Friday, April 29, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

Could I interest you in all of the above?

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

Eight teams, eight stories

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, April 28, 2022

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

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

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

Puck Soup: Dangerous Knights Crew

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

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, listen on The Athletic or subscribe on iTunes.

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

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

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

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

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

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

Columbus Blue Jackets

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

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

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

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

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

Ottawa Senators

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

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

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

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

Arizona Coyotes

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

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

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

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

Seattle Kraken

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

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

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Monday, April 25, 2022

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

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

This is a good thing.

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

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

Great. Now let’s keep going.

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, April 22, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: Another sword in the back

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

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

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

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

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

But not always. Let’s get weird.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Puck Soup: Down the stretch they come

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

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, listen on The Athletic or subscribe on iTunes.

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

Monday, April 18, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Friday, April 15, 2022

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

In the Friday Grab Bag:

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

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Thursday, April 14, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: The Eugene Melnyk story

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

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

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Puck Soup: Cast your ballot

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

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, listen on The Athletic or subscribe on iTunes.

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

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Monday, April 11, 2022

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

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

And then there’s the Western Conference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Thursday, April 7, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: Comeback kids

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

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

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Puck Soup: It was 5-1

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- I sent Ryan an unfortunate email when the Leafs were winning 5-1 and he burns me with it
- Thoughts on Tyson Nash, Trevor Zegras, Brent Sopel and all sorts of stupidity
- Ryan Getzlaf retires; is he a Hall-of-Famer
- People continue to be mad about award voting
- Ryan updates us on the Frozen Four, and sees if he can find college players I've heard of
- And more...

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, listen on The Athletic or subscribe on iTunes.

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

Celebrating five of the NHL’s most unbreakable and also dumbest records

It finally happened. After almost three decades, Jonathan Huberdeau has broken the NHL single-season record for assists by a left winger — just like I predicted someone would. (Don’t actually read that post to see who the prediction was about, just go with me.)

I’m kind of bummed about it.

Maybe I’m weird, but Joe Juneau holding the mark at a very breakable 70 for all these decades was one of my favorite low-key weird facts. It was a great trivia question, one that could stump even the wisest old-time fan. It was also a nice reminder that the 1992-93 season absolutely rocked. Plus Juneau was just a very cool player, one who ran wild for Canada at the Olympics in 1992, made the NHL full-time when he was already 24 years old, set the assists mark as a rookie, then was traded the very next season. He wore a cool number. He was involved in youth hockey after his playing career ended. I liked Joe Juneau. Whenever it’s time to Remember Some Guys from the 1990s, he’s always on my list of go-to names.

I’ll miss having him in the NHL record book.

But I may have to take some of the blame here. Back in September, I wrote a post about five of the most breakable records in the NHL, and invited you to enjoy them while you still could. Juneau’s mark was the first one I mentioned, so maybe I reminded the hockey gods that it was on their to-do list. My bad, Joey, this one’s on me.

So today, let’s see if we can flip that karma. We’re going to the other end of the spectrum, with five NHL records that are absolutely unbreakable. Granted, this isn’t an especially sparse category – plummeting scoring rates and changes to the way the game is played mean that half the record book is out of reach. But we’re not going to do the obvious ones today, like Wayne Gretzky’s scoring marks, Glenn Hall’s consecutive starts, or even Dave Schultz and his 472 PIMs.

No, let’s go a little more obscure. Here are five NHL records that you may or may not even know exist, but that you should get used to because they’re not going anywhere.

Most points in a season without receiving a single Hart vote

There’s a common criticism of the Hart Trophy, and it’s at least a little bit true: That the writers who do the voting just look at the league’s leading scorers and fill out their ballot based on that. Defensemen, goalies and even two-way forwards are all ignored because lazy writers just vote for whoever had the most points.

OK, fair enough. So who do you think holds the record for most points scored in a season in which they didn’t appear on so much as a single Hart ballot?

For example, last year’s top scorer to get the snub from voters was Mark Scheifele, who finished ninth with 63 points. Of course, that was a shortened season; he’d have been on pace to finish in the 90s over a full schedule. Leon Draisaitl had 105 points when he was shut out in 2019, which looks like the highest total of the cap era. That one’s probably going to be tough to beat.

Did Draisaitl come close to the record? Not exactly. Would you believe that Hart voters once snubbed a 150-point guy?

They did, and that fact should narrow down your list of possibilities significantly, because only five players in the history of the NHL have ever had 150 points in a season. None of today’s stars have even come close. Jaromir Jagr never did it. Neither did Mark Messier, or Guy Lafleur, or Marcel Dionne, or Mike Bossy. Even at the height of his powers, Bobby Orr couldn’t get there. Joe Sakic, Bryan Trottier or Brett Hull? Not by a long shot.

No, there are only five members of the 150-point club. Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, Phil Esposito and… Bernie Nicholls?

