Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Ten more long-lost playoff rivalries fans need back in their lives

It only took three decades, but the hockey gods finally delivered.

For the first since 1991, hockey fans have been treated to a Battle of Alberta. And it goes without saying that it’s been amazing, with a ton of goals, lots of bad blood, and Connor McDavid doing things that would have made 1987-era Wayne Gretzky go “come on dude, go easy on them.” It’s been fantastic, just like we all knew it would be.

It’s also the third time in the last two years that the playoffs have served up a long-awaited rivalry matchup. Last season we finally got the first-ever Battle of Florida, and it was so much fun that we immediately greenlit a sequel for this year, which was probably a mistake. We also got the first meeting between the Habs and Leafs since the 1970s, and I haven’t finished watching that one yet so no spoilers, please.

It all got me thinking about other rivalry matchups that we haven’t seen in a while, or maybe even ever, which seemed like a worthy topic for a ranking. I’ll define “a while” as within the last 10 years, and I’ll rank each matchup based on an objective set of criteria known as “I’m making this up as I go along.”

I’ll try to hit as many teams as I can, but there will be a few repeats in here, and unfortunately, a few teams are going to be left out entirely, especially those that have had lots of playoff action over the last decade and covered off most of their possible matchups. If you’re a fan of one of those teams, please be assured that my heart breaks for you. It must be so difficult to cheer for a team that wins in the playoffs. Couldn’t be me.

If I’d done this list a year ago, the Battle of Alberta would have been an easy No. 1. Since the hockey gods are obviously feeling generous these days, maybe we can inspire them with a few more ideas for next year. Here we go …

10. Blackhawks vs. Canucks

Total matchups: Five.

Last playoff chapter: 2011

The rivalry in one sentence: Two old guys at the bar reminiscing about their glory days, which sounds sad until you realize that their glory days were pretty damn glorious.

I went back and forth on whether to include this one. It kind of came out of nowhere a decade ago, as two teams with little history ended up crossing paths in the playoffs three years in a row and briefly became the best rivalry in the league. Those teams were stacked with talent, pretty evenly matched, and hated each other. No really, those were some nasty series, with the animosity spilling over to the regular season. When hockey fans are debating the merits of hair-pulling, you know you’ve got a rivalry.

The 2011 meeting was a fitting final chapter, with the best Canucks team ever looking to avenge losses in each of the previous two years. Vancouver went up 3-0 in the series, let the Hawks come all the way back to force a Game 7, and then finally slayed the dragon in overtime. Having the winner scored by one of the rivalry’s central villains was a nice touch.

Would a reboot all these years later work? I’m not sure it would, with almost all the key characters long gone and both teams doing quasi-rebuilds. Still, I’m going to include it, if only because it wouldn’t take much for a lot of those bad feelings between the fan bases to come flooding back.

9. Coyotes vs. Jets

Total matchups: None.

Last playoff chapter: Never.

The rivalry in one sentence: Spiderman pointing meme, except it’s two guys in Jets jerseys.

OK, I admit that it’s weird to have a “rivalry” between two teams that have never met in the playoffs, aren’t anywhere near each other geographically, and have barely even had any memorable moments on the ice.

Still … you’d want to see this, right? The new Jets facing the old Jets would feel kind of poignant, at least for Winnipeg fans. You can imagine the home games turning into a battle of the white outs, especially if we wait until the Coyotes are back in a real arena. The Winnipeg fans would win that side of it, obviously, but Arizona fans could fire back by hanging Teemu Selanne and Dale Hawerchuk banners in their arena, just to be jerks. This one has potential, is all that I’m saying.

8. Leafs vs. Sabres

Total matchups: One

Last playoff chapter: 1999

The rivalry in one sentence: One playoff matchup in over 50 years, meaning the rest of you don’t realize how insane this would get.

Yes, I double-checked — these teams have somehow only met once in history, back in the 1999 conference final. The Sabres won that one, setting up a meeting with the Stars in the final that … well, you know.

So why have this matchup on the list, when history says it’s barely even a rivalry? Because it would be amazing, that’s why. Regular-season meetings between these two teams are always fun, even when one or both teams are bad. Hell, they served up what might be the only memorable preseason game in NHL history. When Phil Kessel is out here bloodying dudes, it’s a rivalry.

Sabres fans love beating the Leafs, especially when they can send invading Toronto fans off for a sad QEW ride home. Give a young, up-and-coming Sabres team a playoff matchup against a Leafs team that can’t win in the playoffs, and you’d have the perfect recipe for a bandwagon underdog. Trust me, this one is going to happen eventually and when it does, you won’t be able to take your eyes off of it.

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Friday, May 20, 2022

The right and (mostly) wrong from my oddly specific predictions

One of my favorite things to do each year before the season starts is to make a whole bunch of predictions that are almost definitely going to be wrong.

Most predictions are, of course, especially when they come from sportswriters. We’re bad at this, myself very much included. And I figure that if that’s going to be the case, and I’m probably going to be wrong anyway, I should embrace it and be willing to be really wrong.

I call them my oddly specific predictions, and I make one for each team. Most of them end up being laughably wrong, but even a broken clock finds a nut sometimes. Last season was a good batch, with three predictions that turned out right, including one involving out old friend Jacob Markstrom, who we can always count on when it comes to the prediction game. Or can we? We’ll get to that.

What about this year? As always, you can’t make predictions at the start of the season if you don’t take your medicine at the end. So let’s go through all 32 of my picks from this year’s column, and see how I did.

Tier 1: Not just wrong but extra wrong

You would think that the worst a prediction could be would be just plain wrong, but no. Sometimes a prediction misses so badly that it eats its way through to other side and becomes weirdly impressive.

Winnipeg Jets: I went all-in on the Jets as legitimate Cup contenders, predicting they’d finish fifth overall. They didn’t even finish in the top five of their own division.

Arizona Coyotes: I predicted that since Phil Kessel was obviously getting traded, his new team would win the Stanley Cup. Turns out, the Coyotes didn’t even move him at all.

Calgary Flames: My years of being able to manifest Jacob Markstrom shutouts came to an end, after I predicted he’d get one on December 23 against the Kraken. He didn’t. Also, he didn’t play that night. Also, none of his teammates did either because the game didn’t happen. (It was eventually rescheduled for February 19, when Markstrom stopped 22 of 23 shots in a 3-1 win, so I can’t even claim this one on a technicality.)

Wait, does this mean my Markstrom magic, the one sure thing I’ve been able to count on when it came to predictions over the years, is finally over? Hold that thought for a bit…

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Thursday, May 19, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: The Battle of Alberta lives up to the hype

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- The Battle of Alberta returns, and immediately gets crazy
- The Rangers and Blues almost steal one, but neither team can finish it
- Who should be favored in Tampa/Florida
- Jesse Granger on the Knights finally firing Peter DeBoer
- Scoring is way up in the playoffs so far
- Listener mail on the difference between John Tavares and Claude Giroux, this week in history and more...

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

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Puck Soup: First round wrapup

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- We look at what comes next for all eight teams that lost
- Oh cool, the Leafs are one of those teams, can't wait
- Thoughts on the four second-round series
- Boudreau stays, DeBoer fired, Lambert hired. No, the other one.
- Award finalist thoughts, featuring a weird Masterton rant
- The Coyotes get put on their best behavior, 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.

