interesting but chaotic-evil). David Pastrnak as the new face of the league? I could be talked into this.

On the other hand, his commercial work has been, um, uneven. Let’s have him take some acting workshops to improve on that. Preferably instead of participating in any potential Leafs/Bruins series.

You get to change the shape of the puck to create more chaos on the ice and confusion for goalies. How do you go about this and picking the shape? Change shapes between periods? – Sean

This is the first time in my adult life that I wish I’d paid attention in physics class.

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Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: The season's first pink slip

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- The Habs fire Claude Julien
- Were Ian and I wrong about Marc Bergevin?
- Our bets on which coach might be next
- Which team's success is the biggest surprise, Chicago or L.A.?
- Jesse Granger on this year's fantasy league-winners
- Neutral site games, the other Gretzky trade and 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, February 24, 2021

Puck Soup: Julien fired, Eichel trade talk and a Swedish game show

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Claude Julien is fired minutes before we record
- Greg reports from Lake Tahoe
- The Artemi Panarin situation
- Is Sidney Crosby headed for all-time top 5 status
- Let's trade Jack Eichel
- And lots more, including a weird new quiz...

>> Stream it now:

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

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

Monday, February 22, 2021

Weekend rankings: An outdoor debacle, a bottom 5 shakeup, and yes, the Leafs

Well, it looked good. For a while.

You have to give the NHL credit for that much. After weeks of hype over just how beautiful the Lake Tahoe games would look, the real thing somehow exceeded expectations. The whole thing was jaw-dropping.

Then the game started and, well… you know the rest.

The Knights and Avalanche were able to finish the game later that night, and last night’s Bruins/Flyers game went fine, albeit in a new time slot. Still, there’s no point pretending that this weekend won’t be remembered as a failure. We’ll remember the sights of players tripping over divots and a frustrated Gary Bettman explaining that the clouds weren’t cooperating at least as much as the breathtaking pregame visuals.

The NHL is taking a lot of criticism over this, and criticizing how this league operations is pretty much half my schtick. But I don’t think I can join in here, at least to the same degree that so many fellow fans and media seem to be. I don’t see this weekend as being an example of incompetence, or Bettman forgetting that sometimes the sun shines during the day. Rather, I see a league that took a risk and got burned when they pushed a little too far. An outdoor game being waylaid by weather was always a possibility, and after over a decade, something close to the worst-case scenario finally played out. That’s bad, but I’d still rather have an NHL that takes the occasional big swing rather than the conservative, play-it-safe version we get with almost everything else.

On to this week’s rankings, where the top five looks familiar but the bottom five gets a makeover…

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Friday, February 19, 2021

Grab Bag: How to increase scoring without making the nets bigger, a draft lottery request, young Joe Thornton and friends, and more

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- So you want more scoring but won't make the nets bigger. Cool, I've got some idea...
- A simple request about the draft lottery debate
- An obscure player who may have gone to Alcatraz
- The three comedy stars
- And a YouTube look back at teenaged Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Roberto Luongo

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Thursday, February 18, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: Katie Strang on her Coyotes bombshell

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:

Katie Strang joins us to talk about her blockbuster Coyotes report, including:
- How a story like this comes together
- What she's thinking the night before a big story drops
- Her thoughts on that Bill Armstrong threat
- What's the deal with those mysterious investigators lurking around?
- What the next chapter of this story could bring...

- That Maple Leafs collapse
- Has Sidney Crosby reserved his spot in the all-time top five?
- The Hawks and Panthers surprise
- This day in history, listener questions and 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, February 17, 2021

Puck Soup: Coyote ugly

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Reacting to Katie Strang's blockbuster report on the state of the Coyotes
- We sure hope Bill Armstrong doesn't call us up and scare us
- The Tony DeAngelo comeback PR tour begins
- The NHL makes changes to the COVID protocols
- Ken Dryden's essay on the state of modern goaltending
- Should the NHL postpone this year's draft
- A round of O/U/F/L on Maple Leafs collapses
- And lots 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.

