Thursday, April 29, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: What to root for, what we'd like to see from TNT, an idea for new draft picks and more

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- What we'd like to see TNT do with the NHL
- Connor McDavid chases 100 points, and other stories to root for
- That weird piece of history that Max Domi might be responsible for
- The Knights beat the Avs in a battle of (maybe) the league's two best teams
- A listener has an idea for NFL-style compensatory draft picks
- How the NHL tried that idea once before, and the loophole that made it a disaster
- Hockey's worst birthday and the tradition it indirectly inspired, a weird European tour 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)

McDavid’s 100, Leafs vs. Habs, and six more things to root for down the stretch

We’re headed down the stretch in the regular season, and there’s a good chance that you know exactly what you’re rooting for. If your team is fighting for a playoff spot, or first place in a division where that really matters, you’re locked in. That’s all you care about it, and rightly so. Having something to care about in a season’s final weeks is all sorts of fun.

But what if you don’t? Maybe your team has been out of the race for weeks, or months, or are the Sabres. Or maybe they’re at the other extreme, and have already clinched whatever spot you were hoping they’d earn. If that’s you, you might find yourself staring down two more weeks without any real rooting interest.

I’m here to help. So today, I’ll offer up eight suggestions for outcomes you can root for as the season winds up. It goes without saying that if any of these conflict with what your favorite team needs to happen, you go with your team. Loyalty trumps all. But if you’re neutral, and just looking for one or two things to cheer along and/or get irrationally mad about, I’ve got you covered.

Idea 1: Root for Connor McDavid to get to 100 points

Let’s start with the one that I feel like we can get close to unanimous agreement on.

When the NHL announced that the abbreviated season would be just 56 games long, fans knew that most of the major milestones would be out of reach for another year. Nobody would get to 50 goals, and even 40 might be a stretch. Hitting 100 points? That would mean scoring at a prorated 146-point full season pace. In other words, forget it.

But here’s McDavid having a season for the ages, and he’s got a chance. It’s a slim one – the Oilers have nine games left, and he still needs 19 points to hit the century mark. For most guys, that’s a once-in-a-lifetime heater. But for McDavid? It’s realistic, especially with all his remaining games coming against the Flames, Canucks and Canadiens.

Who’s going to root against this? OK, maybe Calgary fans just out of spite, and we’ll allow that. But everyone else should be on board. McDavid’s brilliance means we’re not getting an Art Ross race this year, or even a Hart Trophy debate. He can at least give us this, along with the ridiculous highlights the hot streak would surely generate.

Ultimately, 100 points is an arbitrary cutoff and it wouldn’t be any less impressive if he finished the season with 99. But fans like round numbers, and it would be undeniably cool to see a player hit triple-digits in a season where it wasn’t supposed to be possible. There hasn’t been a player in a generation who’s as much fun to watch as Connor McDavid. Let’s see the kid go full-on beast mode for the rest of the year and hit the magic number.

Idea 2: Root for the Hurricanes to take the Central and set up an all-Florida matchup

I probably don’t have to sell you too hard on cheering for the Hurricanes. They’re a fun team, they’ve got a ton of skill, and you know they’ll cook up some sort of crazy celebration when it’s all over. Who doesn’t like that? OK, we can think of a few people, but most of us are on board, even if grudgingly.

But that’s not even the best reason to hope Carolina takes the Central. Instead, it’s because the Hurricanes as top seed would put the Lightning and Panthers in second and third, meaning we’d get the first all-Florida playoff matchup in NHL history. Despite being in the same division for almost three decades, the two teams have never met in the postseason. This might finally be the year.

In theory, there’s nothing magical about geography. But in hockey rivalries, it tends to work. The Battle of Alberta was amazing. The Battle of Ontario had some great moments. The three-way Battle of California is mostly on hold, but it was amazing when it was cooking. The Battle of Florida could be next.

We might get fireworks. Or we might just get two really talented teams battling it out. That would be good too. So here’s hoping the Hurricanes stay out of the way.

And since we’ve slotted in the top three spots in the Central, we may as well do the last one…

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Puck Soup: Welcome to TNT

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- The NHL announces a new TV partner, and says goodbye to an old one
- What we'd like the new broadcasts to look like
- What the NHL needs to do to attract new fans
- Connor McDavid = good
- Where the playoff races stand
- Godzilla vs. Kong, Mortal Kombat, Name Pat Falloon 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, April 27, 2021

Remember that prediction contest that was supposed to be easy? So far, it hasn’t been

Back in January, when the season was days away from starting, I decided to try something new. It would be a prediction contest, but with a twist: It would be super easy. Or would it?

