Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The 10 active NHL stars that nobody hates (except for everyone who does)

Heading into last night’s action, there had been 762 skaters and 74 goalies that had appeared in at least one NHL game this season. That’s well over 800 names, ranging from big stars to no-names, grizzled veterans to fresh-faced rookies, guys with personalities and lots who never say a word, and everything in between.

Can we find just ten that everyone likes?

Good luck. Hockey fans are notoriously difficult to please, which is a nice way of saying we’re all crusty jerks who are simmering with rage at all times, all carrying a long list of players we’re sworn to never forgive for some sin we don’t even remember. You like your own team, sometimes, but that’s about it. Maybe there’s one or two guys on other teams that you respect, or even like.

But ten? Forget it.

Well, I love a challenge. The last time I did this was back in 2019, and the results were mixed. I managed to come up with a few names that most of you seemed to agree on, including Henrik Lundqvist and Patrick Marleau. Both of those guys have rudely retired, so I can’t use them again. In fact, I’m going to go one further: This time around, I can’t use anyone who made the cut back in 2019. That means still-active names like Patrice Bergeron, Marc-Andre Fleury and Phil Kessel are off the table too. This is going to impossible.

That’s never stopped me before, so let’s do this. Ten active players, ten reasons why we should all like them, and ten exceptions that prove the rule.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Puck Soup: We're going streaking

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Won't somebody please think of the goaltenders
- What rule changes do we need after a weird week?
- We run down and rank all of the wild streaks we've seen so far this year
- Kraken: good!
- Rangers: bad!
- Lindy Ruff hits 800 wins, 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.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Weekend rankings: Offseason wins, goaltending rules, and the Flyers crater

How’d your Black Friday shopping go? Did you snag any impressive bargains, or are you already feeling pangs of regret for overspending on junk you didn’t need?

Now that we’ve got the timely tie-in out of the way, let’s look back at some offseason additions. We did this a few weeks ago, listing five players with new homes who were underperforming. This week, let’s flip that script and look at five more offseason moves that are working out great so far.

Top five offseason acquisitions that have worked out well so far

5. Johnny Gaudreau – The season has been a mess in Columbus, but that hasn’t been Gaudreau’s fault. The biggest UFA in years has settled in nicely, producing points despite having nowhere near as much talent around him. We can debate his decision to go to Columbus over other options (including staying put in Calgary), but it’s fair to say the Blue Jackets are glad he did.

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Thursday, November 24, 2022

Did the Devils get screwed? Explaining the key calls that gave the Leafs the win

We saw one of the wilder games of the year on Wednesday night, with the Maple Leafs going into New Jersey and ending the Devils' 13-game winning streak.

Or did they? The standings will say they did, but that doesn’t mean Devils fans have to accept it. While the final score will go into the books as 2-1 for Toronto, the Devils actually put the puck past Matt Murray four times on the night. The first three didn’t count, thanks to a pair of goaltender interference calls followed by a distinctive kicking motion ruling. By the time that last goal was wiped off, furious Devils fans in attendance were pelting the ice with beer and debris, while others were venting online about the obvious conspiracy.

Do they have a case? As the self-appointed rulebook guy around these parts, I’m here to help. Let’s do this Q&A style.

Should the first Devils goal have counted?

The first no-goal came early in the first, with a Dougie Hamilton point shot beating Murray. The goal was immediately waved off, and replays showed that Nathan Bastian was in the crease. Lindy Ruff and the Devils challenged, but the call on the ice was confirmed.

It’s the right call, as you already know if you read my detailed guide to understanding goalie interference. As that post explained, the key to any goalie interference ruling is usually the crease – if the attacking player is in there, it’s probably going to be no goal. Bastian clearly is, and he’s in Murray’s way as the Leafs’ goalie tries to slide his pad across to play the shot.

But he barely touched him!

True, but that doesn’t matter. There’s contact, and it’s enough that it “impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal”. According to the rulebook, that makes this an easy call. In fact, it doesn’t even matter if there’s any contact at all. If a player is in the crease and in the goalie’s way, it’s supposed to be no goal. And while there’s enough of a gray area to occasionally make this a judgment call, they almost always give the goalie the benefit of the doubt.

