Thursday, December 29, 2022

NHL99: Jarome Iginla, the last of the NHL’s great power forwards

I want you to stop for a moment and picture the most iconic Jarome Iginla moment. Not your personal favorite, or even the most important, but the one that best represents who he was to you. If a brand new hockey fan showed up and wanted to know why everyone – not just Flames fans, but everyone -- seems to love this Iginla guy so much and you had time to show them one clip, which one would it be?

You’d have a ton of choices. You  could show them a goal; counting the playoffs, you’d have over 650 to choose from. You might go with a milestone moment, like his 500th goal or 1,000th point, or when he became the Flames’ all-time leading scorer. His epic overtime shift in the 2004 final would have to be way up there on the list. You might choose one of his Team Canada highlights, like his laser beam one-timer late in the 2002 gold medal game, or the time that he and everyone else heard the infamous IGGY. You might even go off the board and choose the time he led the Flames in paying respect to Trevor Linden after his long-time rival’s final game, the sort of pure-class gesture we don’t see often in sports these days.

Any of those would be great choices. But I’m guessing they may not be what came to mind first. Instead, there’s a good chance you thought of this:

That's Iginla and Tampa’s Vincent Lecavalier dropping the gloves in early in Game 3 of the 2004 Stanley Cup final. Iginla is Calgary’s biggest star and their captain; Lecavalier is the franchise player the Lightning have been building around. A fight between two superstars, in a crucial playoff game, just isn’t supposed to happen. But it does, because this is a battle for a championship and neither player is willing to give an inch.

You don’t have to like fighting in hockey or even understand it to get what’s happening here. There’s nothing dirty, and it’s not some staged production between two guys with nothing better to do. It’s just two stars on a collision course, staring each other down and saying “I’m not going anywhere and I know you’re not either, so what do you want to do about it?”

Iginla wins the fight, of course, because he almost always did. He didn’t fight often, maybe a handful of times a year, because he didn’t have to. But if it needed to be done, he was there. That was what made Iginla such a special player – he could do just about anything that his team needed him to do. A goal? Of course. A dominating shift? Yes. Win the crucial battles in his own zone? Often. A crushing open ice hit to flip the momentum? More than a few. And yes, if somebody needed to step up and trade punches, putting themselves at risk just to make it clear that this team wasn’t backing down from anyone, Iginla was willing and able to do that too.

Jarome Iginla kicked ass. Sometimes, literally. And there’s a very good chance that we’ll never see a player quite like him ever again.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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




Friday, December 23, 2022

Mailbag: Loser points vs. offside reviews, which is worse? Plus renaming the Conn Smyth, history's longest hair and more.

Happy holidays, assuming they’ve started for you. If you’re at work today, no you’re not. You might be physically in the building, but we all know you’re not working, so let’s waste company time with a midseason mailbag.

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


If you could get rid of one of these items but the other becomes permanent as-is, which do you change: Loser point or offside reviews? – Bill M.

No. Pass. I refuse. This is like asking me which one of my kids I love most, only the exact opposite.

 

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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




Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Puck Soup: In or out

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Ryan saw the new Avatar movie, and he has thoughts
- We go through the league and decide who's making the playoffs and who isn't
- Trade winds blowing in Vancouver, Chicago and Philadelphia
- Phil Kessel's streak could be ending soon
- Our NHL wishes for 2023
- World Cup, Survivor, 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.




Monday, December 19, 2022

Weekend rankings: Pastrnak's next contract, Blues questions, the Hawks hit rock bottom, and the most mediocre five

One of my pet theories this year was that it would be a season of extremes. The loaded top of the 2023 draft, and the predictable tank war it would inspire, would clog the bottom of the standings with some of the worst records in recent history. And that would open the door to the league’s good teams to rack up even more points than usual, thanks to a steady stream of matchups with teams that weren’t even trying. We’d end up with a bunch of 110-plus point teams and a bunch of awful ones, and not much left in the mushy middle.

