Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Woe Canada: Canucks, Canadiens, Senators… which team is Canada’s most miserable?

There are seven NHL teams in Canada. Four of them are good, and in a few cases maybe even very good. The Oilers, Flames, Jets and Leafs are a combined 53-23-10, with all four holding down playoff spots.

The country’s other three teams are, um, not doing that. We truly are a divided nation.

The Vancouver Canucks, Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators are locked in a furious battle to be the country’s most embarrassing team. The Habs have already wiped out their front office, the Canucks seem to be perpetually on the verge of something similar, and the Senators are somehow worse than both of them. It’s not going great.

But which team is the country’s worst story? That’s up for debate, which is where we come in. With the Canucks facing the Habs last night and the Senators tomorrow, now seems like a good time to break down the highs and lows of the three teams in all the key categories, and see where this leads us. How bad can it get? And which team takes the crown as the worst of the worst?


We can’t tell the story of the present without laying the foundation of the past. Who’s had it worse over the decades?

Senators: The modern version of the team started with a five-year stretch where they were considered the worst expansion team ever – not just in hockey, but any sport at all. More recently, they’ve been terrible on the ice and often bizarre off of it. But in between, there was a stretch where they were consistently very good, including one trip to the final in 2007. There was also a team with the same name that won Stanley Cups a hundred years ago, which it goes without saying does not count.

Canucks: It’s been over a half a century with no championships, although they’ve had several near-misses including seven-game heartbreaks in 1994 and 2011. That makes them the only Cup-less franchise in the history of the league that’s lost a Game 7 in the final. They also spent most of the 1980s getting their teeth kicked in by the Oilers, they gave away a young Cam Neely, they signed Mark Messier, and their most memorable moment in franchise history was a riot. Other than that, mostly positive.

Canadiens: Pretty solid, I think, although I’m not sure because their fans never bring it up.

Misery ranking

I ran the numbers, and five decades of sadness beats three.

1. Canucks
2. Senators
3. Canadiens

The season so far

How’s it going everyone? Good? I’m sure it’s probably good.

Senators: They’re neck-and-neck with the Coyotes, who aren’t even trying.

Canucks: They’re dead last in the Pacific, behind the brand new expansion team and the three California teams we all agreed would be terrible.

Canadiens: They’re not in last place! (Because they’re in the same division as the Senators.)

Misery ranking

We’re two sections in and I’m already depressed.

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Monday, November 29, 2021

Weekend rankings: How do you make a Top 5 when there are 10 deserving teams? Plus changes in Montreal, Islanders cancellations and more.

What if five is the wrong number?

This came up in the comment section of last week’s post, but it’s worth exploring in a bit more detail here. I do a top and bottom five every week in this column, because that seems like a good number to let us explore the most newsworthy teams without getting bogged down in the mushy middle that’s often just not that interesting in this league.

But the thing is that it’s five teams every week, no matter what. That might seem to imply that there’s always a five-team tier at each end of the spectrum, and of course that’s not always true. Often, the gap between fifth and sixth is a small one, if it’s even there at all. Sometimes, there isn’t much gap between third or fourth and ninth or tenth.

That’s kind of what’s happening so far this year, at least for one of the rankings. At the bottom, we really are starting to get some separation with five bad teams. But on the good side of the ledger, there’s a very strong case to be made for a handful of teams we don’t have room for. I think we’d all agree the Panthers and Hurricanes are still safely top-five teams. My long-term view means the Avalanche have to be there, and the Lightning should get some benefit of the doubt. I’ve mostly bought into the Oilers. That’s five teams right there, and I don’t think anyone would argue that any of those are controversial picks. But it still leaves us with at least five teams that have an extremely strong case for a spot. The “really good teams” club is a very crowded place right now.

I can’t fit everyone in, but in the interest of inclusion (and a futile attempt to limit the number of angry “BUT WHAT ABOUT” screeds in the comment section), let’s make the case for five more teams.

