Monday, February 28, 2022

The Preds and Lightning step outside, the Leafs and Wings get ridiculous, and just how worried are we about the Caps?

Some hockey writers do a lot of complaining about the NHL product. OK, fine, it’s me, I do a lot of complaining. It’s only when I think it’s justified, but that ends up happening a lot, as the league’s decision-makers continue to insist that the ideal version of this sport is low-scoring, risk-averse and fawningly dedicated to systems over creativity, all in the name of parity above all else, where 2-1 games where nothing interesting happens are decided by random bounces and everyone has to pretend that that’s entertaining.

All that said… hoo boy, that was a fun weekend, am I right?

I mean, if you couldn’t find something from the last few days that you thought was fantastic, you may as well just check out now. The NHL emptied the chamber for you this weekend.

Let’s start with the marquee event, the Stadium Series matchup between the Lightning and Predators. The two teams took the ice in front of nearly 70,000 fans in a football stadium, and delivered a 3-2 game that featured some nifty highlights and even a couple of scraps. As always, though, the game itself took a backseat to the atmosphere, which was incredible. Nashville put its best foot forward as a hockey town, and Lightning fans showed up en masse, making a game between two teams with barely any history temporarily feel like one of the greatest rivalries around.

The outdoor game concept is one of the few examples of the NHL getting something right in the Bettman era. And while they’ve lost some of their luster thanks to overkill, there’s something about seeing a new market get to try their hand at hosting. I’ll take a fresh matchup like this over yet another trip back to Fenway any day.

But OK, maybe you’re not sold on the spectacle of taking it outside. You’d rather see an old-fashioned game between two legitimate Cup contenders. We got that too, with the Avalanche and Golden Knights clashing on Saturday night. That one had a playoff feel, meaning lots of defense, but featured enough star power that it never felt boring. The Knights let a solid effort slip away in the third, as the Avs reminded us how quickly they can flip a game against even a top opponent.

Prefer something a little more focused on offensive stars? We had Connor McDavid and the Oilers making stops in Florida and Carolina, taking a 4-3 win over the Panthers before a 2-1 loss to the Canes, not to mention another Avalanche win that saw them and the Jets combine for nine goals.

Not enough offense for you? How about ten goals between the Flames and Wild. Right, good point, two of those were empty netters. Maybe 13 between the Hawks and Devils? No? OK, you asked for it. Let’s get completely stupid.

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Friday, February 25, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: The return of Sean Avery

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Sean Avery is trying a comeback, and we're not buying it
- Martin St. Louis has the Canadiens on a win streak
- Does he also have the full-time job locked up?
- We review Custance and Gentille's attempt at the Canadian national anthem
- Filip Forsberg might be on the market
- Jesse Granger talks though the hottest teams since the all-star break
- Which current NHLers are first-ballot Hall-of-Fame locks?
- Plus why Ian's grade six classmates (justifiably) hated him, 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, February 23, 2022

Puck Soup: The goalie market

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- We talk through as many trade deadline possibilities as we can think of
- A look at every contender and whether they should be upgrading their goaltending
- The Pacific Division is weird and fun
- In an oddly positive segment, we gush over Zdeno Chara and Alexander Ovechkin
- Martin St. Louis is the greatest coach ever, apparently
- It is legal to slash linesmen now
- Broken records, Sean Avery returns 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.




The 10 stages of rooting against your own team

The NHL is a 32-team league with 32 different fan bases, each of which is unique. Some are big, some not so much. Some are more than a century old, some are brand new. Some are spoiled with years of excellence, some have had their ups and downs, and some never seem to get to be happy at all.

But there’s one thing that every NHL fan has in common: We want our team to win

Sometimes.

That’s the reality of being a hockey fan, especially at this time of year. We can throw around all the clich├ęs we want about how winning is everything, but it isn’t, at least not all the time. And depending on circumstances, winning might actually feel like a problem.

When that happens, you’ve entered a very controversial zone as a hockey fan. You have to decide if you’ll cross a line, and start rooting for your team to lose.

Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. But it’s a perilous place, one where you want to tread carefully. And since I have some experience in this world, I want to offer you a guide. I’ve prepared a list of the ten stages of rooting against your own team, so that you can be prepared for what you might face, and for just how deep you want to go.

