Friday, September 30, 2022

Predicting the NHL season, from the bottom-feeders to the true contenders

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the entire 2022-23 season. Don’t read any further if you want to be surprised.

That didn’t sound convincing, but I’m trying to manifest here, so stay with me. This is my annual attempt to sort the NHL into four divisions, based on how I’m expecting them to do this year. We’ll have the contenders, the middle-of-the-pack, and the basement dwellers. And as always, we’ll also have the division made up of teams I can’t figure out. Let’s just sat that’s the toughest one to narrow down.

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Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: Sens of Optimism

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Have the Senators done enough to make the playoffs?
- Kyle Dubas on the hot seat
- This year's most intriguing names
- Jesse Granger on the Rocket Richard odds
- An argument about what PIM stands for
- 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, September 28, 2022

Puck Soup: Preseason warmup

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Who's hurt?
- Who's still left unsigned?
- Who's on the trade block?
- No really, please tell me, I haven't been paying attention
- Also the cap goes up, there's about to be a new mascot, Survivor and more...

>> Listen on The Athletic >> Subscribe on iTunes.

>> Listen on Spotify

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Building a roster out of 22 of my most intriguing names to watch this season

One of the things I like to do as a new season approaches is go through all 32 teams and pick out the guys that I think could turn into the most fascinating stories as the season goes on. As always, there’s no real criteria here other than that I’m singling out players and personnel who I’m especially interested in watching this year, with the only firm rule being that I’m limited to one name per team. That’s only fair – we all know that your personal favorite team is the most interesting one in the league by far, and we can’t have them taking up the whole list.


We’ll do this roster-style, with 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies, plus a coach and GM and some honorable mentions. Some picks will be obvious, others might be odd, and you’re welcome to share your own in the comments down below.


Alexandar Georgiev, Avalanche
The defending champs are a star-studded team full of players that are all sorts of fun to watch. But with apologies to Cale Makar and Nathan MacKinnon, I didn’t go back-and-forth too much on who the pick is here. The Avs won a Stanley Cup despite an extremely so-so playoff run from Darcy Kuemper, and that’s led to some narratives that this team can win with anyone in net. Maybe that’s true, but it’s still kind of fascinating to see them gamble on a career backup who wasn’t very good last year. Can he be good enough to keep the league’s best team on top of the favorites list? And if he isn’t, how long do they wait before they look elsewhere?

Mackenzie Blackwood, Devils
Let’s not beat around the bush: Blackwood stunk last year before getting hurt, and it was a big part of why the Devils cratered despite playoff-worthy underlying numbers. It’s tempting to write him off, and the Devils kind of did by going out and getting Vitek Vanecek. But let’s not forget that Blackwood is still just 25, and it was only a year ago that he was being mentioned as a possible Team Canada consideration. If he gets back on track, the Devils could surprise us. If he doesn’t, maybe you really do write him off for good.

Honorable mentions: Jonathan Quick is finally into the last year of his forever contract, and you wonder if that could make him an option for any number of contenders who might be interested in trusting a playoff run to a Conn Smythe winner with two rings. Factoring in contract and expectations, Philipp Grubauer is coming off one of the worst seasons by any goalie in the cap era, and can’t possibly be as bad again… I hope.

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Thursday, September 22, 2022

Puck Soup: Retirement home

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Every veteran defenseman retires
- We remember how cool P.K. Subban and Zdeno Chara were
- Nathan MacKinnon gets a new contract
- Blake Wheeler is out as Jets captain
- The Oilers have a type
- Ryan quizzes me on all the new coaches
- Survivor talk and lots more...

>> Listen on The Athletic >> Subscribe on iTunes.

>> Listen on Spotify

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Rating the East's weirdest offseason headlines with the Bizarro-meter

Yesterday, we dusted off the offseason bizarro-meter and gave it a good workout going through the Wester Conference. We looked at some big swings in Calgary, an international drama involving Minnesota, a deposed captain in Winnipeg, and lots more. It got weird, which is kind of the entire point.

Today, it’s the East. As always, we’re ranking each team by how bizarre their offseason was, with the important caveat that “bizarre” does not necessarily mean “bad”. We want the teams that surprised us, whether that was with something positive, negative or somewhere in between.

We’ll go by divisions, starting in the Metro and working our way from the least to most bizarre.

Metro Division

New York Rangers

The offseason so far: It was mostly a status quo offseason after last year’s far more newsworthy summer. They did trade Alexandar Georgiev to Colorado and Nils Lundkvist to Dallas, re-signed Kaapo Kakko on a tidy bridge deal, lost Ryan Strome and Andrew Copp to free agency, and named Jacob Trouba captain.