The rules were simple. I’d ask eight straightforward questions about how the season would play out, like “Name a team that will definitely miss the playoffs” or “Name a coach who will definitely keep his job”. You could give me at least one and as many as five answers to each of them. You’d get points for each right answer, and the points increased the more answers you gave, so it made sense to give as many as you could. But if you got even one of them wrong, you scored a zero for the whole question, meaning you had to figure out how confident were you that all of your obvious answers were sure things.

If you missed it the first time, or could use a refresher on who you picked, the original post is here. I thought it might be fun. The readers apparently agreed, because over 800 of you entered the contest. That was, uh, a bit of a problem, since I hadn’t really thought through how I’d do the actual work of scoring this thing. Still haven’t, in case you were wondering. Any students out there looking for an offseason job?

With that many entries, and only one first-place prize up for grabs, it quickly became apparent that playing it safe wouldn’t win the day. Sure, you could have given one sure-thing answer for each question and banked points on all eight, but it wouldn’t be enough to win. Somebody was going to have to run the table with eight perfect questions, each with multiple answers.

The contest covered everything from opening night through the first day of free agency, which means we’re right around the halfway mark now, so I thought it would be worth it to check in on how you’re all doing.

Answer: Not great! In fact, despite the over 800 entries, there’s a decent chance that we won’t get a many perfect entries after all. It’s possible we won’t even get one.

This was, of course, the whole point. The “easy” contest wasn’t ever supposed to be easy in the first place. Instead, it was a way to remind us that an NHL season always seems predictable until it starts to play out, at which point things go off the rails quickly. In fact, I originally assumed nobody would get a perfect score back when I figured I’d get 100 entries; when the number kept ballooning, I started to have my doubts.

I still do, and we’ll see how it plays out. But for now, let’s run through all eight questions and see where things are at.

1. Name up to five teams that will definitely make the playoffs this year.

This was arguably the easiest question, and with some teams already clinching and several others all but there, we’re close to being able to mark it complete. As you’d expect, the same handful of teams showed up in just about every entry, and the Lightning, Leafs, Avalanche and Golden Knights will all hold up their end of the bargain for the hundreds that took them. There may have been a few nervous moments for the 300 or so who picked the Bruins, but they seem safe now too.

But even on this one, there are a handful of possible problems lurking. About 20 of you took the Canadiens, and about 30 had the Stars, and both still have work to do. A far bigger problem looms with the Blues, who showed up in over 150 entries. And the Flyers weren’t far behind, meaning some of you are going to lose your perfect entry status on question one.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Monday, April 26, 2021

Weekend rankings: The Canadiens’ spot slips away, while the Central race is down to two

Look, we’re not saying it’s going to happen. We’re not even saying it’s likely to happen.

Still, you’re a little nervous about missing the playoffs, right Habs fans?

OK, probably not. Being “a little nervous” was two weeks ago, when the Habs were refusing to close this thing out even as the Flames were spiraling and the Canucks were sidelines. By last week, we were asking how worried the Canadiens should be, and the answer their fans kept offering was “A whole lot, but thanks for asking, really glad you brought that up right now”.

Here’s where we’re at in the North. The Leafs just took two from the Jets in games that saw Winnipeg pull its star goalie and bench its best forward, so even though we’ve been here before, it’s feeling pretty safe to say Toronto will finish first unless they collapse. That will give us an intriguing Jets/Oilers matchup in the first round, with lots of old-school Smythe Division baggage to unpack.

So who gets fourth? For most of the second half, that’s been Montreal’s spot to lose. It still is, but man, they’re working on it. They’ve won three of their last 11, they can’t score, and Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher are both out. They can’t use Cole Caufield because they don’t have cap space, and they don’t have cap space because of how Marc Bergevin approached the deadline, and here we are.

But despite it all, they came into this week with an opportunity to put the whole thing to bed. A five-game Alberta trip featuring three against the Flames was a chance to knock out Calgary with a win or two, at which point it would just be about holding serve long enough to outlast the Canucks.

Instead, the Habs split two with the Oilers and then dropped the first two of the Calgary series, both in regulation. That moved the Flames to within six points, which is still a big gap, and if Montreal win the finale tonight then that’s probably about it for Calgary. But if the Flames finish the sweep, hoo boy.

Meanwhile, the Canucks are lurking, even with Elias Pettersson unlikely to return this year. They’re ten points back but with five in hand, including two more this week against the Senators. Dom has Vancouver’s odds at 19% and the Flames at 11%, which leaves the Habs sitting well north of “probably” but nowhere close to “sure thing”.

