Monday, January 31, 2022

How much worse can it get for the historically awful Canadiens? Plus Capitals, Devils and more

fascinating games? That one’s easy.

It has to have been Saturday’s showdown between the Oilers and Canadiens. Two teams whose seasons have gone off the rails, one of which seemed to be turning things around and still had something to play for. It was Evander Kane’s debut for the Oilers, signaling some new hope to go with all the trepidation that comes along with rolling the dice on a guy like that. Edmonton came in having won three in a row to creep back into playoff contention, but knowing that a loss to the lowly Habs would snuff out any momentum. The Canadiens were looking for something, anything to grasp onto, just a little bit of optimism for a team that’s well beyond crisis mode.

Well, they held Connor McDavid off the scoreboard. There’s that. They still absolutely got their doors blown off, losing 7-2. It got just a little better the next night, when they kept it relatively close and lost 6-3. That was against Columbus, who are supposed to be bad, but nobody is bad against this Montreal team. Not the Blue Jackets, not the Coyotes, not you and your out-of-shape friends, as long as that one guy with the goalie equipment shows up. If not, maybe it stays close.

So where do we go from here? We’ll start with what’s quickly becoming my new favorite tradition down in the bottom five section: the weekly Brutal But Accurate Arpon Habs Headline. This week’s entry is The ‘unwatchable’ Canadiens continue to re-define what rock bottom means to them.

That might be underselling it. Montreal has given up 26 goals in their last four games, lost six straight, and also 12 of 13, and also 19 of 21… good lord they’re terrible. I think I’d actually feel bad for them if I didn’t still have fresh scars.

What’s gone wrong? Pretty much everything. Really, the 2021-22 Habs are becoming the test case for what happens to a team when absolutely everything that could go wrong does, all at once. Most teams eventually have to deal with a string of injuries, or COVID, or their star goalie missing extended time, or their best defenseman being unavailable, or their young stars stalling out, or a key offensive blueliner falling off a cliff, or front office upheaval, or a lame duck coach, or one of the most brutal road trips ever. But all of that happening at the same time? You get this. And this is terrible.

We’re at the point now where you wonder just how bad it can get. The worst season is the 104-year history of the franchise is certainly in play, and I’m sure the members of the 1939-40 team are ready to pop champagne corks for that. Worst team of the cap era? They’re already on pace for that. Worst team in modern NHL history that wasn’t a recent expansion team? That one should be safe thanks to the 1989-90 Nordiques, but they still might have a shot at grabbing second place from a 1983-84 Penguins team that was openly tanking for Mario Lemieux. Oh, and the Habs are somehow doing this in an era where you get points for losing. It shouldn’t even be possible, but here we are.

And sure, maybe at this point you just root for rock bottom. Maximize the lottery odds, clean out as much deadwood as possible, find a new coach in the offseason, get Carey Price back whenever he’s ready, and hope that all this losing builds character for the young kids instead of ruining them. If you break a few records in the process, hey, who’s counting.

Everything on the table. Except for the ping pong balls giving you Shane Wright, of course, because why would anything good happen in a season like this?

On to the rankings. I bet you’ll never guess who’s holding down the number one spot in the bottom five?

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Friday, January 28, 2022

Grab Bag: Season highlights for bad teams, the Wendel Line and remembering the NHL Awards “Silver” sketch

In the return of the Friday Grab Bag:
- Good thoughts for bad teams
- The three comedy stars
- The Wendel Line
- An obscure player with a horrifying instagram account
- The infamous (and hilarious) Olympic "Silver" sketch

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Thursday, January 27, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: When goalies attack

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Aaron Dell gets a three-game suspension
- Remembering the short list of other goalie suspensions
- Breaking down Taylor Hall's hit on Nathan MacKinnon
- The Coyotes think they're going to play where?
- Keith Yandle sets the ironman record, but Phil Kessel is on his trail
- Four teams with strength-of-schedule issues worth watching in the second half
- Marc-Andre Fleury to the Caps, goalie ironman streaks 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: Ironman in an Apple store

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Thoughts on hockey's ongoing racism problem
- The Canucks make some intriguing hires
- The Flyers keep on losing
- Ryan tells a story about Keith Yandle in an Apple store
- Aaron Dell, the Blues, 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, January 25, 2022

What’s the best six-man lineup you can make out of guys with the exact same cap hit?