There’s still time for things to evolve that way. But so far, we’re not seeing that separation. While we’re seeing a clear group of six very bad teams at the bottom and almost as many very good ones, the middle is as mushy as ever. At one point on Saturday afternoon, there were six teams sitting at exactly .500. There’s a lot of mediocrity out there.

OK, let’s embrace that. Which of the NHL’s mediocre teams has been the most mediocre so far?

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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




Sunday, December 18, 2022

Call for mailbag questions

Hey folks...

It's mailbag time again, just in time for the holidays, because I don't want to work too hard this week want to hear from all my super-cool readers. Let's get creative. Send questions via email at dgbmailbag@gmail.com.

Thanks,
Sean




Thursday, December 15, 2022

Grab Bag: Gary Bettman’s surveys, renaming awards, and Rod Brind’Amour’s workout

Gary Bettman made headlines this week when he defended the league’s foray into digital board ads. While many fans have complained that the animated ads are distracting and often glitchy, Bettman pushed back on the subject, calling it a “non-issue” and insisting that the league’s internal polling proves that fans actually find games more watchable with the new ads.

That struck many of us as odd. Sure, some fans don’t mind the board ads and everyone understands the desire for more revenue, but it’s hard to imagine how they’d made the game-watching experience better. But Bettman says he has the polling to back it up. Will he show us the numbers? No he will not, but when has he ever given you a reason not to trust him?

In an effort to turn this controversy into a teachable moment, I had my spies at the NHL head office infiltrate the market research department. They were able to smuggle out a list of Gary Bettman’s tips for keeping your finger on the pulse of your fan base.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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




Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Puck Soup: The Great Eight (Hundred)

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Alexander Ovechkin hits 800
- It's Board of Governors time and Gary Bettman is making stuff up again
- You won't believe what penalty Colin Campbell wants to fix
- Bettman does not want a play-in round
- The Canucks have to make a decision on Bo Horvat
- Let's rename some awards
- An ugly brawl in the stands
- Tage Thompson, Jaromir Jagr 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, December 13, 2022

Tage Thompson and the five dumb lessons that bad GMs will learn from him

It’s Tage Thompson’s world, and we’re all just living in it.

The Sabres’ forward has become the star of the season. One year removed from what we thought was a breakout campaign that saw him leap from single-digit goal totals to a stunning 38, Thompson is on pace to blow past that mark. He has 21 goals through 28 games, several of the jaw-dropping highlight variety, and scored five against the Blue Jackets last week in what was also his second six-point game of the year. This guy is unstoppable.

So how can this go wrong?

Sorry, that’s the pessimist in me, but it’s a side that’s served me well in spotting NHL trends. There’s no story so good that somebody somewhere won’t find a way to screw it up.

To be clear, I’m not going to look at this from a Sabres perspective. Their fans have suffered enough, and with Thompson locked in a long-term extension that already looks like a steal, maybe this really is a can’t-miss win for Buffalo.

Instead, let’s look at the other 31 teams, those poor schmoes who don’t get to send Tage Thompson over the boards to wreck everyone. Right now, somebody in every front office around the league is looking at Thompson’s season and trying to figure out what it means for them.

What are those other teams going to learn from the Age of Tage? Specifically, what are they going to learn that’s wrong, and that causes them to make bad decisions? I've got five suggestions.

Your struggling fourth-liner is a potential superstar

For the first four seasons of his NHL career, Thompson was an 18-goal scorer. No, not in an average season – that was the total for his entire career, one that was mostly spent plugging away in the bottom six between occasional disappointing trips up the lineup (when he wasn't hurt or in the AHL). Last year, the light bulb went off and he became a star. But for years before that, he was Just A Guy. One with occasional flashes of potential, sure, but never more than that.

Good news: Every team has a few players like that on the roster right now. Which means every team, if they squint hard enough, has a few future Thompsons.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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




Monday, December 12, 2022

Weekend rankings: The red hot Maple Leafs make their case for the top 5

Yes, the Leafs are in.