Calgary Flames: They’ve already won four in a row twice this year and are so good defensively that they’ve yet to go more than three games without a shutout. The underlying numbers are very good, the way they always are with Darryl Sutter teams. If the Oilers are going to get a spot each and every week, a Flames team that’s been keeping pace with them all year should be there too, right?

Vegas Golden Knights: They’ve been inconsistent all year, but at their best, they can look scary good. We didn’t see that on Saturday, but they’re getting healthy again, and if we’re looking long-term then we should probably discount the stretch where they were missing Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty. Oh, and Jack Eichel is waiting in the wings. If everyone’s in place by the time the playoffs start, do you really think there will be five teams with better Cup odds?

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Friday, November 26, 2021

When should the Habs tank? Plus Sabres vs. Canucks misery, Quebec City expansion, and more in the mailbag

An interesting fact about mailbags is that nobody reads the intro. You still have to have one, because it will look weird if you just jump directly into the questions without some sort of preamble. But as soon as your readers see “mailbag” in the headline they just automatically skip ahead to the bolded section that means the first question, so you can pretty much write anything you want and it’s fine because literally nobody will see it. When I was three my parents dressed me up as a Habs fan for Halloween and they still have the photos. On to this month’s questions!

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

When is the right time for the Habs to start the official tank? Assuming it hasn’t started already? – Christopher C.

I’m a Habs fan, and I’ve switched over to rooting against them this year so we can get Shane Wright. Some of my friends think it’s too early for that. Could you provide us with some guidance? – Dan H.

Two separate but related questions. But first, Gary Bettman has asked me to remind you all that tanking isn’t a real thing. It doesn’t happen. NHL GMs would never tank, even though the league’s entire system of incentives means that it is very clearly the optimal strategy for bad teams, because dot dot dot reasons. Please ignore decades of circumstantial evidence, outright confessions, and basic common sense. Tanking isn’t real, and the media made it up.

Now that we have that out of the way, yes, of course the Habs should tank.

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Thursday, November 25, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: Playing "what if?" with some famous trades

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- With Black Friday almost here, it's time to think about deals that were, deals that weren't, and deals that should have been

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, November 24, 2021

Six things we were all very wrong about so far in the 2021-22 season (except, were we really?)

I’m wrong about the NHL. Kind of a lot. Honestly, it’s a little bit embarrassing for somebody who’s whole job is to know things about this league.

But here’s the thing: You’re wrong too. All of us are. And that’s especially true when we let ourselves drift into groupthink mode, where most of us are all saying the same thing. Hockey fans barely agree on anything, so you’d think that it would take a stone cold lock to get us all on the same page. Instead, we often end up looking dumb.

So today, let’s take a look at six opinions that I think it’s fair to say were pretty widely held heading into the season. Not universally – settle down, huffy dude who’s scrolling down to the comments to post “I never thought that” – but at least reasonably common. A month in, they’ve all turned out to be absolutely and indisputably wrong. Only… have they? Let’s see if we can figure that out.

The Pacific would be the worst division in hockey

What we thought: Heading into the season, it was pretty widely understood that the Pacific had one good team and seven question marks. The good team was the Golden Knights, of course, and we could just pencil them in as the top seed before we even dropped a puck. But from there, it was a turtle derby.

Even with Arizona moving to the Central, there were still three bottom-feeders in the Ducks, Kings and Sharks. Maybe one of those teams would surprise us, but that was about the best we could hope for. The Canucks and Flames had both missed the playoffs last year, and the most charitable view of either was that they might be marginally better heading into this season. The Oilers had some regular season potential, but were coming off a disastrous postseason run so you weren’t really sure how far they could go. And the Kraken were the big question mark, looking iffy on paper after an underwhelming expansion draft.

So basically Vegas, and then seven teams trying to earn the right to get swept by Vegas.

But then… : The Kraken and the Canucks are bad. But the Alberta teams look great, with the Oilers mostly rolling and the Flames surprising everyone while shutting out every team they play. And the California teams have been stunningly good at times, with the Kings posting a seven-game win streak, the Ducks topping that with eight, and the Sharks starting 4-0-0.

Oh yeah, and Vegas hasn’t been all that great, so the whole division is up for grabs.

