Friday, December 29, 2023

A history of the Bourque Trophy for best final season, another fake award

Last week, we wasted your valuable time and attention with a made-up award. And as often happens, you readers responded with “Yes, OK, but what if it we made it even weirder?”

Specifically, reader Stan D. saw our piece on the Carson Trophy, a fake award for best sophomore player, and wanted to know what an annual award would look like for the player with the best final season.

Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce the Bourque Trophy. Named in honor of Phil for some reason Ray Bourque, and his final season in Colorado that saw him put up 59 points while finishing as a first-team all-star and Norris runner-up and the age of 40. I can’t remember how the playoffs went but hopefully those ended well for him too.

The rules: We’re looking for players who played their final season in a given year, although this is an NHL award, so players who subsequently head to Europe or elsewhere are fine. And while this award is very specifically for the best final season and not intended as a lifetime achievement award, voters will probably ignore this and factor in career accomplishments in close races. Stupid hockey writers, they’re the worst.

Finally, you may be wondering how the voters at the time would have known who had actually played their final season, given that some of these guys later attempted comebacks or went down to the AHL or tried to rehab injuries after what turned out to be their final season. Great point, and if this really bothers you, I’m going to suggest you take this whole thing a lot less seriously.

As with last time, we’ll head back to 2005 and cover the cap era. We probably won’t see as many great seasons as the Carson served up, but let’s see where this goes.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2023

A rooting guide to the PWHL's six teams

The PWHL is days away from its debut, and plenty of us are rooting for the league to succeed. That’s all well and good, but it’s not enough – to really get the full fan experience, you also need to pick a team to cheer for.

But which one? It’s an important decision, and we’re here to help. You can find detailed previews of each team here. But if you’re still on the fence when it comes to picking a bandwagon, let’s see if we can nudge you towards a well-informed decision.

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Sunday, December 24, 2023

NHL weekend rankings: Flyers, Senators, and all my mistakes that nobody will see

Happy holidays, everyone. I’m pretty sure there’s some sort of sportswriter law that says I’m supposed to do some vaguely themed Christmas post today. But at the risk of losing my license, I’m going to take this in a different direction.

After all, everybody is off today, meaning I don’t have to worry about the (disturbingly large) percentage of my readers who tell me they read me when they’re supposed to be working. If you are reading, there’s a decent chance you’re distracted, either by screaming kids or arguing in-laws. And if you do happen to be enjoying a quiet day off, snuggled under a blanket with your screen and a cup of coffee, you’re probably in a good mood.

A smaller, distracted, generally chill audience? Feels like the perfect time to recap all the ways I’m terrible at my job.

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Thursday, December 21, 2023

A modern history of the NHL’s sophomore of the year award, which does not exist

It doesn’t seem like we’re going to get much of a Calder race this year. Barring an injury or something very unexpected, the trophy for Rookie of the Year is going to go first overall pick Connor Bedard. He’s a huge favorite at all the sportsbooks, and our own writers had him as a unanimous pick in our most recent prediction panel. Do you know how much of a favorite you have to be for not even one writer to play the contrarian card? A big one. The race is all but over.

But forget the Calder. What about the Carson, the trophy awarded to the best second-year player in the NHL? It’s named after Jimmy Carson, who put up 55 goals and 107 points as a 19-year-old sophomore back in 1987-88, and it’s possible you’ve never heard of it before because I just made it up.

But it would be a cool award, right? And if it existed, we’d be watching a solid race play out. A so-so start by Matty Beniers would have opened the door to names like Wyatt Johnston, Kirill Marchenko and Andrei Kuzmenko up front, plus Jake Sanderson and Owen Power as blueline candidates. We could argue about that race all day, and arguing all day is lots of fun, according to the people who comment on my articles.

So today, let’s go back through the cap era and hand out the Carson Trophy to the best sophomore player, which is to say the best guy who’s one year removed from his final Calder-eligible season. Make some room in those trophy cases, gentlemen, there’s a new award in town.

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Monday, December 18, 2023

Weekend rankings: Sharks move up, Hurricanes don’t, and the most mediocre teams

We’re usually all about the top and bottom five here, but what about the stuck-in-the-middle brigade? Which teams have been the most mediocre so far this season?

We did this right around this time last year, and I kind of like it was a pre-holiday tradition. So before we get to the good and the bad, let’s spend some time on the merely meh.

It can be a tougher question than it sounds like. To start with, unlike just about every other league in the world, being .500 doesn’t make you mediocre in the NHL. Thanks to the loser point, being .500 in terms of points percentage is often pretty bad. Instead, I like to just look at wins and losses. Mix in goals differential, a few underlying stats, and bonus points for teams that rarely go streaking, and we can get a good sense of which team is muddling along the best. Or worst. Or in between. You get it.

And if you see your team on this list and feel insulted, well, remember that this time last year, the most middling team in the league was the Florida Panthers, and their season turned out pretty OK.

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Friday, December 15, 2023

In 2018, I ranked every team’s chances of a Cup in the next five years. How’d I do?

Which NHL team has the best odds of winning a Stanley Cup in the next five years?

It’s a question I asked at Grantland in 2015, and again after joining The Athletic in 2018. That second column came exactly five years ago this month, meaning it’s a good time to look back and see just how wrong I was.

I know I’ll be wrong, because one of the things you learn when you do an exercise like this is that predicting the future in today’s NHL is difficult, bordering on the impossible. There’s so much more randomness than we realize, and maybe even more than our fan brains wants to really process.

You also learn that when you’re trying to squeeze 32 teams into a five-year window, the odds for everyone get way smaller than you’d imagine, and that the margins get even smaller than that. You’ll see that in the rankings below.

Is it time for a brand new five-year window ranking? I’d say it is… soon. First, let’s look back at that 2018 list and see which teams I called reasonably well, and how many I whiffed on completely.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Six times NHL fans thought their teams were getting a superstar, and were wrong

It’s hockey season, and Toronto sports fans are sad, as usual. But for once, it’s not the Maple Leafs’ fault.

After weeks of speculation turned into a whirlwind few days of hype, the Toronto Blue Jays did not sign Shohei Ohtani. The world’s greatest baseball player, an unprecedented unicorn who can both hit and pitch like a superstar, chose Los Angeles over Toronto in a record-shattering $700-million deal.

Ohtani joining the Dodgers isn’t much of a surprise, and in fact was the expected outcome all along. But where things get cruel for Blue Jays fans is in terms of expectations. As the process played out, they went from underdogs to dark horse to legitimate contender. And then, on Friday, fans were told that the deal was all but done, with private planes and celebratory dinner reservations already booked; they’d landed the biggest name to ever hit baseball free agent market. But the reports were wrong, and the fan base was duped, their expectations raised up only to be shattered.

Here's where hockey comes in.

While no NHL player can touch Ohtani’s price tag – there are a few teams with full rosters that can’t – that doesn’t mean that hockey fans can’t appreciate getting their hopes up only to have the rug pulled out from under them. So today, we’re going to go back and remember six times that an entire NHL fan base thought they were getting a superstar, only to find out that they weren’t.

To be clear, we’re not talking about the blockbusters that were close in hindsight, like Steve Yzerman to Ottawa or the infamous Vincent Lecavalier to Montreal rumors. Those moves were whispered about at the time, but we didn’t learn just how close they came until after the fact. We’re looking for moments in NHL history where a fan base thought they had a star signed and sealed, then were disappointed.

It happens more often than you might think. Here are six examples, starting with maybe the most famous of them all.

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Monday, December 11, 2023

NHL weekend rankings: Penguins, Sabres, and how much should consistency matter?

When it comes to power rankings, does consistency matter?

(Pauses so everyone can make their own “Yeah, consistently wrong” jokes.)

I think it’s a fair question, and it’s one that’s come up a few times over the last few weeks. I leave a team out of the Top 5, or maybe don’t rank them quite as highly as their fans think I should. Inevitably, somebody points to a team in a better spot and demands to know how I can think so highly of them. After all, they’re just so… inconsistent.

The Avalanche get this treatment a lot. And… sure, it’s hard to argue. The Avs started the season 6-0-0, then lost five of seven, then won seven of eight, and then lost three in a row before their current homestand. They’re a lot of things, but consistent isn’t one of them. You could say the same for the Stars, who started great but haven't won two straight in weeks.

