Thursday, July 29, 2021

Puck Soup: Free agency winners and losers

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Thoughts on everything that's happened since last week. It's a long episode.

>> Stream it now:

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

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

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

The Athletic's free agency live blog is ongoing

I'm live-blogging free agency over at The Athletic, with Other Sean Gentille. Drop by and see what we think of the day's biggest news.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic. (You do not need a subscription to read the live blog.)

The Athletic Hockey Show: Free agent frenzy

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- The Fleury trade, and what happens next
- What Dougie Hamilton will get
- Ovechkin's extension
- DeAngelo to Carolina?
- Who might sign the deal a team instantly regrets
- Should we abolish the draft?
- The greatest one-for-one trades in NHL 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)

Monday, July 26, 2021

Working through a week of expansion moves, blockbuster trades and draft surprises

Well that was a week.

Seven days ago, we were mulling over the just-released protected lists for an upcoming expansion draft, and trying to figure out how many teams had already cut side deals with the Kraken. One week later, we’ve seen what Seattle did (and didn’t do), watched an entry draft, and seen about a half-dozen legitimately big trades. It was not a boring week.

Are you surprised? That’s always a fun question at this time of year, because while big moves always happen, they’re often expected. But every now and then, something catches us completely off guard, and those are often the moves that end up being the most memorably.

So today, let’s break out a gimmick we used a few years ago, back in the before times: the Surprise Scale, where we go through some of the biggest stories of the last few days and try to figure out how shocking each one actually was. As the hockey world takes a breath and gets ready for more action in the week to come, here are the stories from the last week that may or may not have caught you off guard.

The Kraken (mostly) avoid the big names

There was plenty of star power available to Seattle, at least in terms of name value. They had a shot at Carey Price, Vladimir Tarasenko, Mark Giordano, plus early access to unrestricted free agents like Gabriel Landeskog and Dougie Hamilton. The Flyers dangled James van Riemsdyk and Jakub Voracek, while the Predators offered Ryan Johansen or Matt Duchene. Jonathan Quick, Matt Murray and Braden Holtby were options in net, and Max Domi or even P.K. Subban were possibilities. If you wanted to, you could have put together a dream roster of big names.

Ron Francis apparently didn’t want to, because he didn’t take any of those players except for Giordano. Other than plucking the Flames’ captain, the biggest names from Wednesday’s draft were probably Jordan Eberle and maybe Yanni Gourde. Several players taken were guys some of us had never heard of.

Was that a surprise? A little bit, sure – our final mock draft had Seattle rolling the dice on Landeskog and van Riemsdyk. But the Kraken were never going to go crazy on big names, especially when most of them are long past their peak. Recreating the 2016 all-star team doesn’t help you much in 2021 and the Kraken were too smart for that plan, even if it would have been all sorts of fun for the rest of us to watch them try

Surprise scale: 30/100. And besides, we all knew that the real value in the expansion draft would come from all the teams Seattle would squeeze in their side deals…

The Kraken don’t make any side deals


Yeah, I just don’t get this. I’ve ranted a bit on Twitter about it, and I’ve heard the counterarguments. The rest of the league was always going to learn some lessons from Vegas, and wouldn’t want to overpay like they did in 2017. The timid teams were going to be so scared that they wouldn’t even pick up the phone when Francis called. And with years to prepare, smart teams had already positioned themselves well, so they weren’t scared of losing a player.

All of that is true enough, and it was a good reason to expect that the Kraken weren’t going to be able to reap the kind of harvest that the Golden Knights did. There wasn’t going to be a Shea Theodore available. They weren’t going to swing side deals with ten different teams.

But… zero? Not one? That just doesn’t make sense. And when you mix in just one minor post-draft deal – Tyler Pitlick to Calgary for a fourth – it all feels like a major missed opportunity for Seattle. The expansion draft is literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for your franchise, and working the trade front is a big part of that. It sounds like Francis misread the initial market, then couldn’t (or wouldn’t) adjust.

Surprise scale: 90/100. It’s too early to pass judgment on the Kraken overall, because they still have a ton of cap space and we need to see how they use it. If we get to Wednesday and they’re announcing the signing of guys like Hamilton or Landeskog (or both), or weaponizing their cap room to land big picks or prospects from teams that are desperate for space, great. Nobody will care that they didn’t get midround picks on expansion day. Let’s give them some credit and see how it plays out, but for now the lack of trade action is surprising.

Oh, one more expansion point…

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Friday, July 23, 2021

Let’s painstakingly build the worst possible team-by-team first round in NHL draft history

Last year, in the aftermath of the 2020 draft, I took on a challenge from a reader. They wanted me to come up with the ultimate first round, one where I’d use one pick from each team to create the best possible list of 31 choices. I threw in a bunch of rules to make it overly complicated and got to work, and this was the final result.

People seemed to like it. We debated the picks in the comments, readers argued about which teams got shafted, and a few of you even tried to make your own version.

And then, as always, came the request: OK, now do the same thing but for the worst picks.

Yeah, I knew this was coming. So now, as we count down to the first round of the 2021 draft, that’s what we’re going to do. One full round of draft whiffs, one per team.

But first, a quick caveat. Sports fans love to talk about busts and wasted picks and sure-things who never made it. It’s part of being a fan. But before we dive into a full post of “bad” picks, let’s acknowledge that each of these guys was a dominant player as kid, sacrificed a ton growing up to chase a dream, and earned the right to be one of the first players to hear their name called in their draft year. The NHL is a hard league to succeed in, and circumstances will sometimes line up against you. That’s sports. But none of these guys were failures.

With that out of the way, here are the ground rules.

– We’re going to make 30 picks, and each player has to go in the exact draft slot they were picked in. We get to use one and only one pick per team. We’ll cover the entry draft era, meaning we’re going back to 1979.

