Monday, February 27, 2023

Weekend rankings: Meier, Kane, Trotz, and a look ahead at what should be a wild deadline week

Welcome to deadline week. Let’s get caught up, before something else happens and this is all out-of-date.

The Devils won the Timo Meier sweepstakes, ending weeks of speculation by closing the deal yesterday (and then making us all wait for hours to find out what it actually was, but who’s counting). That’s a huge deal, not just as far as what it does to the Eastern race, but also in terms of which other players now get circled back on. The consensus is that the Devils did well for themselves, although it's hard to say given that the full deal includes roughly eight players that nobody had heard of until last night.

Others trades over the weekend included Nino Niederreiter to Winnipeg, Barbashev to Vegas and Evgeni Dadonov to Dallas. That made for an interesting swing, with the veterans heading to the Western Conference after it was the East that had been landing the big names for the past few weeks. We also learned of a major change in Nashville, where David Poile will be stepping down as GM at the end of the season, to be replaced by Barry Trotz.

Then there’s the big news of a trade that hasn’t officially happened yet, but is apparently a done deal: Patrick Kane to the Rangers, who appear to be the only team he’s willing to move to. If so, the Hawks will have to take what they can get, which likely won’t be much. We’re told that the Rangers may need to wait for later in the week before they can work the deal under the cap, which led to some weekend lineup oddities. But according to all the insiders, this is happening.

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Friday, February 24, 2023

Mailbag: LTIR trade dump rosters, birth-year numbers, coach swaps and more

We’ve got one week to go, and then we can all stop writing about the same thing over and over sit back and enjoy trade deadline day. While we wait, let’s open up the mailbag and see what kind of nonsense you all came up with this month.

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

In light of Coyotes Legend Shea Weber: Which team has the better overall roster, Team Midseason Dead Space or Team Summer Dead Space? Team Midseason Dead Space  is any space that was traded from opening night to the trade deadline, while Team Summer Dead Space is from whenever the Stanley Cup was awarded until final rosters are due.

I doubt you would get a full 20 players for each side, but I bet you could definitely get a shinny game together. And seeing how they're all LTIR guys anyways, that's probably for the better. – Jacob B.

Sounds like fun, although I’m guessing Team Summer will win this one. Let’s find out.

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Thursday, February 23, 2023

The Athletic Hockey Show: One week to go

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- The Eastern wildcard race gets crazy
- Patrick Kane is on fire, but is he on the way out?
- Jesse Granger explains the Shea Weber trade
- Phil Kessel is good again
- Listeners respond to my magic draft picks idea
- Ray Sheppard makes history and more...

The Athletic Hockey Show runs most days of the week during the season, with Ian and I hosting every Thursday. There are two versions of each episode available:
- An ad-free version for subscribers that you can find here
- An ad-supported version you can get for free wherever you normally find your podcasts (like Apple or Spotify)

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Puck Soup: O RLY?

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- The Maple Leafs land Ryan O'Reilly
- Thoughts on Timo Meier possibilities
- JT Miller reportedly on the block
- Jonathan Toews won't be traded, but we're not sure about Patrick Kane
- The eastern wildcard race heats up
- McDavid and Draisaitl hit milestones
- A quiz, and more...

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Be prepared: The13 types of trade deadlines fans should be ready for

The trade deadline is almost here, marking one of the most important times of the year for all 32 teams. Whether your favorite is a contender, a bottom-feeder, or somewhere in between, they’re going to make some crucially important decisions over the next few days. No team can escape the trade deadline.

But what kind of deadline will your team have? That’s the big question, and it’s a tougher call for some teams that for others. So today, while we wait for the blockbusters to roll in, let’s get organized by running down the various options available to your favorite team.

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Monday, February 20, 2023

Weekend rankings: Ryan O’Reilly to the Leafs, Wild worries, and are these rankings cursed?

One of the things that happens when you do a power rankings, especially one that’s limited to a few teams, is that fans get mad at you. Where’s my team? Why aren’t they higher? Do you even watch them? It’s part of the deal, and up to a point it even adds to the fun.

Then you have these rankings, and readers who have a different question: How much would it cost us to bribe you to never mention us again?