Then you have teams like the Kings or Rangers. L.A. hasn't gone pointless in two straight all year, and the Rangers hadn't either until Saturday. Those teams have been chugging along, racking up wins and avoiding the tough stretch. Anyone can get hot, the argument goes, but consistency is the sign of a winner that’s built for the long haul.

It makes sense. And there’s certainly at least some truth to it. But when I’m putting my rankings together, I tend not to get too caught up in consistency. Given how often it comes up as a criticism, maybe I should explain why that is.

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Thursday, December 7, 2023

Ranking 20 Battle of Ontario moments that would have exploded in the social media era

The Senators host the Maple Leafs tonight, the second of four meetings in a season that marks 20 years since the rivalry's last playoff series. It's fair to say that the Battle of Ontario isn't what it used to be, dampened by extended stretches of futility by Toronto and now Ottawa. In fact, if you're a new or younger fan, you might now remember much of it at all.

That's a shame, because there was a time when the Battle of Ontario used to be one of the sport's greatest rivalries. From 2000 until 2004, the two teams met in the playoffs four times in five years to go along with dozens of regular season matchups that always seemed to produce some sort of controversy or bad blood. Fans ate it up, and then took the arguments to the water cooler, the sports bar, the random street corner, and even the family dinner table.

One thing we didn't do: Post about it on social media. It didn't exist back then. And that leads to the question: Which of the rivalry's moments would have blown up social media? To figure it out, Sean McIndoe and Ian Mendes put their heads together and came up with a Top 20 ranking of Battle of Ontario moments from 2000 to 2004, as viewed from the (very different) Toronto and Ottawa perspectives.

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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Let’s get old: Six small details I miss from the ancient days of the NHL

I am old.

You may have picked up on that, based on literally everything about me. That’s fine. I accept it. In fact, I embrace it. Somebody has to stand up for us fossils, and I’m doing that now.

(Struggles to get up out of chair while making pathetic grunting noises.)

There, I’m up. Let’s get old, with the debut of a new feature in which us relics get to reminisce about the largely meaningless things we miss about old-time hockey.

But first, let’s be crystal clear about what this feature will be – and what it isn’t. This is a place for us old folks to remember how the game used to be, and the subtle things we’ve lost along the way. It is not for waving our canes in the air about how everything stinks today and was better decades ago like some stereotypical curmudgeon. And it’s very much not for debating the big changes. If you want to argue that the salary cap ruined hockey, or shootouts and loser points are bad, or that the game was more honorable when there was respect and a code and guys breaking sticks over each other’s heads, or that Gary Bettman is a secret spy sent by the NBA to ruin everything, you’ll need to find a different venue. We don’t have the energy for that around here.

No, this is about the small things that we miss. Some of you whippersnappers won’t even know about this stuff, which is half the point, because it’s always fun to teach some punk kid something new.

Sound good? Groovy. Let’s get old.

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Monday, December 4, 2023

Weekend rankings: How are this many teams under .500?

If you’ve been following this column over the season, you may have a sense of where this is going, but let’s lay it out: The bottom five is becoming an issue.

Not most of it. Three teams have been regulars, usually in the top three spots, and they’ll be there again this week. There’s a fourth team that usually makes it and one that escaped for a while but is making a big push to return, and one of them has a spot secured this time around. And then there’s the five-spot, which has been a rotating cast of teams all year long. We’ve had a newbie show up in each of the last three weeks.

So who deserves a spot this week? There’s no shortage of candidates; right now, we’ve got 11 teams that are under .500 in a league where the standings are specifically rigged to make sure that doesn’t happen. And almost all of those teams could make a solid claim to a bottom-five spot.

Almost all of them. The exception is the Oilers, who are 9-12-1 but just got the whole contender treatment in the last section. I’ve stayed on the bandwagon all year, even when things were going off the rails, so you know I’m not turning on them now that they’re hot.

Beyond that? I think everyone has a case. So today, I’m going to work through those other 10 teams and try to talk myself out of some bottom-five candidates, one by one. We’ll see how convincing I can be, but one way or another we’ll narrow the field of 10 down to a true bottom five.

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Friday, December 1, 2023

Mailbag: December trades, a roster challenge, and more

Which team would win this 3-on-3 tournament?

  • All goalies with a regular goalie in net (e.g. Oettinger, Shesterkin and Samsonov, with Vasilevsky in net)
  • All forwards (e.g. McDavid, Pastrnak, Draisaitl with Matthews in net)
  • All defensemen (e.g. Makar, Fox and McAvoy with Josi in net)

Note: Each team’s one designated goalie has to stay in net, and only those goalies get goalie equipment.

I'm leaning defensemen. Goalies have massive advantage having a real goalie, but I don't think they would have the puck much. – Josh D.

I’m with you on the goaltenders – they just wouldn’t be able to keep up. The average NHL goalie is a far better hockey player than you’d think, and plenty of beer leaguers have stories of pro goalies wanting to play out and just skating circles around everyone. But these wouldn’t be beer leaugers they’re playing against. They might never touch the puck. Give them the bronze.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Mr. Sensitive? Racoon Jesus? Darryl? Take the Hockey Reference weird nickname quiz

Hockey Reference might be my favorite web site, not counting the one that pays me, and even then it’s close. There’s a ton of information, everything is easy to find and loads quickly, and I can get lost for hours going down rabbit holes of trades, records and oddities. I happily subscribe to their stathead service. I even have a browser shortcut that lets me automatically search the site, which I use roughly a dozen times a day. If you like my work here, thank the fine folks at Hockey Reference. I couldn’t do it without them.

All that said, occasionally they get weird.

Often, it’s on purpose – their “Frivolities” section is great fun. Other times, it’s practical, like that FAQ thing shoehorned onto every player page that seems to be some sort of SEO play. But their most recent addition is just plain wacky, and we’re going to have some fun with it today.

At some point in the last few weeks, Hockey Reference started adding nicknames to their player pages. And, uh, let’s just say they’re casting a wide net.

As best I can tell, our friends at Hockey Reference have (perhaps automatically) scraped the internet for any and all references to player nicknames, and included everything they could find. We all know that we’re living through the worst and least creative era of hockey nicknames ever, one where everyone is just called Smither or Jonesy. But apparently we’re all wrong, because the Hockey Reference player pages think that every star has a bunch of nicknames. And I’ll be honest, I’ve never heard of most of them.

I’m betting you haven’t either. But I’m going to give you a chance to prove me wrong with today’s quiz. I’ll give you 20 nicknames plucked from actual Hockey Reference player pages, you tell me the player that (they claim) the nickname applies to. Take the quiz, then scroll back up here to check your score and see how you did.

0 right: You are the Red Light Racicot of nickname knowers.

1 – 4 right: You are Jumbo Joe.

5 – 9 right: You are the Pocket Rocket.

10 - 13 right: You are the Finnish Flash.

14 – 16 right: You are the Missing Link.

17 – 19 right: You are the Grim Reaper.

20 right: You are the Chicoutimi Cucumber.

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Monday, November 27, 2023

Weekend rankings: It's time to be scared of Tampa and worried about New Jersey

The NHL makes no sense.

What happens today doesn’t seem to have all that much to do with what happens tomorrow. Two weeks ago? Forget it. Teams get hold and cold, seemingly at random, and you never know when you’re going to get a result that nobody expected.

You know this. Depending on what kind of fan you are, it might be a big part of the product’s appeal. It’s any given Sunday, seven days a week.

But part of the fun of a league like this is that you can always look back at certain results and say, well, that just shouldn’t have happened. We may have had a few of those games this weekend, with a flatlining Oilers team that can’t get a save shutting out a Capitals team that was red hot, the usually tidy Hurricanes giving up eight to the Lightning, and a historically bad Sharks team dropping a big bag of regression on the feel-good Canucks. Will we look back on either of those games as turning points for any of the teams involved? Maybe. But there’s a good chance they’ll just be weird outliers in a league full of them.

So before we get to this week’s rankings, let’s look back at five games from the first two months that, in hindsight, don’t make a damn bit of sense.

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Thursday, November 23, 2023

The NHL’s championship belt of franchise dysfunction, Part 2: The Bettman Era

Welcome to Part 2 of our attempt to trace the lineage of the NHL championship belt of franchise dysfunction and ineptitude. The concept is simple: We start with the most embarrassing franchise at a given point in time, and they hold the belt until someone even worse comes along.