Things not to say to a Leafs fan, who to trade, blaming Tavares and more: DGB Mailbag

It’s the spring, the weather’s getting nice, the lawn needs some work, and the birds are chirping. It must be time for a “the Leafs just lost in the first round” mailbag.

I will say this – compared to last year’s edition, there was far less angst this time around. Many of you are disappointed, or even ticked off, but the doom-and-gloom of last year’s mailbag was nowhere to be found. Everyone who wrote in sounded, dare I say it, reasonable.

I’m not sure if that’s a good sign, or it means we’ve all given up. Either way, let’s get into it.

My question is How can you run the same core out year after year only to watch them fail? Matthews, Marner, Tavares, Nylandar and Rielly are arguably the most talented core in the league, but they have failed so many times in a row. How can you not look at all of the success that they’ve had in the regular season and see no correlation in the playoffs without changing a couple of them out?

My life would be so much easier if I cheered for Buffalo. – Adam K.

OK, maybe they weren’t all reasonable. Cheer for Buffalo? Dude, back away from the cliff.

But other than that, Adam does a good job of representing the “change it up” side. Maybe not blow it up entirely, but what I described in Monday’s debate column as change for the sake of the change. It’s not an unreasonable take, even if you think the current team is good, because you’d think there can only be so many times that you fail before you have to mix it up somehow.

As I argued in that piece, everything should at least be on the table. We all know that in the cap-era NHL, especially when the cap has been flat for years, it’s hard to pull off major overhauls. We can hot stove a bunch of blockbusters, but we know they probably won’t happen. The most likely scenario is that the core is back, and we all settle in to watch the same movie again. Part seven will have a different ending, right?

Same as it ever was. But with one key difference – compared to the last few years, there was one name that came up way more often in fan frustration, so let’s get to that next…

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Monday, May 16, 2022

Stay the course or blow it all up? Debating the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs, with myself

So the Leafs lost. Again.

Another winner-take-all game, another season over. It’s both old hat, because this is what the Leafs do, and brand new, because no team in any sport has ever done this before. We all saw it coming, but we still hoped it wouldn’t. It’s weird to feel stunned by something you knew was inevitable, but that the conflict of being a Leaf fan.

I’m conflicted too, especially when it comes to the most important question: What now? What comes next for a team that’s failed so often but seems so close so success? Do you run it back? Blow it all up? Somewhere in between?

My head says you run it back. My rational side agrees with James and Jonas, who both made convincing cases that now isn’t the time to take a sledgehammer to the organization. Change will come, because this is the NHL and it always does, but firing a GM or a coach or a president who just helped deliver a 115-point team would be an overreaction. Sometimes two very good teams meet in the first round and one has to lose, and that’s it. Be smart, be logical, and keep as much of this crew together as you can.

My heart isn’t convinced. Actually, my heart is kind of sick of these guys. Sick of the excuses. Sick of the promises that next time will be different, always immediately followed by a promise that next time will also be the same because nothing will change. My heart has loved this team since I was a little kid, but can be pretty vindictive about the individual parts. My heart has run out of patience.

So which side is right? I honestly don’t know. So today I’m going to let the two sides fight it out, with a good old-fashioned stream-of-consciousness debate. This might help us get to the right answer. It also might just end up being a therapy session for a long-suffering fan. Either way, I hope you’ll indulge me.

Head vs. heart, with the future of the Maple Leafs on the line. Gentlemen, make your opening statements.

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Sunday, May 15, 2022

We should probably do another Leafs mailbag

Not sure if you heard but the Leafs lost. Yeah, I know, I'm shocked too.

Last year we did an emergency mailbag after the Habs series, which turned into this. I don't know if we're in emergency territory on this loss – no, really, I don't, see my upcoming column for more – but I want to know what you think.

I'm looking for questions, comments, general venting, predictions, etc. Maple Leafs only,obviously, because the other teams have never mattered. Let's work through this together.

Email me your questions at dgbmailbag@gmail.com.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Every NHL team’s most emotionally devastating Game 7 loss, ranked

Welcome to a weekend of Game 7s. If your favorite team isn’t playing in one, prepare to be entertained. If they are, well, prepare to get hurt.

Whenever I make a ranking, I know what I’m in for. It’s a fun format to play with, and readers usually enjoy them, but somebody will always get mad. It doesn’t matter how obvious the topic might be; some fan out there will take it personally. I could do a ranking of the NHL’s best players that had Connor McDavid and Cale Makar at the top, and some Columbus fan will show up to yell at me that it’s actually Zach Werenski. And that’s cool – a little bit of hometown bias is part of the deal.

But today… I’m not sure today is going to go well for me. That’s because of this ranking’s topic: Every team’s most painful Game 7 loss, ranked from least to most heart-breaking.

I’m willing to bet that just about every fan who saw that headline immediately thought that their team has to rank high. Maybe you even figure you’re a slam dunk for top spot. After all, it might be true that every fan base has suffered, but surely no fan base has suffered as much as yours. I’m pretty sure that’s a universal trait of every diehard sports fan. We all have the scars, we’re weirdly proud of them, and we’ll show them off if you ask, or even if you don’t. Nobody knows your pain. Of course this sort of list has to build towards your team, who else could even come close?

Sounds like fun, let’s do this.

Here’s how this will work. For every team in the league, I’ve gone through their history and picked what I think was their most agonizing Game 7 loss. (In some cases, I reached out to others for help, but I made the final call so you can blame me if you think I missed a better choice.) We’re considering a team’s entire history, although we’ll try to lean towards the modern era where we can. It goes without saying that I’m only looking at a team’s current location, because nobody in Carolina should feel bad about something that happened in Hartford.

And most importantly, I’m looking for all the different kinds of misery a Game 7 can provide. A close game or a late collapse will hurt, but so can an especially embarrassing blowout. Overtime is a bonus. So are any controversies, bad bounces or memorable mistakes. Context matters too, so we’ll consider the season, the recent history, what came after, and even how likable the team was before it all came crashing down. To borrow a term some of you will recognize, we’re looking for Those Games.

We all have our pain, and this is going to get ugly. There’s no such thing as a pleasant Game 7 loss, but we’ll start at the merely painful and work our way into the depths of utter misery.

Not ranked: Seattle Kraken, Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets

OK, maybe we don’t all have our pain, at least when it comes to the subject at hand. The Hurricanes have never lost a Game 7 since moving to Carolina, going a sickening 5-0 in winner-take-alls. They did drop a few in Hartford, including that legendary night back in 1992, and of course could lose one tomorrow/over the next few weeks. But for now, they’re safe.

The Kraken (obviously) and the Blue Jackets (somewhat surprisingly) are the only other teams in the NHL that have never lost a Game 7, meaning our actual ranking will have 29 teams to work with. Sorry Seattle, and Columbus fans, better worse luck next year.

29. Minnesota Wild: 2021 vs. Vegas

This one isn’t all that painful, coming by a 6-2 final on the road in a series in which they were underdogs. It’s also the only Game 7 loss the Wild have ever had, so here we are. Man, this franchise’s history is so boring that it can’t even do gut-wrenching agony right. Yet.

