Friday, July 29, 2022

Looking for your "always wondered but didn't know where to ask" hockey questions

Lately, we've been having fun on the podcasts with people sending in the simple questions they were always afraid to ask. Stuff like:

  • What's the neutral zone trap?
  • What's the dead puck era?
  • How do offsetting penalties work?
  • What does last line change mean?
  • Why do we say the red line was removed in 2005 when it's clearly still there?

I think these are great, because there are lots of new fans out there and we tend to just assume they know all this stuff. They don't, and as your teacher used to say, there are no dumb questions. So this is your chance to send in yours, and get an answer to that hockey thing that's been bugging you all this time.

Please send your questions via email at

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Mailbag: What if the Flames had used a sign-and-trade to trick Matthew Tkachuk? Plus scrapping offside, history's best backup, and more...

It’s late July and everyone is on vacation, but at least we’ve had a blockbuster trade and some other news to chew on. Let’s see what’s on your mind in an offseason mailbag.

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

Hypothetically, what would have happened if Brad Treliving had just yelled “psych!” as soon as Matthew Tkachuk had signed the eight-year deal with Calgary and refused to trade him? Is there something addressing this scenario in the CBA? Obviously there are moral repercussions here, but contract-wise, is there a grievance case? – Jessica R.

The short answer: It would have been the greatest moment in NHL offseason history.

The longer answer: It wouldn’t have worked. Tkachuk obviously would refuse to play for Calgary, and the NHLPA would jump in with a grievance. The Panthers would too. They’d have precedent on their side, based on the Eric Lindros double-trade fiasco where an arbitrator essentially ruled that a handshake deal trumped one on paper. The league has no doubt tightened up its loopholes since then, but it would be a hard case for the Flames to win.

My guess is that it would come down to Gary Bettman having to rule, maybe after a few levels of arbitrators and appeals. Do you think the commissioner is going to side with the Canadian team trying to hold an American star hostage, or the struggling southern market trying to acquire the superstar to put them over the hump as a Cup contender? Yeah, me too.

Still, it would be fascinating to watch it all play out. And maybe it ends with Bettman ruling that the Panthers’ deal wasn’t official and Tkachuk has to go back on the market (since he’s still refusing to play for the Flames). Can Calgary get a better deal from someone else? I can’t see it. Probably best for everyone involved that they didn’t try to pull the rug out. Well, everyone except fans of Team Chaos.

My brother-in-law is a Jets fan, and he was lamenting the upcoming start of free agency. I thought that to help him out, the NHL should allow teams to offer a physical version of their team name to free agents without cap implications. I’m pretty sure Artemi Panarin would have thought very hard if he was offered a Gulfstream to play in Winnipeg. I thought it would be fun to rank the teams based on how big of an advantage that would be. – Kurt R.

This is some great offseason content. Let’s do a top and bottom five, with the caveat that we have to be dealing with tangible things that could actually be given to someone. That means no kraken, hurricanes, lightning or stars, because we wouldn’t want a world where Winnipeg is allowed to give players a jet to be unrealistic.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Thursday, July 21, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: A real expansion draft

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- The ongoing Matthew Tkachuk saga
- Has any team ever had a worse offseason than this year's Flames?
- Jesse Granger joins us to talk about today's expansion draft post
- Lots of listener mail
- I get a little too fired up about arena nachos
- This week in history and lots more...

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

Imagining the Kraken vs. the Golden Knights in a real expansion draft

One year ago today, the NHL welcomed the Seattle Kraken with an expansion draft. It was the second draft in five years, with the previous one having been held in 2017 when the Vegas Golden Knights joined the league.

I just lied to you. Did you spot it?

If not, don’t feel bad. It’s a lie that the NHL itself tells, and most of the media repeats. It’s the part about their being an expansion draft in 2021, or in 2017.

There wasn’t. There were no drafts either year, because a draft by definition involves more than one team. It’s two or more teams taking turns selecting eligible players. If there’s only one team involved, they’re not drafting – they’re just submitting a list.

That’s what we had in 2017 and 2021. The NHL hasn’t had a real expansion draft since 2000, when the Wild and Blue Jackets took turns picking (terrible) players. In the cap era? It’s never happened.

Until today. We’re going to redo 2017 and 2021, but we’re going to do it right. Vegas vs. Seattle, in an actual head-to-head draft.

To make this happen, we’re calling in a team meeting of the Thursday edition of The Athletic Hockey Show podcast. Representing the Golden Knights is Jesse Granger, while Ian Mendes handles the Kraken. Sean McIndoe will moderate, and also write the intro. He’s the handsome one.

