Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Puck Soup: Habs/Lighting, NHL awards, Blackhawks scandal and more...

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- We react to the NHL award annoucements
- Where the Stanley Cup final stands after one game
- The Blackhawks abuse scandal evolves and widens
- It's not soudning great for the Olympics
- Seattle and Buffalo get their coaches
- OUFL fried foods 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.

The 18th place team is on the verge of a Stanley Cup. It has to mean something. But what?

Here are the facts: The Montreal Canadiens went 24-21-11 this year, losing eight more games than they won. They finished with the 18th-best record in a league where 16 teams make the postseason, earning the last spot in the North Division by a mere four points. They were 19th in goals differential, and finished tied with Chicago and Arizona for 19th in wins. They were 17th in goals scored and 18th in goals against, the latter partly due to their star goalie finishing the season with the seventh-worst save percentage among goalies who played at least 25 games. They were the only playoff team to hit double-digits in loser points, with 11. They fired their coach a month into the season, then saw their record get even worse under the new one. Then they went into the playoffs cold, on the heels of a season-ending five-game losing streak.

Now they’re in the Stanley Cup final.


On the surface, this doesn’t make sense. It’s sports, and sports is supposed to have upsets and underdogs, but this seems extreme. If you just look at those basic numbers up above, then what’s happening in Montreal seems borderline impossible. We haven’t seen a team turn a regular season like this into a championship since 1949, but the Habs are on the verge of doing it. And they’re kind of making it look easy.

It has to mean something. But what?

Spoiler alert: I have no idea. But I want to think it through, so I’ve come up with ten theories about what’s happened to the Montreal Canadiens over the course of this run, and what the rest of us can learn from it. There may be some truth to a few of them, or even most. They may all be wrong.

Let’s try to find out. I’ll give you ten theories, why they work, and why they might not, and then you head to the comments and tell me which ones I should buy into.

Theory #1: The Habs aren’t a bad team and never were

The theory: Let’s start with what might be both the easiest answer, and also the most complicated: The standings lied. The Canadiens went through their ups and down like any team, but they were always a good team that was a threat to have the sort of run they’re having. If you missed that because you didn’t look any deeper than what the standings page said, that’s on you.

Why it might work: There’s a decent argument to be made that a simple glance at the Canadiens’ record is at least misleading. For starters, they got all those loser points because they went 3-8 in overtime and 1-3 in shootouts; in regulation, when real hockey is played, they basically broke even (20 wins and 21 losses). That late-season losing streak came when they already had a playoff spot largely wrapped up, and they were tired from a condensed schedule due to COVID delays. Carey Price was hurt for a lot of the year, so throw his stats out the window. And the team’s underlying numbers were good, with Natural Stattrick’s numbers having them 10th in 5-on-5 expected goals percentage and second in 5-on-5 Corsi, but the seventh worst PDO in the league (and worst among playoff teams).

Why it might not: All of that does seem like a pretty convincing argument that the Canadiens weren’t a bad team, but I’m not sure it adds up to them being especially good. The various models out there, including Dom’s, all take underlying numbers into account, and most of them still didn’t think much of Montreal’s chances. So at best, this theory only gets us part of the way there. Let’s keep going…

Theory #2: The playoffs are just different and Marc Bergevin understood that

The theory: We’re constantly told that the playoffs are a different game. Marc Bergevin knew that, and he built a team that was designed for the postseason.

Why it might work: Go down the list of postseason cliches, and the Habs do check a lot of boxes. They play defense. They block shots. They’re good on special teams, especially the penalty kill. They don’t have any big-name stars who rack up stats and personal glory, but they do have a bunch of guys willing to lay it all on the line for the team.

Maybe the playoffs really are different. And more intriguingly, maybe Bergevin understood that in a way that most of us don’t, and built a team that was just good enough to get into the postseason and perfectly positioned to be a force once they were there. He added veterans with Cup rings, including Corey Perry and Eric Staal. He went out and got a big body in Josh Anderson, even coming off of a terrible season, because those are the guys who are hardest to handle in the playoffs. He had guys like Brendan Gallagher and Phillip Danault and Paul Byron who’d leave everything on the ice. And he built it all around Carey Price and Shea Weber, two Team Canada veterans who’ve played on the biggest stages but are hungry for their first Cups.

He built that team knowing that if they could be good enough during the season and have the old Price show up in time for the playoffs, they’d be contenders. He was right.

Why it might not: It starts sounding a little too convenient, right? Sure, the playoffs aren’t the same as the regular season, but it’s not a whole new sport. And it gets a little too easy for those of us in the narrative business to just wait until the final, then knowingly point at the two teams left and say that they “knew how to play playoff hockey” and all the other teams didn’t. It’s weird how we never manage to figure any of this out until we already know the right answer.

That’s not to say there isn’t anything to this idea, or that Bergevin doesn’t deserve credit. But if he’s truly cracked the code, this success should be sustainable and not just a one-year wonder. I guess time will tell.

Theory #3: It’s time to accept that the regular season doesn’t matter

The theory: This is a slightly more nihilistic version of Theory 2. It’s not just that the playoffs are different. It’s that they’re practically random, with tiny two-week sample sizes that lend themselves to flukes, hot streaks and weird bounces.

The regular season tells us which 16 teams make the playoffs, and that’s it. Once the postseason starts, we’re just flipping coins, which is why the 18th best team in the league basically has as good a shot as anyone.

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Monday, June 28, 2021

Habs or Lightning? A Stanley Cup Final rooting guide for every other fan base

The Montreal Canadiens are in Tampa tonight to kick off the first round of the Atlantic Division playoffs. [Checks notes.] Nope, wait, apparently this is the Stanley Cup final. Huh. Got to be honest, I did not see this matchup coming. Not many of us did. But it’s been pretty much the weirdest season in NHL history, so let’s roll with it.

