Friday, December 31, 2021

Mailbag: Ovechkin’s goal quest, sportswriters on superheroes, and was the 2003 draft overrated?

Well, we made it through 2021. Was it a good year? It was not, but it’s over, and 2022 can’t possibly be any worse, unless it totally is. On that cheery note, let’s close out the year with a mailbag.

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

What if Ovechkin wins the Art Ross and Rocket Richard this year? At the time of writing, he’s one goal and two points behind the league leaders. He closes in on the all-time goals record and beats McDavid for points in a season, both very impressive. Do we start talking about him as one of the greatest five players ever? Who gets bumped down? – James O.

It’s kind of interesting that we’re not already talking about him as one of the best ever, right? Maybe I’ve missed it, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone make the case that Ovechkin will belong in the top five or even top ten by the time he’s done.

The top five debate in the NHL is always fun. Most fans would agree that there’s a Mount Rushmore of Gretzky, Mario, Orr and Howe as the uncontested top four, and then a battle for the fifth spot that includes candidates like Rocket Richard, Jean Beliveau, Bobby Hull, Phil Esposito and Jaromir Jagr, maybe with a defenseman like Ray Bourque or Nicklas Lidstrom or even a goalie in the mix too. But I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Ovechkin nominated for that spot.

You do hear that for Sidney Crosby, who’s sometimes mentioned as a guy who might be number five by the time he’s done. And it kind of feels like we settled the whole Crosby vs. Ovechkin debate a while ago, with everyone agreeing that Crosby was better, if only by a narrow margin. Maybe we need to rethink that. Crosby is a center, which is the more important position, and he has more Cups and gold medals, plus an additional scoring title. But Ovechkin has more MVPs, far more all-star picks, and might end up breaking one of the biggest career records in the league. If he keeps his current pace and has another elite season this year, doesn’t that have to put him in the running for Crosby’s title as the best of the pre-McDavid era? And if so, does he end up getting that coveted fifth spot?

One more Ovechkin question…

This article from a couple weeks ago wants to give credit to Ovechkin’s overtime goals (!?!) as for why he might pass Wayne Gretzky’s goal-scoring title. I feel like this is a pretty ridiculous take to have, considering Ovechkin has been robbed of approximately two full seasons worth of games and goals due to labor strife and a pandemic. Can we project out where Ovechkin would likely be for total goals today, given when in his career he had to miss those games, and how much more likely he’d be to pass The Great One had he not lost all those games? – Michael L.

I’m glad you asked this, because I feel like we need to clear this up once and for all before Ovechkin gets too close to Gretzky’s record. I keep seeing fans who want to give him credit for goals he would have scored during the pandemic or lockouts, maybe in anticipation of him just falling short of Gretzky. And while I get where they’re coming from, that’s just not how this works.

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Monday, December 27, 2021

Weekend rankings: Wait, do we already know all the Eastern playoff teams? Plus the Predators surprise, the Sharks fade, and more

There were almost no games played in the last week, so spoiler alert, the rankings haven’t really changed much. Instead, let’s look ahead to the future. Hey, do you like a great second-half playoff race?

If so, bad news, because we may not get that from one of the conferences. I’m not completely sure, so let’s work through this.

As often happens around this time of year, we’re starting to get some separation between the good teams and the bad. A few impostors in each category are drifting back to what we thought they were, and it’s been long enough that any other outliers start to feel real. That’s normal and part of what makes a season fun, as we figure out which teams to focus on and set up an intriguing stretch run. But there’s one flaw in the system: If a conference has exactly eight good teams, then we kind of know all we need to know. That seems to be happening in the East.

Let’s start at the top. I’ve had Carolina, Florida and Tampa in the top five pretty much all season long, so you know where I stand with them. The Maple Leafs are a little dicier, but only a little, especially if we’re only talking regular season. That Capitals have been right with them as far as their record goes. And while I’m on record as not being completely sold on the Rangers as elite contenders, they’re certainly banking enough points to look like a playoff lock.

That’s six teams. Mix in the Penguins, who I still can’t remotely figure out but whose record certainly says they’ll be a playoff team. That leaves one spot, and it would feel like a big surprise if it didn’t go to the Bruins, right? They’re well ahead of everyone else in points percentage, and only look like they’re in a tight race because we forgot to put any games on their schedule for a while early on.