This space has turned into salary cap central over the last little while, as we worked through my previous cap-related predictions and then put some potentially bad contracts on trial. That wasn’t intentional, since that would imply that I do any kind of long-term planning. But sometimes these sort of themes just pop up, and you just have to go with them.

So today, we’re finally going to tackle a question that lots of you have sent in over the years: What’s the best six-man lineup you can make out players who all had the same cap hit?

This is exactly the sort of question we love around here, because it’s dead simple and also harder than you think. For example, right off the bat we know we can’t use a lot of really good players. Connor McDavid’s $12.5 million hit can’t help up, because nobody else is that high. A $10.5 million hit gives us a solid start with Carey Price, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but then we run out of options. And some guys have completely unique AAVs, meaning we have no use for Auston Matthews at $11,640,250, Artemi Panarin at $11,642,857, or Alexander Ovechkin’s old $9,538,462.

Still, we should be able to find some solid combinations. But first, a few ground rules:

  • First and foremost, the same cap hit means what is says: The exact same AAV, down to the dollar and cents. Close enough is not close enough.
  • We’re looking for a goalie, two defensemen and three forwards, but we’re not otherwise getting hung up on position here.
  • We’re not using ELCs or league minimum deals here, because that would (literally) be cheap. We’re also not looking at retained salary, buyouts, or any bonuses that rolled over into the following season.
  • This part is important, so watch me break out the italics: We can use any contract a player has had during the cap era, but our team only gets credit for the best of what he did during those seasons. If we want to put Joe Thornton on Team $5,000,000 we can, but that means we only get his one 2018-19 season in San Jose, not his entire body of work.
  • Finally, one quasi-exception to that last rule: We’ll allow extensions that have been signed but haven’t kicked in yet. That will involve making some assumptions about aging curves and productivity down the road, but that should be fine because when has a hockey writer ever been wrong about the future.

Let’s do this. (As always, thanks to the invaluable Cap Friendly for all salary-related info.)

Before we start listing teams, let’s huddle up for some strategy. I can see two paths forward: either we go with nice round numbers that will probably have more players to choose from, or we pick a well-known bargain contract as see if we can build a team around that.

Let’s start with the second option. Arguably the single best contract of the cap era is Nathan MacKinnon’s current one, with MVP-level play in exchange for a $6.3 million hit. That’s a great start, and gets even better when we realize we can put him on a line with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in their early-20s. But that’s about as far as we can go, as Cam Ward is the only other player to have a cap hit of exactly $6.3 million. We can’t make a team here.

We run into a similar problem if we try to build off two current Florida Panther bargains in Jonathan Huburdeau and Alexsander Barkov, both at $5.9 million. We can give them William Karlsson to play with, and have a few goaltending options with long-ago deals to Kari Lehtonen and Semyon Varlamov, which are enticing, and current-day Phillip Grubauer, which is not. But again, there are no defensemen to pick from, although Nate Schmidt’s current $5.95 million is close.

I also can’t find enough teammates for Brad Marchand’s $6.125 million hit (which only offers us Mark Schiefele), Shea Theodore’s $5.2 million (just Sam Reinhart), or Leon Draisaitl’s $8.5 million (which gets us a great forward line with Steven Stamkos and Mika Zibanejad’s upcoming extension and has in-his-prime Henrik Lundqvist in goal, but no blueline). It gets especially frustrating if you try to build a team around David Pastrnak’s $6,666,667 hit, only to realize that elite seasons from guys like Joe Thornton, Ilya Kovalchuk and Dan Boyle came at a price of $6,666,666. You just had to squeeze that one extra dollar, didn’t you David.

OK, so the “build around a bargain” strategy doesn’t seem to be working. For now, let’s go with the round numbers that we know will at least give us enough players to work with.

Team $5,000,000

This number is low enough that we won’t find many elite options from current contracts, although we can grab Jonathan Marchessault as well as the pre-extension deals for Morgan Rielly, Ryan Pulock and Zach Werenski. Up front, we could also look at two Avalanche contracts from the past: two years of Ryan O’Reilly’s offer sheet, and Peter Forsberg for one of his comeback attempts. Instead, I’m going to take Marchessault and then grab a 40-goal season from Jeff Carter, plus some Selke-winning defense from a young Patrick Bergeron.

On the blueline, I’ll take Rielly from today’s group and pair him with Sergei Gonchar’s first few years in Pittsburgh. And I’ve got lots to choose from in goal, where I could have today’s Juuse Saros, Thatcher Demko or Robin Lehner, or a Cup-winning Marc-Andre Fleury from the Penguin days. But there’s an easy call here, as I can take Tim Thomas during his Bruins’ peak when he was the best goalie in the league.