28. Arizona Coyotes: 2010 vs. Detroit

The Coyotes have three losses to choose from, but we have to go with the most recent. The 2009-10 edition of the club was arguably the first truly good team that fans in Phoenix had seen, finishing with 107 points that stills stands as the franchise record. But they drew the veteran Wings and bowed out in an embarrassing home-ice blowout, giving up 50 shots and losing 6-1.

27. Florida Panthers: 2012 vs. New Jersey

This is one of the only picks that nobody will disagree with, because it’s the only Game 7 loss in Panthers’ history so far. And on the surface, it’s not all that bad. The Panthers weren’t good that year, and their loss to the Devils came in the first round. But they did lose Game 6 and Game 7 in overtime, the latter on home ice, and I have to give a few bonus points just for the immediate cutaway to Dale Tallon and Bill Torrey looking like a devastated Statler and Waldorf.

26. Los Angeles Kings: 1976 vs. Boston

The Kings have been remarkably resistant to Game 7 misery, with just four losses in 55 years, none in the Gretzky or Stanley Cup eras and none past the second round. I’ll go with the 1976 loss to the Bruins, which came in Marcel Dionne’s first year as a King. It was a classic underdog battle, with the Bruins winning Games 1, 4 and 5 by a combined score of 14-1 but the Kings hanging around with three close wins, two of which came in overtime. That included a memorable Game 6 winner by Butch Goring, but the Bruins would slam the door with a 3-0 win in Game 7.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Thursday, May 12, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: Ranger Danger

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Ian's on vacation so Jesse steps in to host
- The Rangers come back and Sidney Crosby is hurt
- The Panthers finally look like the Panthers
- I make a strong argument in favor of one team winning, then realize I picked the other team
- Thoughts on the other series, and the Thursday night slate
- Jesse is too young to have heard the "Yellow Sunday" story and I'm a little too exicted to tell him about it
- Listener mail 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)

Puck Soup: After Dark

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Ryan and I have to record at night while the games are on
- Here us pronounce the Rangers dead when the Penguins make it 2-0
- Thoughts on Barry Trotz and Pierre McGuire
- We go through each of the eight first-round series
- The Habs and Devils win the draft lottery
- Award finalists are trickling in
- Patrick Marleau retires, 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, May 11, 2022

The 2022 Old Guy Without a Cup rankings

It’s time for our annual celebration of the OGWACs.

The OGWAC is, of course, the Old Guy Without A Cup. He’s a cherished hockey narrative at this time of year, a figure of both admiration and pity. He’s been in the league for a while, maybe even forever, but he’s never won it all. This could be his last chance. He wants it so bad. But there’s probably another OGWAC story on the team he’s up against, which means somebody is getting their heart broken. At the end of it, if we’re lucky, somebody will finally get their moment to hold the Cup, tears running down their grizzled face.

The greatest OGWAC arc of all time ended with Ray Bourque lifting the Cup in 2001, and that one may never be topped. Lanny McDonald in 1989 and Teemu Selanne in 2007 are also on the Mount Rushmore. Kimmo Timonen and Jay Bouwmeester were solid OGWACs, and Dominik Hasek was the rare goalie story in 2002.

The last few years have been rough on OGWAC fans, as the Lightning only really had Braydon Coburn in 2020 and nobody at all for their repeat in 2021. Let’s hope the hockey gods serve up something better this year. And if they need a nudge in that direction, let’s provide one with our annual OGWAC ranking.

If you’re new to this, we define an “old guy” as being 33 or older (which isn’t especially old in real life but definitely is in today’s NHL) with the added requirement of at least ten years of NHL experience. We’re also looking for guys who are healthy and contributing to their team, or have a reasonable chance to be by the final, because nothing’s sadder than an OGWAC watching the clinching game from the press box.

Beyond that, we prefer guys who’ve had a near-miss or two before; the more agonizingly close, the better. Overcoming some other adversity is also good. The player doesn’t need to be a superstar, at least not any more, but name value matters. And of course, the older the OG, the better.

One last thing: Everyone whose team is still alive in the playoffs is eligible, but we’re weighting the higher rankings towards guys with a more realistic shot at actually winning.

By my count, there are 30 players who qualify for OGWAC status this year; we’ll go with the traditional top 20 here, but mention as many as we can.

#20. Riley Nash, Lightning
You might assume Tampa won’t have any OGWACs, especially after going without last year. But they’ve actually got a few candidates. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare has actually only played eight seasons, but at 37 I feel like he deserves at least a mention. Brian Elliott is also an option, although he may not see the ice all postseason. That leaves Nash, who’s been an honest player for 11 years and helpfully turned 33 this week.

#19. Erik Johnson, Avalanche
The Avs are a surprisingly deep OGWAC team, which maybe shouldn’t shock us since that was their GM handing the Cup to Bourque. Johnson is only 34 but already in his 14th season, and has never been out of the second round.

#18. Mikael Backlund, Flames
For me, Backlund is a classic guy where you could tell me he was anywhere from like 25 to 37 and I’d believe you. He’s actually 33, and this is his 14th season. Bonus points for spending his entire career with the Flames, for whom he’s now the only OGWAC.

#17. Nick Foligno, Bruins
He’s the only Bruins OGWAC because Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand were around for the 2011 Cup, Craig Smith isn’t quite old enough, and Taylor Hall is somehow only 30 years old despite being in his 35th season. Did I rank both Foligno and Nash lower than they deserve because they were on last year’s Leafs playoff roster? No further questions.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Monday, May 9, 2022

Chaos, comedy and conspiracies in the draft lottery power rankings

The draft lottery goes tomorrow night, meaning all you fans of the bad teams will have something to pay attention to for an hour before going back to hate-watching the playoffs. It’s a bit of a weird year, with some new rules kicking in and a consensus top pick in Shane Wright who’s considered blue chip but maybe not quite a generational can’t-miss. (That’s next year.)

You can find the real odds for each team here, but we’re not all that worried about those. Instead, we want to have some fun with what could happen, before reality shows up and makes a few of you very happy and the rest of you very angry.

The “Maximum Chaos” Ranking

The largest and most dedicated fan base in the league is Team Chaos and it’s not all that close. Here’s what we’re rooting for.

Not ranked: Detroit Red Wings A high pick would be just what Steve Yzerman’s 25-year rebuild plan needed.

5. Chicago Blackhawks – Aside from launching roughly a million conspiracy theories – more on that in a bit – the Hawks are the only team in this year’s lottery that could make a genuinely good case that winning a top pick would be a bad thing. Plus getting Shane Wright would probably convince Jonathan Toews and friends that they were Cup contenders again.

4. Montreal Canadiens – The Habs are always chaotic, and finishing off the only 32nd-place finish in the history of the NHL with their first number one pick in 42 years would be very on-brand.

3. New Jersey Devils – They’ve already won the lottery for the first overall pick twice in the last few years, and that was part of the inspiration for last year’s announcement that the league would finally implement a limit on how many times the same team could win. But here’s the catch: The rule didn’t kick in until this year’s lottery, which means not only does it not prevent the Devils from winning Tuesday night, it wouldn’t even stop them from winning again in 2023. Yes, the team that helped us get a “You can’t win too often” rule could still land Shane Wright and Conon Bedard. I feel like a lot of fans don’t realize that, so consider this step one in a two-part process.