Yesterday, we covered the first 75 or so years of NHL history, passing the belt between various teams in an escalating race to the bottom. We had an area burn down, a Stanley Cup final get evicted by a circus, a garbage can trophy ceremony, and a cameo by Mickey Mouse. When it was all over, the San Jose Sharks were left holding the belt, thanks to their historically awful expansion debut.

Can they keep it? No they cannot, because the Gary Bettman era is about to begin, and things are going to go from bad to worse.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Tracing the history of the NHL’s championship belt of franchise dysfunction - Part 1

Hockey fans love to argue about which franchise is in the best shape. These guys just won the Cup, but this team has a brighter future, and this one is run by the smartest people. They’re the teams that you want your team to be when it grows up.

And sure, that’s all well and good. But I think we can have just as much fun with the other side of the coin. What about the franchise that’s a complete mess?

After all, there always seems to be at least one franchise in this league that’s just a total trainwreck. So today, let’s try to answer the question: Who was the single most dysfunctional team at any given point in NHL history?

To do it, we’re going to break out one of my favorite gimmicks: The Bill Barnwell “championship belt”. Bill debuted this concept back in the Grantland days, and I’ve borrowed it before. The concept is simple enough: At any given point in history, one team holds the championship, and to win the belt you’ve got to be able to clearly beat them. We go back to the beginning and trace the lineage of the title, figuring out when it changed hands and why, until we get back to today.

To be clear, we’re not just looking for the worst team in terms of on-ice results (although that will obviously be an important factor). We already have the standings to tell us which team lost the most games in a given era. We’re looking deeper than that, for the teams that were a mess from top-to-bottom, on the ice and off. The roster, the coaching, the front office and ownership will all be factored in.

In short, we’re looking for the one team, at any given point in time, that you’d look at as the fan of another team and think “Well, we might be bad, but at least we’re not them”.

We’ll begin at the beginning, although we’ll speed through the early history to get to the more modern stuff you’re probably waiting for. This is Part One, which will take us from the earliest days through the first 75 years of NHL history; the rest will come tomorrow.

Can your team win the coveted belt? Let’s see just how dumb this league can get.

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Monday, November 20, 2023

NHL weekend rankings: Wild struggle, Capitals surge, and Thanksgiving looms

Happy Thanksgiving week to readers south of the border. In America, this is a week for travel, family, and fun. In Canada, it’s a week to go “wait, why is there football on a Thursday afternoon?” But in either country, it means that if you’re not in a playoff spot, you might just be screwed.

There are different theories about just how far out you can be, and just how unlikely a comeback could be. But the most basic version is also the scariest: Teams that are out of a playoff spot on U.S. Thanksgiving are very unlikely to make it, period. We’re told that even coaches buy into it.

The good news, if your team is on the outside looking in, is that we’re a few days early here. The bad news is that some teams have already clinched, in the sense that even if they win the rest of their pre-Thanksgiving games, they’ll still be out in the cold on Thursday morning. Let’s focus on those teams, and try to figure out who’s going to defy the odds.

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Thursday, November 16, 2023

Jumping the Sharks: Is this San Jose team worse than the expansion version?

I didn’t write this post last week, because I thought it would be cruel.

At the start of last week, the Sharks had yet to win so much as a single game, and were coming off back-to-back losses where they gave up ten goals. They were being outscored by Auston Matthews, which seems bad because he’s one guy. They were the laughingstock of the league, only it was getting hard to laugh.

But now? They won two games last week. In a row! They’re practically the late-70s Habs, which makes them fair game for some fun. And is there anything more fun than combining current events with an early-90s NHL history lesson? (Looks around an awkwardly silent room.) No? Just me? Too bad, it’s my column.

Today’s question: Who’s worse, the current Sharks, or the historically terrible Sharks from their first two seasons, in 1991-92 and 1992-93? That older version was an awful team that some of you probably aren’t familiar with, so this will be fun and educational. I’ve got all the important categories and criteria laid out, so let’s see where this takes us.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2023

When a contract can't fit on one Cap Friendly page. Introducing the Red Arrow Index

When you go to your team’s Cap Friendly page, how many red arrows do you see?

With apologies to those mythical Gary Bettman fans who don’t care about the salary cap, everyone else knows the red arrow. It’s the little icon that shows up on a Cap Friendly team page, denoting a contract that has so much term left that it doesn’t fit on the screen. Right now, that means the red arrow shows up next to any deal that stretches to at least 2029.

How many does your team have? Welcome to the Red Arrow Index, a new analytics tool that was created based on a long and thorough process of me making it up in my head during a podcast a few weeks ago.

Like all great and complicated analytics, the Red Arrow Index needs a bit of context. A high score isn’t necessarily bad, and neither is a low one. As a rule of thumb, a team that’s old and bad wants to be at zero, but a team that’s young and good is happy with a high number. It’s tempting to describe it as “the dreaded red arrow”, and that would apply often, but not always.

Still, we can learn a thing or two from going through the league and seeing who comes in where. For example, there are three teams who score a zero on the RAI, two of which were not surprising and one of which very much was. And as for the team with the highest score in the league… well, you might already have a guess, but we’ll get there.

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Monday, November 13, 2023

NHL weekend rankings: Jay Woodcroft fired, good times in Vancouver, and more

The Oilers snapped their losing streak on Saturday, dominating the Kraken early on their way to an impressive 4-0 win that may save the job of head coach Jay Woodcroft whoops nope, there he goes.

That was weird, right?

When news first broke on Sunday morning that Edmonton was making a change despite the win, my first thought was “Well, they’ve obviously got a big name in their back pocket and they don’t want to risk waiting.” But nope, the new coach is Kris Knoblauch, a guy who’s had a lot of success in junior and not as much in the AHL.

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Friday, November 10, 2023

Debating the Hall of Fame case for Joe Pavelksi, John Tavares and other active stars

The Hockey Hall of Fame will welcome its class of 2023 tomorrow. That’s always fun, but I prefer to look ahead. In this case, several years ahead, because we’re going to study the candidacies of a half dozen players who are still active. The question is simple: Are they on a Hall of Fame track?

This is something I like to poke around with every so often, usually around HHOF time. Here are the columns I did during the 2019 offseason, another from later that year, and one from 2021, plus one that reevaluated a few of those cases last year. (If you’re going to hit me with a “I can’t believe you didn’t mention…” comment, know that there’s a decent chance the guy you’re thinking of was already covered in one of those pieces.)

This time, it’s six brand new names, some based on your suggestions over the years. And just to make sure I’m not too far off track with my own judgements, I’ll be checking in with Paul Pidutti's Adjusted Hockey, the excellent system that boils a player’s Hall qualifications down to a single number. Paul’s formula is hardly an argument-ender – nor should it be, because the argument is most of the fun – but it helps ground the discussion in some historical reality.

Let’s do this. Six names, starting with a fan favorite…

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Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Remembering 8 NHL stars who were Hall-of-Fame locks, until they weren’t

Nicklas Backstrom stepped away from hockey last week, and it got me thinking about the Hall of Fame.

Granted, that doesn’t take all that much. As my readers know, I love a good HHOF debate. In fact, we’ll be having a few later this week, as the Hall gets set to welcome its class of 2023.

If Backstrom’s career is over, he won’t be eligible for three years. I don’t think he makes it, but I suppose it’s not a sure thing. (The committee occasionally surprises us, to put it kindly.) But there was a time when Backstrom absolutely seemed like he was on a Hall of Fame track. Back in 2009-10, he was just 22 and coming off a 100-point season when those were exceedingly rare. If you’d gone around the league back then and placed bets on future Hall odds, he would have been high on anyone’s list. Just not anymore.

That’s not a rare story in the NHL, where we’re often a little too quick to slap the “HHOF lock” label on a player, only to see their candidacy fade – sometimes slowly, sometimes dramatically.

So today, let’s look back at eight NHL stars who sure seemed like future Hall-of-Famers, right up until they weren’t. I’ll give you the details, you see if you can guess the name.

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Monday, November 6, 2023

NHL weekend rankings: West coast positivity, plus 5 teams that should be panicking

It’s November, which means that if your team is still bad then you should be panicking.

Well, assuming your team was trying to be good. If this a tank year for you and yours, then keep piling up those losses. It’s not a fun way to spend the season, but until the NHL gets around to changing the rules, it’s the best strategy.

But if you were led to believe that your team would be competitive this year? Yeah, not great. And man, does that ever seem to apply to an unusually high number of teams around the league these days. The “it’s still early” train has left the station, and it’s time to worry.

