Thursday, June 30, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: King's ransom

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- The first big trade of the season sees Kevin Fiala head to the Kings
- We react to the HHOF class, and Ian makes his case for Dainel Alfredsson
- Thoughts on the induction of Herb Carnegie and the lack of women
- The chances of us seeing an offer sheet this summer
- Reader mail, this day 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, June 29, 2022

Puck Soup: Avs win, what comes next, Hall of Fame and more

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Wrapping up the Cup final and Tampa and Colorado go now
- Cale Makar wins the Conn Smythe but is he the best in the world?
- Our thoughts on the HHOF class of 2022
- There's some intrigue at the top of the draft rankings
- Coaching roundup, Hockey Canada scandal 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.

So you made a dumb trade with the Cup champ. Introducing the Conned Smythe award

The playoffs are over, a new champion has been crowned, the champagne is flowing, and it’s time to focus on the question on every fan’s mind as we watch the winners celebrate: Which dummy went and handed it to them?

No? Just me? It’s possible. But every time there’s a new champ, part of me wants to scan their roster and figure out which key players they stole from some other team. I don’t care about the guys they drafted and developed, or even the savvy free agent signings. I want the guys that they got in a trade, especially if they ripped off the other team to make it happen.

Today, I’m creating an award for that dumb team, in recognition of their impact on the championship: The Conned Smythe.

Here’s how it will work. We’re going to go through every Cup winner of the cap era, check their roster for any key players that they stole in a trade with a dumber team, and award the Conned Smythe to that helpful donor. For repeat champs, the same player can’t win twice, so it will get tricky on a few teams but we’re up to it. The key factors in determining each year’s winner will be the importance of the player and the lopsidedness of the trade. The deal can be from that season or years before, but we’re not counting trades for draft picks that became players. And I hope it goes without saying that we can use the full powers of hindsight to point and laugh at deals that didn’t work out. Sorry NHL GMs, it turns out I’m way smarter than you as long as I’m sitting on my couch and it’s 15 years later.

Nobody ever wins a championship alone, but some teams have more help than others. Let’s hand out some fake spite-based hardware.

The year: 2006

The champs: Carolina Hurricanes

The candidates: We start off with a tough call right out of the gate, because the Hurricanes featured several important players who came over in trades, including midseason pickups Mark Recchi and Doug Weight. But I think our two best options are captain Rod Brind’Amour, who arrived in a 2000 trade for holdout Keith Primeau, and clutch specialist Justin Williams, who arrived in 2004 and only cost them half a season of Danny Markov.

Brind’Amour was arguably the team’s most important star, but Primeau was at least a decent player while the Williams deal was a much bigger heist. This one is a really tough call. Except it’s not, because William and Brind’Amour were both provided by the same team. Thanks for the championship, Bobby Clarke!

And the Conned Smythe winner is… : Philadelphia Flyers

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Monday, June 27, 2022

Herb Carnegie is a worthy Hall of Famer, and every fan should know his story

Whenever the Hockey Hall of Fame announces a new class of honorees, it’s only natural that most of the focus goes to the players’ side. It’s a thrill to see somebody you grew up watching get the sport’s ultimate honor, and maybe you skip over the builder’s category, thinking it’s for the long-forgotten old-timers and suit-and-tie cronies.

This year, please don’t make that mistake with Herb Carnegie.

If you know Carnegie’s story, you understand how overdue this honor was. If you don’t, well, you really should, and that’s why it’s so important that the Hall has finally honored him.

Carnegie is often cited as hockey’s first Black star, and that’s a big part of his story, but his case for induction doesn’t start there. Quite simply, he was among the most successful professional players of the 1940s and 1950s, a three-time MVP in the Quebec Provincial League who later starred on a line with Jean Beliveau for the Quebec Aces of the vaunted Quebec Senior Hockey League. This was back in the days when the NHL was still relatively new and wasn’t the only high-level pro league in North America, so Carnegie’s dominance of elite competition makes him a worthy HHOF candidate just on the merits of his play.

But of course, his legacy goes well beyond his on-ice achievements. A Canadian of Jamaican descent, Carnegie faced racism throughout his career, including ugly taunts and insults from opponents and fans. As Carnegie was beginning to earn the attention of NHL scouts, there were comments attributed to legendary Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe suggesting that Toronto would have gladly signed the up-and-coming star if not for his race; in one version of the story, Smythe makes a tongue-in-cheek offer of $10,000 to anyone who can come up with a way to turn Carnegie white. Some historians have disputed whether Smythe actually said those things, but at the very least, such comments wouldn’t have raised many eyebrows in the era. When it came to the hockey world, Carnegie was, to borrow the title of his autobiography, a fly in a pail of milk. He knew it, and with little other choice, he embraced the challenge that came with it.

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Celebrating 20 guys who won't make the Hall of Fame, but belong in the Hall of Very Good

The Hockey Hall of Fame will announce its class of 2022 today, the first in two years thanks to the pandemic. It’s a big day for fans like me, who love to argue over this stuff – who made it, who didn’t, who shouldn’t have, and why.

But while I’m sure I’ll ending up debating the merits of the Sedins and Roberto Luongo and Henrik Zetterberg today, I wanted to go in a different direction for this post. Instead of the Hall of Fame, I want to write about some guys in the Hall of Very Good.