The 10 types of player/team reunions, and how often they work

Last week, we celebrated Valentines Day by encouraging you to break up. When things aren’t working out for a player on your favorite team, sometimes it’s best to just say goodbye, even if that means all sorts of ugly drama.

But there’s another side to that coin. Sometimes, two sides go their separate ways and then realize that they shouldn’t have. Often, that just leads to regret. But every now and then, everyone can swallow their pride and get back together.

That happens fairly often in the NHL. We saw it last week, when the Senators reacquired Ryan Dzingel. And we apparently came close to a much bigger example, with reports that the Penguins had given serious consideration to a reunion with Marc-Andre Fleury.

That one feels a little too perfect, and it might seem like it would inevitably work out great for everyone involved. But that’s now always how these things go, and getting back with an ex isn’t always the smartest move. Sometimes, it’s best to leave the memories alone.

So today, let’s sort through some complicated feelings about reconciliation by looking back through NHL history at some of the times that a star player has returned to familiar territory. We’ll divide them into 10 different categories, and see if some have better outcomes than others. (Spoiler alert: They do.)

The Final Bow

We’ll start with one of the most common reunions. In this case, a player spends a big chunk of their career establishing themselves as a star with a team. For whatever reason, they end up leaving, and maybe have success elsewhere. But then time catches up, and they find themselves at the tail end of their career, with maybe another season or two left in the tank.

They’re not a star like they once were, at least in any real sense beyond name value, but they can still contribute something. With the clock ticking on their career and (often) dwindling options for where to land next, they head back to the scene of their greatest success for what will probably be one last run. Not to win a Cup, since the team is bad, but just to close the door in a way that feels right.

Notable examples: Glenn Anderson in Edmonton, Curtis Joseph in Toronto, Rob Blake in Los Angeles, Kevin Lowe in Edmonton

If you’re not a fan of those teams, you might not even remember any of those comebacks. But that’s kind of the point – they’re for the player and the fan base, and nobody else even needs to know.

How it usually ends: They don’t put up great numbers, because they just can’t anymore, and the team isn’t very good. But nobody really cares, because sometimes it’s just nice to have a familiar face back in the fold.

Unfinished Business

A modified version of the The Final Bow, this category is another that sees a player return to a former team late in his career. But this time, while the player may not be the star he was in his prime, he’s returning to a contender. This isn’t about a bad team getting some sympathy PR by bringing back a familiar name. Instead, it’s a good team with Stanley Cup aspirations bringing back a name from the past as, they hope, one of the final pieces of a championship puzzle.

Notable examples: Doug Gilmour in Toronto, Dave Andreychuk in Buffalo, Justin Williams in Carolina, Sandis Ozolinsh in San Jose, Dominik Hasek in Detroit, Denis Savard in Chicago, Rick Tocchet in Phialdelphia

Also, Michal Handzus in Chicago at the 2013 deadline, although I’m not sure he really counts since he’d only played a few games there the first time.

How it usually ends: There are a wide range of outcomes here. Hasek and Handzus won Cups, albeit in diminished roles. Williams helped the Hurricanes get back to the playoffs, and they had a nice run. At the other end of the spectrum, Gilmour blew out in knee in his first game back with the Leafs and never played again. In between, you just hope the returning player will occasionally show you a few flashes of what they were in their prime, and maybe help you win a key game or two.

Unfinished Business, except it’s the Devils

Yeah, they get their own category.

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Saturday, February 13, 2021

Weekend rankings: A season without surprises, fixing the lottery and more

question we might have to start pondering, because so far this season hasn’t been all that surprising. Sure, there have been individual results that caught us off guard, like the Senators beating the Habs, the Wings beating the Hurricanes or the Ducks shutting out the Golden Knights. And there have been plenty of individual stories that have shocked us, like the front office changes in Pittsburgh or how quickly the Pierre-Luc Dubois situation fell apart in Columbus.

But in the big picture, a look at the standings reveals … pretty much what we all expected?

