Thursday, December 29, 2022

NHL99: Jarome Iginla, the last of the NHL’s great power forwards

I want you to stop for a moment and picture the most iconic Jarome Iginla moment. Not your personal favorite, or even the most important, but the one that best represents who he was to you. If a brand new hockey fan showed up and wanted to know why everyone – not just Flames fans, but everyone -- seems to love this Iginla guy so much and you had time to show them one clip, which one would it be?

You’d have a ton of choices. You  could show them a goal; counting the playoffs, you’d have over 650 to choose from. You might go with a milestone moment, like his 500th goal or 1,000th point, or when he became the Flames’ all-time leading scorer. His epic overtime shift in the 2004 final would have to be way up there on the list. You might choose one of his Team Canada highlights, like his laser beam one-timer late in the 2002 gold medal game, or the time that he and everyone else heard the infamous IGGY. You might even go off the board and choose the time he led the Flames in paying respect to Trevor Linden after his long-time rival’s final game, the sort of pure-class gesture we don’t see often in sports these days.

Any of those would be great choices. But I’m guessing they may not be what came to mind first. Instead, there’s a good chance you thought of this:

That's Iginla and Tampa’s Vincent Lecavalier dropping the gloves in early in Game 3 of the 2004 Stanley Cup final. Iginla is Calgary’s biggest star and their captain; Lecavalier is the franchise player the Lightning have been building around. A fight between two superstars, in a crucial playoff game, just isn’t supposed to happen. But it does, because this is a battle for a championship and neither player is willing to give an inch.

You don’t have to like fighting in hockey or even understand it to get what’s happening here. There’s nothing dirty, and it’s not some staged production between two guys with nothing better to do. It’s just two stars on a collision course, staring each other down and saying “I’m not going anywhere and I know you’re not either, so what do you want to do about it?”

Iginla wins the fight, of course, because he almost always did. He didn’t fight often, maybe a handful of times a year, because he didn’t have to. But if it needed to be done, he was there. That was what made Iginla such a special player – he could do just about anything that his team needed him to do. A goal? Of course. A dominating shift? Yes. Win the crucial battles in his own zone? Often. A crushing open ice hit to flip the momentum? More than a few. And yes, if somebody needed to step up and trade punches, putting themselves at risk just to make it clear that this team wasn’t backing down from anyone, Iginla was willing and able to do that too.

Jarome Iginla kicked ass. Sometimes, literally. And there’s a very good chance that we’ll never see a player quite like him ever again.

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Friday, December 23, 2022

Mailbag: Loser points vs. offside reviews, which is worse? Plus renaming the Conn Smyth, history's longest hair and more.

Happy holidays, assuming they’ve started for you. If you’re at work today, no you’re not. You might be physically in the building, but we all know you’re not working, so let’s waste company time with a midseason mailbag.

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


If you could get rid of one of these items but the other becomes permanent as-is, which do you change: Loser point or offside reviews? – Bill M.

No. Pass. I refuse. This is like asking me which one of my kids I love most, only the exact opposite.

 

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Puck Soup: In or out

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Ryan saw the new Avatar movie, and he has thoughts
- We go through the league and decide who's making the playoffs and who isn't
- Trade winds blowing in Vancouver, Chicago and Philadelphia
- Phil Kessel's streak could be ending soon
- Our NHL wishes for 2023
- World Cup, Survivor, and lots more...

>> Listen on The Athletic
>> Subscribe on iTunes
>> Listen on Spotify

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




Monday, December 19, 2022

Weekend rankings: Pastrnak's next contract, Blues questions, the Hawks hit rock bottom, and the most mediocre five

One of my pet theories this year was that it would be a season of extremes. The loaded top of the 2023 draft, and the predictable tank war it would inspire, would clog the bottom of the standings with some of the worst records in recent history. And that would open the door to the league’s good teams to rack up even more points than usual, thanks to a steady stream of matchups with teams that weren’t even trying. We’d end up with a bunch of 110-plus point teams and a bunch of awful ones, and not much left in the mushy middle.

There’s still time for things to evolve that way. But so far, we’re not seeing that separation. While we’re seeing a clear group of six very bad teams at the bottom and almost as many very good ones, the middle is as mushy as ever. At one point on Saturday afternoon, there were six teams sitting at exactly .500. There’s a lot of mediocrity out there.

OK, let’s embrace that. Which of the NHL’s mediocre teams has been the most mediocre so far?

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Sunday, December 18, 2022

Call for mailbag questions

Hey folks...

It's mailbag time again, just in time for the holidays, because I don't want to work too hard this week want to hear from all my super-cool readers. Let's get creative. Send questions via email at dgbmailbag@gmail.com.

Thanks,
Sean




Thursday, December 15, 2022

Grab Bag: Gary Bettman’s surveys, renaming awards, and Rod Brind’Amour’s workout

Gary Bettman made headlines this week when he defended the league’s foray into digital board ads. While many fans have complained that the animated ads are distracting and often glitchy, Bettman pushed back on the subject, calling it a “non-issue” and insisting that the league’s internal polling proves that fans actually find games more watchable with the new ads.

That struck many of us as odd. Sure, some fans don’t mind the board ads and everyone understands the desire for more revenue, but it’s hard to imagine how they’d made the game-watching experience better. But Bettman says he has the polling to back it up. Will he show us the numbers? No he will not, but when has he ever given you a reason not to trust him?

In an effort to turn this controversy into a teachable moment, I had my spies at the NHL head office infiltrate the market research department. They were able to smuggle out a list of Gary Bettman’s tips for keeping your finger on the pulse of your fan base.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Puck Soup: The Great Eight (Hundred)

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Alexander Ovechkin hits 800
- It's Board of Governors time and Gary Bettman is making stuff up again
- You won't believe what penalty Colin Campbell wants to fix
- Bettman does not want a play-in round
- The Canucks have to make a decision on Bo Horvat
- Let's rename some awards
- An ugly brawl in the stands
- Tage Thompson, Jaromir Jagr and more...

>> Listen on The Athletic >> Subscribe on iTunes.

>> Listen on Spotify

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




Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Tage Thompson and the five dumb lessons that bad GMs will learn from him

It’s Tage Thompson’s world, and we’re all just living in it.

The Sabres’ forward has become the star of the season. One year removed from what we thought was a breakout campaign that saw him leap from single-digit goal totals to a stunning 38, Thompson is on pace to blow past that mark. He has 21 goals through 28 games, several of the jaw-dropping highlight variety, and scored five against the Blue Jackets last week in what was also his second six-point game of the year. This guy is unstoppable.

So how can this go wrong?

Sorry, that’s the pessimist in me, but it’s a side that’s served me well in spotting NHL trends. There’s no story so good that somebody somewhere won’t find a way to screw it up.

To be clear, I’m not going to look at this from a Sabres perspective. Their fans have suffered enough, and with Thompson locked in a long-term extension that already looks like a steal, maybe this really is a can’t-miss win for Buffalo.

Instead, let’s look at the other 31 teams, those poor schmoes who don’t get to send Tage Thompson over the boards to wreck everyone. Right now, somebody in every front office around the league is looking at Thompson’s season and trying to figure out what it means for them.

What are those other teams going to learn from the Age of Tage? Specifically, what are they going to learn that’s wrong, and that causes them to make bad decisions? I've got five suggestions.

Your struggling fourth-liner is a potential superstar

For the first four seasons of his NHL career, Thompson was an 18-goal scorer. No, not in an average season – that was the total for his entire career, one that was mostly spent plugging away in the bottom six between occasional disappointing trips up the lineup (when he wasn't hurt or in the AHL). Last year, the light bulb went off and he became a star. But for years before that, he was Just A Guy. One with occasional flashes of potential, sure, but never more than that.

Good news: Every team has a few players like that on the roster right now. Which means every team, if they squint hard enough, has a few future Thompsons.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Monday, December 12, 2022

Weekend rankings: The red hot Maple Leafs make their case for the top 5

Yes, the Leafs are in.