We were so wrong: Seriously, this division might get both Western wildcards.

But were we really?: Are you really betting on the Ducks and Kings to keep this up all season long? That seems like a longshot, and the Sharks are already fading. Edmonton looks like a legitimate contender, but that goaltending is still hard to trust. The Flames are the other side of that coin, as we need to see what happens when Jakob Markstrom isn’t running red hot.

Meanwhile, Vegas has been racked by injuries but are getting their guys back and looking better. With Jack Eichel looming in the future, they’ve still got the best roster in the division on paper, and it’s not all that close. So yeah, it’s very possible that a few of the feel-good story bubbles burst over the next few months, Eichel shows up just in time for the playoffs, and the Pacific does end up being the Knights rolling through everyone.

Hey, speaking of which…

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Monday, November 22, 2021

Figuring out the Stars, remembering the Bruins, and now it gets real for the Islanders

One thing you may have noticed about the first month of these rankings is that there’s been very little mention of the Islanders. That was intentional, and not just because their fans are notoriously mean to me. It’s because I’m not really sure that the first month of their season counts.

I mean, it counts in the sense that it goes into the books the same as any other stretch of the regular season. But remember, we’re in the long-term business here, trying to separate the eventual Cup contenders from the rest of the league. And I’m not sure how much useful information we can really pull from a team that doesn’t get to play a home game until late-November. Road trips are part of life in the NHL, but 13 games? Bouncing from Florida to Vegas to Montreal to Winnipeg and back to Florida over five weeks, all while every other team is enjoying the occasional home-cooked meal and home-ice crowd? What do we want to do with that?

Not much, I’m guessing, if you’re an Islanders fan. The road trip was not good, producing just five wins in 13 games. That includes a trip-closing four-game losing streak during which the Islanders just looked gassed, outscored 19-4 and looking nothing like the good team they were expected to be.

And they were expected to be good. After years of being penciled in as merely mid-tier contenders by all the smart people and then outperforming expectations, this was the year when it seemed like everyone caught up. Some pundits were picking them to win the Cup. Even Dom’s model finally liked them. And after all that, they end up in dead last in the Metro. Except that it doesn’t count. Not until they get to play some home games in their shiny new rink.

That moment arrived over the weekend, as we finally got our first look at UBS Arena. And the early returns were… well, still not good. The building itself is getting rave reviews, and lord knows that nobody deserves the stability of a decent arena more than long-suffering Islanders fans. But the team didn’t look all that much better in the big debut, dropping a 5-2 loss the Flames. Even the first Islanders’ goal in their new home was a weird one. I’m pretty sure that must be the first rink to ever be christened by a Horn of Doom goal.

Game two was another dud, as the Maple Leafs came to town and shut the Islanders down with their fourth-string goaltender. At least John Tavares didn’t score. Glass half full, and all that.

So where does that leave us? Mostly with a team that I still think is good, but has some serious ground to make up. They’re beat up right now, and managing several COVID-related absences, so they’re nowhere near full power. They’re seven points back of a playoff spot, but that’s misleading because they’ve got multiple games in hand on several teams ahead of them. Factor those in, plus the fact that they’ll be playing almost 60% of their remaining schedule at home, and it’s doable. But they need to start banking some wins, especially with the rest of the Metro looking deeper than we thought.

I say they do it. That’s probably bad news for Islanders fans, since I’ve been wrong about this team for pretty much four years straight.

On to yet another Islanders-less edition of the top and bottom five…

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Thursday, November 18, 2021

Elias Pettersson, Philipp Grubauer, and the rest of the NHL’s first month all-disappointment team

We’re well into the second month of the season, and it’s time to stay positive by talking about all the players having terrible seasons.

OK, that sounds weird. Picking 20 players from around the league and labelling them as early-season busts doesn’t sound especially positive, after all. But its not all bad, for two reasons. First, as we already highlighted a few weeks ago, bad starts by good players will often turn out to be meaningless, the sort of thing that all balances out by the end of a season. And maybe more importantly, it’s worth remembering that your favorite team isn’t the only one with underachievers. Almost every team has a few guys who aren’t living up to expectations; that’s just life in the NHL. We’re all in this together.