Forwards: Patrice Bergeron (2011 – 2014), Jeff Carter (2008 – 2011), Jonathan Marchessault (2018 – 2024)

Defense: Sergei Gonchar (2005 – 2010), Morgan Rielly (2016 – 2022)

Goalie: Tim Thomas (2006 – 2009)

Not bad! But almost certainly not the best we can do. Let’s toss another million on the pile and see what that buys us.

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Monday, January 24, 2022

The Flyers finally land in the bottom 5, a new team enters the top 5, and is the East just way better than the West?

If you took a look at the NHL standings heading into the weekend, you may have noticed something kind of weird. Based on points percentage, six of the seven best teams in the league were from the Eastern Conference. If you were looking for Western representation, only the Avalanche were among the elite; you had to scroll down the list for a bit, past not just the Panthers and Hurricanes and Lightning but also the Leafs, Rangers and Penguins to get to the Wild and Blues. The Bruins showed up next, giving the East 70% of the top ten.

Does that mean anything?

It might not. “Top seven” is a pretty arbitrary cutoff, after all, and the Wild are .001 percentage points back of the Rangers, which is basically a rounding error. On the other hand … I mean, the idea kind of passes the eye test, right? Do you trust the Wild or Blues as elite teams? What about the Predators or Flames? Other than the Golden Knights, who’ve lost five of seven, does anyone else in the West seem like a legitimate Cup contender?

Yes actually, you might say, followed by a comment about typical Eastern bias, which is fair enough. The Wild are scoring a ton but are still the boring team because nobody out here updates their priors other than Dom. The Blues won a Cup in a year everybody counted them out just a few seasons ago, and we’re making the same mistake again. The Predators look good and maybe we don’t want to acknowledge that because it would mean all the experts were wrong. Sure, that’s possible.

It’s also possible the standings aren’t lying, and the East is just a lot more top-heavy. That means it’s also worse at the bottom end, which also seems to pass the eye test. The West has two truly bad teams, the Coyotes and Kraken, maybe Chicago too if you want, and everyone else is still in the mix. The East has the Habs, Senators, Devils, Sabres, Blue Jackets and Flyers, and all eight playoff spots wrapped up. Maybe that’s our answer right there. The East has more bad teams, which is padding the records of the good teams, and it will all sort itself out once the playoffs get here.

I guess we’ll see. In the meantime, I’m not really sure what to do with the rankings. If the East really does have better teams, then I should move the Avalanche into the top spot because they’ll have a far easier playoff path than the Lightning, Panthers or Hurricanes. If this is just some random noise in the standings, then I should see through it and have more Western teams up high. I could also split the difference and hope you don’t notice. That’s always an option.

Fair warning: We’re also going to mix things up with this week’s rankings, and it’s about time. It’s been a month since we’ve welcomed a new team to the bottom five, and two months since someone has debuted in the top five. Both of those streaks end this week, as both lists enter a state of flux. And that state is Pennsylvania.

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Thursday, January 20, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: How 'bout them Cowboys

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- There was a 49ers/Cowboys game this week and I'm trying to remember who won...
- We break down the Leon Draisaitl's pissy media feud
- Remembering other great player/media showdowns
- Goalie trades: Not as hard as they seem
- On Granger Things, Ian tricks me into ranting about the Panthers ruining hockey
- A weird unbreakable record that could be broken this year, introducing The Wendel Line, 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, January 19, 2022

Puck Soup: Buy, sell or hold

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- The Oilers get pissy
- The Habs find a new GM
- The Bruins finally honor Willie O'Ree
- Should O'Ree's number be retired leaguewide?
- We play "buy sell or hold" for all 32 teams

>> 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.

The ten most successful midseason goalie trades of the cap era, ranked

You can’t trade for a good goaltender during the season.

It’s become conventional wisdom in the NHL’s cap era, and it’s not hard to see why. If your team finds itself needing a goaltender, you’re almost by definition dealing from a position of weakness, so prices will be high. And the market is never all that exciting, for the simple reason that contending teams aren’t trading their goalies, and bad teams are usually bad because their goaltending stinks to begin with. So if find yourself needing an upgrade in net, you’re better off waiting for the offseason.