How much? That depends on the team. So let’s check in with an early (but not that early) panic index.

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Thursday, November 2, 2023

Cap discounts for draft picks? Mid-game substitutions? NHL Rules Court returns

Please rise, the sixth session of Rules Court is now… uh, in session.

Sorry, I’m a little thrown off, and I blame you. It turns out, you guys are weird. Or at least your ideas can be, as we’re going to see in just a bit.

First, for those of you who are new to this, here’s how it works. The readers submit a rule proposal, about the on-ice rules or the CBA or anything else you’d like to see change. Our three-man panel of Sean Gentille, Ian Mendes and Sean McIndoe vote on whether the NHL should adopt it. If you can convince at least two of us, the motion is carried and your rule becomes official. (Note: This does not happen.)

You can find previous editions here, here, here, here and here, in which we’ve already made changes like abolishing offsides, adopting the 3-2-1-0 point system, and making it so that the referee has to skate around holding up both arms if there are two delayed penalties at the same time. Honestly, that last one may have been our finest work so far. The bar is high, but let’s see what you were able to come up with this time…

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Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Boo, in more ways than one. Celebrate Halloween with the NHL's scariest starts

Happy Halloween. Are you scared?

No? You should be. Because there’s probably a player on your favorite team who stinks right now.

That’s the stunningly creative theme of today’s post, as we scan around the league for players who've had frighteningly shaky Octobers. Bad starts are relative, of course, and we’re mostly focused on the guys who came into the season with high expectations – either because they were stars, or they were joining a new team, or both.

We’ll fill out a 21-man roster – we’re struggling here, so we’ll need that extra goalie – with a limit of one player per team, because otherwise the whole roster would just be this. That means 11 teams are left out, either because nobody is playing poorly or our expectations were already low, and I’ll leave it to you to decide which is which. We’ll work those teams in with some half-hearted honorable mentions, but for the rest of, let’s crank up the spooky music and hunt for some last-minute costume ideas that are truly scary.

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Monday, October 30, 2023

NHL weekend rankings: Who's had it worse so far, the Oilers or the Flames?

It’s the Battle of Alberta!

Specifically, the battle to see which of these two fan bases should be the most miserable right now.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Heading into the season, the Oilers were a team that finally had everything lined up just right for a Cup run. And while the Flames weren’t favorites, they’d finally shed the dark cloud of Darryl Sutter and were ready to move forward in a Pacific where the path to the playoffs was wide open. Give the two teams a few weeks to establish themselves, and the Heritage Classic was destined to be a barnburner.

It's fair to say that the barn remains unburned. That’s not to way that last night’s game wasn’t fun, or it’s own kind of spectacle. By now, we all know the familiar beats when it comes to an outdoor game – the funny pregame outfits, the soaring panoramic shots, the alternate jerseys that will never be seen again, the weird-but-intermittently-loud ambience, the local flavor. Last night checked all the boxes. It was fun.

What hasn’t been fun for these two teams: Pretty much everything else. Both fan bases have the right to be cranky right now, with the teams tied for 30th in the NHL with five points each. In the spirit of competition, let’s ask the obvious question: Which team has had it worse, Edmonton or Calgary?

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Friday, October 27, 2023

You can go home again, by acing our “Who did he play for twice?” quiz

Did you make time for Fluto’s story about Milan Lucic’s return to the Bruins this week? Be sure to check it out, it’s an interesting look at what brings a player back to a team after years away.

Lucic isn’t the only prodigal son who returned to a former team this year. We’ve seen Trevor Lewis head back to Los Angeles, Laurent Brossoit return to Winnipeg, and Tony DeAngleo get another chance in Carolina. Those guys are following in a rich history of NHL players returning to former teams, a storyline that everyone in this league seems to love. Big stars, virtual unknowns, and everyone in between – as their careers wind on, they often find themselves back in a familiar uniform.

So today, we’re going to honor those comeback stories by flipping the script on our usual quiz format. Most time, we play a game called “Who didn’t he play for?”, where I give you a player and you try to figure out which team never employed him. This time, we’re going “Who did he play for twice?”, in which I give you a player and you… actually, if you can’t figure it out from the title, I’m not sure any further explanation can help you.

As always, we’ll have 16 names to test your memory, ranging from super-easy to take-a-guess. Complete the quiz, then scroll back up to check your score and see how you did.

0 – 2 right: You’re Peter Forsberg returning to the Avalanche and lasting two games.

3 – 5 right: You’re Mark Messier returning to the Rangers with a footprint on your back.

6 – 8 right: You’re Luc Robitaille returning to the Kings.

9 – 11 right: You’re Luc Robitaille returning to the Kings. No, the other time.

12 – 15 right: You’re Roberto Luongo returning to the Panthers and rediscovering your magic.

16 right: You’re Teemu Selanne returning to the Ducks to win the Stanley Cup.

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Thursday, October 26, 2023

A brief history of Canada's early Cup favorites, and where they went wrong

So about that Canadian Cup drought…

It’s been a while since one of the country’s teams has won a championship. You may have heard about it. In fact, you may be sick of hearing about it. You might even be looking for an exceedingly dumb alternate universe where things were easier, and if so I’ve got you covered.

Or you might be wondering if this is the year the drought ends, in which case the news isn’t great. Heading into this season, the oddsmakers pointed to two Canadian teams as legitimate contenders: the Oilers and Maple Leafs. Depending on where and when you looked, you could even make the case that those two teams were the leaguewide favorites. At the very least, they were near the top – in June, our list had the Oilers second at +900, while the Leafs were tied for fourth +1200.

(I’ll pause here to explain that +900 is the same as 9-to-1, which is to say an implied 10% chance at winning. The lower the number, the better for a team's chances, so +500 or 5-to-1 is a strong favorite, while +2000 or 20-to-1 is a much longer shot.)

But two weeks in, the Oilers are a mess and the Leafs have been inconsistent. And while we’ve seen some positive signs from the Canucks and Senators, none of the country’s teams are looking like Cup favorites right now.

There’s time for all that to sort itself out, but for now it had me wondering: Which teams were Canada’s best Stanley Cup hopes of the drought era, based on the preseason odds? We know teams like the 1994 Canucks, 2004 Flames and 2006 Oilers all came agonizingly close, but all of those were Cinderella runs. Which Canadian teams in the last 30 years went into a season as consensus Cup favorites? And then, what went wrong?

Luckily for me, it turns out there’s a site that tracks exactly this sort of thing. And as it turns out, there have been 15 Canadian teams that have gone into a season at less than +1000 since 1993. Let’s look back at those teams and see whether we can learn anything from what happened to them once the games mattered. At the very least, we can try to cheer up those salty Oiler and Leaf fans.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Puck Soup: Frozen frenzy

A new episode of the Puck Soup podcast has been posted:

>> Stream on the Puck Soup site
>> 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, October 23, 2023

Weekend NHL rankings: The Oilers are bad now, and other trends that may not last

We’re two weeks in. Are you keeping up on your mandatory first-month cliches?

Week 1: “It’s too early.”

Week 2: “It’s still early.”

Week 3: “It’s gets late early around here.”

Week 4: Miscellaneous Halloween “it’s getting scary” reference.

But while (checks notes) it’s still early, some trends are coming into focus already. Let’s take a look at a few, and see if we think they’ll continue.

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Friday, October 20, 2023

Building history's best roster of guys who weren't the top star with their own name

A very important milestone happened on Saturday night in Montreal, when a longstanding NHL record was broken by rookie wonderkid Connor Bedard. They didn’t stop the game to recognize the accomplishment with a ceremony, which was unfortunate, and I’m not even sure that casual fans noticed it. But it was very important.

By recording the third point of his young career, Connor Bedard became the all-time leading scorer among guys named “Bedard”. He broke a decades old tie between a pair of Jims, 1950s defenseman Jim Bedard and 1970s goalie Jim Bedard, both of whom were tied with two career points.

No? It’s just me who cares about this stuff? Yeah, I guess that’s possible. But I’ve always been mildly fascinated by guys who become NHL stars while clearly being the second-best player with their own last name.

So that’s what we’re doing today, as an early-season Friday time-waster. Let’s make an all-time roster of great players who weren’t quite great enough to be the best player with their own name.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2023

The Contrarian: How Mark Messier saved the Canucks, and other fake arguments

Welcome to The Contrarian, a new column idea that I’m very excited about.

Or am I?