Yost’s tweet is a few days old now so some of the standings have shifted a bit, but yeah, they’re still not far off from what most of us were expecting. Maybe you thought the Penguins would have a spot locked down, or that the Oilers would be running just a little bit better. But there aren’t any current playoff teams that would have felt shocking in December, and unless you had the Canucks as one of your contenders or were that one writer here who thought the Predators were winning the Cup, none of the consensus favorites are spiraling.

Yet. There’s still plenty of time for things to take a turn, and history tells us that it will for at least a few teams. And it’s not like a little bit of predictability is necessarily a bad thing, especially in a league where everything was starting to feel random in recent years. But for now, at least, the hockey gods are playing it straight.

Maybe we should have seen it coming; the most unpredictable way an NHL season could play out would be for everything to go according to expectations. Or maybe we’re just being lulled into a false sense of security before the really wild twists and turns.

We’ll see. For now, let’s get to the rankings, where there are new teams debuting in both the top and bottom five.

Road to the Cup

The five teams with the best chances of becoming the first team in history to win a Stanley Cup in July.

Last week’s decision to move the Habs into the top five didn’t age well, as they didn’t look good while dropping two of three. That opened a door for the Maple Leafs, who almost got last week’s spot and were the favorites heading into the weekend after beating Montreal on Wednesday. But the Leafs looked flat in losing Saturday’s rematch, so we’ll pencil them in as sixth for another week.

That means we’ve got a spot available for a team we haven’t mentioned much this year. Let’s fix that right now …

5. Carolina Hurricanes (9-3-0, +7 true goals differential*) – The Hurricanes are tricky, because they’ve spent the last few years having a good record while smart people insisted that they were a secret powerhouse. Dom’s model has them neck-and-neck with the Lightning; this one thinks they’re the best team in the league. I’m not quite as high on them, but I’m not smart, so Carolina fans can feel pretty good here. That includes you, Gilbert.

For now, I think they’re better than the Panthers, even as I’m a little worried about all those shootout wins inflating their record just a bit and the Petr Mrazek injury has season-derailing potential. He’s reportedly nearing a return, but any setbacks will move the needle. In the meantime, let’s see what they do with Alex Galchenyuk and Cedric Paquette.

4. Colorado Avalanche (7-4-1, +13) – We all had them near the top of our Cup contenders lists, they’ve been pretty good, and I’m certainly not going to panic over a loss to the Knights coming off a nearly two-week layoff. Still, can we acknowledge that the Avalanche season so far has been, let’s say, underwhelming? I’ve still got them in the top five because I think they’ve got as much talent as anyone in the league, but at some point you’d like to see a little bit more. Three more this week against Vegas will give them their chance to deliver it.

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Thursday, February 11, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: Tuukka Rask's brain cramp, Ron Hextall becomes Penguins GM, drama in Columbus and more

In this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Tuukka Rask forgets the score
- What's the NHL's all time worst in-game brain cramp?
- Ron Hextall and Brian Burke arrive in Pittsburgh
- What should the Penguins do with Evgeni Malkin?
- More drama in Columbus
- Granger Things on the teams that are consistently landing one side of the over/under lines
- Remembering a record-breaking night for Theo Fleury and the Flames - Listener questions 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)

Revisiting some of the NHL's most painful breakups

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, and after the year we’ve all been through, it presents a nice chance to refocus on what really matters by asking ourselves important questions like “Am I currently going out with someone” and “What was going out like, I can’t remember” and “Wait, does this person live with me because that would explain who’s been eating all my food.”

Then you could break up with them. That part’s optional, and not necessarily recommended based on your personal circumstances. But it’s how a lot of relationships end, both in the world of romance and in the NHL. This is called tying your sports story into a current event. I am a professional writer.

Years ago, I put together a list of ten of NHL history’s ugliest player/team breakups. It wasn’t an exhaustive list, because it couldn’t be, because this sport is constantly tossing new examples onto the pile. Just recently, we’ve seen the Pierre-Luc Dubois drama play out in Columbus, and it may not be long before the Patrik Laine sequel gets good. We saw the end of long-term relationships like Zdeno Chara in Boston and Joe Thornton in San Jose. And we’re still not sure what exactly happened with John Chayka in Arizona. This league and its soap operas, am I right?