Sorry to ruin the suspense, but I’m guessing the slow build to a big reveal wouldn’t have worked. The Leafs have been among the hottest teams in the league for well over a month now. Since that disastrous 0-for-3 road trip through California that had overdramatic morons rending garments, the Leafs have gone 14-1-4, and are now on pace for 117 points.

And yes, I hear you: But the playoffs. I get it. If you think the Leafs’ history of first-round failure is less about luck and more about some fundamental flaw, then you don’t really care about what they’re doing in November and December. After all, this top five is about who’s going to win the Cup, not who’s hot right now, and you might insist that we all know the Leafs aren’t winning four playoff rounds. Even if you don’t by the choking narrative, the Lightning are still looming as a first-round rematch, so the path out of the Atlantic is rough.

We could make that argument for most teams – the age of parity means there just aren’t any easy matchups anymore. But OK, you’re still not sold on the Leafs. Let’s use this week’s bonus top five to make the case for why they're cracking the real thing for the first time since the 2020-21 season.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Friday, December 9, 2022

Cap Court: Does J.T. Miller have a bad contract? Darnell Nurse? Jordan Binnington?

Welcome back to Cap Court, where we take a look at some of the big-dollar contracts around the league and try to figure out if they’re bad.

In the NHL’s hard cap world, a bad contract (as viewed from the team’s perspective) can be an anchor. They’re easy to sign but difficult or even impossible to unload, and can end up blocking other important moves. But as fans, we’re probably a little too quick to toss around the “bad contract” accusation, so it’s worth digging into some of these deals to see whether they actually deserve the label.

This is the fifth session of cap court, meaning we’ve looked at 20 players over the years. Eight of those 20 have been found guilty of being a bad contract, because I tend to try to be as charitable as possible here; some others were let off with a warning, and a few were exonerated completely. I’d argue that most of those decisions have held up well, even as a few may have shifted with a few more years of age and/or hindsight.

Either way, today will bring five new contracts that we haven’t looked at yet. And court is now in session.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Thursday, December 8, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: All the world's a Tage

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Tage Thompson's dream season finds a new level
- Remembering some of history's other five-goal games
- Scoring is up but nobody really knows why
- One fan base is quickly becoming one of the most thin-skinned in the league and it needs to stop
- Jesse Granger on how the Rocket Richard odds are shifting
- More foot hockey talk, a crazy goalie stat, 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: The goalies are bad now

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Save percentage is down across the league but nobody's quite sure why. We have a few theories.
- Avs injuries pile up
- Are the Rangers and Panthers in trouble? Can they both still make the playoffs?
- Jordan Binnington is doing his thing again
- Jason Robertson is so fun
- Brock Boeser drama in Vancouver, and where he might wind up
- Also you get to hear me stun Ryan with my ability to do a very specific type of math in my head, and more...

>> Listen on The Athletic >> Subscribe on iTunes.

>> Listen on Spotify

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




Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Ten ways I was wrong about the surprising Seattle Kraken

Occasionally, I am wrong.

No, it’s OK, I get that you’re shocked. My takes are usually air-tight, my reasoning impeccable. If you’ve ever scrolled down to the comment section of one of my pieces, you know that it’s typically just hundreds of readers posting identical replies of “Yep, nailed it completely”. Call me Tage Thompson, because they thought my success rate was unsustainable, and then I got better.

Except, not always. And that means that every now and then, I need to eat some crow. I had an appetizer last week, when my podcast pals dug up a September clip of me saying that the only hope the Devils had was if they responded well to Andrew Brunette after the inevitable early firing of Lindy Ruff. That, uh, has not happened yet. It’s still early, and the Devils could lose their next 55 games to drop back down to .500, but I’m going to go ahead and pencil that one in as a missed call.

But it may not be my biggest whiff of the season, because I was also completely wrong about the Seattle Kraken. That would be the team that just had a seven-game win streak and currently sits at 15-6-3, good for second in the West. All that in just their second year in the league, despite being just one season removed from an abysmal 30th-place showing.

I did not see this coming. I’m guessing you didn’t either; I’m not sure I can remember seeing any preseason picks that had the Kraken making the playoffs, let alone pushing for the division lead. In my annual prediction contest, 669 of you named Seattle as a team that had no chance of making the playoffs, which was more picks than the Sabres, Senators and Blue Jackets combined. Three times as many of you thought the Kraken missing the playoffs was a sure thing as picked the Ducks, and they’re dead last right now.

So I know I’m not alone. But I can only be accountable for myself, so let’s do this. Ten ways I was wrong about the Kraken, at least so far.

1. I thought they’d be bad. Like, really bad.

We’ll start with the most obvious miss, which is also the most important. When I made my preseason picks, dropping each team into a division based on my expectations for the 2022-23 season, I had the Kraken in with the bottom-feeders, meaning they’d be among the eight worst teams in the league. Honestly, if I’d had to get more specific, I probably would have said bottom five.

I did acknowledge that they’d added a few talented pieces like Andre Burakovsky and Oliver Bjorkstrand, and that they’d be better than they had in year one. But then I cut to the chase, writing that “this is still an expansion team in the traditional sense, which is to say they’re bad”. It’s fair to say that hasn’t held up so far.

2. I figured their only path to major improvement was Philipp Grubauer

My one hedge when it came to writing off the Kraken was that the starting goaltending could be significantly better. In fairness, that’s my hedge on pretty much every team, but in this case it felt plausible. Grubauer had been very good in Washington and Colorado, including being a Vezina finalist in 2021. He’d stunk in Seattle in year one, but stuff happens, especially when you have a completely new team trying to gel in front of you. I held out the possibility that the old Grubauer could reappear, and that would save the Kraken.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Monday, December 5, 2022

Weekend NHL rankings: Penguins, Boeser, and 5 stories I’m not buying yet

I’m pretty good at denial. Those extra pounds I’ve recently added are probably muscle mass from that time I went to the gym in October, and the thinning hair on the back of my head is just because I’m sleeping on my pillow wrong. What can I tell you, I’m a Leafs fan, refusal to face reality is kind of a must-have life skill.

So it shouldn’t surprise you to know that there are a handful of stories unfolding around the league that I’m not quite buying… yet. In some case I’m close, maybe even a week or so away. In others, I’m staying stubborn. Remember, I spent all of last year completely convinced that the Golden Knights couldn’t miss the playoffs. Then again, I also wasn’t sold on the Ducks leading the Pacific into January. Sometimes, it’s better not to get out over your skis.

For this week’s bonus top five, lets run down five stories that I’m not sold on quite yet, ranked based on how strong the evidence looks that I'm wrong.

Top five first-half realities I have not accepted yet

5. Montreal as a middle-of-the-pack team – They won’t finish dead last for a second straight year, and Martin St. Louis deserves a ton of credit for leading them to a respectable 12-11-1 start. I’m just not sure how long it can continue. I agree with Arpon that the focus is on development over wins and losses, and that means that this season is already shaping up as a success. But it feels like the big comedown is right around the corner.

4. The Panthers as a non-factor – This one’s a bit weird, because I wasn’t a fan of their offseason coaching change from Andrew Brunette to Paul Maurice, so in that sense maybe I should be taking a premature victory lap. And no, they’re obviously not going to have another 120-point season, because you need absolutely everything to go right for that to happen. But a middle-of-the-road team that struggles to make the playoffs, looking to fend of teams like the Red Wings and Habs? No way. There’s too much talent here, and as they move towards the Spencer Knight era in goal, I think they start looking scary again.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Thursday, December 1, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: The unhateables

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- The NHL stars everyone likes
- Ian wants to know if I'm sold on Matt Murray yet
- Jack Edwards vs. Pat Maroon
- Ovechkin breaks another record
- Jesse Granger defends the honor of goalies everywhere
- I have to eat crow about Lindy Ruff
- Plus listener mail, goalies scoring goals 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, November 30, 2022

The 10 active NHL stars that nobody hates (except for everyone who does)

Heading into last night’s action, there had been 762 skaters and 74 goalies that had appeared in at least one NHL game this season. That’s well over 800 names, ranging from big stars to no-names, grizzled veterans to fresh-faced rookies, guys with personalities and lots who never say a word, and everything in between.