Stage 1: Apathy

We’ll ease into our list with a category that doesn’t really involve rooting against your team at all. Instead, at Stage 1, you just stop caring… temporarily. The season isn’t going well and you know it. You also know that one bad year isn’t the end of the world, and that even the best-run teams will go through it eventually.

You’re fine with it. You’re just especially interested in watching it all play out.

Honestly, this stage can be a pretty reasonable place to be. You’re not bailing on your team. You’re just backing away from committing a ton of time and mental energy to caring about them. You tune out, maybe check back in around the deadline, keep on top of any major developments, and then return to the fold in the offseason, rested and ready to go.

The stage makes our list only because it’s often confused with a fan rooting against their own team. But it’s not. You don’t want them to lose, you just don’t really care if they do.

Stage 2: Rooting for lottery odds (after playoff elimination)

OK, now you want them to lose.

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Monday, February 21, 2022

The Habs are fixed, the Flames are unbeatable, the Kings are better than we think, and more from a busy weekend

This was kind of a weird weekend. There wasn’t one giant story that dwarfed everything else – no blockbuster trades, no coaches or GMs fired, no huge controversies to yell at each other about. But it wasn’t a quiet weekend either, and in fact there was almost too much going on to cover it all in depth.

So instead, let’s fall back to the overwhelmed sportswriter’s best friend and break out the bullet points, as we cover some of the weekend’s stories in a lightning round. (Not to be confused with a Lightning round, which is the Stanley Cup final).

  • We have a win streak in Montreal! Yes, that’s right, I broke out the exclamation point even though it’s not very professional, because this is important. Believe it or not, this is somehow the first time all year that Montreal has won back-to-back games. Yes, one of them took overtime and yesterday’s needed a shootout. Look, they could use some positivity in Montreal right now, let’s all do our best to fake it for them.
  • Elsewhere in Canada, the two Alberta teams have been rolling, or at least were until last night. The Flames still are, having won nine straight. We thought Jay Woodcroft has turned the Oilers around by asking them to start playing defense, which apparently had never occurred to Dave Tippett, but I guess he forgot last night. Either way, a note to the hockey gods: It is now mandatory that these two teams face each other in the playoffs. We will not be accepting excuses.
  • Speaking of Calgary, Mark Giordano returned for the first time with the Kraken. I’m a sucker for a good comeback video, and since Giordano is one of the few returning players to have actually earned one, let’s rewatch it here:

  • In another return of sorts, Winnipeg fans got a chance to welcome back Bryan Little, who hasn’t played since being hit in the head with a shot in November 2019. It was good to see him get a well-deserved ovation from the crowd.
  • RIP to Rangers’ legend Emile Francis, who passed away on Saturday. “The Cat” was a goalie who also went on to serve as coach and GM in the 1960s and 70s before heading to the Blues. He was 95.
  • The Predators have lost four straight, all in regulation, and have the Panthers tonight before a showdown with the Stars that suddenly feels very important in a tightening Central race.
  • We had a trade to announce. Not much of one, but this isn’t one of those leagues where GMs are super bold and aggressive when it comes to actually doing their jobs, so we take what we can get. The Leafs sent failed UFA signing Nick Ritchie and a conditional pick to the Coyotes for Ilya Lyubushkin and the right to waive Ryan Dzingel. It’s a bit of a depth move and a bit of a salary dump, although it doesn’t help the Leafs’ cap much until next year. It’s also fun because the conditional pick could be as far away as 2025, and longtime readers know that I’m a huge fan of trades that reach way into the future. Let’s do this like junior hockey and trade picks eight seasons into the future or more. Come on GMs, you know you’re getting fired in a few years anyway, screw the guy who’s going to replace the guy who replaces you by trading all his picks away now.

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Friday, February 18, 2022

Remembering the lesser-known stars who played for Team Canada in a best-on-best tournament

Last week, we built a roster of 20 Canadian stars who never got to play for Team Canada in a best-on-best tournament. It ended up being a pretty solid group, one that included big names like Ron Francis, Bernie Parent and Cam Neely. It was so good, in fact, that at the end of the piece I included a one-sentence throwaway line where I wondered if they’d beat a roster of the worst players who did get to play for Team Canada.

I should have known what would come next. Sure enough, a lot of you wanted to see that roster too. OK, let’s do it.

