Monday, August 30, 2021

What lessons will the rest of the NHL learn from the Jesperi Kotkaniemi offer sheet?

The Carolina Hurricanes offer sheet to Jesperi Kotkaniemi has become the talk of the NHL. While that’s not an especially high bar in August, this is a pretty irresistible story for a hockey fan. It’s got the novelty of the rarely seen offer sheet, some genuine intrigue over how it will all play out, and a solid dose of pettiness to add to the mix.

That last bit is the angle that’s getting most of the attention these days, and rightly so given how clearly this move was inspired by the Habs’ 2019 offer sheet to Sebastian Aho. NHL front offices are filled with bitter grumps with long memories, but they’re usually not this over-the-top. From the $20 signing bonus to the word-for-for press release, apparently the Hurricanes don’t do subtle.

But while I can appreciate some junior high-level drama as much as the next guy, I’m wondering about a different angle: Where does the NHL go from here? After all, this a copycat league that’s notorious for GMs reacting to anything that happens by immediately shifting strategy to… well, something different. Sometimes they learn the right lesson. Often, they don’t. So what are NHL GMs going to talk themselves into after watching this whole mess unfold from their cottages?

I’m not sure, but I’ve got a few possibilities. Let’s work through how this might play out.

Lesson 1: Offer sheets are too dangerous, never try them

This one’s simple. The Canadiens’ offer sheet to Aho was the first one the league had seen in six years, and the biggest since Shea Weber in 2012. In between, hockey fans were left wondering why nobody was using a powerful weapon that was sitting right there in the rulebook. We could argue over whether Montreal’s move had any chance of succeeding – it didn’t – but at least they tried, which is more than you can say for anyone else.

And now, they have their reward: A retaliatory offer sheet aimed at one of their key young players. The lesson, it would seem, is to stay away from offer sheets entirely. You’ll just about never get the player, you get your fans’ hopes up for nothing, and you might just be putting a target on your own RFAs a year or two down the line.

Let’s be honest, we’re all pretty sure that this is the lesson that NHL GMs will end up learning from all this. But is it the right one?

Maybe, but there’s one problem with that theory: We’ve been hearing about the risk of retaliatory offer sheets for years. It comes up every summer, as yet another crop of top-tier RFAs would come and go without a single attempt. When fans would wonder why GMs were so hesitant to even try an offer sheet, one of the first reasons offered was always the threat of payback. But it basically never happened; before this weekend, the last time a team tried a retribution-based offer sheet was in 2008, when the Blues responded to the Canucks signing David Backes by going after Steve Bernier.

That was it. The Predators never went after a Flyer after the Weber offer. The Avs didn’t target any Flames after Ryan O’Reilly. The Sabres didn’t go after any Oilers after Thomas Vanek. Until this week, a GM who tried an offer sheet had as much chance of being challenged to a barn fight as they did of facing a return attempt. But they kept bringing it up anyway, hiding behind a mostly imagined threat as a reason to avoid doing their jobs.

Now it’s finally happened. But it sure seems like the fear of this kind of situation was already baked into whatever calculations teams were doing. It was the monster under the bed that they were already afraid of. Now that the monster is real, does that really change anything?

It might, which is why we’re all assuming that we’ll hear this excuse even more often in the coming years. But in the interest of encouraging GMs to keep their options open, let’s see if we can flip this one around…

Lesson 2: Offer sheets can actually work, so use them more

All those offer sheets we mentioned in the last section were matched. So was every offer sheet of the last 24 years, with one exception: the infamous Dustin Penner deal in 2007, which led to the Brian Burke/Kevin Lowe feud. Penner was a decent player in his day, but he wasn’t exactly anyone’s idea of a star. The last genuine difference-maker to switch teams after an offer sheet was… geez, does Chris Gratton in 1997 count? Shayne Corson in 95? Do we have to go all the way back to the Scott Stevens/Brendan Shanahan days in the early 90s?

You get the point. Offer sheets just don’t work. The incentive for teams to hold onto their own RFAs is just too high. That’s always been the system’s biggest problem. Why bother signing another team’s star to an offer sheet that won’t work? Sure, you can mess with their cap situation a bit, but that’s about the only benefit. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time, because teams always match.

Except along comes the Kotkaniemi deal, and the Habs… might not?

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Thursday, August 26, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: What if?

On this week's special "what if?" episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- What if Gretzky stays in Edmonton?
- What i the Sabres win the McDavid lottery?
- What if the linesman doesn't miss Duchene's offside?
- What if Patrik Stefan scores into that empty net?
- What if Don Waddell back-stabbed Brian Burke at the Sedin draft?
- 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, August 25, 2021

Is it possible to build a six-man starting lineup of NHL players whose names all rhyme?