– Yes, I said 30 picks and not 31. As much as it annoys the completionist in me, I’m excluding Vegas here, for a simple reason: They haven’t been around long enough to have a truly bad pick. They had three in 2017, and all three are on track to be good-to-great NHL players. And they’ve only had two other first-round picks in franchise history, both in the last two years, which is far too little time to cast judgment. I don’t want to include someone just for the sake of it, so Vegas is out.

– We’re looking for picks from current teams only, meaning no picks from the Nordiques, Whalers, Scouts or whoever else. But the Jets are the Jets, so Winnipeg can use either version of the team.

– As with last time, we’ll have a position limit to hit. You told me I had too many forwards last year, so we’ll adjust that a bit and aim to pick at least 15 forwards, at least 10 defensemen, and at least four goalies.

– Finally, two more rules just to make this even more complicated. First, everyone we pick has to have at least made the NHL, because it’s only fun to remember some guys when there’s at least a small chance you’ll actually remember them. And second, each of our picks has to have actually been a first-rounder – we can’t use a 25th overall pick from the 1980s, because back then that was round two. This is really going to limit us the deeper we go, and I will probably hate myself for it.

Got it? Good, because we’ve got 30 picks, access to all of the entry draft era, and endless possibilities to build for the future. Let’s screw this up as badly as possibly with the worst first round we could have.

We’ll begin at the beginning, with the first overall pick, and it’s a tougher slot that you might think. There are plenty of players who are considered busts at number one, but most of them had better careers than you probably remember. Alexander Daigle wasn’t Chris Pronger, but he stuck around for about a decade and had over 100 goals. So did Doug Wickenheiser and Brian Lawton, even though they weren’t Denis Savard or Steve Yzerman.

The obvious choice is probably Patrik Stefan, but we can’t use him because he was a Thrashers pick and they’re not around anymore. That narrows us down to two real options: Gord Kluzak, a hard-nosed defenseman who went to Boston ahead of Scott Stevens and Phil Housley in 1982, or 2012 first pick Nail Yakupov. I’m a little hesitant to use an Oiler right off the bat, because man, that franchise has a ton of first-round misses we might need down the line. But I think a goal-scoring winger who only manages 62 before washing out of the league at 24 years old probably has to be our guy.

Pick #1: F Nail Yakupov, Edmonton Oilers, 2012

We don’t have a ton of candidates for our second pick, as it’s way too early to give up on guys like Nolan Patrick and Kaapo Kakko, and Pat Falloon was better than you think. San Jose’s Andrei Zyuzin gets a good look here, although the 1996 draft was so awful that I’m not actually convinced he was a bad pick. Luckily, there’s one name that stands out: Islanders’ winger Dave Chyzowski, who went second overall in 1989 but only managed 15 goals in a six-season NHL career.

Pick #2: F Dave Chyzowski, New York Islanders, 1989

The field starts to open up just a bit as we head to our next few picks. Neil Brady and Cam Barker get some serious consideration in the three-spot, Pavel Brendl and Wayne McBean make a case at number four, and Shawn Anderson and (maybe) Olli Juolevi are worth a look as a fifth pick. We do lose a strong candidate to our “no defunct teams” rule, as Quebec’s Daniel Dore can’t be our choice, which is a shame given the weird story of how they got that pick.

This is a little concerning: We’re already running into some players who are ruled out by our one-player-per-team rule, as the Yakupov pick means we can’t use Edmonton’s Jason Bonsignore (#4 in 1994) and Chyzowski costs us Michael Dal Colle (#5 in 2014). And if that isn’t enough of a bummer for Oiler and Islander fans, let’s hit them with a double-whammy by mentioning Griffin Reinhart (#4 in 2012).

But even without New York or Edmonton, we can still find some strong candidates for our next three picks. We’ll even have a theme, albeit an accidental one, as we focus on Russian forwards.

Pick #3: F Alexander Svitov, Tampa Bay Lightning, 2001

Pick #4: F Alexander Volchkov, Washington Capitals, 1994

Pick #5: F Stanislav Chistov, Anaheim Ducks, 2001

Yikes, that 2001 draft was a mess. In case you’re wondering, Chistov’s 19 career goals leads this group, ahead of Svitov’s 13 and, uh, nothing at all from Volchkov, who played just three NHL games.

We’re five picks in and we’ve gone with forwards each time. (That’s what the “F” next to each guy means, by the way, although you’d be forgiven for assuming they were Pronman’s draft grades.) That many forwards is far from a disaster, since we’ve got 25 picks to catch up on our position requirements, but we should probably start building out the back end. We’ll start with our first goalie.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Puck Soup: Let's get Kraken

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- The Kraken pick 30 players and make... zero side deals?
- Seriously we're not sure what Ron Francis is doing
- NHL draft preview
- Luke Prokop comes out
- Logan Mailloux drops out
- Big names that could be about to move in a trade
- OUFL pets that aren't dogs or cats, and more...

>> Stream it now:

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

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

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: Expansion day

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Some expansion stuff that's already out of date
- Whether the Kraken will make the playoffs in year one
- Our dream doubleheaders to open the NHL schedule
- My devious plan for it I had a day with the Stanley Cup
- We try to figure out if there's any beverage that nobody has ever drank out of the Stanley Cup
- Chris Osgood's Hall of Fame case, Lou Lamoriello's Leafs legacy 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)

31 protected lists and 31 picks in the NHL’s all-time expansion draft

It’s expansion draft week, which is great because expansion drafts rock. Hockey fans had to wait a generation between NHL drafts, and we might have a long wait before we see another one. This week, I want as much expansion nonsense as I can get.

Luckily, nonsense is what I do best. So today, I want to revisit something I wrote four years ago: The all-time expansion draft.

Back then, as the league was getting set to welcome a Vegas Golden Knights team we all agreed would be terrible, I decided to come up with an all-time protected list for each NHL franchise. I used the modern rules, which is to say each team could protect one goalie and either seven forwards and three defenseman, or eight skaters. I made a list for each team, argued with a few fan bases, and a good time was had by all.