So who’s going to catch one of those eight teams? Barring a miracle, it won’t be the Habs, Senators or Sabres. New Jersey would need a major turnaround. The Flyers too, and maybe they get it from a new coach, Boudreau-style, but that feels like a longshot. The Red Wings and Blue Jackets are closest right now, but both feel like rebuilding teams where the ceiling this year is “stay vaguely in the race” and not much higher. And as stunned as I am to say it, I think we’re pretty close to the point where it’s time to give up on the Islanders, who’d need to play near a 110-point pace the rest of the way just to get back to wildcard territory.

I’m sure there will be a few homers in Detroit or somewhere who might disagree, but I don’t think there was anything outrageously controversial in those paragraphs. The numbers back that up – Dom’s model has eight teams with a better than 90% chance of making the playoffs, and only the Islanders north of 10. There’s a whole lot of separation on those graphs.

Compare that to the West, where we’ve got eight good teams (if you’re finally willing to trust the Ducks) plus the Jets and Stars in the mix and the Kings and Sharks occasionally looking at least a little bit feisty, plus the Canucks gearing up for a miracle run. We’re stretching it on a few of those teams, but the point is that only Colorado, Minnesota and maybe Vegas really look like locks right now, so there’s room for some twists and turns.

The good news out East, as far as getting some second-half drama, is that 90% isn’t 100 and 10% isn’t zero, so maybe somebody goes on a heater or an 18-wheeler goes off a cliff somewhere and we get a race after all. But right now, it looks like we’re just playing for seeding and home ice, and recent history suggests that doesn’t really matter all that much.

On to this week’s rankings, which are also (almost) last week’s rankings.

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Sunday, December 26, 2021

Looking for mailbag questions

Hey folks...

The next mailbag column will be coming at some point this week, and I'm looking for questions. Looking for questions about the season so far, New Year's stuff, the usual what-ifs, all-time rosters and other weirdness. Creative is great, straightforward works too, you know what to do. Send questions via email at dgbmailbag@gmail.com.


Thanks,
Sean




Friday, December 24, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: The weirdest stories of 2021

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Sean and Ian run through their picks for the ten weirdest NHL stories of a very weird year
- The Eichel saga, the Coyotes eviction notice, "sunshine has always been our enemy", 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, December 22, 2021

Puck Soup: No news is bad news

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- It's tangents aplenty as we try to do a show in a week with no hockey
- Seriously, COVID is bad, not sure what else there is to say about things
- We run through our picks for the major awards
- Ryan and I but mostly Ryan name our favorite movies of the year
- And more, but honestly not much 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.




Down Goes Brown: Take the ‘Who Didn’t He Play For?’ quiz (Hall of Very Good edition)

I’ve been told my quizzes are sometimes too difficult, because apparently some of you spent the 1990s building lasting relationships and contributing to the world instead of obsessing over every piece of random trivia involving NHL third-liners. (Some of you also spent the 1990s not being born yet, which is a whole other problem.) Apparently people like quizzes, but like them slightly less when they get to the end and find out they got a 2-out-of-15.

OK, fair enough. A few months ago we tried something different: A relatively simple quiz, in which I gave you a player and you told me which team he never played for. You all did fairly well, with the average score being north of a passing grade and even a few perfect marks.

Of course, that quiz was focused on Hall-of-Famers, so maybe we should have expected that you’d all do well. We’re going to up the difficulty just a little this time around, by skipping the HHOF plaques and focusing on the guys who weren’t quite in the class. Nobody obscure, mind you – just some players who were really good, but fell a bit short of true greatness. It’s “Who Didn’t He Play For?”, the Hall of Very Good edition.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Monday, December 20, 2021

A brutal weekend of COVID-19 news, Paul Maurice resigns and I still can’t figure out the Penguins

Well, this is a mess.

There was hockey played in the NHL this weekend, but not much. Certainly nowhere near as much as we were expecting, back in the hazy and distant past before Omicron completely took over the sports world (i.e. last week).