But their strangest story was: They bet big on Vincent Trocheck, no doubt hoping he can duplicate the production he had for whatever team it was he played for last year.

Bizarro-meter ranking: 3.8/10. They made some moves, but in terms of weirdness there’s not all that much to see here.

Washington Capitals

The offseason so far: They added forward depth in Dylan Strome and Connor Brown, but will start the season without Tom Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom.

But their strangest story was: Finally addressing the goaltending by trading Vitek Vanecek and signing Darcy Kuemper to a big-money deal.

Bizarro-meter ranking: 4.5/10. It’s not often you can find the most recent Cup-winning goalie on the UFA market, and the Capitals snapped him up.

Carolina Hurricanes

The offseason so far: They signed Paul Stastny and extended Martin Necas, along with a handful of smaller moves. Also, they gave Don Waddell a new contract before he started interviewing with other teams, which was a nice change.

But their strangest story was: Acquiring Brent Burns and Max Pacioretty in exchange for (checks notes) essentially nothing. Huh, apparently managing the salary cap has benefits.

Bizarro-meter ranking: 5.9/10. It’s not that getting multiple free all-stars wasn’t impressive, but after recent offseasons the Hurricanes are like the gifted kid who gets an A- on the exam. I’m not disappointed, but I know they’re capable of so much more.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Rating the West’s weirdest offseason headlines with the Bizarro-meter

Training camp week has arrived, meaning the offseason is officially over. Let’s get weird.

Or not all that weird, depending on the team. It’s time to dust off the Bizarro-meter, the annual feature in which we rate every NHL team based on just how strange their offseason was.

Let’s be clear: Bizarre does not mean bad, and this isn’t a ranking of who did or didn’t improve over the summer. For bizarro-meter purposes, it’s very possible for a team to think outside the box and surprise us with a brilliant but unexpected move. It’s also far more common to see teams make the same cliched and uninspired mistakes that don’t seem odd at all.

If you want to know how well your team did in the offseason, look elsewhere, because I’m dumb and have no idea focused on my area of expertise. As always, we’ll do this by division, going from the least to the most bizarre in each. Today is the Western Conference, while tomorrow will see us head east.

Central Division

Arizona Coyotes

The offseason so far: They continued to offer cap space reprieves via trade, and traded up to get Conor Geekie at the trade. There was the usual arena drama too, but as strange as that is, we knew it was happening before the offseason started.

But their strangest story was: Passing on Shane Wright, although they were hardly the only ones.

Bizarro-meter ranking: 3.0/10. Pretty standard stuff for the Coyotes. Honestly, I’m giving most of these points for their new home being called Mullet Arena and that one day where they made everyone wear matching suits.

St. Louis Blues

The offseason so far: They sent Ville Husso to Detroit, then watched David Perron join him as a free agent. The re-upped with Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou on similar deals. Maybe the biggest news was what didn’t happen, as they couldn’t land hometown hero Matthew Tkachuk.

But their strangest story was: A Vladimir Tarasenko trade has seemed inevitable for going on two years now. It still does, because once again it didn’t happen.

Bizarro-meter ranking: 4.1/10. The Blues are a good team, so a quiet offseason isn’t all that weird. But at least a few of their fans are scratching their heads.

Nashville Predators

The offseason so far: They landed Ryan McDonagh from Tampa in what was basically a salary dump. And they landed the 2023 NHL draft and awards show, which I’m guessing will be just a little bit fun.

But their strangest story was: Letting all sorts of Filip Forsberg drama build up, then giving him the exact same eight-year deal everyone had predicted for him since last year.

Bizarro-meter ranking: 4.2/10. Also, I didn’t know they signed Kevin Lankinen until right now. It’s fun to learn new things.

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Thursday, September 15, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: Hold on for one more day

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Could an NBA-style midseason tournament work in the NHL?
- Why we'll apparently never get a play-in round
- Which Blackhawks will get their numbers retired
- Previewing next week's bizarro-meter
- A lot of Wilson Phillips talk for some reason?
- Listener mail, trivia, 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)

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Let’s build some all-time rosters in the two-digit jersey number game

It’s September, and you can feel the hockey world slowly springing back to life. The rumor mill is heating up, fans are starting to refocus, and the insiders are getting back from the cottage. Within a few weeks, players will be reporting to training camp in the best shape of their lives, and we’ll be churning out previews, making predictions and dusting off the bizarro-meter. We’re almost there.

