Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Puck Soup: Best of seven

On a rare summer edition of the Puck Soup podcast:
- The Sabres make a big bet on Tage Thompson
- The Stars' owner has some thoughts on player salaries
- Phil Kessel is back
- Some tough negotiations are dragging on around the NHL
- A new game show debuts
- 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.

Debating all those bizarre new 3ICE rules in a special session of Rules Court

Someday, maybe, we’ll look back at the 3ICE three-on-three hockey league’s inaugural season as the start of something. A reliably fun summer distraction? Perhaps. A way for players on the fringe of pro hockey to make solid money? We’re already there, in fact.

No matter what happens down the line, though, the league has already accomplished something huge. It’s a rules test kitchen. What’s more honorable than that? What could be more important?

So, for our third edition of Rules Court, we didn’t ask for your submissions. The 3ICE rulebook took care of that. All that’s left is for us — Sean McIndoe, Ian Mendes and Sean Gentille — is to cherrypick some of the league’s gutsier innovations and figure out whether they could (or should) be applied to NHL games. We weren’t necessarily limiting them to overtime, either.

What works? What doesn’t? And what maybe-kinda-sorta-someday could make sense? We debated seven separate 3ICE-specific rules, as outlined in Greg Wyshynski’s deep dive on the league’s first season at ESPN.

As always, we sent a copy of our work to the NHL’s Manhattan office (via fax) and expect to hear back from them forthwith.

No power plays

That’s right. The folks at 3ICE have decided to do away with special teams entirely. There are still penalties, but they no longer result in a man advantage. Instead, every call leads to a penalty shot. (More on those in a second.)

McIndoe: Nope!

Look, I can already sense that I might be the grumpy old man of the group here, and I’m good with that. The waistband on my pants is chafing my armpits, I want you to get off my lawn, and I don’t think we need radical changes to the very soul of the sport to improve things in the NHL. I’m not against change — I’m the guy who thinks we could solve all sorts of problems by just making the nets bigger and is willing to fight you about it — but this sort of thing is a bridge too far.

Power plays are cool. Penalty killing is cool. Penalty shots are also cool, when they’re rare, which they were back before the shootout came along and made them feel pedestrian. Replacing power plays with penalty shots would be overkill, would turn even-strength play into a diving contest, and would just make everyone even madder at the referees for not calling obvious fouls in the name of game management.

We’re one proposal in and I’m already cranky. NO.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Let’s play “spot the interference” with old NHL clips, the world’s easiest game

Interference is a bit of a dirty word in today’s NHL. Most fans hear it and immediately think about goals being reviewed for goaltender interference, a rule that plenty of us still don’t understand (even though we should). But even outside the crease, it’s a very dicey concept, one filled with grey areas and interpretations. Sometimes it gets called. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it decides a Game Seven, but who’s counting. The point is that nobody can really agree on what exactly it means or how it should be enforced.

Back in the olden days, we had a solution to this problem: We just completely ignored the whole concept.

Look, I didn’t say it was a good solution. In fact, it quite clearly wasn’t. But we apparently didn’t know any better.

Don’t believe me? Let me introduce to one of my favorite time-killing rabbit holes. It’s a little game I like to call “Dig up pretty much any old hockey clip from the 80s or 90s and spot the uncalled interference”. The name might need work, but it’s fun. And it’s what we’re going to play today.

Let’s find some memorable moments from the era, and then go looking for the insanely obvious interference that doesn’t get called. Was the game better that way? Is there a lesson to be learned here? Am I making some larger point? Not really, but it’s an excuse to watch old YouTube clips in late-August, so let’s grab some popcorn and put away the whistles.

Mario’s Canada Cup winner

OK, it’s not technically an NHL moment, but we may as well start with what has to be the most famous example of the genre.

The goal: It’s the third and deciding game of the 1987 Canada Cup final, and Canada and the Soviets are tied at 5-5 late in regulation. Canada sends out its super-line of Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky and Dale Hawerchuk for a defensive zone faceoff, and within seconds they’re heading down the ice on a 3-on-1 that leads to the most famous goal of Lemieux’s career.

But wait: How did that innocuous breakout turn into a 3-on-1? And where did Hawerchuk go, since it’s actually Larry Murphy who jumps up to become the third man in the rush?

As it turns out, those two questions are related, as we see in the replay. Hawerchuk is right with Lemieux when the rush starts, but then decides to peel off and pitchfork the only backchecking Russian who has a chance at catching Mario. He’s not even subtle about it, he’s just like “No, I don’t think you’ll be participating in this play, down you go, comrade”. And on behalf of Canadian hockey fans, we were all completely fine with it and agreed to never mention this whenever this play gets brought up.

David Volek ends the threepeat

With the 1993 Penguins looking for a third straight Cup, they’re facing the Islanders in a surprisingly tough series. It’s Game 7, and after a furious late comeback to force overtime, it’s next goal wins. And that goal is about to happen.

