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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