One thing that hasn’t changed from past seasons: Two teams made the final, which means everyone else didn’t. That means it’s time for one of my favorite annual columns, as we go through all of the other 30 teams and try to figure out which of the finalists they should be rooting for. In theory, this year delivers a classic David vs. Goliath matchup, with the defending champs facing a huge underdog that everyone should be rooting for. Does it actually work out that way? Let’s find out.

As always, these are suggestions only, and if you’ve already made up your mind then you’re free to stick with that pick. But if you’re on the fence, or open for discussion, let’s see if we can talk you into one side or the other.

Anaheim Ducks

Last year, I told Ducks fans they should root for Corey Perry’s team to beat the Lightning in the final. It’s always nice when the hockey gods give me an excuse to recycle content.

Pick: Canadiens

Arizona Coyotes

The Canadiens won 24 games during the regular season, just like the Coyotes. By the transitive property of playoff success, that means that if they win the Cup then Arizona is knocking on the door too.

Pick: Canadiens

Boston Bruins

This is a tough matchup for Bruins fans, who aren’t exactly going to be shoving each other out of the way to get on the Lightning bandwagon after their recent Atlantic rivalry. But come on – no self-respecting Bruins fan can possibly cheer for the Habs, right? Of course not. I’m guessing a lot of Boston fans will choose “none of the above”, but if we have to pick one team, the choice is clear…

Pick: Lightning

Buffalo Sabres

If you’re a Sabres fan searching desperately for some small ray of hope, good luck finding it in a Lightning team that seems miles ahead of anything the Sabres could ever imagine being any time soon. Then you see a Habs team that finished with almost the same record as Buffalo just last season, and you think… maybe?

Pick: Canadiens

Calgary Flames

Hold on, everyone. Timeout.

Canada, huddle up, we need to talk.

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Friday, June 25, 2021

How well do you know the NHL rulebook? Probably better than the refs but take our quiz and find out

It’s the playoffs, so everyone must be mad about the officiating. But this year, we seem to be extra mad. Whether it’s phantom calls, missed infractions or the dreaded game management, nobody’s happy with the job the referees are doing. Based on what fans are saying, the officials are somehow biased against all the teams at the same time. Nobody knows what to expect on any given night, the same play gets a different call from one period to the next, and none of it makes sense.

And everyone knows the answer: Just call the rulebook.

That’s what you’re all saying. And I hear you. Calls the rules as written, and the problem goes away. Maybe not immediately, but eventually players will adjust, and the game will be better for it. Just call the rulebook, and while we’re still have penalties and even controversies, at least we’ll know what to expect when we sit down to watch a game.

Call the rulebook. Got it. Only… do you know what’s in the rulebook?

Not many of us do, and on a lot of nights that seems to include the NHL officiating crew. So let’s find out what’s actually in there. I’ve put together a 16-question quiz, one for every playoff team that thinks the refs are out to get them this year. It will test your knowledge of just what is and isn’t included in this critically important 200-page document that nobody seems to have ever read.

Fair warning: It’s going to get weird. As always, if you’ve been reading my stuff over the years then you’ll be at an advantage, because you’re clearly smarter than everyone else you’ll have seen some of the scenarios before. But either way, I’m willing to bet that you’ll learn something.

All questions are based on a literal reading of the 2020-21 rulebook, which the league provides for free from their web site. Take your best shot at answering the questions, then scroll back up and check the table to see how you did.

0 correct: The organist plays Three Blind Mice whenever you take the ice.

1 – 3 correct: The fans chant “ref you suck” at you before the game even starts.

4 – 7 correct: You’re as reliable as an NHL referee’s microphone.

8 – 11 correct: That seems good but we’ll have to do a tedious 10-minute replay review to be sure.

12 – 14 correct: Please get on a plane to Tampa, we need you tonight.

15 correct: You only missed one, but DGB will still be writing whiny posts about it for the next 28 years.

16 correct: You appear to have cheated in a quiz about enforcing the rules, which is actually kind of admirable.

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Thursday, June 24, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: Quiet Knights

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- The Lightning lose Game 6 and Nikita Kucherov
- Where the Coliseum ranks among all-time arena goodbyes
- Can Montreal close it out?
- What's up with the Golden Knights' disappearing stars?
- How Vegas could get Jack Eichel
- Conn Smythe favorites, and some interesting long shots
- I defend the loser point (in 1999)
- John Ziegler's legacy, how the Flames made history, 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, June 23, 2021

Puck Soup: What's the Point?

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- The playoffs are full of surprises. Is that good?
- Our thoughts on Montreal's run to the final
- The Lightning rout the Islanders
- Current Conn Smythe favorites
- That wild Lady Byng rant that made no sense
- The worst final ever, OUFL Chinese food, 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.

We’re not mad just disappointed with the 2021 playoff underperformer team

The NHL playoffs are an endless grind of grief and disappointment, a joyless slog filled with underperforming stars and unfair outcomes that serve no purpose beyond sapping whatever remaining traces of happiness might still exist in the deep crevices of our exhausted brains. Nobody enjoys any of it, and there is growing consensus that postseason hockey should be banned. The maddening spiral of pointless cruelty and abject misery serves only to foster a sense of deep foreboding as we crawl towards our inevitable…

(Checks earpiece.)

Huh. I’m being told that all of that might only apply to Leaf fans. Apparently other teams occasionally win in the postseason? Some fans get to be… happy? That sounds weird to me but I guess I’ll take your word for it.