All told, the NHL had ten games scheduled for Saturday but played only five, then managed just four of eight last night. Outbreaks across the league forced the postponement of everything else, with the virus landing particularly hard on the Flames, Bruins, Canucks, Leafs and Predators among others, and most teams having at least one player on the COVID-19 list. Mix in several cases among staff and other personnel, and it feels like almost every team is waiting for the other shoe to drop on their next game.

We’ve also seen reductions in capacity in several Canadian markets, including an empty arena in Montreal on Thursday. That was a depressing sight, one that we all hoped we wouldn’t see again after last year. The league has also ramped up protocols to something very similar to last season, and postponed all cross-border games until Christmas. The fact that we’re back to all that, along with a steady stream of postponements, feels like we’re heading back to a place we thought we’d left behind.

So now what? It’s not a simple question. You could just shut the whole thing down, and maybe that makes sense with the Christmas break already just a few days away. But beyond that, does a league-wide shutdown of a couple of weeks end up buying you time or just delaying the inevitable? It’s not like Omicron is going to be a two-week problem. And as much as the league will say it wants health to be a top priority, it’s hard to imagine the NHL closing its doors for months unless it feels like it has absolutely no other option. We’re not there yet, and yesterday the league and players announced that the plan for now is to push forward. The way this is going, check back in a few hours.

The good news is that, at least so far, nobody seems to be getting all that sick. That might lead some to push for a different approach: Testing less instead of more, or even allowing asymptomatic players to play through a positive result if they’re able. That sound bizarre and dangerous, but it’s an approach we’ve heard rumblings about in the NFL and NBA, and it might be the only way to get through this without losing a massive chunk of the season. Is it worth the risk?

Oh, and the Olympics are supposed to be in six weeks. That’s not much, but in terms of NHL participation, it feels like it might as well be forever. We’re told to expect a decision there in the coming days, and it’s not hard to figure out which direction this is headed — at this point it would be a shock if they still went. Just in case you were looking for more bad news.

By the way, there won’t be any games next weekend. That’s not a doom-and-gloom prediction, thankfully, but a reminder that the holiday break means everyone gets three days off. I’ll still have a rankings column next Monday, but it will be based on less action than usual. Maybe a lot less.

Until then, stay safe and look out for each other. On to this week’s rankings …

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Friday, December 17, 2021

Puck Soup: Paul bearers

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- COVID is everywhere - so how long can the NHL keep going like this>
- The Paul Maurice news breaks in the middle of the episode and we read tweets about it to you
- The Canucks are fixed
- The Oilers are not
- Are the eight Eastern playoff teams already set?
- Plus I have to read this week's Manscaped ad and much 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.




Thursday, December 16, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: Let's pretend we're still going to the Olympics

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Roster projections for the Olympics, if any
- Wait, is Canada's goaltending bad?
- Lebron wears a Mario jersey
- The Hurricanes' COVID problems
- I make an awkward Walter Cronkite reference
- Why Deron Quint's record is more impressive than Bill Mosienko's

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)




Powerplays that don’t end on a goal? Extended overtime? Goals worth double? NHL Rules Court is in session

If you’re a fan of the NHL, you know the drill. The game is good, but it could be better, and you know exactly how to make that happen. If the league would just change one or two or a few dozen rules, they’d have a better product. And you’re sure that everyone would agree with you, if you just had a chance to make your case.

Now you do. Welcome to NHL Rules Court.

The concept is simple. You, the readers, come up with ideas for new or adjusted rules you’d like to see in the NHL. They can be small tweaks or seismic changes, reasonable or outrageous or anywhere in between. You send them in, and they’ll be considered by a jury of Sean Gentille, Sean McIndoe and Ian Mendes. Convince at least two of us, and your rule is passed and goes into the NHL rulebook.

Well, we’re still working on that last part. The league is being weird about returning our phone calls. For now, this is all for fun. Consider it a dry run for when they smarten up and put us in charge.

Court is in session. Let’s see what you came up.

Note: Submissions have been edited for clarity and style.

One rule change I’d propose would be that all penalties go full duration regardless of any goals scored. This would include any goals scored on a delayed penalty not cancelling out the PP, which is already a rule in the NCAA.

Logically a penalty is a penalty, why is it cancelled out because the opposition was successful at doing the thing they are supposed to do? – Stephen D.