It happened again last week, when I wondered if the Oilers were becoming a Western force. Full disclosure, I wrote most of that take on Sunday morning, assuming they’d be able to handle the Habs later that day. They lost that game, by a lot, and then lost to the Red Wings too. Message received, Oilers, I won’t bother you again.

Look, I think I do a pretty good job with these rankings. At the end of the year, when we look back on them, they almost always hold up well. I like that we try not to get caught up in short-term swings, and I think it helps us paint a more realistic picture. I stand by my work.

But also, yes, there does seem to be a disturbing trend of teams that are playing well getting a pat on the back in this column, and then immediately forgetting how to hockey.

Let’s just put it on the table: These rankings might be cursed. We should dig into the evidence.

Top five times these rankings cursed a team (maybe)

5. Dallas Stars, January 2After being hesitant on the Stars on year long, I finally put them in the top five as part of a New Year’s shakeup. They debuted at a lofty number three, partly on the strength of a four-game win streak. They immediately Kings and Ducks(!), and have lost 11 of 18 since that ranking.

4. Maple Leafs, December 13The Leafs didn’t just crack the top five, they got a whole section explaining why. (You have to do this when so many fans have made complaining about a team their entire personality.) They’d won four in a row and nine of ten. They immediately lost their next two, and five of nine.

3. Sabres, January 30I didn’t put them in the top five, but I did pump their tires pretty hard, and made that the case for why you should bandwagon their playoff push. Did you listen? I hope not,  because they got crushed 5-1 in their next game and Tage Thompson left with an injury. They’d end up losing four straight, seeing their playoff hopes dwindle back down to long shot territory.

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Friday, February 17, 2023

Which team can make the best current roster of players they traded away?

We all love trades. Trade are the best. There’s no better feeling than finding out that your favorite team has made a big deal.

Well, unless they trade away somebody good.

That’s the problem with the trading game – most teams have this weird thing where they want to get something back in return. In today’s NHL, that’s often just cap space, or some draft pick you’ll forget all about. But occasionally, teams still trade away actual NHL talent. And sometimes, that talent ends up looking pretty good in their new home.

So today, let’s see which team can make the best starting lineup out of guys that they’ve traded away. We’re talking current NHL talent – the three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie that your team traded and might wish you had back right now. We’re only counting the trades that put a player on his current team, so the Oilers can’t claim Taylor Hall, for example. We’re not counting draft picks that turned into players, and we’re not looking at free agents or waivers or anything else. Just those player trades, please.

It's harder than you’d think to build full six-man lineups for most teams. Hard, but not impossible, and they don’t pay me to do the easy stuff. Let’s go through a few teams and see what we can come up with.

Buffalo Sabres

Let’s start with the obvious: Rebuilding teams are going to be our prime target here, because those are the teams that are trading established players away. And no team has been rebuilding longer than the Sabres. As soon as I had the concept for this post, I knew the Sabres would be my first stop.

And sure enough, there’s a ton of talent to work with. Too much, in fact, at least up front. We can start with Jack Eichel, who went to Vegas in last year’s blockbuster. We can also use Sam Reinhart. And for our third spot, we can have our pick of either Taylor Hall or Ryan O’Reilly, with Marcus Foligno available as depth. That’s about as good as we’re likely to get for a forward group.

The blueline isn’t quite as strong, but still has some options. The Sabres fleeced the Flyers into taking Rasmus Ristolainen a few summers ago, and we could pair him with Brandon Montour. Not exactly a Norris-worthy pairing, but not bad, and with five players down our Sabres lineup is in great shape.

That’s where it falls apart though, as I don’t think there are any active NHL goalies who were traded to the current team by the Sabres. We could argue over Jonas Johansson, who was traded from Buffalo to Colorado but recently had a brief waiver stop in Arizona, but he’s only played one game this year. The big miss is Linus Ullmark, a former Sabre who’ll probably win the Vezina but was a free agent, not a trade.

So somewhat surprisingly, the Sabres aren’t going to run away with this. Let’s check in on another rebuild to see if we can do better.