Four years later, I’d like to take another shot at it, if only because I want to correct a few picks that look like mistakes, and consider a few players who weren’t on the radar back then but might be today. But I’m also going to up the ante – once I have a protected list for each team, I’m also going to make a pick from everyone else. At the end of this, we’ll have a 31-man expansion team pulled from all of NHL history. Will it be any good? I have no idea, which is half the fun.

But first, a few ground rules:

– Each team is protecting players based on what they did with that franchise, using “height of their powers” criteria. For active players, we’re also factoring in what we think they’ll do in the future, although we won’t go overboard with projecting every current player to be a Hall-of-Fame lock. As with this year’s draft, players who are first or second-year pros are exempt.

– No player will be protected twice, so if the Oilers protect Wayne Gretzky (spoiler alert, they will) then the Kings, Rangers and Blues don’t have to.

– Entire franchise history counts, meaning for example that the Avalanche also have to cover off the Nordiques. That means we’ll have to veer from our typical “the Jets are the Jets” rules, because otherwise the Thrashers get left out. Defunct franchises don’t count, so any players who only played for them will be ineligible.

– We have no salary cap, no side deals, and don’t have to worry about any no-movement clauses. Apart from that, we have to pick a team with the same criteria as the Kraken, meaning we need to take at least 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies.

Make sense? No, of course not, this whole concept is ludicrous. But it’s fun, and we might not get to do it again for a long time, so let’s get weird.

Original Six teams

I’m going to start with the big six, if only because once we’ve done them we’ll have a good sense of where our all-time expansion roster is headed.

Montreal Canadiens

Forwards: Rocket Richard, Jean Beliveau, Howie Morenz, Guy Lafleur, Bernie Geoffrion, Yvan Cournoyer, Joe Malone
Defensemen: Larry Robinson, Doug Harvey, Serge Savard
Goalie: Jacques Plante

Who’s available: With over a century of history and more talent than any other franchise, we know we’ll get a great player from Montreal. But who?

I made a few changes from my 2017 list here, including swapping in Malone at the expense of Elmer Lach, and Serge Savard for Guy Lapointe on the blueline. Those are borderline calls, and there’s still names like Henri Richard, Steve Shutt and Aurele Joliat to consider. But it doesn’t really matter, because the real action here is in goal. Last time I went with Ken Dryden, but this time I’m leaning towards Plante, and we also have Bill Durnan and Georges Vezina (but not Patrick Roy, who can be protected by Colorda). Oh, and Carey Price, who of course would never be exposed in a real-world expansion draft.

Our pick: We really can’t go wrong with any pick here, but let’s build from the net out with one of the all-time greats in Ken Dryden.

Chicago Blackhawks

Forwards: Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Denis Savard, Jeremy Roenick, Steve Larmer
Defensemen: Pierre Pilote, Chris Chelios, Duncan Keith
Goalie: Tony Esposito

Who’s available: The Hawks are a fairly straightforward team to fill in, although we run into a tough call on the blueline. I left off Doug Wilson in 2017, but since then he’s become a Hall-of-Famer, which feels like it should get him on the list. But at the expense of who? I’m not sure, which is why I’m keeping the same three picks. Tony Esposito over Glenn Hall is the other tough choice.

Our pick: Hall is tempting, but I think the goalie position will be deep and don’t want to load up too quickly. Instead, I’ll take Doug Wilson.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forwards: Darryl Sittler, Dave Keon, Frank Mahovlich, Mats Sundin, Darryl Sittler, Syl Apps, Auston Matthews
Defensemen: Borje Salming, Tim Horton, King Clancy
Goalie: Johnny Bower

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Seattle Kraken mock expansion draft: Why we’re taking Gabriel Landeskog but not Carey Price

In the next 48 hours or so, the hockey world at large will learn exactly which players the Seattle Kraken selected to stock the NHL’s newest franchise.

The NHL unveiled the protected lists of 30 teams Sunday (the Vegas Golden Knights are exempt) and predictably, there were some intriguing names left up for grabs.

Carey Price in Montreal was one. Price’s former teammate in Montreal, P.K. Subban, was another. The Predators left both their $8 million men, Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene, available. The Flames couldn’t find a way to protect captain Mark Giordano

The one quality they share: They would all be pricey adds, maybe too pricey in the NHL’s flat-cap world.

Here at The Athletic, we’ve been doing mock drafts since before Seattle’s expansion bid even became official and what follows is our final attempt to sort out what Kraken general manager Ron Francis and his staff might come up with.

Procedurally, we’ve added one tweak to the exercise this time around and convened a “war room” designed to mimic the conversations the Seattle hockey operations staff is having internally right now. Our war room consisted of Eric Duhatschek, Ryan S. Clark, Sean McIndoe, Dom Luszczyszyn and Michael Russo.

Collectively, we’ve spent the weeks and months (and some of us, years), trying to work through all the expansion-draft scenarios that could possibly come up.

Then Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin threw us all a curveball over the weekend, successfully persuading Price to waive his no-move clause so Montreal could protect Jake Allen.

By rule, Seattle is obliged to select three goaltenders, nine defensemen and 14 forwards. The other four openings are “at large,” meaning they could be at any position. Seattle is also required to select players that meet a minimum salary-cap threshold ($48.9 million, or 60 percent of last year’s $81.5 million salary cap). They cannot exceed the cap.

Price’s availability forces you to start with him for reasons that are pretty apparent. If the Kraken were to take Price (and his $10.5 million cap hit for five additional years), then it would affect the remaining 29 decisions.

On the one hand, Price could be the Kraken’s 2021 answer to Marc-Andre Fleury, the cornerstone goaltending piece that helped Vegas get (and stay) so competitive in its first four years of operation.

On the other hand, if you took Price, you would immediately gobble up about an eighth of your available salary-cap space — and leveraging that cap room will ultimately be the key to whatever success Seattle has in the short-, medium- and long-term. Moreover, Price hasn’t been physically sound for years and the expectation is that at 34, he might not be able to summon up the sort of goaltending heroics he did in this past year’s playoffs.