Gentille: This seems like the single easiest “yes” on the board, right? We already have potentially unlimited goals on major penalties, so this isn’t much of a jump. If you can run up the score in two minutes, or after a delayed call, so be it. To the penalty-drawer goes the spoils. A minor concern, though: that officials would be even less apt to make calls in high-leverage situations out of their own distaste for giving a team that many bites at the apple. YES

Mendes: I’m worried the most about Gentille’s last point: That referees – who are already reluctant to call penalties in tight spots – would push that whistle even deeper down into their pockets under this scenario. Suddenly, calling a two-minute minor late in the game could have an even bigger swing in momentum.

So here is my proposed compromise: Don’t wipe out minor penalties when a team scores a goal during a delayed call. I’ve never understood why a minor penalty gets wiped out when a team pulls their goalie for an extra attacker and then scores. Under this compromise, you’re now allowing teams to score multiple goals off one infraction.

But in regards to this specific rule change as outlined above, I’ll take a pass because I just don’t trust the officiating. And I don’t want to see a team scored on twice because their defenceman accidentally put the puck over the glass. NO

McIndoe: Yep, Ian has it exactly right – with any new rule, we have to be afraid of the unintended consequences. This proposal comes up at a lot and it seems to make sense. But in reality, we’d have refs who were even more terrified to make a call than they are now. You think they’re hesitant to call a minor late in a game when it might lead to a key goal? Imagine it could lead to three. This rule worked fine for a long time in the early days of this league, but I just don’t trust weak-kneed modern refs not to ruin this one. NO

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Monday, December 13, 2021

Weekend rankings: The Canucks are fixed, the Rangers haven’t convinced me yet, a contest update, and a Tortorella rant

We’ve hit the two-month mark of the season. Who wants to check in on how the prediction contest is going?

Maybe not many of you, because it’s been a rough start. If you’re not familiar with the contest, it’s a chance to predict the things that definitely will and won’t happen during the season. Just the easy stuff – the sort of calls that are obvious to anyone. Except that they often don’t end up being all that easy or obvious, and when that happens it can torpedo your entry. You can find this year’s contest, and the 1,582 entries, right here.

So how’s it going? The good news is that a lot of the biggest stories haven’t caught many of you off-guard. It’s been a surprisingly busy first few months in terms of coaches and GMs leaving their jobs, with four changes in each category. (We’re not counting Doug Wilson’s medical leave here, as it’s only expected to be temporary.) Those changes included a pair of teams pulling the trigger on Monday, with the Flyers firing Alain Vigneault while the Canucks confirmed the reports that they were moving on from Travis Green and Jim Benning. But that didn’t trip up many of you in the “definitely won’t lose their job” questions, with only five entries naming Benning and Vigneault and about 30 having Green. A little over 30 had Marc Bergevin being safe and almost 20 had Jeremy Colliton, so none of the standard-issue firings did much damage. Neither did Bob Murray’s exit, which hit less than ten of you, and Stan Bowman only got 14. But the Joel Quenneville firing was the big one, with 856 entries naming him as completely safe back in the days before the full scope of the Blackhawks scandal came into focus.

All in all, that’s not bad – eight firings, but only one that did real damage. That’s the good news. The bad news is that a few of the other questions are looking rough. Cole Caufield showed up as a Calder candidate sure-thing on a remarkable 1,511 entries, or over 95%, and that’s not looking great. Over 700 of you had Spencer Knight for the Calder question. There’s still time for both guys to rebound, but it’s a nervous start for just about everyone. And for what it’s worth, possible front-runner Lucas Raymond was only named by about 70 of you.

The playoff team questions are also looking scary for some of you. Just over 900 of you had the Islanders as a sure-thing playoff team, which seems unlikely, and over 140 were completely confident about the Jets. On the other side, a whopping 1,540 had the surprising Ducks as a lock to miss, along with over 1,300 entries that named the Red Wings, 800 for the Blue Jackets and over 500 for the Sharks. By contrast, things look OK on the Norris question, we haven’t had any major goalie injuries yet (although four of you somehow missed the Carey Price news when filling out your entries), and it’s too soon to rule any of the big stars out of the Hart race except for an injured Nikita Kucherov, which will cost about 600 of you.