You’re hearing it again this year, as teams like Edmonton, Buffalo and Colorado could be in the market for a goalie, and teams like Boston, Columbus or Dallas could be shopping one. You’d think there could be a match there somewhere, but apparently not, we’re told. Reigning Vezina winner Marc-Andre Fleury? Sure, it sounds nice in theory, but those deals just don’t work out in the middle of a season.

The classic example is Ryan Miller. He was a fantastic goaltender, one who won nearly 400 games while building a resume that might get him into the Hall of Fame discussion. He won a Vezina in Buffalo, had a solid run in Vancouver, and finished his career as a dependable veteran option in Anaheim. But in the middle of all of that, there was the 2013-14 season, when the Sabres made Miller the rare star goaltender to hit the midseason trade market. The Blues won the bidding war, only to see Miller struggle down the stretch on the way to a first-round exit that spelled the end of his brief stint in St. Louis. The deal is widely viewed as a bust for the Blues, and as the cautionary example that midseason goalie trades are futile.

Except… what about when they’re not?

We can listen to GMs complain about how hard their job is, and we can hold up the Miller trade to prove them right. But the reality is that there have been several mid-season goalie trades during the cap era that worked out just fine. A few of them worked out great.

That seems like the sort of thing that calls for a ranking. So today, we’re going to look back on ten mid-season goalie trades that worked out best for the team making them. We’re looking for NHL goalies here, not prospects, which is to say that we want guys who played at least one big league game for each team that year. Trades only, not waivers (sorry Ilya Bryzgalov and Michael Leighton). And we’ll look at both the immediate impact a trade had on that season as well as whether the guy stuck around.

We’ll count down ten through one, based on a strict criteria of me just making this up as I go. And we’ll start with one that I didn’t even remember until I started digging into the research…

10. Cristobal Huet to Washington in 2008

The goalie: Huet was always a longshot to have an NHL impact. He was drafted in the seventh round in 2001 at the age of 25, and had a couple of solid years with the Kings. But a trade to the Habs during the 2004 offseason opened the door to more playing time, and he ended up leading the NHL in save percentage during the 2005-06 season. He was named to the all-star team in 2006-07, and was on his way to another strong year as the 2008 deadline approached.

The trade: With a young Carey Price emerging, the Canadiens sent Huet to the Capitals for a second-round pick.

The results: Huet took over the Caps’ starter job from a struggling Olaf Kolzig and played well enough down the stretch to get them into the playoffs by two points. They’d go on to lose to the Flyers in seven in the opening round, although Huet was fine. There was no long playoff run and Huet left as a UFA in the offseason, so this deal was hardly earth-shattering. But you could make a good case that it was the difference between the Capitals making or missing the playoffs.

9. Mike Smith to Tampa Bay in 2008

The goalie: Long before he was the 39-year-old expected to save the Oilers season, Smith was a promising 25-year-old goalie with 44 career appearances. He’d played well, even making the all-rookie team in 2007.

The trade: On the very same day as the Huet trade, the Stars included Smith in a package that also featured Jussi Jokinen, Jeff Halpern and a pick to pry Brad Richards and Johan Holmqvist away from the Lightning.

The results: Smith struggled when he first arrived in Tampa, but established himself as the starter for most of the next three years. In all, we won over 100 games for the rebuilding Lightning, helping them get back to the playoffs. He’d depart as a free agent in 2011, leaving the Lightning with a need for a new long-term goaltender that they’d end up addressing a little later in this list.

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Monday, January 17, 2022

Did we just see rock bottom for the Oilers? Plus thoughts on the Panthers, Bruins, Islanders and more

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but it’s not going well in Edmonton.

Oh, you have heard that one. For pretty much the last decade-and-a-half or so. Right, that does ring a bell.

Just in case you’re new to this, let’s round up where we’re at right now with this team. They have the best player in the world, by a mile. They have, arguably, the second-best player in the world. They have a former first-overall pick and a former fourth-overall pick who are both on pace for career years, a shiny new UFA on an eight-year contract that probably won’t age well but has been fine so far, a good young defenseman with a massive extension about to kick in, and a new guy with three Cup rings who can sprinkle magic leadership dust all over the dressing room.

They also have no bottom six, a big question in goal, Cody Ceci for some reason, a coach on the hot seat, and a GM who not only seems completely out on answers, but actually appears to have lost track of the questions.

Also, tomorrow will be the one-month anniversary of their last win. So there’s that.