2. Columbus Blue Jackets – Sitting with the 12th best odds, the Blue Jackets are the first team that can’t move up all the way to number one, because teams can now only move up ten spots. Here’s my question: What happens if we draw them first, which would give them the second pick? Is the next drawing now for the first pick? Third? Can the second team bump the Blue Jackets down to third? Has anyone actually thought any of this through? You’d think they must have, but this is the NHL, so…

1. Vegas Golden Knights – The Knights are going to show up on a few of these lists, and for good reason. They can’t move up all the way thanks to the new rules, but could still jump ten spots, and if they do then they keep the pick they traded to the Sabres for Jack Eichel. If you haven’t noticed, other fan bases seem to have developed a sincere hatred for Vegas, and rejoiced in watching them miss the playoffs. A lottery win here would make everybody furious, and fury is its own type of chaos.

The “Who Needs it Most?” Rankings

Everyone needs a lottery win that would hand-deliver a stud prospect, but some teams need it more than others.

Not ranked: Anaheim DucksYou have Trevor Zegras, don’t get greedy.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Thursday, May 5, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: The year of the third-string goalie

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Gary Bettman shuts down talk of the changing the playoff format
- The pros and cons of adding a play-in round
- The early story of the playoffs: Goalie injuries, and some unlikely wins
- Jesse Granger on why Pete DeBoer hasn't been fired (yet)
- How oddsmakers overreact to early playoff games
- My thoughts on the Leafs and Lightning after two games
- Listener mail, this week in history and more...

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

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Puck Soup: One game in

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- We go through each of the eight series to see what we know after one game
- The Leafs look amazing, the Oilers cough it up, the Pens and Rangers work overtime
- Are the Wild or Panthers in trouble
- No, the NHL is not biased against its largest US market
- A roundup of the coaches who got fired and, maybe more surprisingly, who didn't (yet)
- Why we're not sure yet which category Bruce Boudreau is in
- 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.

Everyone wants to win, but who can’t afford to lose? It’s the 2022 playoff pressure rankings

The playoffs are here, and the pressure is intense. That’s true for everyone. You’re a rookie in your very first postseason? Pressure. A veteran chasing that elusive ring? Pressure. A coach, GM, a referee or the guy who has to run out and fix the broken glass? Pressure. A sportswriter? Let’s not get crazy, but sure, feeling hungry and kind of hungover is its own kind of pressure.

Pressure is everywhere. But it’s not spread out evenly, and some teams are facing more than others. So as the eight first-round series get under way and the narratives start to form, lets take our annual look at which teams are under the most pressure, and which ones are carrying a more manageable load.

As in previous years, we’ll use the following categories to make this seem scientific.

Expectations factor: You can’t be under all that much pressure to win if nobody think you actually can.

Drought factor: It’s just not the same if you have a recent banner or two already hanging in your rink. But if the guy who captained your last Cup winner has already gone grey, that’s bad. Somehow, the Washington Capitals fit into both categories. We’re working on that.

Ticking clock factor: Is the window slamming shut, either due to age, pending free agents or a cap crunch, or is the future looking bright?

Special circumstances: The part where I put my thumb on the scale to make sure the numbers add up to the ranking I’d already decided on.

Spoiler alert – You’re not going to be all that surprised by the top of the list, but I’ll do my best to keep you entertained along the way. See? Pressure!

16. Los Angeles Kings

Expectations factor: 2/10. The whims of the weird playoff format and Mike Smith’s weird puck-handling instincts have served up a winnable matchup in round one, but nobody thinks the Kings are winning the Cup this year.

Drought factor: 3/10. It’s been eight years since their last Cup, but that’s hardly a drought.

Ticking clock factor: 4/10. This one’s a bit tough. On the one hand, they’re a young team just coming out of a rebuild, and there look to be plenty of bright days ahead. On the other, this may be one of the last shots for the veteran core from the previous Cups, with Dustin Brown already announcing his retirement and Jonathan Quick somehow having just one year left on that forever-contract he signed in the heyday.

Special circumstances: +1. Beating the Oilers would lead to another round of Connor McDavid trade rumors, and you know those “generational superstar gets traded out of Edmonton” stories usually turn out for the Kings.

Pressure score: 10/30. You want to see Brown go out on a high note, but really, the rebuilding Kings are already playing with house money.

15. Nashville Predators

Expectations factor: 0/10. Without Jusse Saros at full health, just about nobody on the planet thinks they can beat the Avalanche.

Drought factor: 5/10. They’ve never won the Cup, and David Poile is about to head into decade five of his quest for a ring as GM.

Ticking clock factor: 5/10. Filip Forsberg is about to hit free agency, and Roman Josi and Matt Duchene both just had career years at 31. It’s also hard to see the Predators being significantly better than this in the next few years, which means the path back to the playoffs is shaky if Vegas and/or Winnipeg get back on track.

Special circumstances: +1. The Predators upsetting the Avalanche might cause an overreaction bordering on an existential crisis in Colorado, and more importantly would also be very funny.

Pressure score: 11/30. If they’d held on in Arizona and were playing the Flames, I’d have them a notch or two higher. But since everyone is already writing them off, there’s nowhere to go but up.

14. Washington Capitals

Expectations factor: 3/10. At some point, a consensus seemed to form that the Capitals were the weakest of the eight Eastern playoff teams, and that was before Alexander Ovechkin got banged up in the final week. All that said, they’re still a 100-point team.

Drought factor: 2/10. It’s been four years, which is probably long enough for everyone to sober up but that’s about it.

Ticking clock factor: 8/10. Ovechkin is a once-in-a-lifetime franchise player, and while he should be around for a few more years, the window to win a second Cup is starting to close. With the rest of the core also over 30, maybe it already is.

Special circumstances: +1. The fact that they spent all year long talking about the goaltending and then didn’t upgrade it at the deadline means that Brian MacLellan will be hearing some tough questions if they get lit up. Hey, they’re not playing an especially good offensive team, are they?

Pressure score: 14/30. Oh, also every neutral fan on the planet will be cheering for the Panthers.

13. New York Rangers

Expectations factor: 4/10. They’ve got a winnable first-round matchup and maybe the scariest goalie in the league, but I don’t see many picking them to go all that deep.

Drought factor: 9/10. That 1994 Cup win is getting pretty musty; at the time, it snapped what felt like an impossibly long 54-year drought, and they’re already more than halfway to getting back to that number. One lonely Cup in 82 years is kind of amazing.

Ticking clock factor: 2/10. Other than Chris Kreider, all the key guys are young enough that they’re either holding steady or getting better. Still, Igor Shesterkin may have just had a career year, and you don’t want to let that go to waste.

Special circumstances: 0. They just missed out on a matchup with the Capitals, which would have ratcheted up the pressure based on how last year and offseason played out. They certainly don’t like the Penguins, but it won’t be quite as embarrassing to lose to them.

Pressure score: 15/30. It’s New York, so the pressure will crank up in the years to come. Just not quite yet.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2022

The bandwagon-hopper’s guide to the 2022 playoffs

It’s playoff time, and almost everyone knows who they’re rooting for. Almost everyone.

Obviously, half the league’s fan bases get to watch their own team in the postseason, so that’s easy. Of the team’s that didn’t make it, plenty of you will be hate-watching a rival, rooting for whoever they happen to be playing. That’s always a bit weird, but we’ve all been there, so do your thing. And of course, you’ve got the Team Chaos sickos, who just want to watch the world burn.