The bottom line is that Montreal is still running this show. They’ve got ten games left including tonight and if they win, let’s say six of them, we’re pretty much done. Winning six of ten isn’t too much to ask. It’s pretty much the baseline expectation for a playoff team.

Is that what the Canadiens are? We’re not sure. We’ve got ten games to find out.

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Friday, April 23, 2021

Mailbag: Is Marleau a HHOF lock? Plus changing playoff history, banning coaches and more

Welcome back to the mailbag. It’s been a record-breaking week in the NHL and we’re all starting to shift into playoff mode, so let’s argue about some old guys, change some NHL history, laugh at the Canadian teams, and cover other vitally important topics.

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

With Patrick Marleau breaking Gordie Howe’s games played record, does that make him a lock for the Hall of Fame? He has always been a “Hall of Very Good” player in my mind, but that is a HUGE record to break and it seems strange not to induct the holder of a record like that into the HOF. – Andy S.

I love Hall of Fame debates. We did a bunch on the Puck Soup bonus this week, and I’d do them every week if I could. And Marleau’s a good one, so let’s get into it.

The case for is pretty straightforward. He’s about to hit 1,200 career points, and only a handful of guys who’ve crossed that barrier didn’t make the Hall. More impressively, if you adjust for era he ranks 29th all-time, and every single eligible player ahead of him is in. Now that he’s broken Howe’s record and mixing in the fact that everyone in the hockey world loves the guy, he’s an easy yes.

Except… he never won an award and was never a post-season all-star. He never even came close; in 23 seasons, he’s had just two years where he even finished higher than tenth in all-star voting. He was never in the “best at this position” conversation, and rarely even considered the best player on his own team. Instead, he was a classic compiler, the kind of guy who never feels like a generational star but hangs around long enough to rack up numbers.

Your view on Marleau in the HHOF is going to align closely with your view on what the Hall should be. If you’re a small Hall type of fan, he’s a no. If you’re a little more forgiving, you can find a spot for him. Personally, I lean to the small side of the argument, and I don’t think I’d have him on my ballot, even with the games record. But as I’ve said with guys like Dave Andreychuk and Mark Recchi, sometimes a compiler hangs around long enough and the numbers get so big that you have to give them a look. And in a physical game like hockey, sticking around is a skill worth recognizing. If you have him on your ballot, I get it.

I strongly suspect that this is all moot, because he’s going to get in, and probably on the first ballot. He’s too well-liked, and the games record is a big point in his favor. But Eric Duhatschek didn’t sound so sure, and he knows a little bit about how the Hall voters think. We’ll see, but if you’re a hard no on Marleau, you may as well start preparing yourself now, because I think he gets in.

Who would be better: Gordie Howe on a modern team, or Patrick Marleau in Howe’s era? – Shaun R.

I see what you’re doing here. You’re trying to take my longstanding “anyone from today’s NHL would dominate anything from the 1980s back” and flip it around to make me say something bad about Canadian icon Gordie Howe. It won’t work.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: Can the Canucks do this?

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Can the Canucks make a run? And where would it rank among history's late-season miracles?
- A conversation about the GM meetings turns into a rant about the puck-over-glass rule
- The NHL's lackluster statement in the wake of the Chauvin verdict
- Robin Lehner speaks his mind; we're joined by Jesse Granger to get into the details of what was said and what wasn't
- A look back at some of the most obscure players to hold NHL records
- Listener mail, father/son duos 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, April 21, 2021

Puck Soup: Marleau vs. Howe

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Patrick Marleau sets the all-time games played record
- Is he a Hall-of-Famer?
- The Canucks come back and maybe make a playoff run
- Taylor Hall looks good in Boston
- Which bubble teams we'd most like to see make it
- Remembering great athletes we saw before they were stars
- Another disappointing NHL statement, do sports wives bet on their husbands, a game show 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.

Who wins, Team Deadline Trade or Team Draft Floor Trade?

Today’s post comes from reader Mike, who recently DM’ed me with a simple question:

Since the only two times a GM can make a trade is at the trade deadline or at the draft (or so we’ve been told), which one gives us the best all time team?

Love it. Since we’re all entering deadline withdrawal, let’s do this before we all forget what a trade is. I’m going back to 1979, which is the start of the entry draft era and one year before the Butch Goring trade ushered in the modern concept of the deadline. Four decades shouldn’t be too much research for one post, right?