Can we find just ten that everyone likes?

Good luck. Hockey fans are notoriously difficult to please, which is a nice way of saying we’re all crusty jerks who are simmering with rage at all times, all carrying a long list of players we’re sworn to never forgive for some sin we don’t even remember. You like your own team, sometimes, but that’s about it. Maybe there’s one or two guys on other teams that you respect, or even like.

But ten? Forget it.

Well, I love a challenge. The last time I did this was back in 2019, and the results were mixed. I managed to come up with a few names that most of you seemed to agree on, including Henrik Lundqvist and Patrick Marleau. Both of those guys have rudely retired, so I can’t use them again. In fact, I’m going to go one further: This time around, I can’t use anyone who made the cut back in 2019. That means still-active names like Patrice Bergeron, Marc-Andre Fleury and Phil Kessel are off the table too. This is going to impossible.

That’s never stopped me before, so let’s do this. Ten active players, ten reasons why we should all like them, and ten exceptions that prove the rule.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Puck Soup: We're going streaking

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Won't somebody please think of the goaltenders
- What rule changes do we need after a weird week?
- We run down and rank all of the wild streaks we've seen so far this year
- Kraken: good!
- Rangers: bad!
- Lindy Ruff hits 800 wins, and more...

>> Listen on The Athletic >> Subscribe on iTunes.

>> Listen on Spotify

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




Monday, November 28, 2022

Weekend rankings: Offseason wins, goaltending rules, and the Flyers crater

How’d your Black Friday shopping go? Did you snag any impressive bargains, or are you already feeling pangs of regret for overspending on junk you didn’t need?

Now that we’ve got the timely tie-in out of the way, let’s look back at some offseason additions. We did this a few weeks ago, listing five players with new homes who were underperforming. This week, let’s flip that script and look at five more offseason moves that are working out great so far.

Top five offseason acquisitions that have worked out well so far

5. Johnny Gaudreau – The season has been a mess in Columbus, but that hasn’t been Gaudreau’s fault. The biggest UFA in years has settled in nicely, producing points despite having nowhere near as much talent around him. We can debate his decision to go to Columbus over other options (including staying put in Calgary), but it’s fair to say the Blue Jackets are glad he did.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Thursday, November 24, 2022

Did the Devils get screwed? Explaining the key calls that gave the Leafs the win

We saw one of the wilder games of the year on Wednesday night, with the Maple Leafs going into New Jersey and ending the Devils' 13-game winning streak.

Or did they? The standings will say they did, but that doesn’t mean Devils fans have to accept it. While the final score will go into the books as 2-1 for Toronto, the Devils actually put the puck past Matt Murray four times on the night. The first three didn’t count, thanks to a pair of goaltender interference calls followed by a distinctive kicking motion ruling. By the time that last goal was wiped off, furious Devils fans in attendance were pelting the ice with beer and debris, while others were venting online about the obvious conspiracy.

Do they have a case? As the self-appointed rulebook guy around these parts, I’m here to help. Let’s do this Q&A style.

Should the first Devils goal have counted?

The first no-goal came early in the first, with a Dougie Hamilton point shot beating Murray. The goal was immediately waved off, and replays showed that Nathan Bastian was in the crease. Lindy Ruff and the Devils challenged, but the call on the ice was confirmed.

It’s the right call, as you already know if you read my detailed guide to understanding goalie interference. As that post explained, the key to any goalie interference ruling is usually the crease – if the attacking player is in there, it’s probably going to be no goal. Bastian clearly is, and he’s in Murray’s way as the Leafs’ goalie tries to slide his pad across to play the shot.

But he barely touched him!

True, but that doesn’t matter. There’s contact, and it’s enough that it “impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal”. According to the rulebook, that makes this an easy call. In fact, it doesn’t even matter if there’s any contact at all. If a player is in the crease and in the goalie’s way, it’s supposed to be no goal. And while there’s enough of a gray area to occasionally make this a judgment call, they almost always give the goalie the benefit of the doubt.

As I’ve said more than a few times, even if you understand the rule you’ll still run into cases where a call is debatable. That's part of the reason I think we should get rid of these reviews altogether. But this wasn’t one of those times. The refs got it right, both initially and on further review.

So Lindy Ruff was wrong to challenge it?

Well… maybe. That’s a trickier question, because a goal in the low-scoring NHL is a big deal. You don’t have to be 50/50 to make a challenge worth it, because the penalty for failure is only a two-minute minor. If you think it's 60/40 or even 70/30 that you're going to lose, it’s probably still worth it to roll the dice.

But in this case, I think it was close to 90/10, or maybe just 100/0. Remember, the call on the ice was no goal, so in theory a close call was going to against the Devils. And again, this one wasn’t all that close. I’m betting Ruff wishes he had this one back.

OK, but what about the second goal? If barely touching a goalie means a goal can’t count, can we assume that wiping him out is just as clear?

Weirdly, no. I actually thought the Devils had a case here.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Remembering some of the NHL’s most successful midseason trades

It’s that fun time of year when everyone is looking for a deal. That goes for everyone going bargain hunting at this week’s various Black Friday sales. And it also goes for more than a few NHL GMs, as the trade talk has heated up and the rumor mill is on fire.

This feels like as good a reason as any to build a roster. Let’s put together a 20-man team out of the very best midseason trades in NHL history.

Afterall, that’s what most fans are hoping for right now – the sort of midseason trade that can delivery a key piece. We’re told not to get our hopes up, because making a significant trade before the deadline is just too difficult for a beleaguered GM to pull off. Maybe it is, but some of the NHL’s most important trades have happened right around this time of year. A full roster’s worth? At least.

One thing: I’m going to get a little specific with my definition of “midseason” here, because I’m not going to count the trade deadline or the days leading up to it. Those deals are midseason too, technically, but the deadline has evolved into its own thing. Instead, we’re looking for guys who were traded during the first few months of a season, with bonus points for actual hockey trades over rebuilds and rentals. And they have to have played for both teams during the season to qualify, so apologies in advance to the holdouts, prospects, and healthy scratches.

We’re going by how good a player was during the year he was traded, not what they may have done in other years. You’re getting that season only. I'm also going to keep this to trades made in the 1980s and later, with one notable exception. But as it turns out, that still gives us more than a few excellent years to choose from, so let’s Remember Some Trades as we see just how good this team can get…

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Puck Soup: Will it last?

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- We go through various surprising trends around the league and wonder if they can last
- The market for defensemen heats up
- The Shane Wright situation nears an end
- Evgeni Malkin's milestone, and debating his place in history
- Which numbers should the Hawks retire?
- Some soccer talk because there's a tournament or something
- And more...

>> Listen on The Athletic >> Subscribe on iTunes.

>> Listen on Spotify

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




Monday, November 21, 2022

Weekend rankings: Who won the Matthew Tkachuk trade? Plus a new number one, the Devils make their case, and more

 The NHL served up a packed schedule on Saturday, but the most irresistible game was one that fans had had circled since the summer: the meeting between the Flames and Panthers. It was the first time to the two teams had crossed paths since the jaw-dropping July blockbuster that sent Matthew Tkachuk to Florida in exchange for a package that included Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, a prospect and a first.

It was a fascinating trade when it went down, arguably the single biggest blockbuster of the cap era, and it remains so today. Julian McKenzie had the definitive story of how it all came together, which you should absolutely take time to read if only for the image of an exhausted Brad Treliving sitting alone in his office with a beer after it was all over.