But yeah… disappointment. Let’s celebrate it. As we close in on the end of the third round of this year’s postseason, it’s time to build out our annual team of playoff underperformers. We’ll go with a full 20-man roster, with at least one rep from each of the eliminated teams. Keep in mind that this won’t necessarily be the postseason’s worst performers, since that would include a bunch of fourth-liners who nobody expects to contribute. Instead, we’re going for disappointment, which factors in the higher expectations that some stars carry.

Have you practiced your weary sighs and sad head-shaking? Good, let’s get started…


Tristan Jarry, Penguins

Every Penguins fan knew he’d be here, and they probably would have shown up at my house in protest if he wasn’t. We could mention the .888 save percentage, or the 3.18 goals against. We could focus on the 16 goals against in the last four games of the series. Or we could just remember this moment, which was probably the turning point of the Penguins’ postseason.

Sergei Bobrovsky, Panthers

I feel like Jarry would be the consensus pick for the starter on this team, but his numbers were actually significantly better than Bobrosvky’s .841 and 5.33, which would be enough to get you benched in the mid-80s Norris Division. It was enough in 2021 too, as the league’s second highest-paid goaltender lost his job not once but twice, and to two different guys. That’s generally a sign that a series isn’t going well.

First pair

John Carlson, Capitals

Like a lot of players on this roster (and pretty much everyone who takes the ice in the playoffs), Carlson was playing through injury, in his case a bad knee. Still, a guy with a reputation as one of the league’s top offensive blueliners managed just a pair of assists against Boston, both on the powerplay, and his underlying numbers were awful. You could make a strong case that Dmitry Orlov was even worse, but Orlov wasn’t the Norris runner-up last year, so Carlson takes the disappointment crown.

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Monday, June 21, 2021

Three lessons to learn (and one to avoid) from each of the final four teams

With the postseason winding down and most of the league on the sidelines watching the remaining teams, it’s the time of year when fans start to wonder what lessons we can learn from the final four contenders.

After all, we’re always told that it’s a copycat league, and we know that GMs around the NHL love to pivot their gameplan to whatever the eventual champion just did. Once a team wins the Cup, everyone immediately starts picking them apart. Were they big? Small? Skilled, or fast, or neither? Did they build through the draft? Did they fire their coach? Did they play a certain style? Cool, a bunch of teams inevitably say, then we need to do that too, starting right now.

This year, there seems to be a certain amount of dread among NHL fans about how this is going to go. Two of the remaining four teams have been winning with a commitment to defense, or at least that’s been the narrative. What if one of them wins – or worse, they both meet in the final – and every other GM decides to double down on dull, defensive hockey?

I’ve got some thoughts on that we’ll get to in a bit. But for now, let’s think a little bigger. And for once, we’ll even look on the bright side. For each of the remaining teams, let’s focus on the lessons that other GMs could learn that would be, from a fan’s perspective, good news for the league. The NHL is an entertainment product, after all, and there’s nothing wrong with hoping that any shifts in thinking point towards more fun, not less. And with this year’s final four, there are a few ways that could happen.

Let’s find a few of those, by picking three lessons we hope other teams take away from each of the final four, both in terms of how they play and also how they were built. And then, to keep it from getting too positive, we’ll also pick on lesson per team that we really hope the GMs ignore.

New York Islanders

Fun lesson 1: The trade deadline isn’t dead.

We’ve been hearing it for years – maybe we need to rethink the deadline, because only one team can win in any given season, and surrendering prime assets for short-term rentals usually backfires. Then came teams like the 2018 Capitals and 2019 Blues that had relatively quiet deadlines and still won it all, and you started to wonder if teams should just be sitting the market out altogether.

That was bad news for fans, because deadline day is one of the highlights of our season. So it’s nice to see a team like the Islanders, with a crusty old school GM in Lou Lamoriello, find success with an old school deadline. They gave up a first-round pick to get Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from New Jersey, and they’ve been rewarded with seven goals from Palmieri, including an overtime winner. Mix in continued strong play from Jean-Gabriel Pageau, a 2019 deadline pickup who also cost a first, and the Islanders are showing that giving up high picks for playoff reinforcements can pay off. If other GMs decide to play copycat, future deadline could be a lot more fun.

Fun lesson 2: Getting aggressive on the draft floor can pay off.

Let’s stick with the trading theme. The Islanders’ win over Boston gave us another chance to relitigate the Mathew Barzal draft, which saw the Bruins pass on Barzal with three straight picks before the Islanders took him. But while that’s an important part of the story, let’s not forget how the Islanders got that pick in the first place: By making a draft floor deal with the Oilers, sending Griffin Reinhart to Edmonton for that pick and another. The deal was officially done with the Oilers on the clock and just minutes to spare. It’s fair to say it worked out.

Draft floor deals are great fun for fans, who love it when Gary Bettman shows up at the podium to tell us he has a trade to announce. But pulling them off is tricky, especially when they involve players and not just picks. GMs love to tell us how much time they need to put even straightforward deals together; how often do you hear that a team “just ran out of time” on a midseason trade that’s been rumored for months? On the draft floor, you might have hours or even minutes to make up your mind, and it would be easy to panic and make a mistake. It might be tempting for a GM to just forget about even trying anything more complicated than moving up or down a few picks.

The Islanders didn’t see it that way in 2015, and their reward was the best player on a Cup contending team. If they win it all, there’s no excuse for NHL GMs not to work the phones with the clock ticking on the draft floor.

Fun lesson 3: It pays to be aggressive in who you hire.