That’s a phrase we break out often around this time year, and we usually mean it as an insult, or at least a way to diminish a player. Someone will make the Hall-of-Fame case for a Rod Brind’Amour or Guy Carbonneau or Daniel Alfredsson or Kevin Lowe, and someone else will immediately dismiss them with a wave and a “Nah, it’s supposed to be the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Very Good”.

That’s not what today is about. Instead, I want to make a roster of 20 guys who we could probably all agree aren’t Hall of Fame material. I’m not doing guys like Alexander Mogilny or Jeremy Roenick, or even the Chris Osgoods or Pierre Turgeons. All of those guys still have a chance to get in some day. I mean that guys who almost certainly won’t, but who still had great careers that are worth recognizing. (In other words, if your favorite player isn’t on here, just assume it’s because I think he’s going to the real HHOF someday instead of yelling about it in the comments.)

Fair warning, this is pretty much going to be a list of guys from the 80s and 90s. Pretty much everyone from the Original Six era who was any good is already in the Hall of Fame and most of the more recent stars could still be getting consideration, so we’ll focus on a window that just happens to line up nicely with my childhood. And for extra fun, even though the real HHOF doesn’t work this way I’m going to induct each one of these guys with one specific team, just to make sure we still have something to argue about at the end of this.

It’s the Hall of Very Good, only as a celebration. Let’s remember some guys, even if the HHOF committee never will.

First line

C Saku Koivu, Canadiens

In pretty much the ultimate Hall of Very Good achievement, Koivu played 18 years in the league without ever getting a single all-star vote. Instead, he consistently put up 15 to 20 goals and 50+ points every year, while playing a two-way game and serving as Habs captain for longer than anyone since Jean Beliveau. And of course, there was inspirational return from battling cancer in 2002, one that included one of the loudest ovations in hockey history.

Retire his number, Montreal. Yeah, I know, you want to be one of those special teams that reserves its rafters for Hall of Famers. This guy beat cancer, and every one of your fans love him. Do it.

RW Tim Kerr, Flyers

In the mid-80s, if you absolutely needed a winger to go out there and score you a goal, you turned to Mike Bossy. But if he wasn’t available, Tim Kerr was usually your next best option.

After going undrafted, Kerr burst onto the scene with the Flyers with a 54-goal season in 1983-84. It was the first of four straight years with 50+, making Kerr one of only ten guys to ever have that many in a row. (Among the players who never accomplished it: Alexander Ovechkin, Pavel Bure and Mario Lemieux.) Injuries ended the streak when he barely played in 1987-88, but he came back with a 48-goal season the next year and won the Masterton for it.

Taking out the injury year, Kerr had a peak of 272 goals over five straight seasons. We can wonder what Bossy would have done over a full career if he’d stayed healthy, but when we’re having that conversation we may want to wonder it about Kerr as well.

LW Kevin Stevens, Penguins

I get paid to write about hockey, but I’m not sure I can find the words to make you understand how dominant Kevin Stevens was back in the early 90s. He was an absolute wrecking ball, not quite the traditional power forward (because he didn’t fight much) but just an unstoppable force on a Penguins team that was built on finesse. He scored 190 goals in four seasons, including 109 during a two-year run in 1991-92 and 1992-93 that also saw him post 234 points. The devastating injury he suffered in Game 7 against the Islanders derailed his career and his life, and probably cost the Penguins a third straight Cup. But in his prime, few guys had a beast mode like Stevens did.

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Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: No, they shouldn't have called too many men

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- The Avalanche win in overtime on a completely normal line change
- Explaining the rule, how it's usually called, and why Jon Cooper is wrong
- Why the first Lightning goal was (correctly) allowed to stand
- Thoughts on the Panthers' coaching change
- Who won the Wings/Avs rivalry?
- A look back at the birth of the loser point
- 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, June 22, 2022

Puck Soup: The Panthers hired who?

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- We look back at the first three games of the Stanley Cup final
- Jon Cooper wants to change the offside review rule
- The NHL awards show was decent, but more importantly, which voters are we mad at?
- Catching up on the coaching news, including some stunning news that breaks as we're recording
- The Hockey Canada scandal, and what comes next
- Nicklas Backstrom could be done for a while, and I have a suggestion for who the Caps should get to replace him
- Plus ketchup popsicles and other important topics...

>> 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.

All 14 series that got us to this Stanley Cup final, ranked

We’re three games into the Stanley Cup final, one that seemed on paper to be in the running for the best matchup of the cap era and maybe beyond. On one side, the two-time defending champs going for the NHL’s first threepeat in almost four decades. On the other, the league’s most talented team looking to finally slay the dragon and bring their best game when it matters most.

And through the first three games it’s been… fine.

Maybe better than that. Game 1 was a borderline classic. But Game 2 was a blowout of historic proportions, and Game 3 wasn’t much better. The series is 2-1 and feels like it still has plenty of runway left, but neutral fans have to be getting at least a little worried that this epic final could end up being a dud.

You know what, I don’t really want to think about it. So instead of looking ahead, let’s look back at the 14 series it took to get us here with a worst-to-best ranking. This will tougher than most years, because I’m on record as saying this year’s playoffs have been unusually good. There are going to be some decent series that don’t even make the top 10, which is kind of cool.

Let’s count them down from 14 to 1, then root for the Avalanche and Lightning to deliver four more classics so that this final can take a run at top spot.

14. Lightning over Panthers in four (round 2)

This was supposed to be the exciting sequel to last year’s well-received debut, only with bigger stakes and (maybe) a new ending. Instead, it was a bust. The second Battle of Florida featured a Panthers team that had just won the Presidents’ Trophy and seemed ready to finally beat the Lightning, or at least put up more of a fight than they had in 2021. Nope. Tampa rolled in four straight, and the high-powered Panthers offense managed just three goals.