So today, we’re going to build a full roster of early-season letdowns. Twelve forwards, six defensemen and two goalies, with a max of one player per team so that it’s not all Canucks we maximize the positivity. Then we’ll shower them in good vibes for their inevitable turnaround. You’re going to do that part, right? Of course you are. The power of positive thinking!

On to the roster, where we’ll build from the net out.


Philipp Grubauer, Kraken — You never really got the feeling that Grubauer was part of the Kraken plan as they assembled their first roster. We all kind of assumed he’d end up back in Colorado, even after he officially hit the UFA market. When that didn’t happen, Seattle swooped in and made the deal, seemingly setting up an excellent pairing with Grubauer and Chris Driedger. Instead, both guys have been mediocre at best, leaving Seattle with almost $10 million worth of not-great goaltending, and one eye on a Grubauer contract that runs through 2027.

Linus Ullmark., Bruins — When Ullmark signed a surprising four-year, $20-million deal to become Boston’s new starter, he was positioned to be the long-term replacement for Tuukka Rask. A month in, he seems to have already lost the starting job to Jeremy Swayman, at least temporarily, and his numbers are barely so-so. Look, Rask never actually said that he wasn’t coming back for sure, right?

First pair

Jakob Chychrun, Coyotes One thing you heard a lot heading into the season is that the Coyotes would be awful, but at least Chychrun would be good. So far, both predictions have turned out to be too optimistic. Arizona has been worse than awful, and Chychrun has just one goal on the year after scoring 30 over the last two seasons. That part won’t last — he’s still generating shots, and he’s not going to shoot 2 percent forever — but the year has been a worrying step back for a guy who seemed headed towards the Norris conversation.

Alex Pietrangelo, Golden Knights — This one is debatable. No, literally — we saw Jesse and Dom battle it out between the pro-Pietrangelo and anti-Pietrangelo sides. That was from the first week of November, and he’s had three multi-point game since then, so maybe the ledger is tipping. Still, when a Cup favorite is paying a guy nearly $9 million to carry the blueline, “debatable” probably isn’t what you’re hoping for.

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Monday, November 15, 2021

Weekend rankings: A few things we know and a whole lot we still don’t after one month

We’re over a month into the season now, so we should know a few things. Not everything, obviously. There’s still plenty of time for twists and turns and there will be more than a few surprises by the time we get to the games that actually matter. But a month of hockey is a long time, and that means we should be pretty sure on at least a few things by now.

For example… uh…

(Checks list.)

The Coyotes are bad. Connor McDavid is good. The Hurricanes are probably good too.

(Checks list again.)

(Turns list upside down.)

(Shrugs dramatically.)

I mean, what else have we got that you actually feel confident about right now? The Panthers were probably on that list a week ago, but haven’t won since. The Avs, Knights and Lightning were all supposed to be elite contenders, and maybe they still are, but they’ve certainly made us wonder at a few points along the way. The Islanders and Bruins seem OK but were supposed to be more. Calgary and Edmonton are better than expected. Who knows about the Penguins, Maple Leafs and Flyers. The Caps, Wild and Jets are maybe about right, I guess?

At the other end of the spectrum, other than the Coyotes pretty much all the teams who were supposed to be bad have been decent other than maybe Ottawa. The Hawks looked awful but were better this week. The Habs are a mess but we’re still waiting to see what they’ll look like when Carey Price is back. Dallas and Vancouver both seems to be almost out of chances. And maybe one of the biggest surprises is that an expansion team looks like an expansion team, which we probably should have all expected but here we are.

Basically, the first month has been a whole lot of “huh”. Depending on your perspective, that might make all of this frustrating or a lot more fun.

Anyway, it’s my job to understand the NHL and explain it to you but I really have no idea what’s going on right now. Please enjoy the power rankings anyway…

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Friday, November 12, 2021

Every Hockey Hall of Fame induction class, ranked

The class of 2020 will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this weekend. That’s a little weird, because as you may be aware, it’s 2021. But with COVID meaning no induction ceremony last year, leading to no new class this year, we’re playing catchup on what will be the 68th class in the Hall’s history.