This one’s a bit dicey, since nobody likes to root for anyone to get fired. But changes, both behind the bench and in the front office, are a part of life that no NHL team can avoid. So when that moment comes, who do you hire?

You could go the safe route, promoting from within. You could find a candidate who isn’t well-known but deserves a shot. Often, those are the best options. But for pure entertainment value, there’s nothing quite like finding out that your team just hired a big name. And that’s what the Islanders did in 2018, hiring Lamoriello as team president. Lamoriello quickly fired Garth Snow and Doug Weight, named himself GM, and hired Cup-winning coach Barry Trotz. Three years later, Trotz has a Jack Adams, Lamoriello was last season’s GM of the year, and the Islanders have been contenders ever since they went big on hiring the best.

And one lesson to avoid: Defense wins championships.

OK, let’s get this out of the way, because it’s the big one when it comes to the Islanders. We’re all terrified that they’re going to win the Cup, followed by every GM trying to implement a boring, grind-it-out, put everyone to sleep and win 2-1 type of style. Bring back the dead puck era, because it’s the 1995 Devils all over again.

But while there’s some truth to that reputation – the Islanders really can shut down just about anyone when they’re on their game – it’s gotten out of hand. If you listened to some fans (and media), you’d think the Islanders are playing a passive trap and trying to clutch-and-grab their way to wins. That’s not what they do, as Justin Bourne broke down here.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Friday, June 18, 2021

Grab Bag: Debating the happiness police, a playoff dream dies, and Conan vs. the Leafs

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- Are hockey fans allowed to be happy? A debate.
- Our dream of the Ultimate Ultimate Playoff loser dies
- Remembering the only player in NHL history to score in the playoffs but never play in the regular season
- The month's three comedy stars
- And a YouTube look back at the time Conan O'Brien took to the ice with (some of) the Toronto the Maple Leafs

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: Taking the red eye

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- We're both terrified of Jeff Petry's eyes
- The Habs come tied with Vegas, but does it change the narrative around the North Division?
- Ian makes the case for Tyler Toffoli being best free agent signing by a Canadian-based team in the past decade
- After two obvious blown calls in Lightning/Isles, is it time for expanded replay review?
- Nikita Kucherov looks like the favorite for the Conn Smythe
- Jesse Granger drops by and we decide the odds on Habs/Knight are out of whack
- Who would you rather have drafted in 1990, Jaromir Jagr or Martin Brodeur?
- Plus a look back at the NHL's only coach 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, June 16, 2021

Puck Soup: What makes a winner

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- The Islanders and Lightning are tied, and two missed calls stir up controversy
- What the rulebook actually says about too many men, and why it's not what you think
- Thoughts on the Golden Knights' impressive win over Montreal
- An argument breaks out over what makes a winning team
- We get some coaching clarity with the Rangers and (we think) Hurricanes
- Thoughts of Dougie Hamilton, Jack Eichel and other looming offseason moves
- OUFL beach activities, bad commercials, the kool-aid guy 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.

Gentille vs. McIndoe: Two fans forced to watch each country’s most annoying NHL playoff commercials of 2021

Last year, roughly halfway through the NHL playoffs, I had what I thought was a good idea.

I was watching yet another night of hockey, and muttering to myself about how Canadians always seem to have to sit through some combination of the same half-dozen or so commercials at every ad break. I was also vaguely aware that many Americans of my twitter feed were complaining about a similar phenomenon down there. But their ads were different – I’d never seen them, and they’d never seen of mine.

Wouldn’t it be neat, I thought, to find an American hockey fan, and set up a sort of international exchange program? I could have them watch the most annoying Canadian ads, they could send me the worst the USA had to offer, and we’d have fun reacting to them. I reached out to Sean Gentille, he agreed to participate, and we made it all happen. This would be fun!

Then he showed me the “Tara Tara look at her go“ ad, and my brain hasn’t worked properly ever since.

So yeah, it was not a good idea. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do it all over again. Many of you have asked for a sequel, using this year’s new crop of annoying ads. Do I want to do this? No I do not. But it’s either this or write another column about the Leafs being huge losers, so let’s break up the monotony with some terrible commercials.

The format will be the same as last year. Other Sean and I have both chosen three ads that are in heavy rotation in our respective countries, but that the other person has never seen. We’ll each watch the other’s ads for the first time ever, and react in real-time. Then you will go into the comment section and argue about which country has it worse. (It’s your country. Everyone always thinks their country’s ads are worse.)

I’ve been assured that there’s nothing in this year’s batch that’s as annoying as Tara Tara, and so help me if this turns out to be a lie then there’s a good chance you will never see me again.

Pregame Strategy

McIndoe: As with last year, the big challenge is narrowing my list down to three. Many of you Canadians have been submitting nominations for weeks now, and you’ve made strong cases. Pretty much every gambling app ad is deeply weird. The one where a couple dances unironically to “Time of My Life” for some car web site is disturbing. And yes, we can all agree that we want to punch our screen every time that some smug know-it-all lecture a family member over their investment fees.

But with all due respect to those awful ads, there was really only one spot available this year, thanks to a certain burger joint and a coffee place that apparently took being excluded from last year’s post as a personal challenge. I went back and forth a bit on the last spot, but decided to give some recognition to a series of ads that’s not exactly awful, but is certainly… what’s the word I’m looking for? Omnipresent. That’s it.

It goes without saying that I’ll lead off with that one to lull Gentille into a false sense of security, then hit him with the burger ad when he’s vulnerable, followed by the coffee ad that should sap his will to live, or at least to ever talk to a Canadian hockey fan about their favorite player.

Gentille: My strategy here is simple. It’s also a basic rip-off of what I did last year. First two? Garden-variety obnoxious. Last one? Drop the hammer.