You could argue that this series at least had its moment, including Ross Colton’s buzzer beater in Game 2. But given the expectations, no series was as disappointing. It wasn’t even all that close.

13. Avalanche over Predators in four(round 1)

I’m guessing this would be a lot of fans picks for last place, since the outcome was never in doubt once Juuse Saros went down and we all would have forgiven the Predators if they’d just tapped out after three games. But given the rock-bottom expectations, the Preds at least put up a bit of a fight, taking one game to overtime and holding a third-period lead in Game 4.

More importantly, it was at least kind of cool to see the Avs flex their muscles early on. It was like the opening scene of a big-budget TV show, where the main character gets to just destroy a few low-level opponents to make sure we understand what they can do. Sure, you figure there’s tougher challenges to come, but in the meantime it’s still fun to watch the hero straight-up wreck some dudes.

12. Blues over the Wild in six (round 1)

The great irony of the first round was that five of the eight series went seven games, but not the one that everyone assumed would go the distance. That would be the Wild and Blues, two equally matched teams that had spent most of the second half of the season battling for second in the Central and home ice in their inevitable first-round showdown. The matchup had just about everything you could want – lots of talent, some bad blood, and two legitimate Cup contenders with a sense of urgency to win now.

And then we got… well, not quite a dud, but nothing all that memorable. No overtime, no seventh game showdown, and all six games were decided by three goals or more. What was signature game or moment from the series? Maybe Vladimir Tarasenko’s hat trick in Game 5, or Kirill Kaprizov’s in Game 2? Sure, those were good games from star players, although both needed an empty-netter for the third goal. This series was fine. We just wanted more than that.

11. Panthers over Capitals in six (round 1)

Probably the last interesting series on paper heading into round one, this one certainly got our attention early on, with the Capitals winning two of the first three. The Panthers levelled up after that, winning three straight to slam the door on any upset talk, but they had to battle to get there.

I’ll be honest, looking back on this series reminded me that it was at least a little bit better than I remembered, with Games 4 and 6 both going to overtime after tying goals late in regulation. Maybe this should have felt like a better David vs. Goliath story than it was. But a relatively recent Cup winner like Washington doesn’t really resonate as an underdog, and in hindsight we know that the outcome here didn’t matter all that much since the Panthers wouldn’t win another game.

Sorry, Florida, no top ten appearance for you. I pumped your tires before the playoffs started, maybe too much, but no team was a bigger letdown once the action started.

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Monday, June 20, 2022

A brief history of teams getting blown out in the Stanley Cup final

So that was, uh, interesting.

Coming off a thrilling Game 1 battle that felt like a borderline classic, the Lightning and Avalanche served up a plot twist in Game 2, with Colorado caving in the defending champs to the tune of 7-0. It was a stunning spectacle, as a Tampa team that’s seemed almost invincible over the years got lit up like they were an undermanned beer league squad.

So now what?

It goes without saying that nobody is counting the Lightning out. They just came back from a 2-0 series deficit against New York in the last round, and they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt. After the way the last three seasons have played out, plenty of us won’t be ready to close the door on Tampa until the final buzzer sounds on their fourth loss. Maybe not even then.

But still… Game 2 wasn’t just another loss. It was an all-time butt-kicking, one of the most lopsided results in Stanley Cup final history. And that had me wondering: Can we learn anything from similar games, and how the rest of the series played out after a major blowout?

Let’s find out. Before Saturday night, there had been 14 games in Stanley Cup final history in which one teams scored at least seven goals while winning by at least five. Four of those were from the olden days, and we probably can’t learn much from them. That leaves us with a nice even ten games from the post-expansion era to look at.

Maybe we’ll find a pattern. Or maybe we’ll just remember some blowouts.

1973, Game 1: Canadiens 8, Blackhawks 3

The series: The 1973 final was a rematch of the deeply weird 1971 edition, which had seen the Habs win the Cup in seven games and then immediately fire their coach for it. This time, Montreal came in as overwhelming favorites, having posted 120 points in just 70 games during the season. The Hawks were good, having won the West division, but they had their work cut out for them.

The game: This one actually looked like it was going to be a blowout in the other direction, as the Hawks scored twice in the game’s first minute to take a 2-0 lead. It was all Montreal after that, though, with two goals from Jacques Lemaire and multi-point games from names like Guy Lafleur, Frank Mahovlich and Yvon Cournoyer chasing Tony Esposito from the Chicago net.

The rest of the way: Things settled down in Game 2, with Montreal winning 4-1. The Hawks got some revenge with a 7-4 win in Game 3, lost Game 4, and then won a truly wacky 8-7 classic at the Forum to stay alive in Game 5 before Montreal finished the series in six.

The lesson: I’m not sure there is one, as this series had plenty of twists and turns still waiting in the wings. If you’re a Tampa fan, that’s probably what you want to hear.

1980, Game 2: Flyers 8, Islanders 3

The series: The 1980 final was a good one, and the Flyers were the favorites. This was the year that they’d had that ridiculous 35-game undefeated streak, helping them to first-place overall in the standings. The Islanders had finished well back, and were laboring under the reputation of a regular-season powerhouse that could never win the big one.