So who won the trade? That’s the argument we’ll be having for a good chunk of the next decade, because it’s what fans do whether Darryl Sutter likes it or not. The two teams didn’t help us much on Saturday, playing to a 4-4 tie before the Flames won the coin flip in the shootout. But now that we’ve seen the two teams in action against each other, let’s see if we can organize the arguments on either side of the deal in this week’s bonus top five.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Saturday, November 19, 2022

NHL99: Doug Gilmour and how the biggest trade in NHL history turned him into a superstar

Your team is about to make a trade. A big one. And not just one of those standard-issue rental deals we see so much of these days, in which only one team is really trying to improve while the other is kicking the can down the road. No, this is two teams that are both trying to get better, right now, and carefully exchanging pieces to try to make it happen.

How do you want the trade to work out?

If you’re feeling polite, you might say that you hope it ends up being a win for both teams. You’ll miss the players who are heading the other way, and you wish them nothing but the best. Trading doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game, you might remind yourself, and a good one can work out just fine for both teams. You would tell yourself that because you’re a good person.

You would be lying. You don’t want that at all.

No, you want the trade to be so lopsided that it feels unfair. You want to read about it on those “biggest heist in sports history” lists for decades to come. You want everyone your team dealt away to turn into a pumpkin. And somehow, against all odds, you want the key piece coming back in the deal to level up into something they’ve never been before. You want the guy you didn’t give up all that much to get to find another gear and become the best player on the team. No, screw that, since we’re getting crazy, maybe the best player in the whole league.

In other words, you want your team’s blockbuster to turn into the Doug Gilmour trade. But the problem with Doug Gilmour trades is that they don’t happen very often. Maybe, you could argue, only once.

We can still feel the impact of the Doug Gilmour trade today. It screwed up the perception of how trades work for an entire generation of hockey fans. It decimated a Stanley Cup winner that still hasn’t won another title since. And it reinvigorated a hockey market that wasn’t quite dying but was certainly in a coma, one self-inflicted by two decades of incompetence.

And yeah, if you haven’t guessed it by now, this is one of those pieces that’s going to get kind of Maple Leafs-centric, even though Gilmour played over two-thirds of his 20-year career for a collection of a half-dozen other teams. If you’re the sort of person who’s bothered by that, I don’t know what to tell you. Doug Gilmour, who comes in at No. 66 on The Athletic’s list of the greatest players of the NHL’s modern era, was a very good player for a very long time for a very long list of NHL teams. But for a couple of seasons in Toronto, he became something more, and that’s what we’re going to focus on because this is my piece.

Let’s look back at the most important trade in the history of the NHL, assuming you define that history through the eyes of a thoroughly disillusioned and hopeless young Maple Leafs fan.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Friday, November 18, 2022

Three-point games? Legal hand passes? Trading points for cap space? Rules court returns

Welcome back to Rules Court. Please rise, court is in session.

If you’re new to Rules Court, the concept is simple. You, the readers, submit your ideas for changes to the NHL rulebook. They can be new rules, tweaks to old ones, or the elimination of something that’s already there. On the ice or off. Small, big, or insanely game-changing. You make your best case, and then a three-judge panel of me, Ian Mendes and Sean Gentille make our ruling. Convince at least two of us, and your new rule is passed and the NHL is legally bound to adopt it. (Our lawyers are still working on that part, as the league is being weird about returning out calls.)

Previous sessions of rules court have seen us adopt extended overtime if a team is shorthanded, replace the shootout with 2-on-1s, and adopt a half-court rule. And yet the suggestions keep pouring in, sending a clear signal that you people are insane our readers have a ton of great ideas for improving the league.

Let’s see what you have for us this time…

The way the current system for points in the standings is set up doesn’t make sense from a fairness perspective or a mathematical perspective.  Instead of two points for some games and three points for others, points should be set up as follows:

- Outright win in regulation:  three points

- Shootout/overtime win: two points

- Shootout/overtime loss:  one point

- Outright loss:  zero points

In addition to giving out three points for every game, it rewards a win in regulation (real, non 3-on-3 hockey).  It gives everyone at least one point for getting to overtime, and rewards the team that wins in overtime/the shootout/the 2-on-1 thing you approved last time. – Chuck F. (and many others)

 McIndoe: Yep. I’ve been crusading against the current point system for nearly a decade. There’s really no defending how we do things now. The loser point is awful – it screws up the standings, inflates everyone’s record, makes the NHL the laughingstock of other leagues, and (worst of all) incentivizes boring play late in tie games, which is when the drama should be at its highest. 

So yes, let’s switch to 3-2-1-0. Is it perfect? No. It’s still giving out a loser point, for example, and breaks with the traditional two points for a win the league has had for a century. I know some people would prefer to just go to wins and losses, or bring back ties, or a dozen other possible plans. But that’s the problem with how we do things now: It’s so stupid that literally any alternative would be better, so we get paralyzed by all the options. We need to just pick something and go with that, because literally anything else will be a massive improvement. The 3-2-1-0 system works, so I’m on board. YES.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Thursday, November 17, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: Which teams are banking on tanking? A ranking

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- We discuss the first edition of the tank index
- Why an Erik Karlsson return in Ottawa would be unprecedented
- The GM meetings discuss a rule change I somehow don't hate
- Jesse Granger on Vezina props, including one star with surprisingly long odds
- A listener had a problem with the Borje Salming ceremony
- Plus 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, November 16, 2022

Puck Soup: Fire up the tank

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Thoughts on HHOF weekend
- Is Rod Brind'Amour a Hall-of-Famer?
- Who's selling, and who should be tanking
- More Canucks sadness
- What's up in Pittsburgh and Washington?
- A 400-goal scorer quiz, and more...

>> Listen on The Athletic >> Subscribe on iTunes.

>> Listen on Spotify

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




Which bad team is best positioned to fail hard for Bedard? Introducing the Tank Index

It’s mid-November, and it goes without saying that every NHL team is focused on the big prize.

Which prize? That part depends on the team.

For most teams, it’s the Stanley Cup. You’ve probably heard of it. Big silver thing, apparently pretty heavy, hangs out in the Hall of Fame in Toronto for most of the year and then heads down to America in the spring. But that’s not every team’s focus, and that’s especially true this year.

We can be honest, right? We don’t have to do the Gary Bettman thing, where he pretends that NHL teams never tank and it’s only the mean old media making stuff up. That kind of thing is insulting to your intelligence as a fan, because you know teams tank, because you have eyes and a brain. Sure, you might prefer to call it something else, especially when your team is doing it. But you know a tank when you see it.

And we’ll be seeing a few of them this year, because the top of the draft class of 2023 is absolutely stacked. There could be three legitimate franchise players, including Connor Bedard, who might be the next Crosby or McDavid or maybe even more. Remember, the league nerfed their lottery system a few years ago, so whichever team finishes dead last this year is guaranteed to get one of those top three picks. The incentive to bad is obvious. Sorry Gary, fire up the tank and let’s roll.

But which teams will do it? And when? And most importantly of all, who’s in the best position to make it work? Welcome to the Tank Index, where we try to find out. This is a gimmick I typically pull out later in the season. But this year isn’t typical, and with so much prospect gold waiting at the end of the tanking rainbow, it might be worth it to check in a few times as the season goes on.

We’ll be looking at a few factors:

Season so far: You can’t win the top pick in October, but you can go a long way to losing it. Even a few extra points picked up in the first month can be devastating to a team’s tank, so how bad has a team looked in the early going?

Seller potential: The best way to tank is to trade useful players for picks and prospects, because you get to collect future assets while also getting worse in the short term. Of course, you need some useful players first, especially ones on expiring contracts.

Goaltending problems: Even in today’s NHL, it remains true that teams go as far as their goaltending takes them. If you want to tank, you’d better make sure your goalie stinks, because there’s nothing worse than watching some guy stand on his head and cost you precious lottery odds.

Motivation: A tricky one, but maybe the most important factor of all. This one starts with the GM, who needs job security to go all-in on being bad. Will ownership understand and accept the plan? What about the market, and local media? It’s not easy to tank when one or more stakeholders aren’t on board.