Here’s how it will work:

  • We’ll be using the eligibility lists from both 2017 and 2021. Ian and Jesse are drafting those players at that moment in time, with full benefit of hindsight. So if they use a pick on 2017 Josh Anderson from Columbus, they’ll be getting a 23-year-old RFA who’ll sign a three-year bridge deal and is about to blossom into a consistent 20-goal scorer.
  • Vegas and Seattle will each draft 23 players, which must consist of three goalies, seven defensemen and 13 forwards (which should include a reasonable mix of centers and wingers, but we’ll leave that to the two GMs to sort out). Unlike the 2000 draft, we aren’t going in order of position, because it’s just way more fun this way.
  • No NHL team can lose more than two players. Once a team loses two, all their other players from both years are no longer eligible.
  • No side deals are allowed, and no side deals that were made in real life will be honored. If a guy is on the eligible list, he can be drafted. If he’s not, he’s not available to us.
  • The same player can’t be drafted from both 2017 and 2021, because gosh, that would be unrealistic.
  • Both rosters must fit under this coming season’s cap of $82.5 million, again based on cap hits that those players had at the time of the draft. In the case of free agents, their cap hit will be whatever they signed for that summer. Both RFAs and UFAs are allowed. (We did make one exception by agreeing not to take Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, who was technically left unprotected in 2021 but who had a roughly 0% of ever signing with an expansion team.)
  • At the end of the draft, we’ll lay out both teams and readers will vote on who’d win a seven-game series. The losing GM will be fired from the podcast. Or maybe just shamed, we’re still figuring that part out.

And with that, it’s time for something modern fans haven’t seen in decades: A real expansion draft, the way the hockey gods intended it. Jess won the coin toss, so Vegas is on the clock.

The draft

1.1. Vegas takes Marc-Andre Fleury (2017) from the Penguins

Granger: You’re telling me I can pick a future first-ballot Hall of Famer with the hindsight of knowing he will have two of the best seasons of his career over the next five seasons? Sign me up. Not only is Fleury the best pick on the ice, he’s the perfect cornerstone to build a team around off the ice.

1.2. Seattle takes Matt Duchene (2021) from the Predators

Mendes: Now, I am going to do something a little shocking here. I’m taking Duchene with my first pick. Is he overpriced? Probably. But he’s coming off a 43-goal season. And there aren’t too many good centers available, so I’m starting with him.

2.1. Vegas takes Vladimir Tarasenko (2021) from the Blues

Granger: There were worries his shoulder could be a longer-term problem, but 82 points in 75 games this season says otherwise. Tarasenko gives me a perennial 30-goal scorer to build my top line around.

2.2. Seattle takes Jonathan Marchessault (2017) from the Panthers

Mendes: I’m going to continue with my pattern of drafting centers here with Jonathan Marchessault from the 2017 Panthers. And I get him at his 2017-18 salary of $750,000.

3.1. Vegas takes David Perron (2017) from the Blues

Granger: I’ll take Blues snipers with back-to-back picks to fill out the wings on the top line. Taking Perron from back in 2017, knowing he racked up 110 goals and 287 points over the next five seasons, is an easy pick.

McIndoe: And with that, just five picks in, the Blues are the first team off the board. You can turn off the draft, Vince Dunn. So can a young Jordan Binnington, who was available in 2017.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Puck Soup: Columbus Day

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Johnny Gaudreau did what now?
- What, if anything, he owes Flames fans
- A team-by-team breakdown of all the FA deals
- What's still left to get done
- The latest on the 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.

The prediction contest results are in, and wow you all did terrible

OK, that was more like it.

Last year’s debut of the super-easy prediction contest was a lot of fun. I’d give you a handful of “simple” questions, you gave me the obvious answers, and every right answer would score you points – but only if you didn’t get any wrong. That was the twist that made it challenging, and it was, as only a single entry out of 800 was perfect (and that one didn’t win). The other 799 of you had at least one of your oh-so-obvious predictions turn out to be wrong. Most of you had lots. And of course, that was the whole point.

But I’ll be honest – last year’s contest was tough, but it didn’t turn out to be quite as tough as I’d hoped. When I came up with the idea, I figured that a typical NHL season has so many unexpected twists and turns that we’d see zeroes everywhere. I wanted to prove a point about how all the obvious stuff is only obvious in hindsight, and when you force people to spell it out in advance they don’t look as smart as they think they are.

In other words, I didn’t want you guys to struggle – I wanted to see you get wiped out. And it didn’t really happen, because the 2020-21 playoff and non-playoff teams went pretty much according to plan, there weren’t any stunning coach or GM changes, and the biggest MVP favorites all lived up to expectations. Alexis Lafreniere took down most of you on the Calder question, and the goalies were tough, but it was possible to navigate last year’s entry reasonably well. It was bad. Just not that bad.