The game: Game 1 was a 4-3 overtime classic – wait, that sounds familiar – that the Islanders won on a Denis Potvin goal. Needing a strong performance to even the series, the Flyers got four points from Bobby Clarke and a hat trick from Paul Holmgren, and probably also some stuff from guys who didn’t go on to become their GM.

The rest of the way: The Islanders essentially shrugged off the loss, heading home to win both Games 3 and 4 by comfortable margins. The Flyers extended the series in Game 5, but the Islanders captured their first Cup on Bob Nystrom’s overtime game winner in Game 6.

(And since Flyers fans will set my house on fire if I don’t mention it – yes, Game 6 is also the Leon Stickle game.)

At the time, it felt like an upset. In hindsight, not so much, as this was the start of the Islanders dynasty that featured four straight Cup wins.

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Friday, June 17, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: One game in the books

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- We react to Game 1
- Bruce Cassidy heads to Vegas
- The return of the World Cup
- I tell the story of the time I secretly wrote jokes for the NHL awards show
- When coaches get traded
- And more...

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

Mailbag: Good sweeps, bad ads, Corey Perry, and the curse of The Love Guru

I had the thought today that since the Love Guru came out the Leafs have not won a playoff round. Do you think that is the reaso, and that things won’t be put right until Mike Myers apologizes? – Jason

I mean, I don’t hate this idea. It’s no Curse of Smokey MacKay, but it has its merits.

First, let’s list the pros: The Love Guru was terrible. That’s it, honestly. It’s one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, both as a sports fan and just as somebody who doesn’t like getting punched in the head for two straight hours. I remember being so excited when I found out that Mike Myers, not far from his full Austin Powers/Shrek-era peak, was going to do a movie about the Leafs. This was the guy who’d snuck a Captain Gilmour reference into Wayne’s World and told an extended Nikolai Borschevsky joke to a visibly confused David Letterman back in the day, and now he was going to do a whole movie. It should have been so good.

It was not so good. It was very, very bad. And despite starting at rock bottom, it’s somehow aged terribly. Just a mess, from start to finish, and I can absolutely buy the idea that the hockey gods decided to curse the Maple Leafs forever as punishment. Honestly, it would be deserved.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Puck Soup: Final countdown

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- The final matchup is set, and it's legitimately great
- Thoughts on the Avs and Lightning, plus our picks
- Is Tampa already the best team of the cap era?
- Ryan has crunched the numbers and will tell us how many Cups this season is worth
- We say goodbye to the Rangers, wonder what's next, and debate the Kakko scratch
- The Knights get Bruce Cassidy, the Flyers get John Tortorella (we think), but where's Barry Trotz?
- Trade talk around Alex DeBrincat and John Gibson
- The weird new MLS TV contract and what the NHL could learn from it, Ryan's Jurrasic World review, 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.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Lightning or Avalanche? A Stanley Cup Final rooting guide for every other fan base

The Stanley Cup final is here, and on paper it’s the best matchup we’ve had in a while. Maybe Pittsburgh and San Jose in 2016? Tampa and Chicago in 2015? The Wings/Penguins back-to-backs? Something before that? I’m not really sure, which is to say that this matchup has the potential to be incredible.

So good, in fact, that fans of all the other teams might be tempted to just sit back and enjoy it. No rooting interest, no bias, no emotional investment, just up to seven games of great hockey and a worthy champion to applaud at the end.

It goes without saying that this would be unacceptable.

We’re hockey fans. We don’t do happy and even-keeled. We need to be rooting for one team, and hate-watching the other. Mostly the latter, if we’re being honest, but the point is that you need to pick a side.

Maybe you already have one. But if not, I’m here to help. Let’s go through all 30 loser teams and help their fans decide whether they should hop on the bandwagon for the Lightning or Avalanche. For what it’s worth, the Avs ranked way higher in our pre-playoffs bandwagon rankings so we’d expect them to lead the way here, but let’s see how it plays out.

Anaheim Ducks

I’ve spent the last few years telling Ducks fans to root for Corey Perry, and I should probably just play that card again now that he’s back in the final with yet another team. But I feel like Josh Manson and Andrew Cogliano being on the Avalanche complicates this one, and maybe Perry is just destined to wander the league like Caine in Kung Fu until he realizes that Anaheim is the only place he can ever truly find joy. Also, it’s just super satisfying to root against Corey Perry, you guys should try it some time.

Pick: Avalanche

Arizona Coyotes

Last July’s trade that sent Darcy Kuemper to the Avs makes this an easy call. Not only was Kuemper a good soldier in Arizona, he brought back a first-round pick when he was dealt. Seeing him lift a Cup for Colorado would give Bill Armstrong some nice leverage when selling off other pieces to contenders. And as an added bonus, Arizona gets an additional third-round pick in the trade if Colorado wins the Cup.

Pick: Avalanche

Boston Bruins

The Lightning are in your division and have knocked you out of the playoffs twice in the last four years. Also, you still have that “77” Avalanche tattoo from 2001.

Pick: Avalanche

Buffalo Sabres

The Lightning have run their streak to 11 consecutive playoff series wins, which feels like it should be impossible in the cap era. Wouldn’t it be cool to find out that postseason streaks can end at 11?

Pick: Avalanche

Calgary Flames

Colorado stomped the Oilers, and the Lightning stole a Stanley Cup that was rightfully yours in 2004. Look, I swear I didn’t mean for all of these picks to be Colorado, but this one’s easy.