The rules will be the same as last week. We need twelve forwards, six defensemen and two goalies who suited up for Team Canada at a best-on-best, which is to say the Olympics (in a year when NHL players went), World Cup, Canada Cup or Summit Series. The only exception is that this time we won’t count the mostly forgotten 1974 Summit Series, since that was WHA players and would make this too easy. Goalies have to have been on the roster (including backups or third strings), while skaters need to have actually seen the ice for at least one game. Simple enough.

One caveat: A lot of this is going to feel like we’re knocking these players, and I hope it doesn’t come across that way. A typical Team Canada will feature some of the very best players in the world, and being a “bad” player on a roster like that is still pretty impressive. The idea here isn’t to say that these guys weren’t great players in their own right, since almost all of them were. But the bar was set pretty high by last week’s snub team, so let’s see what we wind up with here.

Goaltenders

We’ve got a few solid options here, and we don’t even have to pick on Pete Peeters (who actually won a Vezina two years after his 1981 meltdown against the Soviets). I considered Jose Theodore, who didn’t have a long stay on top but was a few years removed from an MVP season when he was Canada’s third string at the 2004 World Cup, as well as Reggie Lemelin, who’d had back-to-back years as a Vezina finalist when he made the 1984 Canada Cup team.

Instead, I’m going to go with a couple of cap-era guys who personify solid starters without ever radiating too much star power. Give me Marty Turco, who was the third option for the 2006 Olympic team, leading to this classic “always lead with the local angle” headline from Sault Ste. Marie.

We’ll back him up with Mike Smith, who rolled out of the sack to earn a spot at the 2014 Olympics. Neither Smith or Turco actually got to play in the tournament, but that just means they’ll be well-rested when we turn to them.

They might need to be, because our blueline is going to be… interesting.

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Thursday, February 17, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: Who's down with MPP

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Team Canada brings home the gold
- Where Marie-Philip Poulin ranks among hockey's all-time greatest clutch players
- Jack Eichel debuts in Vegas, but the Knights might be fading
- Patrice Bergeron returns, but could this be his final run in Boston?
- Are the Islanders the biggest disappointment of the season?
- Thoughts on whether you could have a .500 save percentage in an NHL game (you could not)
- This week in history, listener mail and more...

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




Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Puck Soup: The week that was

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- We cover all the stuff that happened like three minutes after we finished last week's show
- The Habs hire Martin St. Louis
- Ken Holland finally fires a coach
- The Flames land Tyler Toffoli
- The Knights get Jack Eichel but might need a goalie
- We try to figure out the Pacific
- Sidney Crosby hits 500 goals
- We pretend to care about men's Olympic hockey and get ready for the main event on the women's side
- 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, February 15, 2022

Mailbag: Could you save half the shots in an NHL game? Plus a Lindros what-if, a Scrabble challenge and more

I forgot to do a January mailbag. Does that mean you’ll get two in February? It does not. Look, if the Habs can take an entire month off then I can too.

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

My question is one that has been furiously debated amongst my friends for years. If an average beer league hockey player (skater, not a goalie) were to suit up as a goalie in an NHL game, what would be a reasonable estimate of that person’s save percentage?

The only caveats to the hypothetical would be that the other players on the ice wouldn’t be “aware” of the person’s lack of goaltending skill, and the person wouldn’t get pulled from the net despite the clear underperformance in goal (they could finish the entire game). Most of us believe that our save percentage would be infinitesimally small, however we do have one friend that ardently posts his own over/under at 50%.

As the internet’s foremost authority on hockey hypotheticals, help us settle this debate once and for all. Has history shown that a 0.500 save percentage is doable for a run-of-the-mill men’s leaguer? Has goalie equipment gotten big enough for even the average skater to step in the way of a majority of NHL shots? Have players gotten so skilled at defensive play they’d be able to reasonably offset this obvious detriment in net? Would attempting to stop an Alex Ovechkin one-timer send the average person to the hospital? Appreciate your input. – Bryan C.

I read this submission, stared at it for a while, and then had to email Bryan back with a follow-up question: Do the other players on the ice not realize the goalie is just a regular guy at first, or can they somehow not figure it out through the entire game? Bryan clarified that it’s the latter – nobody else changes anything about their game, meaning your team can’t go all-out on defense and the other team isn’t bombing shots from the red line. It’s a normal NHL game in every way except for you, an average beer leaguer who’s never played net until right now.

My verdict: Bryan’s friend who thinks he could finish a game over .500 is out of his mind.

