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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