So today, let’s remember a few more bad breakups from NHL history. My first piece covered names like Patrick Roy, Dany Heatley, Eric Lindros and Pavel Bure, but we’ve got plenty more ground to cover. After all, it’s the NHL, where everything ends badly and nobody should ever get too attached.

Sergei Fedorov and the Red Wings, 2003

Happier times: Fedorov is one of the greatest players in Detroit history, a supremely skilled Russian star who won a Hart and two Selkes while providing the dominant two-way play that helped finally tip the Red Wings from regular season monsters to Stanley Cup champions.

But then: In 1998, after a lengthy RFA standoff that dragged well into the season, Fedorov signed an offer sheet with the Hurricanes that was ridiculously front-loaded with bonuses designed to make it unmatchable. The Wings matched anyway, and Fedorov stuck around for five more seasons, but a relationship that had been rocky from the start never fully recovered.

How it ended: Fedorov finally left for good in 2013, signing with the Ducks in free agency, and the bad feelings lingered for years. Even after his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, the team still hasn’t retired his number. But time heals some wounds, and there have been recent signs of a thaw in the relationship, especially with Steve Yzerman running the Wings now. There’s even been talk of Fedorov joining the organization in some capacity.

What kind of breakup it was: The couple that’s always on the verge of breaking up but ends up holding on a lot longer than everyone thought before the inevitable final straw.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Puck Soup: The return of Brian Burke

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- The Penguins hire Ron Hextall and Brian Burke
- Lots of drama in Columbus, including a retirement, a benching and a brand new rule
- More COVID problems
- The Blackhawks aren't terrible
- Thoughts on a brutal week in Canadian sports media
- An O/U/F/LF on sports GOATs
- Ryan gets very mad about an M. Night Shyamalan movie, 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, February 9, 2021

Who makes Team Canada’s Olympic B-Team, and how many other teams could they beat?

Last week was 2022 Olympic roster preview week around these parts, with various writers offering their projections of who’ll make the cut when the games begin (we hope) a year from now. And as always, filling out the Team Canada roster was both the hardest job, and the easiest.

Easy, because there’s so much talent to choose from. But also hard, for the same reason. How do you narrow it down? Who do you cut? What do you do with all the worthy stars who won’t make it?

Luckily for us, we can bend the Olympic rules to answer that last question: You take those players and put them on Canada’s B-Team. And I’m just the writer to put that roster together, because when you think B-team talent, I should be the first guy who comes to mind. Let’s do this.

We had several writers take a crack at a traditional Team Canada roster, with Eric Duhatschek and Thomas Drance offering up competing versions while Pierre LeBrun came up with his own and Dom Luszczyszyn heckled from the cheap seats. As you’d expect, there was plenty of overlap between those rosters, although each had its variations. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to defer to seniority and use Eric’s version as the one I’ll be working from.

Unfortunately, Eric has an annoying habit of picking good players, which makes my job tougher. He also took a 25-man roster, and I’d like to make it clear that I plan to try to steal those five taxi squad players away with promises of playing time. For now, though, we’ll assume they stick with Team Eric and work with the rest.

Can we still build a decent team? It’s Canada, so you know we can. But how decent, and how many of the other teams could we beat? Let’s find out…


Eric’s team has Carey Price, Jordan Binnington and Carter Hart. That’s three good players gone from a position that’s become the weakest pool in Canadian hockey. The days of having to decide between Roy, Brodeur, Joseph and Belfour are long gone. We’re going to have to dig a bit.

My first pick, although not necessarily my starter, is going to be Marc-Andre Fleury. He’s a veteran who’s won Cups and was playing well before last year’s dip. He’s off to a decent start this year, and he even has international experience. OK, it’s not good experience, but there’s nowhere to go but up. He’ll be 37 by the Olympics, which is a concern, but so was Martin Brodeur when he helped win gold in 2010, and we don’t have a ton of options. Fleury’s on our team, as the veteran presence who can win the starter’s job if he gets hot.