I mean, come on. Yes, you’d make some saves, just by virtue of the puck hitting you. (And that’s all it would be; you would absolutely not be able to move in time to do anything to an NHL player’s slapshot.) But if you’re going to play a full game and face, let’s say, 30 shots, there’s virtually zero chance you’re lucky enough to have half of them go into your chest.

Remember: David Ayres, who had a few decades of experience as a goaltender and will live in history forever as the gold standard for miracle “regular guy” performances, only had an .800 save percentage in that game. You think somebody who doesn’t even know which leg the pads go on is going to get anywhere close to that? Madness.

The only caveat I’ll allow for is that Bryan doesn’t say anything about injuries, and there’s an excellent chance that any NHL shot you faced would destroy you. If your first play is an Ovechkin one-timer that turns your collarbone into powder and you leave on a stretcher having made one save on one shot, I guess that would count. But that’s your only hope.

Is it too soon to say Kakko and Lafreniere are busts? Because I’m starting to worry. What does history say about players their age with their expectations/hype? – Skinny Peet

Oh good, I’m sure all the Rangers fans who complain I don’t talk about their team enough will be thrilled now.

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Monday, February 14, 2022

Fresh starts in Montreal and Edmonton, a bad week for the Bruins, and the Ducks face some tough decisions

We had two more coaching changes this week, and both had been feeling inevitable for weeks. The only question in Edmonton was whether things would get bad enough for Ken Holland to actually fire a coach for the first time in his career, rather than wait for their contract to expire like he usually does. And the only question in Montreal was whether there was even any point in trying to make things better during a season so bad it’s been bordering on farce.

The answer to both questions turned out to be yes, and so we say goodbye to Dave Tippett and Dominique Ducharme and (a maybe temporary) hello to Jay Woodcroft and Martin St. Louis. This weekend, we had our first opportunity to get a real look at what both teams might look like for the rest of the year.

We’ll start in Edmonton, where Tippett somehow survived an awful stretch long enough to get his team back in track, but couldn’t weather a two-game losing streak coming out of the All-Star break. Woodcroft comes up from the AHL, and seems to be a generally well-regarded young coach who’ll have a decent shot to earn the long-term job. He started off his tenure by dialing back the ice time for Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, which took some guts, but it largely worked in Friday’s 3-1 win. Beating the struggling Islanders is hardly a sign the Oilers are fixed, but it’s a start, and they’ve got their next four games against good but beatable teams, so we’ll have a sense of where Woodcroft’s team is at by next week.

The Oilers are still very much in the playoff hunt, so every win matters. But in the big picture, the more important impact of the change is that Ken Holland has now played the one card he had left in his hand. He did the gritty leadership thing in the summer. He rolled the dice on Evander Kane a few weeks ago. Now he’s made the coaching change. There are no more easy targets, and if it doesn’t work now then there won’t be any question that it’s on the GM.

An even more interesting change came in Montreal, where the Habs put Ducharme out of his misery and brought in a guy with next to no coaching experience. I don’t get it, as you already know if you listen to the podcast, but it’s impossible not to root for St. Louis. He’s been an underdog story his whole career, everyone who played with or coached him seems to love the guy, and if you’re a fan of offense like I am then you have to perk up when you hear a new coach saying stuff like this:

Will it work? It did for the first three games, as the Canadiens looked far more competitive. Of course, the bar has been set so low this year in Montreal that “far more competitive” still means three losses, running their streak to ten straight. But they were in the games, or at least close enough, and Cole Caufield looked dangerous again, which might be more important to the long-term future in Montreal than anything else that could happen. In one sense, maybe that’s the best-case scenario for St. Louis as coach — the Habs get better, the young players take a step forward, and nobody really cares that they’re still losing enough to secure top lottery odds.

Sometimes a midseason coaching change works out great, sometimes they don’t. We’ve seen the Canucks turn their season around under Bruce Boudreau, including Thatcher Demko stealing a very entertaining win over the Leafs on Saturday. It hasn’t gone as well in Winnipeg or Philadelphia. My guess is that this might be it for the year, unless the Devils decide to move on from Lindy Ruff, but we’ll see.

On to the top five, only one of which has made a coaching change this year …

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Thursday, February 10, 2022

Remember Some Guys: We built a roster made up of the the best ex-NHL players in Beijing

When the NHL bailed on the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, you had your choice of two doors.