Then there’s the group that won’t root for anyone, because you don’t get to have a second favorite team any more than you can have a second favorite spouse. You’ve committed to one team, and if they’re not in the playoffs then that’s the end of that. You can still watch, but you’re going to do it as a neutral party, and you feel very strongly about this.

That leaves one last group of fans, and it’s a bigger one that you might think: The bandwagon brigade. These are the fans who are willing to pick a temporary team for the next few weeks or months. For these fans, the playoffs are just more fun when you’ve got someone to root for, and if your team didn’t make it then that means you need a short-term fling. Debate the ethics of it all you want, but these fans are out there, and we’re not here to judge.

Today’s column is for them, because if you’re going to bandwagon hop, you want to at least do it wisely. For the truly undecided, let’s cover the pros and cons of who you should consider throwing your support behind. As always, we want a team that has a decent chance of winning but won’t make your feel like too much of a front-runner, with bonus points for likeable players and/or a neat subplot or two. Oh, and you’d prefer the games to be exciting, because nobody’s got time to bandwagon a 1-0 game.

Spoiler alert: This year, there is a right answer. But we’ll start at the other end of the list…

16. Washington Capitals

Why you should get on board: Alexander Ovechkin is still ridiculously cool to watch, and we know that their Cup celebrations are the stuff of legends.

Why you shouldn’t: They already won in 2018, and while that team was eminently bandwagonable, you kind of missed your window. More importantly, they’re heavy underdogs in the first round, they’ve been cold down the stretch, and the goaltending isn’t good, so you’re probably going to need a new team in two weeks.

Bottom line: There’s something to be said about picking an underdog and riding them through a surprise run, but this isn’t the year to take the Caps.

15. Nashville Predators

Why you should get on board: They’re a likable team that’s never won a Cup, and their fans are super-cool while also seeming like the type of fan base that wouldn’t get all weird about welcoming a few new friends onto the bandwagon.

Why you shouldn’t: They’re going to get absolutely destroyed by the Avalanche.

Bottom line: Or will they? Look, no guts no glory, and fortune favors the bold. If the Predators can pull this off, or even make a series out of it, you’re going to see the hockey world perk up quickly. Getting in on the ground floor of something special is always fun, so there’s a certain what-the-hell appeal here. But yeah, you’re probably getting five games as a best case.

14. Pittsburgh Penguins

Why you should get on board: It may be the last ride of the Crosby/Malkin/Letang era.

Why you shouldn’t: That era has already produced three Cups, so they’ve had their fill. Also, their goalie broke his foot right before the playoffs. You might want to take the hint.

Bottom line: Look, Crosby’s cool and you should absolutely root for him when you get the chance. I recommend the next World Cup.

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Monday, May 2, 2022

A season-ending Top 16, plus a look back at the rankings, Gold Plan standings and more

for the whole “who wins the Stanley Cup” thing. We’ll get to that.

First things first, let’s talk about Friday. The NHL wrapped up its season, or at least planned to, with a 15-game slate that was meant to be the big finale. It didn’t end up that way, partly because the Jets and Kraken still had yesterday’s makeup game to get through and mostly because none of the 16 playoff spots were on the line. You’d have been forgiven for taking the night off, much like several star players did. But if so, you missed one of the most weirdly entertaining nights of the entire season.

Let’s summarize. You had the Predators needing a win to avoid the mighty Avalanche, going into Arizona for the last game at Glendale and pummeling the Coyotes on the way to a 4-0 lead, and then incomprehensibly blowing it to lose 5-4 and provide this year’s “first-round matchup that literally 100% of the experts will predict the same way except for that one contrarian guy” series. Nice work, Nashville.

We had an EBUG playing for the Ducks, then casually revealing that he was blind in one eye. We had another goalie singing the national anthem. We had some bad blood and a potentially serious injury in Minnesota. We had the worst team in the league smoking the best team by a 10-2 final because why not. We had a (possibly long-overdue) coach firing. And we had one final call from the legendary Rick Jeanneret.

For a bunch of games that mostly didn’t matter, that’s a pretty fun night.

OK, let’s get to the rankings. As is tradition, we’ll dump the top-five format this week and give you a full 16-team rundown of all the playoff teams. We’ve been mostly wrong all year, we might as well go out with the opportunity to be super wrong.

First, some facts and figures. We finished the year with 12 different teams having cracked the top five, 11 more appearing in the bottom five, and nine who didn’t show up on either list. In a sign that I wasn’t completely out to lunch, this year didn’t see any teams pull off the feat of appearing on both lists, and I’m not sure anyone came all that close. Looking back on both lists, I don’t see anything that jumps out as a truly awful call, even in those dangerous first few weeks when it’s way too early but we do it anyway.

Only one top five team missed the playoffs, and that was the Golden Knights, who showed up a few times, although never higher than fifth after week one. That’s not a great call, but I don’t think we’re alone on misjudging the Knights (and before you say you saw it coming all along, remember I have your contest entries). None of the bottom five teams made it, although the Canucks at least made us pay attention down the stretch.

Of the nine no-shows, the one that sparked the highest volume of, uh, constructive feedback was the Maple Leafs, who hovered in the top five discussion all year but never got an invite thanks to what many of you saw as transparent reverse-homerism. The Bruins also had a case on a few occasions, while the Kings, Predators and Stars all made the playoffs. I showed some restraint in keeping the Islanders out of the bottom five during their early struggles, and the Red Wings somewhat surprisingly never got the call either, along with the Sharks and the Jets.

Just two teams held a top five spot in every single week of the rankings, with the Panthers and Hurricanes being the only permanent fixtures. (The Avalanche, despite holding down top spot more than any other team, got a one-week timeout in early November.) Meanwhile, the Coyotes were the only consistent presence in the bottom five, holding down the one or two-spot every single week. Montreal didn’t debut until week three and then stayed all season, tying the Kraken for most bottom-five appearances by a team that wasn’t Arizona.

On to the Top 16…

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Friday, April 29, 2022

30 years ago, the NHL delivered the greatest single night in playoff history

If I asked you to come up with the perfect night of NHL playoff hockey, what criteria would you go by?

Maybe you’d start with star power. In that case, you’d probably want to see that year’s MVP, or the Vezina winner, or the Norris winner, and hell why not also the Norris runner-up. Maybe you’d rather just have arguably the most skilled player of all time, or the player he’d soon pass the torch too. Or you might want to see a superstar pull off something that nobody had ever done before. If you were especially greedy, maybe you’d insist on all of those guys.

Or maybe you’d skip the individual names and go for team-based storylines. You could start with a team in collapse, or an underdog chasing their first series win in forever, or a favorite facing down a decade-long drought, or one that was barely hanging on as a franchise and needed a win to survive. Maybe you’d want a long-running rivalry that had produced a constant string of playoff matchups, or a brand new one that never had before. You’d probably want the Presidents’ Trophy winners in there, and maybe the runners-up too. You’d definitely want the defending Stanley Cup champions to be involved, and also the next winner. Hell, why not the next four. You’d want drama, and overtime, and bad blood, and high stakes.