A further complication: Price wasn’t the only battle-tested goaltender made available. The Kraken can choose from among Ben Bishop (Dallas), Braden Holtby (Vancouver) or Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles). Then there are younger, cheaper net-minding options as well: Vitek Vanecek (Washington), Kaapo Kahkonen (Minnesota) and Florida’s pending UFA Chris Driedger who, if you follow hockey Twitter, is almost certainly signed, sealed and delivered for the Kraken already.

Philosophically, NHL teams will tell you they are built from goaltending out, so that’s where we began too. Spoiler alert: After a vigorous debate, we elected NOT to take Price. The explanation is below.

In his previous life as an NHL GM, Kraken GM Ron Francis was known for his ultra-conservative managerial style, but he has a chance to swing for the fences a few times here and we’re recommending he do so with Colorado’s pending UFA captain Gabriel Landeskog. No other team is positioned as well as Seattle to overpay Landeskog and if you could ever coax him to an expansion team, he’d be the perfect captain — a foundational piece, in the prime of his career, who would help set the organizational culture going forward.

Generally speaking, hockey front offices are not democracies, but ours was.

The majority ruled.

In the end, we made a list, we checked it twice (to ensure we met both the positional and financial stipulations associated with the expansion draft), and we present it here for your critiques and comments:

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Monday, July 19, 2021

What if the Senators and Lightning had the same expansion draft rules as Seattle and Vegas?

The Ottawa Senators’ missteps at the 1992 expansion draft are well documented in hockey lore.

In their first big moment on the NHL stage, the expansion club made multiple selections that were deemed ineligible.

With the 33rd selection, they tried to draft forward Todd Ewen from the Montreal Canadiens. The Senators, however, didn’t realize that Montreal had already lost the maximum of two players, making Ewen ineligible for selection.

Seven picks later, the Senators made the same mistake again by trying to take Todd Hawkins from the Maple Leafs after Toronto had already lost two players in the draft.

Somewhat flustered, Ottawa general manager Mel Bridgman returned to the podium and announced they would be selecting C.J. Young from the Calgary Flames. The only problem was that Young was a second-year pro and thus exempt from the draft proceedings.

The Senators’ draft prep work was done on a laptop, but when club officials rolled into the ballroom of the Gouverneur Hotel in Montreal on June 18, 1992, they discovered the battery on the computer was dead. They could not find a plug to charge their computer, leaving all of their research stuck on a useless laptop. Bridgman and his team were forced to work off memory and a few pieces of paper, resulting in some chaotic moments.

But truth be told, it’s not like the Senators missed out on some talented players because of their technical glitch. The 1992 expansion draft class was thin, stocked only with fringe NHLers and minor leaguers. And because Ottawa was drafting at the same time as the Tampa Bay Lightning, it further diluted the pool.

So it got us thinking: What if we applied the current expansion draft rules — the ones that the Seattle Kraken will use on Wednesday night — to the 1992 proceedings? Would the Senators and Lightning have vastly superior teams to the ones they iced in their inaugural seasons?

Remember, the 1992-93 Senators were one of the worst teams in modern NHL history. They managed to win only 10 games in their 84-game season, for a woeful .143 winning percentage. The Lightning were significantly better, but they still finished in last place in the Norris Division with 53 points — exactly half the total of the division champion Chicago Blackhawks.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Friday, July 16, 2021

Quiz: Expand your mind or at least your league with our NHL expansion draft history quiz

We’ll finally get to meet the Seattle Kraken next week, as the NHL holds an expansion draft on Wednesday. It will be the 13th expansion draft in league history, or maybe the 12th, and quite possibly the last for a while. And if you know this league, you can probably guess that the history here gets weird.

We’ve had the 1967 draft that doubled the size of the league, three more expansions in the early 70s, a 1979 merger that may or may not count, six different expansion drafts in a decade starting in 1991, and of course the 2017 draft that welcomed the Golden Knights. I hear they turned out OK. Maybe Seattle will too.

What about you? You’re probably not getting drafted on Wednesday, although once the side deals start flying you never know. But you can show off your knowledge by taking this 20-question quiz about the history of NHL expansion.

Can you ace it? Or will you put the “mock” in mock draft? Take your best shot at answering the multiple-choice questions, then scroll back up and check the table to see how you did.

0 correct: You are the 1974 Capitals, and it shouldn’t be possible to be this bad.

1 – 3 correct: You are the 1992 Senators, and owe everyone an apology.

4 – 6 correct: You are the 1999 Thrashers, and did you best with what you had, which is to say nothing.

7 – 9 correct: You are the 1972 Islanders, and it’s OK because you’re building for the future.

10 – 12 correct: You are the 1991 North Stars, and we’re not even sure you should be here.

13 – 16 correct: You are the 1993 Panthers, and your success will no doubt be completely sustainable.

17 – 19 correct: You are the 1967 Blues, and got put in an easy division.

20 correct: You are Ron Francis and should probably stop screwing around with online quizzes and get back to work.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Wednesday, July 14, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: Let's get Wild

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- The Wild buy out Zach Parise and Ryan Suter and we're confused
- How many 10-year+ contracts actually worked?
- Remember that bonkers Chris Chelios threat to Gary Bettman
- Thoughts on the Senators' interesting new front office
- More on the Duncan Keith trade
- Jesse Granger on next year's Cup odds
- Cinderella teams, the days of coach/GMs, remembering the 1994 Mike Keenaan fiasco 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)

Mailbag: Dumbest Lightning lessons, blockbuster trades, and giving Gary Bettman a truth serum

Welcome to the offseason, that wonderful time of year when you have to publish everything you write immediately because otherwise it’s completely out of date and everyone laughs at you. We’ve already had a Duncan Keith trade, a Pierre McGuire hiring and Bill Guerin throwing a buyout at anyone who looks at him funny. And it’s only Wednesday morning. Let’s see what was on your minds this week…

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

It’s no secret that the NHL is a copycat league. But GMs are dumb and sometimes copy the wrong thing. What are the absolutely 100% wrong lessons other GMs will take from the Lightning’s repeat championship? – Matt Z.