As for who he’ll split time with, I think I’d feel OK with a healthy Darcy Kuemper back there. He’s not a big name, partly because he’s in Arizona and partly because he’s really only had one season as a full-time starter. But his numbers are excellent; since coming into the league in 2012, he’s got the second-best save percentage of any active Canadian goalie, just behind Price. Go back to 2016 instead, and he’s in first place all on his own, by several points. He’s never gone deep into the playoffs and his international resume is limited to a single World Championships, so the spotlight will be brighter than he’s used to, but we’re betting he can handle it.

For our third-string, we’ll follow the typical Olympic approach of giving it to a younger player who may be a bigger part of future teams. In our case, that guy’s pretty good, as we hand the taxi squad role over to Mackenzie Blackwood. We’ll save the Hart vs. Blackwood debate for elsewhere, since we only have one guy available to us, but if there’s any controversy here it might be over whether Blackwood is already good enough to nudge one of our two veterans out of playing time. I think he is.

Team C candidates: Cam Talbot, Braden Holtby, Jake Allen

That’s not a bad start. Of course, no goalie can help you much without a solid blueline ahead of him. Let’s see what we can do there…

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Monday, February 8, 2021

Weekend rankings: Canada finally cracks the top 5 … but is it Leafs or Habs?

We’re four weeks into the season, and each of the last three versions of this column have included some variation of the same disclaimer: It’s too early to really know much.

So let’s start this week with a clarification: It’s not too early any more, especially if your favorite team is doing worse than expected.

Oh, it’s still early. It’s just not too early. One team has already passed the 14-game milestone and several more will join them this week, which in a 56-game season means two things: It’s time to start trolling pedants by slipping in references to the quarter pole wherever we can, and the clock is ticking loudly on teams that are falling behind.

Yes, there’s still time, especially for the teams that have had chunks of their schedule pushed back. But we’re no longer at the point where we can hand-wave away a bad start as being just a few games. Underachieving teams like the Predators, Oilers, Islanders, Penguins and (especially) Canucks may be in real trouble. And surprises like the Jets, Panthers and Devils might just be for real.

Words like “may” and “might” are doing some work in that last paragraph, leaving me with a nice escape hatch for when everything falls back into place. And spoiler alert, none of those surprising teams we just mentioned are in this week’s top or bottom five, so I’m not going overboard here. Like I said, it’s still early. Just not too early.

Think of it this way. Remember two years ago, when the Blues were in dead last in January before flipping the switch, clawing their way back into the race, and ultimately winning the Cup? That was a once-in-a-lifetime comeback story, but if you root for a bad team then it’s the sort of hope you have to cling to. But when that Blues turnaround started on Jan. 3, there were 45 games left in the regular season. Most teams are right around that mark today, and some are already past it. Even a Blues-style miracle will be out of runway soon.

Now that I’ve bummed out the fans of all the struggling teams, let’s get to this week’s rankings …

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Thursday, February 4, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: Tony DeAngelo, Bettman's legacy, and are the Senators among the worst teams ever?

In this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Would you want Tony DeAngelo on your team?
- The one Leafs rival I couldn't forgive when he joined the team
- We wonder if Marc Bergevin has already won the GM of the Year award
- The Senators are very bad, but are they historically bad?
- Looking ahead to Team Canada 2022
- Granger Things features a weird NHL-themed Super Bowl bet
- Gary Bettman's legacy, Sam Gagner's big night 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)

The story behind your favorite team’s highest PIM game

Penalty minutes are a fascinating stat. They’re supposed to be a bad thing, signifying that you’ve broken the rules and were punished for it. In any other sport, constant fouls and penalties might get you nailed to the bench. But for much of hockey history, the PIM has been viewed as a positive. Rack up a lot of penalties, the thinking went, and it showed you couldn’t be pushed around.

That approach to the game has been shifting in recent years, as the game moves away from glorifying violence in service of The Code. In fact, it’s really hard to overstate just how much the NHL has changed in the last decade or two. To a fan who only started watching recently, the penalty-filled contests from the past must seem like a different sport.