Pick: Avalanche

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Monday, June 13, 2022

One dumb rule change that will bring the Cup back to Canada, sometimes

Last week, I wrote a piece about Canadian teams not winning the Stanley Cup. The drought is closing in on three decades, which is far longer than the math tells us should be possible. I came up with eight theories that could explain the streak, then picked them apart to see which ones held up.

The responses were interesting. Some of you agreed with the theories I posted, while others had theories of their own to share. Some Canadian fans admitted the whole thing bothers them, while others shrugged it off.

And some of you American hockey fans, like Jason here, decided to get cute:

Well joke’s on you, Jason, because that sounds like a great idea, and we’re going to do a post about it.

Welcome to an alternate history where it’s 1993 and new commissioner Gary Bettman, feeling guilty over how he’s about to rig the entire league against Canada, throws us a bone: Canadian teams can pool their wins together, and whichever one gets win number 16 wins the Stanley Cup. It’s not about which Canadian team is the best or even which one goes the further. Whoever gets that magic sixteenth with takes home the Cup.

Yes, this is dumb. Look, they made me write a grownup post last week, you knew something like this was coming.

By allowing the whole country to pool their wins together to get to 16, we can kiss the drought goodbye. Also, we can remember some playoff runs. It’s mainly the second thing, to be honest, but I suppose the Stanley Cup is important too. Let’s harness the power of teamwork and bring home some championships, eh.

In our alternate history, Canadian fans in 1994 are very confused about why the new commissioner has put these weird rules in place. We’ve won the Cup eight of the last ten years! Still, we’re Canadian, so we politely go along with it. And it pays off in a thrilling iniaugral race to the Cup.

Four of the eight Canadian teams make the playoffs this year, with the Canucks, Flames, Leafs and Habs all punching a ticket. The Flames and Canucks play each other, and it’s a classic seven-game series that ends on Pavel Bure’s memorable winner. The Habs lose in seven to the Bruins, but the Maple Leafs take out the Blackhawks in six. Add it all up, and Canada already has 14 wins in the bank at the end of round one.

That sets up a furious race to 16 between Vancouver and Toronto. The Canucks get the 15th win in Game 1 against Stars, while the Leafs lose to San Jose. That means that the Cup comes down to May 4, with both teams in action. Both teams win, but thanks to the magic of time zones, Toronto is celebrating win #16 while the Canucks are still on the ice in Dallas. East-coast bias strikes again, as Doug Gilmour’s goal and two assists bring the Cup back to Toronto.

No, I did not set up this whole dumb concept just so that the Maple Leafs would win a bunch of Stanley Cups. But for the record, if that ends up happening then I’m totally fine with it.

Winner: Toronto Maple Leafs

Fresh of the buzz of a Toronto championship, the country gears up for another race to 16. For the second straight year, four Canadian teams make the playoffs, with the Nordiques swapping in for the Habs. They get screwed by the refs in a six-game loss to the Rangers, while the Flames lose another seven-game heartbreaker to the Sharks and the Leafs are knocked out in seven by the Hawks. The Canucks come through again, though, beating the Blues in seven to emerge into the second round with 12 Canadian wins in the bank.

Then, uh, they get swept.

That’s it. Even with the ability to combine all their wins, the Canadian teams still can’t get to 16, and the Cup heads south. Huh. Let’s never speak of this again.

Winner: None

The good news: Five Canadian teams make the playoffs. The bad news: All of them lose, none lasting more than six games, so Canada stalls out at eight total wins. The worse news: The Nordiques have just moved to Colorado, and the Jets head to Arizona after this season, so we’re down to six Canadian teams.

For the second straight year, there’s no combination Cup winner. Wait, is this a drought? I was told there would be no droughts.

Winner: None

Only three Canadian teams make the playoffs, including the postseason debut of the Senators. They lose in seven to Buffalo on Derek Plante’s glove-snapping winner, while the Canadian can only bank one win for the country before losing to the Devils. But the Oilers give us a thrilling upset win over the Stars before bowing out to the Avs in five in round two. Add it all up, and Canada has… nine wins. And no Cup. Again.

Winner: None

After a summer-long national conversation about how we still can’t win a Cup on easy mode, Canada is clearly not messing around for the 1998 postseason. Only the Senators, Habs and Oilers make the playoffs, but all three teams win their first-round series. The combined national total sits at 12 wins after one round with three teams still alive, and planning for the cross-country Cup parade begins. Then the three teams all get destroyed in round two, combining for just two more wins in the process, and the drought hits four seasons.

This idea sucks, man.

Winner: None

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Friday, June 10, 2022

Canadian teams stopped winning the Stanley Cup in 1993. What’s going on?

The Edmonton Oilers were eliminated from the NHL playoffs on Monday, ensuring that one of the strangest streaks in pro sports will continue for another year. No Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup since 1993. For almost three decades, the oldest trophy in North American professional sports, one that predates the NHL itself by a quarter-century, has resided in the United States. It’s all but the trophy’s permanent home these days.

Canadians are, to put it mildly, not thrilled about this.

Oh, many of them are fine with the Oilers losing, just like they’re fine with whichever rival has the lonest run every year ultimately falling short. This isn’t about the whole “Canada’s Team” debate, which was conclusively settled here. Many Canadian fans would never sell out for the Oilers, Habs, Leafs or any other team other than their own.

But still… 28 seasons? Somebody can’t step up and win one championship in all that time, if only so we don’t have to hear about it anymore?