The first was an exit. No NHL players, no dice. Fair enough. The second — the product of hundreds of roster spots opened across 12 teams — was a lot more fun.

The men’s hockey tournament, you see, is now filled with Guys. Guys you’ve probably heard of. Guys you probably remember.

Thusly, The Athletic’s chief Guy Rememberer and his American understudy got together to build the best possible roster (outside of the Canadian and American teams, because we’ve talked about them enough) of players who a) were good enough to make some sort of impression in the NHL and b) are no longer good enough to hold down an NHL roster spot themselves.

The rules are simple enough; they had to play NHL games, but they couldn’t have been that good. We invoked that rule once.

Most of all, they were available. They are now Olympians. You probably remember them. Let’s go.

Finland

Gentille: The Finns took as hard a hit as any team when NHL participation went out the window — no Aleksander Barkov, no Sebastian Aho, no Juuse Saros — but they’re still a pre-tournament favorite for a few reasons; part of that comes from the system they play and the culture they’ve built. “The Pesky Finns” is a moniker for a reason, and their recent history of international success speaks for itself.

Beyond that, they were able to reshape a roster that would’ve been top-to-bottom NHL players with some guys who, not long ago, were in the big league themselves. Valtteri Filppula and Sami Vatanen had been roster staples for most of this century. Leo Komarov was close enough. Mikko Lehtonen played for the Leafs, so he’s automatically important.

There are other forwards that could help. Markus Granlund had a 19-goal season with the Canucks in 2016-17, and he’s Finland’s first-line center. Teemu Hartikainen, after years of failing to stick with the Oilers, has become a point-per-game guy in the KHL and is playing on Finland’s wing. We’ve got options here

The question here, I guess, is whether Filppula and Vatanen transcend Remember That Guy status.

McIndoe: First of all, put some respect on Leo Komarov’s name. That’s “former Maple Leafs representative at the all-star game because of the one-player-per-team rule” Leo Komarov to you.

Also, I can’t wait to go “Wait, isn’t he on the Predators right now?” every time Markus Granlund’s name is mentioned throughout this entire tournament. So, maybe twice.

Gentille: I thought both brothers played for the Wild at some point. Nope — just Mikael. That’s a That Guy.

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The Athletic Hockey Show: St. Louis blues

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- The Canadiens hire a coach with no coaching experience
- What's the worst-case scenario for Martin St. Louis in Montreal?
- We can hate Brad Marchand again
- Has any coach had a weirder calendar year than Dominique Ducharme just did?
- Sidney Crosby approaches a milestone
- Is Darryl Sittler's ten-point night an unbreakable record?
- Listener mail, this week in history and more...

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




Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Puck Soup: NHLFTs

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- What worked and what didn't from all-star weekend
- The Ducks get their new GM
- The Hawks don't, but they're interviewing lots of people and telling us all about it
- Could a baseball guy be a good NHL GM?
- Gary Bettman's weak answers on Arizona, Wirtz and COVID
- Plus Oscars, Olympics and a new quiz about NHL NFTs

>> 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.




Remembering the biggest stars who never played for Team Canada in a best-on-best tournament

The Winter Olympics are here, but if you’re an NHL fan you may not have noticed. This was supposed to be the big showdown, a rare best-on-best international tournament that would determine the world’s top hockey nation. Instead, COVID delays gave Gary Bettman his opening to withdraw NHL players. What we’re left with is… well, some decent stories and some solid hockey, sure. But it’s certainly not a best-on-best on the men’s side, because the best aren’t there.

We might have to wait until 2026 for our next chance, or maybe we’ll get that World Cup in 2024. Either way, it will mean a long gap between opportunities for most of today’s stars. Connor McDavid, the best player in the world, has still never had a chance to represent his country in a true best-on-best – the NHL didn’t go to the Olympics in 2018 or 2022, and he was forced onto a hybrid Team North America in the 2016 World Cup. Now he’ll be closing in on 30 by the time he gets to put on a red maple leaf when the spotlight is brightest.

If it’s any consolation, McDavid isn’t alone. As it turns out, you can build a reasonably decent roster out of Canadian NHL stars who never got the chance to represent their country in a best-on-best tournament. So that’s what we’re going to do, with 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies worth of snubs and/or missed opportunities.