But it happened. So today, let’s look back on some of that history, with a simple question: What’s the story behind your favorite team’s highest single-game PIM total? How long ago did it happen, who was involved, what were the repercussions, and just how crazy did things get?

For some of you, this may be a chance to revisit some games from an era that you miss. For others, it will be a reminder of just how far we’ve come, and how ridiculous the sport used to be. In either case, I hope you’ll learn something about your team’s history. Take a moment to see if you can guess which game will show up for your team, then let’s see if you’re right. (All game data is pulled from Hockey Reference)

Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (Anaheim Ducks): 117 PIM vs. Dallas, March 13, 1998

We’ll start with a good example of a game that wasn’t all that long ago but feels like it’s from an entirely different era. Back in the 1990s, guys like Craig Ludwig could take brutal runs at guys like Teemu Selanne for the simple crime of being too good. And when they did, it wasn’t hard to see how the rest of the game might go.

Ludwig basically accuses Selanne of faking an injury in that clip, and it’s true that the Finnish star didn’t miss any games. But that leaping elbow is brutal. Ludwig was suspended for two games; today it would be closer to 20. The Ducks took matters into their own hands, with tough guys Dave Karpa, Warren Rychel and Brent Severyn leading the way.

Arizona Coyotes: 94 PIM vs. Vancouver, January 21, 1998

We’re sticking with Coyotes history here, although if you extend back to the Jets you can find five games with a higher total. This one didn’t feature any major incidents but did have several spirited scraps, including this first-period bout between Scott Walker and Michel Petit. A lopsided score didn’t help — that will be a theme on this list — as the Coyotes ran away with a 6-1 win. Eight different players received fighting majors by the time it was over, including Trevor Linden, but Donald Brashear didn’t draw any of them. (He was kicked out early, and finished his night with 22 PIM in just two minutes of ice time.)

Boston Bruins: 195 PIM vs. Minnesota North Stars, February 26, 1981

The Bruins have had some of the sport’s best rivalries over the years, with everyone from the Habs to the Leafs to the Penguins to the Whalers. So it’s a bit of a surprise to see the North Stars show up as the opponent here, thanks to a fight-filled first period between two teams that were headed towards a potential playoff matchup and wanted to set the tone. Things got started early, with a line brawl seven seconds in that saw Minnesota’s Steve Payne rack up 29 minutes on his own. Things escalated from there, with a full-scale brawl nine minutes into the game that spilled into the benches and hallways, and had local law enforcement getting involved.

Things settled down after that, but the two teams set an NHL record for penalties in a period.

Buffalo Sabres: 192 PIM vs. Minnesota North Stars, March 31, 1992

The 1991-92 Sabres were enforcer-laden even by NHL standards of the era, featuring three players with 300-plus PIM and four more who hit triple-digits. Put it this way: The second most penalized game in Sabres history came less than two weeks after this one. And we’ll meet that one later.

The record-setting game against the North Stars started off scrappy but turned into something else late in the first when Buffalo’s Donald Audette was stretchered off after getting tangled with Minnesota’s Jim Johnson. It wasn’t an outrageously dirty hit, but the Sabres went looking for payback, and things blew up from there. The big line brawl came late in the second, and the exclamation mark came when Johnson dropped the gloves again with seven seconds left.

“He ran like a cheap pair of nylons.” Yeah, the early 90s was a very different time for the NHL.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Puck Soup: Tony DeAngelo and other problems

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Thoughts on Tony DeAngelo, where he'll wind up, and his alleged burner account
- COVID problems continue for the NHL and NWHL
- Tyler Toffoli continues to wreck the Canucks
- Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are so fun
- Penguins GM candidates, including my thoughts on John Ferguson Jr.
- Which of the Golden Globe best picture nominees have I heard of?
- The return of the threesomes quiz
- And more...

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

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Take our NHL Groundhog Day quiz. (Then take it again.)

One of the great things about the NHL, we’re often told, is that anything can happen. You never know who’ll beat who, or who could be traded, or what playoff matchups we’ll get, or which stars might lead the league in a given category.