It goes without saying that 68 classes is way too many to rank. It also goes without saying that we’re going to do it anyway.

After some back and forth, I decided to focus the ranking on NHL players only. It’s true that, as we’re often reminded, it’s the Hockey Hall of Fame, and not just the NHL Hall of Fame. But I really don’t think anyone wants to get into ranking the various owners, executives and hangers-on that have gone in as builders and officials. To keep things apples-to-apples, that means we’ll also pass over the long list of early players from other leagues that you’ve almost certainly never heard of, a few players who were inducted solely for their international achievements, and the way-to-low number of women inducted since 2010.

This will take forever and I will regret it almost immediately. Worst to best, let’s do this.

68. Class of 1949

NHL players inducted: Art Ross

We’ll start with some controversy, as there’s some question over whether there even was a class of 1949. The HHOF web site lists Ross and pre-NHL star Dan Bain with the 1945 inductees, but most other sources including hockey-reference say they went in separately. We’ll go with that, which makes Ross and his three NHL games and one point an easy pick for this spot. (That’s right, the guy who the scoring title is named after only had one career NHL point.)

67. Class of 2010

NHL players inducted: Dino Ciccarelli

This was an important and historic class, because it featured the first two women players, Cammi Granato and Angela James. But while they were joined by Jim Devellano and Doc Seaman as builders, the only NHL player was Ciccarelli, whose lack of any hardware in his 19-year career makes him one of the names most often cited as an undeserving inductee. He’d already waited almost a decade; it probably would have been better to hold off and let the women have the spotlight to themselves.

66. Class of 1968

NHL players inducted: Bill Cowley

After inducting a ton of players through most of the 1960s, the Hall slowed down late in the decade. Cowley was a good playmaker who won two Harts in the 1940s, but it’s asking a lot for him to carry a class all on his own.

65. Class of 2008

NHL players inducted: Glenn Anderson, Igor Larionov

Larionov is mostly in for his international work, so from our NHL perspective this is pretty much the Anderson show, meaning a sniper in the greatest offensive era ever who fell short of 500 goals. He’d been eligible for almost a decade at this point, but without any new candidates thanks to the 2005 lockout, the committee found their chance to get him in.

64. Class of 1952

NHL players inducted: Nels Stewart, Bill Cook, Mickey MacKay

A cautionary tale for the Sedins, as Bill would have to wait 43 years to be joined by his brother. My favorite part of this class is that it includes two non-NHL players who were both named “Moose”.

63. Class of 1974

NHL players inducted: Dickie Moore, Art Coulter, Billy Burch, Carl Voss

Coulter, Voss and Burch were all from the pre-Original Six era, leaving Moore as the only name most fans would have remembered at the time.

62. Class of 2019

NHL players inducted: Sergei Zubov, Vaclav Nedomansky, Guy Carbonneau

Zubov had been a borderline case for years, and seeing him go in was fine. But Nedomansky’s selection came out of nowhere, even as his international resume made a solid case. And the Carbonneau pick was just a miss, one that’s set the stage for a generation of terrible “Well if Guy is in, then what about…” arguments.

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Thursday, November 11, 2021

Puck Soup: Murray, Babcock, Colliton and more

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- We react to the developing story about Bob Murray
- My defense of that Mike Babcock article
- Jeremy Colliton is fired
- Connor McDavid's goal of the year
- Jack Eichel arrives in Vegas
- The weird Cole Caufield twitter story
- OUFL fancy stats, 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, November 10, 2021

Debating the Hall of Fame cases of Brad Marchand, Jonathan Quick, Jason Spezza and others

It’s Hall-of-Fame induction week, as the class of 2020 finally gets their moment in the spotlight after a year of COVID delays. It’s a strong class, with Jarome Iginla, Marian Hossa, Kim St-Pierre, Doug Wilson and Kevin Lowe joining builder Ken Holland.

Great, who’s next?