Saturday night saw them on home ice to face Ottawa, a bottom-five team with little to play for. We all made our jokes about the Sens sickos, but it was a game that the Oilers absolutely had to have. They took a 3-1 lead into the third period, then gave it up by the midway mark on the way to a 6-4 loss that may have been their worst of the season, all things considered. Honestly, the score may have flattered them.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Thursday, January 13, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: Kodak Black breaks Hockey Twitter, Connor McDavid comments on Evander Kane, and Jack Eichel's progress towards Golden Knights debut

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Kokak Black enjoys a Florida Panthers game
- Connor McDavid's tepid answer about Evanker Kane
- Tuukka Rask returns
- Bobby Clarke rips Ron Hextall, and I'm not buying it
- Jack Eichel nears a return in Vegas
- Plus Cale Makar's Hart chances, a listener question on the point system, the anniversary of "they're going home", 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)

I tried to build the best possible cap-compliant roster of 2021-22… three years ago. How’d I do?

I like to make predictions. Most sportswriters do. We’re not good at it, mind you, but it’s an important part of our job description. And every once in a while, when the blind squirrel finds a nut, you never hear the end of it.

But what if you don’t knock the whole prediction thing out of the park? Its tempting to let the near-misses and outright whiffs fade into the hazy past, and just hope nobody remembers how wrong you were. I’ve never gone for that approach. If I’m right, I get to brag about it. But if I’m wrong, you get to point and laugh at me. Fair’s fair, and sometimes the pointing and laughing is half the fun.

So I like to occasionally revisit my old calls and see how I did. Recently, reader Ryan reminded me of a piece I’d written during the 2018-19 season, in which I tried to build the best possible roster for the 2021-22 season, using contracts that were already signed and staying under the projected cap.

Wait, 2021-22? That’s this season. The future has arrived. Which means we should probably check back and see how I did.

You can find the old post here. The idea was the build my best possible cap-compliant 2021-22 team, using only guys who were signed to deals that went at least that far. Why three years? Because that meant that I couldn’t get cute with entry-level contracts, or guys who were on cheaper short-term deals. Anyone can make a cap-compliant all-star team out of ELCs, cheap bridge contracts, and veterans on short-term prove-it deals. Only a true lunatic would try it with long-term commitments. Huh, I guess that would be me.

So how did I do? As I wrote at the time, “it will be fun to look back on this in three years and laugh at some of the players we thought would be good who saw their production nosedive”. Three years later, how many of my picks (and non-picks) still hold up well? And how many are going to look silly?

Let’s find out. And we’ll start with a call that definitely didn’t age well…

So yeah, about that whole “cap-compliant” thing.

Back in 2018-19, the NHL was operating under a salary cap of $79.5 million. That total had gone up from $75 million the year before, and seemed set to keep increasing at a similar rate. If I was going to build a 2021-22 roster, it was only fair that I be able to do it under a realistic 2021-22 cap. I just had to figure out what that would be.

You can probably see where this is heading.

Here’s what I wrote back then, in what would stand in the piece’s first big projection: “Let’s go with $90 million, which would represent an increase of just over $10 million from where we are right now. The cap went up $8.1 million over the last three years, so mix in a little inflation and $90 million seems about right for 2021-22.”

Oops. Yeah, as you may have heard, the salary cap is not currently $90 million. It’s barely gone up at all, thanks to the pandemic, sitting at just $81.5 million. I don’t think I can be blamed for not seeing a global catastrophe coming a full year in advance, but I’ll admit that I’m having some momentary sympathy pangs for all those GMs who gave out long-term contracts assuming the cap would keep climbing. I get it now, guys.

So no, my team won’t end up being cap-compliant after all. In that sense, this whole thing crashed and burned before it even got off the ground. But if you can forgive my cap optimism, let’s find out how well the rest of my picks did.


I ran into a tough call right out of the gate, realizing that back in 2018-19, there were only nine goalies in the entire league who were signed through 2021-22 or longer. None of them were especially cheap either, and a few were the kind of contracts I wanted nothing to do with. I said no thanks to Carey Price at $10.5 million, and even with last year’s playoff magic I think that holds up well. So did wanting no part of Cory Schneider or Jonathan Quick. I also passed on Martin Jones, although I wrote that that one was “at least worth considering”, which it was absolutely not. And I thought about Marc-Andre Fleury, but was worried that he’d be 37. Three years later, he’s the reigning Vezina winner but also the victim of a pure salary-dump trade, so I think I look OK.