We’ll give each team a score in all four categories, and see where that leaves them. For this first 2022-23 tank index, I’m going to focus on the eight worst teams by points percentage heading into Tuesday night, then add four more that I think are worth including based on preseason expectations. That brings us to an even dozen, and we’ll count them down as we work our way to this year’s early tank favorite.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Monday, November 14, 2022

Weekend rankings: 5 big-name busts, the Islanders are back, and a new bottom team

 We’re five weeks into the season. How’s your team’s big summer acquisition doing?

No, it’s OK, you can pass judgment now. It’s still too early, so you could absolutely be wrong, but you won’t seem ridiculous for it like you would have after three games. You’re fine. Sit on your couch with a bowl of chips on your lap and scream “not good enough!” at your TV, it’s what fans are supposed to do.

The 2022 offseason was a fun one, with an unusually long list of big names switching teams. Some of those have worked out, with guys like Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, Kevin Fiala, Kirby Dach, Ville Husso and others all at least living up to expectations. But other teams are still waiting for their return on investment to kick in. Let's make that today's bonus five.

Top five big offseason acquisitions that have been kind of a bust so far

5. Oliver Bjorkstrand, Seattle – The Kraken have been a nice early season story, and any negativity has mostly focused on the weird Shane Wright drama. Still, it’s worth noting that Bjorkstrand hasn’t really done much yet. That trade felt like a nice piece of work by Ron Francis, taking advantage of another team’s cap crunch to get a good player cheap. There’s lots of time for it to work out that way, but one goal so far from a guy who pushed 30 last year is a letdown.

4. John Klingberg, Anaheim – Nobody looks good on the Ducks right now, and it’s not like they had to give up anything to get Klingberg. But it’s fair to say he’s been just OK so far, with no goals and just four primary assists while posting lousy possession numbers. All of that has at least something to do with the lack of talent around him, but if you’re a Ducks fan and hoping that Klingberg would turn into the must-have rental target of the trade deadline, you haven’t seen much yet.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Friday, November 11, 2022

Paul Henderson? Mike Vernon? Anze Kopitar? It's a Hockey Hall of Fame Mailbag

I unabashedly love Hall of Fame debates. Always have. Years ago I had an editor tell me that HHOF stuff always bombs with readers, and maybe that’s true, but there are a few times a year when I decide to be selfish and do it anyway.

This week is one of those times, because the Hall will celebrate the class of 2023 over the weekend in the lead-up to Monday’s indication ceremony. On Wednesday, we looked at a half-dozen of the toughest calls among active players, with the help of Paul Pidutti from Adjusted Hockey. But some of you wanted to know about other guys, or complain about some of the players who are already in. So today, let’s open up the mailbag and see what else is on your mind.

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

What about Anze Kopitar? How important is it for him to get to 400 goals? (I think if he stays healthy he’ll get to 800 assists and probably gets to 1,200 points, but without getting 400 goals.) – Sam

Kopitar is interesting because he’s going to be heavily linked with Patrice Bergeron and Jonathan Toews, as the trio of 200-foot centers who really made us rethink how we viewed two-way forwards during the dawn of the analytics era.

Bergeron is a slam dunk at this point, and while the case for Toews is much weaker, he’s probably also a lock because of how much respect he got during the Hawks’ peak. (Remember, he was named to the NHL’s Top 100 players of all time list, when fellow active players like Joe Thornton and Evgeni Malkin weren’t.)

Does that leave Kopitar as the odd man out?

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Thursday, November 10, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: Deadpool self-awareness

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Did Ian actually DM Ryan Reynolds?
- Thoughts on the Senators' ownership drama
- Also... Chris Neil?
- Debating Phil Kessel's HHOF case
- Jesse Granger on some early betting trends
- A listener shares some important thoughts on the Mitchel Miller story
- Plus this week in hockey 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, November 9, 2022

Puck Soup: What were the Bruins thinking?

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- The Bruins sign Mitchell Miller
- The Bruins dump Mitchell Miller
- There are so many coaches on the hot seat
- Ryan Reynolds might buy the Senators
- And more...
-

>> Listen on The Athletic >> Subscribe on iTunes.

>> Listen on Spotify

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




Giroux? Burns? Kessel? Revisiting some of the toughest HHOF calls among active players

It’s Hockey Hall of Fame time, with the class of 2022 being honored all week leading up to Monday’s big induction gala. Roberto Luongo, Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Daniel Alfredsson and Riikka Sallinen are all worthy honorees in the player category, and the Hall is finally recognizing Herb Carnegie as a builder. It’s a great chance to look back and reflect on some true greats.

It’s also a chance to look ahead, and try to figure out which players might join Luongo and friends in the Hall some day. That sort of debate is half the fun when it comes to a hall of fame, and I’ve never turned down an opportunity to weigh in. One of my favorite pieces to write each year around this time is the one where I take a look at some active players and try to figure out if they’re on a HHOF path.

I’m going to do it again this year, but with a twist. Rather than coming up with new names, I’m going to revisit a half-dozen players that I’ve looked at over the years. Each of them was a borderline call at the time, and each is still active today. We’ll look at where their case stood a few years ago, what’s happened since, and whether they’re trending up or down. Then we’ll head down to the comment section, where you will yell at me about my wrong opinions and be mad that I didn’t include your favorite non-active player in a post that is only about active players.

As an added bonus, I’m also going to enlist some impartial help. Paul Pidutti has developed a model to produce “a comprehensive measure of HHOF worthiness” for players, based on a variety of factors including stats, honors, international play, longevity and peak. He’s been tweeting his player cards from his Twitter account at @AdjustedHockey and his web site at AdjustedHockey.com includes a detailed explanation of how the system works. No model is perfect, obviously, but it’s fun to be able to look at a case from a different angle, and Paul has graciously agreed to check in on our six candidates and share what his numbers say.


Phil Kessel

The last time we looked: At the end of the 2018-19 season, Kessel’s last with the Penguins.

The case at the time: Kessel had two Cup rings and a Masterton, had been robbed of a Conn Smythe, plus he was on pace to “cruise by the 1,000-point mark, maybe by a decent amount”. He was also just three years away from breaking the ironman record held by Doug Jarvis.

My verdict back then: I didn’t see him making the cut, partly because I couldn’t see anyone on the HHOF committee really going to bat for him. I did write that “if he can keep scoring near a point-per-game rate for a few more years, he’ll make it interesting”.

What’s changed since: Kessel spent the last three seasons in Arizona, which was great for his poker game but didn’t exactly boost his visibility. His numbers have been OK, but he hasn’t had the sort of late-career boost you might hope for. He still hasn’t hit that 1,000-point plateau and might not get there this season, and 500 goals is no longer in the realm of possibility.

That said, Kessel’s case has two things working for it. First, he’s on the Golden Knights now, and they look like a legitimate Cup contender, so another long playoff run could resurface his case. More importantly, he did indeed break that ironman record, although it belonged to Keith Yandle instead of Jarvis by the time Kessel got there. He’s about to become the only NHL player to ever hit the 1,000 consecutive game mark, which is pretty ridiculous for anyone, let alone a guy who spent his whole career being told he was an out-of-shape schlub.

Which way the case is trending: The ironman record gives him a signature accomplishment to build his candidacy around. But the offensive numbers have slowed more than we’d hoped, and at 35 we can’t pencil him in for much more production like we could a few years ago. Even with the record, I think his chances have dipped.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Monday, November 7, 2022

Weekend rankings: Five teams that have already gone from good to bad this year

We’re a month into the season, having closed the book on October. The season’s first month is usually a time for sorting teams into vague tiers, with the good and bad and the mushy middle. The intriguing part is that sometimes the results don’t match expectations, and a team and its fan base are faced with having to reckon with what might be a new reality.

That said, it’s only one month, so there isn’t room for all that many twist and turns. A team has time to settle into a tier, let the rest of us form an impression, and then spend the season figuring out if we were right.