You see what I did there. And there’s more where that came from, because the concept here is simple: You send me some NHL-related statements that you believe to be true. It can be something that seems obvious, maybe even inarguable. Then I argue it anyways, and try to convince you that you’re wrong.

I get to flex my contrarian muscles, which will come in handy if I ever get invited to be on one of those TV shows where sportswriters just yell at each other about stuff they don’t actually believe. You get some (hopefully) fun contrarian content to challenge your cherished assumptions and/or roll your eyes at. It will be fun.

At least, that’s what I thought before I started reading through your submissions. You people are messed up. You couldn’t let me ease into this, could you? Nope, you went right to the top shelf with just about the most slam dunk statements you could find. I’m surprised none of you went with “ice is cold”. Maybe next time.

But I said I’d give this a try, and I’m a man of my word. Let’s do this. You’re wrong about everything, and I’m going to prove it to you. (And as an added bonus, try to figure out which of these I actually believe.)

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

The Mark Messier era in Vancouver was an unmitigated disaster. – Olivier C.

On the contrary, Olivier, you moron.

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Monday, October 16, 2023

Weekend NHL rankings: Early season picks for the best, the worst and the best bandwagon teams

We’re back, it’s way too early, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Welcome back to the weekend NHL rankings, in which I’ll start off every week of the season by serving up a Top Five, a Bottom Five, and a Bonus Five, with a few of the week’s more interesting teams tossed into the mix.

First, let’s be clear about what this ranking is all about. Those of you who’ve been around for past seasons should know the drill by now, and if so skip on down to the bandwagon rankings. But if you’re new, it’s worth a quick aside on what we’re actually trying to do here.

These rankings are meant to be a long-term view, where we try to figure out which team will win the Cup and which will finish dead last. That means that while we’ll still react to what we see on the ice and who beats who, short-term swings may not have as much impact as you’d expect. A team can be the Cup favorite even after a three-loss week, and one team beating another doesn’t necessarily mean they move up and take their spot. If you’d prefer a more short-term view, the Friday rankings have you covered. Around these parts, it’s more of a slow-and-steady approach.

That means we won’t overreact to a game or two here and there. It also means that if we’re wrong about a team from the start, we run the risk of staying wrong for longer than we need to, so the way-too-early opening rankings can matter. The gap between being conservative and just being stubborn can be a tricky one. Or at least, that’s what the comments section likes to tell me.

We’ll get to the power rankings in a bit. But first, this week’s Bonus Five, in which I’m going to help you find a second-favorite team.

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Sunday, October 15, 2023

Help me become a better contrarian

Hey folks…

I had an idea for something new this season I’d like to try. It would be a semi-regular column called The Contrarian or something similar. You send in a statement that you think is obvious or inarguable, and I’ll try to come up with the contrarian view.

It could be anything: A team that’s definitely good (or bad), a rule that should change, a historical argument… up to you.

Let’s try it out and see where it goes. Send me your sure-thing statement via email at

Friday, October 13, 2023

Nobody understands the Bruins (and other lessons from your preseason predictions)

Every now and then, somebody will ask me why I take the time to set up the annual prediction contest. Why bother, when it takes so much work to scrape all the data from our (occasionally uncooperative) comment section, massage it into some kind of working shape, and then monitor the whole thing over the course of a full season?

The first answer is that I just like seeing how wrong you all are, and how sad that makes you feel.

But the second answer is that there’s a bonus to the contest, from my perspective: By getting a few thousand readers to put their pre-season predictions in writing, I end up with a treasure trove of data on what fans are thinking. I like to think that The Athletic’s readers are reasonably bright and well-informed, and while a prediction game isn’t a random sampling, it’s still a useful way to take the pulse of the hockey world.

So today, let’s set aside the contest aspect – we’ll check in on that later in the year – and just focus on what you told me about what you do and don’t believe heading into the 2023-24 season.

This is all based on an early pass on the data, which hasn’t been cleaned up yet. (Special thanks to contest wrangler Mike, who was able to get the initial pass done in record time.) We’ll focus on broad trends rather than specific numbers, but there’s still plenty to dig into.

Such as…

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Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Offering up an oddly specific prediction for all 32 NHL teams this year

This is my favorite prediction column to write each year.

Like most hockey writers, I produce more than my share of predictions. There’s my annual leaguewide look, which also went live today and can be found here. I was part of The Athletic’s staff-wide award picks. I’ve been making picks on podcasts, and radio hits, and probably in my sleep. It’s part of the lead up to opening night, and it’s fun.

But once a year, I let myself go overboard by making predictions for each team that are way too specific. Anyone can predict that a player will hit a milestone or break a record; I want to also give you the exact date it will happen. Some player is going to be in the running for an award? Not good enough, you deserve to know exactly where they’ll finish. Along the way, we also dig up a few weird odds and ends from the stat book. But the key is that in these parts, we don’t use words like “around” or “approximately” or “close enough”.

We also don’t use words like “correct” very often, but that’s half the appeal. And when I do nail one of these predictions – like picking the exact game in which Joel Hanley would score his first regular season goal, or the exact night that the Kings would take their only misconduct penalty of the season – then it goes without saying that I will never shut up about it.

The offseason lasted forever and real hockey is just hours away. Let’s get oddly specific.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Puck Soup: Predictions + who he play for

A new episode of the Puck Soup podcast has been posted:

>> Stream on the Puck Soup site
>> 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.

From Stanley Cup contenders to bottom feeders: Predicting the NHL season

Opening night is almost here. Are you sick of predictions yet? Too bad, here comes another batch, as I’ve put together my annual attempt to sort the NHL into four divisions.

The rules, as always: I get just those four divisions, each with exactly eight teams. We’ll have the bottom-feeders, the middle-of-the-pack, the legitimate contenders, and then the teams where I just have no idea. That last one should honestly just have every team in it, but let’s not dwell on that.

Four divisions, starting with the dregs and working our way up. Will I get them all right? No. But will I nail at least a few? Not necessarily, to be honest. Let’s do this.

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Friday, October 6, 2023

Make your picks for the prediction contest that's so easy it's almost impossible

It’s easy to look like a genius when you predict the NHL season. Just focus on the obvious, lay out everything that you know is going to happen, and feel confident in your unshakeable wisdom. And then – and this is the important part – don’t leave a public record anywhere, so nobody can look back in a few months and see how wrong you actually were.

That’s where this contest comes in. A few years ago, I got tired of everyone telling me how predictable the NHL was. Something would happen that I thought was unexpected, like the Golden Knights being good in year one, or the Sharks collapsing, or Barry Trtoz getting the Islanders into the playoffs. I’d express my surprise, and I’d inevitably hear from all sorts of fans who’d scoff. It was obvious all along, they’d tell me. And everyone with half a brain knew it.

OK, I finally said – prove it. And after a little bit of tinkering, my annual prediction contest was born. The premise was simple: Since the league is so easy to predict, I’d ask you some of the most basic questions imaginable. Nothing fancy or especially complicated. Just which teams would be good or bad, which coaches and GMs were on safe ground, and which players would be the stars of the season. If the prediction business was as easy as everyone said, you guys would crush it.

Gentle readers, you have not crushed it.

In three years, the contest has grown from 800 entries to 1,600 to last year’s 2,1000. And nobody has come close to an especially great score. Only a small handful have even managed a passing grade. You can check in on last year’s results here, when it turned out that you didn’t believe in the Kraken, you did believe in Darryl Sutter, and literally nobody thought old man Erik Karlsson was a Norris candidate. Like I said, not so simple… at least when someone is keeping track.

This year, we’ve got all the old classic questions returning, plus a brand new one that shines a spotlight on the middle-of-the-pack. And yes, the dreaded bonus question is back too. As always, the winner gets a signed copy of my book, plus the (infinitely more valuable) bragging rights that you actually called your shots.

Good luck. History says you’re going to need it.

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Thursday, October 5, 2023

We found playoffs in a hopeless place: The case for the NHL's 10 worst teams

We’re now just a week away from the start of the NHL season, meaning hockey fans are being flooded with season previews. That’s great for most of us, as we head into a new year clinging to optimism and best-case scenarios. But for fans of teams that rebuilding or just plain bad, preview season just means that any lingering hope gets squeezed out, as every preview seems to echo the same theme: You’re bad, and you’re screwed.