Often, that’s true. But not always. Because every now and then, there’s a glitch in the NHL matrix and the hockey gods end up serving up the same thing over and over.

So today, let’s celebrate Groundhog Day with a repetition-themed quiz. Answer the 15 questions below, and see how well you remember some of the things in hockey history that happened, then happened again, and maybe a few more times after that. And then, what the heck, go back and take the quiz again and again. Today’s the day for it.

Once you’ve submitted your answers, scroll back up to see how you did using this handy guide.

0 – 3 correct: Watch out for that first step, it’s a doozy.

4 – 6 correct: This is pitiful. A thousand people freezing their butts off waiting to worship a rat.

7 – 10 correct: Don’t drive angry. Don’t drive angry!

11 – 14 correct: Now, don’t you tell me you don’t remember me because I sure as heckfire remember you.

15 correct: I’m a god. I’m not the God.

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Monday, February 1, 2021

Weekend rankings: Stars shine, a new number one, and what’s up with the Rangers and Flyers?

Once you get about three weeks into a season, you’re in a bit of a weird zone as far as what you’re learning. Most teams have see enough action that we’re no longer overreacting to every individual game. But it’s also early enough that we know that any surprising trends are likely to turn out to be noise. You still have to notice them and break them down, but you know there’s a good chance it will all come out in the wash, and maybe soon.

So what do you do? Sometimes, you’ve just got to sit back and watch the stars shine.

We got to do that this weekend, as the hockey gods decided to serve up some serious Saturday night star power. We got to see three of the league’s biggest stars record overtime winners, all within minutes of each other. And it was pretty great.

First up, Alexander Ovechkin in his first game back from the COVID list. One against three? Not a problem.

Not to be outdone, Sidney Crosby capped off a Penguins passing clinic to beat the Rangers just moments later.

Wow, that’s a tough one for the Rangers. Sure hope they stayed cool about it.

And then came Connor McDavid’s winner against the Leafs, which was very nice and you can watch it here. But at the risk of messing with our sudden death theme, that’s not the McDavid goal we’re going to remember from the weekend. Instead, it was this end-to-end rush through four Leafs.

That’s just silly. I’m a Leafs fan, and I can’t even be mad. My favorite part is the way Jake Muzzin realizes he’s beaten and makes a valid business decision to try to just reach out and grab McDavid on the way by, and even that doesn’t work. McDavid is just so much fun, and last night’s five-point performance (along with six assists from Leon Draisaitl) was a solid encore.

Hockey is a team game where everyone has a role and the depth guys are often the difference between winning and losing. But ultimately, the NHL is like the NBA and NFL and every other sports league: It’s better when the stars shine brightest. That doesn’t happen often enough in hockey, for a variety of reasons. But every now and then, the best find a way to break through, and we all get to sit back and watch. That happened on Saturday, so let’s forget about wins and losses and rankings and just enjoy it, if only for a moment.

OK, moment’s over. Let’s get to this week’s rankings.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that with the best chances of becoming the first team in history to win a Stanley Cup in July.

It won’t be a Dubois/Laine-level blockbuster, but we’ve apparently got another trade request involving a former top-five pick.

Bennett has one assist on the year, his career high in points is 36, and he hasn’t even topped 30 since 2016. So yeah, the line won’t exactly wrap around the block on this one. Still, there’s a good chance that some team out there will feel that a change of scenery could reignite a guy who came into the league with high expectations. Let’s see if it happens, and how long it might take.

Spoiler warning: The Flames are not in the week’s top five.

5. Boston Bruins (5-1-2, +6 true goals differential*) – Bad news: They lost to Zdeno Chara and the Capitals, snapping a four-game win streak. Good news: David Pastrnak is back. The good news is more important than the bad news.

4. Washington Capitals (6-0-3, +7) – Nine games in, they’re the only team that’s played a full schedule without suffering a regulation loss. They’re also starting to get their stars back, with Ovechkin returning on Saturday and Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ilya Samsonov expected soon. They get the Bruins in a rematch tonight.

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