As I’ve said more than a few times, even if you understand the rule you’ll still run into cases where a call is debatable. That's part of the reason I think we should get rid of these reviews altogether. But this wasn’t one of those times. The refs got it right, both initially and on further review.

So Lindy Ruff was wrong to challenge it?

Well… maybe. That’s a trickier question, because a goal in the low-scoring NHL is a big deal. You don’t have to be 50/50 to make a challenge worth it, because the penalty for failure is only a two-minute minor. If you think it's 60/40 or even 70/30 that you're going to lose, it’s probably still worth it to roll the dice.

But in this case, I think it was close to 90/10, or maybe just 100/0. Remember, the call on the ice was no goal, so in theory a close call was going to against the Devils. And again, this one wasn’t all that close. I’m betting Ruff wishes he had this one back.

OK, but what about the second goal? If barely touching a goalie means a goal can’t count, can we assume that wiping him out is just as clear?

Weirdly, no. I actually thought the Devils had a case here.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Remembering some of the NHL’s most successful midseason trades

It’s that fun time of year when everyone is looking for a deal. That goes for everyone going bargain hunting at this week’s various Black Friday sales. And it also goes for more than a few NHL GMs, as the trade talk has heated up and the rumor mill is on fire.

This feels like as good a reason as any to build a roster. Let’s put together a 20-man team out of the very best midseason trades in NHL history.

Afterall, that’s what most fans are hoping for right now – the sort of midseason trade that can delivery a key piece. We’re told not to get our hopes up, because making a significant trade before the deadline is just too difficult for a beleaguered GM to pull off. Maybe it is, but some of the NHL’s most important trades have happened right around this time of year. A full roster’s worth? At least.

One thing: I’m going to get a little specific with my definition of “midseason” here, because I’m not going to count the trade deadline or the days leading up to it. Those deals are midseason too, technically, but the deadline has evolved into its own thing. Instead, we’re looking for guys who were traded during the first few months of a season, with bonus points for actual hockey trades over rebuilds and rentals. And they have to have played for both teams during the season to qualify, so apologies in advance to the holdouts, prospects, and healthy scratches.

We’re going by how good a player was during the year he was traded, not what they may have done in other years. You’re getting that season only. I'm also going to keep this to trades made in the 1980s and later, with one notable exception. But as it turns out, that still gives us more than a few excellent years to choose from, so let’s Remember Some Trades as we see just how good this team can get…

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Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Puck Soup: Will it last?

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- We go through various surprising trends around the league and wonder if they can last
- The market for defensemen heats up
- The Shane Wright situation nears an end
- Evgeni Malkin's milestone, and debating his place in history
- Which numbers should the Hawks retire?
- Some soccer talk because there's a tournament or something
- 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.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Weekend rankings: Who won the Matthew Tkachuk trade? Plus a new number one, the Devils make their case, and more

 The NHL served up a packed schedule on Saturday, but the most irresistible game was one that fans had had circled since the summer: the meeting between the Flames and Panthers. It was the first time to the two teams had crossed paths since the jaw-dropping July blockbuster that sent Matthew Tkachuk to Florida in exchange for a package that included Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, a prospect and a first.

It was a fascinating trade when it went down, arguably the single biggest blockbuster of the cap era, and it remains so today. Julian McKenzie had the definitive story of how it all came together, which you should absolutely take time to read if only for the image of an exhausted Brad Treliving sitting alone in his office with a beer after it was all over.

So who won the trade? That’s the argument we’ll be having for a good chunk of the next decade, because it’s what fans do whether Darryl Sutter likes it or not. The two teams didn’t help us much on Saturday, playing to a 4-4 tie before the Flames won the coin flip in the shootout. But now that we’ve seen the two teams in action against each other, let’s see if we can organize the arguments on either side of the deal in this week’s bonus top five.

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Saturday, November 19, 2022

NHL99: Doug Gilmour and how the biggest trade in NHL history turned him into a superstar

Your team is about to make a trade. A big one. And not just one of those standard-issue rental deals we see so much of these days, in which only one team is really trying to improve while the other is kicking the can down the road. No, this is two teams that are both trying to get better, right now, and carefully exchanging pieces to try to make it happen.