That means we’ve got one last chance for a goofy offseason timewaster.

Let’s do that today, with a simple question: Which NHL team can build the best all-time starting lineup of players whose jersey numbers only use two different digits?

Look, I said it was goofy. Get on board or don’t, but we’re doing this.

To be clear: We need six players using only two digits, which means if our numbers are X and Y, we need a roster of X, Y, XX, YY, XY and YX. This looks like algebra and I’m already worried, but I believe in us.

But first, a few ground rules™:

– As always, a starting lineup means six players: One goalie, two defensemen and three forwards. Beyond that, we don’t care about position or handedness or that sort of thing.

– We can’t repeat a number on the same team. You need to use all six of the distinct digit combinations.

– You get credit for whatever a player did while he played for your team. In the case of players who wore more than one number, you only get credit for what he did while wearing the number you choose, meaning you can’t sneak a superstar onto a lineup with a weird number he wore for one game as a rookie callup.

One observation right away is that zero is out of the running, because players can’t wear that as a standalone number anymore. The single numbers should be pretty easy for most teams, while the double-numbers will be key. I don’t think we’re going to be able to make any rosters of six studs, but we should be able to build some good ones.

Let’s start with the first team that came to mind for me, and maybe for you too.

Pittsburgh Penguins

We said that double-numbers would be key, so obviously we start with Mario Lemieux’s 66. In theory, that also gives us access to Jaromir Jagr’s 68, so we’re off to a flying start.

Or are we? We can find some decent 6s and 8s in Penguins’ history, like John Marino or Mark Recchi. But the Penguins have never had an 88, so we’re stuck. That means Jagr is out, and so is Sidney Crosby’s 87.

So we head back to Mario, and try to build something else around him. But that’s tricky too, because we need someone else with a number in the sixties, and other than Jagr the Pittsburgh options are guys like Carl Hagelin and Ron Hainsey. And that’s before we try to find a goalie; I’m not sure there would be one.

In other words, this is going to be yet another one of those puzzles that seems simple but ends up being harder than you’d expect, i.e. the best kind. I don’t think we can build around Mario at all, so in the end I made a hard turn and switched to something using Evgeni Malkin and Paul Coffey.

Forwards: Evgeni Malkin (71), Rich Kehoe (17), Joey Mullen (7)

Defense: Paul Coffey (77), Darius Kasparaitis (11)

Goalie: Dennis Herron (1),

All things considered, that’s a pretty solid lineup. We’ve got three Hall-of-Famers, and Herron’s the only guy that most of you have probably never heard of. It’s disappointing given all the generational talent the Penguins have to work with, but under the circumstances, we’ll take it.

Since we whiffed on Mario, let’s try history’s other most famous double-digit…

Edmonton Oilers

OK, now we’re onto something. We start with Wayne Gretzky’s 99, then jump to Connor McDavid’s 97. With two of the greatest players to ever grace the ice, we just need Paul Coffey’s 7 and Oscar Klefbom’s 77 on the blueline and then two scrubs to fill out the rest of the lineup and we’ve got a contender.

But we can’t. If we use McDavid then we need a 79, and the Oilers do offer Nathan Walker up front. But that would leave us looking for a goaltender who wore the number 9, and we know that’s not happening. As tempting as it would be to strap a pair of pads on Ralph Intranuovo and push him out there, we have to play by the rules.

So McDavid won’t work. Neither will Ryan Smyth or Jesse Puljujarvi. We could use one year of Evander Kane at 91, since we know that 1 is a common goalie number. But I think our best bet is to go to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and hope we can find a goalie who wore 33 or 39. Luckily, we can.

Forwards: Wayne Gretzky (99), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93), Glenn Anderson (9)

Defense: Marty McSorley (33), Al Hamilton (3)

Goalie: Anders Nilsson (39)

The lack of a 39 option on the blueline means we have to snub solid 33s like Cam Talbot and Pokey Reddick and use a half-season of Nilsson in net instead, which isn’t ideal. And of course, we’re stuck with one year of Hamilton on the blueline because the Oilers had to be weird about retired numbers. Still, this roster has the best player ever and some legitimate supporting talent, so we should be OK.

Let’s try a team I really want to do…

Philadelphia Flyers

Real ones know. Before John LeClair arrived and teamed up with Eric Lindros to give us the immortal Legion of Doom, the Flyers had a line called The Crazy 8s based on their jersey numbers. Surely we can make something happen with that.

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