So who did I end up with? For my starter, I narrowed it down to John Gibson at $6.4 million and Connor Hellebuyck at $6.1 million, which ends up feeling bang on as the only two guys who are worth considering. I went with Gibson, though, where Hellebuyck would have been the better choice.

For my backup I just took the cheapest guy available in Ben Bishop at $4.9 million, but wrote that I was worried that “we just wasted a big chunk of our cap on a guy who’ll be on LTIR”. In hindsight, we did indeed, although I’m honestly not sure that’s a worse outcome than taking some of these other guys would have been. Goaltending was tough.

In the end, I think the right call here would have been to take Gibson and Hellebuyck at a combined $12.5 million and squeeze the space somewhere else. But as you’ll see, I didn’t really have much space to squeeze…

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Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Does Logan Couture have a bad contract? How about Tyler Seguin? Cap court is back in session

Please rise. Salary cap court is back in session.

If you’re new to cap court, the concept is simple. We’ll take five NHL players who might (or might not) have a bad contract. We’ll weigh both sides of the argument, then deliver a verdict. This will be the court’s fourth session, with previous editions having seen us weigh in on names like Erik Karlsson and Jonathan Toews, Carey Price and John Tavares, and Nicklas Backstrom and Jacob Trouba.

For those keeping track at home, the dreaded “bad contract” verdict has been delivered six times out of 15, so we tend to be pretty generous. Some of the decisions hold up better than others, and there were certainly some moments when we tip-toed right up to the line but couldn’t quite convict. Will we get that sort of unsatisfying conclusion again today? Probably, yeah.

The key thing to remember is that we’re judging contracts based on how they look from this point on; we’re not worried about the past. It’s possible that a player’s deal could have been reasonable at the time it was signed, but looks bad now due to declining play or the flat cap or shifting circumstances or whatever else. If so, that’s a bad contract. There’s no room for appeals on the grounds that “it was good for the first few years”.

We’ve got five new cases on the docket today, and they total 40 years of commitment and $326.4 million. That’s a lot. But is it too much? Let’s find out…

Tyler Seguin, Stars

The details: The forward, who turns 30 at the end of the month, is in the third year of an eight-year deal that carries a cap hit of $9.85 million that was signed in 2018.

The case that it’s a bad contract: The cap hit ranks tenth among forwards, ahead of names like Nikita Kucherov, Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Mark Stone. Of the nine players ahead of him, eight have won an award or been a postseason all-star; Seguin hasn’t done either. (The only player with a higher cap hit who hasn’t won anything is Jack Eichel.) Put simply, Seguin is being paid like an elite player and has never really been that, topping out as a guy who could score a point-per-game or maybe a bit more.

And that was before a hip injury threatened to derail his career. He missed almost all of last year, and this year’s comeback, while inspiring, hasn’t been especially productive. It looks increasingly unlikely that Seguin will ever be an elite offensive force again, which is bad news when a contract that pays you that way still has five full years left to go.

The case that it might be OK: We’re focused on today and the future, but it’s still worth making the obvious point that the Stars didn’t know Seguin would get hurt when he signed his deal. (Like every other team in this post, they also didn’t know the cap would be flat for years due to a pandemic.) Given what Dallas knew at the time, the contract wasn’t outrageous when it was signed.

Still, bad stuff happens and we said we’re only judging contracts based on what they look like right now. This one admittedly doesn’t look great. That said, let’s wait and see what Seguin looks like when he’s fully recovered. He’s been a very good scorer in this league before, and it’s possible that this year’s numbers are partly due to the grueling recovery he went through just to get back on the ice. If he can get back to his point-a-game ways, this deal won’t seem awful as the cap slowly rises and other centers pass him on the cap hit list.

Key witnesses: Other guys near Seguin’s age and cap hit include Artemi Panarin, which isn’t a flattering comparison, and John Tavares, which is a little better. You’d probably still take Seguin over fellow 29-year-old Jeff Skinner’s $9 million, even as Skinner is more productive this year. And while it’s depressing for Stars fans, the closest comparable might be 31-year-old Jamie Benn at $9.5 million.

The verdict: We haven’t mentioned it yet, but the deal is also heavy on bonuses, meaning a buyout doesn’t offer much relief. Seguin’s hip problems weren’t something anyone could have predicted, but this deal was on shaky ground even before then. Now? It’s a bad contract.