This is a fun one. I think the obvious answer is “Put your best player on the LTIR all season long, on the assumption that you’ll easily make the playoffs anyway”, and yeah, you could see current GMs torpedoing themselves with that one.

But we have other options. For example: Be sure to have a backup goalie who you would not trust to play even one minute of the postseason. Always trade up one single pick in the third round to make sure you get your guy. Let your captain test free agency whenever his contract is up. Encourage your GM to quit right before training camp. And of course, remember that even if you’re stacked with more talent than any other team in the league, your third line are somehow the most important players you have.

Wait, I think today’s GMs really will go for that last one.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Puck Soup: Dunk on Keith

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Reactions to the Duncan Keith trade and Pierre McGuire news
- Thoughts on the Lightning winning the Stanley Cup a month ago or whenever that was
- Nikita Kucherov had two beers and was mean to Habs fans
- Also the Stanley Cup is broken now
- The curious case of Marc Bergevin's contract status
- The NHL has decided cross-checking should be against the rules
- OUFL baseball sluggers, which just turns into us remembering how awesome a lot of guys were

>> 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 which a simple question about NHL draft history goes wrong

So I had what I thought was a neat idea for a draft-related column. Instead, I think I discovered a new and immutable law of the NHL universe. Stay with me, it’s the offseason and this is going to get weird.

Here was the original idea: What’s the best starting six you could make if you just took the first players drafted at each position in a given draft year? In other words, you take the first center, the first left winger, the first right winger, the first two defenseman and the first goalie selected in an NHL entry draft, and that’s your six. Which year gives you the best mix of legitimate stars?

Simple enough, right? It’s even easy enough to research, since plenty of sites list every pick from every draft. We do get into a bit of a grey area when it comes to positions, since some guys move around the ice a bit and it can be tough to figure out what exactly a team thought they were drafting, but that’s not a huge hurdle. I decided to use as my guide, and that I’d just default to which ever position they listed unless I could find convincing evidence that they were wrong.

I also decided to start with the first entry draft, which was the legendary class of 1979. That skips the 17 years of amateur drafts from 1963 to 1978, but that seems fine since those 1960s drafts tended to be terrible and the 1970s weren’t all that much better. Lots of high picks in those days never played at all, and I wanted to focus on the picks that turned into stars. (Thunder rumbles and ominous foreshadowing music briefly plays.) Let’s stick with the big names, right?

It goes without saying that some years will be better than others. There are busts in every draft class, and sometimes they’re even the first pick at their position. So we just figure out which years were actually good, narrow it down to a top ten, and you’ve got yourself an easy ranking column for the week before the draft.

What could go wrong?

So I started with 1979, often considered the best draft class ever because it was a double cohort (after the league changed the eligibility age from 19 to 18). It produced the highest-scoring defenseman ever in Ray Bourque, the third-highest scoring forward in Mark Messier, a 700-goal scorer in Mike Gartner, plus Hall-of-Famers like Michel Goulet, Kevin Lowe, Guy Carbonneau and Glenn Anderson. Fertile ground for this sort of thing.

But as it turns out, our draft-based starting six is… just OK. Barely passable, if we’re being honest. We get a solid enough blueline with first overall pick Rob Ramage and sixth pick Craig Hartsburg, but miss Bourque because he went eighth. Mike Foligno bumps Gartner out of the right wing spot by one pick. The center is Perry Turnbull, the left wing is Tom McCarthy. And the goalie is Pat Riggin, an underrated 1980s name but one who was a backup by his mid-20s.

That’s kind of a disappointing way to start, but you get the concept. Let’s dive in and find some more star-studded lineups.

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Friday, July 9, 2021

A brief history of underdog runs ending badly in the final (and whether that should worry Habs fans)

While it didn’t end the way they’d hoped, the Montreal Canadiens just pulled off one of the great underdog runs in NHL history. They went from finishing 18th and going into the playoffs as an afterthought all the way to the final, and finished just four wins short of doing the unthinkable. It was pretty amazing.

It also wasn’t especially rare in the modern era, and that’s where this gets a bit tricky if you’re a Habs fan looking toward the future. For reasons I’m not quite clear on, the NHL tends to serve up one of these underdog runs to the Stanley Cup final every few years, including some featuring teams that were bigger longshots than the Canadiens. But they all seem to end the same way – with the underdog losing in the final, sometimes decisively. And it’s the part that comes next that should worry Montreal fans: A lot of these teams never came close to contending again.

History can teach us some things, but it doesn’t necessarily predict the future. So today, let’s look back on ten underdog teams from modern NHL history that had a similar run to what the Canadiens just pulled off, and how the rest of their story unfolded once the final was over. We’ll look for any similarities or key differences when it comes to this year’s Canadiens.

I’ve picked ten of the biggest underdog runs from the last 30 years. We could probably argue over some of these, or try to cram in a couple more. I didn’t include a few teams you might be expecting to see, like the 2002 Hurricanes (who won their division and had home ice through the first three rounds), the 2012 Devils (who had 102 points despite being the six-seed), the 2016 Sharks (who had a respectable 98 points and had been to two recent conference finals), or the 2018 Golden Knights (who were certainly shocking as an expansion team, but had a dominant 109-point regular season).

Maybe we’ll learn something. Or maybe we’ll just remembers some underdogs. Either way, we’ll start 30 years ago and work our way forward, meaning we get to kick things off with what might still stand as the most shocking underdog run in modern NHL history.