The ground rules here are that we’re looking for players who starred in the era of big best-on-best tournaments, which is to say nobody before the 1970s. “Best on best” means the Summit Series, the Canada Cup/World Cup, and the Olympics in the years that NHL players went, but not things like the World Championships or World Juniors, or the various all-star exhibitions that were played from time-to-time. And active players are allowed, but only if we’re pretty sure that they won’t be on a Canadian roster in the future, so no McDavid.

(Full discloser, I was originally going to include all of the major hockey counties in this roster, before realizing that pretty much all the selections would end up being from Canada. Apologies to my many American friends out there. If it’s any consolation, you’ve at least got that women’s hockey silver medal to look forward to.)

As always, we build a great adequate team from the net out…

Goaltenders

We’ll start off with what might be a controversial question: What do we do with goalies who were taken as back2ps or third strings but never saw the ice? On the one hand, they didn’t actually play in a best-on-best, which is what we said we were looking for. On the other, unlike skaters who never got into a game, the goalies would have at least pulled on the uniform, sat on the bench, and been (kind of) part of the game.

When in doubt, I usually lean towards the side that’s going to make things more difficult for me, so I’m going to say that goalies who suited up but didn’t play aren’t eligible here. That means no Eddie Belfour, (who was the third goalie at the 2002 Olympics), Marc-Andre Fleury (third string at the 2010 Olympics) or Ron Hextall (who was the backup at the 1987 Canada Cup but watched Grant Fuhr get all the action).

As it turns out, we can still get a Hall-of-Famer into the mix, although we have to go back a few decades to do it. Let’s start with Bernie Parent, who managed to win back-to-back Vezinas and even finish as Hart Trophy runner-up in the mid-70s, but was never invited to play for Team Canada. That includes the 1976 Canada Cup, where Gerry Cheevers, Glenn Resch, Rogatien Vachon and Dan Bouchard got the call. That sounds like a snub, but the reality is that Parent had a neck injury and was advised not to play. Bad luck for him, but good news for us, as he’ll be our starter.

I thought about trying to slip in Billy Smith as the backup, since he was hurt before he could get into the 1981 Canada Cup tournament and was snubbed in 1984. But his injury came in warmup, which means he was actually in uniform, so it feels a little dicey. Instead, I’ll make Eric Duhatschek happy by going with Mike Vernon, who was good enough to win a pair of Stanley Cups but couldn’t find his way onto a Canada Cup team.

If we need a third-string option, we could look to guys like Chris Osgood, Kirk McLean, Braden Holtby and J.S. Giguere. But with Parent and Vernon, we should be pretty well set. Let’s see if we can build a decent blueline for them.

Defensemen

Hey, here’s a fun thing I learned while doing this exercise: Defense is by far the hardest position to fill.<2p>

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Monday, February 7, 2022

Weekend rankings: All-star weekend wrap, those missing Maple Leafs, Bettman fails again and more

We’ve made it through another all-star weekend. It was fun, right? Sure, let’s go with that. Everyone fist-bump.

Friday’s skills competition was pretty much what we should have expected, with a few new wrinkles, one of which was that it was secretly also Thursday’s skills competition, with the two new outdoor events being pre-taped. (The league didn’t mention that, although having it go from dark to dusk in an hour might have been a hint). Let’s be honest, the skills event always ends up being the sort of thing that looks better in a two-minute highlight package than it does when you spend a few hours watching it in real time. As always, there was too much standing around, nobody seemed quite sure of the rules, the crowd was mostly confused and quiet, and for some reason there seemed to be more people running around doing interviews than actual players to talk to. The two new Vegas-themed events worked well enough, despite that sort of awkward “Do I have to do this?” vibe that pretty much anything involving hockey players is destined to have. We’ll at least give the league credit for trying something new, and getting it to mostly work.

The highlight came in the return of the breakaway challenge, which hadn’t been seen since 2016. It’s more of a dress-up contest than a hockey event now, but that’s fine because there are only so many Forsbergs you can see in one night. This year’s show was stolen by Trevor Zegras, doing a Dodge Ball-inspired blindfolded Jedi move. Jack Hughes followed that with a full-on magic trick.

Then they both lost to Alex Pietrangelo, who… uh, pointed at Carrot Top? Look, it’s still all-star weekend, the local team has to win something whether they deserve it or not. The point is that the kids had some fun. Did it feel like everyone was trying a little bit too hard? Sure, but it’s all-star weekend, and we’ll always take that over not trying at all.