That’s the fun part of having a Hall-of-Fame. Sure, it’s nice to honor the game’s greats. But what we really want to do is argue over the players who might make it some day. And that’s especially fun when it comes to the guys who are still active, since there’s still time for them to flip the script and make us all look bad. Plus I’m always fascinated by the players that you guys think are easy calls, since there are always one or two where the public consensus seems way off from what my ballot would look like.

We’ve done this a few times in recent years. We argued about Nicklas Backstrom, Ryan Getzlaf, Phil Kessel, Patrick Marleau, Shea Weber and Marc-Andre Fleury in this post, then tackled Brent Burns, Ilya Kovalchuk, Pekka Rinne, Ryan Suter, Justin Williams and Claude Giroux in this one.

Some of those guys are still a tough call, but we won’t revisit any of their cases today. Instead, let’s find a half-dozen new names to debate. We’re looking for players who are already over 30 and still active in the NHL. A few of these guys are names that readers bring up often, while others are ones I go back and forth on.

Eric Staal

Why it’s a tough one: We’re cheating a bit here because while Staal hasn’t retired, he’s not currently on a team so his “active” status is a little fuzzy. He still wants to play, but his current lack of a job makes this debate a bit easier, since it’s safe to assume that his career numbers won’t change much. And those numbers, as we’ll see, are right on the borderline.

The case for: The typical HHOF case comes down to two categories: How good was the player at their peak, and did they stick around long enough to hit major career milestones. Staal checks both boxes; he hit the 100-point mark in a breakout 2005-06 season that ended with him leading the playoffs in scoring on the way to a Stanley Cup, then stuck around as a consistent producer longer enough to join the 1,000-point club in an era where that’s tough to do.

The case against: Apart from that one big year, Staal never really had a dominant season. He was a second-team all-star in 2006, but that was the only year he earned any kind of award, and his fourth-place finish in Hart voting that year was his only top-ten season. We’ve seen guys make the Hall with a similar lack of awards recognition, including Dave Andreychuk, Mark Recchi, and even Marian Hossa this year. But those guys all racked up bigger career totals, while Staal barely inching past 1,000 points shouldn’t be enough.

Worth remembering: Staal ranks seventh among active scorers today, and the guys ahead of him are five slam-dunk HHOFers and Patrick Marleau, who’s also probably getting in.

Should he get in? Barring a comeback and late-career renascence, I wouldn’t have him on my ballot.

Will he get in? I don’t think it’s out of the question, especially with the Hall’s recent habit of going off the board on a pick most years. But I’m filing it under unlikely. He just needed another big year or two that never came.

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Monday, November 8, 2021

Weekend rankings: A top-spot showdown, a blockbuster trade, a firing, and the goal of the year

You know what, that was kind of a fun weekend.

We kicked things off with the Jack Eichel trade still reverberating around the league. Thursday’s blockbuster saw the Golden Knights do what they always seem to do and swing big at the best player available, whether they can afford to or not. In this case, that means giving the Sabres a decent if unimpressive return and worrying about that pesky salary cap sometime down the line. It will be months before we see Eichel make his Vegas debut, but it’s the sort of deal that could shift the balance of power in the West.

We had the big Panthers/Hurricanes Saturday showdown that promised to make this week’s number one spot a pretty easy call. The game itself wasn’t exactly a masterpiece, with the Panthers taking a 4-0 lead in the first and then cruising to a 5-2 win. Not great drama, but an emphatic result that hands the Hurricanes their first loss and establishes the Panthers as our early team to beat.

We had our second coaching change (and first traditional firing), as the Hawks finally did what’s felt inevitable for a while now. You could make the case that Jeremy Colliton never really had a chance to succeed in Chicago, but it’s pretty clear that he wasn’t succeeding, even with a rebuilt roster that was supposed to contend for a playoff spot. It’s never fun to see somebody lose their job, but the churn behind the bench is part of life in the NHL, and now we get to see what Derek King can do.

We had a few other interesting stories. The Red Wings got a nifty OT winner from Moritz Seider. The Leafs are good again, at least for a week, with the core four doing all the scoring. The Knights/Habs game was fascinating for reasons we’ll get to in a bit. The Flames continue to dominate, this time icing the Rangers 6-0. The entire Metro stayed over .500. Hell, even the Coyotes got a win. Miracles really do happen.