A couple quick notes on two that missed the cut: First is the Lexus ad implying that A) individual empathy is a cure for structural racism and B) buying a Lexus, actually, is the most empathetic thing you can do. That one sucks on principle without being fun to joke about. Second is the iPhone privacy/“Can I have a taste of your ice cream” ad. It sucks as well, but it’s simply not yet pervasive enough. Maybe next year.

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Friday, June 11, 2021

Read this post and you’ll understand (almost) every goaltender interference review

You know the refrain by now. Nobody understands goaltender interference. It’s a coin flip. The rules make no sense. Once the ref gets that headset on, your guess is as good as mine because nobody has any idea what’s going to happen.

But here’s a secret: It’s just not true.

OK, it’s a little true, in a few cases, and we’ll get to that. But the rules around goaltender interference aren’t that hard, and if you understand them then you’ll rarely be surprised by how a ruling works out. If fact, give me a few minutes right now and I bet I can get you there by the end of this post.

But first, let me declare my biases up front: I think replay review for interference is a bad concept. The rule isn’t all that complicated, but it’s filled with areas that are subjective instead black-and-white, which means some plays are still going to be arguments even when you break them down frame-by-frame. The league has told us we have review to “just get it right”, but “right” gets hazy on the tougher calls, and that just leads to more frustration. There’s really no way around this, which is why we should scrap replay review for interference altogether, or failing that, make the bar to overturn the call on the ice significantly higher. The current system is bad and shouldn’t exist.

But it does exist, so let’s make the best of it. Let’s spend a few minutes learning how goaltender interference actually works, and why those confusing reviews aren’t really as confusing as you think.

Let’s start with the good news: The dreaded Rule 69.1, which governs pretty much everything that would get a goal called back, is only a few hundred words long. It’s not simple, but the basics are fairly straightforward. Put it this way, if you’re smart enough to have even a basic understanding of analytics or the salary cap or expansion draft rules, you can absolutely get your head around this.

So let’s try to do that. I didn’t understand this stuff either a few years ago, but eventually I got tired of posting shrug emojis on twitter and put in some effort to figure it out. Around the same time, the NHL started to get more consistent on these plays (and if anyone wants to tell me what happened behind the scenes to make that happen, I’m all ears). These days, I don’t find most of these calls to be all that difficult to predict. Come join me.

My goal here is to help you understand goaltender interference in a way that will have you confidently predicting the result of a review maybe 80 or 90% of the time. That’s probably the best we can do, because again, some of this stuff is still very subjective and there are cases that are genuinely hard calls that won’t ever satisfy everyone. If you’re going to demand 100% certainty, I have bad news for you about how sports officiating works.

But we can get you almost all the way there. Give me the next five minutes of your time, and let’s see if we can reduce your stress levels on the next review.

We’ll start with a very basic point that a lot of fans and media seem to miss. If you don’t feel like reading a whole post and just want one quick takeaway you can remember before you move on, here it comes.

The rules are completely different depending on whether the alleged interference happens in the crease or outside of it.

On some level, you already knew that. But I’m amazed at how often I see commentators or fans or whoever skip over this part when trying to decide if an attacking player has interfered. They’ll go right to how much contact there was, or how the goalie reacted, or where the puck was. That stuff matters, but not anywhere as much as one simple question: Did it happen in the crease?

Note that there’s no “almost” or “close enough” here. One inch inside the crease and one inch outside the crease are two different worlds, with very different sets of rules.

Put simply, the crease belongs to the goaltender, and with very limited exceptions, the attacking team goes in there at their own risk. Almost anything an attacking player can do to bother the goalie is interference if it happens in the crease.

Is there contact, but it’s clearly accidental? Doesn’t matter, you can’t be in the crease.

Is the contact initiated by the goalie as he’s trying to work around or through a player? Doesn’t matter, that guy can’t be in his crease.

Is there no contact at all? It still may not matter, because even screening a goalie isn’t allowed if you’re in his crease.

You’re getting the picture. Don’t want a goal called back for interference? Stay out of the crease. When there’s a review and you see those first replays, tune out all the noise and look to see if the attacking player is in the crease. If any part of him (not just his skates) is in there, and he’s impacting the goalie’s ability to make the save, the goal is probably coming back.

Let’s take the call from round one that a lot of fans were confused by.

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Thursday, June 10, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: Hanging with Mr. Cooper

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- I have once again predicted the future and Ian is kind of weirded out by it
- We're definitely getting Islanders/Habs in the final and it's going to be terrible but that's OK
- Are Barry Trotz and Jon Cooper the two best coaches in the league?
- Connor Hellebuyck and Mark Scheifele speak to the media and it got strange
- Is Shea Weber a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer?
- I get to tell the story of The Wheel again
- Ian and I remember the night we bullied Jon Cooper in a bar at 1:00 am, 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, June 9, 2021

Puck Soup: Montreal moves on

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- The Canadiens sweep the Jets
- The Golden Knights have the Avs on the ropes
- Bruce Cassidy works the refs
- What's next for the Jets and Hurricanes
- An argument breaks out about Victor Hedman and the Norris
- OUFL arena songs, a tangent about baseball, 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, June 8, 2021

Every possible Stanley Cup playoff matchup we could see in the last two rounds, ranked

We’re making our way through the second round of the playoffs and, it’s probably fair to say it’s been a mixed bag so far. Some of the games, especially in the West and Central, have been a relentless adrenaline rush of high-octane hockey. Other games, especially in the North, have been, uh, not that. But that’s okay, because the beauty of the first two rounds of the playoffs is that there’s always something for everybody.