How do you want the trade to work out?

If you’re feeling polite, you might say that you hope it ends up being a win for both teams. You’ll miss the players who are heading the other way, and you wish them nothing but the best. Trading doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game, you might remind yourself, and a good one can work out just fine for both teams. You would tell yourself that because you’re a good person.

You would be lying. You don’t want that at all.

No, you want the trade to be so lopsided that it feels unfair. You want to read about it on those “biggest heist in sports history” lists for decades to come. You want everyone your team dealt away to turn into a pumpkin. And somehow, against all odds, you want the key piece coming back in the deal to level up into something they’ve never been before. You want the guy you didn’t give up all that much to get to find another gear and become the best player on the team. No, screw that, since we’re getting crazy, maybe the best player in the whole league.

In other words, you want your team’s blockbuster to turn into the Doug Gilmour trade. But the problem with Doug Gilmour trades is that they don’t happen very often. Maybe, you could argue, only once.

We can still feel the impact of the Doug Gilmour trade today. It screwed up the perception of how trades work for an entire generation of hockey fans. It decimated a Stanley Cup winner that still hasn’t won another title since. And it reinvigorated a hockey market that wasn’t quite dying but was certainly in a coma, one self-inflicted by two decades of incompetence.

And yeah, if you haven’t guessed it by now, this is one of those pieces that’s going to get kind of Maple Leafs-centric, even though Gilmour played over two-thirds of his 20-year career for a collection of a half-dozen other teams. If you’re the sort of person who’s bothered by that, I don’t know what to tell you. Doug Gilmour, who comes in at No. 66 on The Athletic’s list of the greatest players of the NHL’s modern era, was a very good player for a very long time for a very long list of NHL teams. But for a couple of seasons in Toronto, he became something more, and that’s what we’re going to focus on because this is my piece.

Let’s look back at the most important trade in the history of the NHL, assuming you define that history through the eyes of a thoroughly disillusioned and hopeless young Maple Leafs fan.

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Friday, November 18, 2022

Three-point games? Legal hand passes? Trading points for cap space? Rules court returns

Welcome back to Rules Court. Please rise, court is in session.

If you’re new to Rules Court, the concept is simple. You, the readers, submit your ideas for changes to the NHL rulebook. They can be new rules, tweaks to old ones, or the elimination of something that’s already there. On the ice or off. Small, big, or insanely game-changing. You make your best case, and then a three-judge panel of me, Ian Mendes and Sean Gentille make our ruling. Convince at least two of us, and your new rule is passed and the NHL is legally bound to adopt it. (Our lawyers are still working on that part, as the league is being weird about returning out calls.)

Previous sessions of rules court have seen us adopt extended overtime if a team is shorthanded, replace the shootout with 2-on-1s, and adopt a half-court rule. And yet the suggestions keep pouring in, sending a clear signal that you people are insane our readers have a ton of great ideas for improving the league.

Let’s see what you have for us this time…

The way the current system for points in the standings is set up doesn’t make sense from a fairness perspective or a mathematical perspective.  Instead of two points for some games and three points for others, points should be set up as follows:

- Outright win in regulation:  three points

- Shootout/overtime win: two points

- Shootout/overtime loss:  one point

- Outright loss:  zero points

In addition to giving out three points for every game, it rewards a win in regulation (real, non 3-on-3 hockey).  It gives everyone at least one point for getting to overtime, and rewards the team that wins in overtime/the shootout/the 2-on-1 thing you approved last time. – Chuck F. (and many others)

 McIndoe: Yep. I’ve been crusading against the current point system for nearly a decade. There’s really no defending how we do things now. The loser point is awful – it screws up the standings, inflates everyone’s record, makes the NHL the laughingstock of other leagues, and (worst of all) incentivizes boring play late in tie games, which is when the drama should be at its highest. 