Which brings us to this year.

With an expanded field of almost 1,600 entires, this was more like the contest that I’d had in mind, because the preseason wisdom of the crowds turned out to be filled with bad assumptions. The Golden Knights were playoff locks. So were the Islanders. The Kings were still a few years away. Cole Caufield would run away with the Calder. Nathan MacKinnon was a lock to contend for the Hart. And surely, if we could count on anything at all, it was that coaches like Joel Quenneville, Bruce Cassidy and Barry Trotz couldn’t possibly be fired.

Yeah, none of that turned out to be true. And then the best GM in the league, one with universal respect and completely untouchable job security, got promoted upstairs with days left in the contest.

You guys are so screwed.

Mix in the new bonus question, which was designed to implode your entry no matter what you did anywhere else, and this year’s winner was really going to need to earn it. So who pulled it off? Let’s find out.

(A monster thank you to readers Joe and Mike, both of whom created automated tools I could use to track the results rather than doing it all by hand like last year.)

To recap the rules of this year’s contest, there were nine standard questions and one bonus that we’ll get to at the end. For the standard questions, entrants had the option of giving anywhere from one to five answers to each and would receive one point for the first correct answer, two for the second (for a total of three), all the way up to five points for the fifth answer (for a maximum of 15 points for a 5-for-5 answer). But even one wrong answer hit you with a zero for that question, so you had to decide how far you wanted to push. Play it safe and bank a few easy points, or go for more but add to your risk with each new answer? It was up to you.

For the first two questions, you simply had to know which teams would and wouldn’t make the playoffs.

1. Name up to five teams that will make the playoffs this year.

And right off the bat, it’s carnage. Of the 1,583 entries, almost 1,500 listed the Golden Knights as a sure thing to make the playoffs. They weren’t dumb, as just about every preseason prediction agreed that the Knights were an absolute lock in the Pacific. With no other truly good teams in the division, a stacked lineup on paper, and rumors of a Jack Eichel trade on the way, the Knights were an absolute sure-thing, right up until they weren’t.

To make matters worse, about 900 of you also had the Islanders listed, including most of the 100 entries or so that managed to dodge the Golden Knights. In all, only 17 entries got points on question one, with 13 getting the max 15 points and four more going conservative and settling for less.

We’re one question in, and we’re already looking at a 99% failure rate. Oh, and this might not even have been the hardest question.

2. Name up to five teams that will not make the playoffs this year.
After a brutal start, the group did significantly better here. The Kings were a surprise, and they took out about 50 entries, as did the Predators. But for the most part, this was a safe question, with over 1,400 of you banking some points and about 1,300 getting the max 15.

For a while, it looked like it wouldn’t turn out that way. The Ducks spent the first half of the season in the playoff mix, even holding down top spot in the Pacific for a while, and they were aming a lot of you nervous when we did our midseason check-in before fading down the stretch. They showed up on almost 1,200 entries, so if they’d made it then they’d have done some serious damage. But they didn’t, so most of you were fine.

By the way, because they represented the extremes of the contest, the first two questions turned out not to matter all that much. At this point, there’s an overwhelming chance that your entry was sitting at 15 points on the nose, having whiffed on the first question and aced the second. It would be how you could navigate the rest of the way that would determine your chances.

3. Name up to five coaches who will not be fired or otherwise leave their job before the first day of 2022 free agency, NOT including any coach who was hired to their current job after Oct. 1, 2020.

Oh no.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Thursday, July 14, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: Aaron Portzline on Johnny Gaudreau choosing Columbus

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Johnny Hockey makes his choice, and it's a big surprise
- Blue Jackets' beat writer Aaron Portzline joins is to break it down
- Ian tries to sell me on Matt Murray
- What I texted Ian about Kyle Dubas on the moment, and whether I stand by it
- The return of the Battle of Ontario, the Blackhawks tank, and what's next for the Flames
- Plus listener questions, this week in hockey history and more...

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

Monday, July 11, 2022

Rating the biggest NHL draft moments from draft weekend on the Surprise Scale

For the first time in three years, the NHL held its annual entry draft in person. While the league did what it had to do in Zoom era, it’s probably fair to say that those drafts won’t stand out as being especially memorable. This one will, and as always with a good draft week, it’s at least partly because of how it surprised us.