On the surface, the odds are hard to fathom. There are seven Canadian franchises, nearly a full quarter of the NHL’s 32 teams. Those numbers have changed over the years, but the ratio has been roughly consistent, meaning you’d expect a Canadian team to win a Cup every four or five years. Instead, nothing.

Various attempts have been made over the years to calculate just how unlikely all this would be. We asked our own Dom Luszczyszyn to crunch the numbers, factoring in the quality of each season’s Canadian entries. Here’s what he came up with, using odds data from

You’re reading that correctly. Since 1993, the numbers tell us that it would have been more likely for Canada to win 10 or more Stanley Cups than to win zero. And yet, here we are.

What’s going on?

That’s what we’re going to try to figure out today. I’ve put together a list of eight of the more common theories about what’s behind all of this. Some are more convincing than others, but we’ll give them each a chance to make their case. Let’s see if we can crack the code on Canada’s national Cup drought.

Theory 1: Canadian fans are not demanding enough

We’ll start here, because it might be the most common theory. And often, somewhat oddly, it comes from Canadian fans themselves.

It goes something like this: Canadian fans prefer to see their teams win, but they’ll support them even if they don’t. The sport is so ingrained in our national culture that the idea of tuning out a losing team is foreign to us. We’ll complain, we’ll boo, we’ll rant on twitter or the local call-in show, but we won’t cancel our season tickets or make other plans for a Saturday night.

Meanwhile, the American teams are dealing with more fickle fan bases that have no problem looking elsewhere for their entertainment. Canadian teams want to win, but American teams need to. So they do.

Why it makes sense: As with a lot of these, we can point to the Maple Leafs as a prime example. The Leafs have a league-record Stanley Cup drought of 55 years and counting; they haven’t even been to a final in all those years, and haven’t won a playoff round since 2004. But their building is full every night, even with some of the highest ticket prices in the league, and they consistently draw monster ratings on television. The franchise makes lots of money, even when they’re losing. So why invest in winning?

It makes a certain kind of intuitive sense in Toronto, as well as in other larger Canadian markets like Montreal and Vancouver.

Why it doesn’t: The theory kind of falls apart when you think about it.

For one, the Maple Leafs spend a ton of money – not just on players, where the team is always up against the salary cap, but on facilities, the front office, coaches (and ex-coaches), you name it. So do most other Canadian teams. If the idea is to rack up profit by being cheap, they’re doing it all wrong.

Beyond that, this theory seems to be stuck in the 1980s, when cartoonishly evil Toronto owner Harold Ballard could ice a legitimately awful team and still sell out Maple Leaf Gardens. Back then, gameday revenue made up almost all of the bottom line. Today, teams have more revenue streams than ever, and many of those have nothing to do with selling tickets. The Leafs make money even when they miss the playoffs, but they’d make so much more if they ever won a Stanley Cup. Think of the difference between the profitable Yankees of the 80s and early 90s, and the juggernaut they’ve been since the Jeter-era championships. The Leafs could be the NHL’s version of that, if they ever actually won anything.

There simply isn’t a viable business model that sees any Canadian team making more profit as losers than as champions. If it’s all about the bottom line and responding to financial incentives, the country’s teams should be winning all the time.

They’re not, meaning we need something else. So let’s flip our first theory around…

Theory 2: Canadian fans are too demanding

Does this theory directly contract the first one? Yes. Do some fans and media use both interchangeably? Somehow, also yes.

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Thursday, June 9, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: Are the Rangers getting enough respect?

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Jesse and I tee up Game 5 in New York
- The Lightning look scary again
- Rangers fans say their team is disrespected. Do they have a point?
- The Athletic's game-picking competition has two familiar names at the top of the leaderboard
- An epic listener voicemail in which a Detroit fan chooses violence
- This Week in History gives me another chance to tell The Wheel story
- 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, June 8, 2022

Puck Soup: The Mike Smith Experience

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- We pour one out for the Oilers, the year's most entertaining team
- What's next for Edmonton, and is this an outlier?
- Can anyone beat the Avs? Yes. Will they? To be determined.
- How we see the Rangers/Lightning series
- The Bruins fire Bruce Cassidy, and might trade David Pastrnak
- We're confused by the odds for each coaching vacancy
- 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, June 6, 2022

Which team makes the best roster of stars who won a Cup somewhere else?

We’re down to four teams left in the playoffs, and that list feels like it’s about to get even shorter. Pretty soon we’ll have our final two, and the odds say that your team is probably long gone. Maybe they were never around to start with.

But maybe a few of their former players are. That’s always a bittersweet storyline for a hockey fan. Assuming the player left on good terms, you still have some loyalty and might want to see them do well. But watching a player win a Cup somewhere else when they couldn’t do it for your favorite team isn’t exactly ideal. You’re happy for them. You just can’t help but think of what might have been.

Today, let’s celebrate those guys with a simple question: Which team can build the best six-man roster out of guys who won the Stanley Cup somewhere else?

I like this topic because it feel like one of those questions that just about every fan base probably thinks they’ll do well in, because we all think this happens to our team more than most. We’ll see about that. But first, a few ground rules:

  • We’re looking for three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie, without worrying about position beyond that.
  • We’re looking for players who had an impact with a team, then left and won their first Stanley Cup somewhere else. If they won a Cup with your team first and then won another somewhere else, that obviously doesn’t count. Neither do guys who already had a ring before they arrived on your team.
  • You get credit for whatever the player did with your team. So the longer they stuck around, and the higher their peak when they were there, the better. A big-name superstar won’t help you much if they only had a brief cameo with your team.
  • Finally, we’re only looking at Cups won as a player – going somewhere else and winning as a scout or a coach or whatever doesn’t count.