So yes, let’s switch to 3-2-1-0. Is it perfect? No. It’s still giving out a loser point, for example, and breaks with the traditional two points for a win the league has had for a century. I know some people would prefer to just go to wins and losses, or bring back ties, or a dozen other possible plans. But that’s the problem with how we do things now: It’s so stupid that literally any alternative would be better, so we get paralyzed by all the options. We need to just pick something and go with that, because literally anything else will be a massive improvement. The 3-2-1-0 system works, so I’m on board. YES.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Thursday, November 17, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: Which teams are banking on tanking? A ranking

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- We discuss the first edition of the tank index
- Why an Erik Karlsson return in Ottawa would be unprecedented
- The GM meetings discuss a rule change I somehow don't hate
- Jesse Granger on Vezina props, including one star with surprisingly long odds
- A listener had a problem with the Borje Salming ceremony
- Plus 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)

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Puck Soup: Fire up the tank

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Thoughts on HHOF weekend
- Is Rod Brind'Amour a Hall-of-Famer?
- Who's selling, and who should be tanking
- More Canucks sadness
- What's up in Pittsburgh and Washington?
- A 400-goal scorer quiz, 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.

Which bad team is best positioned to fail hard for Bedard? Introducing the Tank Index

It’s mid-November, and it goes without saying that every NHL team is focused on the big prize.

Which prize? That part depends on the team.

For most teams, it’s the Stanley Cup. You’ve probably heard of it. Big silver thing, apparently pretty heavy, hangs out in the Hall of Fame in Toronto for most of the year and then heads down to America in the spring. But that’s not every team’s focus, and that’s especially true this year.

We can be honest, right? We don’t have to do the Gary Bettman thing, where he pretends that NHL teams never tank and it’s only the mean old media making stuff up. That kind of thing is insulting to your intelligence as a fan, because you know teams tank, because you have eyes and a brain. Sure, you might prefer to call it something else, especially when your team is doing it. But you know a tank when you see it.

And we’ll be seeing a few of them this year, because the top of the draft class of 2023 is absolutely stacked. There could be three legitimate franchise players, including Connor Bedard, who might be the next Crosby or McDavid or maybe even more. Remember, the league nerfed their lottery system a few years ago, so whichever team finishes dead last this year is guaranteed to get one of those top three picks. The incentive to bad is obvious. Sorry Gary, fire up the tank and let’s roll.

But which teams will do it? And when? And most importantly of all, who’s in the best position to make it work? Welcome to the Tank Index, where we try to find out. This is a gimmick I typically pull out later in the season. But this year isn’t typical, and with so much prospect gold waiting at the end of the tanking rainbow, it might be worth it to check in a few times as the season goes on.

We’ll be looking at a few factors:

Season so far: You can’t win the top pick in October, but you can go a long way to losing it. Even a few extra points picked up in the first month can be devastating to a team’s tank, so how bad has a team looked in the early going?

Seller potential: The best way to tank is to trade useful players for picks and prospects, because you get to collect future assets while also getting worse in the short term. Of course, you need some useful players first, especially ones on expiring contracts.

Goaltending problems: Even in today’s NHL, it remains true that teams go as far as their goaltending takes them. If you want to tank, you’d better make sure your goalie stinks, because there’s nothing worse than watching some guy stand on his head and cost you precious lottery odds.

Motivation: A tricky one, but maybe the most important factor of all. This one starts with the GM, who needs job security to go all-in on being bad. Will ownership understand and accept the plan? What about the market, and local media? It’s not easy to tank when one or more stakeholders aren’t on board.

We’ll give each team a score in all four categories, and see where that leaves them. For this first 2022-23 tank index, I’m going to focus on the eight worst teams by points percentage heading into Tuesday night, then add four more that I think are worth including based on preseason expectations. That brings us to an even dozen, and we’ll count them down as we work our way to this year’s early tank favorite.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Monday, November 14, 2022

Weekend rankings: 5 big-name busts, the Islanders are back, and a new bottom team

 We’re five weeks into the season. How’s your team’s big summer acquisition doing?

No, it’s OK, you can pass judgment now. It’s still too early, so you could absolutely be wrong, but you won’t seem ridiculous for it like you would have after three games. You’re fine. Sit on your couch with a bowl of chips on your lap and scream “not good enough!” at your TV, it’s what fans are supposed to do.