Great. What’s next?

Within days, we’ll be moving forward to the next round, and that’s where the spotlight gets brightest. We won’t have multiple games a night to choose from. No more flipping back and forth, or abandoning a boring game for a more interesting one. Once we get to the third round and beyond, you can’t push any matchup to the background. They’re all front-and-center, all of the time. So they’d better be good.

Will this year’s matchups be good? We don’t know exactly what they’ll be yet, but the possibilities are narrowing. With last night’s elimination of the Jets, we’re down to seven teams. If you run the combinations, that gives us six potential round three pairings that are still in play, and a dozen more in the Stanley Cup final, for 18 possible matchups that could be in our future.

Only three of those will actually happen, but I believe in being prepared. So today, let’s look at each potential matchup that’s still on the table, and rank them from the least appetizing to the ones we should all be rooting for. Will you agree with each and every ranking? (Checks list.) Yeah actually, you will, I think I pretty much nailed it.

A quick spoiler alert: Most of these are actually really good. We could be in for a really fun final month. Let’s start getting ahead of ourselves…

18: Canadiens vs. Islanders

The matchup: An Islanders team with the reputation for trying to grind out boring 2-1 wins that put everyone to sleep faces off with a team that actually does that.

Or as we’d call it: The Pierre Turgeon Cup.

When it could happen: Stanley Cup final.

Best-case scenario: This matchup doesn’t happen.

History: They’ve faced each other in the postseason four times, most recently in the 1993 conference final that nobody remembers. That’s weird, right? Those Habs were a team of destiny and the Islanders were a classic underdog story and they met in the conference final, and I have zero recollection of any of it. This might be a me problem.

Worth considering: Look, a win is a win and we know that defense is what works in the playoffs. And it’s not like either of these teams plays a boring, passive trap. They forecheck relentlessly and battle for every inch of the ice, and on a certain level that’s brilliant hockey to watch. Maybe if you millennials didn’t grow up on video games and need the instant gratification of “goals” and “scoring chances” and “entertainment”, you could actually appreciate real hockey.

But yeah, this would be completely unwatchable.

Overall rating: C-. The odds of us getting this as a final are roughly 90%, by the way.


17: Hurricanes vs. Bruins

The matchup: A matchup that’s great on paper but hasn’t been very good in reality gets a third straight chance to live up to the hype.

Or as we’d call it: The Glen Wesley Cup. No? Dougie Hamilton maybe?

When it could happen: Third round.

Best-case scenario: After having their season ended by the Bruins in short series in each of the last two years, Carolina shows that they’ve learned something and show up ready to give Boston a tougher fight.

History: The 2019 and 2020 series lasted a total of nine games, with Boston winning eight of them. They have two other meetings in the Hurricanes era, which they’ve split, plus two more from the Whaler days.

Worth considering: The 2019 series was a bust, with Boston outscoring Carolina 17-5. Last year was better with four one-goal games. But, for some reason, these two teams don’t seem to click when it comes to classic playoff excitement. Third time’s the charm?

Overall rating: C+. Honestly, this wouldn’t be awful. If it’s the second-worst matchup to look forward to, we’re in decent shape.


16: Canadiens vs. Lightning

The matchup: The defending champs face the postseason’s best underdog story.

Or as we’d call it: The rematch of the series that gave us the stupid awful no-good offside review.

When it could happen: Stanley Cup final.

Best-case scenario: Can a team with a top goalie and a commitment to defense shut down an opponent with arguably the most firepower in the entire league? Sigh, let’s pretend we don’t already know the answer is yes.

History: They’ve faced off in the playoffs three times, including back-to-back meetings in 2014 and 2015, the latter of which still haunts us to this day. Habs fans might also recognize Ryan McDonagh and Mikhail Sergachev, so that’s fun.

Worth considering: These two teams are normally in the same division, and the Lightning are 10-1-1 against Montreal over their last three seasons.

Overall rating: C+. Am I holding a grudge over the offside thing? Absolutely, thanks for noticing.

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Monday, June 7, 2021

Revisiting the good, the bad and the outright embarrassing from my oddly specific 2021 predictions

Predictions are high on the list of any sportswriter’s favorite things. They make for relatively easy content, the kind that doesn’t require a ton of research or inside information. You just figure out what you think will happen, toss in a couple of bonus picks that you don’t actually believe but will get a reaction, and you’re good to go. If you know what you’re doing, you can even keep everything vague enough that nobody can really accuse you of being all that wrong.

That last bit is the part that always trips me up. As long-time readers know, I have an annual tradition of making a single prediction for each team in the league. But I don’t do vague. I steer hard in the other direction, and go into way too much detail. Forget about who’ll be the leading scorer – exactly how many points will he get? Don’t tell me a team will improve their record – let’s hear exactly how they’ll finish. Oh, somebody’s going to score a goal? Let’s hear the exact date it’s going to happen.

It’s the Oddly Specific Prediction. I just think it’s more interesting that way. But there’s an obvious downside: I’m pretty much always wrong. Often, embarrassingly so. Call me Erik Gudbranson, because I’m shooting about 3% for my career.

Does that mean I should make the predictions at the start of the season and then never speak of them again? It absolutely does, but that’s no fun. So today, we’re going to look back at the 32 oddly specific prediction I made on the day the season started in January, and see how I did. Spoiler alert: Not great! But also… not awful?

Tier 1: Not just wrong but painfully wrong

It’s one thing to miss the target. It’s another to look back and realize you were aiming in the wrong direction entirely.