Indeed, Nicholls pulled off the feat for the Kings in 1988-89. But you’d be forgiven if you didn’t remember that, because it wasn’t exactly the biggest story of the season in Los Angeles. Instead, it was the arrival of Wayne Gretzky, who came over in The Trade and topped Nicholls with 168 points to win his ninth and final Hart. Back in those days, there were only 21 voters and they each had three slots on their ballot, and Gretzky gobbled up all the Kings love. You’d think a guy with 150 points (not to mention 70 goals) could have earned at least a measly third from somebody, but nope. He did get some all-star love, finishing fourth behind Gretzky, Lemieux and Yzerman among centers, and a couple of writers gave him a Lady Byng nod. But MVP? Not one single vote. Not that year, and not any other year in his 18-season, 1,200-point career.

Other records Nicholls set that year that I feel safe in declaring unbreakable: Most points by a second-line center, most points by a guy who’d be traded halfway through the following season, and most 70-goal seasons by a guy who never had a 50 or 60 goal season.

Considering we haven’t seen anyone even get to 150 points in 25 years and counting, this one feels pretty safe.

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Monday, April 4, 2022

Weekend rankings: There are somehow no favorites in the East, plus the Zegras stuff, a Flames slump, some Oilers question and more

I’ve come to a conclusion about the Eastern Conference: There are no favorites.

I mean, there are, he said, contradicting his own premise in the second sentence of the piece as all great writers do. There are teams that are more likely to win than others; it’s not just eight playoff teams with exactly equal odds.

But there aren’t favorite favorites, if you know what I mean. There’s no Colorado here, looming above everyone else and frightening coaches. There’s not even a Calgary, lurking around as second option that starts to feel like a first option if you squint.

Instead, the East is eight teams that have all been locked into playoff spots since December, and there’s maybe one of them that doesn’t feel like a legitimate Cup threat. That would be the Capitals, who’ve been up and down since a strong start and weren’t able to upgrade their goaltending at the deadline. If you want to write them off as serious contenders then you probably could, as long as you can ignore the presence of the greatest goal-scorer of all time and a core that won it all just four years ago.

Other than that? Good luck. We all know what the Lightning can do. We’ve been pushing the Panthers and Hurricanes all year long. The Bruins are a veteran team that knows how to win in the postseason and has been red hot for a month. Playoff demons aside, the Maple Leafs will be dangerous if they get even league-average goaltending, and scary if Jack Campbell happens to get hot again. The Rangers are making believers of everyone. The Penguins, as confusing as they can sometimes be, keep on rolling despite rarely having a full roster.

Who’s your pick from the group? You’re basically scratching lottery tickets at this point, because any of those teams would feel like a worthy (and not especially surprising) Stanley Cup finalist. And when everyone feels like a legitimate contender, that means there’s no favorites. Everyone is close enough that we don’t know anything. The other rankings have all eight East teams in their top 12, including seven of the top nine spots, and I’m not sure you can really argue it unless you’re a bit higher on the Wild. And as Dom pointed out in 16 stats, all of the contenders are legitimately good.

So what does that mean for the East down the stretch? Does seeding matter? Home ice? Will it all come down to who happens to be healthy, and whose goalie gets hot at the right time? Did I just reverse-jinx this whole thing, and now the Capitals are going to sweep everyone? Maybe, sure, but maybe not, and I have no idea. Neither do you. We’re going to wait to see how it plays out, and then pretty much whatever happens, we’ll all nod wisely and say “Sure, I saw that coming” because we are liars.

It’s going to make for a fascinating spring. If you love a good upset, I’m not sure the East is your conference, because there can’t really be any when all the teams are so close. But if you’re one of those fans whose idea of a great postseason is one where the chaos door swings wide open, it will be great. Eight teams, seven series, three rounds, and absolutely zero idea what’s going to happen next.

That’s probably not a great way to lead into a power rankings section that supposed to be about predicting who’ll win the Cup, but it’s too late now and I don’t do rewrites, so here we go…

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Friday, April 1, 2022

Mailbag: Who’d win a fight between every NHL coach? Plus history’s greatest Mark Donk and more

The trade deadline has passed, it’s still another month before the playoffs, I’m bored and the mailbag is overflowing. Let’s get weird.

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

Which current coach would win in a 32-man fight held today? – A lot of you, as it turns out.

OK, I guess we have to do this.

If you’re not on Twitter, first of all congratulations on your life choices, and also you would have missed me tweeting this a few days ago:

The list came from one of those weird pages where some marketing firm churns out a few low-calorie infographics in hope of getting some free web site traffic, and I guess this one worked. But now people want to know what a real list of fight-worthy NHL coaches would look like, and apparently they think I’m the one to provide it.

I can’t claim to know the answer here, because I have never fought a real NHL coach and I’m pretty sure I’d have about as much success as Harvey the Hound if I ever tried. If one of these guys ever swung at me, my chin would make early-90s Doug Gilmour look like Chris Rock. I like a good laugh as much as anyone, but I’m not getting put through a table by Bruce Boudreau at the draft just you can have some internet giggles.

Luckily, I don’t have to, because you all gave me the answers in your replies to my tweet. So based on your feedback, and with just a little of my own sprinkled in, here’s how this would play out. In tribute to Craig Custance, we’ll do it in tiers.

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