The 2022 offseason was a fun one, with an unusually long list of big names switching teams. Some of those have worked out, with guys like Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, Kevin Fiala, Kirby Dach, Ville Husso and others all at least living up to expectations. But other teams are still waiting for their return on investment to kick in. Let's make that today's bonus five.

Top five big offseason acquisitions that have been kind of a bust so far

5. Oliver Bjorkstrand, Seattle – The Kraken have been a nice early season story, and any negativity has mostly focused on the weird Shane Wright drama. Still, it’s worth noting that Bjorkstrand hasn’t really done much yet. That trade felt like a nice piece of work by Ron Francis, taking advantage of another team’s cap crunch to get a good player cheap. There’s lots of time for it to work out that way, but one goal so far from a guy who pushed 30 last year is a letdown.

4. John Klingberg, Anaheim – Nobody looks good on the Ducks right now, and it’s not like they had to give up anything to get Klingberg. But it’s fair to say he’s been just OK so far, with no goals and just four primary assists while posting lousy possession numbers. All of that has at least something to do with the lack of talent around him, but if you’re a Ducks fan and hoping that Klingberg would turn into the must-have rental target of the trade deadline, you haven’t seen much yet.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Friday, November 11, 2022

Paul Henderson? Mike Vernon? Anze Kopitar? It's a Hockey Hall of Fame Mailbag

I unabashedly love Hall of Fame debates. Always have. Years ago I had an editor tell me that HHOF stuff always bombs with readers, and maybe that’s true, but there are a few times a year when I decide to be selfish and do it anyway.

This week is one of those times, because the Hall will celebrate the class of 2023 over the weekend in the lead-up to Monday’s indication ceremony. On Wednesday, we looked at a half-dozen of the toughest calls among active players, with the help of Paul Pidutti from Adjusted Hockey. But some of you wanted to know about other guys, or complain about some of the players who are already in. So today, let’s open up the mailbag and see what else is on your mind.

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

What about Anze Kopitar? How important is it for him to get to 400 goals? (I think if he stays healthy he’ll get to 800 assists and probably gets to 1,200 points, but without getting 400 goals.) – Sam

Kopitar is interesting because he’s going to be heavily linked with Patrice Bergeron and Jonathan Toews, as the trio of 200-foot centers who really made us rethink how we viewed two-way forwards during the dawn of the analytics era.

Bergeron is a slam dunk at this point, and while the case for Toews is much weaker, he’s probably also a lock because of how much respect he got during the Hawks’ peak. (Remember, he was named to the NHL’s Top 100 players of all time list, when fellow active players like Joe Thornton and Evgeni Malkin weren’t.)

Does that leave Kopitar as the odd man out?

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Thursday, November 10, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: Deadpool self-awareness

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Did Ian actually DM Ryan Reynolds?
- Thoughts on the Senators' ownership drama
- Also... Chris Neil?
- Debating Phil Kessel's HHOF case
- Jesse Granger on some early betting trends
- A listener shares some important thoughts on the Mitchel Miller story
- Plus 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)

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Puck Soup: What were the Bruins thinking?

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- The Bruins sign Mitchell Miller
- The Bruins dump Mitchell Miller
- There are so many coaches on the hot seat
- Ryan Reynolds might buy the Senators
- 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.

Giroux? Burns? Kessel? Revisiting some of the toughest HHOF calls among active players

It’s Hockey Hall of Fame time, with the class of 2022 being honored all week leading up to Monday’s big induction gala. Roberto Luongo, Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Daniel Alfredsson and Riikka Sallinen are all worthy honorees in the player category, and the Hall is finally recognizing Herb Carnegie as a builder. It’s a great chance to look back and reflect on some true greats.

It’s also a chance to look ahead, and try to figure out which players might join Luongo and friends in the Hall some day. That sort of debate is half the fun when it comes to a hall of fame, and I’ve never turned down an opportunity to weigh in. One of my favorite pieces to write each year around this time is the one where I take a look at some active players and try to figure out if they’re on a HHOF path.