1991 Minnesota North Stars

The underdog: The North Stars were a legitimately bad team, finishing the year with just 68 points to finish 16th in a league that only had 21 teams. And to make matters worse, this was the one year that the Norris Division was actually good, with Chicago and St. Louis finishing as the NHL’s top two teams to set up an inevitable battle for the ages we all assumed we’d get in round two.

The unexpected run: The North Stars shocked the Blackhawks in six and then did it again against the Blues. For their trouble, they earned a conference final meeting with the defending champions, an Oilers team that hadn’t been very good during the season but still had plenty of remnants of the dynasty years, including Mark Messier and Grant Fuhr. Minnesota beat them in five.

The final: The North Stars faced the powerhouse Penguins in the final, and actually led that series 2-1 after three games. But Mario and friends were too much, and Minnesota’s miracle run fell two wins shorts of the most unlikely championship in NHL history.

But then: The North Stars didn’t get any sort of boost from their run, finishing 1991-92 with just 70 points. Worse, they never won another playoff round in Minnesota, moving to Dallas in 1993.

Why they might worry Habs fans: A huge factor in the downfall of the North Stars was who they lost in the expansion process that welcomed a new team to a West Coast market.

Why they might not: Who they lost in expansion was “literally half the roster”. Yeah, it gets complicated, but let’s just say I don’t see the Canadiens having the same problem with Seattle.

1993 Los Angeles Kings

The underdog: Los Angeles finished the season with just 88 points in a conference where five teams had 97 or more. They also had a franchise player who was injured for half the season (Wayne Gretzky) and a new and largely unknown coach with cool hair (Barry Melrose). Hey wait a second…

The unexpected run: The Kings upset the Flames and Canucks, both in six games, to take the Smythe crown. Then they pulled off a memorable seven-game win over the Maple Leafs that you may have heard about.

The final: The Kings went into the Forum and took Game 1 over the favored Habs, and were on the verge of taking a 2-0 series lead when Marty McSorley taught us all about the NHL’s illegal stick rules. Montreal swept the rest of the series, winning in five.

But then: It all collapsed shockingly quickly. Melrose only lasted one more full season, Gretzky was traded in 1996, and L.A. wouldn’t make the playoffs again for five years or win so much as a round until 2001.

Why they might worry Habs fans: There are a lot of similarities here, including the Melrose/Dominique Ducharme comparison and the injured superstar. There’s even the all-Canada angle; Montreal played in the North Division, while the Kings only faced Canadian teams on their run.

Why they might not: Unlike the 2021 Habs, this miracle run actually ended in a Montreal win. (Sorry, sorry, I’m trying to delete it.)

1994 Vancouver Canucks

The underdog: The Canucks finished the season with 85 points, making them the seven-seed under the league’s new conference-based playoff format. Nobody gave them much of a chance, especially when they fell behind 3-1 in the opening series.

The unexpected run: It took three overtime games, but the Canucks clawed back win that opening round against Calgary, finishing it with one of greatest OT goals ever. They went on to beat the Stars and Leafs, both in five games.

The final: The Canucks faced the Presidents’ Trophy winning Rangers, a 112-point powerhouse riding high off of Mark Messier’s guarantee and a memorable conference final win over the Devils. The Canucks fell behind 3-1, then fought back to delay the coronation before finally dropping a heart-breaking Game 7.

But then: The Canucks did win a round in 1995, but it would be the last one they’d win until 2003, including a four-year span with no playoff appearances at all.

Why they might worry Habs fans: I mean, they fell behind 3-1 to a Canadian rival in round one, came back to win that series based on overtime magic, won the next two rounds in just ten total games, then faced the best team in the league.

Why they might not: The Canadiens aren’t dumb enough to sign Steven Stamkos as a free agent in three years and watch him wreck the team from the inside… are they?

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Thursday, July 8, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: Lightning repeat, Kucherov's press conference, and a rant about the LTIR loophole

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- The Lighting finish off the Habs to go back-to-back
- Nikita Kucherov's legendary postgame press conference
- Did the voters get the Conn Smythe right?
- I have something to get off my chest about the whole LTIR controversy
- Where Patrick Maroon ranks among the Stanley Cup's greatest role-players ever
- Is Jon Cooper now the best coach in the NHL?
- Tarasenko requests a trade, Keith may be headed to Edmonton, this week in hockey 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, July 7, 2021

Puck Soup: Conne Smythe or con job?

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Thoughts on the Stanley Cup final, and how Tampa's mayor may have ruined everything
- The Matiss Kivlenieks tragedy
- Jonathan Toews says he's on the way back
- Duncan Keith to Edmonton?
- Ron MacLean whiffs on his Bettman interview
- We pass judgment on each of the cap era's Conn Smythe calls
- A new game show on the NHL's longest contracts, 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, an all-time roster of stars with no Cups or stars who won Cups with multiple teams?

With a new set of names soon to be engraved on the Stanley Cup and the offseason looming, let’s kill some time with a roster challenge.

How about this one: Who wins, a team made up of guys who never won the Stanley Cup, or guys who won Stanley Cups with multiple teams?

Let’s start with the obvious. By setting the rules like this, we’re wiping out the vast majority of NHL stars. That’s the beauty of it. By definition, we lose all the guys who only ever played for one franchise, like Mario Lemieux, Nicklas Lidstrom, Joe Sakic or Denis Potvin. We lose everyone who only won a single Cup, like Ray Bourque, Teemu Selanne, Brian Leetch and Luc Robitaille. And we lose anyone on the surprisingly long list of players who played for multiple teams and won multiple Cups but only ever got a ring with a single team, including Wayne Gretzky, Dominik Hasek, Bobby Orr and Jaromir Jagr.

Who’s left? Enough to make two pretty good rosters, although it won’t be easy. Then again, why would we do this if it was?

But first, a few ground rules. We’ll limit this to the modern era, which is to say post-1967, and when in doubt we’ll lean towards more recent stars. We’ll try to keep position in mind, although we’ll assume that some of the best players in history can shift around if we need them to. We’re disqualifying any active player from the “no Cups” roster; if they’re still playing, it’s not fair to say that they won’t win a Cup. And we’re obviously only looking at Cups won as a player, without worrying about any rings a guy may have earned as a coach or executive.

