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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