Or maybe you’d skip all of that and just insist on two words: Game 7. The best two words in playoff hockey, because it means a true winner-take-all showdown. One team survives and moves on to chase a championship, and one goes home with their hearts broken. A Game 7 is the best. Or maybe more than one.

Could I interest you in all of the above?

Good. Let’s look back on the single greatest night in the history of the NHL playoffs. Let’s head back almost exactly 30 years, to May 1, 1992, and let’s savor the chaos of something we’d never seen before, have never seen since, and probably never will again: Four separate Game 7 showdowns all happening at the same time.

Eight teams, eight stories

The 1992 playoffs almost hadn’t happened, with a player strike on April 1 marking the first work stoppage in NHL history and threatening to scrap the season. The strike lasted ten days, pushing the playoffs back (and setting the stage for decades of lockouts to come), and the postseason officially began on April 18.

Back then, the NHL defaulted to scheduling each conference on alternating days – no weird gaps, no random back-to-backs, just the knowledge that your team would play every second night for as long as they could last. The Campbell went first in 1992, and served up four very good series. Two of those went six games, and two more went the full seven, with those two deciding games being played on April 30; the Canucks beat the Jets and the Wings outlasted the Stars. Not a bad night of hockey.

But the next night was the main event, because the Wales conference saw all four series go the distance. That meant four Game 7s on one night. And with the Wales being the forerunner to the Eastern Conference, all four of those games were in the same time zone. Eight teams, eight seasons on the line, four winner-take-all showdowns, and all of it happening at the same time. We’d never seen it before, and we’ve never seen it since. May 1, 1992 delivered something unique in the history of the league.

Penguins vs. Capitals. Sabres vs. Bruins. Whalers vs. Habs. And Rangers vs. Devils. It was about to get wild.

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Thursday, April 28, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: Positive thoughts for your dumb loser team

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Positive thoughts for non-playoff teams
- My theory on how the Panthers will redeem us all
- Our picks for the major awards
- Listener mail about Jiri Hrdina for some reason?
- We stumble onto a tough goalie trivia challenge
- Plus the greatest night in playoff hitory 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: Dangerous Knights Crew

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- The Golden Knights are out, and it's pretty funny
- Which of the 16 playoff teams really have a shot?
- Ryan ranks this year's OGWACs
- Comparing the Thanksgiving standings to today
- Thoughts on the scoring boom-explosion
- What's next in Vancouver, Vegas, and other spots
- Should the NHL have a play-in round?
- 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, April 27, 2022

Finding three positive thoughts for each of the non-playoff teams

With just days left in the regular season and the playoff races basically locked up, many of the fan bases in the league aren’t very happy right now. There’s about to be a two-month party with a big shiny trophy at the end of it, and half of you aren’t invited.

It’s a tough time of year, and I want to help. So today, we’re going to break out an annual tradition around these parts and look for three positive thoughts for each of the non-playoff teams.

That’s it. Just three shots of optimism, aimed at those that need it most. If you prefer negativity, you can read, well, just about everything else being written about these teams. But not here, at least not today. It’s all good. The glass isn’t just half-full, it’s half-full of unicorn tears. But like, happy tears. I guess from laughing or something? I admit I’ve lost the metaphor, but let’s do this anyway…

Columbus Blue Jackets

The negative: They missed the playoffs by a mile, the goaltending wasn’t great, and they might not have a 60-point scorer.

Positive thought #1: We got into this a bit on Monday, but the Blue Jackets exceeded just about everyone’s expectations. Most of us had them as contenders for dead last, but instead they played fake-.500 hockey pretty much all year long. Sure, that cost them some lottery odds, but having a young team overachieve is never a bad thing.

Positive thought #2: It’s only been one year, but Brad Larsen looks like a good one behind the bench.

Positive thought #3: I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that Patrik Laine is back, but he doesn’t look broken in the same way he did under John Tortorella. Getting him signed will be tricky, but whether you want to look at him as a long-term piece or as trade bait, his production in stretches this year gave you reason for optimism. Mix in Cole Sillinger being here and Kirill Marchenko on the way, and the future is already taking shape.

(For what it’s worth, Blue Jackets fans apparently didn’t need this section, as they’re already mostly optimistic. Don’t worry, these get harder as we go.)

Ottawa Senators

The negative: In what was supposed to be year one of their run of unparalleled success, or at least the year they pushed for a playoff spot, the Senators instead took a step backward and will finish behind last year’s pace.

Positive thought #1: I know we said we’d do three thoughts per team, but we probably only need one for Ottawa. You can mourn Eugene Melnyk and appreciate what he did for the team and the community, but a change in ownership will be the single best thing that could have happened to this franchise. There didn’t feel like there was a path to long-term success under Melnyk; now there could be.

Positive thought #2: It’s been clear from looking at the Senators’ roster and pipeline that they were going to need a few of the younger players to make the leap to a higher tier, while others at least didn’t regress. I’d argue that the trio of Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot and Tim St├╝tzle have all stayed on track, but the big story might be Josh Norris breaking through as a legit 30+ goal guy. Right now he looks like a very good second-line center, and there’s a non-zero chance he may be more.

Positive thought #3: There hasn’t been much good news on the Matt Murray front, and it will be interesting to see how the team works its way out of that contract. But it no longer feels like a disaster because of Anton Forsberg’s emergence as a legitimate NHL goalie. Goaltending is weird and maybe this ends up being a career year, but the Senators might have their starter for the next few seasons, even if it’s not the guy they expected.

Arizona Coyotes

The negative: They were quite possibly the worst team in the league this year, and arguably one of the worst of the cap era.

Positive thought #1: That’s what they were trying to do, so at least they can execute on a plan.

Positive thought #2: There’s a ton of draft capital, including first-rounders this year from the Hurricanes and Avalanche, plus five picks in this year’s second and their own first, which will be in the top four. Most of that help won’t arrive for another few years, but this is a rebuild and you want as many lottery tickets as you can get. The Coyotes have a lot.

Positive thought #3: Nick Ritchie might not be a long-term piece of the puzzle, but he gives the Coyotes a nice proof-of-concept on a future sales pitch to potential players: Come to Arizona, play higher up the lineup, and rebuild your stat line and reputation outside the big market microscope. Some of those guys will stick around, other will turn into trade bait, and both will help the rebuild.

Seattle Kraken

The negative: With the 2017-18 Golden Knights providing a best-case scenario for expansion success, the Kraken went into the year expecting to at least make a playoff push. Instead, they started slow and never really improved, not contending for anything other than dead last.

Positive thought #1: It was the best season in franchise history!

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Monday, April 25, 2022

Weekend rankings: It all comes down to the Golden Knights, Stars, and Predators, plus a scoring rant and more

NHL scoring is up, as you’ve no doubt heard. We’re on pace to finish with the highest per-game scoring rate since 1995-96, and maybe even since 1993-94. This season will end up even higher than the fabled post-lockout 2005-06 season, the one that saw us all declare the end of the Dead Puck Era (only to almost immediately see scoring rates plummet again). Factor in having 32 teams, and there will be more goals this year than we’ve ever seen before.

This is a good thing.

You know I’m on board, because I’ve been banging this drum for over a decade now. Offense is fun, offense is what sells, and the NHL’s 25-year-long failure to address the problem with anything more than minor tweaks and hope was a catastrophic failure of leadership. So yes, higher scoring rates is a good thing. The Panthers scoring four goals a game is a good thing. More multi-goal comebacks is a good thing. Having several 100-point and 50-goal players and a 90-point defenseman are all good things. I’m not just on the bandwagon, I’ve been driving it for years. Welcome aboard.