The goal: After an offensive zone turnover, the Penguins surrender a 3-on-2. Ray Ferraro gets the puck across to David Volek on the 2-on-1, and he buries it past Tom Barrasso to end the series.

But wait: Gee, that 3-on-2 suddenly turned into a 2-on-1, how did that happen?

The answer involves the third Islander, who I’m pretty sure is Derek King. He’s the guy who starts the play with a step on the second Penguins’ defenseman, only to get blatantly hooked out of the play. (Hooking was also completely legal back then.) Like a savvy veteran, King realizes that the Penguin is going to try the old “waterski slingshot” move, so he does the smart thing: He just stops skating. Seriously, watch him – he just stops moving, forcing his opponent to run into him so he can’t get back into the play. He’s basically looking over his shoulder at the guy the whole time.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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

Thursday, August 18, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: On Nazem Kadri and the Islanders and oh crap nevermind

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- A bunch of Nazem Kadri stuff you can skip because he signed eight seconds after he finished recording
- Front office confidence rankings
- Rerun rosters
- A lot about Bernie Nicholls for some reason?
- Figuring out which players had hat tricks with an EVG, a PPG and a SHG
- Various other rants and tangents from two hockey fans with nothing important to talk about

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, August 17, 2022

Which team can build the best lineup of players who left and came back?

It’s rerun season in the TV world. Or at least it would be, if people still watched network broadcasts instead of streaming everything. Ask your parents about it, kids. Man, I need to work on my timely references.

It’s supposed to be rerun season in the hockey world too, because there’s very little that NHL teams love more than bringing back former players from days gone by. If a guy was a star for you earlier in his career, or at least a solid player, or at least had a pulse, then you bring him back for another stint later on. The familiarity probably helps, and it’s easier to sell a new acquisition to fans if they already love and/or vaguely remember him.

Or at least, that’s usually been how it works. This year, not so much, as we haven’t seen many reruns among the headlines transactions. I kind of miss them. So today, we’re going to celebrate what might be a dying trend, as we see which team can build the best lineup of guys who had two or more stints for them.

But first, a few ground rules™:

– We’re building six-man rosters, meaning three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie. Beyond that, position doesn’t matter.

– You get credit for everything a player did while he was on your team. Note that that doesn’t mean he has to have been good in both stints; a guy who was a superstar his first time around and a broken-down shell in the second is a great pick, because you’re getting him at his best. But a guy who did all his best work elsewhere isn’t a great option.

– This is the important one. To be counted as a returning player, a guy has to have played at least a game for the team in each separate stint, and played for some other NHL team in between. That means we’re not counting cases where a player may have been traded away and then quickly reacquired (like these weird deals), or guys who returned after being traded away as prospects, or stints in Europe/the WHA/the minors/war/retirement. Coming back as a coach or a scout or whatever obviously doesn’t count. And we’re certainly not counting cases where a player signed a one-day contract to “retire as a member of (whoever)”, because nobody above the age of five thinks those announcements matter.

We’ll start where we normally do for these things, with a few swings at the rich history of the Original Six teams.

New York Rangers

Man, I really thought this sort of thing would be made for the Rangers. After all, they spend decades chasing after other teams’ aging stars, so why not bring back a few of their own? And they did with arguably their biggest name ever, as Mark Messier leads our team. He’s got decent depth to help him up front, with Alexei Kovalev and Petr Nedved on his wings and Ron Duguay and Orland Kurtenbach available for depth. That’s a very solid start.

But the backend kind of falls apart. The best defencemen I can find are two guys you’ve never heard of. And in goal, I’m not sure there are any options at all apart from Doug Soetaert, who was decent but hardly a star. I might be missing a name or two somewhere, but unless it’s more than a few, the Rangers can’t ice a solid top-to-bottom roster.

Forwards: Mark Messier, Alexei Kovalev, Petr Nedved

Defensemen: Joe Cooper, Mike McMahon

Goalies: Doug Soetaert

Consider the Rangers a warning – this will be tougher than it sounds. But that’s fine, because it’s August and we’ve got nothing better to do. Let’s try another Original Six entry…

Toronto Maple Leafs

I didn’t come up with this whole concept just so I could put together a Leafs team with Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark, but I won’t pretend that I’m not thrilled it happened. Wendel had three separate stints in Toronto, which is weird because he never played for any other teams. Meanwhile, Gilmour just sneaks onto the roster thanks to playing the last few shifts of his career as a Maple Leafs before blowing out his knee in 2003.

From there, we can build a blueline out of a couple of well-known named from the Stanley Cup years (with some help from Carl Brewer’s 20-game comeback at the age of 41). I’m going with Curtis Joseph over Mike Palmateer in goal, although both are worthy options. And for my last forward spot, I’ll go with an old-time Hall-of-Famer in sniper Babe Dye, who led the early NHL in goals four times. He’s a great pick, but comes at the expense of three of the most entertaining Maple Leafs ever in Stumpy Thomas, Tie Domi and Eddie Shack.