That’s where today’s column comes in. For the last few years, I’ve looked to offer some optimism to fans of the worst teams. And not just garden-variety optimism, where things might go a little better than expected. I’m talking a world where everyone is wrong, your team is actually good, and they’re going to make noise in the playoffs.

It’s, uh… not easy.

That doesn’t mean it can’t work sometimes. For example, heading into last season the consensus was that the second-year Kraken would miss the playoffs and maybe even be in the mix for last place. I made the case for why they could be better, and maybe even win a round. Then they did.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that last year, our previews only had the Kraken as the tenth worst team, and the nine teams below them all missed the playoffs by healthy margins. Sometimes bad teams are just bad, and all the hope in the world can’t trump that reality. But we can try, if only to give a few fan bases a break from all the negativity.

Here’s the optimist’s view of the ten teams with the bleakest outlook heading into the 2023-24 season, based on the previews that Dom, Sean and Shayna have been churning out. We’ll start with the best of those teams, and work our way down to the dregs.

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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Puck Soup: Best and worst

A new episode of the Puck Soup podcast has been posted:

>> Stream on the Puck Soup site
>> 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.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Dubas, Laviolette, Babcock and more: The offseason Bizarro-meter heads East

Yesterday, we fired up the bizarro-meter for our annual attempt to measure the NHL’s weirdest offseasons. We covered off the Western Conference, and it was… not all that weird? Almost alarmingly normal? There was the usual mix of questionable trades, bad signings, and erotic book-based controversies, but in the end no team even cracked an 8 out of 10 on the meter.

Either this league is getting boring, or most of the weird stuff headed east this year. Let’s find out.

As always, a reminder that a bizarro offseason isn’t necessarily a bad one, or even a busy one. It’s about the moves that happen and the ones that don’t, with an emphasis on the moments that make you wonder: What are they doing over there?

Can any Eastern teams surpass the West’s meagre efforts? I’m guessing you won’t have to scroll through my phone to find an answer…

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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Dubois, Bedard, Trotz and more: Rating the West’s offseason with the Bizarro-meter

The offseason is over, training camp has started, and it’s time to get weird. Longtime readers know what that means: It’s time to dust off the trusty bizarro-meter and find out which teams had the strangest offseason.

But first, let’s just make sure everything is still working.

(Dramatically pulls tarp off of machine, brushes off cobwebs.)

(Turns enormous crank to get it started until lights start flickering and a faint humming sound can be heard.)

(Waits patiently for output.)

(Hears a computerized voice declare “The league assures us that fans love the animated board ads, they all swear it makes the viewing experience much better.”)

Huh. Yeah, I’d say it’s working. Let’s get started.

But first, a reminder: We’re looking for how weird an offseason was, and “weird” is a value-neutral term. It doesn’t mean good, and it doesn’t mean bad. It doesn’t mean busy, or quiet. A weird decision can be brilliant or disastrous or somewhere in between, and playing it safe by doing nothing of note might be the weirdest choice of all. If you just want to know which offseasons were good or bad, check here. This is about who managed to surprise us, or confuse us, or make us point and laugh.

As always, we’ll do this by conference. Today, we get started with the West.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2023

My 2023-24 all-intrigue roster, featuring one name from each team

Summer’s over and the NHL is almost back, which means it’s time for my annual All-Intrigue roster. As always, the criteria here is whatever I want it to be – these are the guys who I find interesting heading into the season, for whatever reason. Some of them will be obvious. (Spoiler alert: This Connor Bedard kid will be one to watch.) Others might be surprises.

The key rule is that each team can only be represented once, which is necessary to keep every slot from going to the endlessly fascinating Maple Leafs team that I know you all love reading about so much. We’re doing 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies, plus a coach and GM, and I’ll include honorable mentions for each section to make sure every team gets a mention. And just to make things ever more complicated for myself, I’m adding one more rule: No repeats from last year. Sorry to all the Mackenzie Blackwood fans out there.


Connor Hellebuyck, Jets

Remember when the Jets were facing down a busy offseason, one that would see them have no choice but to make blockbuster trades around longtime pieces like Hellebuyck and Mark Scheifele? We’re well into September and neither guy has been moved, and it seems like it will stay that way.

So now what? Hellebuyck’s been one of the best goalies of his generation, but he’s entering the final year of his contract and seems unlikely to get the big extension he’s been hoping for. With unrestricted free agency looming, he’s got a ton riding on this season. He’s always been a workhorse, and you wonder how hard the Jets will ride him if this is his last year in Winnipeg. Is he a midseason trade candidate? Maybe a deadline gamechanger? Or just a guy facing down one of the biggest contract years in recent NHL history?

Devon Levi, Sabres

We all just kind of assumed that Kevyn Adams would go out and get some goaltending help this offseason. Maybe it would be an established star to hold down the job while Levi was the understudy, or maybe it would just be a competent veteran to be the insurance policy. Neither happened, and with Craig Anderson retiring, an up-and-coming team’s position of weakness is in theory even worse.

That could be disastrous, if Levi isn’t ready. But maybe he is ready, and can have the sort of impact rookie season that young goalies used to have back in the day. If so, then the Sabres could go from up-and-coming to legitimately scary. Or maybe all that progress goes down the drain because they can’t get a save, and the Wings and Senators blow past them instead. No pressure, kid.

Honorable mentions: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a reigning Vezina winner go into a season with less leaguewide buy-in than Linus Ullmark, who won roughly 85 games last year and doesn’t even seem to be anyone’s pick for the best goalie on his own team. The Devils are another team that was supposed to be goalie hunting but seem ready to roll with what they have, which might mean we get to see if Akira Schmid is a genuine 1a on a contender or just the Swiss Steve Penney.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Remembering the supplemental draft, the entry draft's weird and short-lived cousin

Hockey history nerds: Are you all ready for the big anniversary? Got your balloons, streamers, and wall-length banners reading “Happy 37th”?

Literally everyone else: It’s OK that you have no idea what I’m talking about. You’re about to learn something, and while I can’t promise it will be educational or enriching, it will be weird.

This coming Sunday marks 37 years since the debut of a brief and essentially forgotten piece of the NHL offseason known as the supplemental draft. Not to be confused with the far more well-known entry draft (or the equally forgotten waiver draft), the supplemental draft was a special event specifically for college players. Not all of them, mind you, but we’ll get to that.

Of course, this being the NHL, even the simplest concepts inevitably go sideways. So as we get ready to celebrate the anniversary, let’s remember (and/or learn for the first time) 10 fun facts about the old supplemental draft.

1. The concept was relatively straightforward

So what was the supplemental draft? Basically, it was a way to assign the NHL rights of college players who were too old for the standard entry draft.

The supplemental draft was first established for the 1986 offseason. To be eligible, a player would have to be 21 or older and undrafted, with at least a year of college play but no professional experience. In its original form, the draft would last two rounds, with the first open only to non-playoff teams and the second open to everyone.

Simple enough, you might think. But why have the draft at all? And specifically, why suddenly implement it in the mid-80s, years after all the other draft rules had already been established?

Well, about that…

2. The draft was born because one team was annoying everyone

As with most things in life, the problem starts with the Detroit Red Wings.

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Thursday, September 7, 2023

Introducing the “they had him but he never played there” all-stars

With the season just over a month away, it will be time to get back to real content soon. It’s been a fun summer of time-wasting challenges and random rankings, but soon it’s going to be time get serious.

Soon, but not quite yet. So today, we’re going to get to a topic that shows up in a lot of your requests: Superstar players, and the teams they never actually played for. Specifically, we’re looking for players who belonged to a team at some point, be it a few years or a few hours, but never suited up for them. Along the way, we should run into some interesting stories.

But first, a few ground rules™:

- We’re going to be building a 20-man roster out of 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies.

- We’re looking for overall star power. Normally this is the part where I give you the whole “only get credit for what a player did on your team” caveat, but… (gestures at entire concept). Full careers on this one.

- Finally, we’re limiting each team to one representative. Call this the Arizona Coyotes rule.

Sound good? Let’s do this. One full roster, full of stars who never played for the teams they were one.

We’ll start our squad with a Hall-of-Famer and all-time great, who’s also kind enough to be a simple example of what we’re looking for here. Six years before he arrived in Montreal and gave the Habs nearly a decade of Cup-winning goaltending, Ken Dryden was a Bruins third-round pick. Boston held onto him for all of three weeks before trading him to Montreal, and the rest was history. Unlike the Bruins, we’ll give him a chance as our starter.