But for a lot of you, none of that will matter. That’s because of this year’s new bonus questions, which offered you the chance to risk your entire entry by naming a player other than Connor McDavid who’d have 100 points, an opportunity that about three-quarters of you took. The good news is that 663 of you picked Leon Draisaitl, which looks like a lock if he stays healthy. But 154 had Nathan MacKinnon, who has to make up ground after missing time due to injury. And 219 had Kucherov, so you’re basically done.

Also, uh, it’s not great news for the one and only one entry that risked it all on Roope Hintz as their 100-point player.

Two months down, four to go, and already some of you are looking good while others are thinking ahead to next year. The same is true of a lot of NHL teams, and I suppose we should stop stalling and get to another week of power rankings you won’t agree with…

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Saturday, December 11, 2021

Send me your new rules for the NHL

Trying something a bit different here. A few of us at The Athletic would like to hear from you about one new rule you'd like to see in the NHL. It can be an update to an existing rule, or something brand new. A big, game-altering change, or just a minor tweak that you think would improve things. Stay realistic, or go with something you know would never really happen. As long as you can make a convincing case for your change, we may use it in an upcoming feature in which a few of us hear your proposals and decide which ones are good enough to keep.

Send your change, along with your (short) argument for adopting it, to dgbmailbag@gmail.com




Friday, December 10, 2021

Puck Soup: You're fired

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- If you missed it we fired Greg
- Big changes for the Canucks and Flyers
- The NHL has a new program that's about respect
- Are we still going to the Olympics?
- Four controversial hits from three players leads to two suspensions and we have thoughts
- 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.




Thursday, December 9, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: Unpaid bills, big hits and goalie goals

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- The Coyotes reportedly aren't paying their bills
- Breaking down the Jacob Trouba hits, and how you could get them out of the game
- Thoughts on the Jason Spezza suspension
- Jesse Granger joins us to talk about whether team's with new coaches really do get an early bounce
- Where that Trevor Zegras assist ranks among the all-time greats
- Which will we see first, the next goalie goal or the next goalie fight?
- Remembering a 12-9 game, how to sell the sport to new fans 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)




Building a roster of players whose goals and assists were perfectly balanced, as all things should be

We’ve arrived at what’s often the first lull of an NHL season, with a long way to go to the playoffs but enough games in the bank that we’re not overreacting to every result. We’re past a wild October and the dreaded U.S. Thanksgiving milestone but have a few weeks to the holiday freeze, and still months to wait for the Olympics (maybe) and trade deadline.

In other words, it’s the perfect opportunity to waste some time with a roster-building challenge.

We haven’t done one of these in a while. If you’re new to this, the whole idea is to take a challenge from a reader and use it to construct the best team we can. It’s a chance to dip into history and Remember Some Guys, with no higher purpose than that. Oh, and then you go into the comments and tell me I got it all wrong, and we argue about whether some dude from the 70s was better than your favorite team’s current third-liner. That part’s fun too.

Today’s question comes from reader Rodney:

That’s a beauty, because it’s amazingly simple but (as we’ll see) secretly complicated. Thankfully, I can tell you that it’s also reasonably straightforward to answer, unlike some questions we could mention, and it is also not staggeringly dumb, which is a nice change.

Let’s do this. A full roster of players who had a season where their goals total exactly matched their assists. One key ground rule here: We want to build the best roster we can, and we’re getting the player from that year. If we take Jean Beliveau based on his one goal and one assist in two games as a teenaged callup, that’s who we get – the wet-behind-the-ears rookie, not the all-time great. For that reason, we won’t be getting cute with partial seasons for guys that were injured or otherwise limited.

Single-season goals and assists, perfectly balanced, as all things should be. I have a concept, roughly seven dozen open hockey-reference tabs, and too much time on my hands. Let’s do this.

Forwards

The first hurdle we run into is one you’re probably already thinking about: Lots of history’s best players won’t fit well into this concept. That’s especially true for centers, especially playmakers, who almost always have more assists than goals, and usually many more.