Sorry to ruin the suspense, but I’m guessing the slow build to a big reveal wouldn’t have worked. The Leafs have been among the hottest teams in the league for well over a month now. Since that disastrous 0-for-3 road trip through California that had overdramatic morons rending garments, the Leafs have gone 14-1-4, and are now on pace for 117 points.

And yes, I hear you: But the playoffs. I get it. If you think the Leafs’ history of first-round failure is less about luck and more about some fundamental flaw, then you don’t really care about what they’re doing in November and December. After all, this top five is about who’s going to win the Cup, not who’s hot right now, and you might insist that we all know the Leafs aren’t winning four playoff rounds. Even if you don’t by the choking narrative, the Lightning are still looming as a first-round rematch, so the path out of the Atlantic is rough.

We could make that argument for most teams – the age of parity means there just aren’t any easy matchups anymore. But OK, you’re still not sold on the Leafs. Let’s use this week’s bonus top five to make the case for why they're cracking the real thing for the first time since the 2020-21 season.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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




Friday, December 9, 2022

Cap Court: Does J.T. Miller have a bad contract? Darnell Nurse? Jordan Binnington?

Welcome back to Cap Court, where we take a look at some of the big-dollar contracts around the league and try to figure out if they’re bad.

In the NHL’s hard cap world, a bad contract (as viewed from the team’s perspective) can be an anchor. They’re easy to sign but difficult or even impossible to unload, and can end up blocking other important moves. But as fans, we’re probably a little too quick to toss around the “bad contract” accusation, so it’s worth digging into some of these deals to see whether they actually deserve the label.

This is the fifth session of cap court, meaning we’ve looked at 20 players over the years. Eight of those 20 have been found guilty of being a bad contract, because I tend to try to be as charitable as possible here; some others were let off with a warning, and a few were exonerated completely. I’d argue that most of those decisions have held up well, even as a few may have shifted with a few more years of age and/or hindsight.

Either way, today will bring five new contracts that we haven’t looked at yet. And court is now in session.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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




Thursday, December 8, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: All the world's a Tage

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Tage Thompson's dream season finds a new level
- Remembering some of history's other five-goal games
- Scoring is up but nobody really knows why
- One fan base is quickly becoming one of the most thin-skinned in the league and it needs to stop
- Jesse Granger on how the Rocket Richard odds are shifting
- More foot hockey talk, a crazy goalie stat, 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)




Puck Soup: The goalies are bad now

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Save percentage is down across the league but nobody's quite sure why. We have a few theories.
- Avs injuries pile up
- Are the Rangers and Panthers in trouble? Can they both still make the playoffs?
- Jordan Binnington is doing his thing again
- Jason Robertson is so fun
- Brock Boeser drama in Vancouver, and where he might wind up
- Also you get to hear me stun Ryan with my ability to do a very specific type of math in my head, 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, December 6, 2022

Ten ways I was wrong about the surprising Seattle Kraken

Occasionally, I am wrong.

No, it’s OK, I get that you’re shocked. My takes are usually air-tight, my reasoning impeccable. If you’ve ever scrolled down to the comment section of one of my pieces, you know that it’s typically just hundreds of readers posting identical replies of “Yep, nailed it completely”. Call me Tage Thompson, because they thought my success rate was unsustainable, and then I got better.

Except, not always. And that means that every now and then, I need to eat some crow. I had an appetizer last week, when my podcast pals dug up a September clip of me saying that the only hope the Devils had was if they responded well to Andrew Brunette after the inevitable early firing of Lindy Ruff. That, uh, has not happened yet. It’s still early, and the Devils could lose their next 55 games to drop back down to .500, but I’m going to go ahead and pencil that one in as a missed call.

But it may not be my biggest whiff of the season, because I was also completely wrong about the Seattle Kraken. That would be the team that just had a seven-game win streak and currently sits at 15-6-3, good for second in the West. All that in just their second year in the league, despite being just one season removed from an abysmal 30th-place showing.