The second goalie spot has a few worthy candidates. We could go with Tim Thomas, a Nordiques pick who never got a chance there. There’s also Olaf Kolzig, who was technically Maple Leafs property for a few weeks in 2009, or another not-quite-Leaf in Tuukka Rask. Or Mike Richter, a lifelong Ranger who was briefly a member of both the Predators and Oilers due to offseason shenanigans. Evgeni Nabokov was a Red Wing for a few hours before the Islanders sniped him off the waiver wire. The Canucks acquired John Vanbiesbrouck for a few days before the 1993 expansion draft. We could even dip back into very recent history to go with the Blue Jackets’ brief Jonathan Quick era. And the best of the bunch might be Henrik Lundqvist, who signed with the Capitals but was never healthy enough to suit up for them.

All else being equal, I’d go with Lundqvist here. But without giving too much away, I don’t want to use my Capitals slot this early. So instead, let’s go with Hall-of-Famer Eddie Belfour and his brief and forgotten two-day stint with the Nashville Predators in 2002. Yes, really.

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Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Puck Soup: Don't mess with success

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- The Maple Leafs extend Sheldon Keefe, because you don't mess with a winning formula
- Bill Peters is back
- Things are getting weird in the KHL
- The US TV schedule is out, and people are mad
- The return of the Best of Seven quiz game

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Thursday, August 31, 2023

10 things I learned while wasting way too much time with a fun new research tool

Have you been enjoying the Immaculate Grid craze? It started with baseball, spawned imitations in other sports, and has since been bought and consolidated by the wonderful folks over at Sports Reference.

If you’re a hockey fan, you’ve probably been playing Puckdoku, an NHL version that was inspired by the original baseball version. But the official version at hockey-reference is fun too, and it’s led to an important development you may have missed: The site finally launched a “Find Players Who Played for Various Franchises” tool.

OK, the name is a little wordy, I’ll give you that. But the concept is gold for hockey nerds. It’s just a simple search tool that lets you input any combination of teams and then find out which players appeared in at least one game for all of them. Want to know how many guys have played for two rivals, or some combination of Original Six teams, or any two random teams you might think of? Now you can find out. I encourage you to give it a try.

It's a great way to waste company time when you’re supposed to be working. Or if you’re lucky, you have a job where you can realize that you can turn what you’ve learned into a summer article. Today, I’m going to take you through 10 interesting things I learned while wasting way too much time playing with the Various Franchises tool.

1. No player in NHL history has played for all three California teams

I’m going to start with this one, because it stunned me. I get that there’s a rivalry between the three current California teams – RIP Golden Seals – and that it’s been heated at times. I wouldn’t expect there to be a ton of players who’ve suited up for all three teams. But none? Not one guy in the 30 years since the Ducks completed the trio? That’s hard to believe.

But it’s true. There have been 98 players who’ve appeared for two of the three teams, including big names like Teemu Selanne, Rob Blake, Jari Kurri and Jeremy Roenick. But all three? The database says: Nobody.

For comparison, there have been 12 players who’ve played for all three New York-area teams, all but two of them since the Ducks arrived in 1993. Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa have had three. The old Detroit/Chicago/St. Louis rivalry from the Norris days has 14, including Glenn Hall. But California? Not an option, apparently.

Speaking of rivalries…

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Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Puck Soup: C's get degrees

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- We pick the next captain for the ten teams without one
- Thoughts on Brandon Hagel, Jonathan Toews and Evan Bouchard
- What are the Sabres getting ready to do with their cap space?
- RIP Rick Jeanneret and Rodion Amirov
- And more...

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Tuesday, August 22, 2023

The NHL rulebook has a problem, but we can fix it by removing one word

 You remember the moment. It’s Game Six of the playoff series between Seattle and Colorado, with the defending champs fighting for their playoff lives and the hometown fans agonizing through the most important game in the Kraken’s short-lived franchise history. It’s late in the second period, with the Avalanche having just scored to go up by two. Colorado’s Andrew Cogliano leans forward near the boards, trying to make a tough play to get a bouncing puck out of the zone. Seattle’s Jordan Eberle hits him from behind, launching him headfirst into the boards.

What’s the call? It’s a penalty, for sure, but is it two or five? Is it a match?

If you’re a rulebook nerd and/or you read my explainer from earlier this year, you know it’s not a clearcut question. There are lots of different penalties in the NHL rulebook, and almost as many different ways to parse the minor/major distinction. But boarding, the call on this play, is one of the many where at least part of the distinction comes down to the question of injury.

In this case, Cogliano got up and went to the room. He seemed shaken, but otherwise OK, and in fact he even returned to the game in the third period. Then, after the game, he was diagnosed with a fractured neck. If the Avs had advanced, he would have been sidelined for the rest of the postseason.

Eberle got two minutes, at least partly because it was determined that the guy whose neck he’d just broken hadn’t been injured.

What are we doing here?

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Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Let’s waste an August day building rosters in the 100-number game

It’s mid-August and nothing is happening, so let’s play a roster game. This one was sent in by longtime reader Bill, who graciously took time off from thinking about inferior sports to suggest a deceptively simple challenge: Find the team that makes the best possible starting lineup where all six players’ jersey numbers add up to 100.

I like it. And yes, I can already sense the danger, because we’re going to run into some of the same problems we did in that column. Hockey numbers are handed out randomly, and they tend to group into either very low or very high. Mix in the several position-based traditions that come into play, and this won’t be as easy as just finding a few stars and then filling in the team around them. Or maybe it will. Let’s find out.

But first, a few ground rules™:

  • We need a six-man lineup of a center, two wingers, two defenseman and a goalie. Yes, I do plan to immediately regret using wingers, thanks for noticing.
  • In the case of guys who wore more than one number, we’re getting credit for whatever they did in the number we pick, meaning we can’t get cute with something a guy wore for a game or two because it was training camp or someone stole their jersey.
  • Each roster only gets credit for what they did with that team.

Let’ see how this goes. We’ll start with the team that traditionally pulls leadoff duty in these things…

Edmonton Oilers

As is usually the case, the Oilers set some parameters for us right away. We can’t use Wayne Gretzky or Connor McDavid, because that doesn’t leave us enough room to find five more guys. In fact, given how rare it is to see a forward with a low single-digit number, we’re probably looking at something in the 70s as an upper limit for forwards, and lower than that for the other positions.

The better strategy will be to aim for lower numbers across the board. For the Oilers, we could try building around Leon Draisaitl (29), Jarri Kurri (17) and Mark Messier (11) up front, with Grant Fuhr (31) in goal. That adds up to 88, leaving us 12 to work with on our blueline. Paul Coffey wore 7 with the Oilers before switching to 77 for the rest of his career, so we just need a 5. With apologies to Cody Ceci and Ladislav Smid, that probably means Steve Smith gets out last spot, and our Oilers entry looks like this:

Forwards: Mark Messier (11), Leon Draisaitl (29), Jari Kurri (17)

Defense: Paul Coffey (7), Steve Smith (5)

Goalie: Grant Fuhr (31)

That’s… well, that’s actually pretty darn good. Better than I thought we’d be able to get, if I’m being honest. You could quibble a bit with the forwards since we did say we’d have two wingers, and Messier and Draisaitl are both primarily centers who also play left wing. File a protest if you’d like, but otherwise we’re off to a great start.

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Thursday, August 10, 2023

Five truths your fan base needs to hear

It’s August, barely anything is happening, and the casual fans are all focused on baseball, barbeques, Barbie, and the occasional NFL preseason games. In the hockey world, only the diehards are still around. If you’re reading this, then that’s you.

Good. We need to talk.

I wouldn’t write this piece during the season, because the casual fans would take it personally. They’d probably get upset. But you? You’re still reading hockey content in mid-August, even when you know there's nothing to read about. You can handle some big kid talk. And that’s what you’re getting today.

We need to talk about you. Specifically, about your fan base. There are some truths that you and your fellow fans need to hear.

No, I don’t know which team you cheer for. That’s the beauty of it – I don’t need to. Because today we’re going to talk about some things that apply to pretty much every fan base. Even yours? Yes. Especially yours.

You may not like it, but it’s better that you heard it from a friend. Here are five hard truths your fan base needs to hear.

You’re overrating your prospects and young players

They’re not that good.

OK, yes, some of them are. Depending on where your team has spent the last few years on the whole contending-to-tanking continuum, they may even be very good.

They’re just not as good as you think they are.