But first, a few ground rules™:

– I’m going to define the deadline as the three days before. That’s partly to make sure we can cover most of the big deals – a surprising number of big “deadline” deals didn’t actually happen on the day itself, including that Goring deal everyone thinks is the ultimate deadline move – and party because as we’ll see in a minute, we’re giving the draft three days too. Note that this still rules out some deadline-adjacent deals you might expect to see, like Brian Leetch to Toronto (which came six days before the 2004 deadline)

– For the draft, we’ll go with the three-day window starting the day before the draft begins. That captures all the draft floor deals, including in the modern two-day draft era, plus just enough pre-draft maneuvering to capture the spirit of the thing.

– This one’s important: For deadline deals, we’re looking for players only; trading a pick that turns into a star months or years later doesn’t count. For draft trades, we’ll count picks only if it’s clear that the team knew with certainty that they were going to get a specific player. So that counts deals for the first overall pick, deals where a team traded up during the draft for the next pick on the board, and a handful of other exceptions we’ll get to. But it doesn’t count deals like the Devils trading down from 11th to 20th in 1990 and getting Martin Brodeur; they may have been targeting him, but they couldn’t know that he’d be there ten picks later, so he wasn’t really “in” the trade.

– We want a standard 20-man roster with 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies. We’ll try to keep our centers and wings realistic up front but won’t get carried away.

– Finally, our rosters only get credit for everything a player did in his career after the trade. That doesn’t necessarily have to have been with the team that acquired him, but for example Adam Oates doesn’t make Team Deadline based on being traded in 2002 when he was 39 and pretty much done.

Let’s do this. Thanks to Mike, and as always to Hockey Reference, NHL Trade Tracker and Pro Sports Transactions.

First line

Team Deadline starts strong with a trio of Hall-of-Famers. They can use the league’s fifth all-time leading scorer at center in Ron Francis, thanks to the 1991 deal that sent him from Hartford to Pittsburgh. We’ll give him about 1,300 goals worth of wingers in Brett Hull (who was traded at the 1988 deadline) and Marian Hossa (from 2008). That means we’re getting almost all of Hull’s career, all of Francis’s best seasons, and Hossa’s two-way dominance in his second half. Pretty pretty good.

Can Team Draft Floor compete? Well, no. But they can at least ice three Hall-of-Famers of their own, or at least they will once the next class is announced. We’ll start the line with Joe Sakic, who was drafted by the Nordiques with a pick they acquired in the draft floor Dale Hunter trade in 1987. I originally didn’t have Sakic as an eligible choice, but according to then Caps GM David Poile in this news article, the trade went down with Washington on the clock, meaning the Nordiques made it knowing Sakic was on the top of their draft board.

So Sakic makes the cut, and we can give him Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin as linemates; they both qualify thanks to Brian Burke’s draft floor wheeling and dealing. Technically, Burke had to wait for the first overall pick, but he had Atlanta’s word that they were taking Patrik Stefan. As much fun as it is to imagine Burke getting double-crossed in that scenario, he knew he was getting the Sedins when he made those trades.

That’s a strong top line for Team Draft Floor, but Team Deadline has a pretty clear early edge.

Second line

Team Deadline starts with two more Hall-of-Fame wingers, and they come from the same trade, as a North Stars/Capitals blockbuster from one minute before the 1989 deadline gives us both Mike Gartner and Dino Ciccarelli. When you can start your second line with over 1,300 goals, you’re in a decent shape. But this is where we run into our first bump in the road for our deadline squad, as it’s already tough to find a top-tier center. Apparently those guys just don’t get moved at the deadline unless they’re Ron Francis, so we’ll have to settle for some good-but-not-great options unless we want the dreaded three-winger line. I’ll go with Pierre Turgeon, who barely makes our three-day limit thanks to the 1995 deal that sent him to the Habs.

Team Draft Floor has no such issues down the middle, as we can give them Mats Sundin, who was traded for Wendel Clark to ooh’s and aah’s on the draft floor in Hartford in 1994. In fact, we’ve got so much center depth that we can shift an all-star pivot to the wing and put Dale Hawerchuk on this line, thanks to the 1990 draft floor deal that sent him from Winnipeg to Buffalo. And we’ll round out the line with Rick Nash, who was the target when the Blue Jackets traded up to the first overall pick just minutes before the 2002 draft started.

This one is close, with each line boasting two Hall-of-Famers. I think the edge goes to Team Deadline once again, since we’re not getting most of Hawerchuk’s best work, but the gap is narrower than it was on the first line.

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Monday, April 19, 2021

Weekend rankings: Marleau’s record, Montreal’s struggles and a new top five entry

The week after the trade deadline can always feel like a bit of a letdown, in that day-after-your-birthday sort of way. You get one month of increasingly frantic trade rumors, the big day finally arrives, and then it’s over and you’re left with one more month of regular season hockey. There are still playoff races to watch, but those won’t be settle for a few weeks at least, so it might feel like there isn’t much to be excited about.