Chicago Blackhawks

The Hawks haven’t been at this as long as the Sabres have, but Kyle Davidson has made up for lost time over the last year or two. And unlike Buffalo, we have a clearcut goaltending option in Marc-Andre Fleury, dealt to the Wild last season.

Up front, we don't even need to wait on Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, because we can lean on last year’s draft sell-off to start with Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach. And we can find a solid third option if we reach back to 2018 for the Nick Schmaltz trade. Sorry Brandon Hagel, we’ll keep you on speed dial.

The blueline is OK, with Adam Boqvist and Nikita Zadorov. That makes Chicago our first entry with a legitimate six-man group, and it’s a solid one that might get even better very soon. It doesn't feel unbeatable, though, so let’s check in on one more rebuild.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Puck Soup: Bally who

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- We try to make sense of the Bally RSN bankruptcy story
- Breaking down the Tarasenko trade
- Where things stand with the other big trade targets
- ESPN's list of the best goaltenders
- Dustin Brown gets a weird statue, and more...

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Scrap the cap? No more NTCs? Seven ideas to bring back the NHL blockbuster

It’s trade deadline season in the sports world, with the NBA’s just passing and the NHL’s a few weeks away. And let’s just say that basketball’s GMs have set the bar high for their hockey counterparts.

That’s usually how it works. The NBA is notorious for dropping massive blockbusters, both during the season and over the summer. It’s not unusual to see a a franchise player or two on the move, and the trades are often multi-team monstrosities that you need a PHD to fully break down. This year, NBA fans saw one of the best players of his era traded in a shocking move that came together overnight, and it was just one of many major deals.

Meanwhile, NHL GMs are constantly complaining that their job is too hard, simple player-for-pick deals take weeks to hammer out, and we’re all still trying to figure out who Vladislav Gavrikov is.

It wasn’t always like this. The NHL used to have plenty of big, bold trades. But over the years, the market has dried up, and there are some years where the deadline comes and goes and the biggest targets are guys you’ve barely heard of.

Maybe this year will be different. A few legitimately big names have already moved, and at least a few more reportedly on the block. But it’s certainly fair to say that the art of the deal isn’t what it used to be in the NHL. So why is that? And more importantly, is there anything we can do about it?

If you start from the premise that more trading is good for the league’s overall entertainment value, then it seems like we should want to encourage bigger and better deals. Great. But how? Today, let’s walk through seven ideas that could move the needle, and see if any of them could actually happen.

Idea 1: Allow more salary retention

The idea: Fans know the drill with salary retention by now. A team trading away a player can retain up to 50% of their cap hit (and real dollars) for the full length of their remaining contract, with a max of three retentions per team at any given time.

But why stop at 50%? What if we let teams retain as much as they wanted to, all the way up to 100%?

Why it would work: It would pretty obviously make midseason trades easier, especially for big-ticket stars. Imagine if the Blackhawks could trade Patrick Kane while retaining as much of his salary as the other team needed them to… at a cost in picks and prospects, of course. Remember, we’re not doing anything to circumvent the league-wide cap here, because the full cap hit is still in place. It’s just with a different team.

As an added bonus, this would reduce if not eliminate those weird third-party double-retention trades that tend to just be overly complicated and confusing.

Why it wouldn’t: Some GMs would object, just like they did over a decade ago when Brian Burke was originally pushing for the retention idea. Back then, they felt like the idea went against the spirit of a hard cap, and made it too easy for teams to get out of bad contracts. Their arguments weren’t good in 2012, and they won’t be good now.

How much I like it: I’d like to aim a little bigger, as you’ll see in a bit. But as a compromise or an interim step, we could do worse.

Odds of it happening: It feels like allowing 100% retention might be a bridge too far, but I could absolutely see a world where we went higher than 50%.

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Monday, February 13, 2023

Weekend rankings: Are the Oilers emerging as Western Conference favorites?

Saturday was fun, right? Fourteen games, running all day long, with a nice mix of matchups and reasonably staggered starting times. Mix in a handful of afternoon games yesterday before the NHL cleared out for the Super Bowl, and it all added up to a good weekend to be a hockey fan.