The fascinating thing about this year’s increase is that nobody seems to be sure why it’s happening. I’ve seen multiple attempts to figure it out by smart people, including Travis Yost, Greg Wyshynski and our own Michael Russo. Nobody can quite nail it down, and it’s especially confusing because the league didn’t actually do anything to make this happen. Instead, we seem to be seeing several factors come together in just the right mix. We’ve got a generation of talented offensive players, combined with a step back from the league’s goalies, pushed along by COVID and a condensed schedule that’s meant more depth guys being forced into lineups. Maybe the slashing crackdown helped, or dialing down the netfront crosschecking. Maybe everyone has four lines that can contribute now. Maybe it’s all of these things. Nobody knows for sure, but we know that we like it.

Great. Now let’s keep going.

For all the back-patting over this year’s numbers, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’d taken a giant leap forward. Look at those headlines on those pieces up above. It’s an “explosion”, an “offensive renaissance”, a “boom” that’s seen the game “reinvented”. But is it? We’re talking about an average of a bit more than a tenth of a goal per game for each team compared to the last full season. That adds up to about eight goals per team, maybe ten, or a little less than two per month.

When you think of it that way, this doesn’t feel like that much of a seismic shift, especially compared to the 70s, 80s and early 90s, when scoring was still nearly a goal-per-game higher at its peak than it is right now. Compared to that era, we’re barely making baby steps. And yet it’s indisputably led to a more entertaining season. It’s been great. Have you heard anyone complaining about the extra offense this year, even those “I love a good 1-0 defensive battle” weirdos? I haven’t. If an extra goal every few weeks is this much fun, imagine what this league could be if we kept going.

The part that worries me is that “if”. When we don’t know what’s causing the numbers to go up, that means we can’t be sure they’ll stay there. Maybe we really are on the cusp of a new era. Or maybe this is just a weird outlier, when a few hot shooters and cold goalies and the existence of the Red Wings nudged up the numbers just enough to trick us into thinking we’d seen something real. We’ve been fooled before, after all.

So sure, celebrate the increase. Hope that it continues. But hope is not a plan, and hanging a “Mission Accomplished” banner yet again only to watch as 32 defense-first coaches grind away at the gains would be a disaster. Scoring is fun. Offense is fun. Watching guys hit milestones and reach big round numbers and chase records is super fun. But right now this all looks like a happy accident, so let’s treat it as the first step towards a new and long-overdue era, not a finish line.

Rant over, let’s head to this week’s power rankings…

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Friday, April 22, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: Another sword in the back

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- We're sort of fascinated by the weird Vegas goaltending situation, and we have theories as to what's going on
- Alexander Ovechkin joins an incredibly rare club
- The Global Series returns, and the future of the NHL in Europe
- Why don't more famous hockey games have nicknames?
- Plus Granger things, listener mail, this week in history and more...

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

Answering the dumb questions you never thought to ask about empty net goals

Close your eyes and picture your favorite team scoring an empty net goal.

You probably didn’t have to strain your imagination too much, since ENGs are reasonably common in the NHL. Every team has at least a few this year, and teams like the Blues, Penguins and Flames have 20 or more. We know the drill, so I’m pretty I can guess what you imagined: Your team is defending a lead late in regulation, battling for the puck in their own end before finally sending it the length of the ice into an empty net to seal the win. That’s what an empty net goal looks like.

But not always. Let’s get weird.

This is the sort of thing I think about when the playoffs haven’t started yet but most of the spots are locked up. So today, we’re going to dive into the history of weird empty net goals. Here’s everything you didn’t even know you wanted to ask about the most disrespected goal in the NHL record books.

How often does an empty net goal turn out to be the game winner?

This seems like a straightforward question until you think about it. A game-winning goal in the NHL as defined as the one that gives a team one more goal than the other team eventually ends up with. So if the losing team scores three times, the winning goal is the other team’s fourth, regardless of whether that goal makes it 4-3 or 4-0 or when in the game it’s scored. Since the typical empty net goal comes at the end of regulation, when the team scoring is already ahead by one or two and the game is about to end, would one ever end up going into the record books as the winner?

Yes, as it turns out, and it’s not especially uncommon. According to the hockey-reference database (which we’ll be using for all of these stats), it’s happened 148 times in NHL history. We can divide those goals into two categories, and those are going to be important the further down this road we go.

The first type of empty net goal is the one we’ve already described, where one team pulls its goalie for an extra attacker, almost always very late in regulation. In those cases, the empty net goal can’t be the winner unless the losing team scores again. For example, Team A is up 2-1 and Team B pulls their goalie. Team A scored into the empty net to make is 3-1, then Team B scores a goal to draw back to 3-2. That makes the empty net goal the winner.

This doesn’t happen all that often, but it’s certainly not rare. We’ve seen it 13 times this season, most recently when Ivan Barbashev of the Blues did it in an April 2 win over the Flames. Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin did it in the same week back in early March, which was fun. Mario Lemieux is the career leader with three empty net game-winning goals, one of which we’ll get to in a bit. But so far, nothing all that crazy here.

Bonus weird fact: The goalie who gets pulled still takes the loss even though he wasn’t in net for the winning goal. Wins and losses are based on the “goalie of record” when the winning goal is scored, but he doesn’t have to be on the ice at the time.

The other type of empty net goal is far more rare, but way more fun. It comes when a team has pulled its goaltender on a delayed penalty, then accidentally scores on its own net. Those can come at any time during a game, which means they’ll occasionally hold up as a game winner. As an added bonus, sometimes those goals end up being credited to the opposing goalies. That’s how Martin Brodeur has a game-winning goal, the only goaltender that’s true of. Eat that, Ron Hextall.

That accidental own-goal scenario leads us to our next question…

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Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Puck Soup: Down the stretch they come

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- There's still lots up for grabs as the season enters its final weeks
- We come to accept that Vegas is going to miss the playoffs
- Vancouver stays (barely) alive
- Ryan has a theory about the Oilers
- How the NHL should fix its broken points system
- Thoughts on the Eugene Melnyk piece
- Looking back on the biggest midseason trades, and how many have worked
- 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.

Monday, April 18, 2022

What we know, what we don’t, what to make of the Capitals, and lots more

We’re almost done. I’m not sure about you, but the finish line has somehow snuck up on me even as the season has dragged on forever. It feels like every team has been siting at 60-something games for months, only to have the ending appear out of nowhere. Aside from one awkward makeup game between the Jets and Kraken on May 1 that won’t matter, everyone else will be done by next Friday.

Cool. Let’s figure out what we know, and what we don’t.

Here’s what I’m willing to say that we know. (Not mathematically, in most cases, but with a high enough degree of certainty that we can break out the non-erasable markers.)

  • All eight playoff teams in the East, which we’ve known since December, and at least five in the West but probably more.
  • Three of the four division winners, with the Avalanche, Panthers and Flames all pretty much clear. The Avs and Panthers will be top seeds and have home ice in their conference.
  • One playoff matchup that’s basically locked in, with the Wild facing the Blues.
  • I thought we knew that the Capitals were going to be stuck as a wildcard team, but does the Tristan Jarry injury and Penguins slump change that?