That seems like a good excuse to break out the Surprise Scale for the first time since those distant days of 2019. This is the gimmick where we look at the draft through the lens of how much it was able to deliver on the unexpected. Whether it’s a surprising pick, a big trade, or just something weird, it’s always great when an event that gets previewed and mocked and hyper-analyzed as much as the draft can still surprise us.

As always, surprises are rated on a scale of 0 to 100 based on a scientific model of me just making it up as I go along. We’ll start in the hours leading up to the draft, when the Blackhawks decided to throw a wrench into everyone’s afternoon off…

The Alex DeBrincat Trade

We knew the deal was coming, because the Hawks kept telling us it was even though it didn’t make all that much sense. Chicago is rebuilding, but that feels like all the more reason to hold onto a 24-year-old who scores 40 goals. The one argument in favor of a deal was that DeBrincat was easily the team’s top trade chip, so maybe somebody would step up with an offer that was just too good to say no to.

Then the deal went down with the Senators and… well, it’s fair to say the return wasn’t overwhelming. Two draft picks, including the seventh overall and an early second-rounder, and that was it. No prospects, no picks in future drafts to file away, just two picks in a decent draft in exchange for your best player.

As far as surprises go, this deal shouldn’t have ranked all that high, if only because we knew it was coming. But given how uninspiring the return was for Chicago and what a potential steal this looks like for Ottawa, we can bump it up a few points.

Surprise scale: 60/100. Seriously, the Hawks know that Ottawa has like a dozen solid prospects, right?

With no other major moves breaking in the leadup to the big night, let’s move on to the draft itself…

The Crowd in Montreal

They were amazing. An absolute A+. Being in the building on Thursday night was one of the highlights of my life as a hockey writer. I can’t pump their tires enough.

For the first few decades of the amateur and entry draft, the event was always held in Montreal. Honestly, at this point I think I’m willing to support going back to that. You rock, Montreal fans.

Surprise scale: 90/100. Look, I know Montreal fans are great, and my expectations were high. You blew them away.

And of course, we can’t talk about the crowd without a mention of…

Gary Bettman gets booed

It was brutal. We’re talking a 1995 Devils fans level of heat. And as always, Bettman seemed completely thrown off. He came with the same condescending jokes he always tries, and even worked in a new angle by speaking some truly awful French (although we’ll give him credit at least memorizing it this time, instead of reading it off a gum wrapper). But within a few seconds it was clear that this was going to be ugly.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Thursday, July 7, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: Draft day

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- The latest on a confusing and scary situation with Kirill Kaprizov
- Kris Letang's extension breaks as we're recording
- Lots of draft and trade speculation, most of it already out of date
- The story of the worst draft year any team has ever had
- This week in history, three hockey writers get lost on the way to a party, 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)

Ranking the ten best first overall picks who weren't the best player in their own draft

One of the fun things about tonight’s draft is that there’s still some genuine intrigue over who’ll go first overall. We’ve spent most of the last year assuming it was the Shane Wright draft, but with Juraj Slafkovsky making a late push and at least a little longshot love for Logan Cooley, we’re really not sure what Montreal will do in front of the home crowd. That’s rare, and kind of cool.

First overall picks are tricky. Often, they turn out to be exactly what you’d expect them to be – the best player in the draft, one that a team can build around for a generation. Other times, they end up being a bust, the sort of mistake that can set a franchise back years. But there’s another category, and it’s one I’m always kind of intrigued by. I call them an Olajuwon.

Hakeem Olajuwon was the first overall pick of the 1984 NBA draft, and is considered one of the greatest players in league history. He was a dominating center who won an MVP and two championships, was a 12-time all-star, and was an easy Hall of Fame call in his first year of eligibility. But despite all that, he’s not the best player from his own draft year, because the third pick that year was a kid named Michael Jordan. Olajuwon did everything you could ever ask a number one pick to do… except be the best player in his draft.

I appreciate a good Olajuwon story, where a first overall pick lives up to the hype but still gets passed by a later pick. Hockey has a few of its own, and today we’re going to rank them. To be clear, we’re not looking for busts here, so Patrik Stefan, Nail Yakupov and friends are safe. We want guys who were great, but just not quite as great as someone picked after them. And we’re looking for cases like Olajuwon and Jordan, where virtually everyone would agree, so you can save your Taylor vs. Tyler debates for another day.

Will Wright or Slafkovsky join this list someday? Time will tell, but for now here are the ten best players in NHL history who went first overall and delivered on their potential, but still weren’t the best player in their draft year.

10. Chris Phillips (1996)

Why he was great: The 1996 draft was notoriously weak, with the leading scorer of the class being Matt Cullen with just 731 points. But with several busts in the first round, Phillips turned out to be a perfectly solid pick. He played 17 seasons, all with Ottawa, and almost all of them as a trustworthy top-four option. He had Norris votes in multiple seasons, scored a huge playoff overtime goal, and had his number retired by his team. You could do far worse with the first pick, especially in a year like this.