It’s the dead zone of the offseason, so you know we’re getting weird. It’s fine, all the important people are at a cottage, we can do whatever we want and nobody will notice.

Today, that means tackling a simple question: Can we come up with a six-man starting lineup of well-known NHL players where all of their last names rhyme?

Plot twist: This turns out to not be such a simple question after all. But for once, it’s not because the answer is hard to find, although (spoiler alert) it’s that too.

Instead, it’s that apparently we can spend a lot of time arguing over what it means for something to rhyme. I kind of assumed that was a straightforward concept, but I ended up going down a rabbit-hole of literary and linguistic theory, and learning about terms like perfect and imperfect rhymes, not to mention slant rhymes and eye rhymes and whether a rhyme is masculine and feminine.

I did not appreciate any of this, because I’m a sportswriter, which means I made a commitment to stop learning new things a decade ago. But it became clear that we could make this whole thing way too easy if we went with the looser definitions, like just looking for matching final syllables. Screw that. Gretzky doesn’t rhyme with Crosby and Neely and Selanne, and we’re not making a team of guys whose last names all end in “son” or “ov” or “chuk”. What, you want to do things the easy way? Is this your first day here? Full-name rhymes only or get out.

We’re also going to note the obvious rule that matching names don’t rhyme (so no team made up of Sutters), and neither do different names that sound the same when spoken out loud (so no Billy Smith and Ryan Smyth). The one concession we’ll make is to go with generally accepted pronunciations and be a little lenient on what counts as a match, so please don’t fill the comment section with explanations of the etymology of subtle differences between two names from different regions of the world.

We need three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie, and we’re looking for perfect rhymes using names today’s fans might have heard of. Can it be done?

As we like to say around these parts in August: This is completely pointless, let’s do it.

I started the search with what seemed like an obvious strategy: Focus on one-syllable names. If we’re saying the whole thing has to rhyme, then lets keep that whole thing as short as possible, right? And as luck would have it, there are plenty of one-syllable names on the list of hockey royalty, so if we want to build around a star then we should be in good shape.

For example…

Attempt #1: Team Hall

This one has all sorts of potential, both because the name is nice and simple and lends itself well to rhymes, and also because we have the flexibility of starting with either Glenn Hall in goal or Taylor Hall up front. And we can immediately drop in another modern-day star in Eric Staal.

From there, though, the trail goes cold on us. We said we wanted a roster of six reasonably well-know players, and while Team Hall could open its doors to lesser-known NHLers like Kevin Dahl, Terry Ball, Bob Wall and current depth guy Nick Paul, it wouldn’t really seem like a worth entry. Let’s look elsewhere…

Attempt #2: Team Orr

There’s some momentary excitement when we realize we can start with a blueline of Bobby Orr and Eddie Shore, but it’s only temporary. We could put Jamie Storr in net, but Jay More was a defenseman and we’re already set there. There isn’t much else to work with that I can find, and while I have no doubt that I’ll miss some candidates here and there as we go through this, I don’t think there’s enough to work with on Team Orr.

Attempt #3: Team Clarke

Another strong start here, as we can build around a pair of 1970s Hall-of-Famers in Bobby Clarke and Brad Park. But again, that initial excitement wears off quickly, as we have to break the news to the comic book crowd that there’s never been a Stark in the NHL. There has been a Mark (90s defenseman Gordon) and a Dark (a few games in the 80s from defenseman Michael), but that’s about it.

The old-timers are letting us down. Let’s see if we have better luck with something a little more modern…

Attempt #4: Team Stone

We have a sold foundation up front with Mark Stone and Shane Doan, which is a decent start. I’m not sure if we can get away with Travis Moen for the third forward slot, but that’s OK because there was an Original Six-era forward named Tod Sloan who played for 13 seasons and was a Hart runner-up one year. That’s a solid top line.

From there, though, I’m not sure where to go. The NHL has never had a Cone, and our dumb rules that I’m already regretting keep us from using a Malone or Varone. So chalk this one up as another false start.

At this point, we’re starting to realize that this is going to be tougher than it seemed, which won’t be a surprise to anyone who’s a regular to Offseason DGB content. I don’t think we even get off the ground with some other well-known one-syllable NHL names, like Hull or Howe or Roy. Come to think of it, that last one might not even be one syllable depending on how French the person saying it is trying to be. This whole thing may have been a bad idea.