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Monday, January 10, 2022

Puck Soup: Kane, Klingberg, Rask, and the debut of Gordle

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- More Evander Kane drama, and why the NHLPA needs to fight this
- We try to figure out which team might give him another chance
- The John Klingberg trade watch has arrived
- We get into just how bad this Coyotes rebuild could get
- Running down the various weird Atlantic goalie situations, including Tuukka Rask
- Plus Marc Bergevin, Bob Saget, and the debut of a new game called Gordle

>> 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.

Marc-Andre Fleury’s return, Zach Fucale’s bizarre record chase and more goalie weirdness

Goalies are weird. This is established science, based on decades of watching these guys twitch and talk to their posts and be Dominik Hasek. But it can be a beautiful kind of weirdness, and that was the theme of the weekend.

Let’s start with the strangest story of all: Zach Fucale’s pursuit of one of the least impressive records in NHL history. The 26-year-old Caps third-stringer had debuted in November with a shutout, and was making his second career start on Saturday. That put him in line to establish two new marks for the longest shutout streak to start a career. In terms of minutes, the list is a motley crew led by Matt Hackett, who never actually had a shutout. And if Fucale could record two official shutouts in his first two starts, he’d somehow be the first NHL goalie to do it. Ever.

Through one period in Minnesota, Fucale’s streak endured. He kept it going in the second, long enough to break Hackett’s minutes mark. But then, midway through the period, it happened. Zach Fucale finally gave up a goal.

Kind of. We’re not actually sure. Because this was the goal:

That’s the first goal allowed by the Capitals with Fucale as the goalie of record. But you may notice something missing from Zach Fucale’s first goal against: Zach Fucale, who was on the bench on a delayed penalty. So the minutes streak continued, but nobody seemed quite sure if he could still record a shutout in a game in which his team allowed a goal but he didn’t.

As it turned out, it didn’t matter, thanks to Mats Zuccarello beating Fucale on a real goal with a minute left in regulation. The Wild went on to win in the shootout, meaning Fucale takes the first loss of his career by a 3-2 final in a game in which he was his team’s only goalie and gave up one goal.

Not quite as weird, but probably a bigger story in the grand scheme of things, was Marc-Andre Fleury’s return to Vegas. The beloved former Knight made his first start since last summer’s controversial trade, facing off against old friend Robin Lehner and the team that stuck a sword in his back. He won, because of course he did, making 30 saves along the way. If you’re keeping track, that means the Hawks lost to the Coyotes and beat the Golden Knights in back-to-back games, because this league makes sense.

In other goalie news, we had a save of the year candidate from Joonas Korpisalo. Alex Nedeljkovic had a 25-save period for the Wings in Los Angeles. Jack Campbell answered the eternal question of what it would look like if the Leafs got great goaltending while blowing a 4-1 lead. Martin Jones had 44 saves even though you don’t remember which team he plays for now. Fucale himself had a highlight-reel stop. And just to make sure nobody thought any of these guys could be normal for a few minutes, we had this happen in the final minute of a tie game:

I’m starting to think that people who voluntarily sign up for a life of having vulcanized rubber shot into their bodies at 100 mph might be a little bit, uh, different.

Not especially different: This week’s rankings, which have settled into a bit of midseason stasis …

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Thursday, January 6, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: Oilers, Penguins, Chets, and a new award

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Digging through the wreckage in Edmonton
- Trying to figure out the Penguins
- We invent a brand new NHL award that absolutely needs to happen
- How cool was that Cale Makar goal?
- Lots of listener emails, including an explanation of that Devils replay debacle
- The NHL's best-ever Chet
- Remembering Eddie Shore's overnight blizzard adventure to get to a Bruins game
- (Also, see if you can pinpoint the exact moment the NY Times news breaks as we're recording and we have to no-sell it)

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, January 5, 2022

Six teams that are surprisingly good, and six bad ones that can draw hope from them

It’s a new year, which means that as a hockey writer I’m legally obligated to conjure up a metaphorical fresh sheet of ice. It’s a new beginning, and the possibilities are limitless. Anything can happen, right?

Well, no, not anything. Your favorite might be terrible, and you should feel sad about that.

That’s the thing about a new year — it doesn’t coincide with a new NHL season. In hockey terms, we’re almost halfway through this chapter and that sheet of ice isn’t all that fresh, and while there’s still plenty of time left to go, several teams are already out of hope. One conference already has pretty much its entire playoff picture locked up, and almost half the league is all but out of the race.