As always, I’ll aim to do ten teams or so and then turn it over to you in the comments to add any additional contenders.

It should go without saying that some teams will make for better options here than others. Teams that have been around longer have more runway to work with, and teams that go long stretches without Cups will also have a big advantage. Wait, did I just accidentally design a roster-building game where the Maple Leafs are the team to beat? I might have, so let’s start with them…

Toronto Maple Leafs

They haven’t won any Cups since 1967. Did you know that? It doesn’t get brought up all that often.

Forwards: Lanny McDonald, Phil Kessel, Vincent Damphousse

Defensemen: Tomas Kaberle, Carl Gunnarsson

Goalie: Bernie Parent

The Maple Leafs start us off with a strong team, although maybe not quite as strong as you would have thought. Their Original Six era stars all won Cups in Toronto, and many of the biggest names since never won at all, which takes out guys like Mats Sundin, Darryl Sittler, Borje Salming and Wendel Clark.

Still, we’ve got some strong talent to work with, starting with Hall-of-Famer McDonald, who had to wait until his final year in Calgary to write an OGWAC redemption story. Kessel went straight from Toronto to back-to-back Cups, and Tomas Kaberle only took a few months to get a ring after the Leafs sent him to Boston. I gave the third forward spot to the criminally underrated Damphousse, although we could have also gone with Tyler Bozak, Gary Leeman or Eddie Olczyk, and Nazem Kadri might lay claim to the job in a few weeks.

The weakness here is the second blueline spot, and our goalie isn’t as impressive as it seem since we’re only getting two seasons of Parent before he headed back to Philadelphia to become a superstar. All in all, the Leafs aren’t bad, but they’re certainly beatable. As always.

Let’s try another Original Six team…

Chicago Blackhawks

We don’t have any recent names because they foolishly won multiple Cups in the last decade, but a 49-year drought should give us something to work with.

Forwards: Denis Savard, Steve Larmer, Phil Esposito

Defensemen: Allan Stanley, Cy Wentworth

Goalie: Eddie Belfour

We get off to a good start up front with two stars from the 1980s, with Savard getting his Cup in Montreal in 1993 and Larmer following the next year in New York. We’re only getting Esposito’s first four seasons, though, so it’s just the 60-point kid and not the 70-goal monster.

The blueline isn’t good; remember, Chris Chelios had a Cup from Montreal before he arrived, so him getting another in Detroit after he leaves doesn’t help us. Doug Wilson never won a Cup, and neither did long-time Hawks like Bob Murray or Keith Magnuson, so we’re scrambling to fill the defense slots (and not getting anything close to Stanley’s best years). But we’ve very strong in net thanks to Belfour’s Cup in Dallas, so it balances out into a very solid entry.

We’ll come back to the Original Six, but let’s try some of the expansion era teams.

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Thursday, June 2, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: Happy birthday to you

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Ian tells me who's birthday it is today, and gets a very emotional reaction from me
- I think I was wrong and the NHL was right about that offside review
- Offside review is still terrible, though
- Jesse Granger has Conn Smythe odds, including one big name with wildly high odds
- Devils fans tells us how many Cups they'd give up to beat the Rangers
- The all-disappointment team, goalie injuries, 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)

Down Goes Brown: Building the roster for the playoff disappointment team

We’re into the third round of what’s so far been one of the best postseasons ever, and even cranky old sportswriters are writing glowing puff pieces about how great everything has been.

You know what that means: It’s time to spend an entire post being negative about the players who’ve disappointed us.

Yes, it’s the annual all-disappointment team, where we build a 21-man roster out of all the so-called stars who let us down this spring. These aren’t the worst players from the 2022 playoffs, because that would just be a list of fourth-liners who barely played. No, we’re going to focus on players who are notable because our expectations were high. Too high, in some cases? Sure, probably, but that’s half the fun. Your team would have won if you’d just scored a dozen more goals or so, you fraud.

(By the way, Connor McDavid was on last year’s team. Is that the sole reason that he’s dominating this year? I’m not saying that, but I’m not denying it either.)

We’ll go with three goalies, six defensemen and 12 forwards, with at least one representative from each of the eliminated teams but nobody getting more than two, because I like to make things more complicated than they need to be. And to really add an element of risk, I’m also going to include one player from each of the four teams that are still alive. I’m sure that won’t come back to bite me at all.

As always, when you’re celebrating failure, you build from the net out. We’ll go with three goalies, since the way this year has gone we’ll probably need them.


Jacob Markstrom, Flames
We don’t often get our starting goalie from a team that won a round, let alone a seven-game goaltending battle that saw him post a .943 save percentage. But Markstrom isn’t here because of what he did against Dallas. Instead, it’s all about the Battle of Alberta, in which the “sea of red” referred to the lights behind Markstrom’s back.

Facing the team he shunned in free agency two years ago, Markstrom got shelled to tune of an .852 save percentage and 24 goals allowed. While we applaud him for getting into the whole 1980s spirit of the rivalry, his ill-timed cold streak wiped out any chance the Flames had of keeping up with the Oilers’ offence.

Marc-Andre Fleury, Wild
Fleury wasn’t exactly bad for Minnesota. He couldn’t do much in Game 1 when his team was shut out, and he gave up just three goals over the next two to get them back into the series lead. It’s not even that Games 4 or 5 were on him. He was fine.