Speaking of which… the game itself. Or games, since there are three of these things now, all played 3-on-3. This year’s edition was an opportunity for the league to show off its most entertaining and important stars, which is to say the guys who do replay reviews for offside calls. We got two of those, but somehow missed out on a five-minutes officials huddle to figure out where a puck had gone over the glass. Maybe next year.

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Thursday, February 3, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: Rocky sucks

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- We react to Rocky Wirtz's incomprehensible rant
- What should happen next, and what probably will instead
- It's all-star weekend, and the NHL is trying some new things
- Ian has a theory on what ruined the all-star game
- How we'd fix the Islanders
- 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)




Every team’s retired numbers, ranked

The NHL saw two legendary players have their numbers retired over the weekend, as Henrik Lundqvist’s 30 went to the rafters in New York and Sergei Zubov’s 56 went up in Dallas. Both players were obviously worthy of the moment, one that ranks as just about the highest honor a team can bestow on a former star. It’s one of the few things in the hockey world that everyone can enjoy.

So, needless to say, I’m going to take this opportunity to make a lot of you mad about it.

Today, we’re going to rank all 32 NHL teams based on their retired numbers. But this isn’t just a list of which teams have honored the best players, because that would be too easy. No, we want to look at the whole picture. Who’s been honored? Who hasn’t? Has the team been weird about who they choose and when? Do they just retire numbers like a normal team, or do they insist on complicating things with some weird team-specific rules that nobody likes? And most importantly of all: Given what they have to work with, are they getting it right?

A few quick notes. We’re not counting the leaguewide retirement of 99, but will count upcoming retirements as long as they’ve already been announced. We’re ranking based on numbers that have formally been retired and removed from circulation, although we’ll make note of numbers that have been honored in other ways. And we’ll be going by the list on Wikipedia, because this right here is a professional operation.

Is there an objective, quantifiable way to rank something like this? Of course there is. Will we be using that method? No we will not. Will you agree with my ranking of your team’s most beloved players? (Checks to see if I ranked all 32 teams as tied for first.) No, I’m guessing you won’t, but that’s half the fun.

Worst to first, all 32 teams but you’re just going to CTRL+F for your own, let’s do this…

32. Seattle Kraken

Numbers retired: 32, for their fans

No.

Look, call me cold-hearted if you want, but retiring a number for your fans is just lame. And it’s especially lame if you choose the number based on how many ticket deposits you sold. Also, the banner that they retired for their fans doesn’t even mention their fans – it just says “Kraken”.

There’s no shame in being a new team without any banners hanging. You don’t need to force it. If your fans wanted to watch a number ascend up to the heavens, they could just look at Phillip Grubauer’s goals against average.

31. Florida Panthers

Numbers retired: Roberto Luongo’s 1, plus the number 37 for Wayne Huizenga and 93 for Bill Torrey

They get one point for retiring Luongo, who was awesome. We’ll be neutral on Torrey, who wasn’t a player and was better associated with another franchise but was still a legitimate legend. And we’ll subtract roughly one million points for honoring an owner, a move that no other NHL team has tried. I’m sure Huizenga was a lovely guy and he had a distinguished career in the waste management/Florida Marlins business, but come on. Even Harold Ballard didn’t think to retire a number for himself, so this is awful.

30. Calgary Flames

Numbers retired: Lanny McDonald’s 9, Jarome Iginla’s 12, Mike Vernon’s 30

There’s nothing wrong with the three numbers the Flames have retired. But you’ll notice that there are some big names from the team’s history that are missing, including Al MacInnis, Joe Nieuwendyk, Theo Fleury and Miikka Kiprusoff. That’s where things get messy, because the Calgary Flames apparently can’t decide what they’re supposed to be doing with their numbers.

Here’s the thing: The Flames are the first of several teams we’ll meet that also have “honored” numbers. In their case, that’s MacInnis and Nieuwendyk, both of whose numbers hang in the rafters in Calgary under a new “Forever a Flame” system. But they’re not retired… sort of. It’s been almost 20 years since anyone wore MacInnis’s number 2 for the Flames, and given that it’s an extremely common number for defenseman, we can consider it unofficially retired. So is Fleury’s 14 and Kiprusoff’s 34, neither of which was never given to anyone after those players left. So we have a pattern… except that Nieuwendyk’s 25 has been in circulation pretty much constantly, including being worn by Jacob Markstrom right now.

What the hell?

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