I did not see this coming. I’m guessing you didn’t either; I’m not sure I can remember seeing any preseason picks that had the Kraken making the playoffs, let alone pushing for the division lead. In my annual prediction contest, 669 of you named Seattle as a team that had no chance of making the playoffs, which was more picks than the Sabres, Senators and Blue Jackets combined. Three times as many of you thought the Kraken missing the playoffs was a sure thing as picked the Ducks, and they’re dead last right now.

So I know I’m not alone. But I can only be accountable for myself, so let’s do this. Ten ways I was wrong about the Kraken, at least so far.

1. I thought they’d be bad. Like, really bad.

We’ll start with the most obvious miss, which is also the most important. When I made my preseason picks, dropping each team into a division based on my expectations for the 2022-23 season, I had the Kraken in with the bottom-feeders, meaning they’d be among the eight worst teams in the league. Honestly, if I’d had to get more specific, I probably would have said bottom five.

I did acknowledge that they’d added a few talented pieces like Andre Burakovsky and Oliver Bjorkstrand, and that they’d be better than they had in year one. But then I cut to the chase, writing that “this is still an expansion team in the traditional sense, which is to say they’re bad”. It’s fair to say that hasn’t held up so far.

2. I figured their only path to major improvement was Philipp Grubauer

My one hedge when it came to writing off the Kraken was that the starting goaltending could be significantly better. In fairness, that’s my hedge on pretty much every team, but in this case it felt plausible. Grubauer had been very good in Washington and Colorado, including being a Vezina finalist in 2021. He’d stunk in Seattle in year one, but stuff happens, especially when you have a completely new team trying to gel in front of you. I held out the possibility that the old Grubauer could reappear, and that would save the Kraken.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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




Monday, December 5, 2022

Weekend NHL rankings: Penguins, Boeser, and 5 stories I’m not buying yet

I’m pretty good at denial. Those extra pounds I’ve recently added are probably muscle mass from that time I went to the gym in October, and the thinning hair on the back of my head is just because I’m sleeping on my pillow wrong. What can I tell you, I’m a Leafs fan, refusal to face reality is kind of a must-have life skill.

So it shouldn’t surprise you to know that there are a handful of stories unfolding around the league that I’m not quite buying… yet. In some case I’m close, maybe even a week or so away. In others, I’m staying stubborn. Remember, I spent all of last year completely convinced that the Golden Knights couldn’t miss the playoffs. Then again, I also wasn’t sold on the Ducks leading the Pacific into January. Sometimes, it’s better not to get out over your skis.

For this week’s bonus top five, lets run down five stories that I’m not sold on quite yet, ranked based on how strong the evidence looks that I'm wrong.

Top five first-half realities I have not accepted yet

5. Montreal as a middle-of-the-pack team – They won’t finish dead last for a second straight year, and Martin St. Louis deserves a ton of credit for leading them to a respectable 12-11-1 start. I’m just not sure how long it can continue. I agree with Arpon that the focus is on development over wins and losses, and that means that this season is already shaping up as a success. But it feels like the big comedown is right around the corner.

4. The Panthers as a non-factor – This one’s a bit weird, because I wasn’t a fan of their offseason coaching change from Andrew Brunette to Paul Maurice, so in that sense maybe I should be taking a premature victory lap. And no, they’re obviously not going to have another 120-point season, because you need absolutely everything to go right for that to happen. But a middle-of-the-road team that struggles to make the playoffs, looking to fend of teams like the Red Wings and Habs? No way. There’s too much talent here, and as they move towards the Spencer Knight era in goal, I think they start looking scary again.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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




Thursday, December 1, 2022

The Athletic Hockey Show: The unhateables

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- The NHL stars everyone likes
- Ian wants to know if I'm sold on Matt Murray yet
- Jack Edwards vs. Pat Maroon
- Ovechkin breaks another record
- Jesse Granger defends the honor of goalies everywhere
- I have to eat crow about Lindy Ruff
- Plus listener mail, goalies scoring goals 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)