If you root for a team that’s having a disappointing year, where can you find hope? The good news is that you may not have to look far; it could be coming from one of the next teams you play. So today, let’s look at a half-dozen teams that are exceeding expectations so far this season, and then pair them up with a team that could use some positive vibes.

Fair warning: Some of these pairings will be natural fits, while others might require a bit of a stretch. Either way, it’s the time of year to be optimistic. Or at least be able to plausibly fake it. Let’s do this.

The rebuilding team that’s on the right track but will obviously still need to be bad for a few years

When you’re doing a full rebuild, you generally know the timeline. You strip it all down, bottom out for high picks, and draft a few potential stars. Then you have to suffer through a few more years of losing with the young guys, because you can’t just flip a switch and go from the bottom of the league to waltzing into a playoff spot.

Except when you do. Every few years, a team skips a few steps and goes from bottom-dweller to legitimately good almost overnight. It’s rare, but it’s the dream scenario for the (many) teams that are rebuilding at any given moment.

The 2021-22 inspiration: Anaheim Ducks

A year ago: The Ducks were a 100-point team just three years ago. But they’ve been under .500 since, and while that landed them guys like Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale, all the smart people knew they’d be a write-off this year.

But then…: Troy Terry turned into Mario Lemieux, John Gibson turned back into John Gibson, Zegras invented a new way to score, and the Ducks rebounded from a 2-4-3 start to win eight straight and move into contention for the Pacific title. Most of us still didn’t believe in them, but the big collapse hasn’t happened yet. At the very least, they’re going to be in the playoff race for most of a season where they were supposed to be bottom-dwellers. Oh, and Mason McTavish is on the way.

Possible 2022-23 candidate: Ottawa Senators.

This is a bit of a backhanded compliment, because Sens fans were told they wouldn’t be in the running for this sort of pick this year, the first of Eugene Melnyk’s promised five-year run of unparalleled success. That hasn’t happened, and it looks like the Senators are headed for another year in the bottom five. But a lot of the pieces are in place, and more are on the way, and it’s not hard to imagine it all finally clicking to create a playoff contender next year.

The one caveat is that they don’t have a Gibson-like answer in goal, but that’s what the trade market is for. Give this team some real goaltending, and does a sudden surge really seem all that more impossible than it would have for this year’s Ducks?

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Monday, January 3, 2022

Puck Soup: We're back, we think

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- The NHL returns from an extended break
- Scoring is through the roof and the Dead Puck era is finally over
- The season goes off the rails in Edmonton
- The Winter Classic was a lot of fun
- Another record for Alexander Ovechkin
- A heartwarming story (and an awesome hat) with the Canucks and Kraken
- Brock Lesnar meets Wayne Gretzky
- OUFL outdoor game stuff
- Also I get to read another Manscaped ad

>> 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.

Weekend rankings: A fun Winter Classic between the Blues and Wild, the Oilers keep losing, and Brock Lesnar shows up for some reason

It might not have been an actual classic, but it was pretty good. After a few weeks of barely any hockey, we’ll take that.

The 2022 Winter Classic between the Blues and Wild was freezing cold and sloppy at times, but that’s not a bad combination if you’re looking some entertaining hockey. We got ten goals and a 6-4 final that will make it sound sort of close even though the Blues ran away with it in the second. Even better, the game didn’t get postponed due to COVID, the ice held up well enough, and we didn’t have to stop the game due to glare because it turns out that when sunlight is your enemy, playing your outdoor game in Minnesota at night is a pretty solid avoidance strategy.

I don’t know if this happens to you, but there’s always a moment after the spectacle of an outdoor game where I have to remind myself that these games count in the standings. This year, that part matters more than usual, with the Wild and Blues battling for top spot in the Central. That makes it a big win for the red hot Blues, who’ve collected 17 of 20 points in their last ten, and a tough one for a Wild team that’s starting to struggle.

You get the feeling that a lot of us are sleeping a bit on the Blues, who are still the last non-Lightning team to win the Cup. Their fans have certainly made that case, I’m told. Spoiler: There’s still going to be only one Central team in the top five this week, and it’s still the same one it always is, but we have to give St. Louis credit for an impressive road win here.

Also, whatever this was all about:

There are two more outdoor games on the way, with the Predators hosting the Lightning in February and the Leafs and Sabres heading to Hamilton in March. But did any of those teams make this week’s rankings, he asked, in a half-hearted attempt at a segue.

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