But not quite as great as: Zdeno Chara, who went to the Islanders in the third round. Of course, Chara ended up in Ottawa, and even played with Phillips for much of his stint there, so it all worked out for the Sens. But yeah, Phillips was a very good player and Chara is a first-ballot HHOF lock, and nobody’s debating which one was better.

See how this works? Let’s make our way down the list…

9. Rick Nash (2002)

Why he was great: Nash was the Blue Jackets’ first real star, and to this day is probably the greatest player in franchise history. He won a Rocket Richard in just his second season, and went on to score 437 goals in a 15-year career. He probably would have hit 500 if injuries hadn’t cut his career short.

But not quite as great as: Duncan Keith, who went in the second round, and is still active 20 years later. Keith has two Norris Trophies and a Conn Smythe to go with three Cup rings. Nash was great, but nobody’s taking him over Keith with full benefit of hindsight.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Which draft year makes the best starting lineup of players taken from different rounds?

A year ago we tried to figure out which team could build the best six-man roster out of players they’d drafted, without using anyone they’d picked in the same round. It was a fun little exercise, even if the winning team was the one everyone probably figured it would be.

Reader Jacob B. had a similar question, but with a twist: Instead of finding the best team, let’s find the best draft year. It’s still a limit of one player per round, but we’re basing this on the full league’s work in a given year instead of a specific team’s entire history. Nice and simple, let’s do this.

But first, a few ground rules:

  • We’re sticking to positions for this one, meaning our forwards need to be a center, a left winger and a right winger. In cases where somebody moved around, we’ll emphasize the position a guy played most of his career at. We don’t get care about handedness on defensemen, though.
  • We’re going back to the start of the entry draft era in 1979. Sorry, amateur draft completionists.
  • I’m not actually sure we need any other ground rules, but this section always has at least three bullet points so here we are. How are you doing? Good? That’s good. Me too, thanks for asking.

OK, let’s get started. And as is often the case, it probably makes sense to begin at the beginning. In our case, that means 1979.

Team 1979

The 1979 draft is often mentioned as the best ever, and rightly so. With a double cohort (due to lowering the draft age from 19 to 18), this class includes stars like one of the greatest defensemen of all time in Ray Bourque, a 700-goal guy in Mike Gartner, plus two more Hall-of-Famers in Michel Goulet and Kevin Lowe.

But here’s where we run into a problem that will plague us throughout this challenge – all four of those guys were first-round picks, so we can only take one. It’s a reasonably easy call to go with Bourque, but right off the bat we’re leaving about 1,250 goals on the table. Look, we never said this would be easy.

The Oilers give us some strong options up front with Mark Messier in the third and Glenn Anderson in the fourth. While I’m tempted to sneak in Messier as a left winger, where he played his first few years in the league, his best years came as a center so we’ll play him there, costing us guys like Dale Hunter, Guy Carbonneau and Thomas Steen.

We still need a goalie, a defenseman and a left winger, and here’s where we realize the big problem with 1979: That year’s draft was only six rounds long, so we have zero wiggle room. Another problem that we’ll probably run into a few times is that we’re low on options for left wing, especially if we don’t count Mike Krushelnyski, who played more center. This leads to a dilemma where we either go with a decent goalie in round two and take a no-name left winger, or we use our second round slot on Brent Ashton and have to settle for Marco Baron in net.

I don’t like either option, and eventually settle on an answer I wasn’t expecting – we have to cut Glenn Anderson. That lets us use our fourth-round pick on 400-goal man John Ogrodnick on the other side, then fill out our roster with Dirk Graham, Pelle Lindbergh and Doug Crossman.

Forwards: C Mark Messier (3), LW John Ogrodnick (4), RW Dirk Graham (5)

Defense: Ray Bourque (1), Doug Crossman (6)

Goalie: Pelle Lindberg (2)

That’s a good team, but not a great one, and if it’s the best we can do with one of the best draft classes ever then we may be in trouble. The good news is the draft expands by several rounds starting in 1980, so we have more to work with from now on.

The next few years offer up some solid drafts that are too top heavy for our purposes. But soon we get to one that has a late-round pick we can build around…

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

Monday, July 4, 2022

Puck Soup: Fourth of July edition

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- What are the Sharks doing?
- The rest of the coaching news
- The Kevin Fiala and Ryan McDonagh trades
- The most likely players to be traded this week
- Brock Boeser, Jesse Puljujarvi 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.