Let’s embrace the fun, by skipping the usual analysis and using our bonus five to relive some cool stuff that you may have missed if you were locked in on a football game.

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Friday, February 10, 2023

Ranking the 50 greatest players from before 1967

After three months of counting down, this week marked the finale of our NHL99 project, which ranked the best players of hockey's modern era (1967 to today). It was a lot of fun, with some great pieces leading to plenty of reminiscing, recollection and debate.

OK, but what about the era that came before?

After all, there’s 50 years of NHL history that didn’t get included in the modern list. While it made sense not to include those decades in our NHL99 list – the difference between eras is just impossible to parse in any meaningful way – we should still recognize it, if only briefly.

So that’s what we’ll do today, as I count down my list of the Top 50 players of pre-1967 era, factoring in both peak performance and longevity. I’ll be considering anyone who wasn’t on our modern list based on everything they did up until 1967. I also reserve the right to nudge a handful of guys up if their career timeline means they ended up “stranded” between the two lists, since this is my ranking and I can cheat if I want to.

One other important note on the process: For the modern era NHL99, we had a panel of voters, each carefully curating their own ballots which were then combined to create a final list based on the wisdom of the crowd. This is not that. This is one writer’s opinion, based on research and analysis but pretty much entirely subjective. If you don’t agree with any of these rankings, you have one and only one person to yell at. (That person, for the record, is Gentille.)

The original premise behind the modern NHL99 was that we all knew who’d end up in top spot. I think that’s the case here too, although you never know. Let’s count it down and see where we end up.

(*Denotes a player whose career continued past the 1966-67 season that we're using as our "modern" cutoff.)

50. Lionel “Big Train” Conacher, D, 1925-37

Voted Canada’s greatest athlete in 1950, Conacher dominated in multiple sports, including football, boxing and rugby. We can only give him credit for hockey here, in which he was a three-time all-star, a two-time Hart Trophy runner-up from the blueline, and a Hall-of-Famer.

49. Frank Boucher, C, 1921-44

The four-time all-star was a setup man who led the league in assists three times. He was also awarded the Lady Byng seven times, more than any other player in history.

(By the way, you'll see frequent references to being an all-star in this piece. All of those are referring to the league's postseason all-star honors, which include a first and a second team. The midseason all-star game isn't a factor here, in part because it didn't even exist when many of these guys played and mostly because even when it did, it doesn't tell us much about how good a player was.)

48. Bill Cook, W, 1926-37

The best of the three Cook brothers (with Bud and Bun), Bill led the league in goals twice and was Hart runner-up both times.

47. Dickie Moore, W, 1952-67*

The fiesty winger led the league in goals in 1957-58, then assists the following year. He took home the Art Ross in both campaigns, and remains an underrated star of the Original Six era.

46. Harry Howell, D, 1952-67*

Howell’s lone Norris trophy just slips under our cutoff, as he won it in 1967. It was partly a lifetime achievement award, as he’d been the rock of the Rangers’ blueline for 15 seasons, missing just 20 games over that span.

45. Bill Gadsby, D, 1946-66

One of the best defensemen to never win a Norris, Gadsby finished second three times and was named an all-star on seven occasions.

44. Johnny Bower, G, 1953-67*

The beloved Bower was a two-time Vezina winner and nearly won the Hart Trophy in 1961; he had more first-place votes than anyone, but finished just behind Bernie Geoffrion based on total votes. Not bad for a guy who had nearly washed out of the league after one strong season with the Rangers. And of course, he’d go on to give the world the gift of Honky The Christmas Goose.

43. Johnny Bucyk, W, 1955-67*

He's losing almost half of his longevity to our 1967 cutoff, but still deserve a spot on our list. All told, Bucyk spent 21 of his 23 seasons in Boston, and despite playing in the era of shorter season, still ranks in the top 20 for games played to this day. Bucyk rarely posted eye-popping single-season numbers, but was among the most consistent stars the league has ever seen.

42. Auriel Joliat, W, 1922-38

The winger played 16 seasons, all with the Canadiens, and won the Hart Trophy in 1934. This despite apparently playing at just north of 130 pounds, which was tiny even for those days.