That’s because you’re probably falling into the same trap that virtually all fans do: You’re looking into a future where all your team’s prospects have reached their ceiling. If every one of those guys is as good as the experts say they could be, we’re in great shape! But you’re not, because that’s not how prospects work.

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Friday, August 4, 2023

Summer mailbag: Puckdoku tips, history's most-hated captains, an all-Canadian league

Welcome to August, where nothing is happening and it’s the perfect opportunity to waste everyone’s time with a bunch of nonsense. “Um, slow news day?” No, dummy, it’s a slow news month, so let’s get weird.

Please settle the debate about the proper way to play Puckdoku. (And share any tips you might have.) – Eric C.

If you’re not already playing Puckdoku, you’re still getting work done missing out. The game is based on a bit we did on Puck Soup a few weeks ago, and is basically a hockey version of the Immaculate Grid craze. You’re presented with a 3x3 grid, with teams or accomplishments along the top and side, and you need to fill each space with a player who meets both of his square’s requirements.

How do you win? In theory, by successfully filling out the whole grid, although some people like to go further. Is there a right and wrong way to play? I don’t think so – this is one of those things where everyone should just enjoy what they enjoy, and play however they choose.

That said, you should make up your mind before you start each day's grid. As best I can tell, there are four distinct ways people are playing:

- Basic mode: Just get as many right answers as possible, which a lot of days is difficult enough on its own. A right answer is a right answer, and that’s all you’re looking for. I’d imagine this is how most beginners and/or casual fans play.

- Front-runner mode: In this version, you’re trying to guess the most popular answer for each square, which will usually (but not quite always) be an active and/or superstar player. This means you’re looking for the highest possible “uniqueness” score for each square. Or to put it more simply, you want your grid to match the “Popular picks” that show up at the end of the game.

- Sicko mode: The opposite of front-runner mode, this one has you searching for the rarest answers, and the lowest possible uniqueness score. Double-digits is good; single digits is better. It will not surprise you to know that this is how I play.

- Cheater mode: This is sicko mode on steroids, where you research your answers before you enter them to try to get as close as possible to a uniqueness score of zero. I’ll be honest, I don’t really get the appeal here, especially now that you can use this tool to easily find players nobody has ever heard of. But if it’s your cup of tea then go for it, with the only caveat being that you own it – no showing up in conversations between sicko mode fans and pretending your zero was legit.

If anyone has come up with anything more creative, be sure to let us know in the comments.

As far as tips, I’ll pass on a few.

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Thursday, August 3, 2023

Puck Soup: Nothing is happening

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- We talk about everything making news in the NHL, which is to say not much
- People are mad about Matt Murray going on the LTIR
- The remaining UFAs and RFAs
- A new game debuts
- And more! But honestly, not much more.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2023

The return of Cap Court, with a twist: Which NHL stars have great contracts?

We’re into late July, and with apologies to Vladimir Tarasenko and Matt Dumba, the free agent frenzy is pretty much done. And this year, I think we can all agree that it was… fine? That’s about it, right? There weren’t many big names available, and the flat cap meant that there weren’t as many big deals flying around as we’re used to seeing.

That’s probably good news for the 32 teams, who tend to make the worst mistakes when the UFA market opens. Looking back at this year’s deals, there were certainly a few overpays, but nothing that seems outrageous. Maybe GMs are finally learning. Or maybe the flat cap meant they just didn’t have enough to spend, and will be right back to setting piles of money on fire next summer.

Either way, this sudden burst of thriftiness feels like something worth recognizing. So this week, I’m breaking out an old gimmick with the return of Cap Court. That’s the feature where we pick five contracts and put them on trial, judging the deals based only on the years that are left and the cap hit they carry. We’ve done five of these over the years, meaning 25 verdicts have been handed down, and it’s fair to say that every reader agreed with 100% of them.

But this time, there’s a twist: We’re not looking for bad contracts. This time, we’re looking for great ones.

As always, we’re viewing this from a team’s perspective, meaning we want to know which contracts are “great” the way Nathan MacKinnon’s was for the Avalanche for all those years. MacKinnon himself might disagree with the idea that that was an especially great contract, since it ultimately cost him tens of millions of dollars. Or maybe not, and he’d tell you that he was happy to leave some cap room for his team to build a winner around him. Players always say that when their contract is tossed into the “great” pile. Some of them might even mean it.

I’ve picked five contracts that I think you could argue are great ones from a team perspective, but could also fall into the range of merely good. That doesn’t mean that I think these are the only five deals on the league that could qualify, and in fact I’ve left some off the list that are pretty obviously huge bargains. Leon Draisaitl, Cale Makar, Brad Marchand and Jason Robertson are all underpaid, relative to what they bring to the table. So is Connor McDavid, even though he carries the second highest cap hit in the league. Jack Hughes might be one more big season away from becoming the new MacKinnon as far bargains go. I’m not sure anyone would argue any of those, which means we don’t need to waste time putting them on the docket.

The five names I’ve chosen should be at least a little tougher. So court is now in session: Are these good contracts, are do any of them rise to the level of being great ones?

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Wednesday, July 19, 2023

The story behind the best player to play exactly one game for your favorite team (Western edition)

This week’s dog days of summer project is to try to find the best player who played exactly one game for every NHL team. Yesterday we covered the Eastern Conference, coming up with a list that included a 300-game winner, a celebrity divorcee, a member of the legendary 1972 Team Canada squad, and a pro wrestling legend’s dad. It was an eclectic group, is what I’m saying, and today should be more of the same. Let’s head west and seek out the best one-and-done players in each team’s history.

Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks have got some fun names on their list. Remember Trevor Gillies, the mustachioed Islanders enforcer who went wild against the Penguins in 2011? He played one game for the Ducks back in 2005, racking up 21 PIM in 2:40 of ice time. The Ducks’ one-game club can also claim recent Sabres’ signing Dustin Tokarski, as well as the record-holder for the longest Stanley Cup suspension in Aaron Rome.

We’ll give the nod to journeyman blueliner Ian Moran, who endured “Get a Brain” jokes long enough to have an 11-season career, almost all of it split between the Penguins and Bruins. (Fun fact: The Pens traded him to Boston for the draft pick that they turned into Paul Bissonnette.) He signed with the Ducks in 2006, dressed for one game, and spent the rest of the next two seasons in Europe and the AHL before retiring.

Arizona Coyotes

The Coyotes would absolutely dominate the "stars who were acquired but played zero games" list, but they don’t give us much to work with as far as one-gamers. That said, we can at least turn to a guy who was once traded one-for-one for an MVP. That would be David Aebischer, the Swiss goalie who won a Cup as a rookie with the 2001 Avalanche, played in two Olympics, and was traded to Montreal for Jose Theodore in 2006. He signed with the Coyotes the year after, and started their third game of the 2007-08 season. One loss to the Blue Jackets later, he was waived and demoted, and headed back to Europe.

Calgary Flames

First things first: Shoutout to Jarrod Skalde, who qualifies for this exercise for three different teams thanks to one-game stints with Calgary, Dallas and Philadelphia. We’ll be nice to Flames fans and not go with Morgan Klimchuk, the first-round pick from the Jarome Iginla deal that didn’t quite pay off. And while Gerry O'Flaherty was a solid 70s scorer, his one Flames game came for Atlanta, so we’ll look elsewhere.

That probably leaves us with Mark Lamb, Calgary’s fourth-round pick in 1982 who made his debut midway through the 1985-86 season before heading back down to the minors. The Flames would let him walk as a free agent that summer, and he’d go on to bounce around the league for another decade, most memorably in a five-year stint with the Oilers, where he’d win a Cup in 1990. Later, he’d get Selke votes while captaining the expansion Senators before ending his career with the Flyers and Habs.

Chicago Blackhawks

On the goalie side, the Hawks could give us the very start of Carter Hutton’s career and (presumably) the very end of Anton Khudobin’s. For skaters, we could use old-school veterans like Rick Lanz if we need a defenseman, or Jeff Jackson if we need a soundbite. But instead, I’m going to draw on the full power of an Original Six team to go way back to the earliest days of the NHL itself. Our Hawks picks is a Hall-of-Famer named Barney Stanley, who made his name in other pro leagues but got into a single NHL game with the Hawks.

Maybe my favorite part of the story is the identity of the coach who put him in the lineup: Barney Stanley, who apparently looked at this underperforming team and figured that if you needed something done right then you had to do it yourself.

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