But who are we kidding, none of that is what we’ll remember most from this weekend. Years from now, we might still be talking about this:

That’s just silly. I’m not even sure I can be mad at the Rangers. Stopping one guy with four should be pretty easy in the NHL, but McDavid isn’t one guy. He’s Mario Lemieux sitting on Pavel Bure’s shoulders wearing a big trench coat. The Rangers did their best, and I think you just pat them on the head and give them some orange slices and promise them that things will be better when they’re playing against human beings.

On to the rankings…

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Thursday, November 4, 2021

Take the ‘Who Didn’t He Play For?’ quiz (Hall of Fame edition)

We’re almost a month into the season, but there are some sights I’m still not used to. Joe Thornton as a Panther, Duncan Keith as an Oiler, Ryan Suter as a Star, Mark Giordano as a Kraken, Zdeno Chara back with the Islanders after two decades … it’s just weird, right?

Maybe hockey fans should be used to it. After all, it’s not uncommon to see a star player have a stint or two on an unfamiliar team. While it’s always cool to see the Nicklas Lidstroms and Mario Lemieuxs who spend their entire careers with one team, most top players bounce around a little bit. And sometimes, by the end of things, you don’t even remember every team a star played for.

That seems like solid ground for a quiz. I’ve been told that sometimes my quizzes are a little too tough for the average fan, so this one will be a simple concept: I give you Hall of Fame a player and four teams, you tell me which one he never played for.

We’ll start off easy and gradually get tougher as we go, but I think a lot of you should be able to hit some high scores here. I’m pretty sure that a perfect 16-for-16 will be in play for at least a few of you. No googling. Or google if you want, it’s up to you. It would be kind of weird to cheat on an online quiz where nobody sees the results but you, but we all have to make our own decisions in life and I’m not here to judge yours.

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Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Building a 20-man roster of history’s terrible starts (that turned out OK)

We’re two weeks into the season, and your favorite team probably has at least one player that’s off to a bad start. Maybe they’re not posting numbers, or maybe you’re barely noticing them, or maybe they just look lost out there. Whatever the case, they’re not meeting expectations, and that’s putting it kindly.

And you know what that means: The guy’s a bum. A has-been, or maybe a never-was, or perhaps somehow both at the same time. You should give up on them now.

Or not. That’s the fun of pro sports, where sometimes a slump is just a slump. String together a few bad weeks in January and maybe nobody notices. But do it at the start of the season, and everyone assume it will last all season long. Sometimes that matters, and sometimes it doesn’t.

So today, we’re going to build a roster out of terrible starts from NHL history. Twelve forwards, six defensemen and two goalies, all of whom stunk at the start of a season. I’ll give you facts, you can join me in booing the player for being a bum, and then we’ll reveal who we’re talking about and how it all turned out.

The idea here is to give you some hope for the early-season duds on your favorite team. Hey, a little foolish optimism never hurt anyone, so let’s remember some awful starts.

First line

The bum: This flashy mega-star is a former Art Ross winner and finished second in scoring last year. But this year he’s barely doing anything as the calendar flips from October to November. Eleven games into the season, he hasn’t had so much as a single multi-point game, and is sitting at a pedestrian eight points overall, way below his career average. Even worse, he’s already a -8 on the season, cementing his reputation as a one-way threat who barely knows how to find the defensive zone. Only now he’s not scoring at the other end either. Boo this man!

But you just booed: Jaromir Jagr in 1996-97.

How it turned out: He breaks out with a four-point night in game 12, one of three he’ll have in the next two months. He’ll end up missing 20 games to injury but still finishes the season with almost 100 points, third in the league in points-per-game. Oh, and then he wins each of the next four scoring titles.


The bum: Expectations were sky-high for this established star who’d just won a Hart to go with a Rocket Richard. He looked OK early, scoring his first two goals of the season in his second game. But those would be his last goals for almost a month, as he went his next nine games without scoring, and as the slump went on he wasn’t even getting many shots. He’d finally score again by the second week of November, but you can kiss those trophies goodbye, Slumpy.