41. Ted Kennedy, C, 1942-57

The long-time Leaf was the key to five Stanley Cups, and won a Hart Trophy in 1955. He retired after that season, then returned for one more before leaving the sport for good at the age of 31.

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Thursday, February 9, 2023

The Athletic Hockey Show: Ranking the rankings

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Julian McKenzie steps in for Ian, who is still too sad about the 49ers
- We talk NHL99, and Julian has some questions about my ballot
- Jesse weights in on where the goalies ranked
- My attempt to make a movie reference fails miserably
- A listener wants to know about Jamie Benn's HHOF case
- This week in history and more...

The Athletic Hockey Show runs most days of the week during the season, with Ian and I hosting every Thursday. There are two versions of each episode available:
- An ad-free version for subscribers that you can find here
- An ad-supported version you can get for free wherever you normally find your podcasts (like Apple or Spotify)

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Puck Soup: Dear John

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Bo Horvat, Dylan Cozens, and everyone else gets an extension
- The NHLPA gets a new leader, and Ryan has a scouting report
- John Tortorella writes a letter
- A look at where the trade market stands
- We have to mention all-star weekend
- And more...

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A brief history of players who were just OK suddenly becoming trade deadline darlings for some reason

It’s trade deadline season, and that means it’s time to fire up the rumor mill and figure out who’s going to be moved. This time of year is all sorts of fun for hockey fans, and this season’s trade board features several stars who seem likely to be dealt, including Patrick Kane, Timo Meier, Ryan O’Reilly and Jakob Chychrun.

Those are legitimately big names, which we don’t always get at deadline time. But that’s fine, because hockey fans and media are going to go all-in on trade talk whether the market deserves it or not. And that leads to one of my favorite trade deadline traditions: The perfectly adequate player who suddenly becomes one of the hottest names available for reasons nobody is quite clear on.

It’s honestly pretty great, our own little hockey-themed version of the 1600s tulip craze. You hear a guy’s name mentioned once and you shrug. Then he keeps coming up, over and over, and suddenly you’re hearing that the asking price is a first-round pick. You’re confused, but eventually you get worn down, and the next thing you know you're on hold with your local sports radio station so you can yell about how your GM better get this guy, price be damned.

Then the deadline ends, the guy barely makes an impact on his new team, and we all look at each other and wonder what the heck that was all about.

I love those guys. So today, we’re going to remember 10 of the best examples of this deadline phenomenon, with a brief history of decent players who suddenly got to be the belle of the ball for a few weeks, even if none of us can quite remember why.

2006: Brendan Witt

Who they were: A 31-year-old defenseman who’d played his entire career with the Capitals, Witt was a physical presence. He was also a 20-goal scorer. As in, he had scored a total of 20 goals over his 10 years in the NHL.

Why they were in demand: This will shock you, but veteran, hard-nosed defensemen are going to show up on this list more than once. Also, Witt had asked for a trade to a contender.

Quote that captures the general vibe: “Witt, a rugged, stay-at-home defenseman, has been a mainstay on the Capitals' blueline for a decade. His departure will leave a huge void in the locker room and in the lineup … He was also a vocal leader and the team's most experienced defenseman.” – Washington Post.

The eventual deal: The Capitals sent Witt to Nasvhille for a first-round pick and Kris Beech.

How it turned out: Witt played 22 games for the Predators, recording three points, before their season ended in a first-round loss to the Sharks. He signed with the Islanders in that summer, where he was run over by an SUV. Oh, and the first-round pick turned into Semyon Varlamov.

2011: Dustin Penner

Who they were: Years after the offer sheet that almost led to a barn fight, Penner had settled in as a productive winger on some very bad Oiler teams, peaking with a 31-goal season in 2010. He’d also been occasionally accused of being out of shape, but haven’t we all.

Why they were in demand: This was back in the era where power forwards were still a thing, and while Penner wasn’t exactly Cam Neely, he was a big winger who could contribute offensively. Also, the Oilers did a very good job of coyle playing the “we might not actually want to move him after all” card, which always drives up interest. And it was just a generally bland deadline, so somebody had to be the main attraction.