Here is what we’re still waiting to find out:

  • How the rest of the playoff field in the West will shake out. Depending on how much uncertainty you want to allow for, it could be as simple as the Knights and the Kings fighting it out for the final playoff spot. You could also say that the Predators and Stars aren’t quite safe, or that the Canucks are still in the mix, but any of those scenarios are on death’s door. (By the way, the DGB Decision Desk is saying that the Jets are done and the Oilers are safe.)
  • Who’ll win the Metro, with the Rangers making a late push to catch the Hurricanes.
  • Most of the matchups, as well as who’ll have home ice in that Blues/Wild series. A Leafs/Lightning matchup is looking more and more likely, but we’re not quite locked in yet.
  • Some non-playoff stuff, including who’ll win the Art Ross and Rocket Richard, and which team will end up with top lottery odds.

That’s… that’s not bad, right? It doesn’t exactly make for a frantic finish, especially if you believe that 15 of the 16 playoff spots are close to locked up, but there’s still plenty of play for. There’s always a weird dynamic down the stretch, as some contenders are mailing it in and some of the bad teams just want to go home but a handful of bubble teams are playing for their lives.

At the very least, it all adds up to a reason to stay tuned in for the next few weeks, unless you’re an Avalanche or Panthers fan and want to rest up for a long playoff run. For the rest of us, let’s check out this week’s rankings…

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Friday, April 15, 2022

Grab Bag: What your preferred NHL points system says about you

In the Friday Grab Bag:

- What your preferred NHL points system says about you
- A brilliant rule change idea we should steal from the NFL
- The bizarre world of organisms named after 1990 Edmonton Oilers
- Comedy stars
- And a YouTube look back at the forgotten players strike of 1992

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Thursday, April 14, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: The Eugene Melnyk story

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Ian addresses today's explosive Eugene Melnyk story
- A special roundtable with Ian, Kate Strang and Dan Robson on the process of reporting the story
- On the timing, and why now
- Plus the loser point vs. bonus point debate, listener mail, a forgotten Leafs playoff series, 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, April 13, 2022

Puck Soup: Cast your ballot

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- We go through our contenders and pretenders for each of the major awards
- With Dallas Eakins now safe, we play keep or can with a dozen other coaches
- Mark Stone is back, but it might be too late after a bad night for the Golden Knights
- Ryan gives a college hockey update
- Big news: I listened to one of Ryan's bands
- Doughty out, Malkin suspended 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.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Does the NHL have a loser point or a bonus point? Here’s why it’s not just a question of semantics

This piece is about a debate, and debates can get contentious, so let’s start with the part we can all agree on. Everything in this next paragraph is indisputably true, and no reasonable person would argue with even one word of it.

The NHL’s standings system sucks. It’s ridiculous that a professional sports league gives out more points for some games than others, especially when those points are awarded in a way that encourages teams to play it safe and keep it close instead of trying to win outright. The league says they do this to keep the playoff races closer, but the system very clearly doesn’t actually do that, and is really about inflating everyone’s records so that the GMs who vote on this stuff can look like they’re having success they haven’t earned. Maybe the system made some small amount of sense in 1999 when the league was overrun with ties, but the shootout ended that issue. Today, these extra points are dumb and awful and embarrassing, a symptom of a league that’s more interested in coddling the egos of the old boys club in charge than on delivering a product that makes sense. The best time to change the system was 17 years ago. The second-best time is right now.

Everyone nodding along? Of course you are. Now comes the contentious part.

What exactly is that extra point that the NHL gives out for some games and not others?

No really, which one is it? When a game ends in regulation, the winning team gets two points in the standings and the loser gets nothing, for a total of two. But if the game goes to overtime, it magically becomes worth three points, with the winner still getting two and the loser now getting one. But which of those three points is the extra one?

If your answer is “it doesn’t matter” then you’re wrong, and we’ll get to that. For the rest of us, there are two camps to choose from.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Monday, April 11, 2022

Weekend rankings: The West is chaos (but fun), the Leafs are good (but maybe not good enough) and the Red Wings are confusing

Last week, we talked about the Eastern Conference, and how the eight playoff teams are so good that the stretch run feels kind of boring. Almost everyone is a legitimate contender, so none of the races really matter, and there isn’t much reason to worry about who finishes where or matches up with who, and nobody is a favorite.

And then there’s the Western Conference.

You want a wildcard race? You’ve got it. You want a clear favorite? Got that too. Want just enough separation between the top and the bottom that there’s the potential for results that feel like real upsets? Yep. How about one team that’s gone over the cap to pack the roster with stars and still might miss the playoffs in what would be the biggest disaster of the season and make 31 other fan bases laugh evilly? That’s weirdly specific, but yeah, the West has you covered.

Heading down the stretch, the West pretty much has it all, except for suspense around the two division winners. We know those will be the Avs and Flames. Beyond that, there’s still lots to be decided.

Let’s start in the Central, where we pretty much know we’re going to get the Wild and Blues in round one, but aren’t sure who’ll have home ice. Both teams are hot, and on Friday we got a head-to-head playoff preview that the Blues took in overtime. The Wild held a 3-1 lead early in the third but let it slip away as the Robert Thomas breakout continues, meaning the Blues are even in points but Minnesota still has a game in hand. Given that both teams are far better at home than the road, the race for second might matter a lot.

The Pacific looks like it could be headed towards an Oilers/Kings matchup that will launch a thousand playoff format complaints but bring back some old-school Smythe Division vibes. The Oilers just went toe-to-toe with the Avs in the rare 2-1 game that was actually entertaining before a one-sided overtime ended and everyone turned it off. Somebody won in the shootout, but that part doesn’t matter as much as two key storylines: The Oilers can hold their own in a low-scoring slugfest with a contender, and Darcy Kuemper is quietly heating up for an Avs team that was already the favorite when he was mediocre.

The Avs, Oilers, Flames Blues and Wild are all locked into the playoffs, leaving four or maybe five teams fighting for three spots. That “maybe” is for you Vancouver fans, and to their credit the Canucks aren’t going quietly with three wins this week. I think they’re out of runway, but tomorrow’s showdown with Vegas still feels meaningful. The Golden Knights absolutely need to make the playoffs, and with six wins in their last seven and Max Pacioretty back, they’ve still got a decent shot. They’re chasing the Predators and Stars for the wildcard spots, but their best chance might be overtaking Los Angeles for third in the Pacific, especially after the Kings coughed up a strong start in yesterday’s loss to the Wild. The Predators got a point in an OT loss to the Penguins, while Dallas took care of business in Chicago.

It’s chaos, the good kind, and the outlook changes pretty much every night. That’s a lot more fun than what we have out East, unless you’re one of those fans living and dying with every result down the stretch.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Thursday, April 7, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: Comeback kids

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Ian has an idea for a future column, and I am stealing it
- With the Tiger Woods comeback, we talk about some of the NHL's most miraculous injury recoveries
- Where the Sabres' 11 years without a playoff appearance ranks among all-time misery
- Jesse Granger on the Knights' big loss
- The current Calder odds, including a 20-1 longshot I like a lot
- Two bits of goalie trivia I didn't know in This Week in History
- Listener mail 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)