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Thursday, August 19, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: The Hall of Fame debate episode

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Ian and I face off on some of the toughest Hockey Hall of Fame debates
- Thoughts on Mike Vernon, Chris Osgood, and the Hall being weird about goalies
- Neither of us can come up with a good reason why Alexander Mogilny isn't in
- Ian makes the case for Daniel Alfredsson, and I do not
- 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)

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Mailbag: Casting an NHL season of Survivor, rare jersey numbers, and the worst-case scenario for the Leafs

It’s August and nothing is happening. Let’s open up the mailbag and argue about reality TV, bigger nets and how bad it can really get for this year’s Leafs.

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

You’ve mentioned on the podcast a couple times that you and the family are big Survivor fans, so you seem like the ideal person to bring the NHL and Survivor together. Which current NHLers (players/coaches/executives) would make the best pre-merge tribe? – Scott A.

This is true. Survivor is like the only regularly scheduled program my family watches (everything else in YouTube, Netflix or sports). So yeah, let’s take a crack at a ten-person tribe.

To state the obvious, we’re not looking for the ten best Survivor players. That would be boring. Instead, we need to check all the boxes in a typical reality show lineup. Here’s the best I can come up with, although I’d want to hear some alternate versions in the comments.

Nathan MacKinnon: The guy who seems cool at first and takes a leadership position but turns out to be out of his mind and eventually makes half his tribe hate him, even though nobody will say that to his face because they’re secretly terrified of him.

P.K. Subban: The super-charismatic dude who is immediately loved by half the tribe and hated by the other half.

Brad Marchand: The guy who’s super annoying and knows it, and uses that to drive everyone else out of their minds and probably ends up winning.

Joe Thornton: The lovable goofball who everyone wants to keep around even though he gets winded a few seconds into every challenge.

Marc-Andre Fleury: The super-nice guy everyone is rooting for who gets blindsided in the season’s saddest moment.

Phil Kessel: The awkward guy who looks like he’s never done a sit-up in his life but turns out to be amazing at challenges and kind of makes you feel bad about yourself for some reason.

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Thursday, August 12, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: Is it possible to find ten NHL stars that nobody hates?

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- We try to come up with ten players from NHL history nobody hates and it's not easy
- Seriously, hockey fans hate everyone
- Hear the list we came up with and then yell at us about how you don't like that guy

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)

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Which team can build the best six-man lineup of players drafted in different rounds?

Today’s post is based on an idea that several of you have sent in, in some form or other. The most recent, and the one who inspired me to go ahead and do this, was from long-time reader Bill B., who I think is more of a football guy but apparently dabbles in hockey. Thanks Bill.

We’re going to take a run at a straightforward question: Which NHL team can make the best six-man starting lineup from players they’ve drafted, without using anyone who was picked in the same round?

That’s it. Nice and simple. We’re going to look for three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie that were all drafted by the same team, and all in different rounds. You get credit for everything that player did in their career (not just what they did for your team). Active players are eligible, but only based on what they’ve already done, not what they might do down the line. And no undrafted players – sorry, Wayne, you’re sitting this one out.

It should be easy enough to build out some teams. Will they be any good? That’s where it will get tricky, but of course your already knew that. As always, I’ll try to cover about half the league and then turn it over to you in the comments to fill in any teams you think can beat mine.

We’ll start where we usually do for these sort of things, by tapping into the rich history of the Original Six. They don’t have as much of an advantage as they usually do, since the NHL draft only started in 1963, and was pretty barren until well into the 70s, but the Original Six teams are the only ones with access to every draft ever held. They should be pretty good. Let’s see if they are.

Montreal Canadiens

The Habs are a great team to start with, because they illustrate the highs and lows of how this will play out. They start us off with easy picks, including Guy Lafleur as our first-round pick – he’s not only the all-time leading scorer among Habs draft picks, but he’s over 500 points ahead of the next most productive first-rounder (Saku Koivu). We have another easy call in the third round, with Patrick Roy filling our goalie slot.

The second round is a tougher choice, but in a good way, as we have to pick between Larry Robinson or Chris Chelios as our top defenseman. You can’t really go wrong with either, so three rounds in and we’ve got a slam-dunk Hall-of-Famer at each position.

And then… uh oh.

With apologies to Brent Gilchrist and Gilbert Dionne, the Canadiens have never really had a great fourth-round pick. The fifth round offers up Brendan Gallagher and Mikhail Grabovski but not much else. The sixth is actually much more fertile ground, with two 1,000-game forwards in Keith Acton and Craig Conroy, plus a strong blueline option in Andrei Markov. And then we go bargain hunting in the late rounds, looking through names like Tom Kurvers and Lyle Odelein (seventh), Michael Ryder and Brian Savage (eighth), and maybe Mark Streit (ninth). There’s also Viacheslav Fetisov in the 12th back in 1978, but he never showed interest in coming to Montreal and was re-drafted by the Devils five years later, so he doesn’t seem to fit the spirit of the thing.