For example, Wayne Gretzky doesn’t get anywhere close to our list at any point in his 20-season career; even when he was shattering all the goal-scoring records, his assist totals were way higher. The same is true of other centers you may be hoping to see, like Marcel Dionne, Connor McDavid, Bryan Trottier, Peter Forsberg, Joe Thornton, Mark Messier or Joe Sakic. Great players all, but not ones that will help us here. In fact, as we’ll see in a bit, centers are hard to find for this exercise.

On the other side of the coin, you have the pure snipers who almost always rack up more goals than assists. That problem isn’t quite as pronounced – there can be two assists for every goal, meaning there are more helpers available to be earned. It’s rare to see even a one-dimensional scorer have a very low assist total, although it’s always fun when it happens because we can all make jokes about them winning the Cy Young. (Or as it may be called soon, the Mangiapane.) For our purposes, the best years of guys like Rocket Richard, Steven Stamkos and Pavel Bure are too goals-heavy for this roster.

Then there are the agonizing near-misses, where more-balanced superstars just don’t quite land on the magic number we’re looking for. The worst of those is Mario Lemieux, who had 54 goals and 53 assists in 1986-87. That wasn’t even one of his ten best seasons, but we would have gladly taken it because Mario was awesome. We also just barely miss out on Sidney Crosby (44 goals and 45 assists in 2016-17), Teemu Selanne (48 and 46 in 2006-07), Luc Robitaille (63 and 62 in 1992-93), and Steve Yzerman (50 and 52 in 1987-88, then 62 and 65 in 1989-90). Jaromir Jagr somehow never pulled it off in his three centuries of playing, coming closest with a 47 and 48 in 1996-97. And we need to make a special mention of Mike Bossy, who went 60 and 58 in 1982-83 and then teased us by being one off in each of the last three years of his career.

Still, we have plenty of legendary forwards to choose from, so let’s start building out our roster with guys who did hit the sweet spot. We’ll start with one of the greatest of all-time in Gordie Howe, who had 43 goals and 43 assists in his Art Ross and Hart-winning 1950-51 season. On the other wing, we’ll go with Alexander Ovechkin, who followed up his Calder-winning rookie year with 46 goals and assists in 2006-07.

The center on our top line will be the greatest season we’ll find in our quest for perfect balance: Phil Esposito and his legendary 1970-71 campaign, which saw him shatter the single-season goals record with 76 and then exactly match that total with 76 assists. Espo always had a flare for the dramatic, and his inclusion here is no different – he was at 76/75 until recording a second assist on the Bruins last goal of the season, which came with two minutes left in their final game.

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Monday, December 6, 2021

Weekend rankings: Maple Leafs? Wild? Rangers? This week’s top five is impossible and I quit. Plus, the Canucks finally blow it up

Last week, I wrote about how difficult it was to do a top five when there were at least 10 worthy teams, if not more. I complained that “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.”

The hockey gods apparently read that and said: OK, let’s really screw with this guy.

Last week’s mild confusion feels like the good old days now, because I have absolutely no idea what to do with this week’s top five. Honestly, it feels like all the teams got together and decided to make life difficult for the rankings people. Let’s do a quick summary:

  • In the Pacific, the Oilers have been in my top five for a month, but regulation losses to the Kraken and Kings opened the door for the Flames to pass them in the standings as well as in Dom’s projections, while the maybe-better-on-paper Golden Knights continued to spin their wheels. So now it’s Calgary’s division. But then the Flames lost in regulation to Vegas last night, so maybe not.
  • The Avalanche finally reached something approaching full power by getting Nathan MacKinnon back, setting them up to justify my ongoing faith that they’re among the best teams in the league despite what their record says. Then they went out an got stomped by the Maple Leafs and somehow even lost to the Senators, and now Cale Makar is hurt, and also they’ve been caught by the red-hot Stars. Meanwhile, an eternally disrespected Minnesota Wild team that didn’t even make my top ten last week continues to beat everyone, including those unstoppable Leafs.
  • So right, Toronto. This was the week everyone seemed to grudgingly accept that they were really good, to the point that the Friday rankings guys had them at number one. Then they lost to the Wild, because of course they did, except that it was a shootout so it only kind of counts and they erased a 3-0 deficit on the road against a good team to get there. There was no such comeback last night, as they lost to the Jets by a 6-3 final. Also, they’re the Leafs, and nobody thinks they’ve actually got a long playoff run in them. While all that was going on the Lightning, who I quietly dropped from last week’s top five, were personally offended and took it out on the Flyers last night.
  • And those are the three easy divisions. The Metro is a complete mess. I’ve had the Hurricanes in or around the number one slot all season long, but they’ve gone legitimately cold with three straight regulation losses before getting back on track against the Sabres. That’s dropped them down to third in their own division by points percentage, ever-so-slightly behind the Capitals, who were the team I moved up to the top five last week. But both teams are now well behind the Rangers, who’ve won six straight in a streak that’s truly impressive if you don’t look too closely at who they’ve played, but still. Also, their goalie is on the IR now.