Not this year, though, because we’ve got something extremely rare to celebrate: A major record being set. Patrick Marleau has tied Gordie Howe on the all-time games played list, and will pass him tonight.

OK, yes, “celebrate” might be a little strong for a small segment of fans. I know that some have mixed feelings about Howe’s mark being broken by Marleau, a Hall-of-Very-Good type of player who might not feel worthy of removing hockey royalty from the record book. When I wrote about the record at the start of the season, and how close Marleau was to breaking it, I heard from plenty of fans who had no idea the record would fall this year. Some of them thought it was cool, others weren’t so sure.

I’m guessing most of us have warmed up to the idea by now. Marleau is, by just about all accounts, a legitimately good guy who’s loved by his teammates and just about everyone else who isn’t Jeremy Roenick. And this is one hell of a tough record to break, which is why so many of us grew up assuming Howe’s record would stand forever. Considering how many games Marleau has lost to lockouts and COVID-shortened seasons, it’s amazing that he managed to get here.

From my perspective as a history nerd, the coolest thing about this is that it’s happening at all. Games played is, without a doubt, a major record. Do you realize how long it’s been since somebody set a major career mark for skates? Not at a specific position, or in some minor category nobody knows about. I’m talking the big stuff – games, goals, assists, points, etc.

It’s been a long time. Wayne Gretzky has owned the points record since 1989-90, goals since 1993-94, and assists since 1987-88. Larry Robinson has had the career plus/minus mark since 1984-85. Tiger Williams had held the PIM record since all the way back in 1981-82. Even some of the non-Gretzky scoring records go back a long way, like Dave Andreychuk’s powerplay goal record (2002-03) or Ray Bourque’s shots on goal mark (1997-98). Most of the goalie records are more recent, since they took over the sport in mid-90s. But for skaters? It’s basically been a generation since a major career record has fallen.

Tonight, it will. That’s kind of cool. Tune in to watch it happen, because it may be a while until we see something like this again. (Or it might be a warmup for Alexander Ovechkin catching Gretzky’s goal record in a few years.)

On to this week’s rankings, which won’t set any records, but do include a new team in the top five and a very old one that might be about to leave the bottom five…

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Call for mailbag questions

Hey folks...

It's getting close to mailbag times again. Please send over some questions we can have some fun with, via email at

What-ifs, would-you-rathers and all-time bests (and worsts) work well. Creative stuff is great, but the occasional straightforward question can often spark an interesting discussion too. Don't be shy about asking questions about the ongoing season, or potential playoff matchups with just a few weeks to go.


Friday, April 16, 2021

Grab Bag: Trade Deadline Wrapup

In the Friday Grab Bag...

- Wrapping up the tradeline with notes on teams around the league
- Introducing the Glendening Line, which can predict every deadline
- An obscure player with an all-time great name
- Three comedy stars
- And a YouTube clip of Josh Manson's TV debut

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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The Athletic Hockey Show: Deadline thoughts, father/son combos, and should the Canucks play?

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- We wrap up the trade deadline
- On Taylor Hall and his NTC
- Where Nick and Mike Foligno rank among father/son combos on the same team
- Jesse Granger lets us know if any deals changed the Cup odds
- T.J. Miller speaks out; should the Canucks be playing?
- Remembering Frank McCool's record, and our picks for the best hockey names
- Listener mail, Teemu Selanne's unbreakable record 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)

Monday, April 12, 2021

Free deadline day live blog

Sean Gentille and I are doing a deadline day live blog over at The Athletic. This one's in front of the paywall so even if you don't subscribe, you can drop by to find out what we think of the Taylor Hall deal, Nick Foligno, and whatever else happens over the course of the day.

Weekend Rankings: Deadline day arrives, the Leafs and Lightning pay up, the Bruins don’t have to

As we often say around these parts, the Weekend Rankings are meant to be a long-term view, which means we try not to overreact to an outlier game here or there. That’s easier said than done sometimes – good lord, Minnesota Wild, you guys OK? – but we generally stick to it. We want to know who’s going to win the Cup, not who’s playing the best right now, so once the season gets going things won’t change all that much from one day to the next.

Except for today.

Having done this column at various homes for many years now, I know that there are really only two times all season where the rankings can be out of date by the time I’m done writing them. The first is that fun opening week, where we don’t really know anything and we think the Flyers are good. The second is deadline day, where a big enough deal can significantly shift our thinking about who’s likely to win it all.