Forwards: Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark, Babe Dye

Defensemen: Bob Baun, Carl Brewer

Goalies: Curtis Joseph

We’ll move to the expansion era teams, but stay in the Norris Division…

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Is the NHL rigged in favor of your team or against it? A 32-team investigation.

Admit it: You think the NHL is rigged against your team.

The referees. The head office. The department of player safety. The schedule-maker and the TV guys and the union and the arbitrators and even the marketing department. You know for a fact that at least a few of them, and maybe each and every one of them, are working to hold your team back. I mean, the evidence is clear.

Or is it? What would an independent, impartial observer think? That’s where I come in. Today, I’m going to go through all 32 teams and try to figure out which ones have a case about everyone being out to get them.

There’so one important ground rule here: The league is either rigged in favor of your team or against it. There’s no middle ground. What, you think we’re going to decide that your team’s success or failure is completely attributed to their own decisions and actions, with nobody to blame but themselves? Nonsense. That’s not how sports works, and every fan knows it. Every team is the subject of a grand conspiracy, it’s just a question of whether that’s helping them or hurting them. That’s what we’ll be deciding today.

The league is rigged! But is it rigged for you, or against you? Let’s find out.

Nashville Predators
Other teams whine about how the referees are out to get them. The Predators have video evidence, and remain the only team in modern history to have a referee fired for picking on them.

Verdict: League rigged against you

Columbus Blue Jackets
Hey quick question, how long is regulation time in an NHL game? If you said 60 minutes, you’re a fan of one of the other teams. If you said “however long it takes to make sure the Blue Jackets lose”, then you know what coulombs are.

Verdict: League rigged against you

Los Angeles Kings
Who criticizes the NHL’s officiating? Literally everyone. Who gets fined for it, not to mention forced into a groveling public apology? Pretty much only the Kings. I guess they should have done something more sportsmanlike, like sneak into the opponent’s equipment room to measure their sticks.

Verdict: League rigged against you

Montreal Canadiens
Lots of teams have had questionable calls against them. Only one has had the league president suspend its best and most iconic player for an entire postseason and then insist on showing up to thumb his nose at the fans in person.

Verdict: League rigged against you

Vancouver Canucks
Two words: Cap recapture. Eighteen more words: The NHL made up a dumb rule and then didn’t bother enforcing it on anyone except the Canucks. Gosh, I wonder why. Maybe the league will explain it to us, but do it three hours early just in case anyone from Toronto wants to watch.

Verdict: League rigged against you

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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

Thursday, August 4, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: Answering the hockey questions you may have been afraid to ask

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- We answer a bunch of your rules-related questions you've never known where to ask
- How do offsetting penalties work?
- How can there be a penalty and a diving call on the same play?
- When are they supposed to call the instigator?
- If a goal is waved off for interference, why don't they ever call a goalie interference penalty?
- 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)

A brief history of the Shiny New Toy contract, the NHL’s most dangerous deal

It’s been a fascinating offseason so far. The Flames and Panthers pulled off one of the biggest blockbusters of the last decade, a truly shocking late-night swap that saw Matthew Tkachuk head to Florida for a package that included Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar. The Blackhawks are openly tanking while the Senators are loading up, with both situations highlighted by the deal that sent Alex DeBrincat to Ottawa. The Knights dumped Max Pacioretty on Carolina for next-to-nothing, while the Wild had to move Kevin Fiala to the Kings. And we may not even be done, as trade rumors swirl around guys like Patrick Kane, J.T. Miller and David Pastrnak.

All of those moves were stunning in their own way, or would be. But that’s not the most important thing they have in common.

We need to talk about the Shiny New Toy scenario.

It’s dangerous. It’s potentially bad news for fans in Ottawa, Calgary or Carolina, as well as whichever team might be tempted on guys like Miller or Kane. And it makes it feel significantly likely that we’re about to see at least a few teams make cap-crushing mistakes that they’ll regret for years to come.

Let’s explain what’s going on, how it’s played out in the past, and what we can learn from that.

What is a Shiny New Toy?

Negotiating a contract in the NHL is all about leverage. Sometimes the team has it, like when a young player’s ELC expires and his rights are still under team control for years to come. Sometimes the player has it, like when an established star hits free agency, or a beloved franchise stalwart is on an expiring deal and needs an extension before he walks away for nothing. In those cases, teams often overpay, because they may feel like they have little choice.

As a big fan of debating bad contracts, I don’t say this lightly: There may not be a more dangerous set of circumstances for a team, or a more advantageous one for a player and his agent, then the dreaded Shiny New Toy. It’s a category of bad contract that I first proposed in a piece I wrote six years ago. I don’t know if you read that one or not, but I’m pretty sure that NHL GMs didn’t, because if anything the list of mistakes has been getting worse.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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