But fine isn’t what you’re looking for when you make a guy your big deadline acquisition. Fleury was meant to be the last piece that would get the Wild over the hump, or at least into the conversation as a legitimate threat to the Avalanche. Instead, Fleury was on the bench by the end of the series, watching Cam Talbot start Game 6. If anything, you could make the case that the trade ended up hurting the Wild, because now Fleury is a pending UFA and Talbot is unhappy with how everything was handled. No guts no glory, but we have the benefit of hindsight on this team.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Puck Soup: An avalanche of goals

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- The Oilers and Avalanche deliver an amazing opener
- Ryan gets all defensive when I criticize Jordan Binnington
- What's next fo the Blues, Hurricanes and Flames?
- Previewing Rangers/Lightning
- Are we allowed to say that the Rangers have only faced backup goalies?
- Martin St. Louis gets an extension
- Jason Spezza retires and launches a conspiracy theory
- The Messier Award, GM of the Year picks, 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.

Three lessons to learn (and one to avoid) from the final four teams

With four teams left, we’re firmly into the time of year when everyone will start telling you that the NHL is a copycat league. That’s become an annual late-playoff tradition, right up there with conspiracy theories about the refs and getting weird about whether players touch a trophy.

It’s mostly true. This does seem to be a league where many teams’ strategy seems to involve waiting to see who does well, then pointing at them and saying “let’s do that”. Does it work? Not often, no, but it might be an easier sell to an owner or a fan base than trying to lead the way on something unique.

As fans, this is our chance to try to push the narrative in the right direction. Far too often, the copycat lessons are boring ones: More defense, fewer trades, be dull and conservative and risk averse for years at a time. Those might be the right lessons, but they’re not what fans want to see. We want action, and intrigue, and big bold moves. We want fun.

So let’s get ahead of the copycat trend, with my annual attempt to find some fun lessons we can learn from the final four teams. For each of them, we’ll come up with three lessons that we can hope that other teams will learn and try to emulate. And then we’ll find one that we hope they don’t, and try to stamp it out before it takes hold.

Again, we’re not necessarily looking for the right lessons – we want the fun ones. So here’s what we hope the other 28 teams learn from this year’s final four.

New York Rangers

Fun lesson 1: Swing huge in free agency.

At a total of $81.5 million and an AAV north of $11.6 million, Artemi Panarin’s 2019 deal is the biggest UFA contract of the cap era. And it’s worked out beautifully, with Panarin scoring at well over a 110-point pace in New York when he’s in the lineup and finishing as a Hart finalist in year one. With four years left on the deal, it’s on track to deliver excellent value for the Rangers, even in an unexpected flat cap world.

The Rangers swung big, and they crushed it into the upper deck. Other teams should do the same, and get involved in the sort of frenzied bidding wars for top stars that make other leagues’ free agency period so fascinating. Don’t worry about John Tavares or Sergei Bobrovsky, other GMs – just look at Panarin’s numbers, imagine them on your first line, and start throwing money around.

Fun lesson 2: Rip off other teams in lopsided trades.

The 2016 Mika Zibanejad trade was weird. He was 22 years old, just five years removed from being the sixth overall pick, and coming off career highs in goals and points. Then the Senators traded him to the Rangers for Derick Brassard, who was six years older with a more expensive cap hit and similar numbers. And the Sens also kicked in a second-round pick.

As always with Ottawa, there were financial considerations, with Zibanejad needing a new deal in 2017 and Brassard having a cheaper salary than cap hit. Still, the trade was an odd one at the time, and has since escalated into one of the worst of the cap era.

That’s bad for Ottawa, but good for the rest of us, because lopsided trades are fun. So let this be a reminder to GMs: Stop trying to find a win-win deal that works for both sides, and start trying to rip each other off. If it’s good enough for my fantasy football league, it’s good enough for you too.

Fun lesson 3: Let your crazy owner fire the GM and coach because he’s mad about something.

Is that what actually happened last year? Not really, as the notion that James Dolan went full Knicks Mode on his hockey team after the whole Tom Wilson mess got out the door before anyone could really question it. But that’s OK, because when it comes to a copycat league, the narrative matters more than reality. And from an entertainment standpoint, nobody’s more fun than an owner making rash decisions.

(Uh, unless it’s your guy. Then it’s the absolute worst.)

And one lesson to avoid: Just get a superstar goalie and the rest of it will work itself out.

You may have heard that the 2021-22 Rangers were a so-so team that survived on elite goaltending and strong special teams. That was reasonably true in the first half of the season, less so down the stretch, and has shown up at times in the playoffs. As with most teams, the consensus has some validity but doesn’t tell the whole story.

Still, you can’t talk about this team without focusing on Igor Shesterkin. He’s the likely Vezina winner, and this series feels like his title shot for Andrei Vasilevskiy’s “best in the word” belt. He’s clearly the Rangers’ most important player.

That’s great, and well-earned. We just don’t want the lesson from the Rangers’ run to be that goaltending is everything. We already had to hear that with last years’ Habs, so another season of best-goalie-wins hand waving is bad news. It’s a reason for teams with elite goaltending to relax. Worse, it’s an excuse for the ones without it to shrug and tell us they can’t be expected to win (never mind that they also don’t have a Panarin, or a Zibanejad, or an Adam Fox or Chris Kreider). Goaltending is the most important position in the sport, but it’s more fun when you pretend otherwise.

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