We don’t want to get too crazy; this is the NHL, where even the biggest star can only do so much on a 20-man roster. But we do want to get at least a little crazy, because that’s half the fun. Is Nick Foligno, David Savard or even Taylor Hall really going to swing the odds in a huge way? Probably not, but in the parity era, even a small shift and be enough to move some teams around.

Unfortunately for anyone hoping for deadline day fireworks, those big names are already spoken for. Let’s get caught up on a busy few days. The big deal came last night, with the Bruins acquiring Taylor Hall without the Sabres getting all that much in return. The Blue Jackets did better, sending David Savard to the Lightning and Nick Foligno to the Leafs while netting two first-round picks in the process. The Kings shocked a few of us by sending Jeff Carter to the Penguins. The Panther dealt for Brandon Montour and signed Nikita Gusev. Devan Dubnyk went to Colorado, while the Habs added Jon Merrill. A handful of smaller moves happened too, but overall it had been a slightly slower-than-usual leadup to deadline day until the action started in earnest over the weekend.

That slower-than-usual theme might continue today. The pandemic, flat cap, shrinking playoff bubble and most of the big names already being off the board should make for the weirdest deadline day ever, and we’re not completely sure we’ll see much of anything happening. Then again, none of us thought Jeff Carter was in play, so maybe we’ll see some surprises. However it all plays out, you can follow along with Sean Gentille and I on the deadline day live blog, as we give instant reactions to all the moves and rumors, or maybe just argue about TV commercials when nothing else is happening.

In the meantime, let’s get straight to the rankings, if only because a few of them may be obsolete by the time you finish reading them.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Friday, April 9, 2021

Who was the best player to ever be the worst player in a trade?

With just days until the deadline, I want to try to tackle one of those questions that sounds simple but ends up being tougher than you might think: Who was the best worst player in an NHL trade?

In other words, if you took every player from a given trade and ranked them from best to worst, which trades from history give you a really good player in the last spot?

Clearly, we’re not looking at deals that only had one player involved, or even those with just two. Johnny Bucyk was probably worse than Terry Sawchuk, but that doesn’t really fit the spirit of what we’re going for here.

But a funny thing happens if you set the minimum at even three players: It suddenly gets really hard to find “good” bad players, because as it turns out, NHL GMs really love to start tossing random names into trades. Once you knock them out of the one-for-one equilibrium, they start floundering around and the next thing you know, your Phil Esposito-for-Brad Park blockbuster also has Joe Zanussi in it.

So today, let’s try to find that best worst trade piece from a trade of three players or more. We’re not counting draft picks here – your name has to have been in the original trade.

I went looking through the archives, and here are a few candidates I came up with.

Bob Rouse

The player: Rouse was never a Norris candidate, but he was a very good defensive defenseman in an era where that was a highly coveted skillset.

The trade: At the 1989 deadline, the North Stars traded Rouse and Dino Ciccarelli to the Capitals for Mike Gartner and Larry Murphy.

Why this guy was good: Rouse was a classic hard-nosed blueliner who could throw big hits and handle himself in a fight with pretty much anyone. That translated to a 17-season career that included two Cups with the Red Wings. His 127 playoff games in the 1990s ranks third among all defensemen.

But the other guys in the deal were: Hall-of-Famers. All of them.

That’s what makes this trade such a great example of what we’re looking for. Bob Rouse was really good! His arrival in Toronto was a big piece of turning that team around, and there’s a reason the Wings targeted him in free agency when they felt like they were on the verge of winning it all. But he’s the fourth best piece in this four-player trade by a mile, because the other pieces in the deal were a 600-goal scorer, a 700-goal scorer, and a guy who ranks in the top-five in all-time scoring for his position.

Compared to those guys, Rouse is schlub. But he might be the best player to ever be the worst player in a four-player trade.

Then again, this next guy might have something to say about that…

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Thursday, April 8, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: A GM's perspective on the trade deadline

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

Ian and I are joined by TSN analyst and former Flames GM Craig Button:
- What it's like to negotiate a deadline day deal
- Behind-the-scenes on the Iginla/Nieuwendyk trade
- The human side of trading players away
- Whether Craig is expecting a quiet deadline day on TSN
- What kind of GM is the most annoying to deal with

- More deadline thoughts
- The Devils and Islanders make a deal
- Should the Canucks finish the season?
- Which current coach would make the best emergency goalie
- Listener voice mails, the craziest final day 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)

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Puck Soup: Deadline countdown

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- We count down to the trade deadline
- Where we'd want to see Taylor Hall end up
- Should the Blues be sellers?
- The races for the final playoff spots are shaping up to be... bad
- The Canucks' COVID situation
- How the awards race is shaping up
- The NHL's top ten centers, the best wrestling heels, 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.