Quote that captures the general vibe: “The 28-year-old power forward has a good pair of hands to go along with his 6-foot-4, 245-pound frame. He figures to fit in well with a team that covets size and the ability to play around the net…” – LA Daily News.

The eventual deal: The Oilers sent Penner to the Kings for a first, a conditional third, and a prospect.

How it turned out: Penner scored just three goals the rest of the way for the Kings, and just 15 more in parts of two additional seasons. One of those was the 2012 Cup win, though, so in that sense maybe you say this one worked out OK. It was better than that for Edmonton, as they turned the first into Oscar Klefbom.

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Monday, February 6, 2023

Weekend rankings: Just how worried should the Golden Knights be right now?

We don’t have much of a week to wrap this time around, so let’s start with my in-depth take on all-star weekend.

It was fine.

Cool, with that out of the way, let’s get onto this week’s rankings. Spoiler alert: With two-thirds of the league off since the last time we did this, the top and bottom five won’t have changed much. But maybe that makes this a good time to look back at the rankings up until now, if only to set the stage for the stretch run.

Five observations about this year’s rankings (so far)

5. No team has stayed in the top five all season long – I tried, Colorado fans, but I couldn’t make it happen. The Avs’ season-opening stretch of 12 straight top five appearances is a season-high streak, although it leaves them one back of the Hurricanes for the most total appearances.

4. Somehow, the same is true for the bottom five – This one shocked me, especially in a season where so many teams have been tanking since day one. The Coyotes have come the closest, missing out for just one week. The Blackhawks escaped for a few weeks in November when they were kicking around fake .500. The Ducks have the current longest streak at 14 straight bottom five mentions, but they weren’t in the season-opening list.

3. One team stands above all others in terms of mediocrity – We’ll use the middle spot on this list to highlight on team that’s done an amazing job of staying in the league’s mushy middle.

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Friday, February 3, 2023

Which cap era trade deadline can produce the best six-man roster?

Today marks exactly one month until the NHL trade deadline, which means the only content I’m legally allowed to create until then is trade-related stuff. Sorry, I’m pretty sure it’s in the Canadian constitution.

Today, let’s try a simple roster game: Which deadline in the cap era produces the best starting six of players who were traded? That sounds like a nice easy way to waste a Friday.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Puck Soup: Oh good more Canucks talk

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- The Islanders land Bo Horvat
- 30 years of Gary Bettman
- An amateur goalie gets his shot with the Oilers
- The Rangers' pride night debacle
- Bobby Hull's legacy
- All-stars, post-game awards and more

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Don’t judge Gary Bettman’s 30 years on what he’s done, but on what could have been

Today marks the 30th anniversary of Gary Bettman becoming the NHL's first commissioner. It’s a big milestone, one that puts Bettman ahead legendary president Frank Calder's 26 years and within range of Clarence Campbell's 33.

Even that doesn't do his term justice – given the ever-expanding size of the league and the shifting landscape of today's pro sports world, Bettman's reign long ago surpassed any of his predecessors in terms of complexity. He's the most influential figure in the history of the NHL, and it's not close.

Influential, sure. But has that influence been a positive one for the league and its fans? That's a more complicated question.

To get to an answer, let's begin at the beginning. On Bettman's first official day on the job back on February 1, 1993, the league was unsteadily lurching its way into a new era. Many teams were struggling financially, the games were needlessly violent and often uncompetitive, and the league had just been through a brief but jarring midseason players' strike. In America at least, hockey was a decidedly niche sport that often seemed in danger of being left behind.

There's no two ways about it – Bettman inherited a mess. Compared to what the NHL was when Bettman walked through the door, the state of today's league makes his tenure looks like an unqualified success.

But that hardly seems like the right way to judge his work. By the early 90s, the bar for NHL leadership had been set so low that virtually any halfway competent executive could have stepped over it. If representing an upgrade on Gil Stein is good enough, then sure, hand Bettman his A+ and be done with it. Most of us would like to aim a little higher.

So instead of comparing Bettman to what had come before, let's take the admittedly trickier approach of measuring him against what might have been. Is the NHL that we have now the best we could do? Have hockey fans been well-served by the Bettman era?

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