In the end, I think you fill out your top six with Markov, Gallagher, and then I guess Ryder. It’s not a bad lineup, by any stretch, but it’s nowhere near as good as what we seemed to be headed for after those first three choices. This isn’t going to be easy.

Forwards: Guy Lafleur (1), Brendan Gallagher (5), Michael Ryder (8)

Defensemen: Larry Robinson (2), Andrei Markov (6)

Goalie: Patrick Roy (3)

Let’s see if one of Montreal’s oldest rivals can beat that group…

Boston Bruins

Like Montreal, the Bruins get off to any easy start. The first-rounder here is relatively obvious, as we briefly consider Joe Thornton before going ahead and penciling in Ray Bourque. And while it may be a somewhat surprising name, we also have an easy choice in goal with third-rounder Ken Dryden, a Bruin’s pick who was traded to Montreal before he debuted. That costs us fellow third-round pick Brad Marchand, but unless we want Dan Bouchard or Andrew Raycroft in net, we don’t really have a choice.

From there, I think we have to go with Patrice Bergeron in round two, and then the hunt for value starts. We can find some in eighth-round pick Don Sweeney (edging out Hal Gill), and ninth-round pick Craig MacTavish. That leaves us with one more forward slot to fill, and we can have our choice of fourth-round picks like Joey Juneau or Steve Kasper, fifth-rounders Ted Donato and Mariusz Czerkawski, or sixth-rounder Mike Krushelnyski. Those guys are all pretty similar, and the end result is a decent team that’s probably a little more balanced that Montreal’s even if it’s not necessarily better.

Forwards: Patrice Bergeron (2), Craig MacTavish (9), Mariusz Czerkawski (5)

Defensemen: Ray Bourque (1), Don Sweeney (8)

Goalie: Ken Dryden (3)

One more Original Six entry…

Toronto Maple Leafs


Yeah, here’s the thing about the Leafs draft history – they’re actually pretty good in round one. They’ve drafted two Hall-of-Famers in Darryl Sittler and Lanny MacDonald, a 1,200-point player in Vincent Damphousse, plus Tuukka Rask, Wendel Clark, and the current trio of first-round stars. For a team with a reputation for whiffing on draft picks, we’ve got plenty of options there.

But then… yikes. Apparently Maple Leaf scouts go home after round one, because there just isn’t much in the way of value anywhere. The all-time leading scorer among players drafted by the Maple Leafs after round one is second-rounder Rick Kehoe, with 767 points; that’s not great, but the next two forwards on the list are Yanic Perreault and Tiger Williams.

We can find a couple of late-round values on the blueline in Tomas Kaberle and Anton Stralman, which is enough to bump Randy Carlyle from the round two slot. There’s also personal favorite Sergei Berezin, a tenth-round pick. But yeah, overall the Leafs entry just isn’t all that good.

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Thursday, August 5, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: Nathan MacKinnon, bad contracts, and why does the NHL treat gambling differently from other scandals

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Nathan MacKinnon turns out to be a huge weirdo
- John Tortorella heads to ESPN, where he will probably be boring
- Thoughts on my prediction contest
- Jesse Granger explains the NHL's apparent double-standard when it comes to gambling
- Debating the league's worst current contract
- Lots of listener questions, remembering the Hasek trade, 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)

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Prediction contest results: Did anyone have a perfect entry? (And would that be enough to win?)

Seven months ago, days before opening night of the 2021 regular season, I decided to try something new: A prediction contest, one in which readers would make their picks for what would and wouldn’t happen during the upcoming season.

The idea was simple. I’d ask eight questions, all of them relatively straightforward. You’d choose how many answers you wanted to give, with the option of playing it safe or going aggressive to chase higher point totals. But the twist was that even one wrong answer hit you with a zero for a question, so you had to be sure.

The questions were designed to seem easy, but every NHL season serves up a few surprises. The easy answers are always so obvious, right up until they’re not. So how confident did you feel?

I’ll admit, I didn’t think the concept all the way through, especially when it came to tallying up the results. I’d have to do that by hand, which could get tricky. But I figured I’d get a few dozen entries, maybe even over 100 if people really seemed to like the idea, and that would be manageable.

Then over 800 of you entered. Whoops.

Ah well, what’s one more addition to my “overly complicated spreadsheet” folder. After digging through the entries, I think I’ve found the highest scores, including our winner. Did anyone manage to pull off a perfect entry, with points on all eight questions? We’ll get there, but first let’s walk through the questions and how you all did.

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