In the final days before the deadline, who’s under the most pressure to make a deal?

We’re down to less than a week until the trade deadline, and do you know who needs to make a deal? (Checks notes.) Everyone. Pretty much every team needs to find a move or two, at least according to their fans. And those fans are probably right, because there are no perfect teams in the modern NHL, so there’s always room for improvement.

But while everyone should do something, not all trade deadline pressure is created equal. Some teams want to make a move. Some should make a move. But some teams need to do something, and preferably something big. If they don’t, well, those GMs aren’t going to have a very good month.

We really don’t know what to expect over the next few days. The cap is tight, almost nobody has money to spend, the playoff bubble somehow has like three teams, and there may be more sellers than serious buyers. What does that mean? No idea, but let’s run through the entire league and work our way up to the ones under the most pressure to get something done. We’ll use some categories along the way, as we make our way through all 32 teams. Yes, 32. We’ll get to that.

The situation we’ve never seen before

Before we get to the rest of the list, we have to single one team out.

#32. Vancouver Canucks

In theory, Jim Benning and the Canucks should be staring down several tough deadline decisions after a disastrous season. But with a team-wide COVID-19 outbreak impacting players, staff, and families, all bets are off. How do you trade somebody away during this sort of situation? How do you bring somebody into it? I’m not sure you can. We’ve never this before, and here’s hoping we never see it again. The league and its business marches on, but if Benning decided that the Canucks had far bigger things to worry about right now, nobody could blame him.

Sellers without much to sell

The deadline can be kind of fun when your team is bad and you’re just collecting picks and prospects. But when you don’t really seem to have any big names on the block, you’re mostly left to make minor deals.

#31. Ottawa Senators

The Senators will almost certainly do something, because Pierre Dorion is low-key one of the most active traders in the league. But this isn’t the Mark Stone/Matt Duchene storm of 2019, so unless Dorion’s got a surprise up his sleeve, he’s probably taking calls on Erik Gudbranson and maybe Ryan Dzingel, and those names don’t scream blockbuster. The Derek Stepan injury hurts here.

#30. Detroit Red Wings

The Wings have a little more to offer, with the annual Luke Glendening sweepstakes and at least some potential for a Jonathan Bernier move. But for the most part, Steve Yzerman can make a few minor moves and then focus on losing the lottery again the offseason.

Contenders that are already really good

There’s always deadline pressure on the contenders, who are expected to make that one last move that will put them over the top. But these teams are already close to the top, which means that if they chose to stand pat (or swung big and came up empty), they could justify it.

#29. Tampa Bay Lightning

Julien BriseBois had a strong deadline last year, adding Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman, and both are still on the roster. You only get so many shots at a Cup, so you could understand if BriseBois wanted to keep pushing all-in and chase down a name like David Savard. But if he said he was sticking with what he’s got, could you blame him?

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Monday, April 5, 2021

Weekend Rankings: Which team has been the league’s most mediocre?

This is the season’s 12th edition of the weekend power rankings, which feels wrong somehow, but I’m not sure in which direction. Are we really almost three months in? I’m pretty sure the season just started. Or maybe it’s been going on forever. One of those two, though.

Either way, this feels like a good time for one of my favorite annual bits: The quest to find the season’s most average team. This is where we step away from arguing about the top five and bottom five and instead look for the one team that’s been the most middle-of-the-pack. Or, as it used to be called before Kirill Kaprizov showed up, the Minnesota Wild Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Being The Minnesota Wild.

Every week, we pick the five best teams and the five worst, and since there tends to be at least a little churn on both lists, we usually end up covering most of the league. This year has been no different, as we end up with some nice round numbers: Ten teams cracking the top five so far, and ten more in the bottom.

On the good side, we’ve had Tampa Bay and Vegas on the list all season long, with Colorado right with them apart from a brief absence. The Hurricanes have been a regular since mid-February. The Capitals and Bruins have both had long stretches representing the East, and the Islanders slipped in a few weeks ago. The Leafs and Habs have both represented the North. And the tenth team to make an appearance was (squints at list) the Flyers. Huh. That one stands out, although in fairness they were ranked fifth just once, and it was way back in week one after they scored 11 goals against the Penguins on the way to a 2-0-0 start. Look, we said that one was too early.

The bottom five has featured Detroit and Ottawa every week. The Ducks have been there most of the time, and the Sabres have been a weekly regular since February. The Kings and Hawks both showed up early before working their way off the list, the Devils and Sharks have had multiple appearances, and the Predators and Canucks have both shown up in the five-spot.

All in all, I think both lists hold up reasonably well, with the exception of that one Philadelphia pick. We’ve also yet to see a team crack both lists, which happens most years, although again the Flyers sure seem to be working on it.