Or at least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. But this year feels different. It’s been strange, right? There seem to be a whole lot of teams that, just a few weeks into the season, have already gone through at least two phases, if not more. And while we talked about the Devils ascent from also-ran to (maybe?) unstoppable powerhouse in last week’s rankings, there are also a whole lot of teams going in the other direction.

How many? Enough that I’m not sure I can even fit them all this list…

Top five teams that have already been both good and bad this year

5. Ottawa Senators – We’ll get into the Sens down in the bottom five section, but they’ve gone from winning four straight to get to 4-2-0 while looking like they could be right in the early playoff mix in the Atlantic to five straight regulation losses and staring up at everyone other than Columbus.

4. New York Rangers – You could argue that the Rangers have already had three or even four distinct phases. They looked good early on, including wins over the Lightning and Wild. Then they lost four straight. Then they won three. Now they’ve lost their last two, so who knows. Maybe the Rangers don’t even belong on this list, but I want to include them just for the sheer weirdness of it all. Pick a lane, guys.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Friday, November 4, 2022

Five ways to improve offside review if we can’t just get rid of it, which we absolutely should

There was a very dumb moment in the NHL last week.

Well, there were a few, because it’s the NHL, but the one I’m referring to happened in a game between the Golden Knights and Maple Leafs. A few minutes into the game, Phil Kessel scored a goal to put Vegas up 1-0. This was cool, because it was the 400th goal of Kessel’s career, his first as a Knight, and was also the game in which he tied the all-time ironman record. The building was rocking.

And then came the review. Well, that’s not actually true, because first came the now-required extended pause to think about the review, making sure the coach has plenty of time to squint at an ipad while everyone else stands around waiting for them to make up their mind. Then came the timeout, because Sheldon Keefe and the Leafs still weren’t sure. Then came the review, which went forever. The Leafs had challenged the play for being offside on the zone entry, a full 19 seconds before Kessel scored. There was no clear view that showed whether it was or wasn’t, but if you spliced together a few angles it looked like it probably was, by maybe an inch or two, for a fraction of a second, although it probably wasn’t quite conclusive if you were a Vegas fan.

Then, after an almost seven-minute delay had sucked all the life out of the building, the verdict finally came in: No goal.

Then the Knights scored immediately and the whole thing didn’t matter. Hot dog don’t lie.

I’m not knocking Keefe and the Maple Leafs for the challenge. It worked, after all, and they were just doing what teams are supposed to do in that situation, which is to look for any nitpicky detail they can find to get them off the hook for allowing a goal. But imagine explaining all of that to a new fan. Imagine them seeing all the excitement from Kessel’s moment, then telling them that a league that’s been starved for offense for 25 years and counting somehow feels the need to stand around for seven minutes to see if there was a way to make it go away. It’s madness.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Thursday, November 3, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: The Ryan Express

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Ryan Reynolds might buy the Senators and we need to help Ian craft a DM to him
- The Leafs won, so I guess things are fine again
- The Sabres keep rolling, and we try to talk ourselves into it being real this time
- Lots of listener mail, including a Marc-Andre Fleury HHOF debate
- This week in history features a great start by a terrible coach
- And lots more...

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




Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Puck Soup: The Devils you say

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- New Jersey is good. But how good?
- The Leafs are bad. But how bad?
- The Preds, Blues and Blue Jackets are all struggling too
- John Tortorella drops some truth about the Flyers
- The Mullet era begins and Arizona is feeling defensive about it
- And lots more...

>> Listen on The Athletic >> Subscribe on iTunes.

>> Listen on Spotify

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




The Maple Leafs are a mess and it’s hard to watch, in more ways than one

The Maple Leafs are spiralling. They’ve lost four in a row, they keep losing to bad teams, and they don’t look anything like the team that steamrolled through most of the 2021-22 regular season. Sunday night’s third-period collapse in Anaheim was a truly pathetic scene – a so-called Stanley Cup contender playing terrified hockey against the last-place team in the league. This is a team in crisis right now, and fixing it is going to be a very hard job.

Luckily, it’s not your job to fix it. If you’re a Maple Leafs fan, your only job is to cheer them on. Keep the faith, believe in your team, and look forward to the next game.

That’s becoming a very hard job too.

I’m not the only one feeling that, right? I’m talking to the fans here, not the anti-Leafs weirdos who claim not to care about the team but still read pieces like this for some reason; we know you guys are enjoying all this. For the rest of us, not so much. If I can take off my impartial-media-guy disguise for a second and just be the Leaf fan that I’ve been for nearly four decades, some teams are easier to cheer on than others. The 1993-era team of Wendel Clark, Dougie Gilmour and Pat Burns will live forever, even if they never went all the way. The Pat Quinn-era teams were fantastic, with Mats Sundin and a rotating class of villains who drove other teams crazy. Even the early days of Brian Burke’s mess of a team were at least their own kind of fun, probably the last chance we’ll ever have to embrace a team that tried to beat them in the alleys. If you go back far enough, you might still have a place in your heart for the Sittler/McDonald/Palmateer era team that took out the Islanders.

This current Leafs team is the most talented one I’ve seen in my lifetime. It might not even be all that close. But are they fun to watch? Do you like cheering for this? Or are you just kind of tired of them?

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Monday, October 31, 2022

Weekend rankings: Wait, are the Devils a powerhouse?

Two weeks ago, in the first edition of these rankings, I had the Devils in the bottom five. It didn’t feel like an off-the-board pick, given they were coming off a 63-point season, they hadn’t made any truly significant moves in the offseason, and had started the year 0-2-0 while losing by identical 5-2 scores to a pair of non-playoff teams in the Flyers and Red Wings.

Hey, remember when I prefaced that column with a half-dozen caveats about it being too early? That Devils ranking may have been too early.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Friday, October 28, 2022

Welcoming Mullett Arena with a history of NHL teams playing in weird places

Coyotes fans — it’s here. The first home game of the season has finally arrived, meaning it’s time for the first NHL game ever played at Mullett Arena.

Are you sick of the jokes from other fan bases yet?

I’m guessing you are. You probably got there, oh, roughly three seconds after the whole plan became public. You certainly got there once we found out the place was going to be called Mullett. Business up front, party out back, am I right? (Tumbleweed blows by.) Thanks, don’t forget to tip your server.

And sure, you knew it was coming. It’s not an ideal situation, to put it politely. Mullett Arena seats 5,000, which feels ridiculous for what’s supposed to be a big-league venue. After decades of arena drama that this franchise just can’t shake, this feels like the saddest chapter of them all. Even if it’s only temporary, isn’t this kind of embarrassing?

Maybe. But here’s a secret that some of those chortling fan bases don’t want to talk about: You’re not alone. The Arizona Coyotes are far from the only franchise to play NHL hockey in an unusual venue. Sure, old-school hockey fans love to preach about the majesty of the Forum or the Gardens or wherever, and those buildings really were great. But they’re not the whole story, and the NHL has a long history of playing hockey in unusual places under less-than-ideal circumstances.

Luckily, weird arena stuff is kind of my thing. So today, let’s remember some of those buildings that have hosted NHL hockey, and maybe even see how they stack up to the mighty Mullett.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Thursday, October 27, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: Leaf jersey, jean shorts, knee brace

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Ian asks me about Halloween costumes and immediately regrets it
- Phil Kessel, ironman
- The Canucks already on the brink
- Betting trends with Jesse Granger
- A listener makes the cases for an underrated goalie
- Two 20-year-old records that may be unbreakable, 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, October 26, 2022

Puck Soup: The Canucks turn into a pumpkin

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- It's really bad in Vancouver, and we talk about it for a long time
- JT Miller in a pumpkin patch, Mike Yeo in the wings, and whether its too early for changes
- Phil Kessel is the NHL's new ironman and we love him
- The Sabres are good but it might not be real
- The Flames, Knights and Bruins are good and it probably is real
- Plus Shane Wright barely playing and lots more...

>> Listen on The Athletic >> Subscribe on iTunes.