Buffalo Sabres – After calling back to one of my worst predictions – picking Casey Mittelstadt to win the Calder back in 2018 – I went back to the Sabres’ rookie well by picking Dylan Cozens as a Calder finalist this year. He had 13 points. Next year’s oddly specific Sabres prediction will not be about the Calder Trophy.

Dallas Stars – I said they’d beat the Lightning eight times over the regular season and playoffs combined. They went a rotten 2-5-1 against Tampa during the season, and as for the playoffs… oof.

New York Rangers – I predicted big things for Alexis Lafreniere, including a 45-point season that would put him in the mix for the most successful teenaged rookie runs in Ranger history. Instead, Lafreniere had a disappointing season, and his 21 points was under half of what I promised.

Colorado Avalanche – I said the Avs would take part in the longest shootout of the season. They didn’t give me much to work with, appearing in just one all year, and that one ended after five shots.

Columbus Blue Jackets – With rumors of a Pierre Luc-Dubois trade swirling, I pencilled him in to match last year’s scoring pace. That would have been about 40 points; he was barely half that, finishing with a career-low 21.

Edmonton Oilers – I picked Connor McDavid to win the Art Ross, which he did, but that doesn’t even count as a worthwhile prediction. So I went one further and said he’d finish the year with exactly 87 points. That would indeed have been enough to win the Art Ross, but McDavid blew by the total by a mile; he was over 87 with weeks left in the season.

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Friday, June 4, 2021

Emergency Maple Leafs DGB Mailbag: What went wrong, who gets traded, and is this team cursed?

The Maple Leafs blew it like we all knew they would, and their fans are picking through the wreckage yet again. It’s not fun, and part of me was ready to just slam the door shut on the season and move on. But that seemed like a cop out. I’ve been a vocal Leafs homer for a long time, and it didn’t feel right to hide.

So I threw out a question: Would anyone being interested in an emergency mailbag?

Leaf fans only. No outsiders, no media hot takes, no pretense of being objective or rationale. Just a chance to talk this through, or maybe have a big group therapy session.

The response was overwhelming, as I was immediately buried in emails from Leaf fans. I was blown away. And so, cracking a smile for the first time since Monday night, I sat down to work my way through all the different questions you’d all sent.

Then I realized that 90% of them were just about trading Mitch Marner.

Huh. I got my hopes up about the Maple Leafs and ended up disappointed. First time for everything, I guess!

It goes without saying that we’re still doing this. But first, please indulge me in a bit of backstory that I promise will pay off in an observation.

I’ve been writing in a Leaf fan’s voice for a long time now, going back to the old blogpost days with a dozen readers in a good week. Even back then, I’d hear from fellow fans in the comment section or an occasional email, and a year later Twitter came along and opened the floodgates. Since then, I’ve bounced around from Grantland to ESPN to Sportsnet to The Athletic and a bunch of stops in between, and I’ve been hearing from fellow Toronto fans the whole way. You’ve commented, you’ve emailed, you’ve tweeted, you’ve DMed. Some of us have had beers together. You’ve sent me photos of your kids in their first Leaf jerseys. I have email threads with people I’ve never met that date back a dozen years or more, covering all the major Leaf fan moments. From the (occasional) good to the (mostly) bad, I’m honestly not sure there can be too many people out there who’ve heard from more Toronto Maple Leafs fans over the last decade or so than I have.

So I don’t say this lightly: This week feels different.

We’ve been through some bad stuff. I started my blog a few weeks before the Muskoka Five torpedoed the 2008 trade deadline. I was there for Brian Burke and Dave Nonis and the era of the Leafs being the dumbest team in the league and proud of it. I was there for It Was 4-1, and the Clarkson contract, and finishing deal last. I’ve seen the 18-wheeler going off the cliff and the Zamboni driven by the beer league goalie, and all those recent playoff near-misses. I have heard from so many miserable Maple Leaf fans. It’s close to a constant stream with this fan base. It’s who we are.

But not like this. Something has changed, at least temporarily. In all these years, through all the venting and complaining and misery, the one thing I almost never heard was “I’m done”. Instead, I’d hear a lot of variations of “I wish I could be done, but I know that’s never happening”. Not this time. This week, instead, there’s been a whole lot of “I’m really not sure if I can do this anymore”.

I don’t know why. Maybe it’s something about this roster, or the coach, or the management. Maybe it’s that this time was the Habs. Maybe this last series was just the straw that broke the long-suffering fan’s back. Part of me suspects it’s not any of that, and that it’s more about the world around us right now, where a lot of us have gone over a year now with so much of the fun sucked out of our lives, and along the way we’ve had two Maple Leaf postseasons that were anything but. I think some fans are just wondering if there’s a better way.

What does it mean? Probably nothing. Most of that “I think I might be out” will almost certainly turn into “I guess I’m back in” by opening night, if not much sooner. It’s just the way sports works. If you stuck it out through the Harold Ballard era, this should be a piece of cake. But I do wonder, just a little, if some small chunk isn’t breaking off that iceberg, because something about this week really did seem different.

On that cheery note, let’s do a mailbag…

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

It seems like a given that Mitch Marner is all but gone from this team. But what teams would have the cap space and need for him, and what type of return would that fetch that would be the best for the Leafs? – Adam S.

So yeah, lots of questions about Marner being traded. I don’t agree with the premise here, that he’s “all but gone”. For one, this is the cap era NHL, where it’s never a bad idea to assume a team won’t make a major move. And I think you could make a strong case for keeping Marner. His contract makes him tough to deal, so you’re starting with a limited marketplace, and you’d be selling low. It’s almost impossible to imagine that you come out of any trade with a better player, and while you can create cap space, you just end up using that space on players who can’t do the things that Marner can.