So what about the 11 teams that haven’t shown up on either list? Which ones have come close, and which ones are so stuck-in-the-middle that they barely even register as a candidate?

Let’s start at the top. The Panthers haven’t cracked the top five yet, but they’ve been extremely close on a few occasions, to the point where an extra weekend win here or there might have done the trick. Our old friends in Minnesota have been in the running too. Either team could make the list at some point down the stretch and it wouldn’t be a surprise. We haven’t given the North much love, but the division’s best team will always have at least a claim to a top-five spot, so a strong finish by the Oilers or Jets would put them in the running. And the Penguins have looked strong lately, making a solid case that they should be considered the East’s top team.

At the other end, the team in the most danger of cracking the bottom five these days is the Flames, with the Blue Jackets not far behind. Either could hit the bottom list soon, especially if they weaken the roster by selling at the deadline. The Stars aren’t quite as close, but they could at least make a case with ten more losses than wins.

And that leaves us with three teams who don’t seem all that close cracking either list, fighting it out for “most average” honors. The Blues were hanging around top-five consideration for the first month before flatlining recently; there’s not enough time for them to make a real run at the bottom-five, but those big swings don’t really fit what we’re looking for in an average team. The Rangers got off to a slow start and had a pair of four-game losing streaks in the first month, but have been better since. They’re a classic fake .500 team, good enough to be kind of in the playoff mix but not really a scary matchup for anyone they’d face. I’d say they had a strong case for Most Average, although they lose a few mediocrity points for those beatdowns they put on the Flyers.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Thursday, April 1, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: John Tortorella and a corn cob, and other ideas

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Connor McDavid throws and elbow and Nathan MacKinnon flips his lid
- A brief history of gentlemanly stars getting in trouble
- The Sabres... win?
- The Flyers steal the crown of the league's biggest trainwreck
- A discussion about Erik Karlsson's apple goes off the rails
- We talk about some of those weird NHL rules
- April Fools, EBUG history, Civ's burner account writes in 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)

Too-many-men penalty shots, stick curve suspensions, 3-minute power plays, and more weird NHL rules

It’s been a rough week for NHL officials. After last week’s Tim Peel scandal, and the NHL’s subsequent decision to permanently remove one of their longest serving referees from the job, everyone seems to be watching the calls and non-calls with extra scrutiny. When even Jack Edwards is sounding kind of reasonable, you know people are fed up.

Hell, you could do a better job than the guys the league has now. At least you know the rulebook!

Or … do you?

I mean, do you really know it? Because it’s weird. I’ve pointed this out a few times over the years, and whenever I do people accuse me of making stuff up, or doing a bit. I’m not. I’m just reading the rulebook, sometimes very literally, and telling you what’s in there. Or in some cases, what isn’t.

So today, I thought it might be fun to take a break from yelling about the NHL’s officiating, and spend some time remembering how weird the rulebook they’re working from can be. I don’t really have a theme here other than “this stuff is strange” and I’m not trying to make any grander point. I just think this stuff is fun, and maybe you will too. Let’s learn five weird rules I’m betting you may not have known about.

An illegal stick curve can be an automatic suspension

The only thing NHL fans love more than complaining about the referees is complaining about the suspensions coming from the Department of Player Safety. But while most of the suspension calls do have to come from the DoPS, there are a few instances in the rulebook that call for automatic, no-questions-asked bans. That includes serious infractions like leaving the bench to start a fight or physically assaulting officials. But it also includes stick measurements.

Yes, Rule 10.5, the noble stick measurement. A rule that most fans know, even if many of them have never actually seen it used. Players are limited in how deep a curve their stick can have, and there’s an entire process laid out in the rulebook for how a measurement is conducted. But it’s one of the few rules in the book that’s not up to the officials to call; instead, the rule is only ever invoked when an opposing coach requests it (at the expense of a delay-of-game penalty if he’s wrong).

That’s probably smart, since we don’t want referees constantly stopping the game to measure every blade that look suspicious. But for reasons nobody’s quite clear on, asking for a measurement has become one of those things that coaches just don’t do, with whole seasons going by without anyone even trying. That’s despite the fact that just about everyone agrees that there are plenty of players using illegal curves for at least some of each game. You’d think coaches would look to exploit that in a do-anything-to-win NHL, especially when Jacques Demers won a Cup with a well-timed measurement. But nope. It’s almost a forgotten rule.

And that’s why it might surprise you to learn that the NHL rulebook includes an entire section on the escalating penalties for repeat offenders — and those penalties get pretty darn severe.

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