I’m going to do it again this year, but with a twist. Rather than coming up with new names, I’m going to revisit a half-dozen players that I’ve looked at over the years. Each of them was a borderline call at the time, and each is still active today. We’ll look at where their case stood a few years ago, what’s happened since, and whether they’re trending up or down. Then we’ll head down to the comment section, where you will yell at me about my wrong opinions and be mad that I didn’t include your favorite non-active player in a post that is only about active players.

As an added bonus, I’m also going to enlist some impartial help. Paul Pidutti has developed a model to produce “a comprehensive measure of HHOF worthiness” for players, based on a variety of factors including stats, honors, international play, longevity and peak. He’s been tweeting his player cards from his Twitter account at @AdjustedHockey and his web site at includes a detailed explanation of how the system works. No model is perfect, obviously, but it’s fun to be able to look at a case from a different angle, and Paul has graciously agreed to check in on our six candidates and share what his numbers say.

Phil Kessel

The last time we looked: At the end of the 2018-19 season, Kessel’s last with the Penguins.

The case at the time: Kessel had two Cup rings and a Masterton, had been robbed of a Conn Smythe, plus he was on pace to “cruise by the 1,000-point mark, maybe by a decent amount”. He was also just three years away from breaking the ironman record held by Doug Jarvis.

My verdict back then: I didn’t see him making the cut, partly because I couldn’t see anyone on the HHOF committee really going to bat for him. I did write that “if he can keep scoring near a point-per-game rate for a few more years, he’ll make it interesting”.

What’s changed since: Kessel spent the last three seasons in Arizona, which was great for his poker game but didn’t exactly boost his visibility. His numbers have been OK, but he hasn’t had the sort of late-career boost you might hope for. He still hasn’t hit that 1,000-point plateau and might not get there this season, and 500 goals is no longer in the realm of possibility.

That said, Kessel’s case has two things working for it. First, he’s on the Golden Knights now, and they look like a legitimate Cup contender, so another long playoff run could resurface his case. More importantly, he did indeed break that ironman record, although it belonged to Keith Yandle instead of Jarvis by the time Kessel got there. He’s about to become the only NHL player to ever hit the 1,000 consecutive game mark, which is pretty ridiculous for anyone, let alone a guy who spent his whole career being told he was an out-of-shape schlub.

Which way the case is trending: The ironman record gives him a signature accomplishment to build his candidacy around. But the offensive numbers have slowed more than we’d hoped, and at 35 we can’t pencil him in for much more production like we could a few years ago. Even with the record, I think his chances have dipped.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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Monday, November 7, 2022

Weekend rankings: Five teams that have already gone from good to bad this year

We’re a month into the season, having closed the book on October. The season’s first month is usually a time for sorting teams into vague tiers, with the good and bad and the mushy middle. The intriguing part is that sometimes the results don’t match expectations, and a team and its fan base are faced with having to reckon with what might be a new reality.

That said, it’s only one month, so there isn’t room for all that many twist and turns. A team has time to settle into a tier, let the rest of us form an impression, and then spend the season figuring out if we were right.

Or at least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. But this year feels different. It’s been strange, right? There seem to be a whole lot of teams that, just a few weeks into the season, have already gone through at least two phases, if not more. And while we talked about the Devils ascent from also-ran to (maybe?) unstoppable powerhouse in last week’s rankings, there are also a whole lot of teams going in the other direction.

How many? Enough that I’m not sure I can even fit them all this list…

Top five teams that have already been both good and bad this year

5. Ottawa Senators – We’ll get into the Sens down in the bottom five section, but they’ve gone from winning four straight to get to 4-2-0 while looking like they could be right in the early playoff mix in the Atlantic to five straight regulation losses and staring up at everyone other than Columbus.

4. New York Rangers – You could argue that the Rangers have already had three or even four distinct phases. They looked good early on, including wins over the Lightning and Wild. Then they lost four straight. Then they won three. Now they’ve lost their last two, so who knows. Maybe the Rangers don’t even belong on this list, but I want to include them just for the sheer weirdness of it all. Pick a lane, guys.