Makes sense? Cool, let’s make up some fake rosters to argue about.

First line

There’s no surprise on who’s heading up the top unit on Team No Cup. It’s the same name that always shows up on these lists: Marcel Dionne, one of the greatest offensive players of all-time but a guy who never made it out of the second round. We’ll make him team captain, and we’ll give him two of my personal favorite players on his wings in Jarome Iginla and Paul Kariya. That’s three Hall-of-Famers and about 1,750 goals. Not a bad start.

Can Team Multi-Cup match them? They can get off to a solid start down the middle with their own team captain in Mark Messier, who had Cups with the Oilers and Rangers and (checks notes) not the Canucks. Let’s put Brett Hull on one wing, thanks to Cup wins in Dallas and Detroit, and hope nobody’s manning the replay review booth.

As always, left wings are tough to find, especially since six-time champ Frank Mahovlich just misses our post-expansion cutoff based on his last Toronto title coming in 1967. But we can at least give them a winger who shot left, as Mark Recchi joins Team Multi-Cup’s top line thanks to rings earned in Pittsburgh, Carolina and Boston. That gives us a top line that accounts for roughly 4,800 points.

Three players per roster into this, and it’s too close to call. Team Multi-Cup has slightly better numbers, but I kind of want to see Team No Cup in action a little more. Let’s call it even and move onto the second lines.

Second line

Team No Cup still has plenty of options, but I’m going to give this line a mid-90s focus. We’ll start with a pair of players who had a ton of real-life success together, as we put Adam Oates at center and give him Cam Neely on his wing. Will it makes Oates sad to see Hull on the other side? Maybe, but I’m guessing he’ll be OK, especially when he looks over on his other wing and sees converted center Eric Lindros. How much room do you think a finesse guy like Oates would get with Lindros and Neely running around out there? The answer: All the room.

Team Multi-Cup has an elite option available down the middle, as Bryan Trottier makes the team thanks to four Cups with the Islanders dynasty and two more with the early-90s Penguins. We’ll give him another six-time champ on one wing, as Glenn Anderson’s late-season trade to the 1994 Rangers pays off. And we’ll round out the line with Joey Mullen, who won with Trottier in Pittsburgh after already earning a ring in Calgary with the 1989 Flames.

Trottier’s the best player from this group, but I think Team No Cup has the more dangerous threesome. We’ll give them an edge as we move on to the bottom six.

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Monday, July 5, 2021

Each of the last 25 Stanley Cup-winning goals, ranked from worst to best

We’re officially into the final week of the NHL season, with the Stanley Cup final ending as early as tonight and no later than Sunday. And that means that this week, somebody on the Habs or Lightning is going to join a reasonably exclusive club: players that have scored Cup-winning goals.

It’s a weird group. Some Cup-winners have been become famous, or at least infamous. Others are all but forgotten, overshadowed by other moments. That seems like solid ground for a ranking, so let’s go back over the last 25 Cup-winning goals and rank them from worst to least. It’s completely subjective, of course, but it’s always fun to Remember Some Guys Goals.

We’ll be using the NHL’s definition of a game-winning goal, which is to say whichever goal put a team over what their opponent would end the game with. If you win 5-2, the third goal is the winner. If you get a shutout, the first goal is. This is a different definition that other sports use (the old game-winning RBI in baseball used to be the one that put a team ahead to stay) but it’s how the NHL has always done it. Sometimes, the game-winning goal is the most important and memorable in the game. Often, as we’re about to see, it isn’t. But it still goes into the record books.

For the most part, I want to look at each of these 25 goals on their own, without worrying too much about context. A Cup-winner that’s scored in Game 7 is obviously more dramatic than one that caps off a sweep, an overtime winner beats one scored in the first period, and one that wins the Cup for your favorite team is obviously more important than any other. We could try to do it that way, but I think it’s more fun if we just judge each goal on its own merits. How cool a play was it? How much skill was involved? How likely was it to make you shake your head, either in amazement or amusement? That’s what we’re looking for here, without too much concern for the bigger picture.

Well, mostly. There’s one goal that’s impossible to strip away from its greater context, and it’s the one you’re probably already thinking of. We might as well get that one out of the way first…

#25. 1999 – Brett Hull, Stars

To this day, virtually every hockey fan outside of Dallas is convinced that this goal shouldn’t have counted. The NHL was a few seasons into its completely awful skate-in-crease rule, and every fan had been taught that even so much as a toenail in the blue paint meant a goal wouldn’t count. Then Hull scored with his foot in the crease, and nobody even seemed to want to bother to review it.

To be fair, the NHL maintains that this goal was a good one under the rules, since Hull had possession of the puck. (Here’s a clip of the director of officiating explaining that on Hockey Night in Canada, which would be a nice thing to bring back for controversial calls these days.) The possession call is debatable, but the bigger issue is that after training fans to expect tedious reviews anytime anyone was near the crease, the NHL skipped over that this time and went straight to the Cup presentation. The whole scene left the impression that the league just didn’t have the guts to even consider overturning a Cup-winning goal when the celebration was already in full swing, and… well, yeah, you can see why people think that.

Even beyond the controversy, this is a pretty anti-climactic goal, especially given that it involves two legends in Brett Hull and Dominik Hasek. It’s just a basic rebound being shoveled home. Factor in the sour taste it leaves in so many fans’ mouths even decades later, and I can’t rank it anywhere else.

#24. 2007 – Chris Phillips, Senators Travis Moen, Ducks

The only thing keeping this out of the #25 spot is that Hull’s goal remains infamous, while this one has (mercifully) been largely forgotten. That’s good news for Phillips, since there’s a case that this moment should live alongside Scott Norwood and Bill Buckner among the all-time worst plays in sports history with a championship on the line.