But you just booed: Alexander Ovechkin in 2008-09.

How it turned out: He’d score in each of his next five games and never really slowed down from there. He’d finish the season with 56 goals, 110 points and the second most shots in the history of the NHL, and would indeed capture both the Hart and the Richard for a second straight season.


The bum: This player had been considered an elite superstar for a full decade. But everyone slows down eventually, and this guy dropped off big time. He went pointless in his first five games and nine of his first ten, and by mid-November he was on pace for just ten goals and 40 points in a full season. Hey, nobody dominates forever.

But you just booed: Sidney Crosby in 2015-16.

How it turned out: Game 19 launched a scoring streak, and Crosby stayed red hot for most of the rest of the season. He’d end up earning first-team all-star honors, was Hart Trophy runner-up, and won the first of two straight Conn Smythe Trophies as the Penguins captured back-to-back Cups.

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Monday, November 1, 2021

Weekend rankings: A new number one, shaking up the bottom five, and closing out an ugly week

You’d be forgiven for feeling like we just lived through one of the worst weeks in NHL history.

We didn’t – there have been far worse, starting with several in May and June of 2010 that we’re only now beginning to truly understand. We didn’t know about that situation while it was happening, or for a decade after. It’s hard not to wonder what else we don’t know about.

But you could argue that last week was actually a good one, as an old boy’s club that lives in perpetual fear of ever acknowledging that something could be wrong actually offered some accountability for a few of their own. Many of us assumed the Blackhawks would bury the report; they didn’t, to their credit, and now we know much more about the many ways that the hockey world failed Kyle Beach. Those details were hard to stomach, but that’s the point – nobody gets to hand wave this one away (or pretend that it could never happen with your favorite team). Instead, we need to call it what it was, and continues to be: A near-total failure of leadership at every level.

So now what? What do you do now if you’re a fan? Is it OK to just want to have some fun watching – or reading about – a hockey game right now? Mark Lazerus wrestled with that question from a Chicago perspective. It’s not an easy one. We can’t ever forget what happened to Kyle Beach, and how many in the hockey world abandoned him, and there’s no option to just move on. We know what we know. This is the new normal. Do you even care what’s happening on the ice right now?

I’m not sure. I’m guessing that a lot of fans would like to get back to feeling like this league is fun, and might be looking for something a little more light-hearted, if only as a distraction. That sort of stuff is a big part of my role around here, and we’ll get back to something along those lines tomorrow. But for today, at least, I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m not really in the mood for punchlines or wacky takes.

On to the rankings…

Road to the Cup

The five teams with the best chances of becoming the first franchise in three years to win a Stanley Cup that we have to admit probably counts

Sidney Crosby is back in the lineup, and while the early returns were not great, it means we might finally start getting some clarity on what the Penguins are going to be.

If you’re keeping track, the team I said would have the widest range of possible outcomes this year just closed out October by holding down first place and dead last in the Metro within an 11-day span.

5. St. Louis Blues (6-1-0, +14 true goals differential*) – The five-spot was a very tough call this week, with three Western teams in the mix. I’m not sure what to do with the Pacifc; I had the Oilers here last week and they didn’t really do anything to lose the spot, but the emergence of the Flames and a win streak from the Knights means that the division looks like a tougher slog than it did even a few days ago. The Central is no slouch, and the Blues did lose to the Avalanche this week. But they had shutout wins in their other two, and I don’t mind churning the top five just a bit in the early going when we’re still not sure what’s real. St. Louis has the California trip this week, so let’s see if they can bank four or five points and make this pick look good.

4. Tampa Bay Lightning (4-3-1, -1) – If you missed it, check out Dom’s piece on why four top contenders off to slow starts shouldn’t be panicking quite yet. Two of those four teams are still hanging around our top five list, including the Lightning, who started the week with a bad loss to the Sabres but recovered to post back-to-back 5-1 wins. The Caps will be a good challenge tonight.

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