On the other hand… I mean, you have to move somebody, right? And it has to be some key piece, because shuffling depth players doesn’t seem like it will do much. Anything short of one of the big names being dealt would seem to send the message that what we’ve seen so far is good enough, and that’s a real tough sell right now. You’re not moving Matthews and Tavares can’t go anywhere, so it comes down to yet another round of the Marner vs. Nylander debate, and this time fans seem to be siding with Nylander for once.

A lot of that is just recency bias kicking in, but not all of it. I think it’s fair to say that two things can be true about Mitch Marner: He’s a wonderfully talented player, one of the very best the Leafs have had in the last few decades, and also his contract looks like a disaster. Both statements can be true. When Kyle Dubas caved in to the Marner camp and gave him megastar money after one season with more than 70 points, there were three scenarios where it could have worked out. The first was Marner would take a few more big steps forward and become the sort of difference-maker who regularly shows up on Hart ballots, and that hasn’t happened yet. The second was that the cap would go way up and make the deal more digestible; that’s obviously off the table, although you can hardly blame the Leafs for not seeing that coming. And the third was that his deal would reset the marketplace, and guys like Mikko Rantanen and Brayden Point and Mathew Barzal would follow along with their own eight-figure deals. Nope. The Leafs got way out in front of the crowd, and nobody followed.

So now what? I’d love to see him stick around and come through the other side of this. He’s a local kid and he obviously cares – maybe too much, because it’s getting painful to watch him struggle through the playoffs looking like he’s fighting back tears between every shift. But yeah, you have to at least be open to moving him. Those conversations have to happen, wherever they lead.

As far as what you’d get in return…

Any chance at all Buffalo moves Eichel in division? – Kristopher B.

A lot of you wanted to know if there’s a deal to be found around Marner and Jack Eichel...

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Thursday, June 3, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: Mark Scheifele, Leafs lose, Avalanche/Knights series and draft lottery reactions

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- The Habs beats the Jets but its overshadowed by a scary injury
- Should Scheifele be suspended? Was he trying to inure Jake Evans?
- Wrapping up another Leafs loss
- With a 2-0 lead on the Golden Knights, are the Avalanche inevitable?
- Ideas for spicing up the draft lottery
- Thoughts on where Seth Jones might end up
- This week in hockey history featuring the most famous stick measurement ever, 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, June 2, 2021

Puck Soup: What now for the Leafs

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Breaking down the Leaf's latest loss
- Checking on the second round
- The Seth Jones trade watch begins
- Which coaches will wind up where
- The draft lottery
- OUFL trail mix 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.

The 2021 draft lottery power rankings

I’ve been doing my annual draft lottery power rankings for years now, and it’s usually one of my favorite columns to write. But I’ll admit that I toyed with the idea of skipping it this year. After all, what weird scenario could I possibly come up with that would even come close to last year’s real results? We had a lottery, then a team that was still playing won the top pick, but we didn’t know which team, and so we had a second lottery weeks later. It was awful, and also brilliant, the new gold standard by which all other lottery chaos will be measured.

This year is back to normal… kind of. There’s no risk of a playoff team winning or a sequel in a few weeks. But the league did decide to switch up the rules on us, so let’s do a quick refresher on how this works now.

The big change for this year is that we’re only drawing two teams now instead of the usual three. Two more changes – reducing how many spots a winning team can move up, and preventing teams from winning twice in a five-year period – don’t kick in until next season. As an added twist, don’t forget that Seattle has joined the fray. Oh, and for the first time since 2017, there’s some genuine intrigue around who’ll end up going number one.

You know what? We can work with this. If you want actual useful information, you can find the odds for each team here. If you want to get weird, keep reading.

The “Maximum Chaos” Ranking

Let’s lead off with one of my favorite categories. Team Chaos fans, unite.

Not ranked: Anaheim Ducks – They have the second-best odds, they’re legitimately bad, they’re pretty much committed to a rebuild… honestly, your friend would ask you who won a day later and you wouldn’t remember.

5. Buffalo Sabres – Most years, the team with the best lottery odds lands in the “not ranked” space. After all, what’s chaotic about the most likely outcome? But this year, after everything the Sabres have been through, you can’t help but wonder what might happen if they get the top pick. Would they forget to use it? Go back to what worked in the past and take Gilbert Perreault? Give it to the Bills, since they might actually get some use out of it? The mind boggles.

4. Vancouver, or one of the teams right around them – Longtime readers know I love to point out single games that changed the lottery results, and that last week of Canucks games that were played despite the playoffs already starting would be fertile ground for an “if only” scenario one way or another.

3. Any of the bottom five teams – Any of Chicago, Calgary, Philadelphia, Dallas or New York winning the draw for the top pick would be fun, because everyone will go “Ah, they can’t move up all the way to number one because of the new rules”, then realize that part doesn’t kick in until next year.

2. New Jersey Devils – Similar to the last entry, imagine having a team that’s already won two first overall picks in recent years win again, only to have everyone realize that the “you can’t win too often” rule also doesn’t start this year.

(By the way, shout out to the NHL for convincing itself it had specific problems, coming up with solutions to address those problems, and then intentionally delaying those fixes for a year. You can’t say this league isn’t on brand.)

1. Arizona Coyotes – They don’t have a first-round pick, as part of their punishment for breaking combine testing rules. But they’re still in the lottery, for reasons nobody seems quite clear on, which means that if they win, there’s a redraw.

Seriously, why are they in the drawing at all? Just take them out and adjust everyone else’s odds. The only explanation I can come up with is that the league wants there to be some small chance of the team knowing it cost itself the first pick, which is super mean and more than a little petty. I’m kind of here for it.

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