Oy yoy yoy, indeed.

#23. 2017 – Patric Hornqvist, Penguins

Some games are just designed to make new hockey fans. This was not one of them. With the Cup in the building and the first repeat championship of the cap era on the line, the Predators and Penguins combined for 58 minutes of scoreless hockey. That’s OK, as long as the eventual winning goal is a good one, right? Or we could get a bank shot off the goalie’s behind. That sound you heard was remote controls clicking off all around the continent.

#22. 1996 – Uwe Krupp, Avalanche

At the time, this goal made Krupp just the third defenseman in NHL history to score an overtime Cup winner. The first two were Bill Barilko, whose goal was immortalized in song, and Bobby Orr, whose goal became arguably the most famous in NHL history. Krupp’s goal is not famous, and it will not be the subject of a hit song, unless somebody out there can think of something that rhymes with “a long distance seeing-eye goal in a boring 1-0 game to mercifully end one of the worst finals in history”.

#21. 1995 – Neal Broten, Devils

This one is a little bit of history: Four years before the Hull controversy, here’s the first Cup-winner to ever get the full review treatment. The NHL’s replay system was brand new back then, and there weren’t as many reasons for a review as we have today, but officials could take another look at goals that may have been kicked in.

I still can’t tell if this one was good or not, but how much more fun was replay review when the guys doing it were in the arena and we had a camera on them as they frantically pointed at freeze frames?

#20. 2003 – Mike Rupp, Devils

Rupp played 11 NHL seasons and scored two playoff goals. I’m going to go out on a limb and say this one was the biggest. It comes on a deflection of a Scott Niedermayer point shot. I’d give you more details, but every surviving clip of this goal seems to have been filmed on a potato.

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Friday, July 2, 2021

What’s been NHL playoff history’s most common path to a Stanley Cup?

Fair warning, there’s no especially high concept for today’s post. Just a neat question, sent in by reader Rob B., that could take us to some interesting places.

Rob wanted to know: What’s the most common path through the NHL playoffs for an eventual Stanley Cup champion?

In other words, which teams does the soon-to-be-champion encounter (and beat) most often, and in which rounds? Or to put it one more way, which teams are the ones who’ve historically served as stepping stones for the most eventual champs?

I’m going to pause here while you think about where your team would rank. Then I’m going to make a prediction: You think they’re going to show up a lot. Maybe even close to the top of the list. I feel like this is one of those universal things, like “my team always gets shut out by rookie goalies” or “my team always gets scored on by former players”, where every fan base thinks they’re unique. In this case, you’re thinking your team always seems to end up losing to the eventual Cup winner.

Well, you’re wrong, because I’m pretty sure the Leafs are going to be the team that shows up the most. That just seems like it would be very on-brand for them. I haven’t looked it up yet, so let’s dive in and see who’s right.

We’ll do this by round, going back to the 1979-80 season that marked the first year with a 16-team postseason and four rounds for everyone. (There were some seasons in the 70s with a preliminary round, meaning some teams had to play four rounds to get to the final and some only three, but for sake of simplicity we won’t worry about those. We’re also ignoring last year’s play-in round.)

So which team has been first-round fodder for the most champions? Let’s find out…

Round one

It doesn’t take us very long to see a team stake its claim to our cannon fodder crown. The Los Angeles Kings are the very first team to crack our list, as they kick off that 1980 postseason by losing their opening round series to an Islanders team they’d just helped out at the trade deadline. The Kings would pull off the repeat in 1985 and again 1987, losing in the first round to the Oilers both times. So just eight years into our history lesson, and the Kings have already opened the playoffs by losing to the eventual champ three times. Can anyone catch them?

Yes, as it turns out, because that 1987 series is the last time the Kings show up on our round one list. That opens the door to a Smythe Division rival, as the Winnipeg Jets were the first-round victim in each of the decade’s three other Oiler championships, in 1984, 1986 and 1990.

We get two more entries in the three-timers club thanks to more recent franchises in the cap era. The Nashville Predators lost in the opening round to the eventual champs in 2008 (Detroit), 2010 (Chicago) and 2015 (the Hawks again). And the Columbus Blue Jackets have come roaring into the fray in recent years, losing in the first round to the Penguins in 2017, the Capitals in 2018 and the Lightning last year.

That gives us four teams, tied at three losses each, and here’s where we’ll hit a little bit of potential controversy with one of them. The Jets became the Coyotes in 1996, and two years later they lost to the Red Wings to open Detroit’s second of back-to-back title runs, Arizona’s one and only appearance on the list since the move. That threatens to kick off another round of the “Are the Jets still the Jets?” existential debate, but as it turns out, the reborn version of the team also shows up once, thanks to Winnipeg’s 2019 loss to the Blues. So either way you slice it, some version of the Jets is up to four first-round exits to eventual Cup winners. It’s just a little messy.

Luckily for us, that turns out not to matter, because there’s one team that can top that. The Vancouver Canucks show up on the first-round list with admirable consistency, having lost to the Flames in 1989, the Avalanche in 1996 and 2001, the Red Wings in 2002, and then the Kings in 2012, for a total of five seasons where they’ve lost to the eventual Cup champ in round one.

That’s impressive commitment to the bit, and it gives us the first step of our ultimate answer: The most common path to the Stanley Cup starts with a win over the Vancouver Canucks in round two.

Got the concept? Cool, let’s see who’s waiting for our archetypal Cup champs in the next round.

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Thursday, July 1, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: Habs best isn't enough

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- The Canadiens dominate the Lightning but still lose Game 2
- Where does Blake Coleman's goal rank among the great back-breakers in final history?
- Debating whether a win would make the Lightning a dynasty
- Thoughts on the Ryan Nugent-Hopkins extension
- Jesse Grangers joins us to wrap up the NHL awards
- Listener questions about expanded playoffs and how cross-checking works
- This week in history looks at the Eric Lindros trade(s), 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)