>> Listen on Spotify

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




Monday, October 24, 2022

Alexander Mogilny’s brilliance and his curious absence from the Hall of Fame

In the century-plus history of the NHL, only six players have ever scored more than 75 goals in a season. It’s an almost incomprehensible feat, especially in today’s era when a player even nudging 60 is seen as a stunning achievement. To get there, a player needs to score nearly a goal per game over the course of a full season, a level of production that even legendary scorers like Mike Bossy, Alexander Ovechkin, Pavel Bure and Jaromir Jagr never reached.

Of the six players to top 75 goals, five are in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Three of them — Phil Esposito, Teemu Selanne and Brett Hull — made it in as soon as they became eligible. Two more, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, made it even sooner, with the Hall waiving its three-year waiting period to induct them early.

The sixth member of the 75-goal club isn’t in the Hall of Fame at all. Not yet, anyway, despite over a decade of eligibility. It stands as one of the Hall’s most inexcusable oversights, and we need to talk about it. But to tell the story of Alexander Mogilny — who comes it at No. 89 on our list of the top 100 players in modern NHL history — we have to go back further than that monster 1992-93 season. We need to go back to the beginning, to the story of how a 20-year-old phenom changed the NHL forever.

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Five early success stories I'm not buying yet, plus a disastrous start in Vancouver

Welcome to week two of the still-way-too-early rankings, in which we try to sort through all the noise of the first few games to figure out if they’re telling us anything at all that’s useful.

First things first, if you somehow missed it then go check out the Friday power rankings, which dropped their first edition last week. It’s a nice counterpart to these rankings – we’re the long-term view, focused on figuring out who’ll finish first and who’ll come dead last, while Dom and Other Sean are more of a snapshot of right now. We’ll disagree sometimes, and when we do I’ll be right, but for the most parts it’s two distinct views of one unpredictable league.

Speaking of predictions, in last week’s column I listed five teams off to slow starts that I wasn’t all that worried about. Four of those five teams ran off multiple wins this week, and even Minnesota at least got their first victory of the season, so I think the list held up well. But there was one team that I conspicuously didn’t list, because I kind of was already worried even after two games, and that was the 0-and-2 Canucks.

One week later, they’re now the 0-and-6 Canucks, and oh boy, we are officially at a full-blown crisis in Vancouver. A couple of loser points aside, it’s been six straight losses featuring blown leads, missed assignments, bad goaltending, and simmering panic. What it hadn’t featured until this weekend was a home game, and the Canucks finally got that on Saturday against Sabres. You probably heard how it went. Not great!

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Friday, October 21, 2022

What can we learn when 2,100 hockey fans try to predict the future?

Every year, right before the season starts, I run a prediction contest. There’s a list of simple questions, and you give me your easy answers, and at the end we realize that we’re all dumb. It’s fun, and this year there were 2,109 entries. If you missed it, you can read about how the contest works here.

This post isn’t about the actual contest. It’s too soon to know much about how that will play out, and we’ll have plenty of time to check in on how everyone is doing down the road. But it occurred to me that I’ve got something interesting here: A detailed survey of hockey fans with a pretty decent sample size, all pointing to what we actually think is going to happen this year.

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Thursday, October 20, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: Should Leaf fans be panicking?

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- A listener wants to know why Leaf fans are such bummers right now
- Which team is in more trouble, Vancouver or Minnesota?
- We talk about one of the most underappreciated stars in the league
- A look back at one of the wildest games you've never heard of
- 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: One week in

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- We talk about the five but really four undefeated teams
- Panic levels rising in Toronto and elsewhere
- Who's already on the hot seat?
- The Kuzentsov suspension, board of governors meeting and more

>> Listen on The Athletic >> Subscribe on iTunes.

>> Listen on Spotify

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




Tuesday, October 18, 2022

A brief NHL history of newly-acquired goalies being awful (and it turning out OK)

One of the big stories of the offseason was the goaltending carousel, with nearly half the league’s teams adding at least one new goaltender and several adding two. We saw big names on the move, guys you’d never heard of, and plenty of in-betweens. Four legitimate contenders brought in a new starter, including the defending champions. It was chaos.



At the time, we tried to sort through the potential impact, but that was just guesswork. But now we’re one whole week into the season, and it goes without saying that we already know which of these moves have worked and which haven’t.


OK, maybe not. It’s possible that first impressions aren’t everything, especially when we’re talking about just a few games of the most unpredictable position in sports.


Still, some of the early returns haven’t been great. Jack Campbell has had two rought starts for the Oilers, and lasted just ten minutes in his first Battle of Alberta action on Saturday. Vitek Vanecek gave up five goals on just 22 shots in his debut for the Devils. Matt Murray had a shaky first start in Toronto and is already on the LTIR, Cam Talbot didn’t even make it to opening night for the Senators, and we’ve also seen tough first weeks from Martin Jones in Seattle and Petr Mrazek in Chicago.


Should that worry teams like Edmonton or New Jersey? Not necessarily, at least if history is any indication, because there have been plenty of goaltending switches that got off to a rocky start but then turned out great.


Today, we’re going to look back at some of that history, and we’re going to do it using one of my favorite sportswriting tropes: The one where I give you some stats, badger you into admitting that they’re bad, and then pull a switcheroo by revealing that I was referring to a good player all along. Will you be able to see the ruse coming? Yes, obviously, because this sort of thing has never fooled anyone. The point is I get to act like you were wrong about something, and that’s fun for me.


Let’s remember a half-dozen times that a team acquired a new goaltender, and then watched in horror as that guy turned out to be terrible… for a little while.

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Monday, October 17, 2022

Five struggling teams I’m not worried about (yet), plus way-too-early power rankings

The weekend rankings are back, and it’s too early.

That’s the caveat we throw out every year, and will have to remember for at least the first few weeks. If I don’t mention it right up front, I know some of you will make sure to do it for me. It gets late early in the NHL, but not this early. We get it.

For the record, I strongly considered starting the rankings last Monday, when the season had technically started but only two games had been played across the entire league. I was talked out of it, and that was probably the right call. Just remember, if you think it’s too early this week, it could have been worse.

The other thing we always do in the first column of a season is to remind you what this is all about. We’ll be doing a top and bottom five every week, but they’re a little bit different from other rankings you might see. We’re looking long-term here – trying to predict the five teams that are most likely to win a Stanley Cup, and the five that are most likely to finish dead last. We are not just trying to capture a snapshot of who’s playing well right now, or who had the best or worst week, or who beat who last night. That means we try very hard not to overreact to short-term trends, and we lean on preseason expectations at least as much as results in the very early going. It’s a different vibe, and if you’re into the instant gratification of seeing your favorite team shoot to the top of the rankings after a good week, it may not be for you.

I’m adding a new twist to this year’s column: A bonus top five ranking that will be on any topic I feel like. This week, we’re going to try to calm some nerves.

Top five teams I’m not panicking about just yet

Sometimes a bad first week is just that – one week, the kind of short slump even the best teams go through a few times a year. Sometimes it ends up meaning much more.

Remember last year, when the Habs went from the Cup final to starting 0-3-0 and we weren’t completely sure what to make of it? That turned out to be a surprisingly bad team revealing itself early. While it does happen that way sometimes, I don’t think any of these five teams have to be worried yet. We’ll start with the easiest team to believe in and get tougher as we go.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning – Should losses to the Rangers and Penguins have us counting out the 2020 and 2021 champs? Put it this way, this won’t be the last time they show up in this column.

4. Ottawa Senators – With a ton of well-deserved optimism in the fan base and a recent history of miserable starts, the Sens may be one of the teams that can least afford to stumble out of the gate. Dropping their first two is disappointing for sure, and the schedule is nasty for the next few weeks. But let’s at least give them a home game before we start any “here we go again” narratives.

3. Washington Capitals – A loss to the Habs on Saturday would have caused concern, but they got the job done, even if it wasn’t an especially emphatic win. The Caps are everyone’s pick to be the Eastern playoff team that holds the door open for one of the rebuilds to make a run, and maybe they do play that role. For now, one out of three isn't bad.