Seriously, what am I supposed to do with all of this?

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Thursday, December 2, 2021

The Athletic Hockey Show: Babble of Ontario

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- The Senators are bad and it is breaking Ian's soul
- The Maple Leafs are good and it doesn't matter
- Are Nazem Kadri and Matt Duchene for real?
- Jesse Granger on potential buy-low sleepers for your fantasy league
- The coolest jersey swap in NHL history and lots more...

The Athletic Hockey Show runs most days of the week during the season, with Ian and I hosting every Thursday. There are two versions of each episode available:
- An ad-free version for subscribers that you can find here
- An ad-supported version you can get for free wherever you normally find your podcasts (like Apple or Spotify)




Puck Soup: Montreal mess

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Big changes in Montreal
- Should more be on the way in Vancouver?
- We have a biting suspension
- Time to reset the "days since Brad Marchand did something dirty" sign
- The Penguins are sold
- Playoff bubble, holiday stuff, a quiz and lots 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.




Five way-too-early playoff scenarios we should all be wishing for

It’s December, which means it’s time for the grownups to get serious about their holiday shopping, and time for the kids to get serious about their wish lists. That latter one is way more fun, and it’s what we’re going to play with today.

Dear hockey gods: I have been a very good boy this year, and would like you to bring me these five playoff scenarios.

OK, yes, I hear you – it’s way too early to start thinking about the playoffs. But that’s the whole point. When it’s way too early, that means we can still wish for pretty much anything. Once we get close to spring, most of the cool stuff will be off the table, or at least feeling like a longshot. When you’re still months away, reality hasn’t kicked in yet and there are way more options are in play.

This is all about the anticipation of the night before. There will be time to find out we actually got socks and underwear later. So today, here are five vaguely realistic scenarios that I’m really hoping we get to see at the end of the year.

Oilers vs. Flames

We’ll start with the most obvious pick. This year marks three decades since the last time we had a Battle of Alberta in the postseason. That’s bizarre, given that the two teams are always in the same division. We finally got a long-awaited Leafs/Habs meeting last year – I’m only halfway through on PVR, don’t tell me how it ends – and it doesn’t look like Rangers/Islanders is in play this year. That means that Flames/Oilers is pretty much indisputably the best long-term rivalry option on the table.

It would be a fascinating matchup. You’d have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the two best offensive players in the world, going up against the system of defensive mastermind Darryl Sutter and a goalie who might be in the running for the Vezina. Speaking of Jacob Markstrom, remember that he shunned the Oilers’ offer to sign with Calgary. We could get a Milan Lucic or James Neal redemption arc. How about a seven-game war of attrition between Zach Hyman and Matthew Tkachuk? On paper, the series could be great, even without the history.

All that said, the history is the best part here. There’s just something about these two teams sharing the ice that always feels like we’re back in the Smythe Division days. Even if the game isn’t all that important, eventually somebody goes for a big hit, the fans start buzzing, and the next thing you know the goalies are throwing haymakers. Imagine doing it with everything on the line in the postseason.

And yes, I know I’ve been trying to will this series into existence for years now. It has to work some time, right? Maybe not, but I’m going to keep trying.

How realistic is it? The good news is that the two teams are battling for first place in the division, so they both look like safe bets to make the playoffs. The bad news is that we’ll need some help to see a matchup in the first round, either through one of the teams dropping into the wildcard mix, or both being passed some other team for top spot in the Pacific.

(We could also just wait until the second round, which would guarantee that one would win the division. I have my reasons for hoping somebody else takes that crown, for reasons we’ll get to in a bit.)

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