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Friday, November 4, 2022

Five ways to improve offside review if we can’t just get rid of it, which we absolutely should

There was a very dumb moment in the NHL last week.

Well, there were a few, because it’s the NHL, but the one I’m referring to happened in a game between the Golden Knights and Maple Leafs. A few minutes into the game, Phil Kessel scored a goal to put Vegas up 1-0. This was cool, because it was the 400th goal of Kessel’s career, his first as a Knight, and was also the game in which he tied the all-time ironman record. The building was rocking.

And then came the review. Well, that’s not actually true, because first came the now-required extended pause to think about the review, making sure the coach has plenty of time to squint at an ipad while everyone else stands around waiting for them to make up their mind. Then came the timeout, because Sheldon Keefe and the Leafs still weren’t sure. Then came the review, which went forever. The Leafs had challenged the play for being offside on the zone entry, a full 19 seconds before Kessel scored. There was no clear view that showed whether it was or wasn’t, but if you spliced together a few angles it looked like it probably was, by maybe an inch or two, for a fraction of a second, although it probably wasn’t quite conclusive if you were a Vegas fan.

Then, after an almost seven-minute delay had sucked all the life out of the building, the verdict finally came in: No goal.

Then the Knights scored immediately and the whole thing didn’t matter. Hot dog don’t lie.

I’m not knocking Keefe and the Maple Leafs for the challenge. It worked, after all, and they were just doing what teams are supposed to do in that situation, which is to look for any nitpicky detail they can find to get them off the hook for allowing a goal. But imagine explaining all of that to a new fan. Imagine them seeing all the excitement from Kessel’s moment, then telling them that a league that’s been starved for offense for 25 years and counting somehow feels the need to stand around for seven minutes to see if there was a way to make it go away. It’s madness.

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Thursday, November 3, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: The Ryan Express

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Ryan Reynolds might buy the Senators and we need to help Ian craft a DM to him
- The Leafs won, so I guess things are fine again
- The Sabres keep rolling, and we try to talk ourselves into it being real this time
- Lots of listener mail, including a Marc-Andre Fleury HHOF debate
- This week in history features a great start by a terrible coach
- 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)

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Puck Soup: The Devils you say

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- New Jersey is good. But how good?
- The Leafs are bad. But how bad?
- The Preds, Blues and Blue Jackets are all struggling too
- John Tortorella drops some truth about the Flyers
- The Mullet era begins and Arizona is feeling defensive about it
- And lots more...

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>> Listen on Spotify

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

The Maple Leafs are a mess and it’s hard to watch, in more ways than one

The Maple Leafs are spiralling. They’ve lost four in a row, they keep losing to bad teams, and they don’t look anything like the team that steamrolled through most of the 2021-22 regular season. Sunday night’s third-period collapse in Anaheim was a truly pathetic scene – a so-called Stanley Cup contender playing terrified hockey against the last-place team in the league. This is a team in crisis right now, and fixing it is going to be a very hard job.

Luckily, it’s not your job to fix it. If you’re a Maple Leafs fan, your only job is to cheer them on. Keep the faith, believe in your team, and look forward to the next game.

That’s becoming a very hard job too.

I’m not the only one feeling that, right? I’m talking to the fans here, not the anti-Leafs weirdos who claim not to care about the team but still read pieces like this for some reason; we know you guys are enjoying all this. For the rest of us, not so much. If I can take off my impartial-media-guy disguise for a second and just be the Leaf fan that I’ve been for nearly four decades, some teams are easier to cheer on than others. The 1993-era team of Wendel Clark, Dougie Gilmour and Pat Burns will live forever, even if they never went all the way. The Pat Quinn-era teams were fantastic, with Mats Sundin and a rotating class of villains who drove other teams crazy. Even the early days of Brian Burke’s mess of a team were at least their own kind of fun, probably the last chance we’ll ever have to embrace a team that tried to beat them in the alleys. If you go back far enough, you might still have a place in your heart for the Sittler/McDonald/Palmateer era team that took out the Islanders.

This current Leafs team is the most talented one I’ve seen in my lifetime. It might not even be all that close. But are they fun to watch? Do you like cheering for this? Or are you just kind of tired of them?

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