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Thursday, October 13, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: Leafs lose, crisis mode activated

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- The Leafs will not go 82-0-0, so let's panic
- That dude with the green jacket
- Also, what was up with the ice changing colors?
- Connor McDavid cannot be stopped
- The Avs (and one awkward Hawk) raise their banner
- Granger Things, 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)




Mailbag: An Auston Matthews trade, play-in rounds, a team chaos rooting guide and more

Are you ready for NHL opening night, part six or whatever we’re up to now? Me too. But in the meantime, let’s get in a quick mailbag before some teams play their third game and we all start forming conclusions that we’ll cling to all season long.

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

MLB’s wild card weekend was fun and the NBA play-in tournament has been a winner. Shouldn’t the NHL follow suit? – Andy B.

Absolutely. The NBA and MLB now both have play-in rounds, and the NFL kind of does too if you count the wildcard weekend. The NHL is the only one of the big four leagues that still has every postseason team start on equal footing.

I’ve made the case for the play-in before, most recently on the podcast with Ian a few weeks back. The NHL should steal the NBA’s format, where the #7 and #8 seeds play each other in a single game with the winner advancing and the loser facing the winner of a showdown between #9 and #10. That means the two higher seeds get two chances to win their way in and only miss if they go 0-for-2, while the task is tougher but not impossible for the lower two teams who each need back-to-back wins.

Today, all that really matters is making the playoffs, since home ice barely has an impact in the playoffs any more and seeding doesn’t matter at all. Sometimes that means we get a “race” like last year’s East, where we knew all eight teams by Christmas and could basically tune out the entire conference until April. Under a play-in format, you’d have more teams in the mix, plus pressure points at eighth (to get the double chance at advancing), sixth (to avoid the play-in altogether), and first and second (to get to play a team that just survived the play-in rather than a rested opponent). I know that some fans don’t want to “expand” the playoffs, so don’t – we can do like the NBA and just say that the play-in as determine who makes the official playoffs, which will still have the same 16 teams it’s had for decades.

It will apparently never happen because Gary Bettman is weird about this. So once again, the NHL will dawdle behind everyone else, and hockey fans will watch all the other sports have more fun than we do while we mumble about tradition.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Puck Soup: And here we go...

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- The season started! Several times!
- Multiple teams come within dollars of the cap ceiling
- Ryan has NHL 23 thoughts
- Breaking news of a pair of extensions in Buffalo
- Our picks for the big awards, plus the Cup champions
- Our entries in the prediction contest
- Hockey Canada, Ian Cole and more...

>> Listen on The Athletic >> Subscribe on iTunes.

>> Listen on Spotify

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




Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Oddly specific 2022-23 predictions for all 32 teams

One of the things we’ve learned during hockey’s analytics revolution is that shooting percentage can be deceiving. When a player has a season in which the shots are going in at a higher rate than his established career number, we should be suspicious that the year will turn out to be a fluke, or at least an outlier, and not a new long-term norm. In other words, just because somebody gets lucky one year doesn’t mean we should expect them to repeat that in the future.

This is my way of managing expectations for this year’s oddly specific predictions.

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Thursday, October 6, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: Can Matt Murray be the answer in Toronto?

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Jonas Siegel joins is as we revisit and debate the Matt Murray trade
- Jason Robertson gets a deal done with Dallas
- We place some over/under bets for this season's top scorers
- I am vindicated on the PIM thing
- Plus this week in hockey history and lots more...

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




Do you believe in miracles? Finding hope for the ten most hopeless teams

Every year, at the very start of a season, I like to take the ten most hopeless teams in the NHL and try to figure out if there’s any chance that we could all be wrong and they could actually be good. That’s “good”, not just “not terrible”, because even an awful team can have a goalie go on a heater for a few months and drag them into the fringe of the playoff race. I wanted to figure out which team is going to be the 2018-19 Islanders or 2017-18 Golden Knights, the underdog expected to finish dead last who instead becomes a Cup contender.

It’s kind of a weird season to be doing this, for two reasons.

First, it’s been a while since we’ve really seen one these hopeless teams break through. That Islanders turnaround was four years ago now, but you could argue that it’s still the most recent example. The Habs’ run in the 2021 playoffs was unexpected, and last year’s collapse made it feel miraculous, but they went into that season with decent expectations. We’re looking for teams that are already being written off, but could be legitimate contenders. Last year’s list did have two playoff teams, the Predators and Kings, but neither won a round, so your contender mileage may vary.

That leads us to our second problem: With the top of the 2023 draft looming, a lot of teams sure seem to want to be hopeless this year. The whole point here is to offer some optimism to hopeless fan bases, but right now Connor Bedard is the optimism for more than a few teams. Am I even helping here? I’m not sure I am.

I’ll still do my best, As always, we’re taking the ten worst teams for this season, based on the season previews from Dom’s model. We’ll start with the tenth most hopeless team and work our way to the very depths of despair.

Four teams – Vancouver, Nashville, Los Angeles and Ottawa – have graduated from last year’s list. Let’s try to figure out who might join them, and maybe go even further than that. Hopefully.

Seattle Kraken

The projections say: 87 points, and a 27% chance of making the playoffs

Why they’re probably right: The Kraken were bad last year, which we probably should have expected. The Golden Knights were Cup contenders right from the start, which shocked everyone and messed up our ability to project the Kraken, but the roster never looked especially strong. In addition to the expected lack of offense, the goaltending was a weakness, and all that’s changed there since is the addition of Martin Jones. I’m guessing that’s not going to solve anything.

But hear me out … : Jones isn’t likely to be the answer, but regression might be. There’s a reason that nobody saw Philipp Grubauer’s season coming: he’d been a consistently good goaltender for his entire career before arriving in Seattle. Maybe he’s bad now – you never know with goalies, which will be a theme of this piece – but it seems more likely that we can bet on him being better, and maybe even significantly closer to the .920 guy he’d always been.

The roster is already improved with the additions of Andre Burakovsky, Justin Schultz, Oliver Bjorkstrand and (maybe) Shane Wright, and Matty Beniers is a legitimate Calder favorite. If Grubauer is better, there’s a very clear path to the playoffs here. And with cap room and at least a little local pressure on Ron Francis to deliver a better season, who knows where that could lead. Remember, the history of NHL expansion teams that aren’t the Golden Knights is filled with awful first seasons, but teams like the Panthers, Wild and Sharks were all winning playoff rounds pretty quickly after that. It could absolutely happen in Seattle too.

Convincing, right? I hope so, because the numbers say that was the easy one. Those playoff odds take a big dip as we move to our next team.

Detroit Red Wings

The projections say: 82 points and an 11% of making the playoffs

Why they’re probably right: The Red Wings spent big in the offseason, finally signalling that the Steve Yzerman’s rebuild was shifting out of the patient tear-down phase. In fact, nobody improved more than the Red Wings did this summer, according to Dom. But even a big improvement doesn’t get this team into the playoff mix, especially in the Atlantic. It will happen eventually, but they’re not there yet.

But hear me out … : Or are they? The nice thing about adding so many players is that you have to figure that at least a few of them will overachieve. If it’s more than a few and Wings start stacking an extra win here and there, it adds up.

Would that be enough in the Atlantic? It could be, since it’s not impossible to imagine things going off the rails in Florida or Toronto, and we don’t know what those early injuries will do to the Bruins. And remember, even if the division’s big four all stay strong, there’s still the other wildcard.

Even more encouragingly, almost every team that makes a big, unexpected leap does it with a new coach or a new goalie, and the Wings have both. Again, it’s all about the volume of change. It’s very possible that it goes the other way and there are more disappointments and overpays and it adds up to another lost season, or even a step back. But if the coin keeps landing on the right side, this team could be good. And if Mo Seider has his Cale Maker-style breakout this year, they could be even more than that.

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